The Golden Circle is the Icelandic travel standard. Like ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ as a Christmas movie, or beer as the drink of choice when meeting friends, the reason for its stature is obvious—it’s the best way to soak up the maximum amount of beautiful nature and Icelandic history in the minimum amount of time.
On the day we went, the circumstances were quite special. All tours had been held up for two days, as Iceland had been going through a storm, so the tour providers were transporting three days worth of travellers around the circuit. As a native, I hadn’t travelled this route for quite a few years, and it had changed quite a bit since my last round. It’s a testament to the dedication of Iceland’s tourism stakeholders that even in the extreme circumstances of that day all my fellow travellers seemed to fully enjoy themselves, bar one.
Our tour began an hour late, because of bus problems, but the passengers didn’t seem to mind. The weather was still quite extreme with heavy winds and rain in the morning, so the drive to Þingvellir wasn’t so much about the dramatic landscape as the dramatic weather. Being a grumpy Icelander, I decided to give Þingvellir a miss. I sat with my laptop in the lovely new visitor centre at the edge of the park while the wind howled and the sightseers flew across the landscape.
Back in the bus, one of us—a New Zealander, if I read the accent correctly—complained that he was ill-prepared for the conditions, and his pants all wet from the rainstorm. He admitted that he’d rather be on a sunny beach, but he loved his girlfriend and she’d been very excited about going to Iceland. The others seemed happy with having their leisurely stroll turned into an extreme sport. Some had never before experienced this type of weather.
The storm peaked at Geysir, the natural phenomenon where pressure builds up underground before regularly shooting out a metres-high stream of hot water. I’m not a geology nerd, so I can’t precisely describe the process—sue me. The weather was crazy while we watched the “ejaculation” (as our poet slash photographer described it) hit the powerful wind. This was truly a sight to behold, hear and feel. The rumbling in the ground and the smell of sulphur, the wind politely but firmly pushing against the onlookers. As we were leaving, the weather calmed down, and the air was fresh and new.
Gullfoss (loosely translated as “golden waterfall”) was as beautiful as ever. Some theorise that language evolves with the meaning it is given at any given time. If this is the case, Gullfoss should be renamed “Iceland Waterfall,” as Kim Kardashian renamed it to her ten gazillion Instagram followers, who probably now know it as such. But I digress.
Our last stop was the Secret Lagoon. This decades-old swimming pool was converted into a tourist destination a few years ago. It doesn’t look or feel like a modern swimming pool in any way—it’s a large lake, square-ish in shape, with walls built from slabs of raw stone. We could feel the three-day build-up of travellers, all descending at the same time. I felt as sense of trepidation seeing the mass of people congregating at the reception and changing room building, but my worries were alleviated. The facilities and staff smoothly handled even a freak day like this, with minimal waiting times to enter. The pool comfortably held this stampede of people. I found myself a quiet corner and gazed at the travellers, listening in to their languages, seeing their different postures and body languages. The area looked interesting, with a decrepit hut, a steaming river, some nearby hills, and other things to investigate. But I was more than content to sit in the steaming water, perusing the crowd and reflecting on the day.