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The International Writers Magazine: Iceland - From Our Archives

Aby Davis

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 Viking.

Some Australian girls in our room tell us they made snow angels in the hills. We all drink hot chocolate and talk about Neighbours. They’ve 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.

"Neat!" he smiles.
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…..

As 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, we’re gone. We never ate rotten shark, and didn’t 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, we’ll 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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