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The long road to Sólheimasandur

On our next to last day in Iceland we splurged and slept in an extra hour. The jet lag and long days were catching up with us. We were exhausted but I couldn’t leave Iceland without visiting the infamous abandoned DC- 3 plane in Sólheimasandur. This is the story behind the plane crash from Atlas Obscura.

The US Navy DC-3 superbus plane crash landed in 1973, and luckily everyone survived. While no one is positive exactly why the airplane went down, the suspected culprit was an empty fuel tank that the pilot may have tried to access. However, whatever the reason, the plane had to make an emergency landing on the beach on November 24th, 1973. As opposed to attempting to salvage the wreckage, it was simply left to rot in its isolated spot on an Icelandic beach.

While it is still in remarkably good condition given its 40 years out in the elements, a great deal of the fuselage has disappeared. According to one report, the entire tail section was stolen by a local farmer who sold it. However most of the cabin and the wing engines are still found on the site. 

The walk out to the wreck is otherworldly – the landscape is harsh and the wind from the ocean can be intense. The plane has been stripped, but it’s still a dramatic site and fun to poke around. While it is pretty far off the beaten path, the picturesque wreckage still manages to attracts a steady stream of visitors, but they do little to take away from the decaying majesty of the remains.

Once again, I consulted my friend Christina and she noted that the hike to the plane wasn’t too difficult. I made sure we had extra batteries and packed my new camera tripod. We had to drive three hours south past the town of Vik. I was a little bummed to see so many cars parked on the side of the road at the location. The plane is not an official tourist attraction so most people know about it through word of mouth. In fact, there is no road or address so you have to rely on coordinates and follow the marked path. It was a cold and rainy morning but the sun was peeking out. We began the walk down a rocky path toward the plane with a large group of other people.

I have only seen the plane on Google Maps from an aerial view. It appears to be close to the sea on a black sandy beach about an inch from the road. I was so happy there was a marked path because there was absolutely nothing to guide you in the right direction.

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After 45 minutes we were the only ones still walking the path, even though it was flat, all the people we started with were out of sight. We walked and walked and walked some more. I am naturally a slow walker and wearing heavy snow boots and carrying a heavy backpack wasn’t easy. Finally after about an hour and a half of walking in the bitter cold, we began to turn and head towards a small piece of metal in the middle of nowhere.

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I was so happy to finally get to the plane but also annoyed that so many other people were there. I remembered why I scheduled our drive an hour earlier and was kicking myself for sleeping in. At first I decided to just take photos with other people in the background but I was not happy with the results.

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So we waited, and waited and waited but for every person that left, two more showed up. Then it began to rain. And our camera didn’t like being wet so the lens stopped working. To make things even more awful, we couldn’t lock our camera to the brand new heavy ass tripod we lugged with us to Iceland! We wanted to be able to use our remote control. Antz was like didn’t you learn how to mount the camera when you bought the tripod? I did watch the saleswoman put her camera on it several times but she used a Canon, not a Nikon. Liv asked us when we were going to leave after fifteen minutes of being there. I began to cry. I felt like I failed my family. We were cold, stressed out, hungry and miserable in the middle of nowhere. I just wanted a cool photo shoot at this plane and it wasn’t going well. 👎🏽

Antz calmed me down. We asked people around us to help with our tripod. No one could figure it out so we just set it aside. I took off my coat and used it to wipe the water off our lens best I could so it starting working intermittently. I took a deep breath and looked up and saw this.

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Iceland was telling me to chill the hell out. I started cropping my photos so you couldn’t see the tourists in the back. I used my Go Pro when our camera wasn’t working. We took advantage of the sun coming out and asked a guy to take our photo*. The first guy we asked to take our photo sounded like he was from Russia and he took such a shitty photo I almost snapped at him. The second guy was Polish and extremely kind and patient. I must say, my husband is the hero on this day. Liv and I were so cranky for obvious reasons and he handled our tantrums like a champ.

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This was my face prior to my meltdown. I was pissed off and not in the mood for photos. This moment taught me a lesson on my expectations, my level of patience and learning how to adapt when things don’t go as planned. I absolutely LOVE these photos. They remind me of the photos Lee took of us in London. I am so grateful we were able to turn this disaster into a treasured memory.

DSC_0189I actually love that this guy made it into my photo.

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He took hundreds of photos and was so sweet to lay on rocks to get certain angles to ensure my photos came out beautifully. I had to beg him to let me take a few of him because I reasoned, we would never come here again.

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I had to crop every photo to hide the tourists. Believe it or not, we didn’t use Photoshop or edit any of these photos. We tilted the camera to hide people in the background. You can see this guy in the blue jacket who seemed to walk through most of our shots.

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I want to show the difference from using my iPhone (photo on the left) and our wonky-acting Nikon. For some reason we couldn’t get the definition of the sky to show up using my iPhone without making the plane dark. Lighting has always been my downfall when I take photos. I took a photography class prior to the trip so I would be prepared for less than ideal light. I even bought an external flash but it didn’t help.

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This is my favorite shot of the day. I was not even posing and Antz captured the light perfectly. I wish my dumb hiking boots weren’t showing.

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I have no idea how to take selfies with our Go Pro. I noticed later that day that most of the shots I took with it had a fish eye effect.

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I am so thankful we met the nicest guy who offered to take our photo after watching us behave like the Three Stooges trying to set up my tripod. I almost got my camera on the mount but it didn’t feel stable and I could just see the tripod falling over and breaking the $2,500 lens we rented.

This was the last photo I took before starting that long, long walk back to the car.

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Yep, completely empty when we left. However, there were lots more people coming in on our walk back. We even bumped into some newlyweds in Indian attire near the road. I told the lovely bride she should change her fancy shoes because she had a long, hard walk ahead of her. She changed into ballet flats as if that was somehow better.

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I gotta say, this is a part of traveling. Encountering the unknown, going outside of your comfort zone and experiencing things you would never do at home. Back in LA, I would never go for a hike for that long so I am glad I did it. The photos were totally worth the tears.

We drove back to Reykjavik and stopped to take a photo of these insane turf houses we saw during our tour but weren’t able to get a shot of them.

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When I think about Iceland the word that comes to mind is other-worldly. It’s something you need to see in person to get a sense of the beauty.

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