East Region Story - Part 1
We left our sunny days in Vik behind us as we started driving in the pouring rain, with wind trying to knock us off the road, to our next base 2 hours away near Diamond Beach and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoons. Weather permitting, we planned to stop at the Eldhraun Lava fields and the Svinafellsjokull glacier for hiking / shooting along the way. At over 500 square miles, the Eldhraun lava field is one of the largest in the world. It was created in a massive eruption that lasted a year starting in 1783 causing crop failures and disease in both Iceland and Europe. The thick pillow of moss that has grown over it sometimes takes a century to mature. We both braved the rain with a stop to shoot there. I cannot say enough about the dedication of Anastasia to create in the harshest conditions. The rain supersaturated the deep green color of the moss and gave her a wild look with her wet hair. We shot quickly and jumped back in the car for a shot of Icelandic schnapps (Aquavit) to warm us up. The rain and fog continued to follow us through the rolling alluvial plains in this part of the country.
It was still spitting rain when we arrived at the trailhead for the Svinafellsjokull glacier. I decided not to take the long hike because I would be too slow. So, Anastasia took off to go exploring for two hours while I had fun shooting landscapes of the glacier and of her disappearing over the horizon as a "little white dot" in her white coat against this massive landscape of mountains and flowing glaciers. When she returned, her faithful hiking boots of 10 years had lost both soles. I kidded her that she was taking this war refugee status a little too far as she was now a shoeless refugee. No problem, we could get her some new boots when we get to our base later in the day. The rain picked up again as we hit the road (the Iceland Fairies were being kind again to slow the rain every time we wanted to explore!). We arrived at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach and were sad to discover the beach had no "diamonds". Typically little icebergs from the glacier lagoon flow out to sea through a channel and are broken up by the ocean to be deposited back onto the beach. With the heavy rain, it appeared to have melted all the ice on the beach. We decided to keep driving to our base and come back tomorrow with hopefully less rain, and after getting her some new boots.
We were checking online for a place to buy boots and could only find places 3 hours back in Vik where we had come from, or 3 hours north in Egilsstadir where we planned to fly from 4 days from now. Surely there was a local store! After checking into our new base, the locals confirmed that those were the only places to buy hiking boots in that part of Iceland. YIKES! The original plan was for us to stay two nights in our current location near the lagoon, then two nights near Hofn to shoot around the Stokknses mountain area and other waterfalls near there so that we had the maximum opportunity to shoot several sunrises or sunsets at each location. Then, spend one day driving the 3 hour drive, shooting or sightseeing along the way, to Egilsstadir to catch a late night plane back to Reykjavik. With the weather forecast calling for rain most of the next 4 days, and Anastasia not having waterproof boots, we had to change the plan. Most of the places we needed to shoot required some hiking, and even with her dedication, that was dangerous with no boots and the rain. The weather looked better in Egilsstadir and that is where we could find new boots. We were at the end of the busy tourist season with most places booked up. I was not optimistic of finding a place in Egilsstadir. BUT OMG. The Iceland Fairies provided again! There was only one place available online, and I booked it. It turned out to be the best place we stayed in Iceland. It was one of three cabins on a property 10 minutes from Egilsstadir in the middle of a forest overlooking the valley below. There was a creek and waterfall nearby in the forest and a sauna and jacuzzi available. Once we got there we found it to be eclectically decorated with the hostess providing homemade yogurt every morning. PERFECTION! Plus, we discovered that trees do exist in Iceland! I cancelled our bookings and we decided to go back to the glacier lagoon in the rain before it got too dark. We arrived before sunset and got to appreciate the amazing spectacle of these little icebergs slowly floating out to sea with seals playing in the water. Such incredible sizes and shapes! I wish we could have had time and the right weather to explore it more.
The next morning we started our new plan. Because we were now staying 3 nights in Egilsstadir, this allowed us to visit the famous Studagil Canyon with the largest display of basalt rock in Iceland as well as take the time to explore the eastern fiords on the drive to Egilsstadir as well the ones near it once we got there. The other advantage to the new plan was the area tended to have less tourists giving us more opportunities to shoot. Not to mention a sauna and jacuzzi after long days of exploring. Our first stop was at Stokksnes mountain, part of the original plan. This is a massive jagged mountain right by the ocean with an expansive black sand beach and dunes topped by grasses in the foreground. This was one of the locations I was most looking forward to see and shoot. True to the forecast it was foggy and raining in the morning. On the positive side, it meant less people at the location (it was sparsely attended). When we arrived it was windy blowing from the ocean were I would need to point my camera and raining. We performed our ritual requesting the fairies help, donned our rain gear and hiked to find a beautiful sand dune framed by grasses. The mountain loomed in the distance with the top shrouded in fog. I did some test shots having to frequently wipe my lens from the wind blowing rain straight into my camera. Then, as Anastasia was preparing to shoot by starting out with some fashion, the fairies performed their magic with the rain slowing to a sprinkle and the wind shifting. We quickly shot some fashion and then nudes. I loved the atmospherics of the foggy, and saturated colors from the rain and how Anastasia was using the space to be part of the tableau. I felt we had captured it, but now Anastasia was inspired by the place and wanted to keep shooting from a different point of view with a different mountain in the background. She posed and pranced in the rain totally caught up in the moment and got some fabulous images of her joy. Before she froze, I ended the shoot and we ran back to the car. As soon as we got inside, the rain began to pour again. Thank you, Fairies!
We headed down the road. The next major sight was driving down one of the largest eastern fiords, Berufjordur. It is 20KM long and 2 to 5 KM wide with jagged high mountain peaks on each side. Today, it was still spitting rain and the fog was hiding the mountain tops and at times coming very close the the ground. The fairies now delivered a light show! With the sun peeking through the fog, we started seeing rainbow after rainbow....so many we lost count. They were everywhere - in front of us, and off to either side as well. Then I saw the thickest and lowest rainbow I had ever seen. It was just off the ground and very wide from top of the curb to the bottom. I swear it felt like we drove through it as it was that low to the ground and directly in front of us. When we got to the end of the fiord, we found a vast black sand beach with swirling fog from the wind with the sun peeking through. What a shooting opportunity!. We quickly found a place to pull over, Anastasia grabbed a peach colored fabric and we hit the beach. As the wind blew, Anastasia pranced in the fog with the fabric billowing into beautiful shapes and accentuated by periodic highlights from the sun. These were some of my favorite images that we shot in Iceland; so artistic and unique.
After the shoot, we had to make a decision to take a short cut via the gravel Oxi road or drive around the other side of the fiord and drive up the valley in the next fiord. I had read the Oxi road was mostly in steep mountains. With my fear of heights and the rain/fog, I decided to use the other route. This still involved driving a gravel road that was just as long as the Oxi, but was mostly through the rolling hills of a valley with just one scary piece when you had to climb the mountains at the end to reach the next valley and the main paved road to Egilsstadir. As we rounded the headlands on the other side of the fiord, we rain into more rain and fog on a steep mountain road with drop offs to the ocean below. With the high wind, the ocean was crashing into the cliffs below us. We spotted a turn off to an overlook and paused to explore. True to form, my partner the Mountain Goat, scurried off to a cliff overlooking the ocean to get a closer look at the crashing waves directly below her. Then she found a path to the beach where a massive sea stack enhanced the scenery. I contented by myself with my 200mm lens capturing landscapes and her little white dot as she explored the area.