Saturday, September 30, 2017

[SUÐURLAND] Chasing Aurora + The Golden Circle

Aurora, that frigid bitch. Chasing the northern lights was not really part of the itinerary. I didn't even know that they can be seen in late September, but the schedule of the tour starting at 10 PM was so convenient. It's not as if I would be partying in Reykjavik, you know. Since I decided to get two consecutive days-off, I had no excuse not to stay out late. Unfortunately, Aurora was a no-show. I guess those green Avada Kedavra lights will just have to remain on my bucket list for a while.

I'm disappointed because I was all ready for my Avada Kedavra Day selfie, like a Death Eaters rejoice moment, you know. But chasing the northern lights is always a game of luck. It was scheduled on my first night in Iceland but was canceled due to unfavorable weather conditions. Three buses full of hopeful tourists, myself included, finally went ahead for the pursuit the next night, but we all went back to Reykjavik with no luck. The good thing is you can join the tour every night until you get lucky.

If you want something more certain, then go for the Golden Circle tour. I have reason to believe that this is Iceland's most popular so far. The Golden Circle tour includes three attractions: Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. You don't really have to choose among the three because you will see all of them anyway. Each one kind of appeals to a different audience, though, and there are also some random useful tips when it comes to enjoying each one to the fullest. Let's start with Thingvellir which is the first one on the list.

Leaving Reykjavik, you arrive at the National Park after 45 minutes or so. There, your guide will tell you that you have around 45 minutes to enjoy the attraction. He or she will go with you and show you a model of the place, giving you a good idea where you are in Iceland geographically. They then proceed to explain the importance of the place and why it was named a national park. To give you a clue, this is considered as the part of the globe where the tectonic plates of America and Europe meet. Romantic? Not.

If you are a big fan of giant rocks breaking up, then maybe this can be your version of romantic. All around the area you will see rocky hills torn apart as if Drogon flew over them and went full-on arsonist like his mom. And you still wonder why they filmed many parts of the series here? Our tour guide kept on joking about being in America without a visa because of the tectonic plate thingy, and then being back in Europe again just like that because we crossed the damn plate. It's actually kind of cool, in a geeky sort of way.

I think exploring Thingvellir on your own is doable if you rent a car. The park is huge and there's a large area to cover, but the 45-minute window this excursion provides is just not enough. Maybe it's really just meant to be a teaser so you can eventually opt for more if you feel like it. As for me, I was amazed for 15 minutes or so before I lost interest. I mean, the terrain is really cool to look at and you will be taking a lot of awesome photos, but that's about it. I need action, you know and that's what Geysir is for.

The drive to Geysir took a full hour but it was not boring at all thanks to the scenery along the way. The place itself is called Geysir and next to the parking lot is a souvenir shop and a restaurant where you can buy overpriced food. Well, everything in Iceland seems overpriced anyway so maybe it was pointless to even mention that. Geysir was awesome. They are teasers just like Aurora, but they actually show up. At least you know that they will. It's the timing factor that provides the thrill, though.

Take it from me, the bubbles are not indicative of an outburst. What you have to wait for is the bluish glow. When you see that, you have around five to ten seconds to make sure that your shitty phone camera will not go all diva on you. Otherwise, you miss the opportunity. But don't jump into the hellish hot water for a fiery suicide. It's not the end of the world, and that geyser will erupt again in 10 minutes. You have plenty of time for practice. No need to be emo now.

You will be spending around an hour at Geysir before driving off to your final destination. Gullfoss is a mere ten-minute drive and you stay there for around 45 minutes. Like Geysir, there is a souvenir shop/restaurant combo where you can charge your gadgets. But please buy something, at least? It's going to be hella awkward if you don't and I don't think the management will be that happy about it. Even if you don't take photos and videos, though, the sight of Gulfoss will remain in your mind forever.

What, it's impressive! But what I find more impressive is that glacier nearby. If you look at a map of Iceland, you will see white spaces that are not lakes. As we approached Gullfoss' parking lot, I noticed an otherworldly apparition to the left. It looked like a large body of water but still as night and white as snow. The moon, bigger than usual, hovered above it. The canyons that form its border made it look as though it was the setting of an extra-terrestrial popcorn flick. My photos don't do it justice.

But that's not included in the tour. You can book it and I think that one alone will eat an entire day of your itinerary. Back to Gullfoss, it seems to have a permanent rainbow glued to its horizon. The mist formed by the falling water gives it a mystic kind of feel. Add the yellow and brown combo of the hills in the background and you have a vision of what tranquility actually looks like, until you see tourists crossing the forbidden areas for a YOLO selfie. Like, behave? Kids? Die for Instagram much?

The drive back to the capital is a long one, clocking in at almost two hours. As the sun sets and the sky gets dark, photo opportunities start to wane, which is why I suggest that you just use the downtime for a much-deserved snooze. Today you spent an entire day seeing three awesome gifts of nature on an island way up north, probably the northernmost you've been all your life. Treasure the moment, for you will be conjuring that image in your memory in the years to come. Who's awesome, Iceland? You are!

[SUÐURLAND] Chasing Aurora + The Golden Circle

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