“Reykjavik’s just trying to take your money” said the man at the rental car office. His face looked like he wanted to use stronger words. We were taking over the driver contract on the car Niels’ sister had rented and had been driving us around in for a few days. He was trying to help us avoid costly fees for scratches that previously existed on the car, which the other rental office neglected to mark down on the paperwork. Unbeknownst to him, he was only confirming what we had been feeling during our first few days in Iceland: swindled, nickeled and dimed.
Let me be clear, Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries we have ever visited and completely worth visiting. It just may not have been the best choice for a budget honeymoon around the world. Everything costs money, even the bathrooms. This is something we’ve encountered in many countries, but in a place where the cheapest camping is on a patch of lawn at the town park and costs $34USD, you expect some amenities.
We thought once we got on the ground we would be able to travel-hack past our research that told us Iceland was expensive. We’ve hacked our way past a lot of challenges, but of course at a certain point, you can’t drive down the cost of a loaf of bread. However, we are enjoying drinking some of the cleanest water on Earth for free and right from the tap, which is a pleasant change from our Peruvian travels!
(Photo by Grace Kathryn Photography: www.grace-kathryn.com)
The budget isn’t the only challenge in Iceland. We’re definitely suffering from what we are calling “internet let down.” We’ve spent years yearning to see the raw, untouched beauty captured in photographs of Iceland…and so has everyone else. It’s silly, we know, but a part of us really didn’t expect to walk up to an epic waterfall to find hundreds of raincoats dotting the landscape like a child’s Lite-Brite toy (remember that childhood favorite?).
We knew that Cusco and Machu Picchu would be jam-packed, but nature and tourism just don’t jive as much in our brains as an ancient city and famous ruins. We’re used to being the only people off the beaten path, braving the intense biting cold gusts of wind and rain.
So, to counter the one million tourists that visit Iceland every Summer, we’ve done something pretty drastic: we’ve gone nocturnal. We realized this was a great option when we were having trouble sleeping because of the midnight sun Iceland experiences in the Summer. Camping at the base of epic Skogafoss, at 1am we realized there was one man hiking up the trail next to the waterfall. One. Everyone else was asleep in their tents or the hotel a few feet away. With the light of a normal gray afternoon, we donned our rain gear and walked to the base of the largest waterfall we’d ever seen.
The roar of the water was outrageous. Nothing else filled our ears except the sound of the water folding over onto itself. The spray was so thick we could barely see one another so we held hands as we marched forward against what felt like a torrential rain. On the side of the falls we discovered a tiny, mossy cave that was perfectly sized for us, and even had a rocky seat. In that moment, it was only us and the waterfall. We finally had the time to really take in our reality fully with all our senses without yelling tourists, blurs of color obscuring the view, and people precariously climbing rocks in a life and death game of one-upmanship to capture their Internet-worthy photos. We were in Iceland on our honeymoon! Our hearts swelled with gratitude for the moment we found to appreciate raw beauty and the solitude with nature we had so coveted.
We decided to embrace the land’s false night and capitalize on the sun’s omnipresence. Now, here we are, waking in our tent in a field overlooking the sea, with sheep passing us casting curious looks.
It’s our morning at 3pm and we’re doing morning things as cars rush by, winding down their day of sightseeing. We’re remembering our night before when we followed the winding roads and stumbled upon hot springs on a hill surrounded by the mountains, where we soaked alone for hours at 2am.
We’d finally found our off-the-beaten-path Iceland, we just had to work a little harder for it. But we’re okay with that. Iceland’s worth it.
Couple a Wanderers (Camille and Niels)