” Why are you starting here?” they say as I tell them of the destination I had in mind. I roll my eyes; I was definitely the kind of child that always asked ” Are we there yet?” about fifty million times if I didn’t have my face pressed against a window imagining a giant skateboarder jumping over the cars, street posts, and other notable landmarks. Later, I would be given a GameBoy so I would stop getting us pulled over for constantly zipping in and out of my seat belt.
” Because,” I say, trying hard not to be annoyed with myself, ” It was when I truly made the decision for myself of what I wanted to do. Also, I would come to love this place and come back again. I will save the rest of that story for another card.”
Iceland. At the time it did not dawn on me that is where I wanted to go. In fact, I did not know where I wanted but I knew I wanted to go somewhere. It is so much easier understanding what you don’t want than what you do want. But when you do know what you want, you either need to say it even if the time isn’t right because you won’t do it again or go ahead and do it.
” Who are these for?” they say as the stop and rub a cramp from their hand. ” You seem to have a lot to say. Why can’t you do it yourself?”
” You’re really trying to take the fun out of this, aren’t you?” I forgot how serious and solemn I used to be. To find any joy I had to dig deep into the cavern, picking through rocks until I found the small sparkling gems. I am glad the search is no longer so strenuous.
” Next time,” I say to myself, ” I’ll advertise for a Mime. Because they at least can’t ask so many darn questions.”
I arrived in Reykjavik, one of the two main cities, in the early hours of a spring day. Spring for me meant flowers and warm weather but here it was a little more unpredictable: the skies could be crystal clear and the green grass blazing beneath a dazzling sunlight one moment, and the very next could be blanketed white, a dizzying flurry of snow covering the roads, the roofs, the shrubs in a thick coat of snow. Caught between the mountains and the sea, however, I knew there was no place I’d rather be.
When I discovered that Iceland was sprinkled every so lightly with people, my elation increased tenfold. I didn’t have to worry about being squished like a sardine anywhere except for the extremely touristy places, such as the Blue Lagoon. It is a magnificent place, truth be told, with its milk blue spring water dancing around as a seductress, but it is not worth it. A magic is lost when so many people crowd into one place and the wondrous views of the mountains, of the sea, disappear along with a self reflective sanctity one gets by being alone with the water, the rocks, the hills, and the land.
” If you find something magical, hold onto it and don’t let it be spoiled by everyone else. And to find something magical, don’t always do what everyone else always does. I didn’t stay in a hotel in the center of Reykjavik; I stayed in a lovely cottage owned by a middle aged couple at the edge of a beach town, Hafnarfjordur. Do not ask me how to pronounce it- a cab driver had to help me say it when I was looking for a way back from the city center after taking a bus that only operated at certain hours. I should have known then it was a sign of what was to come. I quite literally defined struggle bus.”
” You don’t need to write that last part down.”
” Too late. Besides, I’m supposed to write everything you say, right? How am I supposed which parts are the smart parts?” they say cheekily. Is it wrong to slap myself?
” First of all, if it sounds smart and gets you to think, then its probably smart. Secondly, just assume everything I say isn’t smart. I may be older, but I have not seen everything. And no matter how old someone is, if they haven’t seen beyond their backyard and into those whose lives are quite different but not any less, then they might not be that smart.”
” Well, you seem smart to me.” Should I accept this as a compliment or flat out arrogance since it’s coming from myself?
” If I was smart, I would not have chosen my first restaurant of choice as a super touristy, super viking themed one- the waiters and waitresses wore midievel garments, there were giant warrior statues with battle axes and shields hanging from the wall, and the whole place was designed as a ship. And there were potatoes. Enough potatoes to feed an army. Despite the rough terrain, Iceland was famous for its tough vegetables, such as radish and potatoes, cabbage and carrots. “
” If I was smart, I would have understood it was socially acceptable to be naked around other people. Of course, this was when changing to go to the pool or the hot springs, something that everyone seemed to know except me.”
” How did you get out of it?” they asked, their eyes gone wide in horror at the prospect of facing such a situation.
” As awkwardly as possible,” I laugh and dig my hands into the sand.
My hosts were gracious and hospitable, offering breakfast each morning and advice and when best to see the dazzling green lights that open into another world. One night the man took me outside and pointed up towards the black starlit sky. ” There, right there, you can barely see it this late in the season but it is still there,” he told me. I did not see it, but I nodded as if I had and I imagined the green swirling and dancing as the viking ghosts battled in the sky.
The giants slept and slept The horn awakening them At a time of great need. One day the boy played Down by the river and found A horn covered in moss. Oh how the boy wanted to blow And hear the horn cry out But his sister told him to wait Until they truly need it. The boy and his sister return home And watch their village burn From terrors in the sky "Can we use it now?" The boy asked, afraid Of the shimmering wings Flying through shades of green. "Not yet," his sister says While watching the fire burn And the villagers scream Wondering how they will rebuild What was so senselessly destroyed. The shimmering wings turn and flee Disappearing into the deep green sky And the sister nods her head And the boy blows his horn Loud enough to awaken the giants Slumbering in the deep green sky. The giants slept and slept The horn awakening them At a time of great need. One by one they fall from the sky One by one they pick up the burnt wood Stones and lives And repair them until the village is sparkling With life once more.
My hosts owned a beautiful cottage near a beach whose sand was rich and black. Other guests came in and out but I only remember two: a couple from California looking to take a helicopter tour and a mother and daughter from England who came to visit during their holiday. The mother and daughter were my favorite, for the left me with one of those magical feelings I wanted to hold onto. One night she invited me to dinner with her and her daughter. Here I was a perfect stranger who at most smiled and said hello but otherwise kept to myself and here she was offering her time to share. We went to a genuinely local restaurant, the three of us ordering some type of fish we had never heard of but found immensely delicious, the buttery taste lingering for hours afterward. The daughter had brought along a stuffed toy, which her mother was slightly embarrassed but I did not mind. Her quirks, so like mine, were charming and we passed the evening enjoying each other’s company.
The wind wraps around her As she is thrown into the air Laughing and smiling And waiting to be caught By those hands she loves So much "Again, do it again!" She sings to her with a voice She loves so much And she does it again Throwing her up so the wind Wraps around her, clings to her Never letting her go For one day she will be Too big And she will have No time To sing to her in the voice She loves so much.
Six days I spent in Iceland, and six days were not enough. I spent most of the time exploring the land and not enough time exploring the culture. I did learn that the few trees the land had, for it was naked except for rocky soil and rugged mountains, melting glaciers and semi-active volcanoes, were imported from other parts of the world. I did discover that the vikings stripped the land of everything to make ships and tools and other necessities needed for war. I understood I needed a car because trains don’t exist and buses are not reliable and only run in the city. I realized the towns, scattered miles and miles between one another and making it difficult to gauge when the next gas station will be, stayed near the coast and virtually no one lived towards the center. So I learned enough, but not nearly enough, although I am satisfied that I was able to take away something. For every trip I should learn something new and hold onto it, as that magical something.
One particular sunny day I drove out to a barn to check out the ponies, which remind me a miniature rockstars, their short legs and robust bodies supporting a mane of hair swept to one side in gothic fashion. Instead of stopping at the barn, I noticed the path kept going so I followed it until a saw a row of cars lined up along a ford. Curiosity took off like a horse and I parked alongside the others. A volcanic valley laid in front of me. At the foot of the valley a mountain rose, reaching as far as it could to the wide sky. I spend hours walking through it, weaving my way through the cracks and stony paths, climbing my way to the highest peak. Along the way I pass others, giving a curt nod and a smile while they exchange a brief hallo or tak, meaning hello or thanks when I let them through a narrow path. Unless I spoke English, they assumed I was Icelandic, at least that was my impression. Once I spoke English, however, they shifted gears and turned to English.
” I’m running out of space to write,” they complain and shift in the sand, laying on their stomach.
” Just use the back,” I continue as if the interruption never happened.
On another day, and this day was white-grey, the colors uncertain if it was feeling particularly snowly, I decided to explore some caves, with the help of professionals of course. At one point, the guide turned off the light in the deepest part of the cave and i can tell you I’ve never been so sensory deprived in my life. I was swallowed by darkness and my body seemed to float in an endless black hole. On the opposite side of the spectrum, when I went snorkeling between two tectonic plates I drank water that was the freshest water I’ve ever tasted. My mouth clamored for more; I had sipped euphoria and I didn’t want it to leave me.
I cannot tell you a favorite moment but I can tell you I was slowly falling in love. My next adventure I was proud of, for I’ve never tried ice climbing before and I had a rough start getting the crampons- basically ice pick slippers- on my feet. I trudged through the snow and ice, careful to avoid the soft spots that gave way to essentially giant luge into the frigid river and/or crevice. Beneath the archway we found a wall that could take beginners. Good thing it wasn’t a tall wall because I nearly cut my rope with the axe twice, almost plummeting onto the glacier.
” Did you find any monsters inside the glaciers?” they ask with the first hint of excitement flickering in their voice. I glance mischievously at them. ” Well, rumor had it that nasty little elves hid inside the ice. Anyone caught alone was either kidnapped and never seen again or else their memories stolen along with their gear and supplies, leaving them to wander aimlessly for hours until they froze or starved. Some of the imprints left on the ice is said to be their remains.”
” Are you serious?” their mouth drops agape. I forgot how gullible I was; as a baby I believed they actually took my nose in the “Got Your Nose” game and became upset.
For the last few days I learned to cook in a foreign country. Again, I should have known more about the culture, especially when holidays occur because for three days all restaurants and grocery stores would be closes. I stocked up on some food I recognized, not yet daring to breach unfamiliar territory, and set to work. After eating, I decided to walk the neighborhood, following the roads until I reached a lake areas surrounded by a thin forest. By thin, I mean there were maybe five spindly trees while the rest of the area was like a cornfield, covered in tall dry grass. Throughout the forest I came across several headstones, each bearing a dedication in Icelandic. So I stood there, seeing the ghost hovering above its place as I tried to decipher its history. But I didn’t stay long, the frustration of my inability to translate mounting, and I moved onto the lake, sitting and staring for some time, letting the magic seep in and the tranquility massage my bruised soul.
I did this for the caves and the waterfalls too. The waterfalls were breathtakingly gorgeous and I desperately wanted to sink beneath the water and let the current take me into a new world. But instead, just like everything else, I had to leave it yet unlike many things where the madness ensnares you into a narrow mindset where you forget to slow down and you leave unsatisfied, I was content. Actually, I was more than content; I was lifted high into clouds that carried me along, bouncing joyously from one place to another. I knew as I left, as I wrote my goodbye and therefore cemented my place in the couple’s book of visitors that have stayed and went, that I wanted to come back. I wouldn’t be surprised if I not only returned but stayed for a long, long time.