...but more importantly it's the land of my dreams.
You know how there are certain places you've always wanted to visit and sometimes, when asked to examine why, you can't come up with an intellectual response, only an emotional one.
Since I was a little kid, checking out my grandmother's globe I've always wanted to visit, Japan, Alaska, The Outer Hebrides, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, Patagonia...and Iceland. The list has remained pretty constant all through my years of travel dreams, yet by the same token, I've never really aspired to be a world traveler, and therefore have never actively aspired to see any of these places.
For someone who's lived in several foreign countries, I've always found "traveling" kind of distasteful. Don't get me wrong, I love adventure and enjoy the anonymity and exotic locales of foreign destinations as much as the next girl, but ever since my generation decided that seeing the world on a grand tour with a backpack was the gateway to "experience" and adulthood, something you had to check off your list, I've preferred staying in a place and getting to know it.
And as you may know, about seven or eight years ago I developed a little bit of an aversion to flying, so at this point, I doubt I'll ever reach many of those destinations.
Still, when the opportunity arrived to spend some time in Iceland, which along with Alaska, is my oldest travel obsession, I could hardly contain myself.
I made no plans, I looked at no travel guides. I just got there and marveled at the vast, primordial expanse of it from the bus window.
I walked the streets of Reykjavik (a whole post in and of itself) at dusk, and wondered what tomorrow might bring.
I slept very little, woke up a stranger in a strange land, and did something I never thought I'd do.
No, I didn't hike a glacier, or get wasted at the heavy metal bar directly below my hostel room; I signed up for a bus tour of the local sights along with Japanese grandmothers and Americans from Wisconsin.
What travel often teaches you, is that it pays off to think outside your box. Chattering tour guides aside, this was the most fun, magical ride I've had in a long time.
From the Medieval gathering place, seat of the parliament, and the scene of executions by drowning, to the waterfalls and Geysers, sitting on my seat, the predictable sound of Björk in my ears, I felt fully immersed in the landscape, yet totally present in the moment.
And while it took all my strength at times, to not just wander off into the hills, I also enjoyed the company of our fellow travelers, all people who wanted to be there and marvel at a land so completely different than their own.
I don't know if it's just the nature of being removed from your own reality, but the days (and nights) I spent in Iceland, seemed longer and more full of experiences than most any before.
One moment you're looking at the largest Volcano on the island, Hekla, the one you learned about in fifth grade, blowing smoke, getting ready to unleash holy hell and streaming lava, at the next you're eating lambstew, or petting Icelandic horses, or craning your neck to see the Northern Lights.
All around you a landscape unlike any other unfolds, with mountains in unfamiliar shapes, glacial lakes and rives, small houses under a huge sky.
You can stand on two different continental plates, not just in the same day, but within fifteen minutes; see where the world under your feet actually cracks.
Around the bend might lay a valley full of geothermal green houses, or you might rise on a mountain's side into a sudden snowstorm.
It's hard not to wax lyrical about Iceland.
The moment the tour started, my instant traveling friends and I were imagining other lives for our selves, ones where we herded sheep along the steep hillside, slept in a house that looked like as it were made of old wood, but was actually constructed from corrugated shipping container-metal.
"We could live here." We said to each other dreamily. "How could we live here?"
The land is, not to be redundant, primordial, ancient, yet familiar. A million pictures, music videos and films and books later, a lifetime of exposure to exotic places, its hard to differentiate that secondhand knowledge of somewhere from the sense of having been there before; but my own sense of geographical and emotional deja vu was keen. I felt like this was not the first time I had walked these hills and fjords.
I can't explain in words, but I felt it. A connection. If not to this place than to this state of being, some cellular memory of the earth in it's volcanic beginnings.
Yes, it is easy to wax lyrical about a place that's among the youngest on the planet, where the earth is still alive, constantly shifting and moving.
Where water flows boiling and frozen. Where hillsides look like crouching trolls in the night.
Where everyone can trace back their roots to the first settlers and people speak thousand-year-old Norwegian and believe, actually believe, in the supernatural in the everyday.
In a landscape both utterly alien and oddly familiar, it's easy to believe in how different your life might be here, how much less mundane. That, of course is part of the magic of travel.
In so many ways we are differently people when we travel. We are more laid-back, more adventurous, happier, more curious. We meet people easily. We stay engaged with the present, instead of being distracted and contemplating the past or the future.
If we lived in the countries we travel to, the towns we visit, we would slowly, day by day, return to our ordinary selves, the ones that are ordinary everywhere. An office is an office still on the edge of glacier. A kid's swimming class is still a swimming class in a geo-thermal pool. Bills must be paid, relationships cultivated, winter coats bought and dinner made.
Yet if we can retain a little of the spirit of our traveling selves, we are better for it. True freedom and adventure see, comes from having freedom and adventure each day, not just on special vacations and in extraordinary places.
Which is why, I will carry Iceland with me always now, through the though times and the good, a secret place inside myself in which the earth is still very young and I am curious and wild and free.
(And possibly protozoan nummulite?)
Where is the land of your dreams?
ps. stay tuned for more Scandinavian adventures!