What a blessing it is to experience the raw natural beauty of Iceland in the company of Jon, one of my closest friends, and someone whom I can be my true self with.
We arrived at KEF at 8AM. Despite the fact that I only got 2 hours of sleep on the plane, and Jon got 4, we were very excited and energetic to start exploring immediately. With the New World Symphony playing in our rental car, we arrived at the first destination: Fagradalsfjall Volcano.
Ever since climbing Mt. Teide in Tenerife last year, I have been really fascinated by volcanos, so I was ecstatic to hike this active volcano. It took about an hour to hike up to a high point where we could see the lava being pumped into the air at a safe distance. We could hear the thunderous uproar coming from the site, and the bright red of the lava and the smoke coming from it. So full of life, so grand and spectacular. I was really touched by the show that Nature put on for us, and felt really emotional and grateful to have been able to witness its unbelievable power and beauty.
At night, we were curious whether we would be able to see the northern lights. Jon stayed up to 1:30AM but apparently the sky never got dark enough for the northern lights to shine.
On the cliff by Reynisfjara Beach, we spotted a flock of puffin birds hanging out there, diving down to hunt for small fish in the sea every once in a while. They are like mini flying penguins with red beaks and feet.
We arrived at the glacier lagoon a little past 8PM, sun was setting behind the clouds in the backdrop, creating beautiful and warm rays of yellow and orange. The lagoon was icy blue, with large pieces of ice floating all over. The scene was just out of this world. Jon was so entranced by this sight that he stopped the car in the middle of the bridge to admire it, and I had to tell him to pull into the parking lot first. It was unbelievably beautiful, there was snow blanketing the mountains behind, arctic birds hanging out on the ice floating in the lagoon, and I was even able to spot seals occasionally popping their head out of the water, and swimming around without a care in the world. What a tranquil and magical moment, I’ll never forget it.
We stayed out until 1AM venturing around the fields nearby while drinking velvety Icelandic vanilla stout. It was dark out but not too dark, I could still make out the silhouette of the mountains in the distance. A flock of arctic terns kept circling above us and producing cries that sounded electric, making the ambiance spooky yet mystical. We talked about life: love, friendship, trauma, loss. I cried a little when I spoke of my father, too much pain. I rarely bring him up with people, and even more rarely cry in front of others. But I felt comfortable in front of Jon. There’s nothing I can do about my past, but I can learn to love myself now, and I need friends like Jon to walk this path with me.
I woke in a daze from a sad dream. I was somehow convinced that my dad was actually my adopted dad, this is the only logical explanation for how terribly he treated me, right? In my dream I advertised a notice in the newspaper in a search for my biological dad, and I felt accepted and reassured when I received many eager and warm responses. I needed to feel loved, so my brain made up a story. How neat.
We went back to the glacier lagoon to have a picnic breakfast. I could stay there forever; I felt my mind and soul were cleansed and renewed just by being there. We also walked around to the diamond beach, the large blocks of ice in contrast with fine-grained black sand was a beautiful and magical combination I didn’t know could exist.
Seydisfjordur was a charming town, but my favorite memory of the day was when we stopped in the mountains leading up to the town. I made Jon pull over to the side of the highway, and we explored the untouched nature of Stafdalsfell. From meadows that glowed in the evening sun to the not-yet-melted snow clung to the side of the mountain, everything was breathtakingly stunning. I spent sometime exploring on my own, the first time that we separated on this trip. The solitude was refreshing, I surrendered all of my senses to fully take in the raw and overwhelming beauty of this mesmerizing wonderland.
While having breakfast at the really quaint and cozy hostel that we stayed at, we met an elderly Icelandic couple who told us that two of their children are now working in the States. I thought it was interesting that even Icelanders have American dreams.
We went hiking in Namafjall. It’s a geothermal area with boiling mud pools, I’ve never seen anything like this before. The strong sulfur smell was too much for Jon, but I was fine. The hike up was really steep and without any form of protection, I slipped several times on the loose rocks and honestly thought that I was going to die. Newspaper headline of “The Tragic Death of a Young American Tourist” flashed before my eyes; I thought about giving up. But I prevailed and the view at the top made it all worth it. I liked that type of rugged and Martian-like landscape, it exudes intoxicating masculine energy. I separated from Jon for a little while again to explore on my own. The sand was so soft and supple that my footsteps left indents that loyally followed me everywhere I went.
We got to Akureyri in the evening, it was a much bigger town than anywhere we’ve stayed so far. When we stopped for dinner after a walk around the city center, Jon told me he noticed many men staring at me earlier. I was a little shocked when I heard that, because I thought all the women there were gorgeous with platinum blonde hair. But maybe my rare and different Asian appearance made me more desirable. 20-something year old youngsters gathered at the city center to party in large crowds. We watched them while sipping on Icelandic pale ales; they looked so happy and free. I thought of the elderly couple we met that morning, maybe they also went through this kind of free-spirited courtship party many years ago; the thought of the circle of life put a smile on my face. I wanted to join the party and maybe meet a cute Icelandic boy, but the beer was too weak, so I didn’t have the courage to talk to anyone in the end.
We spent most of the day driving from Akureyri to Akranes, and stopped by Hvitserkur to hike and admire an epic stone by the ocean.
While looking out into the dramatic, and continuously changing landscape from the car, I thought of the sheep we had seen along the way. I was curious, how do sheep select their mates? Their faces all look the same to me. Maybe sheep think all humans look the same? But it’s quite interesting how humans invest so much into facial appearances, and how having a pretty face can have a big advantage in dating and even the workplace. Though I would imagine having a healthy and balanced body should be the more important factor from a pure evolutionary perspective. Do humans wear makeup and undergo plastic surgeries to please others, a byproduct of high intelligence? I wondered what living the simple life of an Icelandic sheep would be like.
The highlight of the day was Reykjadalur hot spring, I had been looking forward to this place since the beginning of the trip, a natural hot spring truly sounded like a fairytale. The hike among the rolling green hills was intolerably beautiful; the moment I got into the river and hugged by the warm water, a sense of total relaxation came over me, I closed my eyes to take it all in; is this paradise?
When I opened my eyes, I saw someone lowered himself into the water, right across from me. Perfect body, perfect face, perfect hair. I felt electricity going through my body; I blurted out to Jon: “OMG he’s really hot”, then I immediately stole a quick glance at the stranger, terrified that he might have heard me. He didn’t, thankfully. While I continued a mindless chat with Jon, I couldn’t stop checking out the beautiful stranger across from me, soon enough he caught my glances and smiled back. I felt my heart melt into a puddle of warm and sticky liquid when our eyes met. Jon was understanding of the situation, and said he was going to get out of the water to cool off. (thank you Jon!)
I was left alone with the stranger; he smiled at me again and invited me to join him. I got closer and blushed uncontrollably. We spent the next 15 minutes chatting about everything and had a great time. When he was about to leave though, he saw Jon again, so he wished us a nice trip and left without exchanging contact info. In a split second I wanted to explaining that Jon and I weren’t dating, but it was too late. My eyes futilely followed him as he walked away and disappeared at the bend of the river.
Benjamin Biolay’s smoky vocals and wistful melodies played in the car as I drove home, full of regret.
In the morning, I played Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony in the car while we drove through the vast fields of the country for the last time, and returned the rental car. We have finished driving around the ring road, and now the last 2 days were reserved for Reykjavik. We visited Hallgrimskirkja, a famous cathedral in the city, Jon wasn’t too impressed though.
As it started raining in the afternoon, we went back to the hostel, got drinks from the bar and read books. I had brought Sartre’s Nausea with me on this trip, but this was the first time that I actually sat down to read it. What an interesting experience reading existential literature while sipping on delicious Birkir snaps (an Icelandic liquor). I had trouble concentrating though: I still couldn’t get the stranger out of my head.
When the rain cleared, I went out to the waterfront for a walk. The freshness after the rain was so calming. As I walked, gentle breeze brushed against my face, I felt free like a bird. Random thoughts entered and exited my head in a fluidic way. Schopenhauer was right, romantic sentiments can really overpower one’s senses and make them act like idiots, that was precisely why he never got married. Though I prefer Goethe’s approach to romance more. I want to allow myself to experience and explore love and attraction the way Werther did (as long as it doesn’t lead to the same ending).
I knew that the stranger lives in this city, maybe we were only a mile apart, or less, maybe he was thinking of me too; but the decision we made in a split second the day before completely changed what I was thinking and doing for the remainder of my trip.
Based on the bits of info he had told me, I was able to find the email address of someone he worked with. She kindly replied that she had forwarded my email address to him. Just getting the email from her sent a jolt of excitement through me.
I did some shopping in the downtown area, then went to the National Museum. I always visit the national museums when I visit a new country, I love learning about how countries get established, the stories usually are assuring yet full of chaos. I spent a few hours completely immersed in learning everything about Iceland.
Afterwards, I met up with Jon at Mal og Menning, our favorite spot in the downtown area. It is a really cool bookstore bar, where one can buy drinks and read books there. I paired a delightful glass of French 75 (with Icelandic gin) with Sartre. Later in the night they even had a drag show! It was quite an interesting and stimulating evening, though a part of me was really disappointed to not hear back from the stranger.
We went to a Whiskey bar before going back to the hostel, I had hoped to try my luck one last time, maybe I could still meet a cute guy on my last night here? Two Icelanders were quite friendly with us, but one of them kept trying to impress me by bragging about his high school grades, even though he was in his mid-20s, how odd. We escaped and concluded the night with hot dogs.
We got up at 6AM to go the airport. While waiting in a long line at check-in, I mentally reviewed my trip: I saw plenty of nature, had good food and drinks, Jon was so nice to be around, and I had shared a magical Augenblick at a dreamy natural hot spring with a beautiful stranger. While it was a little regrettable that we didn’t keep in touch, the moment itself would always remain a sweet memory with me.
I checked my email one more time. Nothing. What about the spam folder? The thought popped into my head out of nowhere. I pressed on the part of my phone’s screen that said “Spam”. There it was, his note was lying passively in the folder, waiting to be opened. The time of receipt was yesterday morning.
I was stupefied – I had spent the whole day yesterday waiting to hear from him, and I had accepted the fact that maybe he didn’t feel the same way about me. But all this time, his email was sitting in my spam folder, and he was waiting for me to reply! A flood of emotion came over me: joy, regret, excitement; how bittersweet.
I bought a bottle of Birkir at the duty-free shop before boarding. I liked how it tasted like the freshness after a rain in the woods in Iceland, smooth and refreshing, with an aftertaste of spontaneity and wilderness. I wanted to be reminded of reading Sartre, drinking with Jon at a bar in a rainy afternoon, and the tenderness I felt when the beautiful stranger invaded my thoughts with his sweet, sweet smile.