Monday, May 2, 2011

Solitary Travel and the Golden Circle

(photo of Iceland's Pinviller National Park by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Iceland is a good destination for a woman traveling alone. The people are friendly. Reykjavik is a safe city. The food is delicous - fermented shark and charred sheep's head aside - and the excursions are inexpensive and well-organized.

Reykjavik Excursions
is one of the largest tour organizers. You can book excursions online, by phone or - in the case of the Hilton Nordica - at the concierge desk in the lobby. Buses pick you up at the hotel and deliver you (almost) to the door at the end of the day.

I opted to first add the Golden Circle tour which took us up to the Geysir geothermal field, the Gullfoss Waterfall and the awe-inspiring Pingviller National Park (pronounced Thing-viller) and then, the next day, the South Shore Adventure. The South Shore loop carried us as far as the village of Vik past the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skogaafoss waterfall and the Myrdalsjokull Glacier. The glacier was still covered in ash from the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull.

Sea legs

(photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When the TravelZoo fare alert landed in my inbox, I was working. I had deadlines to meet. I didn't have time to do any wishful thinking. But the Icelandair sale was so good I stopped what I was doing and within minutes had booked the trip.
So I would have to write another story to pay for it. So what? It was just too good to pass up.

The package included a three-hour whale-watching tour. Whale-watching excursions don't guarantee a sighting but the chances are excellent that in spring or fall that the weather - and the sea - will be unsettled.

On the morning of my trip we started out on glassy seas under partly cloudy skies. But an hour into the loop, the winds rose suddenly and the seas began to roll. What followed was epic. People all over the boat turned green and threw up. Entire families were huddled on the decks or below, clutching sick-bags and retching. The boat was tossing so hard I had to wrap my arm around a pipe and hold on tight. I zipped my coat around me and made sure I could keep my eyes on the place where the overcast sky fell into the icy ocean.

By the time the trip ended its three-hour run, I was one of the few left standing.
This was a total surprise. I've never spent much time on rough water and I always harbored a secret suspicion that I would be the first to fall when the boat started rocking. Who knew?

Of course, there were no whales. They were safe below the surface. Only silly humans would come out to play on such a day.

But, now I know. I know something we all learn sooner or later: when things get rough sometimes all you can do is keep your eye on the horizon. Sometimes, all you can do is hold on, focus on the place where the sky meets the edge of the world and ride it out.