Today I flew in an airplane over an active volcano.
I’m tempted to stop there: there’s not much to add, really, as words fail to describe the experience. But this wouldn’t be much of a blog with just a title and this lame paragraph, so we’ll try to describe it somehow.
It’s a crisp, sunny winter’s day as María and I show up to the local airport, late and frantic as usual, in a flurry of excitement about the day’s activity.
We’re there to evaluate the tour, so we purposefully take the worst seats on the plane – right by the engines, (word to the wise – the best seats are at the back) offering to trade the seats we’d originally taken with a very nice couple from the US who graciously accepted. The view from these seats is absolutely fine as we’ll deal with later (but if you plan to sit right by the wing, I might recommend bringing some headphones or earplugs.)
Only the 12 window-seats of our 19-seater plane are occupied, and as we lift off, Reykjavík city is bathed in a golden sunny glow. As soon as we’re airborne, we can see into the mountain ranges across the bay, over the fields and nature which surround Reykjavík city, and in a few minutes the city is nowhere to be seen.
The sky is clear so we get a scenic tour of the country while we’re at it. We fly the shortest route, over the highlands, with nameless mountains, valleys, wastelands, peaks and crags, covered in snow and bathed in light. It’s beautiful but since we don’t recognize any landmarks, it all blends into one a bit.
After about 45 minutes in the air, the weather takes a turn, clouds come up out of nowhere and we fly through them, suspended in a timeless hazy void. A few minutes later we emerge on the other side in a different world – clouds above and up ahead – the huge black lava field and volcano coming into view. It was all very poetic and appropriate, kind of like flying into Mordor.
There isn’t really any good way to describe the experience of seeing an active volcano with the naked eye. First you see the field of still-warm, new-born lava– black against the white snow all around. You see little glowing specks in the lava here and there, and then the bright river of glowing fire running from the crater. Soon after, you see the mountain and finally the crater full of raging, bubbling, tumultuous lava.
THE COLOUR OF THE MOLTEN ROCK IS BEST DESCRIBED LIKE THIS: IT LOOKS COMPLETELY UNREAL, LIKE BAD CGI.
If you see a photo of the eruption and think it must be photoshopped, that’s probably the right colour. It’s too bright, too orange for real life. Inside the crater it’s like a stormy sea of fire, I guess the new lava coming from below is constantly disturbing and moving the lava that’s already there…
We fly in figure-eights so that first one side of the plane can see into the crater and then the other, then we loop around and do it again. Sitting right by the engine has no drawbacks, because the pilot tilts the plane so that the wing is out of sight.
María and I mess around taking selfies and making silly faces as we circle for about 30 minutes, which is plenty of time, and then we start heading back to civilisation. We fly back out of Mordor through the clouds and emerge in Reality again, sun shining, birds chirping and work waiting. I doze off for a while after the day’s excitement and María wakes me up a few minutes before we land.
This is definitely an experience of a lifetime, an unreal memory I will carry with me for a lifetime and I definitely recommend it for absolutely anyone who wants to do something unique and exhilarating on their holiday in Iceland. Also – if you want to do this, you should probably get on it soonish, since one of our volcanologists reckons it will stop in March.