*All pictures are unedited
“At least I didn’t immigrate to another country for a man” retorts the guy sitting next to me. Everyone laughs as Felicia jokingly looks down at her fourth beer in dismay. We met half an hour ago at a Tiki Bar and she’s been energetically filling us in about what a jerk her ex was. How he went cold turkey on her without explanation. And how she’s been vying to sleep with someone with no strings attached. “Why do men have to be so complicated” she says with an exasperated sigh.
I think of how Sarah and I almost didn’t embark on this trip because a few months back, we were both in blossoming relationships and had no desire to leave home. Those relationships blew up in our faces as most teenage escapades do and now here we are, sitting in downtown Reykjavik with fellow couch surfers from around the world. As Felecia gradually begins slurring her words, I notice the hurt underlying her accusations. Sarah joins in on the verbal ex-beatings and I can tell she’s not quite over it. It amazes me how despite being hundreds of miles from home, a single person can still have such an effect on you.
I’ve never really been too fond of beaches. But this one had rolling waves that sounded like thunder, their ferociousness complimented by the black sand. We decided to get our feet a lil wet but the tides were unpredictable and we kept having to sprint backwards as the seafoam lurched out at us. We scurried around looking for shiny pebbles when the waves receded only to yelp as the ice cold water came rushing back in, threatening to swallow us. Playing tag with the ocean forced us to slow down and ten minutes to check out the beach turned into three hours of journaling and walking along the shore.
“If you get lost in a forest, just stand up”. That’s an old Icelandic saying that mocks the baby trees inability to grow very large due to the cold climate. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to help us in the predicament we had found ourselves in. Four hours into the hike to Krafla and I had managed to get us lost.
We end up in a place that looks like the Pridelands from The Lion King. We pass through fields of daisies that resemble truffula trees, volcanic rock bodies covered in moss, elf holes, and ominous looking ash mountains. Sarah keeps climbing them because if girl scouts taught her anything, it is that whenever you’re lost it’s best to get to higher ground…except when you’re both blind as fuck and can’t see anything from up there. Not to mention, every time we thought we climbed the highest mountain we’d see another even higher one not too far from where we were standing and not a speck of civilization in sight.
After two hours we stumble across a pike, a wooden stick that indicates that we are on a trail. We made it! We continue on it for about an hour until we realize that we are going back the same way we came. By now, it’s late and our bodies are sore. We opt to call it a day and head back to camp.
Along the way, Sarah spots a turquoise pool in the distance. “Hey, I think those are the nature baths” she says. After much debate, we decide to just abandon the trail and walk towards that glistening gem. Bad idea. Our feet continuously sink into swampland and it’s much farther than it looks. I have to convince Sarah to hop an electrical fence, only after touching it to confirm the shock isn’t too bad. As we get nearer to the turquoise water, I start to see all the construction trucks. “Danger: Radioactive activity” reads a sign to my left. What we thought were the nature baths is a power plant. I worry that the next step I take will either make me explode or turn me into the incredible hulk. After sneaking past a farmer’s field, we finally make it back onto the road.
Our first ride of the day is two Icelandic guys in their twenties heading fishing. I can’t stop staring at the driver’s eyes in the rearview mirror; they are the brightest blue I have ever seen. They tell us about a waterfall called Gljúfrafoss that isn’t too popular with tourists due to its small size. What most people don’t know is that if you hop a few slippery rocks, you’ll be standing in the mossy interior of a cave with the water crashing mere meters from your face.
By sheer luck, the next people who offer us a ride are two German tourists named Jonas and Jonathan that are heading there. These guys are quite the adventurers, striking daredevil poses with their Go Pro every few minutes. That’s how we find ourselves hopping over a fence onto a rocky trail up the mountain. As we climb, we yell “incoming” as our shoes free rocks from their crannies and send them tumbling downwards. I keep slipping and by the time we reach the top, both my knees and hands are covered in mud. I try not to think about how we’re going to get down.
We walk around the mountains, chasing sheep and making jokes about how converse make for the best hiking boots. I lay on my belly near the cliff’s edge, peering down at the ant-sized people at the bottom of the waterfall, thinking “We are on top of the world”. Except we keep gaining more and more altitude. These guys don’t seem to be turning back anytime soon. I shove my inhibitions out of my head and urge myself to follow the boys, they seem to know what they’re doing. We see a path that goes down the mountain that’s much easier than the one we used to come up… but only problem is that it’s across the river that feeds directly into the waterfall. The current is strong and I know if I slip, I’m a goner. I refuse to be that dumbass tourist that dies because I’m oh so thirsty for adventure. They throw their shoes across. Nope, not happening, I think to myself. Sarah hastily makes the jump over. To the very last minute I’m thinking I’m going to turn around and begin the long 3 hour hike back and spider-crawl my way down the wet rocks. They’re screaming “C’MON JUMP WE’LL CATCH YOU” and I’m thinking nononoNO and the next thing I know I have projected myself off the rock and they barely catch me right before I tumble and take them down with me. I collapse on the earthy carpet of grass, panting. I’m a fucking idiot but hey, I’m alive.
This is Nancy and Barry from Boston. They pick us up and don’t stop talking for the next two hours. Nancy keeps pointing out every waterfall she sees and coaxing Barry to “look at that!” It drives me kind of nuts. We make a stop to see Dettifoss, Europe’s strongest waterfall and agree to meet up at the car in an hour. After waiting an extra half hour and not being able to locate the car, Sarah and I begin to wonder. Something was definitely off about them. We discuss the possibilities–they could be the older version of Bonnie and Clyde, going around picking up hitchhikers only to steal their belongings. All our shit was in their car. And they had the most stereotypical outfits, not to mention names! Nancy with her hiking stick and marshmallow jacket, Barry with his visor and DSLR. I mean, can you get anymore ‘murican?
They seemed pretty timid for a couple that backpacked Alaska and took week long rafting trips in the Yukon. Maybe they’ve burned out. Maybe they picked us up because we remind them of their youth. But still, they were so uncomfortable in silence. Sarah runs the trail while I wait for them at the entrance. I’m wondering how I’m going to explain to my rents that all my shit got stolen by an elderly couple. That’s embarrassing. Half an hour goes by until I see Sarah walking back with Nancy by her side, Barry a few hundred meters behind. Turns out they went to go see a neighboring waterfall. Sarah tells me that during the entirety of the walk Nancy wouldn’t stop complaining about her husband. She is frustrated that he keeps taking pictures and not living in the present moment. I laugh and wonder if they only picked us up because they can’t stand each other.
Daniel pulls up in the pouring rain and offers us a ride with an energetic smile. After we visit Iceland’s oldest church, he tells us he wants to go see some seals. And I mean, he really wants to see seals because we spend the next two hours driving around a west peninsula and stopping every few minutes in hopes of spotting some. The day ends with us having beer and hot dogs for dinner at a rustic restaurant . While driving us to our camp for the night, he tells us about how there are over 20 tenses in the Italian language, how escaping internet surveillance is almost near impossible and what italian dishes we simply must try. As the sun sets, the conversation takes a deeper turn and we find ourselves talking about religion. “Spirituality isn’t enough. I need a god that asks something of me” he says. All day I have been acutely aware of the gentle aura surrounding his person and I wonder if his wholehearted devotion to Christianity has to do with it. I look out the window of the front seat. I see a cloud shaped like a hand reaching out from the sky and it looks like it is about to cradle me. The word god is etched into the sky. I had one freaking beer, I think to myself.