Dispatch from Iceland: Volcano Travel

Having just flown in to Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport, I was resting in a window seat aboard the Flybus, struck by the scarred, boiling-looking earth that makes up the terrain on the straight road to Reykjavik. I was  looking forward to a brief stay in Reykjavik before my wife, Mary, and I were to cruise along the southern and eastern coasts of the island. This was my first time on Icelandic shores, and on that 45-minute bus ride from the international airport in Keflavik to Reykjavik, I felt transported back in time seeing this landscape formed from hardened volcanic lava flows. This could be what the New World explorer Leif Erikson walked upon more than a thousand years ago.

As a native of Canada, I am drawn to the north as a place to travel, and Iceland’s history makes it an especially appealing destination. When I closed my eyes on that first drive from the airport to Reykjavik, I thought of Leif the Lucky, the first Westerner to set foot on what is now Newfoundland, and Egil, the Viking poet, who saved his skin by composing a eulogy to the king of Norway. Both of their age-old stories were preserved by Icelandic sagas. Even Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi, is ancient, dating back to the year 930.

Today, active volcanoes are carefully monitored and eruptions can be predicted well in advance, allowing people in places like Iceland and Italy to live, for the most part, without fear. Travelers can also, as I did, enjoy both an inner journey, as they contemplate these lands and their histories, and the actual journey, as they visit and see them for themselves.

The country’s history is one that has long been linked to its furious underground. Certainly that is true today with news of the ongoing eruptions in the country’s Reykjanes Peninsula. For travelers, it only makes sense to follow the news of those eruptions as it develops. But is it reason enough to reject a trip to Iceland, when experts so far have deemed travel to and around the island safe, as long as you steer clear of the eruption area? As our cruise along the Icelandic coast proved true, the island is a place of many treasures. Indeed, Mary and I were thrilled to visit Slippurin Restaurant on the Westman Islands, where a volcano eruption 50 years ago still comes up in conversation. It could have very easily destroyed the economy of its only city, Heimaey, we were told. Instead, it is a place that draws thousands of visitors every year, both locals and tourists.

Iceland’s lava flows contribute to the island’s atmospheric black beaches/Shutterstock

Even Jules Verne was fascinated by Iceland’s terrain. In his novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” the protagonists come upon a 16th century Icelandic man’s manuscript about an underground route to the very center of Earth. They follow that path, through Mount Snaeffels northwest of Reykjavik, and are ejected from Stromboli’s volcano in Italy. 

On our far more recent visit to Italy’s Stromboli, we were amazed by how the active volcano had created a lava trail, one that villagers were traversing as part of their everyday routines. In Naples, Italy, this approach to life near Vesuvius proved equally true. We were especially drawn to what we found in the city’s archaeology museum, which famously has scads of amazing everyday objects unearthed from the Pompeii disaster site: oil lamps and paintings of mythic figures, and the piece de resistance, medical utensils that remarkably resemble those used to this very day. There is even a Naples-area miles-long fissure called Campi Flegrei that, were it to erupt, would generate enough magma to fill 80 million Olympic-size swimming pools, according to one scientific report.

Today, active volcanoes are carefully monitored and eruptions can be predicted well in advance, allowing people in places like Iceland and Italy to live, for the most part, without fear. Travelers can also, as I did, enjoy both an inner journey, as they contemplate these lands and their histories, and the actual journey, as they visit and see them for themselves.

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Paula Kasteran
8 days ago

Good article, very informative.

Reply to  Paula Kasteran
8 days ago

Thank you, Paula. I’ll let Larry O’Connor know, am sure you’ll have made his day. –Carolyn

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