Approaching two years since my trip to Iceland, I've had a fair amount of time to recover from a very traumatic (and embarrassing) event in my life. I will even go so far as saying that I'm finally ready to tell this story in full detail.
Iceland for my was my first real adventure. I had already moved away to Denmark at this point and had travelled to a select few cities in Europe, but nothing that screamed extreme wilderness quite like Iceland did. I became infatuated with the country during my first ever layover to Copenhagen where I had two hours in the airport and happened to find a copy of the Iceland tourism magazine to read. I was blown away by the stunning nature and landscapes so foreign to my eyes. Instantly, I knew I had to return.
And so I did. And it was amazing. It truly felt like I was on some other planet. As soon as I set foot off the plane, everything around me was extraterrestrial. I've said it before - the Earth is the greatest artist, and this belief was only amplified during my trip to Iceland.
While I was limited in my time there, I was able to see the Golden Circle and the South Coast. Geysirs and waterfalls and icelandic ponies and black liquorice as far as the eye could see. I loved every second of it (okay, except the black liquorice) and the trip overall dazzled me. Perhaps a little too much...
You see, I'm curious by nature, and frankly, I've not been told that expression about that damn curious cat enough times. My curiosity, linked with the immunity of brash youth, got me into some trouble. I'd climb to places no other tourists were going or dare to go the few steps further away from everyone else. Sure, I do this in the city all the time, but I know the city and its perils. I can't say I'm as familiar with volcanoes and hot springs.
So I had just arrived at Reynisfjara, a famous volcanic ash "black sand" beach by the town of Vik. Our bus driver had warned us not to get too close to the waves as they could be very unpredictable. I acknowledged his warning quite passively, believing that I wouldn't be so dumb as to go anywhere near waves so violent. Regardless, myself, and several other tourists strayed into the sand.
Everyone marvelled at the sight - completely spectacular. I took my camera out, ensuring I was a good distance from the tide, to attempt to capture its beauty. Once I photographed the water, I turned around to take a picture of the sea cliff looming over us.
And that's when I heard yelling.
I turned around and it was as if everything around me was moving so slowly and I couldn't react quick enough. I was practically paralyzed with confusion. I saw tourists running away from the shoreline as a single wave had proved itself superior to the rest. It had come further into the shoreline, at such a severe strength and speed, that all the tourists bolted from their position. Some of them had been even closer to the water than I was but since I had my back to the water (lesson 1: never turn your back to the enemy) and of course executed a perfect "deer-caught-in-headlights" reaction, I was the last tourist standing. And the only tourist to be knocked over by that Hercules wave.
The water came up to my knees until I keeled over and got entirely soaked. I tried to stand up again but the tide was so strong it pulled me back down, my knees buckling at the mere attempt. My whole body, drenched, cold, and heavy, was helpless, quite like a fish out of water, but in this case, the other way around.
Thankfully, the wave had mercy and let me go. Had I been any closer to the water, I wouldn't have been so lucky.
I was wet from head to toe. My camera and phone were both destroyed. And apart from the small sympathy of strangers, I was completely alone. I went to the bathroom to try to dry myself off as best as I could while holding back the urge to cry. Then I got back on my bus, pretending nothing had happened and journeyed onto the next and final destination.
The last stop was the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. I was quite bummed following the event but also that I didn't have my camera to take a picture of what was probably the most incredible waterfall I had ever seen in my life. It looked like something straight out of a fairytale. But I was still so shocked (and freezing) by what had happened that I almost didn't want to get off the bus. But then I decided that I had to accept what had happened and squeeze whatever else I could out of this day. I had to go appreciate the nature and really look at it. Without all the technology that had been previously weighing me down.
I was happy I did. Despite not having the ability to photograph it, my memory of this waterfall is the most vivid.
During the ride home and the rest of my trip, I went through a period of reflection. It's something I still think about often. I had very narrowly escaped death. Many tourists die at these beaches, enduring the same attack I had. Of course I question what I could have done differently. I could have stayed even further away from the shore, even though I had felt I was a comfortably safe distance away. But thinking more about that, had I been any further away, I wouldn't have even gotten to really see the beach at all. So then I thought about what I was doing. I was taking my picture. I had been so preoccupied with making sure I got all my picture perfect memories of this beautiful country, that I barely got to take my face away from the lens and really absorb what was happening around me.
That was lesson 2. Sometimes technology and nature shouldn't mix.
And lesson 3? I think it's the most important one of all.
When you're young, you think you're invincible. There's a whole beautiful world out there for you to explore but you don't really realize how it might be able to hurt you. I took nature for granted that day, treating it like my jungle gym. I let curiosity get the better of me. And I'm not the only one. We exploit nature all the time. We use its resources and push its limits. But often we forget that nature was on this planet first - it's something that can be ferocious. And all we are is people, just people. So if we don't treat nature with the reverence it deserves, it's going to fight back.