These past few days have been pretty hectic, but I’m finally in Iceland! Somehow this country is even more gorgeous than I imagined it to be. Everywhere you turn the scenery is breathtaking, my eyes are exhausted from taking it all in.
The first day I arrived, after an overnight flight with little sleep and hours in the airport, I met up with the rest of my group and we all shuttled to a nearby guesthouse where we would be staying for the night. There are around 20 of us on this trip, all from different colleges and universities around the country. I am the only one from New Jersey, and also the only one who goes to Rutgers.
After a little bit of down time, we loaded onto a bus and took the short drive to the Blue Lagoon, a famous geothermal spa. A few hours of soaking in the warm milky-blue water was a welcomed bit of relaxation. Although this specific one is always heavy with tourists, there are countless natural geothermal hot spots located throughout Iceland that many locals utilize for social gatherings and relaxation on a daily basis. The Mid-Atlantic ridge cuts through the country and the two tectonic plates that make it up are moving apart at a rate of 2cm per year. This fault line is responsible for the geothermal areas that populate Iceland, as well as the many active volcanoes.
During the summertime in Iceland, it never gets fully dark, which has made sleeping a somewhat difficult task the past few nights. It is pretty cool though to be able to walk around and explore in broad daylight at 10 o’clock at night.
The next day, we took tours of two nearby geothermal energy power plants. The first one, H.S Orka, was created in 1970 as a solution to the oil crisis. It was the first geothermal power plant in the world to be built for domestic use, and its runoff provides the water to the Blue Lagoon hot spring. A highly sustainable facility, it provides electricity and hot water to thousands of people in neighboring towns. A lot of the energy is also sold to other companies, particularly aluminum manufacturers, who use the geothermal energy rather than fossil fuels to develop their products.
The second factory, Hellisheiđi, provides electricity and hot water to the country’s capital, Reykjavik. The extremely hot water flows downhill from the plant to the city through heavily insulated pipes, arriving to the town at a blistering 81 degrees Celsius. Over 90% of Iceland is powered by renewable energy sources, making it an incredibly sustainable country. It is also extremely affordable for the residents, as they pay an average of what would translate to around 60 U.S dollars a month for hot water and electricity combined.
After that tour, we loaded back onto the bus and drove to the small town of Hveragerđi to visit some more geothermal hot springs and mud pools. Finally, we headed to Reykjavik and boarded a tiny little 30-passenger plane for a slightly terrifying half hour flight to Ísafjördur, the capital of the Westfjords, located the northwestern part of the country. It is here where we will be spending the next few weeks. Currently, we are at a retreat center called Holt that was a boarding school until the end of the twentieth century. Nestled in between some of the most gorgeous snow-spotted flat-topped mountains I have ever seen, the Holt House is only accessible by passing through a 4-kilometer long tunnel that runs underneath of the surrounding mountains.
Today and tomorrow we will be sitting through a bunch of orientation sessions run by our trip leaders, introducing us more to the program and what we will be learning throughout our 7 weeks here, as well as providing us with more information about Iceland. Saturday begins the 2-week-long homestay portion of the program. Although we have yet to meet our homestay families, we have been told that they are very excited to be taking us in.