Nothing Sweeter Than Serendipity (Iceland Part I)

It was July and I needed an adventure. I was unemployed, unexcited, and consumed by wanderlust. My boyfriend recalled a documentary about an Icelandic music festival he had seen on a flight a few years past, and we checked out plane tickets to the elusive country that night…just for fun. They were cheap, and after mulling it over for a couple days, we took the plunge and bought them. Why not?

Liam and I explored Iceland for two weeks, from the end of October to early November. We flew out of Seattle airport, and into Keflavík, Iceland. Our first day there, we were both overwhelmed by fatigue having barely slept for over a day. We picked up our rental car, then stumbled around town, eventually finding ourselves in a quaint coffee shop, not unlike somewhere you’d find in downtown Portland. After spending more money than I wanted to on a croissant and chai tea, I found myself slumped on the sofa there, barely able to keep my eyes open…

It’s a little bit confusing when you first arrive somewhere new and foreign. You don’t know what to do or see, and if you’re like me, you’ll feel absolutely guilty if you don’t take advantage of the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in an unknown environment. Fortunately, Iceland is an easy place to lose yourself. We woke up the next day refreshed and ready to explore. After a few days spent driving out to the spanning countryside, I understood why so many artists are borne of Icelandic heritage. It’s vast, mysterious, and seemingly untouched. The beauty is indescribable. We saw massive, booming waterfalls and domineering mountains. The road pulled us along mile after mile, into spaces so bereft of human life we felt as if we’d landed on the moon.

We spent an entire day swimming in a natural lagoon, where we met other travelers from Singapore and Switzerland. Even with the extreme heat of the water, our ears froze with the continual onslaught of the wind. In the evenings, we would return to Reykjavik, where we split up our time between two Airbnb hosts who lived just on the outskirts of the city. Reykjavik is an incredible city, full of contemporary architecture and women with compelling fashion taste. I felt completely out of my league comparing my polyester white “snow jacket” that I’d purchased from Old Navy when I was sixteen to their luxurious and insulated black knee-length coats. They wrapped thick scarves around their necks in fancy knots, pulling off a perfect mélange of practical and stylish. Liam and I took more than a couple trips to our official favorite bakery in Iceland, Sandholt. I had peanut-butter-ginger-squash soup, while Liam enjoyed their fresh baked goods. It was bliss. Not to mention Sandholt’s soy lattes were by far the best in town. Before we left for home, I made one last trip, snagging a delectable pistachio danish…and $40 worth of chocolate.

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We brought with us a rough list of sights we wanted to see, and spent the first week in Iceland driving around to catch them all before the sun inevitably fell away from the sky. We had no itinerary, which was great. I couldn’t help but poke fun at the heaps of tourists being led around by their guides, getting shuttled here and there in giant buses. For me, traveling must be organic. The best moments in Iceland were the least predictable. Isn’t that always the case? There is nothing sweeter than serendipity.

One of my favorite memories was discovering Fjaðrárgljúfur (I promise to never attempt pronouncing that). During the second Ice Age, a glacier began its slow retreat through the landscape and left a gorgeous, gaping canyon in its wake. We hiked up the side of the mountain, totally unaware of what we’d find. We were the only people there, and it was just stunning. For most of us, aloneness is a form of rebellion. It is a conscious decision, requiring our full attention and total commitment. In Iceland, aloneness is easy and natural. I loved that.

As we made our way higher and higher, periodically holding hands, then letting go of each other altogether, we finally got a view of the overwhelming canyon below. A river flowed through its belly, its tall walls lush and green and jagged. I walked over as close as I could to the side, and peered down with wide open eyes. Have you ever been reminded of your own smallness, and simultaneously the inescapable largeness of life? There’s no better feeling in the world.

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Fjaðrárgljúfur, Iceland | Copyright Liam Gillies
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