I’d always wanted to see icebergs. Ever since I was little, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of them: vast floating sculptures, sparkling in the sunshine, towering over the water. As I’ve got older, my fascination has only grown. I read The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner with a barely contained wanderlust, and watched Frozen Planet with avid fascination, over and over again. I’m obsessed with these unpredictable giants of frozen water, with their hidden bulk below the surface, their creaking transformation under the sun, their transitory nature.
So when I realised that I’d never actually seen an iceberg in the flesh, as it were, it came of something as a surprise to me. After all, I’d imagined them so vividly for so long.
There’s always a danger, with these kind of ‘bucket list moments’, of being disappointed. Of pouring so much energy and emotion into the anticipation of a thing that by the time it comes around, it can never live up to the expectation. Well, I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case with icebergs. If anything, my obsession has only deepened.
We arrived at Fjallsarlon Glacial Lagoon on an overcast and blustery morning. I’d booked the boat trip on the lagoon a few weeks before – from the warmth and comfort of my bedroom, where the word ‘lagoon’ conjured up an image of sunshine and blue skies, and ‘glacier’ had that sparkling crystal ring to it. Now we were here, however, I was a bit nervous about going out into the elements when it felt like the skies might open up at any moment.
We checked in at the office, where we swapped our regular raincoats for enormous padded waterproofs that looked like firemen’s jackets. Already I felt better about the weather situation: if we were going to get cold and wet, at least we could bundle up against it.
Once we were all sufficiently jacketed and life-vested (there were five of us in total, plus our guide, Einar), we set off walking over the stony ridge towards the lagoon. It was about a ten minute walk, during which a fine drizzle dampened our faces. I hunched myself into my giant coat as we neared the top of the ridge…
And there they were. Icebergs, floating silent and ethereal on the water.
Right at that moment, I didn’t care about the rain or the cold, or anything else for that matter. Because there were icebergs, clustered close to the shore and spread across one edge of the lagoon. They gave every impression of being static beasts, almost regal in their stillness amid the choppy grey of the wavelets. Although of course, icebergs are anything but still. The whole nature of water is to move: it falls from the sky and springs from the ground; it tumbles or meanders downhill; when it freezes, it takes its path more slowly, but still it carves its route through the land, as evidenced by the vast glacier which birthed these icebergs.
We clambered into a waiting zodiac, which Einar started with a chug and a smell of fuel that somehow smelled to me of adventure, and then we were out on the lagoon. The water slapped at the boat bottom as we skimmed across the lagoon towards clusters of icebergs, punctured only by the occasional crunching sound as we pulled a fragment of ice into our wake.
We passed icebergs of all shapes and sizes, some long and lethargic, some so small they turned and spun in the choppy water. Most were white from long exposure to the sun, but some were black with volcanic dust collected on their slow path down the mountain, and some gleamed a jewel-like blue. At one point, Einar stopped the boat and let us drift, small in the shadow of Europe’s largest glacier, and listen to the silence: no sounds on the lagoon but the sloshing of water against the sides of the zodiac, and the occasional creak of some unseen movement in the ice. Later, he stopped again, this time to pull a piece of ice from the water. The ice he held, he told us, was around 500 years old. He passed it round. It was clear and solid, like a sculpture made of glass, transparent but for its strange and beautiful distortions. We broke off pieces to eat, and it tasted pure and fresh and vital as we crunched it between our teeth.
And then it was over. Out on the lagoon, watching the barely perceptible movements of the ice, trying to fathom the hundreds of years that had brought it here, creaking and groaning from the depths of a glacier, time had seemed like an illusion, like we existed for the duration of that tour in a world apart, a timeless space.
But of course, time is a limit of ice and of people, and soon the zodiac was chugging towards the shore, Einar was pulling it onto the rocks, and we were disembarking (in the most ungainly way possible, in my case – so apologies to Einar for that). We made our way back from the lagoon, towards hot coffee and an indulgent doughnut in the café, and we drank our coffee in near silence, still gripped by the beauty of the glacier, the lagoon, and the ice.
I was a guest of Fjallsarlon Iceberg Safari. However, as always, I’m too opinionated for my thoughts not to be my own!