At Home in the Land of Extremes

Iceland Farm Holidays offers an intimate introduction to a country steeped in mist, mystery, and majesty
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Scartifoss Waterfall, Skaftafell National Park
THE LAND OF ELVES: The basalt face of Svartifoss Waterfall in Skaftafell National Park  (Franz Aberham/Digital Vision/Getty)

Iceland is famous for its extremes. It's where volcanoes meet glaciers, where the constant brightness of summer relieves the darkness of winter, and where the harshness of the climate belies the warmth of the people. During one of my first days in Iceland, I experienced perhaps the most enjoyable of the country's contrasts: after a thrill ride down the icy, rollicking Class II-III Hvita River, I retired to the warm comfort of a local farmer's guest room.

That day, under a milky sky, I'd wound through fields, farm houses, and lava-rock hills on the gravel roads of southeast Iceland. By mid-afternoon I arrived at Arctic Rafting's headquarters to find 35 exuberant Icelandic teenagers on a graduation trip, tangled in a mess of wetsuits, booties, helmets, and life preservers.

"You can't sleep too much here during the summer," said a calm mom and chaperone with large blue eyes and a blond bob. "There's always time to sleep later on."

That proved to be a sentiment common among adventurous Icelanders, who embrace the summer with unrivaled enthusiasm after enduring the country's cold, dark winters. For the next two hours, we bounced through rapids named Bad Omen, Keyhole, and Titanic, laughing gleefully with every drop and splash. We rolled through a black volcanic-tuff canyon, where the kids dared each other to jump from a 15-foot cliff into the bone-numbing water, and by hilly farmland where wild horses watched our curious group pass.

Satiated and tuckered out, I drove 15 minutes to my abode for the night: Efsti Dalur, a horse and dairy farm perched on a hill with views over the countryside, dotted with the white steam of geothermal vents. After quieting the resident Australian shepherds and mistakenly stumbling upon the milking parlor, I finally found the proprietress, a fair-haired woman named Bjork (no relation to the songstress) feeding the horses. She showed me to my cozy, wood-paneled room, where a giant bed beckoned with down duvets and a hand-stitched quilt—a perfect nook to warm up and pass out in preparation for what the next day might bring.

Published: 31 Jul 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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