Remember how big this H&M golden choker was back then in 2011? I, too, loved the design, but not the quality. Soon, the cheap metal tarnished terribly, but, as I love to repurpose and refurbish stuff, I decided to keep it, just in case I come up with an idea how to drag out any use left of it in the future. And, here it is, powder coated in matte black, all new and ready to be worn again.
It's just an hour left before our takeoff to the Holuhraun eruption site. With the time pressing on, the intense feelings regain control over me. On one hand, the sweet excitement of the forthcoming long-awaited date with an erupting volcano doubles with every passing minute. On the other, despite having read tens of articles both about aerial and volcano photography, I feel anxious, unsure of whether we'd be able to take the pictures I so much crave for.
We have already realized the mistake we had made by renting a crop sensor body as our second camera for the job, that is why now we must be a lot more careful in considering our lens choice. But then, to begin with, comes the dilemma of wide-angle vs. telephoto as we can't estimate the size of this thing, nor the distance we'll be photographing it from. Next, we need to decide which lens to mount on which body, and then how to share out the photo gear between ourselves (remember we'll be flying in different planes?).
Incapable of making a well-reasoned judgement, we just stand there, at the airport, in the middle of the parking lot, desperately looking for some help. Until we spot the landing Cessna. And then, the hefty cameras hanging on the necks of two men who's just stepped off it with big grins on their faces. Gotcha! What's more, it turns out one of these friendly guys is not just some pro photographer, but one of the Canon's Explorers of Light, Ken Sklute! Not only we get the chance to know what to expect of the flight and preview the eruption scene, but we also gain the much-needed technical know-how straight from the pros (Thank you, Ken, once again, for the insight and valuable tips)! And in the midst of the nice chat we've started, it finally occurs to us. The single seat in these Cessna 206 aircraft we're going to fly with is the one beside the pilot, i.e. the place with the best view, and both of us get it! Everything happens for a reason, doesn't it?
6 p.m. It's time to take off, at last. And after 20 minutes of cruising over a bleak volcanic landscape, we finally see the telltale giant white gas plume, a mixture of sulphur dioxide, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, rising from the eruptive site.
Holuhraun eruption, 20 September 2014
When we fly past the crater row and I see these enormous, boiling, red-hot-lava-spewing pots, my jaw drops in astonishment. I find this mighty display of the Earth's fury so strikingly beautiful, I even cease to breathe for a moment.
the central and biggest crater, Baugur
What fascinates me the most, though, is the way the bursts of lava fountain into the air and then fall down as in a slow-motion projection. The molten rock ejected from the vent then lands on the crater cone as spatter, cools rapidly and builds it up. The largest and most active vent since the beginning of the eruption, Baugur, has already formed a crater taller than 50 m.
lava spew and spatter, abstract
While I'm focused on taking the sharpest close-ups of the lava I can, my man, determined to present me the best pictures of the volcano possible, regardless of the space obstructions and the terrible visibility through the dull plastic plane windows, morphs into Barbapapa and starts shooting at all angles and directions, even through the front window. And so, the plane I'm on gets into his frame too (note that, because of the perspective, the crater on this photo appears much smaller in scale to the plane than it really is).
it's me in that Cessna, witnessing an erupting volcano - a dream come true
giant lava cake - the smaller Krakkinn crater
the inactive Suðri vent
up to 40-meter-high fountains of molten rock burst into the air
After 15 minutes of utmost excitement, we are brought back to earth, literally and figuratively. Overwhelmed by emotion, both of us feel exhausted and dizzy. We are quite disoriented too, and thus agree the best way to spend the evening is to further loose touch with reality and go visit the nearby Hverir geothermal area.
the Hverir geothermal area at sunset
We walk around in a daze and snap some random shots till it gets dark.
There's nothing else we can do on this day, but find some nice place to park the car and have a good night's sleep. Under the aurora :}
It's a lovely Saturday morning at the lagoon. Sunny and calm, just as forecasted.
the view from our bed - sunrise over the Jökulsárlón bridge
Time to pay the usual visit to the beach and capture some diamonds :}
isolated ice chunk lying on the beach
my man playing on the field
An hour later we are back to the lagoon for a romantic walk along the shore.
the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue calving into the lagoon
Mr. & Mrs. Hitrov, Jökulsárlón, September 2014
The clock is ticking and we better hurry up. It's a five-and-a-half-hour drive to the Mývatn airport, provided we don't stop to take pictures of the scenery every few minutes, which is hard to resist, especially as this part of the country is new to us. Hence, I promise to try, as much as I can, to shoot through the window while we are on the move.
along Road 1, Southeast Iceland
When I see a flock of swans chilling in a lake next to the road, though, I ask my man to stop the car.
Whooper swan / Cygnus cygnus / Álft
look at me, I'm beautiful...
... and flirtatious
Further down the way, we reach our first fjord - Berufjörður. Mesmerized by the view, we miss the shortcut at the end of the fjord - the scenic Öxi road - and continue along Road 1.
Berufjörður and the Búlandstindur Mountain
In the meantime, Road 1, a.k.a. the Icelandic highway, has turned into a narrow unpaved road.
on Road 1, East Iceland
But driving some extra kilometers on steep gravel doesn't bother us at all. The energy of the day is quite different from yesterday's. The weather is supreme, the scenery - unexplored, and, although we have to get to our destination by 5 pm, we are not rushing through.
dangerous turn ahead
Road 1 making twists and turns
We stop at the gas station in Egilsstaðir to fill up, have a cup of coffee, and check the updates on the eruption, before we take up the next 170 km through the most humdrum part of the island.
Road F88 leading to the eruption site closed due to risk of flood
After a 2-hour drive across a barren moorland, we reach Mývatn area and head straight to the Reykjahlíð Airport. We have a quick look around the airfield, and, since we are a couple of hours early, decide to check the nearby sights.
all quiet on the Reykjahlíð Airport
It's such a diverse landscape around Mývatn, one must devote at least 2 days to fully explore and enjoy it. To make full use of the little spare time we have, we decide to hunt up the Grjótagjá lava cave, famous for being used as a popular bathing site and a location for filming the 5th episode of the 3rd season of Game of Thrones. Turns out it's easily reachable by car via Road 860. There, in the parking area in front of the cave entrance, we find another bizarre creation - the quintessence of life in the harsh Icelandic nature.
hard is the life of the Icelandic tree
Another landmark that catches our eyes wherever we turn our heads is the giant striated black mountain Hverfell. In fact, it's a rare and particularly enormous example of a tephra explosion crater, one kilometer in diameter. I so much want to go to the crater rim, but the time we have here most probably won't allow for such a walk. I sigh a long sigh, and get into the cave.
Since, due to volcanic activity in the 70s and 80s, the water temperature had risen to more than 50 °C, bathing in the cave is strictly forbidden now, thus there's nothing much we can do there besides taking a couple of pictures. We take a short walk along the steamy fissure above the cave and return to the airport.
* "Lava lava in the hole" is the funny Google translation of the warning "Hraungos í Holuhrauni" posted on the Icelandic Met Office site, which we have adopted as our own nick-name of the current Bárðarbunga eruption and the events in our lives bounded up with it.
17 August 2014 6.50 pm
Casually checking my Facebook news feed while we are taking our usual Sunday stroll around the city, I come across a photo posted by Iceland Magazine with a caption about an ongoing earthquake swarm at the biggest volcano under Vatnajökull glacier - Bárðarbunga - a sure sign of magma movement in the upper crust. The news throws me off balance in a flash. The phrase "impending eruption" is what I've been on the constant lookout for for the past year, ever since we'd booked our first flight to Iceland. Now I'm torn between feeling super enthusiastic about the events to come and frustrated for being 4,000 kilometers away from the show. Having returned from a 7-day road trip around Iceland just a few weeks ago, and still living on a shoe string budget because of it, we start fantasizing about winning the lottery. Certainly, Bárðarbunga won't be getting out of my mind any time soon.
29 August 2014
I've been maniacally following the course of the intense seismic events beneath Bárðarbunga since the onset of the earthquake swarm 11 days ago. Today, too, I'm having my morning coffee and checking the updates on the progression of the magma intrusion in the crust under the Dyngjujökull glacier. And, finally, the news I've been waiting for this long pops up on my screen! A small lava eruption started on an old volcanic fissure in the Holuhraun lava field, at the northern tip of the intrusion dyke at midnight, but appeared to have ceased shortly after. At this moment in time, I start getting increasingly tensed. My dream encounter with the lava has never been so close to becoming true, yet so impossible.
31 August 2014
Bárðarbunga erupts again! Another fissure eruption starts in Holuhraun, in the same rift as the one 2 days earlier. This time, though, the magma discharge is bigger and stronger. Images of 70 m high lava fountains begin flooding my desktop. I'm checking the live stream of the eruption site every other hour. By the end of the day I already feel both anxious and desperate for there I can see no way I could witness this in person myself.
5 September 2014
The eruption has escalated for the last couple of days and 2 new eruptive fissures form south of the main eruption site. Fountains of lava in the central craters of the northern fissure have already reached 113 m in height. Sixth night in a row I am trying to force myself to take my mind off the volcano and fall asleep before sunrise.
6 September 2014
Sighing, wringing, and despairing don't help. I should get the deed done and figure out a way to reach Holuhraun. Even if I manage to find last-minute plane tickets to Iceland that would not cost us 2 kidneys, still we cannot get to the eruption site by car as all roads leading to it are closed for the public for security reason. Hence, the only possible means of transportation left is by air. A quick research reveals that Norðurflug offers aerial helicopter tours from Reykjavík to the volcano for €1,500 per person. It's absolutely out of our price range, so I'm left broken-hearted. Later in the day, however, I come across a local airline - Mýflug Air - offering sightseeing flights over Holuhraun at a fraction of the cost of the heli ride. I see light at the end of the tunnel!
7 September 2014
This is final. I've found convenient and (relatively) not so expensive same-day connecting flights to Iceland for the upcoming Friday, and tomorrow I'll be paying a visit to my bank. At the end of the day, though, the eruption already shows no visible activity in the new fissure on the south and the northernmost part of the north fissure has no more lava fountaining too. On top of that, my husband seems to be not able to take a day off on this Friday. Meanwhile, I see images of the fire show at twilight, when the iridescent lava starts glowing like mad and lights up the sky in red. I'm losing all the patience I have left and getting very antsy again.
8 September 2014
Turns out I won't be able to sign up an overdraft on my account before Friday, so all my planning goes on standby. Nevertheless, I never cease to keep a close eye both on the volcano activity and the weather forecast.
12 September 2014
I've bought the plane tickets for the next Friday and contacted Mýflug Air to book a flight for two on Saturday at dusk. I've went through the weather forecast for the 3 days we'd be there in detail, and I've made sure to pick the best time for our sightseeing flight. Still, I can't help myself; I keep worrying that in the meantime the volcano might erupt from beneath the icecap, eventually causing cancellation of our flights, or, even worse, stop spewing out lava altogether.
15 September 2014
Since we'll be crossing all of Iceland for 86 hours only and have to be as flexible as possible to accommodate any changes in plans if need be, we have to hire a low-cost car that not only can sleep us, but also has an unlimited mileage. At last, my husband finds a rental company that meets our criteria and offers a 24/7 drop-off service at Keflavík airport as well, so we can make full use of all our time in Iceland.
16 September 2014
Out of the blue, the car rental cancels our booking less than 72 hours before the pick-up. We go on to plan B and book a super-duper extra special fully equipped with bedding, fridge, running water AND heating camper van with Happy Campers for the 3 days, and an ordinary Yaris from SADcars just for the night remaining.
19 September 2014
My last-minute check of the weather forecast for the evening before we take off reveals that the only spot in Iceland with clear sky this night would be ... yes, you've guessed it - Jökulsárlón! This, combined with a forecast for active auroral displays, can mean only one thing. As soon as we land and pick up our car, we are heading southeast! Quite an extreme plan, provided our flight arrival time of 3 pm, all the paperwork at the car rental, the 400-kilometer distance, and my wish to photograph the usual suspects along our way (namely Skógafoss and Vík) before it gets too dark, of course.
on Road 1, South Iceland in autumn
Everything goes on smoothly until I call Mýflug to check my reservation for the next evening. It turns out that it's not confirmed and there is only one free seat left on the last flight scheduled for the day, and this flight won't get to Holuhraun at dusk as I want, but way before sunset.
So I'm like, "Please, please, I need a ride for two. Is there a way we can arrange something?"
And the guy at Mýflug says, "No, but we have 2 places for Monday evening."
My heart sinks. No way! On Monday we have to be in Reykjavík to return the camper and pick up the Toyota. It's not impossible, but a round trip to Mývatn is about 1,000 km and to get back to the airport by 5 am on the next morning to catch our return flight would not be the safest bet. And, also, there's a great chance the weather conditions would not be so good on Monday, and Mýflug could cancel the flight in the last minute.
Thus, I go, "Ok, then, please, reserve the one place left for tomorrow for me, and, please, please, if anything happens and you get one more free, please, book that one for me too!"
Damn it! I'm about to fulfill one of my greatest childhood dreams, and my love cannot be there with me to share it. On a second thought, I know the things will work out well in the end, I just know. They always do. Then my phone rings.
"We will have a second plane fly to Holuhraun at 6 pm on Saturday and we have one place free. Do you want it? You have to answer me now, because there are other people waiting."
Decision making under pressure isn't one of my strongest traits, in fact, I pretty well suck at it :} So, I ask for 5 minutes to think this through. My gut feeling tells me there has to be a reason it should be like that, and I call back to confirm.
my favorite 'model' boulder
We have less than an hour to reach Vík before the Sun sets, and we need to hurry. But hurrying while trying to take that special shot you have in the back of your mind against a strong, cold wind does not help at all. Thus, we take some quick snapshots of Skógafoss waterfall and go on to Vík.
water curtain, Skógafoss
Skógafoss - the heart-shaped waterfall
We get to the beach just in time to catch the prettiest pink halo of the sunset but the sky lacks interesting cloud formations and soon we're done.
the basalt sea stacks Reynisdrangar at twilight
Shortly after, we are back on Road 1. It isn't even completely dark when my eyes start wandering around. And it does not take me long to spot it either, right in front of us, dancing up in the sky, my forever love - the Aurora. We are super excited, as always, my man puts on the brake on the dot, and runs out of the car. His hands are shaking as he rushes to set up the tripod, manually focus the lens to infinity, and adjust the exposure settings, so as to not miss the light show. I, on the other hand, start to grumble about the boring foreground we've got here and insist we hurry up to make it to Jökulsárlón to have the auroral reflections and the icebergs in the frame too.
Aurora Borealis and the glow from the Bárðarbunga eruption seen over Skaftafell
Approaching the first glacial tongue on our way, though, all of the sudden, we find ourselves in thick fog. As we pass the ice sheet, it dissipates as unexpectedly as it has appeared. Then again, the same thing happens with the next ice tongue. Now, it occurs to me. We are heading for a big disappointment.
But just before Jökulsárlón, the sky clears again and a flaming auroral curtain loops in a dramatic fold.
the northern lights and the volcano glow
However, by the time we get to the lagoon, the aurora quietens and the fog descends again.
night rainbow above the glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón
Till it completely covers the sky 20 minutes later and leaves a dozen photographers unhappy. My master plan needs an overhaul. I ask my man to drive back to the place we've last seen clear sky. It may be only 11 pm local time, but our biological clocks are 3 hours fast, and we haven't slept much the previous night either, so he falls asleep at the wheel and scares the hell out of me. We return immediately to the parking lot at the lagoon and go straight to bed. Still, I get up every hour or so to look for the lights with no success, and finally, at 4 am, I give up and fall asleep too.