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CONTENT

Exploring Iceland

Ben Ashby

Early this February, I found myself needing something. It was one of those nameless things a soul yearns for that you can only find through a journey. A break? No, not really that simple, but close. Amidst all of the technological connection and overstimulation, though, that’s what it amounted to. When I found myself aboard a plane headed from John F. Kennedy Airport to Iceland, I was hopeful I’d find some kind of calm there. I didn’t know what to expect, but after countless beautiful images shared by friends of the lush and wild landscapes, I was hopeful. The first night of my journey in Iceland found me neck deep in a hot natural spring, a faint smell of sulfur wafting off the surface in a cool steam as it mixed with the icy air. Leaning back I stared up at a foggy night sky, waiting for my chance to see the Northern Lights, and though I didn’t see them, I discovered something else. Rest; Calm. That thing a soul craves that it can’t find in the soft-but-probing glow of an iPhone screen.

The morning before I found myself in a new place, a small country with a total population of roughly the same as my college-town home. Winding through the small, inviting Keflavik Airport I found a cab quickly and headed out to rest up. A five-hour flight was nursed with a warm breakfast at the IcelandAir Hotel Keflavik, and after a short nap and a longer walk along the beautiful rocky coast I felt myself start to unwind. Possibly because I had to leave my phone charging in my room*, but probably because of the calm sea swirling beneath me undisturbed and gently whispering away my troubles. Snapping back to the real world during a short flight to Reykjavik and long drive to Fludir, I found myself in that Secret Lagoon letting that warm water melt away my techno-troubles.

My second day of my journey took me on expected and unexpected adventures. The day started normally. Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack up, and leave. A couple miles outside of the small town of Fludir, our bus driver had to pull over. In a charming landscape of ice and snow and farmland we found ourselves stuck on the side of a road coated in a few inches of thick ice. Standing in the middle of that frozen country road, silence. Stillness. I popped open a tiny bottle of Brennivin and grabbed my camera and just enjoyed the view. Tiny homes belonging to farmers separated by miles of stretching snow, blanketing a fertile soil that I know these locals were eager to plow. Once again I found myself able to just breathe and enjoy my surroundings. A short while later, we were ‘rescued’ by another bus and taken to Gulfoss to see the 32-meter waterfall and the geyser in Thingvellir National Park.

On that day before I left Iceland, I found myself face to face with something familiar–coming from my native home of Kentucky–but different, a horse farm for Icelandic Horses. The Icelandic Horse is one of the rarest and purest breeds of horses in the world. First brought to the island nation in the 9th and 10th century settlers it has survived volcanic eruptions, harsh cold, and extreme farm work by selective breeding. It is a protected species as Iceland has legislation stating that no horses may be imported and all those exported can never return as a way to prevent illness in them. Having two extra breed-specific gaits, this pony-sized, long-haired horse is today ridden for leisure, shown, raced, and used for traditional farm work. Avoiding near-extinction in a volcanic eruption in the 1780s, the Icelandic horse lives on to remind people of the country's Scandinavian heritage, Norse Mythology, and agricultural history. Another day went by full of fresh air and adventure, and calm.

My last night of my Icelandic adventure was spent in the national capitol, Reykjavik. That night I went out with a group of people I’d met along the way, fellow reporters and photographers mostly traveling from Europe. After a family style meal in a local restaurant we spent the evening chatting and getting to know each other, the locals, and what everyone brought with them and were taking away from their trip. No phones, no social media, no disturbances. It was pure human connection. That was something I found most appealing, the ability to disconnect from all of the technology that binds us and find something real. That night I met two hilarious and fun ladies who worked with papers in England, a talented food columnist, a former National Geographic videographer, and a quiet but beautifully interesting young woman with enviable style. We talked. We learned about each other. We left friends.

Before heading to the airport and returning home we made one final stop. A short trip outside the city with a lively local driver who made a suggested detour at a Viking Village brought us to the Blue Lagoon. Another natural hot spring just outside of Reykjavik. I’m sure you’ve seen it in recent news, especially following Jay-Z and Beyonce’s quick visit recently. It’s a natural lagoon full of nutrients and vitamins that locals and visitors still use to purify and refresh their bodies. With our new friends in tow, we took our first and last dip in the lagoon. 

It should be noted that on the way over, our new friend the driver gave us a quick piece of Icelandic Farmer advice. ‘Should you ever be unsatisfied with the weather in Iceland, wait five minutes.’ Moments after getting neck-deep in the lagoon with a face caked with cleansing mud, it began to hail. In the middle of the warm lagoon, without my glasses and being pelted with hail, I began to laugh hysterically. Where else could someone have this experience? To me, it was the perfect sendoff and I found my soul and shoulders a little more lightened. Without electricity–knocked out by the sudden storm– I began packing up my things for the journey home and an hour later I was waving goodbye to new friends and new places that felt a little like home. Calmed.

 

*An aside, don’t forget your international charging adapter, I was that guy and found myself using the television’s USB-port all week.