Ice lakes and the perfectly still water

Iceland is kind of a circle shape – and if you imagine it is a giant clock – we were driving somewhere around the 5 o’clock point.  We were just a grain of sand sandwiched between two giants, the Atlantic sea and Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier. We reached the glacial lagoon by a short off road track (all the interesting sights were marked on roadsigns in hip Icelandic style by the apple command symbol – ⌘). Our rental car shook and shuddered, clearly not designed for any kind of terrain other than highway.

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Fjallsárlón was stunning. It appears as a furious avalanche roaring down the mountain, and is then suddenly frozen in space and time. In this moment, it showed off it’s curious twinkling reflection patterns, pure white snowfields, and jagged mountaintops, swallowed alive. Ancient blocks of ice crumbled and fell into the wide brown lake at the glacier base, rippling in the wind. Whereas Skaftafellsjökull reached the mountain base funnelled between canyon walls, Fjallsárlón widened into view like a spectacular, dramatic panorama. Our faces mummified with scarves, jackets and hoodies, the strong winds coming down the mountain battered and tousled us as we took pictures.

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There was something even more beautiful just down the road. The neighbouring Jökulsárlón glacier seemed to have shattered into a million icebergs at it’s glacial lagoon, floating en masse in a still lake. Each ice block was reflected perfectly in the mirror-clear waters of the lake. There was no noise but the drip drip of melting ice. Occasionally an iceberg would creak under stress, or fall into the water with a soft plop.

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On a whim, we followed another car down the next gravel path, to find another one of Iceland’s hidden curiosities. The ice from Jökulsárlón’s glacial lagoon was being pulled out to sea via a small channel, and were washing up on a nearby beach. The beach, black as night with volcanic sand, was covered in lumps of ice, collecting on the sand or drifting back and forth in the dark water. They were polished and crystal clear from their wash in the sea, contrasting profoundly with the black sand. I picked up some sand. It was coarse and sticky. What planet had we found ourselves on!?

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That evening, we stayed in tiny Höfn, a town in the south east. A fishing town by trade, it also carried a reputation for serving fine seafood, in particular the langoustine, a mini lobster from the Atlantic. We walked by the harbour, calm and still under the brilliant glow of the setting sun. Long shadows yawned and elongated as we walked in the orange glow. With no cars, the silence was striking. The mirror-flat water projected perfect copies of the fishing boats in the bay. The restaurant, a converted shipping warehouse, was by the water. We ordered seafood; I took cod and the girls ordered langoustine. The langoustines came, served in melted butter and herbs, and I immediately realised I made the wrong decision.

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