matt pond PA

October 3, 2016

Land of Gods.


We set out in the early evening, across the ocean on an economy airline with bright magenta signage. Our plans had dots, lines, question marks penned in red across the map. Unanswered equations of internet ideas and weather-driven maneuvers. Our jokes were especially skeletal and sketchy, all those dreaded puns and pitiful impersonations at 10,000 feet. (We would later take our comedy routine to the Icelandic coast. In Vik with a runaway map, the flapping blanched paper contrasted against volcanic black sand. The four of us giving chase, flailing after our broken paper pet.)

We had no sleep nor any definitive destinations. Get in the hire car, head east. Seeing, ascending and descending as much as our five days would give us.

We arrived at Geysir at eight am on our first day. The smell of sulphur and downpour of thick rain seemed like a sour, new-school greeting. Around the Golden Circle wind and rain pushed at our chests, yet we persisted and stayed stupidly hopeful, even though the forecasts spoke of dreariness and cold.

Back at the flat, we passed out in our damp clothes. Half-sleeping for a couple hours and out on the town. Reykjavik! (Our group was outnumbered by revelers, drowned out by the shouters, tripped by the stumblers. We took refuge in Kaffibarrin, had a couple Vikings and discussed best and worst of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen.)

In the morning and from far away, four small explorers moved through the undulating island wilderness. Sky and clouds and sun grinding out their stuttering, syncopated choreography. Always breaking at just the right time for one more epic shot.

Our second day, our pact had been to avoid any signs of life — whenever a crowd gathered, we dispersed. Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull Park, driving down the wrong roads for our tin can rental. We outraced an oncoming storm the whole day, staying just ahead of the rain-filled lip in the sky, climbing over lava fields where we felt like the last people alive.

Back in Reykjavik, our inability to pronounce anywhere we’d been snowballed with our punchiness. We sipped small bottles of overpriced wine, roasted vegetables and once again, drifted off in our clothes.

Reawakening to waves of coffee, we struck out for Seljandsfoos, Skógafoss. Waterfall after waterfall. (Please have faith — their abundance does not make them any less dramatic.)

Skaftefell. (The awe of standing beneath the giant paws of an encroaching glacier was enough to stun me for a lifetime.)

Jökulsárlón. Crowds, yes there are crowds. But if the brain can be slightly forgiving, the focus can maintain on the serene cerulean ice. Magnificent without any magnification of glass or words.

This is where Chris and I got drenched and chose to go with it. Rocking on glacier chunks in the ocean, watching them crush and crash all around us, waves splashing over our very breakable bones. Drowning out our unmitigated and uncontrollable laughter.

Then backwards, back through the pure yellow light of sunset, back to Reykjavik, to Gaukurinn for some jazz and cold beer. Politics and slap fights sprinkled through senseless conversation.

In the morning, we rushed to a Raufarholshellir lava cave, rain and sunlight pouring down through the jagged openings. Somewhere just below Midgard, humming Led Zeppelin.

Back on the road, disregarding the speed limits, to the empty beaches a few miles away, blasting waves. Traveling on the coastline, then back through mountains to burbling sulphur and crater lakes. A first and last dive into the most frigid water of all time.

Tumbling onto bicycles through Reykjavik, up to the Pearl, through the rain, the absurdly impatient drivers, the humming city, now in the rearview and home.

We didn’t immerse ourselves in any hot springs. We never made it to the north, there wasn’t enough time for Mývatn. Each one of these locations held infinite views, perspectives. Should the traveler stay and behold or move on to the next unknown?

At times, there were busloads of geared-up sightseers, waving selfie-sticks. A half-turn would always reveal an empty landscape.

There were a million suggestions for this trip and all of them were well-founded, serious contenders for our time. But the clock is the biggest commodity of travel: we spent every second discovering something, every second shooting film of the always-expanding landscape. There were only so many seconds in the day, only so many gravel road miles that can be crossed, only so many sandwiches that will fit in your carry-on.

Moving on to the next unknown.