Preparing For Life Beneath The Sea In Icelandic Waters

Some of you may be under the impression that I will set up a stateless base in the Arctic or Antarctic to plot the demise of governments worldwide and starve politicians of their tax dollars, euros and yen. While roughing it around the earth’s poles can make for great fun once in a while, it is down under (No, not in hell! I’m a Daoist, not a Satanist.) where my dream base lies.

In this post, we will explore beautiful and surprisingly big Iceland. But before we do so, let’s take a trip back to my childhood. A person’s childhood shapes their adult life, you know…

As a kid, French author Jules Verne was my inspiration. I read all of his books, including of course, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea And Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a blueprint for life in my future transportable stateless base. One day, I will have my own Nautilus, and like Captain Nemo, I will steer a years-ahead-of-its-time submarine that will traverse the earth’s seas without coming under the authority of any government. Once I have completed my travels to every country in the world, I will use this submarine to visit all of the long-lost civilizations buried at sea, while also interacting with all of my favorite deep sea creatures.

Taking a break from my adventures in dangerous lands and high up in the air locations, a trip to Iceland gives me a chance to reconnect with my love for life underwater. Snorkeling and soaking in thermal baths, as well as navigating fjords and waterfalls, is the kind of realigning I often need.

But Iceland is also an opportunity for me to retrace the steps — above and below ground — of my fictional fellow countryman, Professor Otto Lidenbrock. On his journey to the center of the earth, Professor Lidenbrock managed to penetrate the earth’s surface by descending down the Snæfellsjökull volcano in Iceland. Can you guess where we are heading…??

Let’s go.

The road to Snæfellsjökull

The road to Snæfellsjökull is a long one. As aforementioned, Iceland is bigger than you think. What you think is a tiny and greener version of Greenland, is actually a large island in the middle of the Atlantic. And what you think is a short drive in Iceland can easily eat up 10 hours.

Midnight arrival at Keflavik International Airport

I landed at Keflavik International Airport in the far southwest of Iceland outside the capital city Reykjavik.  After renting a car, I embarked upon a drive to the north of Iceland. And after an approximately 10-hour journey that I thought would take 6 hours, I ended up at Lake Myvatn.

Keflavik to Myvatn (red is not the road)

Lake Myvatn is located in Iceland’s Diamond Circle area, a tourist route that is more remote and much less busy than its southern alternative, the Golden Circle. The Diamond Circle includes Lake Myvatn, waterfalls, volcanos and glaciers.

It was no problem that I arrived at Myvatn late in the day. At 11 pm — with plenty of light still outside — I plunged into the Myvatn Nature Baths near the lake for an evening soak. I bathed in the natural, approximately 40 degrees Celsius water, went for a swim and called it a night when the thermal baths closed at midnight. It was pretty cold outside, so the hot water was very comforting.

Myvatn Nature Baths

The Blue Lagoon of the north, as I call it, makes for a dream place for relaxation. Unlike the actual Blue Lagoon in southern Iceland, the Myvatn Nature Baths allow you to enjoy soaking up mineral-rich geothermal water in a lagoon without mobs of tourists.

As I relaxed, I let my imagination run its course. I thought of my future self popping up above water, emerging from my submarine and soaking in the thermal baths before heading back down into the sea to go explore Atlantis.

My sightseeing in Myvatn began after midnight — it still wasn’t dark. Actually at this time of year (mid-summer) it never gets fully dark. Late at night it basically looks like dusk, with the sun down but light remaining.

The Myvatn area has volcanos, craters, lava formations and a bunch of geothermal spots, or big bubbling holes in the earth. There also lots of birds, which apparently come to eat mosquitoes. Myvatn has the international designation of being an “important bird area” for its endangered bird species.

Other than the baths, the highlight of the Myvatn area was hiking up the volcano Hverfjall, which as you can see, has a large crater.

Hverfjall volcano/crater

Atop the volcano there is a beautiful view of the lake, which admittedly, I did not capture so well.

The Hverfjall view

Back on the road yet still on the Diamond Circle route, I departed Myvatn, heading west for the town Akureyri. In the middle of this drive, I stopped at Goðafoss Waterfall.

Take a look at this selfie. Not bad, huh? Another waterfall selfie is still to come… 😉

Goðafoss Selfie

Upon arriving in Akureyri, I was back on the coast, this time at the edge of the fjords. Akureyri is a large town by Icelandic standards but beautiful natural setting nonetheless. I paused to think about how beautiful Iceland is and promptly passed through.

Pondering Icelandic beauty in Akureyri

I spent the night down the coast a little way on the Vatnsnes peninsula. Vatnsnes is famous for its seals and houses the largest, most accessible seal sanctuary in Iceland. It was my launchpoint to the fjords of a larger, neighboring peninsula.

The road is made of gravel

I would have been better off with a boat. My Toyota rental car was not cut out for navigating the winding, largely non-paved roads of the Westfjords.

The Westfjords is a large peninsula in northwest Iceland with dozens of fjords, which give it a very jagged coastline. I spent the day before my trip to Snæfellsjökull in the Westfjords. The region is very remote and a bit of a detour, and I can see why not many people live there and why very few tourists visit it.

But remote beauty is something I cherish.

Westfjords

I spent about 6 hours driving my Toyota through a total of 10 fjords. Needless to say, the car got very dirty. Rain, clouds and fog did not make the experience any easier.

No caption needed

But seeing and climbing the Dynjandi Waterfall – the highlight of the region — made all the driving worth it. Actually, Dynjandi is a series of waterfalls that are a 100 meters high and quite wide, too.

Dynjandi Selfie

I told you another waterfall selfie was coming. 😉

The entrance to the center of the earth

I had enough of the weaving in and out of fjords in my poor little Toyota. Together, my Toyota and I boarded the ferry to a new peninsula, the Snaefellsnes, home to Snæfellsjökull.

It’s a little difficult to describe Snæfellsjökull in single word or term. Rather simply, it’s a volcano with a glacier at its peak. According to Wikipedia, it’s a 700,000-year-old glacier-capped stratovolcano that is also a mountain named Snaefell. Regardless of how you want to describe it — or name it or spell it, for that matter — Snæfellsjökull is important not because of its age, nor because of its unique features… but because of Jules Verne.

I wanted to retrace his steps, but unfortunately, my Professor Lidenbrock moment never came. I circled around the volcano in my Toyota, plotting my dash for the peak and my plunge deep down below the earth’s surface.

This time the weather got the best of me. While I had the opportunity to embark upon a journey to the center of the earth at a time when no one was looking, the problem was I could not tell what I was looking at.

Snæfellsjökull was almost completely covered in clouds, so much so that I don’t even have a photo of the mountain/volcano/glacier/stratovolcano that my childhood hero made famous.

Something from Snæfellsjökull National Park

With such low visibility, it didn’t make sense for me to plunge down into the earth’s core, as I wouldn’t even see what I was entering, let alone where I was going. Mission aborted.

Was this a sign I am not meant to live underground??

Surprise!

On what I thought was my final day in Iceland, I briefly visited the uber-touristy Golden Circle. The big attractions of the Golden Circle include the Blue Lagoon (which I skipped), the Gullfoss Waterfall and the Strokkur Geyser. The geyser erupts something like every 3 to 5 minutes and shoots water up to 40 meters high.

Strokkur Geyser

Having already completed a fulfilling trip around Iceland, I was ready to move on. I ditched the tourist mobs of the Golden Circle and headed back to the international airport to board a flight to the rarely visited Faroe Islands.

At the airport, there was a surprise for me. And not a good one… I could not find my flight on the departures screen. I asked why that was and found out my flight was leaving from Reykjavik’s domestic airport, not the international one.

What sense did that make? The Faroe Islands is an autonomous archipelago that technically belongs to Denmark. How could a flight from Reykjavik to the Faroe Islands be considered domestic?

There was no time to act surprised. My flight was due to depart in 1 hour and 5 minutes. Well… there really was plenty of time to act surprised because that was not nearly enough time for me to switch airports and board the plane. And the next flight to the Faroe Islands — several days later — conflicted with my upcoming trip to Greenland. At that point I realized this trip to the Faroe Islands wasn’t going to happen (now) and I’d be staying in Iceland extra time.

Back in Reykjavik. What to do..??

It must have been a sign

Missing my flight to the Faroe Islands awarded me the opportunity to reconnect with life beneath the sea. I had a few days on my hands to spend in and around Reykjavik. There was one destination calling me: Silfra.

Silfra is basically a split in the earth formed by the tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates. This fissure, or crack, is filled with freshwater — pure glacier water — that is remarkably clear. Hence, Silfra is a world-famous diving location.

Silfra

Entering the water in Silfra was a little reminiscent of my polar plunge in Antarctica. As was the case in Antarctica, the water in Silfra was just above freezing. Here it was 2 degrees Celsius. As you may have gathered from viewing my polar plunge, I enjoy very cold water. It comes with pain, but it’s good for the body. I’ll gladly take the tradeoff.

This time I was more prepared to deal with the cold — I was actually wearing clothing. Better yet, I was wearing both a thermal undersuit and a drysuit.

But my face was exposed…

In the beginning, my snorkeling venture was quite unbearable. The cold water burned my face. My hands also got wet and cold.

But after a minute, the pain subsided. I then floated with a caravan of fellow sea adventurers through some of the purest water in the world which has incredible visibility. I can also tell you the water tastes good. I got some in my snorkel. 😊

As you can see in the video, the water in Silfra is not very deep — maybe 10 to 20 meters. But the visibility ranges 120 to 150 meters. It was like I was cruising in my Nautilos (Should we call the Staatenlos version of Nautilus, Nautilos?) Remember, Captain Nemo and crew TRAVELED 20,000 leagues under the sea. They weren’t 20,000 leagues below sea level. The sea doesn’t go nearly that deep.

Visibility like a dream

Life underwater is not about the depths you reach, but the experiences you have and the new friends you make. Given my experience flirting with the Moai, I don’t expect to have too much trouble meeting some friendly sea creatures when I shift to my new aquatic lifestyle.

Snorkeling in Silfra came to an end. I popped out of the water with numb thumbs but renewed strength. It was all worth it.

Celebrating swimming across tectonic plates, I met friends living in Reykjavik that night, dining on ununsual food. No, it was not rotten shark (the Icelandic specialty of hakarl), but animal rights activists beware, puffin and whale meat. Quite edible, complemented by nice local cocktails.

Whale and Puffin meat

 

My missed flight to the Faroe Islands — and my extended stay in Iceland — reaffirmed my destiny to live under the sea. The only question now is: Who will join me on the Nautilos? Limited space available.

 

Stay: Iceland is expensive – Starwood hotels start at 800€ a night. I rather chose smaller pensions and hostels with single rooms. A mention here to Kex Hostel in Reykjavik, which has a good bar/restaurant and nice facilities, even if 150€ a night for a small hostel room is expensive.

 

Eat: Try local Icelandic specialties – it does not need to be rotten shark. Whale or puffin meat makes for an interesting eating experience as well – but dont tell too loud. The cocktails in Grilmarkadurin were also delightful.

 

Drink: With easily 30€ for a cocktail, you think twice. Nightlife in Iceland is still very vivid and there are tons of options in Reykjavik, less so everywhere else.

 

Connect: Good mobile internet over Google Fi basically everywhere, even in the remotest fjords. Strong Wifi speeds as well.

 

See: There is so much to see in Iceland, but there are so much tourists either. Go up north to avoid the crowds.

 

Do: Snorkeling in Silfra as described above is a top recommendation. As I learned only after my trip, it is actually possible to go down the volcanoe Snaefellsjoekull on a tour down into the crater. Next time!

 

Go there: The national carriers Icelandair and WoW Air have dozens of connections to Europe and North America. Iceland is a popular stopover destination transiting between the continents as flights tend to be cheap that way.

 

Go next: Iceland is a transit point to the Faroe Islands (note that flights start from the domestic airport) and Greenland, where my travel continued.