Chasing Waterfalls

There were a few hiccups I had to overcome to secure my car rental . Apparently I didn’t have a ‘proper’ credit card so the company forced me to pay a large security deposit. But at long last I had wheels!  I was freeeeeeeeeeee!!! I also rented a mobile wi-fi hotspot (because why not?) and it was a lifesaver. With my car and my mobile wi-fi bubble, I hit the road with one goal in mind: chasing waterfalls!

I started the day with two specific targets: the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. They were a long way from my hostel in Keflavík, so it was time to leave the town in the rearview mirror.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
The sun was shy in the morning, but it was still time to start chasing waterfalls!

I like to drive. I don’t particularly like traffic (duh), or dealing with other drivers. Or stop signs and stop lights, for that matter. But I find great enjoyment in the simple act of driving.

And Iceland was my freakin’ paradise!

More than once I parked the car in the middle of the road to get out and take pictures because there wasn’t a single car in sight in either direction. And because Iceland hates trees, you can see for miles. Or kilometers. Whatever.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
When you drive through these old lava fields, you might as well be driving on Mars. It’s otherworldly.

For safety’s sake, I frequently stopped by the side of the road to take pictures of these foreign landscapes. A few cars passed me every now and then, but for the most part, I was utterly and gloriously alone. I loved every second of it. There’s no one to share music privileges with, there’s no one to argue with about which direction to go, and there’s no one to complain about me stopping for pictures every 30 seconds. There is a simple beauty in solo travel.

It’s all about you.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
The lonely believer. An isolated church in southern Iceland.

I slalomed my way through the large, coal-black mountains that rose on either side of the road, passed some black seaside cliffs, and finally emerged on the other side of the lava field’s domain. It was sorta nice to see grass again. I took a short side road to an area with a couple farms on the shore of the frigid north Atlantic. That detour led me to the lonely church that you see up above. It was a truly dreary morning, but I don’t mind this type of weather. I’m weird like that. Plus it felt…. Iceland-ey.

But what do I know?

I’d only been there two and a half days… Anyways, I was getting sidetracked – I needed to get back to chasing waterfalls!

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
The only spooky factor missing here is a horde of zombies shambling out of the mist…

I made a few more stops between the church/Atlantic detour and my destination, Stokkseyri. The little seaside fishing village was where I’d be sleeping for the night. By the way, my hostel also doubled as a haunted museum. Just so you know.

I stopped at a spooky electric station (above), and also attempted to eat at a restaurant right on the beach. And by attempted, I mean: I walked in, and the entire place was empty. I knocked on the bathroom doors… “Hello?” Walked out to the patio… “Hello?” Poked my head into the kitchen… “Hello?” Nobody. Alien abduction? Probably.

I was tempted to take something and leave the money on the counter. That’s something badass that a movie hero might do, and I wanted to join that club. Unfortunately all they had in their displays were cakes and desserts.

And I do not need any extra cakes or desserts.

So I pushed on, ignoring my stomach’s increasingly desperate (and LOUD) cries for attention.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
Just outside of Stokkseyri was this gorgeous view across the windswept fields.

At last I arrived in town. I secured my lodging for the evening and ate some food to quiet my belly. I stayed at Art Hostel – which I loved. Did I mention it was haunted? The owner upgraded me for free because it was a slow time of year. She gave me an extra $81 of value when I had only paid $33! So awesome.

I was still thirsting for adventure, and the day was young. It was early in the afternoon by this point, probably around 1:00 or 2:00 pm.

Now I could begin chasing waterfalls in earnest.

I plugged Skógafoss into Google Maps and dashed off, camera ready. The massive waterfall was 1.5 hours out of my way, but I was determined to make the trip. I had plenty of time. Luckily, the drive to get there was absolutely gorgeous. It was at this point that the rainbows began to appear. They showed up everywhere, and all the time. 

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
I may have been chasing waterfalls, but I think the rainbows were chasing me

The day had started off very cloudy and overcast, but now the sun was starting to poke through. And with the sun came the rainbows. I must have seen a dozen of them just on this first day with the car.

In the morning I had felt like I was driving through Mars, and now I was driving through cozy small towns and villages with a sky plastered full of rainbows in every direction. The lava fields had turned into acres of rolling farmland and beautiful grassy fields.

And yet Iceland lost none of its alien beauty.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
This town is Hella, Iceland. Population? 781. Hella empty, if you ask me.

I continued to be amazed by the Icelandic landscape at every twist and turn of the road. One thing that stood out to me was how windy it could get in just a few moments. I was certainly glad to be visiting in September instead of, say, January. The wind was cold enough as it was without pelting me with ice in addition.

At least the car rental companies warn you about the wind. It’s a problem for them – sometimes unassuming tourists get their car doors yanked so hard that they break.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
Hazy mountains mark the horizon of southern Iceland.

At long last, my quest for chasing waterfalls began to come to fruition. I began closing in on the first of the two waterfalls that were my targets for the day. It may only be a 1.5-hour drive from Stokkseyri to Skógafoss, but I was only slightly exaggerating when I said I was stopping for pictures every 30 seconds.

Sometimes I would stop and get out twice before a song was even over…

But for good reason! Anyway, this side trip was taking me pretty long. The sun was steadily making it’s way toward the horizon.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
I wondered what it would have been like growing up in the shadow of the mountain.

This picture you see above is one that I really like. It was so beautiful here that I forgot all about chasing waterfalls for a second. It’s just a simple Icelandic dwelling – no nosy neighbors to be found – and it’s hanging out right at the base of a mountain. I stopped because I thought it was a food shack, but I had read the sign wrong. At least I came out of it with this sweet shot!

It’s becoming clear that my stomach is actually calling the shots.

Seljalandsfoss, my first target, was so close! I just needed to drive a little bit further and I would be rewarded with my first waterfall of the day!

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
Beautiful Seljalandsfoss: a 197 foot waterfall in southern Iceland.

If only the weather had been a little bit better… Though perhaps if it had, there would’ve been twice as many tourists as there already was. This was the first time on my trip that I was confronted by the tourist hordes. I did my best to keep them out of my pictures, but it proved difficult considering they were being delivered by the literal busload. Meh, I tried.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
In this view you can somewhat see the small cave behind the waterfall that you can walk through.

Seljalandsfoss was a great pit stop that I thoroughly enjoyed exploring. But the sun was on its way down and I had yet to lay my eyes on the ultimate prize: Skógafoss. I quickly set off, wanting to get away from the crowd. I begrudgingly accepted the fact that I was probably heading for an even bigger one. At least those buggers help establish scale.

OH WAIT.

Am I forgetting about the super secret waterfall? I’m forgetting about the super secret waterfall, aren’t I? How can I even be serious about chasing waterfalls if I leave out the exclusive Skyrim DLC hidden cave waterfall? This one wasn’t even a target of mine, I just discovered it when I arrived. Well, GoogleMaps discovered it for me. But I’m taking credit. Here it is.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
This gem is down the road from Seljalandsfoss, hidden away from the tourist horde.

A visual masterpiece, this beauty is named Gljúfrabúi Waterfall (or Gljúfurárfoss). The name literally means, “the one that lives within the canyon.” How cool is that, huh? It definitely has a Tolkien feel to it. Unfortunately I didn’t take a video here, which is really the only acceptable way to view it other than going to see it in person. I located an adequate one on YouTube that you can watch here. It’s less than 2 minutes but you can skip to 0:21 if you’re pressed for time.

Ok, now off to Skógafoss! The Quest for Chasing Waterfalls continues!

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
Aaaaaaaaaaand I took a wrong turn. Whoops. I wound up with cool view of this mountain, though.

A missed turn cost me 20 minutes of daylight as I charged down some back road that abruptly turned into gravel as I was traveling at 50 kph – in the rental! I was very pleased to discover upon inspection that I had not damaged the car I had just put down a massive security deposit on. Metaphorical bullet effectively dodged. I quickly retraced my path and eventually arrived at the conclusion of my waterfall quest.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
The Mighty Skógafoss is 49 feet wide and 197 feet tall – one of the biggest waterfalls in the country.

Skógafoss was just as beautiful as I had been led to believe.

It may have even exceeded my expectations as I stood there, listening to its thunderous roar and basking in the billowing clouds of spray that it released as it pounded the earth with a furious vigor. Plus there was that after-rain smell lingering in the air. I love that smell. The whole combination of sights, smells, and sounds painted a picture in my head that will last forever. I can even feel the cool mist on my hands and face when I reminisce.

Unfortunately due to the overcast weather I was not treated to the single or double rainbow that is consistently present at Skógafoss. The constant barrage of rainbows seemed to chase me to the landmarks, but then disappear as soon as I got there!

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
The falls, the mist, the mountain… If only you were there in person to hear the power of the river.

I made the arduous climb up to the top of Skógafoss, and I was instantly rewarded with an absolutely stunning view.  It was fant… It was incr… Aw heck. I’d describe it, but I think it’s best if you just take a look below and see for yourself…

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
One of my favorite moments in Iceland was right here, soaking all of this in.

Chasing waterfalls was barely a plan the night before.

Just a day later it had led me to this beautiful moment. My phone had died after I spammed it with hundreds of photos, trying to capture the perfect one. I wanted something tangible to show people! But the perfect shot is usually the one in your head that you can’t really share.

I walked back to the base of the falls, and had dinner at Hotel Skógafoss’s Bistro Bar. This was the first time I’d ever eaten Arctic Char with the word ‘local’ next to it. After I finally shut my stomach up with a delectable fish dinner – a miracle happened!

My phone turned itself back on with 44% battery! It was a little strange, but I wasn’t complaining. I wanted one last picture of the waterfall. This time I hopscotched my way into the river, jumping about 4 or 5 rocks in before I could go no further.

Conquer Fear Chasing Waterfalls
I was rewarded with this gorgeous photo – as close to perfect as I could get on a day like today.

The light colors of sunset had permeated the mist, and gave Skógafoss an almost fairy tale quality. It was the perfect end to my journey. I should also point out that my incessant picture taking on the road turned the 1.5 hour trip into a 6 hour quest. That’s what happens when you explore!

And if you have the good fortune to visit Iceland, you should go chasing waterfalls too.

My first day with a car was eventful and unforgettable. The targets I had spent hours chasing lived up to and exceeded the hype. And the miles (kilometers?) between them were filled with a unique beauty. The best part was that my Iceland trip was really just beginning. I was planning on getting to Reykjavik by September 24th to celebrate my 23rd birthday in the capital, and I had one day to get there.

And on that day, I was going to pay the world-famous Golden Circle of Iceland a visit.

P.S. This was Iceland Part 2. Read on!

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