International Writers Magazine: Iceland - From Our Archives
We arrived, sleep deprived. The spooky darkness below the plane
was Iceland. A small island poised above masses of red hot rock,
straddling the north American plate. Loaded with suits and briefcases,
IcelandAir came safely into land, and we touched ground. Two nosy
kids on a gap year, wanting to see something new.
A bus took us and
some business men into Reyjkavik. A man got off when we did, took one
look at our hostel and got back on the bus. We stood outside on crunchy
cold ground and waited. The night assistant shuffled grumpily to the
door in slippers, gave us a key, and shuffled back to bed.
2am: There is something unbearably beautiful about seeing the Northern
Lights for the first time. Standing outside in our pyjamas, Ice snapping
under our stupidly bare feet. I climbed onto a picnic table and tilted
my head parallel to the sky. A few school students stood nearby, their
teacher explaining the beauty away with science.
Space was painted with turquoise wisps and bright blue flames that shifted
and danced with an unfelt wind. Like a twisted rainbow. My own breath
visualised in the air, it was absolutely freezing but I wanted to stand
there and stare. And stare. And stare. We only went to bed when we realised we couldn't feel our toes.
I am in love with this city. Reykjavik is young, the buildings are
ugly and corrugated. The streets are heated from underneath and
the air tastes incredible. My lungs have never felt so clean. I
imagine this is how a snow man must feel. Seeing as its almost Christmas
every window holds little towers of candles. Alight and making the
cold seem friendlier. We sipped coffee in coffee shops with handpainted mugs, and someones
art glued to the tables. There are a few locals sitting in sofas
on their apples. They wear scarves and hats like the ones my mum
used to knit.
We came prepared
for the prices. We soon realise you can't buy a pint for less than five
pounds, and takeaway fish and chips cost seven. Bonus Pig is
our favourite supermarket, they sell sheep faces in bags next to the
wafer thin ham, and Tesco baked beans in the can section. When it gets
dark at just after lunch time, we find the mountains over the river
and we shout into the wind. We shout and laugh until our faces go red
with cold. Climbing the bus home we sit next to man who looks like a
Some Australian girls in our room tell us they made snow angels in the
hills. We all drink hot chocolate and talk about Neighbours.
Theyve already been to tourist hot spot the Blue Lagoon, and we
all shriek in delighted horror when they tell us they saw some people
having sex in it. The Alaskan Ranger in our shared kitchen pours Vodka
in his hot chocolate, and announces its awesome. We later learn that
he says this a lot.
10am: Its still dark outside and we've overslept. We only wake up when
the Spanish cleaner comes clip clopping in his high heels and does some
dusting. When the door clicks shut five minutes latet we emerge, breathless
with surpressed laughter.
The weather is still windy and wet, we've booked to go horse riding
Viking style over volcanic fields. Some American business women are
taking a day off work, and the bus driver picks them up from their lavish
hotel. When we all dress in luminous orange waterproofs and hard hats,
they moan about smudging their make up and ruffling their business haircuts.
All I can see as we ride over the blackened ground are flashes of orange
through the weather. My horse plods clumsily and I am uncomfortably
cold.But the women shout interesting facts about icelandic trees to
us through the wind. I am distracted from the jolting of my body and
forgive them their previous vanities.
When its over, I leave my horse with a kiss and a promise to visit again.
My arse hurts.
Lunchtime: We open a packet of crisps and look at some geysers.
The earth spits egg scented water sky scraper high every two minutes.
The biggest geysir hasn't woken up for ten years, we wish it would so
we can be the first to welcome it back. A few other sightseers are scattered
around the sight, but we can't really see anyone through the drizzle
and steam. It looks like the kind of land dinosaurs were born into.
Dinnertime: The tour driver drops us off at a garden centre.
We wander around politely while he shows us some bananas and a gift
shop. We get back in the bus, feel rude, and go back inside again where
the other tourists are buying novelty key rings and post cards. We go
to a toilet with Eve written on the door, and dream of going home to
a cuppa soup.
After a few days of ambling around Rejkjavik looking for somewhere
to try the local delicacy of rotten shark, the Alaskan Ranger offers
to take us out on a road trip. We ignore the wisdom of our parents
and say yes to a stranger. Everytime he pulls over for a toilet
break, we hysterically expect him to come back with an axe and murderous
grin. His grin however, remains amiably pleased with everything
he sees. We share nutella sandwiches for lunch and he is overwhelmed
by our generosity. He pulls over so we can all stare at a house
built into a cliff face.
A spring trickles out of a rock, he gets out and fills his flask.
"Will you taste that! It's awesome!"
We see waterfalls, beaches with black sand, and stop in villages with
twenty residents. The Alaskan Ranger says hello to everyone he sees
and we address him loudly by name in case people think he's our dad.
He says he's an expert at glacier climbing. So when we find one hidden
behind some rocks, we all slide on it in trainers.
"Its about five feet thick!" he says gleefully when we tell
him we can see fast flowing water underneath. When we get off, we see
a broken bit and its actually about the thickness of a bible. We don't
tell the Ranger as he's too busy smiling at a sunset.
On the way back, he stops the car and we all get out to look at a majestic
mountain dusted with snow that could be cloud. Its the purest thing
I've ever seen. The music breezing out of the car matches the moment
perfectly, and we ask ourselves the age old question, "why is it
so beautiful?".The words of the singer drift out quietly, "I'd
do just about anything if I could just catch your eye....."
Rejkaviks best CD shop 10 Tonar is also a prominent record label.
They give you free espressos as you sit on the old sofa and listen to
music through giant headphones, we sit there for hours with our Australian
friends and make discoveries. We stumble into a free gig by Amina, four
girls who have supported Sigur Ros on tour. Downstairs thumbing through
the records is a French musician who invites us to his gig in an old
cinema. The promise of free wine and a string quartet is enough. An
old black and white silent film plays on the screen behind, as the French
Musician sings the words and the strings create the kind of atmosphere
you want to melt into.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Whateverday
The days become one, we lose track of the times we wake up with new
people in our room and the light lacking. One morning we eat, fly to
a northern town with a cinema and another coffee shop, the next evening
we go to an outdoor spa at midnight and accidently share a hot tub with
a fat man in speedos. It was too steamy to see we weren't alone. The
day becomes blighted with that horrible moment.
Last Day: Before we leave for Keflavik
airport, the commercial lure of the Blue Lagoon reels us in. It was
an interesting experience, walking out shiny spaceship doors into a
barren rocky landscape, and stepping into a milky blue puddle. It wasn't
hot enough for our liking, ten o'clock in the morning and it was freezing
outside. We wanted it hotter than bath water. A railing led out of the
pool and down over the rocks the other side. We'd heard about the hot
pools, and guessed they were in that vague direction. We climbed out
and shivered in our bikinis, grabbing the railing and walking bare footed
up the icy path. We supposed the lack of comfortable paving was to match
the spas natural look. It took us a few minutes to realise the path
led nowhere. We stood mortified, scantily clad and shivering as a family
of hikers strolled past. We almost had to chip our feet off the rocks
before we could return to the extremely appealing sky coloured bath
we fly home, we chase daylight. Iceland remains dark behind us and the
line of light ahead of us suggests Scotland. With one last sweep of
turquoise cloud, were gone. We never ate rotten shark, and didnt
get to sit next to Bjork on the bus.
But our names swirled around a little message in the hostels guest book
Sharon and Aby left their hearts in Iceland, well be back to get
them one day
Aby Davis December 2007
* Ed's Note: Watch 'Katla' on Netflix to caputure the flavour of Icelandic life 2021
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