top of page
Iceland_green.png
Week #4
Land of Fire & Ice

A seven hour flight is enough to try my patience any day. But the same flight with two little kids was in turn entertaining and nerve wracking. If I wasn’t going on vacation, I probably would’ve lost all my marbles. But I had something to look forward to – two whole weeks in the land of fire and ice.

When my sister, Ella, decided to take her family on vacation to Iceland, I was ready to die of jealousy. Iceland was at the top of my bucket list. Much as I loved my city life, I found peace in nature. There was no place like Iceland to see the wonder of nature from frozen glaciers to sleepy volcanos. It was all there in the 40 thousand square meters that is Iceland.

 

The only problem was I am still a financially struggling student for all practical purposes. While I was proud to have a scholarship to complete my graduate work, I didn’t have an actual income to pay for a two week trip to a foreign country. I had walked around complaining for two days straight, while staying the weekend at my sister’s place, before she finally broke down.

“This was meant to be your birthday present in one month. But since you are so pitiful we thought we’ll give it to you early.”  Ella said while holding out an envelop. It had a round trip air ticket in my name to Iceland.

I spent the next five minutes spinning my sister around the room to the absolute delight of my two nieces.

“Get a hold of yourself. You are going to have to babysit those two while we are there.” Ella tried in her sternest voice. “Also, you have to help me to pull together the itinerary. I have a few things in mind that I want the kids to see but you’ve been in love with this place for so long you should be better at this.”

I loved the idea so much I immediately got to work. By the end of that day I had planned out the entire trip to cover all the amazing things Iceland offered. Over the next couple of days Ella and I booked the hotels and cabins and purchased the winter clothes for the entire family.

Then it was a waiting game for three months. 

Seven hours ago the wait finally ended and the flight took off. In the next half hour I will set foot in my dream world. I could barely contain myself.

Our first stop was to visit the Blue Lagoon. I had done a research paper in undergrad geography class on geothermal pools in Iceland and their cultural significance. Since then I’ve dreamt of visiting one of them. Blue Lagoon was perhaps the most well known, and as a result most commercialized, geothermal pool here. But we had decided we will be fine with a little commercialized pampering after the seven hours cramped in a metal capsule.

The milky blue warm water with the lingering sulfur smell was a wonder in the midst of snow covered winter. But the crowd was annoying. It seemed that no one left the pool once they got in. Keeping up with my nieces was no joke either. But the water must’ve had real medicinal properties because after the three hours in it my entire body felt like jello. It was a weird combination of complete relaxation coupled with jet lag. All in all I could barely keep my eyes open till our next destination.

We had expected the jet lag, especially for the little ones, and made plans to stay at a little fishing village ten minutes south of the spa. Grindavik was the picture of an Icelandic fishing village with one grocery store and one restaurant, the Fish House. We picked up pickled fish sandwiches and lobster soup from the Fish House before making it to our Harbour View cabins. The cabins were modern box style 1 and 2 bedroom units. Everyone was asleep within half an hour of making it to the cabin. All the excitement had caught up to us.

When I woke up some five hours later it was completely dark outside. Winter time only had a few hours of sun in Iceland. Which meant it could be five in the evening and it would be as dark as midnight. When I checked the time it showed it was in fact barely eight. Everyone else was still fast asleep.

 

The northern lights tracker app was beeping, which is what had woken me up. It was predicting an active night. Since the northern lights made the top of the Iceland list for me I decided to get up and get dressed. My heart set on venturing out to the cold night.

I love everything else about Iceland, except the five layers of clothing one had to wear before putting a toe out in the open. I felt like a soft, round, stuffed doll by the time the thermal underwear, the t-shirt and pants, the sweater, the wind and waterproof outer layer, the mittens, the face mask and the hat was all on. I could not bend down to touch my feet once the full ensemble was on. For a moment I wondered whether I would be able to stand up if I accidently fell down. I wasn’t convinced I would be able to but the lure of the northern lights still called me out.

The edge of the harbour was only about fifty meters from the cabin door. As I opened the door and stepped out I heard the door to the next cabin open and close as well. For a moment I wondered if I was taking an unnecessary risk walking out like this in the night. Iceland is one of the safest places in the world but am I trying my luck going out on my own? The person who had stepped out of the cabin next door was walking up to the street that I was about to step on to.

 

“Hi” I said tentatively. I figured if it was a bad guy they wouldn’t be friendly. I was going to let my gut decide whether to take the next step or not.

“Hello. Are you going to try and catch the northern lights too?” the muffled voice that replied was not only friendly but vaguely familiar. It was clearly not an Icelandic accent either.

 

Since the response was friendly and my gut wasn’t screaming a warning, I decided it was safe to follow my neighbor.

 

“Yeah. I was thinking the harbour would be a good place to see the whole sky.”

 

The road was surprisingly clear of snow and ice and we were able to make the short trek in a couple of minutes. I laid out the heated blanket I had brought with me close to the edge of the water and sat down. My neighbor set himself up a few feet away. Close enough to talk but not too close to be in my personal space.

 

“Is this your first night in Grindavik?” He asked.

 

“Yeah. We just got to Iceland this morning. I wasn’t sure I was going to be up in time to catch the northern lights today.”

 

“I slept for a whole day when I first got here. Jet lag and the whole 4 hours of daylight thing really messed me up. Until I got some sun on me, my body decided it was just going to sleep. It was the longest I’ve slept in a long time.”

 

His voice was still muffled with the thermal mask and the high collar of the winter jacket. But my mind kept trying to place the accent and the voice. The more I listened the more familiar it felt.

 

“If I get to see the northern lights tonight I can sleep every night the rest of the trip. I just don’t want to miss it after coming all the way to Iceland.” I admitted.

“I know what you mean. I’ve been here a week already and haven’t seen it yet. It was cloudy most of the week so the forecast was low too.”

His remark reminded me to check the Aurora app.

 

“It looks like we might be a little early. According to the app its not going to show for at least another hour”

 

“Hmm… if I go back to the cabin I’m bound to fall asleep. I’m going to lie down here and wait. I really don’t want to get out of all these layers of clothing just to get back in them. It takes a good fifteen minutes to get dressed over here.”

 

His grumbling was cute. But the tentative way he was watching me made me wonder if he was explaining all this so I wouldn’t be spooked when he lied down. I had the sense that he was going out of his way to make me comfortable.

 

“Agreed. I don’t think I have the strength to do a wardrobe change in the next hour. It takes too long in this weather.” I stretched my legs, put my head down and tucked my palms under it. The stars seem particularly bright here though they were slightly off base compared to what I generally see from my back yard. But I was still able to recognize some of the brighter constellations.

“It’s amazing how clear the sky is over here. You can see more constellations than anything I see where I live.” Since we were both staring at the sky it shouldn’t have surprised me that we would both compare the view in front of us to our normal status quo. But it caught me completely off guard to hear how close his thoughts were to mine and I involuntarily turned to my side to face him.

 

“So you live in a city too?”

 

“Hmm… I live in the 16th largest city in the world”

 

“Oh… that’s specific.”

 

“My work makes me memorize all kinds of facts about my city and my country. So I’m full of random factoids.”

 

“Sounds like an interesting job. What are you… like a tour guide or a historian or…”

 

“I do a lot of ad campaigns”

 

“Oh… so you are in Marketing”

 

“Hmm… I suppose you could say that”

 

I cold hear a smile in his voice but couldn’t quite understand what was funny. It was however obvious he didn’t want to share specifics about his job. I could take the hint. I was fine to change the subject.

“So why did you choose to visit Iceland in the winter?”

“I didn’t really choose winter. It was just when I had some downtime. Iceland has been at the top of my bucket list for a while so when I got the chance to take off I couldn’t resist.”

“Yeah? What made you want to visit?”

“Mostly the unusual extremes of nature you can find here. I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to visit most of the large cities in the world. They have a lot to offer and a lot to teach but after a while I felt like I was missing something - a sort of connection to nature. Iceland has so much of the awe inspiring things that only nature can do. I wanted to come see them and experience what it means to be closer to nature... I wanted to find my place in the natural world... kind of thing”

He had turned to face me as he spoke. In the starlight his eyes were somehow shining brighter than every other star. I was completely mesmerized.

“Have you had the chance to then? find your place in nature...?” I just wanted to hear him talk and watch his introspective gaze.

 

“Hmmm… yes, I visited Svinafellsjokul last week. Standing next to the glaciers here you realize how tiny we are compared to the vastness of nature. It was a good place to get perspective.”

 

“That’s one of the places we have in our plan. I think its at the end of this week for us.”

 

“You’ll like it.”

 

“I hope so. I’ve wanted to see a glacier half my life. The only thing I’ve wanted to see longer than that is the northern lights.”

 

“Let’s hope we get to check off your number one wish today then!” with that he once again turned to look up at the sky.

 

I followed suit and turned to gaze up at the sky myself. For a split second I missed watching his eyes as he spoke. I realized, they are the most expressive eyes I’ve seen in real life. They vaguely reminded me of someone but similar to his voice I couldn’t quite place it still. I quickly dismissed all these thoughts about missing his twinkling eyes. Things could get very uncomfortable if I let my mind wander down that path.

 

“Watching the stars over here is a little like being at the foot of the glacier. Over there its ice as far and wide as your eye can see and you feel rather tiny compared to the frozen landscape. Here all your eye can see is the deep blue depths of the night sky with pin pricks of light coming from thousands of light years away. I feel just as tiny here.”

 

“Like a speck of dust in an indifferent universe?” it was the first thing that had come to my mind as I listened to him while gazing at the sky. The vastness of the space beyond our planet was so much clearer without the city lights polluting our vision.

 

“That line’s from a movie isn’t it?... it sounds familiar” he asked.

 

“It’s from Doctor Strange.”

 

“Right. I remember… it got the sentiment right.”

 

“I don’t think I’m ready to accept that’s all I am though.”

“Yeah? Why not?”

 

“It’s not that I have any solid evidence that we are anything more than dust or that the universe is not indifferent. I just don’t want to live thinking that’s all I am. However small I might be in the grand scheme of the universe, I’m choosing to believe I can make a difference. It might be in just one person’s life. It might be just making someone happy for a moment. All that is ok with me because the thing is, what’s the point living if I don’t believe what I do matter? The few years I get to walk this earth I want to spend believing what I choose to do matter and not that its just random ones and zeros.”

 

I hadn’t meant to go on like that but the quite night had made it easier to share my innermost beliefs because it felt like I was just talking to myself.

 

“Hmm…” he was quiet for a long moment that I turned to look at him again. He was staring at me like he was trying to solve a puzzle.

 

“Sorry… that was a bit much wasn’t it? I didn’t mean to get all serious.” I felt I had to lighten the mood.

“Don’t apologize. It’s been a while since anyone made me want to talk about the meaning of life or our place in the universe.”

 

If the Aurora app hadn’t started beeping again I would’ve stared at him for a lot longer trying to puzzle out what his words meant. But instead we both sat up to check the app. According to that the Kp index had reached a 7 above Iceland with predictions for it to be as high as a 9. That was the highest it could be. If this forecast was correct we should have a magnificent light show that went all the way from the basic greens all the way to the reds. It would be a once in a lifetime show.

 

“Is this for real?” He had walked over to compare what his app was saying to mine.

 

“Well, at least both apps are predicting the same thing. It should be a massive show if this happens. I have to get my sister to see it too. She’ll never forgive me if I don’t wake her.”

 

I quickly texted my sister to get up and look out the window. Then sent her the screen shot of the app so she knew I wasn’t joking.

 

“I can’t see anything yet though.” He said turning in a circle looking at all the sides of the sky.

 

“There… its starting from the far east.” The lightest green sheen was showing up. It was like a dancing light in the horizon. “I hope Ella got up. I might have to run over and make sure.”

 

I scrambled up to run over and predictably slipped. Wind-milling arms wasn’t enough to regain my balance and I felt myself falling backwards almost in slow motion. The last thought I had was that it may not hurt as much thanks to the fluffy layers upon layers of clothing I had.

But I never hit the ground. My neighbor had acted fast enough to catch me and helped me to stand up again. Once I fully regained my balance he handed me the phone I had dropped.

 

“Why don’t you call her. It’s probably a whole lot safer than trying to run over there. This way you won’t miss any of the lights either.”

 

“Good idea.” Fortunately Ella answered on the third ring. “Hey, wake the kids up and look out the window. Quickly…” I could hear Ella grumbling but she was definitely up.

“Where are you? are you outside?”

 

“I’m just across the street at the harbour. You probably don’t have enough time to get dressed and come out so go to the front windows and look to the left of the cabin. That’s where the lights are showing right now.”

 

“Are you sure its safe for you to be out there in the middle of the night?”

 

I knew Ella was fully awake if she was already worrying about me.

 

“I’m fine. Keep looking out. We are supposed to get to see all the colors today. Make sure the kids are up too.” With that I hung up. I really didn’t want to give Ella a chance to nag me to come back.

 

“It was nice of you to wake her up. Now focus. The lights are getting brighter and the band is getting wider.” My neighbor took me by my shoulders and gently turned me to face the eastern sky once again. I had been looking at the cabin the whole time I was on the phone.

It was breathtakingly beautiful. The slight glimmer that had been at the edge of the horizon before had turned into dancing sheets of green and blue across the eastern sky. The constant movement was graceful and the sheer size of it was majestic. The continuous unfolding of color and movement over the next hour felt like a well choreographed dance performed across the vast night sky with a silent melody that your bones could feel even if your ears couldn’t quite hear it.

 

I had never felt this way before.

When the northern lights finally faded away the night felt even darker than before. Though it was over, I didn’t want to immediately move. It felt almost disrespectful to make any movement right then. I wanted a moment to just enjoy the sense of peace and contentment it had left in me.

 

“That definitely put my life in context. I can never do a show that would make people feel this kind of happiness and contentment.”

 

I wasn’t sure specifically what he meant but in a generic way understood how he felt.

 

“What do you mean? Are you back to feeling like a speck of dust then?”

 

“It’s worth being a speck of dust that gets to experience this.” He said in a dreamy voice.

 

“If you are set on identifying with dust, then you have to at least remember that we are all made of stardust. You, me and the aurora borealis… everything is made of star dust.”

 

“Hmm…” his eyes bore into mine as he agreed. His gaze had gone from curious to content. I could drown in it.

 

“I’d better head back or Ella will start worrying.” I folded the blanket and stood up.

 

“Yeah. I’d better get some sleep myself.”

 

We walked back in silence. Uncharacteristically, I felt reluctant to let him go. He had felt comfortable. Like a long lost friend.

 

“Umm… are you leaving Grindavik soon?” I asked, wanting to stretch our time a little.

“I still have a few days of vacation left. I haven’t really decided where to go next. How about you and your sister’s family? Are you guys leaving tomorrow?” He was probably being just friendly but I desperately wanted to read more into the questions.

 

“We have one more night here. Then we are heading to Seljallenfoss and the black sand beach.”

 

“They are good stops.” He seemed lost in thought for a moment as we reached our cabin.

 

“This is me.” I pointed to the cabin. I felt a bit silly pointing out the obvious but I didn’t want to let him go.

“Do you want to grab breakfast tomorrow? Maybe around nine or ten? The sun doesn’t come up till about ten here so anything earlier will be dark.”

 

“Breakfast will be great. I’ll come over soon as I wake up if that works? I doubt it would be before 9 though.” I agreed happily.

 

He took off his hoodie and removed the mask. “I never got to introduce myself before, I’m…”

 

“Oppa?” I stood there frozen.

Week #4
bottom of page