The International Writers Magazine: Going Walkabout in Iceland
A personal account of growth through travel
Day 1 – Reborn
Iceland’s Golden Circle
How do you react when a dream begins to materialize? When it leaves the comfort of the mind and becomes merciless reality? Me? I sleep like a baby.
I startle awake as the drink cart bangs my elbow and knee in quick succession. My seat is reclined to the max and the in-flight movie is, well… let’s just say I hope my other choices for the trip aren’t so disastrous.
What is the color of the Red Sea at dusk? Are there internet café’s in Burma? Do people really live in thatched huts in Africa or is that just a set the documentaries use? Why am I such a fool with the ladies? The world is mystery, shrouded in rumors, and these questions, among others, are why I sit on a plane with quickly bruising elbow and knee. “I’ll take a Coke,” I say when the stewardess returns for round two. The free carbonated sugar inclines me to forgive.
My life is filled with dreams. With half-finished projects, could-have-beens and want-to-dos. I recently graduated from University with an English degree. It was boring. Go figure. I knew all along I wanted to study art (film), but stubbornly stuck with English, clinging to the hope it will improve my writing. I want to make films. I did then; I do now. But it’s scary.
I chose to travel before real life was forced upon me. Where? Everywhere. But where to start? I spent a month contemplating, only to decide that I couldn’t decide. I’d let fate choose for me. Spinning the globe wasn’t random enough though. I would know: Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere. And really, what kind of a chance would a small country like Lichtenstein have? I went online and was admittedly surprised when I had my choice of several “random country generators.” I shut my eyes tightly and pressed the button. Click. I was to be vigilant. No matter how distant, how obscure, how dangerous, the country. This would be my future. It would set the tone for everything to come. If necessary I would risk my life to do what an obscure website told me. I peeked out from between fingers.
“Wow…” I let out an audible sigh. I was sure it would be Iraq or the Congo. I eagerly booked a ticket.
And here I am, the plane is landing and I’m reading an article from the in-flight magazine about Australian aboriginals and their custom of walkabout. Apparently, when someone in their society is unhappy, or wants to re-evaluate their life, they leave their possessions behind, find themselves a good pair of shoes, and just start walking. They walk and walk and walk, sometimes for years, until they find themselves, sit down with themselves and ask what the hell am I doing with my life? What follows is a profound exchange of ideas between conscious and subconscious, and if successful, the weary traveler will come back a changed, and better person. Air-breaks tease me forward from my fully upright positioned seatback as the wheels bump along the runway. I’ve finally arrived – in Iceland.
“Wait a second,” I hear you say. “You said you’d risk your life to go to the Congo, but you can’t handle a non-stop to Amsterdam?” “Well…” I retort. “You see…” and I trail off. But I did book a ticket to The Netherlands. It just came with a stopover in Reykjavic, and with a little bit of persuasion, I was able to extend the stop to five days at no extra cost. And with that, I share a lesson with you I learned before my plane even left the ground. If you’re too inflexible, you’ll miss opportunities.
As I sit on the bus from the airport an hour out of Reykjavic, adrenaline and coffee pump electric energy through my veins. I look at the land passing by and I realize Iceland really is a land of elements. Expansive glaciers, active volcanoes, singing wind caves and endless fields of rock are the mainstays here.
With only five days in this land of myth and fables, there’s no time to waste (or sleep). I crack open my trusty Lonely Planet and find a hastily circled passage. The Golden Circle. It’s the tourist event on the island. Normally I’m not one for guided tours, but as I said, time is scarce. The tour hits the big three: Geyser (the one all others are named after), Gullfoss (the biggest and perhaps most dramatic waterfall in the country), and Þingvellir (a beautiful national park).
On the tour bus there’s one other younger guy named Wade, and we begin to talk. He’s a womanizing, Aussie surfer and a veritable bag of clichés and stereotypes. I like him immediately.
The geyser shoots skyward, two, three, and four stories tall. And it’s not even the big one. Geyser itself has decided to take the afternoon off. Instead Wade and I stand around gawking at its “smaller” cousin. The smell of sulfur permeates our nostrils and steam rises from pools all around us and seeps into our pores. Have you ever heard an entire tour group go silent? A hundred cameras silently burn a hundred photos of white water on white sky to their memory cards. I’m one of them. As the geyser implodes with a final sigh, I have to fight the urge to walk over and touch the pool of water ominously bubbling in its place. But Wade’s a step ahead of me. We move over to a less threatening pool and Wade puts his pointer in without thinking. He yanks it back in shock and shakes his hand dramatically. But his pain isn’t quite enough to let me infer just how hot it is. I hesitantly dip my pinky in and quickly pull it back. Damn! I blow on my pinky and the wind cools it. We walk away with throbbing fingers and no exact temperature measurements to be found but I hear another tourist curse in pain behind us as he tries to take his own. Humans are so strange.
A few minutes down the road is Gullfoss, a huge waterfall cascading into a giant chasm as if it was ripped directly from Norse mythology. To get as close as possible to the mouth, it’s a long slippery decline past young couples, old couples, groups of friends, small families and an Asian tour that jams up on the only staircase to take group photos. It feels a little weird squeezing through people and ruining pictures just to get to the falls a little quicker, but my usual tour group psychosis is in full swing and I feel as if there’s no time to properly experience the place. A few apologies later I’m free enough to stroll to a lower cliff-edge in the middle of the monstrous falls and let the cool freshwater spray clean the sulfur from my skin. I sit on the rocks and water soaks through the rear of my trousers. I watch the small bugs walk across the wet rock. I’m too tired to philosophize, instead I look up and just absorb. Delicacy, enchantment, risk, freedom, the unknown, tranquility and of course, power. Right there, in one second, it’s everything that I expect to be thrust upon me in my travels. Wade comes to get me. The bus is leaving.
The national park is beautiful, as expected, but unfortunately it comes with expectations set far too high by Geyser and Gullfoss. Wade and I simply enjoy a nice walk along the edge of the valley and discuss events to come. Icelanders are famous all-night partiers and despite having a rather tame nightlife back home, I’m eager for the chance to get out of my shell and well, simply put, meet some girls. We agree to take a quick nap when the bus drops us off and meet up just before midnight.
But it’s my first day, I’m jetlagged, and I’m still working out the kinks in my brand new watch’s alarm. I wake at 4am in a haze and I fast become coherent enough to damn my watch with gusto. I’m normally notorious for staying at home and maybe it’s because of the opportunity to meet girls, or drink, or socialize, or maybe just missing the possibility of new experiences but I can’t get back to sleep. Wait, I think to myself, it’s Iceland and it’s only four. Everyone will still be there. I sit up, nearly ready to get dressed and go, but for some reason I don’t have the energy to stand. My lungs deflate and with it so does my strength. What’s wrong with me? Wade will be happy to see me. I’ll just make a joke about my new watch. But what if he’s moved on to a different place? I want so much to have the courage to do something out of my normal routine. To party in Iceland with the midnight sun. My head does a freefall into the pillow and as I rest in bed with my eyes wide open, I realize I don’t know anything about myself. I’m not even sure I like myself, and to my surprise I’m not really travelling the world at all. I’m on walkabout.
Flight: Iceland Air offers many flights from Eastern Canada and all over the US to popular Western Europe destinations like Amsterdam, Glasgow, Paris, Berlin, Copenhagen and others. They are a comfortable and affordable airline and will let you arrange a free stopover in Reykjavic. I found a good deal booking through Expedia.
Accommodations: This is no problem in Iceland although they can run a little pricey. However if you’re not in the busy season, look into hostels just outside of the city center and chances are you will get a room to yourself for cheap rates.
Reykjavic City Hostel is a very popular choice (reserve ahead) and a great option for the budget traveler. It is a Hostelling International affiliate and beds run about 12 USD a night for HI members.
Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts are all quite easy to find but as always I recommend the personal touch of a Bed and Breakfast. Prices in prime real estate for B&B’s or hotels run from about 40 USD a night per person. Fight the urge to stay in that good ol’ Holiday Inn!
Entertainment: The Golden Circle tour is a must and unless you plan to rent a car, the only way to do it is with a group. Tours normally take the better part of a day and cost a little over 40 USD. The Blue Lagoon, a natural hot springs and great way to unwind at the beginning or end of your trip (or both), is also well worth a stop and is a little cheaper at 27 USD including bus fare and admittance. Contact Reykjavic Excursions – www.re.is – for more info.
© William Carne August 2010