I used to be a big town boy when it came to holidays. London, Berlin, Amsterdam were my favourite destinations. In the last years, however, things dramatically changed. My idea of a great holiday is being in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and animals, spending evenings sitting by a bonfire ideally somewhere near the water.

Except… terms and conditions apply…

Nature Boy taking photos with his smartphone.

This is Arnarstapi, one of the most incredible places I’d ever been to. I loved it. Everything about it. The screams of birds, the basalt columns, the fury of the waves, the smell of the air, even the drizzle. The feeling of being alone with nature, being a small part of it and nothing more than that. Not checking my messages, emails, not getting phone calls (not that I do phonecalls). Unfortunately, there was a catch. When we decided we were cold and wet enough, we went to a lovely cafe and had the most delicious apple pie with caramel. Then we drove back home, warm thanks to the airco. Once we arrived, we took off our coats and leathers as the modern geothermic heating system allowed us to be as warm as we wanted to be. Of course, I had to share pictures and stories with everyone on social media. What good is being in nature if everyone doesn’t know?!

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In the first instalment we covered the rock show – time for the part I missed first time around.

We got back in the car, and instead of going back we drove further into Heiðmörk, and discovered one of Iceland’s famous forests…

(My apologies. I will totally do this again.)

The Icelandic Forest Service manages 53 forests, and boasts about the fact some of them are open for public access! This is only funny to people who are used to forests being everywhere. But until really not that long ago (separate post coming) Iceland had no forests, and driftwood was prized possession. (Generally awarded to pastors and bishops.) The foresting is a relatively new thing for the country. Same as public transport outside the cities. (Separate post coming…)

Anyway, because I got completely off-topic… Heiðmörk is one of the places that have forests all of their own.

The interesting thing is that when you walk past the trees and take a closer look, the ones that took guard in the front row are damaged in interesting ways. The branches only grow in one direction. Obviously the winds have either broken the other branches, or just bent them until the tree became completely asymmetrical. Further rows have been protected by the forerunners (“shield wall!”) and look like, well, trees. I haven’t taken any good photos of this phenomenon, and now I’m rather upset with myself. Oh well. I have to go again. See? Perfect reason. My blog readers deserve a good photo of asymmetrical tree! *buys tickets*

As we continued our hike, we saw the Esja mountains. One of the things that blow me away the most about this country is the mix of modern and ancient. You have a lovely view of Esja from Reykjavik’s coast. Specifically, from a quite busy road which also houses, ahem, not very pretty buildings, and the Sun Voyager sculpture. This is what it looks like from a natural reserve most people don’t know exists… but somehow on this particular photo you can see my future house really well:

I’ve been posting a few photos on my brand new 500px page, and I tagged the pictures from the rocky part of Heiðmörk as “another planet”, “alien”, and “magic”. I’m aware that the scale of my obsession with Iceland terrifies half of my friends and makes the other half screen their calls in case I ring, but how can I resist this?

To finish the Heiðmörk section, although I could go on, a photo proving that not only have I visited a forest, but also sat on a bit of it.

Please note that I cleaned and waxed these boots before leaving the house.

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I mentioned that calendars, photo books, etc. are coming. They are – the book is currently being printed. More about it soon, and in the meantime feel free to take a look at the 500px page with selected photos and galleries. More are coming. I’m not sure if this is a promise or a threat. All this, again, is going to be a subject of a separate post…

I found out about Heiðmörk’s existence from Bart (as an aside, I found out a lot of things from him, many of them NSFW and not suitable for this blog). He said it’s going to be a nature reserve, people-free, and look awesome. Heiðmörk delivered on each count.

The comment I read about God using Iceland to make a beta version of a whole different planet, then sort of getting over the idea and leaving it there to attend to more important matters… Heiðmörk is the only proof you need to know it’s true. It looks like I imagine Mars to be. Except more interesting, and with that magically clean air. My book takes place between 1885-1920, and I can’t imagine people who were often losing toes and fingers to frostbite, or found hardly any fodder for their horses got super excited about the quality of air, or beauty of places as Heiðmörk. In 2018, it feels like magic.

Let me try and give you an idea of the scale. A small idea, because we didn’t have fisheye lens.

And here is what I was looking at:

Iceland in late spring and summer (although technically, of course, April 18 was the first day of Icelandic summer…) is covered by lupines. Billions and billions of relentless lupines. Seeing the same place without them made it almost scarily different. That feeling you get when you bump into a friend, and he’s lost his long hair, replaced the leather jacket with a suit, got botox, sold the motorbike and bought a Mercedes, and his girlfriend is no longer Natasha with the dreads, but Amal with the suitcase. You know it’s still your friend George, but you keep on being tempted to ask if he is sure it’s him.

Here, for comparison, is a random photo of Heiðmörk in June 2017.

The entirety of Heiðmörk is 3,200 hectares, and apart from all the Mars landscapes it now is the home to a pretty impressive forest, more about which in part two. But I can’t resist telling the anecdote anymore. Helga Maureen’s father, when faced with the perspective of being forced to live in a country with trees in it, said grumpily “I don’t know why they have to put dem forests everywhere! Now with all those trees you can’t see the landscape at all!”

In general Iceland is a place where I want to go simply so that I can hide from people and not see any of them. In Heiðmörk there quite a few people, but I didn’t mind too much…

We went horseriding at a completely different spot, but this would have been perfect. Imagine being on a horse, peacefully (if painfully) trotting through Mars. My list for next visit is already filling up, and we won’t be able to afford another visit until someone finally buys all my internal organs from eBay.

Before finishing part 1, here’s a look at something. The colours and shades of lava are incredible. You can see them on those pictures. Not much Photoshop had been used, other than bumping the exposure and fixing some of the burn-in of the sky. And I am posting this photo without a single bit of Photoshop below. All those lava colours exist in the nature. Some create gradients. Purple, orange, red, brown, black, grey, yellow… This alone is sufficient proof for me that nature felt extremely generous, and perhaps a tad tipsy, when creating Iceland.

“Yeah, I’ve got all those colours… how do I pick just one or two… oh what the hell, I’ll just give them EVERYTHING”.

“But what about other countries, mom? They like colours too!”

“I told you not to call me mom. It’s MOTHER Nature. Also, bugger ’em. They can do with grey and brown. I like this spot particularly.”

In part two, coming soon, I will introduce you to a proper Icelandic forest… and the photo books… and the calendars… but let’s not get carried away. Yet.