Why Do I Love Iceland So Much?

Given that this is my third trip to Iceland in as many years, people are always interested to know what I love so much about the country, and I’m not sure that I have ever been able to give a complete answer. As I was driving with a new friend from France today, though, I think I started to stumble towards an answer.

We were talking about the difficulty of taking really great photographs here, and realized that the problem was simply that the scope and scale of everything was so large that it was impossible to convey in one picture. When you’re looking out at a fjord that extends for miles, surrounded by jagged, volcanic mountains, it’s hard not to spend hours slack-jawed, but no photograph can capture all of that. You can only seize a slice of the beauty, which isn’t enough, because it’s the aggregate wonder that separates Iceland from other places I’ve been.

Today we drove from Isafjordur to see the fabled Dynjandi waterfall, which is actually seven separate waterfalls, named, easily enough, Hæstahjallafoss, Strompgljúfrafoss, Göngumannafoss, Hrísvaðsfoss, Hundafoss and Bæjarfoss, topped by a massive 90 meter fall that looks like a bridal veil spilling over the cliff. It was worth the two hours drive, which included a harrowing gravel road that reminded me of the Beartooth highway at lower elevation and without trees, a six kilometer tunnel carved into a mountain around a fjord that was one way for most of its length, lunar landscapes, lush green valleys that wouldn’t have been out of place in Ireland, and a series of fjords, each more beautiful than the last.

Why do I love Iceland so much? It’s like the problem of the photographs, really. I know what I’m feeling and those feelings include pure awe and joy, but just as these pictures will never tell you just how beautiful this drive and hike were today, neither can my words ever quite express just how unusual and magnificent this place is.