Three Weeks in Iceland

Hvernig segir maður, “I’m completely lost” á íslensku? 

What’s that, you say? Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn? On second thought, perhaps I’ll just fall back on the old standard; hand gestures and a confused, perpetually apologetic expression.

Hi, I’m Willow, a fairly well-travelled Yukoner who will be guest-writing this column during the course of my spring backpacking trip in Iceland.

This trip was a snap decision I made back in December when WOW Air released their cheap tickets between Montreal and Reykjavik – I couldn’t pass it up (right now a return flight can be as low as CAN$450).

So, with the allotted 11 pounds of gear (maximum), I’m on my way to Reykjavik. The weight restriction required by the cheap ticket was initially daunting, but as any backpacker knows, you actually don’t need much for three weeks.

My meagre packing list comprises one change of clothes, a windbreaker, a travel mug, hairbrush, the tiniest travel towel, headphones, music player, and one copy of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger.

Note: one of the most valuable backpacking lessons I’ve learned with regards to reading material – just bring one book, and trade it in for another from a hostel bookshelf when you’re finished. You’ll end up reading some very strange things, and some very good things, in about equal amounts.

For this trip, I have done a minimum of research – I know that the currency is kroner, the language is impossible, the weather is chilly, hitchhiking is common, and the food will likely be strange.

There is a bar in Reykjavik called Dillon that, according to all sources, will likely fulfill my curiosity about the local rock and metal cuisine.

Several people this week have asked me why I chose Iceland. My first answer was always, “Cheap ticket, rad place, why not?”

But I will confess to you, there is (unsurprisingly) a lot more to it. For a Yukoner, Iceland offers the dichotomy of a strange new world paired with a sort of northern kinship. Between the country’s progressive political climate (remember when they promptly jailed their bankers after the economic crisis of 2008?) and their deep cultural roots (the Ásatrúarfélagið association is currently building a temple for the modern worship of the Norse pantheon), there is a mystery, an “other-ness” about the place that beckons.

This is a land where vikings landed and built strongholds, where ancient gods and goddesses held sway, worshipped with blood, magic and prayer, even as they themselves fell prey to quintessentially human vices and shortcomings.

The forefathers of Icelanders, mostly farmers and explorers, built boats, set sail and became the stuff of legends, heroes of sagas and harbingers of destruction. It was these people that later crossed the Atlantic Ocean, Vikings that first met the native peoples of Vinland (Newfoundland today).

The historical richness and importance of Iceland alone justifies the trip, to say nothing of the vast open spaces, mountain ranges, hiking trails, hot springs and geysers that characterize the geothermally active terrain. Needless to say, I will take many pictures for you!

Thanks for reading, friends! When I next write you, it will be from a little bedroom in Reykjavik.

Until then, takk fyrir and góða nótt!

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