I am watching myself back in time – a wide-eyed, mousy girl watching the brooding mountains loom out of the horizon like a bad omen. My cousin Clara – a travel enthusiast – had dragged me to this remote island with a population density of 3 persons per square kilometres, where snow stretched endlessly and vast whiteness was all there is to see. As you can probably tell, I didn’t like travelling at all. Planes terrify me, rushing from attractions to attractions felt like a hassle, and I found it masochistic that people would squander away their savings to scrimp on food and get lost in a foreign land, away from the comforts of home.
Clara knew as much. On our first night she brought us for a dip in the steaming, gurgling Icelandic hot springs, which wasn’t as bad as I’d thought, except that I stank like rotten eggs afterwards. But by the second day my cynicism had waned; even in my pessimism I couldn’t deny the otherworldly majesty of the Gullfoss – where the ground had parted to give way to a massive waterfall, frozen in undulating waves of glistening ice – or remain unintrigued by the craggy, peculiar lunar landscapes. I was expecting an arctic wasteland, but Iceland was more dramatic than that. One minute there were volcanic deserts, and the next, gleaming icebergs rose amidst black-sand beaches. It was so alien; astonishingly beautiful so. I began to feel a slow crawl of anticipation every time we set out for a new destination. Even in the car I no longer napped or used my phone to pass time – the last time I did that, I missed the sunset, and from the captivating pictures Clara took, it was certainly a wasted opportunity, even for someone who’d never found such things worth looking at.
The majesty of Icelandic landscapes.
Maybe it was Clara’s irresistible energy, or Iceland itself, but for the next few days I seemed to be possessed by a person other than myself. There was a curious buzz of energy thrumming under my skin. Laughter and conversation spilled out of my mouth easily. We joined the rúntur with a travel blogger we befriended in Skógafoss, where we bumped into our B&B owner, sledding guide, and hiking leader at the same time. Everyone seemed to know each other somehow, and I found myself yearning to be part of this close-knitted community.
Clara and I were talked into scuba-diving down a fault-line in Silfra by Kristjan, a charming diving guide. I hadn’t dived in years, and it was a daunting prospect that filled me with dread and trepidation until I swam through lava tunnels amidst schools of fishes, touching both Europe and America with just a stretch of my arms. It was a surreal experience, and as I was doing it I knew I would remember it for life, so I revelled in every single second of it – in the passion permeating Kristjan’s tone as he talked about shifting tectonic plates; in the transcendent conversations we had about life, death and everything in between. I learnt that he dropped out of college to start his own water sports centre at twenty-one. “So many people are unhappy about their life,” he said, “because they want to do things they cannot do. But we choose to live in these restrictions we create for ourselves.”
It was a statement that struck me hard. I’d always been someone who lived by the rules, assured by the predictability and reliability of routines. My life has been clearly defined and mapped out since I was young: study hard, go to a good university and become a lawyer. I was content with living inside a box, but this trip has shown me that the world is brimming with infinite possibilities, and I am capable of much more than what I allow myself to achieve.
It also showed me that perhaps, I didn’t know myself as well as I’d thought.
It was my second last night here, that led me to realise just what I want in life. Somehow sleep had evaded me, so I headed out to the grocery store for Harðfiskur – dried and salted codfish – something I’d grown irrevocably addicted to since I first tried it.
I was savouring the breeze nipping at my cheeks, snapping mental snapshots of how the glinting snow seemed to emit an ethereal glow against the periwinkle sky – when without warning thunder rumbled overhead, and within seconds I was drenched.
I ran back the way I’d come – I hadn’t travelled far, and from the looks of it the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon – or at least I thought I was running back in that direction. Because after ten minutes of winding through alleys, twisting through streets, it became clear that I was lost. I searched for my phone, but it wasn’t in my coat pocket. Panic crashed into me. This was what I’d been most afraid of…
But I’m not the person I was before. I climbed a steaming crater, dived into fault-line. So I peeled off my coat, covered my head, and stepped into the pouring rain.
I can’t remember how exactly I found it. All I knew was that I was turning into an open road when suddenly, I was arrested by a spectacular sight. A glacier lake glistened in the rain, reflecting the snow-capped mountains like a mirror. A crackle of lightning ran across its crystal surface, thunder shaking the sky, and it felt like any second Thor himself was going to burst through the glacier.
Words can’t capture the majesty of it all, but it was simply breath-taking, and got me thinking about something else Kristjan and I had talked about: Sometimes the world seems like a dark and despairing place, and life was as Shakespeare puts it, “…full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.” Terrible things happen, yes, but the world itself is nothing short of a miracle. I used to think life was so boring, now I want to go back and shake my younger self awake. Put down your phone, soak in the sunset with your cousin, go out and wander around! Life isn’t all about paper chase, climbing the corporate ladder, buying a fancy new car. There’s much more to explore, experience, live for. I thought about the euphoria coursing through me like electricity when I plunged down into the frigid cold, the blood singing in my veins as I leaned over the staggering waterfall, and I thought: I want it all.
Goodbye, the Land of Ice and Fire.
It was with a heavy heart that I took one last glance at the lofty mountains silhouetted against the sky. We were disappointed we missed the Northern Lights, but this trip had given me more than enough. I came as a timid girl with a limited worldview, fell in love with life’s wonders, got inspired by nature and people around me, and came home with a newfound motivation to take my life into my own hands, and live it to the fullest. Back then I thought travelling was the fastest way to waste all your money, now I realised, it is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.
Delphie Yap 18S33