As I watched the little plane symbol inch closer to Reykjavik on my personal entertainment screen, the feeling of excitement tinged with nervousness began to intensify. What adventures awaited me in this tiny island nation just south of the Arctic Circle, half a world away from my home country? It had always seemed so completely foreign to me, so distant, so uninhabitable. I don’t believe I had ever even met one of its nationals.
We touched down on a landscape of white. Iceland, it seemed, was living up to its name, and as a naturally cold-averse creature, I briefly cursed the moment of madness that had sparked the chain of bookings that saw me end up in this alien land at the tail end of winter while my countrymen and women were happily soaking up the last rays of the late summer sun. Indeed, “How did I end up here?” would be a question that repeated itself often in my mind during the two weeks my travel companions and I spent road tripping the perimeter of this fascinating place.
As we braved frigid rain to get coveted photos, confronted an almost-blizzard on a mountain pass to visit a fiord town highly recommended by Lonely Planet, hiked for what seemed like miles in the snow in the middle of nowhere in search of Europe’s most powerful waterfall, crawled on desolate roads alongside sheer cliff drops in decidedly arctic conditions, and dodged piles of ice in our little two-wheel drive that carried no insurance for damage to the underside of the vehicle, I did seriously question my life choices.
Likewise, my fairly spontaneous decision to take in the world from the back of a sweet-looking Icelandic horse one crisp, clear morning caused mild panic as said horse, clearly disgruntled at having been pulled away from her stablemates and hay bale to provide this novice foreigner with a quintessential Icelandic experience, tried several revenge tricks before my riding instructor reminded me who was boss.
Here’s the thing, though. These somewhat hair-raising escapades were character building. They contributed to an almost euphoric sense of achievement that lingered long after I returned home. And in between them, a myriad of beautiful waterfalls, majestic mountains, imposing glaciers, spectacular fiords and dramatic geothermal spectacles, not to mention charming churches and the dazzling incredibility of the Northern Lights, made for an unforgettably magical and life-affirming experience.
I shall be forever thankful that I ended up in Iceland.