The Land Of Fire And Ice, And Happiness

First impressions can be far too important in understanding what someone or something is.  Before I went to Iceland, I was having a conversation with someone who had been before and he was telling me of a debate in Iceland about whether the country should be opened up to international business or stay were it is currently, exploiting tourism.

This place is dirtier than I imagined!

A photo posted by Michael Herbert (@83unsungheroes) on


My first impressions made it hard to decide what they should do.  From a few thousand feet coming in to land, the volcanic rock peering out from beneath the snow makes the place look dirty and desolate.

Reykjavik itself struck me as a strange city, not least because it feels more like a quaint town than a capital.  It has managed to avoid corporations trespassing on its centre which, still, is very much geared towards enjoyment.  There is no Starbucks but there is the exceptional Laundromat Cafe.  You won’t find a Wetherspoons, but you will find many bars and, of course, restaurants.

It was noticeable from the bus ride from the airport too that, yes, there are some offices, but the vast majority of the business is kind of essential for living, if that makes sense.  You have fuel stations, vehicle rentals and a few gyms.  There were no out of town department stores.  It felt like everything that was there was there because it needed to be to enable civilisation to happen.

It sounds rude to say that it isn’t about being progressive, and that is unfair.  I did hear that a lot of people move away from the island, only to return later.  That sums it up quite well.  People move to push boundaries, but return because it’s actually a pretty decent (if not expensive) place to live.  That is, if you can avoid having your home destroyed as a result of volcanic activity!

Yet it was easy for me to look at things and think, “I don’t need to be in Iceland for this.”  The first stop on a tour of The Golden Circle was a tomato farm.  The interest is that it is heated and powered by geothermal energy, but without showing the infrastructure around that, it was like any another green house I’d been in (with its imported bumble bees).

Next stop was the world-famous Geysir geothermal area where water bubbled up out the floor.  Unfortunately this wasn’t one of the geothermal lagoons which you could enter, but rather just something you see.  In the 55mph Arctic winds blowing around, the puff of steam we saw was, again, not as interesting as what was happening under the surface.  Then on to the massive Gullfoss waterfall.

What I was having trouble with was getting my head around the idea of the emptiness.  This was no more evident than when going caving down a lava tube at Leidarendi.  Our tour guide actually drove past the entrance to the cave because, well, that’s all it was – a hole in the ground about 50m from the road, marked out just by a rope.  The cave itself had some interesting points, not least a many thousand year dead sheep at the end of one of the tunnels.

 

The afternoon was spent exploring the city.  Hallgrimskirkja is an imposing and spectacular church.  The Sun Voyager is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason, located next to the Sæbraut road and points out to sea in a glorious tribute to exploration.  World famous hotdogs from a stand on the corner of a building site were eaten.

But is this Iceland? Is this why one comes to this country?  Warmer, more accessible places have sculptures and churches, after all.

One reason nearly peculiar to Iceland is The Northern Lights, given its perfect placement on the globe.  Sadly I didn’t get to see these with my own eyes, although the camera did pick up some green light on the horizon.  My main thought, stood outside for two and a half hours in, again, freezing cold and gales, was whether all this was worth it.  My answer may have been different had I seen the Lights, but I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone living in Iceland where the Lights are a regular occurrence, and I couldn’t help but think that familiarity may well breed contempt.  Therefore, what else is there to make someone stay?

lights03

The next day was a bus tour of the south coast.  The first two stops were two more waterfalls dwarfed by the ones at Gullfoss the previous day.

It was the final stop of the tour when things began to fall in to place for me.  Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is one of Iceland’s finest natural wonders.  Iceland is home to Europe’s largest glacier.  This melts to form the lagoon littered with small icebergs flowing out into the Atlantic.

I stood on the bridge over the river.  Over to my right was the lagoon, an intense blue colour against the white of the snow.  To my left were the black volcanic sands strewn with chunks of ice glinting in the last embers of daylight.  This was truly The Land Of Fire And Ice, and it was spectacular.

On the bus ride back to the hotel, I was pondering the question of tourism over commercialism.  Facilitating the latter would be easy in one sense.  Energy is plentiful.  Space, too, is plentiful, but that would mean destroying the natural habitat and Iceland has a convenient way of reclaiming itself when that happens.

Iceland has lots of examples of where man has tried to tame it and failed.  The town of Vik has flood defences for when, not if, the volcano right next to it goes off.  There is evidence of bridges and roads being washed away.

Iceland is that place.  I think it’s greater than the sum of its parts and you realise that, while other places have things that Iceland does, Iceland has them all.  My problem was that I was looking at everything in isolation because of the structure of tours and buses and, I guess, a holiday.  Iceland, naturally, feels like it’s designed to make you happy rather than facilitate the 9 to 5, and the way it is currently suits that goal perfectly.

It is an embodiment of working to live, and not living to work.

I asked the tour guide who took us caving why she stayed in Iceland after doing two years of travelling around the world from her home in Canada.

She looked at me and stood still.  She opened her arms to draw attention to what was in front of us.

“This,” she said.  “There’s always somewhere to explore and something to see and it’s beautiful.”

panorama

When I look at you the drums all start beating
And I just don’t know if I’m ready or not, to do it all again

See, I’ve got a wild heart and
I can’t control it
It keeps on letting me down

I know, with you, tonight could be amazing
Be amazing
I’m scared, to death, still I stood here waiting
Here waiting

Do what you want
Do what you want
Take a hold of me
Do what you want
Cause my heart keeps saying
Do what you want
That you’re all I need, all I need

With a touch you bring me back to life, I’m rising
And I don’t even know if I’ll survive, but I’m all in

See, I’ve got a wild heart and
I can’t control it
It keeps on letting me down

I know, with you, tonight could be amazing
Be amazing
I’m scared, to death, still I stood here waiting
Here waiting

Do what you want
Do what you want
Take a hold of me
Do what you want
Cause my heart keeps saying
Do what you want
That you’re all I need, all I need

Should be running away tonight
Should be finding a place to hide
But I’m starting to feel alive
And I know, with you, tonight could be

I know, with you, tonight could be amazing
Be amazing
I’m scared, to death, still I stood here waiting
Here waiting


Oh, my heart keeps telling me
Telling me
Telling me

All I need
All I need
All my heart keeps saying now

Amazing by Foxes

 

Comments 1

Leave A Comment?