Iceland: breathtaking desolation

It’s been 2 months since our Iceland trip… I started this post a million times, but for some reason never got my thoughts together until now. Tonight, two of my closest friends here said their goodbyes for the last time. And even though I will have another chance to see Tom and Nicole again before I leave, watching them hug it out for the last time was difficult nonetheless.

Iceland was where it all started…

Nicole and I met in class at the beginning of our exchange program, but Iceland was where we met Tom… so this post is dedicated to him.

Nicole and I arrived in Reykjavik first with our other Singaporean friends, got in our rental car, and started driving along the southern border of Iceland. The air was chilly, the sky was gloomy, the radio kept repeating the same 15 songs including All of Me and I See Fire (which would eventually become the soundtrack of our trip… those songs will always be associated to Iceland in our minds). We see Selfoss that doesn’t look as impressive as the description in the guidebook, but we turn in anyway. It was. We walked up and saw paths leading behind the fall… we couldn’t hide the grins of excitement on our faces and without hesitation, we entered the icy cold spray. By the time we got out, we were pretty much drenched and frigid from head to toe. But who cares?! THIS IS AWESOME!!!

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We hop back in the car, turn up the heat, and keep driving until we see Skogafoss. Even better. We climb all the way to the top… I haven’t exercised in so long, my legs were sore but at the same time I felt so alive! The air was crisp, the view from the summit was breathtaking… it was so refreshing. Vik was our turning point for the day, and we headed back to our hostel in Reykjavik for the night.

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The next day we drove westward, and scaled the volcanic crater, Kerio. The pictures could hardly do it justice because it was hard to capture how big it really was. We headed back to the hostel midday to meet up with the rest of our crew (the Aussies) and Tom. With the whole gang rounded up, we drove out of the city into the middle of nowhere, where Christiana had gotten us a cabin (fondly referred to as our Cabin in the Woods). It was a cozy place big enough for the 11 of us AND equipped with a hot tub on the back deck. The next night after dinner, we all snuggled up in the hot tub to relax when all of a sudden someone goes…

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“Guys… is that the Northern Lights?” Simultaneously, we all looked up, and there it was: streaks of soft green weaving in and out between the clouds… then without warning, the wind picked up, and the snow started to fly. We just sat there, skin to skin, warm except our faces, starring up at the soft green decorated by the swirl and twirl of white flakes…. and it was one of the most surreal moment of my life.

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The was no Wi-Fi at our cabin, so we cooked, talked, laughed, bonded, and became like family. Every day we drove out and explored Iceland inside out. The weather continued to be crazy and unpredictable (blue sky and blinding sun, ominous gloom, snowstorm, hail, rain, sand storm… all in a matter of minutes), making our trip all the more incredible and definitely unforgettable. At some points the wind was so strong, the rain, snow, hail, or whatever else was falling from the sky was literally flying at us horizontally, making it almost impossible to stay in the narrow mountain roads. On some stretches of road when me or Tom were driving, the blizzard was so bad that everything around us was white and we couldn’t see more than 5 meters in front of us. Our traction control was on half of the time, and it was almost impossible to tell the paved road from the surrounding. Everyone else were fast asleep from exhaustion of all the hiking, and it’s only the two of us awake during the blizzard. By the time we got to our next destination, the weather had cleared up and everyone came out of their slumber, Tom and I would look at each other and just chuckle in awe of how many times we could have died…. and the rest wouldn’t even know what happened. I guess it wouldn’t be such a bad way to die….

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Sometimes when the sun was out and the sky was a clear blue, driving up the winding mountain road seemed like we were driving straight up to heaven. No other cars around us, almost no signs of civilization even… just mountains, and rocks, and grass… it was truly the land of desolation. I couldn’t help but to think of T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land: “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain…”

Blue Lagoon was our last stop, and it was the perfect good-bye from Iceland. We soaked in the warm nature bath and basked in the blue-ness of the water and sky….

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For me Iceland wasn’t simply a trip I took during my study abroad. It gave me more appreciation for nature, it brought me closer to God, it strengthened my faith, and it’s where I met some of the coolest people whom I can now call friends. I wouldn’t trade that week in April for the world, and I would go back to do it all over again with the same people in a heartbeat.

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