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At 5 a.m. the skies in Iceland in November are still black. The black indigo smears the sky and for some cosmic reason, I’m startled awake. My soul nearly jolts from my skeletal frame. But nothing was there in the darkness.
I stared into the blackness listening to the pitter-patter of the rain. Sometimes the melody would last for minutes. Then, suddenly stop. Other times, only seconds. I eventually fell back asleep and woke to the sun finally peeking through the clouds and warming me.
The treacherous winter storm should siege against the western shores again. I had planned to trek further north deeper into the Western fjords, but I was skittish about the idea of driving 100-plus kilometers on gravel roads far from villages. Nearly abandoned in some parts.
I was reluctant to say goodbye to Stykkishólmur. It had quickly become the fishing village I’d established roots in — or imagined my ancestors living, anyway.
This colony of beautiful rainbow houses advertised itself as a close-knit community without truly saying anything at all. It’s as if the homeowners congregated each spring to determine whether the farmer, fisher, or tailor would have the purple house for the next three years. It would be considered debauchery if Joe down the street painted his house a mustard yellow only two shades off of Gardur. Gardur, of course, had the standing tradition of being the only yellow house on the street. Together they ensured a kaleidoscope of colors.
Gardur, my new-found home, was on the original cobblestone street of the city. The cobblestones instantly transported me back to a time before me. It was vivid. I nearly pinched myself.
Before leaving my new beloved home, I take in one last view from above. The best locale was the orange lighthouse standing sentry on the hill overlooking the fishing village.
As I hiked to the apex, I was nearly swept seaward by the strong gusts of wind and torrential rain. Not hurricane-strength winds today, but it still felt as if the Nordic Gods were in the middle of some hot-headed shouting match. Within 10 minutes, I was soaked — all seven layers of me.
Better luck next time.
Heading to Hvammstangi
The view was immaculate as always. The wet rain ironically saturated the colorful earth around me. The brown hues were no longer faint or lifeless, they burst with excitement and vigor. The black lava rocks emerged less often. Instead, dramatic waterfalls frequented the view through my windshield.
I made a pit stop on the side of the muddy road for an impromptu, self-portrait photo shoot. Behind me were the shaggy Icelandic horses with waterfalls gushing in the background. I balanced my tripod on the passenger seat of the Ceed-kick and snapped over 75 pictures through the rolled down the window. People must’ve thought I was crazy, unable to see who or what I was posing for.
After cruising on muddy, gravel roads for 100 km, I managed to escape — oh how I rejoice — and I made my way towards Hvammstangi, the land of seals.
Hvammstangi, like Stykkishólmur, also embraced a bay. This time, a tributary to the Arctic Ocean. Rolling into Hvammstangi I noticed the village lacked the gusto that Stykkishólmur had. The houses were still painted in brilliant hues, but more lackluster. Immediately, the village depicts the hardships that these locals felt.
Each house seemed to tell a story. Whether it was “under-kept” because the sailor was at sea, or because the family couldn’t afford it, the tale was splash across the wooden exterior. Yet, the town didn’t seem dingy, just more authentic. There was a lack of glamorous Instagram opportunities, but rather a plethora of rawness and local charm.
In my limited amount of sunlight, I drove to the bay and admired the Arctic Ocean’s enormity. I had never been this far north before, yet I’ve never felt more connected or in tune with my inner self. I didn’t feel lost. In fact, I felt found.
Trying to blend in with the locals
Here was my moment, to finally interact with the locals.
Determined, I parked outside the local grocery where all the advertisements hanging in the window decorated in the poetic Icelandic script. It was clear that English was not the first language here.
I was giddy with excitement that I might be able to mutter my first Icelandic sentence. Also, not knowing I would experience my first culture shock.
They took no pity on this American. The number of shoppers in the Icelandic grocery store certainly exceeded the building’s fire code. No one seemed to care. They all expertly maneuvered around each other. No one dwadled. All movement synchronized. I was obviously the clumsy dancer who was disrupting the flow and intruding.
At the checkout, I flubbed my way through an easy Iceland greeting. Fear ensnared me when asked, “Handbært fé eða inneign?” After miming, I concluded that they meant cash or credit. I left the shop with, I assumed, frozen peas and cream of mushroom soup and slightly bruised ego.
A virgin to Iceland’s Northern Lights
South of town, a troop of cabins beckoned me home — just for the night.
Cabin No. 7 was chilly in a crispy, first camping trip of the fall mood. It reminded you to ask Santa for wool socks at Christmas and to thoroughly enjoy a warm beverage.
I camped out next to the radiator and bundled myself in a blanket cocoon. With a full belly of questionable ingredients that tasted delicious regardless, I drifted off to sleep.
My phone buzzed me awake, alarming me that the Northern Lights were emerging from their slumber. Peeking over the window sill a faint, milk green Northern Lights danced in the evening sky.
The sky didn’t glow emerald-green or remind me of the Wizard of Oz. In fact, the neighboring constellations seemed to shine brighter than through Arctic-anchored phenomenon.
Regardless, I watched the hazy green mirage plié across the horizon. After 10 minutes the sky reverted back to their former ink-stained self.