This is a post I’ve been scared to make. I’ve been putting it off – not because I didn’t want to write about my experience or because I didn’t have enough to say, but because I didn’t know how to put it into words.
For those of you who are new to my work, I just recently returned from a two-month visit to Iceland. I was there to immerse myself in another culture and to make art, both images and video. This was my first time living semi-longterm in another country, and I was nervous. I’m always up for a new adventure, but I simply didn’t know what to expect from this experience. In the days leading up to my departure, I made it up in my mind to go in without any preconceived notions of what this chapter of my life might hold.
Spoiler, this trip was incredible – in every aspect of the word. In fact, I have so much to say about my time in Iceland, that I’ll be splitting this post up into two parts. This is part one, in which I’ll talk about my road trip around the country.
From the very moment my plane touched down in Keflavík, I was thrown into a whirlwind of travel, photography, and new friends. For two weeks, I traveled around the entirety of Iceland, circling the whole country. Starting on the south coast, I made my way from Vík, to the East Fjords, to Seyðisfjörður, to Husavík, to Akureyri… It was incredible; every single day I was somewhere new. And by each day’s end, I found myself further and further from everything I’ve ever known. Every moment presented me with profound beauty and a new-found appreciation for the power of nature.
There’s one moment within my first few days that I remember particularly well; I think this is when it really sunk in for me that I was going to have an experience that would change me.
I had been cruising along the south coast of Iceland, on my way to spend the night in Vík. Although it was already getting late, we decided to stop at the iconic waterfall Skógafoss.
As we approached the bottom of the waterfall, rain suddenly started to pour down. The rain, along with the freezing spray from the falls, left me drenched. I was absolutely soaked, goosebumps all over my body – it was invigorating.
I can’t remember another moment where I felt that alive, in such a raw way.
Another day I’ll never forget was when I visited the island of Drangey off the coast of northern Iceland.
I was extremely lucky to visit this remote isle; very few people ever get to! The weather was a little rough, so for safe travels, I took part in an interesting Icelandic tradition: hákarl and Brennivín. Brennivín translates to “burnt wine,” and was essentially a very strong, clear, vodka-tasting spirit. The liquor was given to me in a shot glass. Floating along at the bottom of the glass was a cube of what looked almost like cheese: hákarl, or fermented Greenland shark. Even through the smell of the alcohol, I could clearly detect the scent of the pungent, ammonia-esque shark.
I swirled it around a few times, inspecting the rancid concoction, debating whether or not I should eat it. My eyes began to water at the smell alone. My friends and I, who were seated criss-cross applesauce in a grassy field (which only added to the strangeness of the situation), eyed each other, wondering who would be the first to throw it back.
After quite a few minutes of working up the courage, we counted down from 3 and took the shot.
I’m really not exaggerating when I say that it was the most repulsive thing I’ve ever tasted in my life. Imagine: a piece of year-old chicken you found behind your couch soaked in nail polish remover. I gagged. My lungs filled with the offensive fishy-ammonia flavor. For a moment, I was completely frozen, as if my body simply didn’t know how to react to the assault. The texture was not any better. It felt like chewing on an eraser, one that released another burst of vile flavor with every bite-down. After several attempts to break it apart in my mouth, I ended up swallowing the chunk whole. A single tear rolled down my left cheek.
I kid you not – the aftertaste lasted for about an hour, even after downing several bottles of water. I’ll never know if it was the fermented shark or not, but we safely made the journey to the island of Drangey.
Drangey was something out of a fantasy. Countless puffins and terns dotted the massive cliffs, which soared straight out of the water. The whole island was covered in a blanket of lush grass and wildflowers. After docking, we embarked on a treacherous climb up the rock face. A few ladders and ropes later, we were on top of Drangey. I stood at the edge of the cliff, a pure ocean breeze whipping in my hair, and peered out over everything. I was breathless.
Throughout my roadtrip, I experienced and saw more than I could ever imagine. Seemingly endless lava fields, freezing rain, fog so thick you can’t see more than a foot in front of your face…
I picked up bits and pieces of the language, fell in love with Icelandic breakfast, and sailed in the Greenland Sea.
I walked along the edge of a massive crater (almost getting blown away by the wind!), swam in milky blue geothermals…
… hiked up icy glaciers, and danced in gas station parking lots.
I drew so close to the people I traveled with, I can hardly believe there was a time when we were strangers.
My road trip was utterly exhausting, and not always glamorous, but I wouldn’t change a moment of it. It was full of laughter, freezing rain, questionable roads, singing, losing things, finding them again, danger, and wet shoes. I slept in strange places: a couple motels, a spooky schoolhouse, a lodge filled with eclectic art, but mostly, in vehicles. I survived off a diet of bread, peanut butter, dried apples, and mushroom soup. My hair was a mess, thanks to the constant battering wind and the fact that I didn’t have a brush. I was disheveled and tired and utterly, completely happy. It was the best time of my life: an unrelenting adventure following the never-setting midnight sun.
Finally, I found myself on a ferry to the West Fjords, the most remote region of the country, where I would settle in an isolated town on the outskirts of the world…