I celebrated New Year's in Iceland this year and learned so many incredible things. The landscapes in Iceland are out of this world. I saw frozen solid waterfalls and water boiling and bubbling up from the earth. I saw fields full of lava stone and black sand beaches littered with huge boulders of ice. It was truly incredible. I saw a lot of these beautiful scenes from the inside of a 15 person van.
Iceland may seem small compared to other countries, but it's not so small when you're driving from one side to the other in a matter of days. Because of this, I was able to spend time learning from my Icelandic tour guides.
Here are a few facts I learned about the majestic land of Fire and Ice.
1. The countryside is covered with short hairy horses. These horses are direct decendents of the horses the Vikings brought to the island over 1000 years ago and have not been cross bred with any other breeds. They are also the only horses to have 5 gaits.
2. Early settlers built their homes in the earth to keep warm. Turf houses are constructed partially or fully surrounded by dirt, earth, and vegetation to help insulate the house during the extreme cold of winter. Many houses in the rural parts of Iceland maintain this vernacular today.
3. The Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) is an organization made up of 10,000 volunteers and is completely funded by donation. The ICE-SAR sells over 500 tons of fireworks each year for New Year’s celebrations and the profits from those sales makes up almost all of the funds needed to keep the organization running for the year. These are the people you definitely want funded if you are exploring Iceland on your own or happen to get caught it some scary weather.
4. Iceland is one of the greenest country in the world. It's the largest green energy provider per capita and provides 9x more energy per capita than other European countries. 25% of Iceland's energy comes from hydropower and 60% comes from geothermal sources. Geothermal plants pull hot water or steam from the earth, filter it, compress it, and send it through a turbine that produces energy which makes its way to a generator, then to a transformer, and then finally into a city grid. The by-products are sent from the turbine to a cooling tower and then returned back to the earth.
5. Due to its extreme latitude, there is effectively 24hrs of daylight in the summer months and only 5 hours of sunlight during winter. During my visit, the sun would rise at almost 11am, hang out for a bit just above the horizon, start setting again around 2:30pm, and be fully set before 4pm.
6. Bananas were once commercially grown in Iceland. Greenhouses are widely used here because of their very long summer days with endless sunlight and cheap geothermal energy to power artificial light in the winter. What sets Iceland apart from other countries with similar diurnal patterns is the geothermal activity. Heat energy near the earth's surface is for responsible keeping the ground warm year round and is also used to boil and disinfect the soil when needed. Although bananas aren't produced commericially anymore, these green houses do bring everything from tomatoes to tulips to the market.
Have I convinced you yet that Iceland is amazing? If you are ever looking for a getaway that is full of action, adventure, history, science, and gorgeous landscapes, consider Iceland!
Watercolors by Amy Jarvis.