Written by Martyn Cook on his adventures with Shauna
Iceland sucks in so many ways. First, it sucks at meeting your expectations; it exceeds them. Iceland also sucks at embracing your idea of beauty, for it shatters it, instantly replacing it with a new meaning for the word. It also sucks at allowing you to maintain your own self image; the blossoming idea of beauty makes you examine what is important to you.
The instant you break through the clouds it’s almost like entering the wardrobe to Narnia. You are about to enter a beautiful new world. You are to be born again, as you will leave the old person you once knew and meet a new version of yourself. The runway rushes up to meet you; the journey begins. Tires hit tarmac. Smoke rises up cleansing you for the experience that awaits. You are filled with a sense of adventure. Leaving that sense of longing to find what you miss in your day-to-day life, having it fill your spirit with that missing piece. Like the last puzzle piece, it will fit right in. Iceland takes the familiar and replaces it with a sort of ‘through the looking glass’ idea of a world. The volcanic rock looks like giants took a roll of moss and sub-tundra plants and covered the landscape. Clouds play hide and go seek amongst the peaks as the rain washes away your misconception of a world you once knew and replaces them with a raw truth. Contrast dominates the landscape, everyday. It really is the land of fire and ice. Black sand beaches, lined with white caps riding upon waves crashing amongst the beaches. The world changes from moment to moment in an intoxicating wonderful way. Our senses are alive.
As we land at Keflavik Airport, the airport servicing the capital of Reykjavik, we realize that we are leaving the trappings of everyday life behind. We have chosen to self-drive parts of the south coast, ending our last day in the capital proper to get a taste of both the country and cityscape. As we receive our car and claim our momentarily lost luggage, the adventure begins. Leaving the airport we take our first roundabout to adventure. The only thing forgotten at home is ordinary. The landscape from horizon to horizon looks alien in nature and we wonder if we left earth and set out on our journey on Mars. The beauty leaves us dizzy and speechless. We start our journey on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The ocean in the distance laps against the shores in futile anger. The basalt rocks and volcanic rock stand steadfast against its futile rage. No animals are sighted, but the locals whisper stories of trolls living amongst the rocks in the landscape. The rocks stand defiant against the landscape, piercing the vegetation in their act of protest against the compliant moss. Why would you not believe it? After all this is Iceland; it plays by a different set of rules. It rejects your reality, and replaces it with its own.
We make our first stop at the Continental Divide. The North American and Eurasian plates are separating. Not as violent as other places when the plates are convergent, but just as amazing. As we look around, steam is escaping from areas of volcanic venting, making the landscape feel so unpredictable, like a living thing. The energy is tangible, the air smells of sulphur from the bowels of the earth. Tourists line up for photo opportunities; most dressed up as if instead of the paved path they traverse, they should be asking Sir Edmund Hillary the best route they should take to the summit. Filled with that sense of adventure we all feel in this place, we are dreary-eyed from our long day, yet adrenaline pulls us along, the words of adventure whispering in our ears. Like a lover calling us hither, we follow. We join the other drivers enjoying the wonder laid before them. Like an endless buffet of adventure, we line up, trays trembling in hand, asking for seconds and thirds. Iceland will not allow you to go hungry; it fills your soul to overflowing. You may even beg for it to stop before long, as sensory over load sets in. Iceland lays your nerves bare, breaking you down to tears, only to build you back up stronger than before, changed in a fundamentally wonderful way.
We wander aimlessly, allowing our sense of wonder to direct us rather than our GPS. As the sun starts to hide behind the horizon, we arrive at our accommodation, a country house just outside of Selfoss. Weary, we welcome the prospect of a good night’s sleep. Sleep comes easy, but as the sun dips below the horizon, nature stirs me from slumber. I cannot help but go on to the patio of our summer house. Apollo has given me a real treat, clear skies, the universe’s bounty spread bare before me. The Milky Way Galaxy streaks the sky. The stars twinkle, as their beauty would be overwhelming if they did not hide for a moment. A meteor steaks the sky. I stand slack-jawed in wonder. The five-year-old version of myself stands in my place welcoming the innocent wonder of the cosmos. That part normally lays hidden most days in the everyday trappings of life. Iceland conjures it forth with gusto. “Welcome” Iceland whispers. Trees lining the yard creak, as I imagine the trolls watching me. I study the dark for eyes, and feel I am not alone. Taking in the heavenly bodies dance through the stars, for a moment more. I retire for the night, with thoughts of what tomorrow will bring.