When I was first told I would be going on a “jeep safari,” I was naturally very excited, and then I remembered that there are no lions and rhinos to shoot in Iceland. Undaunted, I agreed to go on an off-road journey over Iceland’s more rugged terrain to see how my nerves would fare.
I met up with a friend of mine, our photographer and a Danish couple early Sunday afternoon. Our driver, who will remain nameless, was a cheerful British fellow who had moved to Iceland twenty years ago after falling in love with an Icelandic woman.
As it turned out, our guide was very informative. He took us into Heiðsmörk, where he wanted us to see a particular pond that reflects the mountains far behind it with “stunning clarity.” Unfortunately, most of the pond was iced over, but we were able to see the reflection of Vífillsfell, a mountain named after the slave who found the pillars that Norwegian explorer Ingólfur Árnason had thrown overboard to mark his settlement. Vífill was apparently also given a farm and allowed to marry for this accomplishment.
We were then taken further east to see the geothermal power generators that supply electricity to Reykjavík, which is about as exciting as it sounds. Admittedly, standing next to a giant, thundering steam vent and knowing that all that extreme heat and force is but a few metres beneath your feet can give you the impression that you’re living dangerously.
After then driving through a few shallow creekbeds, we started to head to Úlfarsfell to catch the view of Reykjavík. This would be our first and only truly off-road experience of the day. After the jeep made a brief climb up a 50° grade, we stopped, got out, and were able to take in all of Reykjavík’s city lights. It was a great view and worth the three hours we spent basically driving on flat roads for most of this “safari.”
“Why do the lights of Reykjavík shimmer like that?” my friend asked.
The guide was quick to respond. “Partially because of the cold, but also because the air is so clean, the lights just shimmer,” he said, which was certainly more poetic than talking about light acting like a particle and a wave, refraction, wave resonance and other mundane factual details.
Here our safari came to a close. We were driven back to town, had some coffee, and then boarded a small bus to go on a Northern Lights Hunt.
As the guide reminded the group, the Northern Lights do not come out every night, and it’s entirely possible we’d drive around for a few hours without seeing any. This didn’t matter to us, as the driver’s narration was probably the sexiest explanation of the Northern Lights I’d ever heard: “As the solar wind from the sun penetrates the earth’s magnetic belt, its light builds slowly, eventually reaching a climax that can fill the whole sky.”
The guide also peppered his narration with some self-deprecating but dubious stories about Iceland:
“My brother, who is a policeman, told me that when someone reports a burglary, the police simply call the guy who did it last time.”
And other cute stories that kept the tourists in stitches. After a brief stop in Selfoss for a bathroom break, we drove to a beach to look for Northern Lights.
It had been a long time since I’d seen this many stars. The Milky Way was clearly visible, as was just about anything else floating in the universe. There were even a few shooting stars. It was breathtaking. So much so, in fact, that I didn’t mind that the Northern Lights were visible but weak. Standing on the beach in the middle of the night, in the freezing cold, hunting for satellites with a friend – one of the many little things you can do in this country that make repeat visits so worthwhile.
Jeep Safari provided by Iceland Excurions, Allrahanda. Höfðatún 12, 103 Reykjavík. www.icelandexcurions.com. Tel. 540 1313.
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