words & images patricia dale
I took a weekend trip to Iceland.
A couple of weekends earlier I had gone through a breakup that had floored me. It was one of those crumbling disintegrations where you need a fuzzy cat to sleep with and a bottle of wine to wake up to. I had been with my boyfriend for one of the most productive years of my life. We had come to an end not because of a lack of care for each other, but because we would not create a cohesive future together. He had accepted my darkest moments, but not seen a way to be with me during an impending future. It ended so abruptly and so reluctantly that I found the only way to get to the next productive year of my life was to try and find a way to avoid sitting on my ass feeling sorry for myself.
A close friend of mine needed to get out of the city at the same time. Six years prior, long before it became fashionable, he had taken an ambitious three-week trip to Iceland with the money in his pocket. He claims it was one of the most incredible and worthwhile trips he had ever taken. So, when he said he wanted to go back, and he wanted to take me with him, what else was I to do? Best person ever, yes? Yes.
Since we had time constraints due to our work schedules, we flew out on Thursday for a six-hour flight to the outskirts of Reykjavik and planned to be back in New York by Monday night. We ordered 4 mini hamburgers and 4 bottles of wine as soon as we were in the air. I unsurprisingly took a break from my no carb diet and ate every piece of bread I could find. Upon our arrival at six a.m. we rented a car. I would mostly make him stop on the highway to take the typical photos of clear mini streams and stray cows because I’m a Canadian girl from New York and I couldn’t have been more excited about…nature.
The hotel in Reykjavik was only 45 minutes away, so I ate a box of chocolates for my 6am breakfast as we drove and gazed at the beautiful open waters and meadows. One of the first things that struck me as odd was there weren’t any fences or gates keeping the public from dangerous landscapes. There were mountains lining roads and there weren’t any signs of falling rocks or precautionary fences. Even low bridges over streams in Toronto have nets on them to make sure that if someone tried to commit suicide, it would look like a circus stunt. They’d fall and then do a backflip on the net trampoline. Everyone would clap. In Iceland, they really don’t care if you go into the freezing water or try to climb a mountain with no gear. Do whatever the hell you want over there, they take no responsibility for your actions. Also, maybe less people feel inclined to jump to their ultimate demise.
The food was exceptional. It was expensive, yes, even just buying alcohol in stores, but we spent the money because we knew it was worth it. The best meal I’ve ever had (for now, anyway) was in the first restaurant we went to in Reykjavik called Grillmarkadurinn (The Grill Market). The cocktails were fabulous and the wait staff treated us like their only guests. I will love most places that ask me, “Would you like more bread?” Of course, another order, and more whipped butter with that black sea salt. It was delightful, and not just the butter. I was surprised by the amount of horse and puffin Icelandic people eat, especially since there were tours to see both. Perhaps you can even go pick out your dinner? No, just kidding. But maybe you could. Once we left the restaurant, we were full and ready for drinks. There is no shortage of drinks in Reykjavik.
Once we spoke to various locals, we realized that the volcano at Bárdarbunga, Vatnajokull Glacier’s highest peak was not all that big of a deal. Contrary to all international headlines that claimed Iceland would have to shut down and resort to cannibalism. If anything, Icelanders laughed at the idea that the North Americans cared so much about it. I quote from The Reykjavik Grapevine: “On August 16, the Western media spotlight fell on Iceland once again. As is usually the case when the outside world likes to acknowledge our existence, an eruption was involved. Or was there?” There were occasional earthquakes but nothing out of the ordinary. The weather got worse as the weekend went on, but we just had to look out for sandstorms.
Once we checked out of Reykjavik the next morning, after sharing a room with a glass bathroom door [no, we did not appreciate the closeness] at the Icelandair Marina Hotel, we drove to the spectacular Gulfoss Waterfall otherwise known as the Golden Waterfall. It was magnificent. The rain was drizzling and the water from the falls wet our coats, but we quickly warmed up with a couple of delicious Icelandic beers.
We drove east to the Blue Lagoon, a tourist hot spot, where we would also spend a night at the hotel spa. The tourists ranged in origin from Asia to Russia, with plenty Britons. Everyone had the mentality that they were there to relax so we were never, under any circumstances, bothered by others trying to start silly small talk conversation — the East village, this is not. This went for all of Iceland. The Blue Lagoon Spa is popular for people with skin diseases, as the lagoon can treat various illnesses. The lagoon itself is rich in minerals such as sulfur and silica. It is completely man-made, and fed by a nearby geothermal power plant that generates electricity by lava flow. The hot water gleams bright blue as steam rises into the cool air and disperses. In our swimsuits, we were able to go to a swim-up bar [3 drink limit, no rowdiness or sexy encounters here!] where you pay with a simple wristband, slap on free face masks, and can spend hours becoming as prune-like as your heart desires.
Our final full day was dedicated to traveling to Vík, a black sand beach. The weather would change frequently. One hour we would be driving through hail, the next minute we would stop to take photos of a rainbow. Vík itself is small, and there isn’t much nightlife, especially compared to Reykjavik, but the beach is eerily dramatic. We’d pass by a mountain and suddenly see white glaciers creeping from the shadows and merging with the green grass. The hotel was also owned by Icelandair but thankfully, there was a solid door on the bathroom.
I would go back to Iceland at a moment’s notice. Not necessarily because it was a trip to end a chapter relying on another person to make me happy and starting a new one more committed to freedom and independence. It was one of those weekends that change your perspective on what your priorities are. Sometimes, I take a trip to my family’s cabin in order to regain my sensibilities. I stare at the lake in the morning and ask it to help me solve my problems. As if the silence of the lake knows something I don’t. Why was it so silent and okay? Why couldn’t I be silent too?
In Iceland, I was able to see a new place that offered so many experiences and never asked for anything in return Maybe a couple of hundred of dollars on a bottle of wine, but lets be honest, it was an escape from the ordinary, and I think on a trip you might find that what you can learn from being outside your comfort zone is limitless. A place to explore offers unconditional wisdom — an exploration of place often extends into an exploration of self. I was able to drive through the unknown, look around, and see that there is much more.