Of Black Beaches And Treacherous Snow: Down South We Go

Of Black Beaches And Treacherous Snow: Down South We Go

Of Black Beaches And Treacherous Snow: Down South We Go

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Published March 21, 2018

It‘s been snowing for days when the BusTravel Iceland shuttle picks us up in downtown Reykjavík for a day-long excursion along the South coast of Iceland. Piles of white and gray snow cover sidewalks and road, and as we step onto the tiny bus we are not even sure we’ll be able to make it through the mountain passes. “I’m sure it’s open,” our guide Fannar exclaims. “Let’s just go and we’ll deal with it later.” As long as we are careful, Fannar explains, travelling around in Iceland in the winter is just as beautiful as during the summer.

Peace after the storm

As we drive away from the city, I look around this new, comfortable shuttle with double and single seats and I see about ten, perhaps twelve sleepy heads. I don’t do well in crowds, so I’m glad to see that BusTravel Iceland organises trips that feel a little more personal and relaxing than your average travel drive. An eternal optimist with a big smile and a warm laugh, our guide Fannar is genuinely excited to be on the road.

The mountain pass Þrengsli, which takes us South towards Hveragerði, is luckily open. Streaks of pink are splashed across the sky, while dark clouds hide treacherously behind the mountains ahead. Only one ray of sunshine fights its way through the clouds in the distance—a moment of peace after yesterday night’s storm. Everything around us is powdery white, with delicate black lava dots poking through. Straight stark lines are stencilled with precision across the candid canvas of the mountains, in a clever game of chiaroscuro that makes the landscape more akin to an old picture than to reality.

Birch trees and border collies

Fannars tells us stories about the countryside while we’re on our way—from bridge building and puffing hunting to volcanic eruptions—as well as about the culture, the language and the local food (did you know that the town of Selfoss has got the best KFC in Iceland?). He’s like a mini encyclopaedia of his own country, but infinitely funnier, and with a better soundtrack.

Although the countryside is a spectacle to be seen, it can be boring to drive for hours without talking to a soul. BusTravel Iceland, however, found a way to make the trip a little more interesting: as we pull out of the main road into a smaller track, a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by small birch trees appears on the left, complete with sheep barn, wild border collies and a tall white cross smacked right in the middle of her backyard.

“There used to be a church and a graveyard here, that’s why it’s there,” our hostess Valborg tells us with a warm smile. Valborg and her husband, who are both musicians and friends of Fannar’s, moved here from the city a couple of years ago with their children and seem well accustomed to the flow of tourists passing through the area. She’s made us cakes and poured us coffee, and while she takes up the guitar and sings, I’m sure there is no more idyllic sight than this to be seen today.


The spooky South

As much as we are all enchanted by Valborg’s voice, we have to go soon: our BusTravel Iceland schedule is packed with tours of breathtaking waterfalls and some more driving. It’s not long before we spot the black sand beach in the distance. We see it almost hiding behind the blanket of snow that covers the South coast, dark rumbling clouds unfolding fast onto the horizon. The weather is starting to get spooky, and the silence permeates the bus as we drive up a steep snowy hill to get to the beach. You could cut the tension in the shuttle with a knife, and as we all brace ourselves thinking we might not see the world beyond the curve, Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” blasts through the speakers at the highest possible volume and we can’t help but burst out laughing, relieved.

Before letting us out the bus, Fannar makes sure we know how to behave. Nature is treacherous, and even more so when you don’t expect it. “Every eight wave is much bigger than the others,” he explains, setting all jokes aside. “Please stay far away from the water and never, ever give your back to it while you take pictures. You only need one wave and you could be dragged to sea.” I had heard of horror stories about this place, of waves pulling people into the deep abyss by the ankle, never to be seen again.

The wind-battered beach is breathtaking in its starkness: lava pebbles cover the entire shoreline, while high peaks rise among the crushing waves like fangs of a giant sea monster. We aren’t the only visitors: some people stand strong in the storm, others are struggling to pose for selfies under the heavy snowfall, but the beach is large. I take a walk alone with my thoughts, and as I look at the angry ocean trying to leap at my boots, I let the salt wash away my worries.

What an adventure

Before we go, Fannar makes sure we’ve all grabbed a bite to eat and that we are all in one piece. The last BusTravel Iceland stop is glacier Sólheimajökull. The parking lot, which was once built right next to the frozen waters, stands now about 1 Km away from the glacier. In the past ten years the glacier has retreated so much that to see it we have to walk in the snow, on a path that stretches all along the old perimeter of the glacier. All that’s left of it now is sand and snow, the sad testimony of the effects of global warming on some of our most breathtaking natural resources.

It’s almost 19:00pm when we hop back on the bus. The lights are off, and although we’re all exhausted we also bonded and had fun together. I borrowed a charger for my phone from the British guys behind me, while the American lady who fell in the waterfall got some clean socks from the Germans. We had an adventure together, and as we doze off in the darkness, we know we won’t forget this trip any time soon.


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Guide Profile.

Name: Fannar Már Andresson

Age: 24

Home Country: Álftanes, but I also own a duck farm in the North West.

Favourite part of the job: You’re never looking at the time and thinking “oh, I’ve got two hours left.” People are always relaxed, and I love being out in nature.

Strange guide moment: I was going on a tour through an ice cave once with these two girls from Singapore. I was wearing a wool sweater the entire time because it was warm and the girls were laughing at me a little because of that. I looked like a big troll Viking man standing on top of the glacier! So I took a photo with the two of them – they were really short girls – and then they started rubbing my belly to thank me. I was so stunned! And then every time I did something for them they rubbed my belly! To this day, I still don’t know what the deal there was.

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