Saturday, June 16, 2012

Icelandic Adventuring (Part I)

Needless to say, we had a pretty wonderful time. Isa and Katie flew home on Thursday and I'm settling back into the apartment where I'll be for the next six weeks, beginning to e-mail people for interviews, exploring flea markets, coffee shops, and nights where the sun never sets.

Our five-day trip around Iceland felt epic. This was mainly because at any given time the landscape was constantly shifting, seeming to discover brand new manifestations of beauty that miraculously existed all at the same time. The video we made was filmed (and edited) on the same day, which goes to show you just how diverse the landscape is. It also means that throughout the week they were here, I ended up taking just short of 1,000 photos. I wish I was exaggerating because that would mean organizing them was much easier. (I won't make you look at all of them).

We made a loop around the entire country, sticking mainly to its one and only highway: Rte. 1 or the "Ring Road." The purple line on the map below shows where we slept each night, and the orange line is the highway we drove on. 

It's hard to know where to begin describing the trip. There was so much to see and it was all set to a steady background of the three of us driving along windy roads in an beat-up, old red car, talking and talking and talking. I hadn't seen Katie since the day we graduated from Swarthmore, and I hadn't seen Isa since we said goodbye at a diner halfway between our New England homes last summer. 

This sounds crazy, but I had kind of forgotten how great it is to have friends. Being alone, or at least being with people who I don't know especially well (or who don't know me especially well), has become the norm this year, for better and for worse. I forgot the kind of unselfconscious, hysterical, honest, beautiful kinds of conversations and experiences you can have with people who you care about dearly, and who care about you. 

Our first day together, we explored Reykjavik. We went up the Hallgrimskirkja church steeple for views of the city, squeamishly perused the Icelandic phallological museum (how could you pass that up, really?), went on a free walking tour, and began the massive consumption of pylsurs (hot dogs) and coffee that seemed to dominate the entire trip. 

 At one of Reykjavik's' many art museums. 
Isa also made me eat bone marrow. (Your attempts to disguise it don't fool me, toast).
 I will be kind and only share one photo from the phallological museum.
Our thoughts exactly. 
On Saturday morning we set out for the car rental place and after a few minor hiccups, hit the road with our newly christened car, Thor. 

Thank goodness I have friends who know how to do grown-up things like check the coolant and oil levels.

Our first stops were Geysir and Gullfoss, two popular tourist destinations that make up 2/3 of the Iceland's "Golden Circle" (the third sight is Thingvellir National Park, which we went to on our last day on the road). 
 The geysir, Strokkur, which erupts every six minutes. (The Before shot). 
And after
 The area around Geysir.
Gullfoss waterfall

One of the best things is that just driving around Iceland, everything feels like a discovery. Some of my favorite moments of the trip were stumbling upon old farms tucked between mountains, rolling waterfalls that weren't in the guidebook, clear blue rivers and herds of sheep.


 That evening we got dinner in Vik, the southernmost town of Iceland, and marveled at the lupine fields.


We headed down to Reynisjara, a black pebble beach surrounded by basalt columns which was one of the favorite stops on our trip for all of us. It was both freezing and stunning, and we ran along the beach and climbed the rocks to keep warm. 


 After a night in a hostel in Skogar, we drove to Skatefell National Park and did a three-hour hike up to a waterfall and an amazing view overlooking some glaciers. (I know it sounds too idyllic, and like I'm making all of this up, but it really happened. Iceland is just that kind of magical place).

Eating dried fish flakes (Katie & Isa's snack of choice). I abstained. 

Svartifoss Waterfall

Before reaching a village near Hofn where we were spending the night, we stopped at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, which was a pretty incredible sight (although we all agreed the natural blue color just made us think of artificial snow cones).

 Ice on the beach.

The sights were beautiful, but as someone who has spent the last ten+ months without close friends around me, the people were even more so.

I am not the only one who has made a journey this year. Cutting the chord from Swarthmore (from any college you've loved for four years), is a rather painful process for many people I've spoken with. It has to do with the fact that many of us are crushed with uncertainty about what we should be doing, or what we even want to be doing. It has to do with the fact that paying jobs are hard to come by right now. It has to do with the fact that we have to create new identities for ourselves, staying afloat in big cities of strangers or office cubicles or studios. But most of all, it has to do with loss. It is an understated and enormous loss to give up a place and community you love; to go your separate ways and realize that all of the ground we stood on has evaporated. The common language of seminar discussions, pub night, and people has disappeared. We are not all living the same lives anymore and have fewer parallel experiences to share. 

It's a huge loss, but I'm realizing that it also makes the times that these separate paths do intersect all the more amazing. It's a pretty stupendous thing that I can meet up with two people in the midst of our very different years apart, in Iceland of all places, and for a little while, we can be on the same page again. All of a sudden, they were simply there, at the Reykjavik bus station. The common language is back, but so are new experiences, shaped by who we've become in our separate lives. At the end of it all we'll return to our separate apartments, various coffee machines, alarm clocks, e-mails, new friends in new cities. We'll feel sad that there will be many miles between us. But we'll also feel comforted by the fact that at least for a little while, we were able to travel the same path together. And I'm confident that we will, again, and again, and again.


To be continued...

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