Iceland, as explored by Annalise
The land of fire and ice was truly a memorable experience. We were initially pulled toward Reykjavik by incredibly discounted flights, planning to use it as a quick and affordable detour before hopping over to mainland Europe. But the more I learned about Iceland, the more intrigued I was.
A tiny country uniquely surrounded by the polar ice cap, Iceland is a natural wonder. The Nordic nation is extremely progressive in its commitment to renewable energy. Geothermal and hydro meet 81% of Iceland’s primary energy needs for electricity, heat, and transportation, and the capital Reykjavik has set an aggressive yet achievable goal to be entirely fossil fuel-free by 2050. Geothermal energy powers all buildings in the city, heating the homes, lighting the streets, and powering the greenhouses that supply most of the country’s produce.
With a limited amount of time in Iceland, I had to prioritize. A visit to the Blue Lagoon, a premier spa destination featuring a geothermal pool, was at the top of my list. Before arriving, I was a bit surprised to discover that the lagoon’s constant 102 degree Fahrenheit water doesn’t actually come from a direct geothermal source, but rather utilizes excess heat from a nearby geothermal power plant. Still technically a naturally heated pool, but not in the way one would probably think.
Our lagoon experience was other-worldly. The winding road leading to the lagoon has rock formations that don’t seem to fit in with our planet, with rivers of cloudy, bright blue water snaking through. While the entry process into the lagoon is nothing short of complete chaos (tourists from the entire world flock to this destination), floating in the warm, salty water was ridiculously relaxing. If you ever find yourself in this incredible country, definitely add the Blue Lagoon to your list of activities!
Easter Island, as experienced by Nicolette
The best things in life are unplanned. That’s exactly how I ended up at Rapa Nui, or as most of us know it, Easter Island. When my bus from Santiago to Mendoza was cancelled, I decided to purchase a flight to Easter Island on a whim. Not quite knowing what to expect, I set off on a spontaneous journey that I will never forget.
I spent almost the entirety of my trip outdoors, which was utterly rejuvenating. Alternating between mountain biking (first time!), hiking, scootering, exploring hidden caves, admiring the ancient Moai statues, swimming in the crystal clear ocean, and singing along to the guitar strumming of fellow travelers at our camp, I was left completely invigorated.
Of all my adventures on the island, discovering what is quite possibly the most serene location on Earth—the crater of Rano Raraku—might top the list. Exploring the island on my rented scooter, I stumbled upon the crater, which sourced almost all the stone used to carve the island’s famous Moai statues; you can still see partially carved statues all along the outside of the crater. The inside was one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve ever experienced. A natural oasis, a pristine pond with no one else around, the only sounds were of birds chirping, leaves rustling ever so slightly from the breeze, and wild horses galloping along the perimeter.
As my fellow Environmental Studies majors know, the history of Easter Island, albeit disputed, is one of overpopulation and overexploitation of natural resources—a microcosm of what’s happening on a global scale today. Most of the island was consequently protected as a National Park, and despite the fact that native species of Rapa Nui are now few and far between, it was still refreshing to be immersed in the outdoors—purposefully avoiding the word ‘nature’ here—and humbling to experience profound remoteness. It may not the easiest place to get to, but I highly recommend adding Easter Island to your bucket list!