Going Solo: Otherworldy Iceland, Salva corpus amanti
I have returned from the Land of Fire and Ice to the Land of Sand and Sun.
More than two months later I wonder whether I even was there? Already Iceland feels like a fairy tale; alien, dreamlike, challenging, ancient. I can understand why Icelandic people believe in elves, trolls, and the Hidden People, because there always seemed to be something hiding in the mist, barely perceptible in the corner of my eye. Was that a boulder, or something else?
The land mesmerizes you, it is wild and you cannot tame it, despite the best internet and connectivity I have ever had in any country. It’s unpredictable and puts the whole world on standstill with one volcanic eruption.
I journeyed alone and completed 2378km / 1478 miles in 10 days in my trusty steed, the affable Murray.
It was the northernmost place I have ever been to in my life. (66.07 N, to be precise).
I touched the blue ice of ancient glaciers and drank its freezing waters. I waded barefoot through icy rivers. I got muddy, wet and dirty.
I stayed awake until midnight watching the auroras.
I went to feel, not only see. I took photos, but when it mattered, I put the electronic eye aside.
I have faced my fears about loneliness, embraced solitude in the wilderness, and made peace with feeling weird in my own skin.
Because we are not alone! Out in the Wilderness, I never felt lonely. Camping in such wild beauty filled me with a fulfillment that crowds could never give me.
I dreaded that Iceland would be overrun by tourists based on what I had read in my travel research. Yes, the busses were there, bringing the hordes of tourists with their selfie sticks arrived en mass, consuming attractions like an insatiable beast without ever leaving the comforts of their sterile bus. But all I needed to do is get up early, or get walking; the longer the hike, the less likely I would encounter the hordes because they don’t like to strain themselves and prefer easy accessible sights.
And it is no wonder Iceland has received such an influx of visitors. It has an efficient, well-organized tourism infrastructure and is safe even when it feels wild. You can visit spectacular scenery on a mere day trip out of its capital city. It was a pleasure driving around, regardless of what fierce weather tried to push me off the road.
I certainly love road trips!
My modestly equipped Renault was reliable, never lost traction in the mud, kept going even as the wind gusts shook him up, and sturdily geared up the steep, slippery, winding mountain passes — he endured it all in the typical Bill Murray stoicism, pushing me on when I hesitated on some routes, and I fell deeply in love with my car.
Roadtrips are like meditation and nowhere is it as easy to get lulled into a sense of peace than in Iceland, as the miles melt away on the beautiful roads. And I didn’t tire, even on the day when I drove over 400 miles from the West Fjords to Akureyri, because the scenery excites all your senses.
During the first couple of days my mind noise was incessant — purifying itself of my stresses back home, probing into some complex questions about myself at this stage in my life, what is love, what’s my legacy, who am I?! I cried a lot; the beauty was overwhelming, my heart bursting with the sense of wonder for my world and the impending adventure was daunting. Quite a few times I wondered whether I am really here, what have I done?! Is this real?
And then the mind chatter stopped, the doubt washed away by the rain, and I became present in my adventure! I talked less to myself and felt my heart swell up for this world we live in. I didn’t cry anymore.
Despite looming eruptions and violent weather, Iceland is a safe destination and there was nothing to fear as a solo female traveler. But the real fear I had to overcome is the Fear of Missing Out — FOMO. Travel Blogs try to convince you that unless you have visited these top 10 sights or done these “Must Do Tours of 2018”, your life is incomplete. People are chasing the ever elusive Instagram lifestyle and are too pre-occupied in creating the perfect image to impress their social media friends, instead of acknowledging the immense privilege of where they are and enjoying the moment. They tick off attractions like a shopping list, and then get bleak when they forgot a waterfall like they forgot the milk?
But do you dare to be different and do you do what is good for yourself? That is what explorers do, get dirty, scared by the unknown and still push through, following the rainbow (yes, I did indeed follow a lot of rainbows).
It takes real guts to veer off the safe tourist circuit and to resist trying to cram every possible attraction in what little time I had.
I didn’t see most waterfalls and that’s ok. Out of the 7000 +, I saw 4 major ones (not including the many, many smaller ones I didn’t stop for). Two stood out especially, Glymour, and Dynjandi, and it’s because I earned my sighting to visit them.
Glymour was only accessible via a muddy, challenging hike of about 6km. I had to cross the glacier river over a wonky log and later wade through it barefoot, trying not to slip on the slippery rocks, especially when I couldn’t feel my frozen feet after a while. And when the hike finally got easier at the top of a plateau, I received the full onslaught of the infamous Icelandic wind, getting soaked as the rain blew sideways under my raincoat. Yet, it was worth it. When I reached the main viewpoint of the falls, there were only five other hikers watching the falls. Each stood apart from each other to enjoy a private moment listening to the waterfall’s force. Nobody filled the space with mindless chatter or vapid selfies. Five strangers who would never see each other again, but who knew the value of a moment of contemplation and appreciation in the wilderness.
Dynjandi’s roaring force and cascading watermass blew me away. The only access was a challenging journey driving along a very potholed, muddy gravel road, never quite certain whether I was even allowed on this dirt road with my little van. I was all alone on my forlorn road and the only reassurance was the occasional sight of a car looking even more lost than me. I finally reached this powerful waterfall shortly before last light and deeply awed by its symmetric elegance. That night I camped wild as I heard its guttural roar in the distance — it was probably one of the best days of my journey.
I hiked a lot. I would follow a trail without a map or clue, not knowing how long it may take, and where it may lead. I searched for paths that forked into the unknown, but I never went off-track, as callous hikers have caused irreparable damage to fragile moss when they went off the footpaths. There were enough tracks that took me into solitude. Once I walked unintentionally for 5 hours, because I kept discovering one more fascinating path. When I realized at the end that I had to still walk all the way back to my car, which was parked at the start of the hike, I decided to hitchhike back, something I haven’t done as a female traveler in many years.
Iceland is perpetually changing — creating, destroying, growing, you sense the eternal movement in this Land. The land is breathing in the water, the air, the fish, the sheep, the people. Nothing stands still and there is imperceptible movement as tectonic plates separate 2cm a year. It’s a Land where mountains are shaped, where glaciers retreat, where rain dissolves the earth. It’s a wonderful spiritual metaphor with where I am in my life right now — creating, destroying, growing, always moving, often unpredictably.
I used to travel to escape the issues at home I didn’t want to face. Now I travel to connect with those issues and hope to find the clarity and courage to deal with them back home. Travel makes me believe that everything is interconnected and we are never alone. Serendipity finds me at every corner in every person I meet, be it for a moment or for a lifetime.
My trip to Iceland was personal. I could give you advice such as GPS coordinates of wild locations where I camped (with respect to landowners and the environment, as in Namibia, you can’t inconsiderately park anywhere!) I can give you practical tips on how to travel cheaply without missing out on delicious local food and amazing experiences, I can teach you how to avoid the hordes of tourists. But on a deeper level, each of you will have to create your own path on your holiday. In the end, it’s all about your own intentions, the openness of your own mind, and only then can your destination give you what you need (not want you want).
I watched this documentary where an astronaut explained the overview effect as they floated over the world and the profound effect the sight of our Earth had on him. This is exactly what I felt when I ventured around Iceland.
In the ancient literature we found a description called Salva corpus amanti, which means ‘That you see thing as you see things with your eyes but you experience them emotionally and viscerally as it was ecstasy and a sense of totally unity and oneness’……it is something very important to the way we humans were put together
THANK YOU ICELAND!