We arrived on our flight from Denver to Iceland at 6:35 AM via Icelandair. At the airport, we had to rent a car from Sixt. Initially, we were going to rent a car from SAD Car Rentals because they were cheaper, but at the last minute we’d decided that cheaper was not always better, a lucky choice in the end because the SAD car rental fleet really is truly sad. A fellow with a woeful look on his face and a slightly stained and untucked yellow shirt holding a crumpled up rental agreement in one hand and a half-eaten burrito in the other stood off to the side near the other car rental booths. John told me later that “SAD” was not just an unfortunate Icelandic acronym that conveyed the wrong message in English, it was a word that had been deliberately chosen to describe their line-up of vehicle choices. Cars available through the SAD Car Rental company in Iceland are cheap but dying.
We’d reserved our car with Sixt, but there was no Sixt booth at the airport. Instead, a fellow wearing a Sixt uniform showed up at a seemingly random location to take a group of renters to their agency, just beyond the airport. We intersected with him by accident in a dazed and jet lagged condition. We headed out into the cold, dark air to begin the arduous process of rounding up our luggage to put it in the van.
It took about an hour to finish the process of renting the car. A young fellow who had probably never rented a car before in his life took a spot at the front of the line and proceeded to ask the attendant every conceivable question imaginable about rental cars. Behind him, people were rolling their eyes, tapping their feet, and sighing heavily as the attendant outlined each and every insurance option in detail (the young fellow opted to go without insurance), the difference between two wheel and four wheel drive, and other information that could’ve easily been researched ahead of time online.
It was dark outside and it felt like the middle of the night. Indeed, it was the middle of the night back at home. The darkness, lack or sleep, and jetlag made it hard to adjust. Once we’d rented our car, John drove to our vacation rental in Reykjanesbaer. It was a very small basement apartment with two bedrooms. We unloaded the luggage, made ourselves some “breakfast” (spaghetti and mushrooms) and then asked ourselves what to do next.
“We only have four days here.” I said. “If we sleep, we’ll be messed up for days so we should at least go do something to stay awake…”
There was silence. None of us wanted to go. We were tired–a nod-off-to-sleep-and-wake-up-with-your-face-in-a-bowl-of-spaghetti-tired. We hadn’t slept much on the plane and according to our internal clocks it was bedtime, not morning. Naturally, we decided to drive to Gulfoss waterfall.
Gulfoss was about 6 hours round trip from our vacation rental in Reykjanesbaer. It probably wasn’t the best choice for us since we’d hardly slept, but since we’d hardly slept, we weren’t making great choices. Needless to say, we hit the road and about two hours later entered Pingvellir National Park. In the distance, we spied a geyser in the distance.
“What’s that?” Lydian asked groggily.
We’d accidentally stumbled into the Golden Circle, a tourist route that include geysers of Haukadalur, the waterfall, and Pingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park according to some spellings).
Pulling into a gas station located next to a smattering of geysers and steaming ground, we realizedthat we were in Haukadalur, the city from which the origin of the word “geyser” comes from.
Not far down the road was Gulfoss Falls situated in a canyon, misting furiously. Wooden footpaths had been built from a gift shop/visitor’s center down to the main attraction. A surprising number of tourists were making their way to and from the falls in Iceland on this cold Wednesday in November, their hoods up and mittens on. I wondered whether they were Icelanders or people from neighboring countries. Perhaps some of the visitors were visiting Iceland for the Airwaves Festival, a musical venue that’s particularly popular among citizens in the Nordic countries.
The Gulfoss Falls are apparently the largest waterfall in Europe. They are almost spectacular, but not quite Niagaran. Echo and the Bunnymen had a picture of Gulfoss Falls on one of their albums and the band Live used the falls in a video for their song “Heaven”. I’m not a waterfall connoisseur although I do get excited about epic hikes leading to notable falls only because it’s nice to have a destination on a long walk across rough terrain. I think waterfalls are pretty but my Philosophical Self can’t help but muse about how unnecessary it is to stand and appreciate how water falls off a cliff. Waterfalls add nice ambience to certain environments. They give off mist and a lovely white noise that’s very calming, but staring at them doesn’t usually do it for me. Swimming underneath one, diving off of a cliff beside one, or, as I said before, hiking into a wilderness area to find one could be fun and intriguing. As such Gulfoss Falls failed to wow me even if it was on an album cover.
But I’m still glad we went. I would have been disappointed with myself if we’d failed to achieve this
mission mostly because I wanted to see the Icelandic countryside leading up to it, which, as it turns out, was nothing spectacular either. In fact, I would say that the space between Reykjanesbaer and Gulfoss Falls mostly resembled Wyoming. No regrets on seeing this for myself. Wyoming has its virtues, but there was nothing particularly striking or otherworldly about the landscape in this area as promised by certain guidebooks. Just a few far-off, snow-capped mountains, relentless wind and flat grassy spaces to fill in the gaps between nowhere and somewhere else.