The rain hit hard mid-afternoon. The road ahead was lost in fog and the clouds above were nowhere to be seen through the heavy showers. The world turned a uniform light grey.
Having checked our first few destinations off the map, we were now fast approaching the southern-most point of the Ring Road. The never-ending highway was empty; occasional headlights would appear out of the mist, zoom past us dangerously swaying our car to the side, and then disappearing back into the nothingness.
The road was single-lane in each direction but the dividing line was now hardly visible. We'd often catch ourselves too close to the passing vehicle for comfort or within inches of the steep edge to the right. These aren't the conditions we imaged ourselves in that weekend but there was no turning back - we were hundreds of kilometers out of the capital and nearing the coastal village of Vík. Next to this historical town at the southern-most point of the island lies the famous Reynisfjara beach.
What do you picture when you think of a beach? To me it was always white sand, turquoise water, and a clear blue sky above the horizon. But this was nothing like that classic version. From the top down, the scene was off-white transitioning into grey, down to a deeper grey of the water, and finally to totally black sand, with the bright white foam of the North Atlantic waves cutting across the image. And somehow the combination of these shades made the scene absolutely stunning. Probably because it was so surreal and unusual, the complete opposite of what you're used to seeing on an ocean coast.
We were walking through one of the wettest places in Iceland, on black basalt sand formed by the rapid cooling of lava many years ago. Behind me, as you're looking into the above shot, is the mountain of Reynisfjall, towering over the black beach. Inside that mountain is a cave (image below). We stepped inside and the raging storm seemed to take a brief pause. Inside the cave you could still feel the occasional mist on your face, carried over by winds from outside but atmosphere within was calm. It was our temporary shelter, one that even local sheep apparently use to shield themselves from the not-so-uncommon storms.
The cave wasn't deep but was nonetheless dark: with my current shutter setting, I had to kneel down and keep the camera as still as possible, holding my breath for the shot (a faster shutter would have forced a higher ISO, at a loss of some of the detail I wanted). The surrounding walls looked just like what you see in the above frame, with the stones lengthening as you looked up to the domed ceiling of the cave. The basalt rock formations were damp from the stormy weather, making them shine, each stone transforming colour from matte black to a radiant silver as you moved around the cave. Truly mesmerizing.
The walk back to the car was wet (we were as soaked as we've ever been) and the drive back was cold (with the heat on in the car I was shivering, dreaming of the hot shower we hoped was waiting for us in the cosy little farmhouse room we rented for the weekend).
I'll end the adventure with a throwback. I shot the image below on my last trip here in late January, after we parked next to Vík's famous church, sitting high above the coastal village.
For perspective, look closely for the two people walking along the water (bottom middle of the image). The scene all of a sudden grows to another level of massive, right?
To this day this is probably my favourite photo from this beautiful island. Check out more Iceland favourites in the adventure gallery and across some of my earlier blog posts.