Photo trip during the Covid-19 pandemic

 Date: 02-Nov-2020Category:

Northern Lights at Jökulsarlon

A photo trip to Iceland during (challenging) pandemic times

We traveled to Iceland in late summer and we were asked how "bad" the obligatory quarantine was. Well, here is our answer: Not that bad at all! And we were really happy that we were able to spend some wonderful weeks in this wonderful country just right in time before Europe is "locking down" again.
Since August 19 all tourists arriving in Iceland need to undergo a double testing for Covid-19. The first screening takes place right after you leave the airplane. There were several cubicles, so the waiting line was not worth talking about. They check your throat and then your nose by inserting a long swab into the cavity between the nose and mouth. You will definitely feel uncomfortable while they are doing that, even so the whole procedure lasts but a few seconds. Soon after, you are allowed to take your bags and suitcases and leave the airport. But before doing that we strongly recommend buying some duty free stuff at the shop right next to the baggage claim, especially if you like beer and wine - it is WAY less expensive there than anywhere else in Iceland! ;-)

Picking up the rental car was superfast as well. We arrived at Keflavik International Airport at 11:30 PM and by 0:15 AM we were already leaving the town. This time we chose Blue Rental Car, an Icelandic company. Their cars are pretty new - our odometer only displayed 4 digits, just like the one of a friend of ours! They are well-maintained and equipped with good grip tires. Besides that, Blue Rental Car offered some great "quarantine discounts" when contacted directly by email. We hardly paid such a low price for a Toyota Landcruiser up to now: 108 Euro per day with full insurance and zero-liability (usually 150-200 Euros/day or even more). They also added the second driver and the WiFi for free, this saved us another 350 Euros. And we would have paid even less if we hadn't forgotten to send them an image from the odometer on the first and last day of quarantine. Renting cars in Iceland is always extremely expensive, but this was definitely great value for money! And you will not need to wait for a shuttle upon arrival, since their station is just a 5-minute-walk away from the terminal. In case it rains, we recommend splitting: one person stays with all the baggage at the entrance of the airport's departure terminal, while the other one rushes over to the rental company.

After picking up the rental car you are supposed to head straight to the quarantine accommodation where you need to spend at least 5-6 nights while waiting for the second test and the (hopefully negative) results. Here is a list with all lodging options specially indicated for welcoming tourists for quarantine. The hosts must be able to provide a private bathroom, separate entrance doors, etc. You have to stay totally isolated from all other people at every given moment, therefore also no shopping, no eating out etc.! We had an apartment at Kirkjufell Guesthouse on the Snaefellsnes peninsula (very modern, super clean and with a kitchen - highly recommended!).

How can anyone be so crazy to go into quarantine in Iceland on a voluntary basis!? A friend of ours came up with this idea first, so he is definitely the one to "blame" for our super spontaneous photo trip! And we are soooo thankful for that, Michael! ;-)
By showing us terrific sunrise and sunset images we realized that the word "quarantine" can have pretty different meanings. Here in Germany you are not allowed to leave your home at all for a period of two weeks. But according to the Icelandic "Quarantine Instructions" handed out to us in several languages by the medical staff performing the first Covid-19 test, "you may take a walk" and "you may take short drives". Note: In the meantime the instructions have been rewritten and you may only go hiking; no short drives anymore (LINK)! So take extra care when choosing your quarantine accommodation!

We spent those days doing a lot of photography and never met a single soul out there. Besides a lot of sheep, two sea eagles and maybe some Huldúfolk - who knows!? :-)
The vast lava fields covered by lush green moss at nearby Berserkjahraun have always been a favorite of ours but with all the shrubs and berries bushes turning yellow, orange and red it became a true dreamscape. And the weather conditions were just about perfect: We were greeted by an early season winter storm which left the peaks at Snaefellsnes covered with snow. And there was a constant change between sleet and sunny moments with everlasting rainbows. While others tourists would have strongly disliked it (especially the wind gusts up to 36 m/s, that's a hurricane!), we couldn't have been more pleased! Nasty weather, happy photographers! :-)

In the evening of our 4th day on the island we got our invitation for the second screening. Several towns all across Iceland (Borganes, Selfoss, Akuyeri, Höfn, etc.) are providing this service but we decided to drive all the way back to Reykjavik, hoping that we would get the results more quickly. We had an appointment at 11 AM and by 4:30 PM two text messages popped up on our cell phones releasing us from quarantine. Nonetheless we decided to prolong our stay at Snaefellsnes for a couple of nights. This peninsula is just like "Iceland in miniature"!

But the biggest highlight of our trip was the powerful geomagnetic storm predicted from September 24th on, a G2 storm with a global kp-index of "6" and great northern lights displays. We were so happy to be able to freely move around by then, under no circumstance would we have wanted to be "trapped" under cloudy skies and miss the big show(s). We had some sleepless but truly magnificent nights! This month's image e.g. was taken at famous Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Southern Iceland.
Also the rest of our trip was pretty unique, we joined an amazing ice cave tour and we always had the whole island virtually to ourselves. Imagine seeing only 1-2 cars or even no cars at all at the parking lots of highly popular Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss! Crazy times! And while shooting famous Strokkur Geyser at sunrise we were joined only by two other Germans.

Unfortunately Iceland was declared a "risk area" shortly before we left the country. So we had to do a third Covid-19 test upon arrival back home. But it is a sparsely populated island and the vast majority of the new cases happened in the capital Reykjavik (the only time we went there was for the second test!). We did neither eat out nor interacted with people (besides a friend and 4 other Germans) and we always stayed in apartments, wore a face mask while in the grocery stores and used gloves at the gas stations (they were provided there for free). We really felt extremely safe, so returning to Iceland to enjoy more northern lights shows might be an option for us during the next few months. But we desperately hope this pandemic will come to an end and things will get back to normal SOON!
Please stay safe everyone!

Image data:
8 s at f/3.5, ISO 3200; Canon 16-35 mm 1:4 L IS USM at 16 mm, Sony Alpha 7RII w/ Metabones IV adapter