While planning my trip to Iceland, I wasn’t much interested in Iceland.
I was writing a postgraduate thesis that honestly was sucking the life out of me when a bunch of friends persuaded me that it was about time to take a break and spend a ridiculous amount of savings in an adventure trip.
I didn’t know that much about the place itself. It was kind of trending at the time (still is), so why would I want to go where everyone else was going?
But I did want a holiday, and I did want to see the Northern Lights, so in the end I let them convince me. I said yes, dedicated to the task of finding a cheap flight, a cheap Airbnb and a cheap car to rent and then left with someone else the job of planning the actual trip, that was weeks ahead anyway. I went back to my uni work and almost forgot about it until it was time to pack.
That’s the reason why, when our plane finally landed in Keflavik, I wasn’t even remotely prepared to Iceland.
We’d got a glimpse of it while the plane was descending. It was February and it had snowed like hell during the previous week, to the point that at first we weren’t able to tell whether we were looking at at a white, fluffy cloud, or at our destination below us.
But looking at the bare land from high up doesn’t quite cut it. It takes breathing the air and walking on the frozen ground to understand what Iceland is about.
They’ll tell you that it’s beautiful, the heaven of nature lovers, and it’s so very true. You’ll see the waterfalls, slip on the ice, walk on the black beaches, stop the car in the middle of the road to take a picture, and agree with them.
But places, just like people, have much to say that’s got nothing to do with how good they look.
Iceland is worth visiting because it’s a reminder of life, stripped naked of all the bullshit. It’s emptiness and silence.
The sky is open and raw above you. There are almost no trees, the sea isn’t one you would swim in and tourists walk around like aliens just landed on Earth.
Icelandic people are few and mostly stay hidden in their houses. The ones you meet in shops and hotels look remarkably similar to one another, as if they were all part of a population of pale elves who ended up working in a supermarket, God knows why.
The cold is exhausting.
Your mates look outside the car windows, just like you, and only talk to set up toilet breaks. Mostly, you walk, you breath and you watch. Not look, watch, as if it were an endless tv show. Nothing moves, but still you can’t quite take your eyes off of it.
And that’s when it hits you.
Iceland is quietly taking away everything you had back home: the job, the struggle, the relationships, the words (oh, so many words!), the hopes, the future, the dreams. In Iceland, you are left with yourself and the wind. And a hint of nostalgia, maybe.
Of course, you’ll get them back when the trip ends, they’ll be waiting for you. But for now, they are gone, they don’t belong to you anymore. You’re retreating from your own life, and yet you’ve never been more alive.
This is what Iceland is about, and it isn’t an easy thing to name or explain. It’s a feeling of being bare and exposed in front of nature. It’s knowing that you couldn’t live there, because being alone with yourself is exhausting and cruel, but you’re still going to miss it your whole life.
The feeling of Iceland.