Entry for the Orange Prize for Imaginary Travel Writing

ice mountain

Me standing at the solid-ice base of Mount Cragyskjolvejg, native habitat of many species of snow bees

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Except sometimes life gives you lemons and, like, kale, so you begrudgingly make a green smoothie and feel simultaneously self-righteous and deprived. Sometimes life gives you a cold bottle of artisan lemonade and you get to enjoy it in the sunshine. And sometimes life gives you lemons, bitchslaps you across the face as you are squeezing them, runs off with the juice and leaves you with just the rinds, which leaves you confused and means you now have to take out the compost bin because it was already overflowing.
ANYWAY, none of that means anything and certainly has nothing whatsever to do with the fact that I may or may not be knee-deep in an ever-worsening job crisis at the moment. At times like this one’s mind naturally wanders to thoughts of escape, freedom, a stark change of scenery; so, spontaneously and with a carefree flick of my ponytail, I packed my bags and went for a casual minibreak to Iceland.

Well actually no I didn’t. My parents have just asked me if I fancy joining them on a trip there in a month’s time, which is frankly FAR TOO LONG for me to wait and for it to count as a cool millenial whimsical travel adventure. However, given my stress levels and the almost utterly inconsequential nature of internet writing, that doesn’t mean I can’t just already go on the trip in my own mind and tell you all the things I saw and did on my journey around Iceland. Please bear in mind: the other day one of my colleagues called me a ‘geographical catastrophe’ after another one of many slip-ups, this time thinking that Mauritius is a Greek island, so this travel blog is going to be a lot of my own assumptions about Iceland based on barely any research and mostly a technique I like to call ‘making up bollocks’.

Reykjavik is a wonderful city and its airport is a pleasure to arrive in. Like in many Nordic airports, all the guests are greeted with a small plate of delicious pickled fish while you wait for your suitcase in baggage control. (Or as the locals call it, Bjaggaske Kontrolljerjarg). I spent a wonderful day roaming around the city marvelling at the clean streets and gorgeous blend of modern and classic architecture and functional public transport system, moulded to fit perfectly into a network of roads built not only to accommodate but also to render safe and comfortable the thousands of cyclists who ride around the city. After all that I was overcome with a profound sense of misery about the comparative shitness of the city I actually live in which gave me an opportunity to try several of the local baked delicacies, which all contain some kind of interesting berry I have never seen before. The kind bakery lady rolled me back to my hostel where I slept on a marshmallow the size of a dinner table. In the autumn and winter, Iceland only gets two hours of sunlight a day, so I enjoyed a comfortable 22 hours’ rest.

The next day it was off into the wilderness. We head up northwards along the coast and spent a couple of days exploring Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull (Icelandic for ‘greenish area’), an enormous national park. Guys – it was amazing. The woods are full of wildlife, from sweet little white chirpy birds to green-eyed white-furred squirrels to the local foxes, whose white fur is naturally glittery and who never leave the ‘puppy’ stage of their growth cycle. A park ranger explained to us that all the native animals in Iceland are actually pure white in colour so that they are all camouflaged when standing next to each other. 

So lucky I managed to snap this shot of well over 100 Icelandic moles!

So lucky I managed to snap this shot of well over 100 Icelandic moles feeding together!

We stayed in a little hut on the edge of the national park overlooking the volcano, and we spent every evening sat on the veranda sipping hot cocoa while watching the streams of glowing lava trickle down the slope and into the thermic pools. Sadly there is a real tourist-trap culture arising around the volcanoes so you will often see locals hanging around the lava streams selling decorative bottles of volcano dust. Don’t make the mistake we did – don’t buy them!! We later found out that most of the volcano dust they sell is actually just leftover space-grit collected by the moon and mars rovers. Don’t be scammed!!

We then continued our journey north, stopping in a little town called Tálknafjörður (pronounced ‘Terfer’). The amazing thing about this part of the island, which on the maps looks so frilly and curvaceous, is that it is not in fact a land mass at all but one of the world’s largest bodies of fungus. The fungal fjords are breathtaking; glass-clear waters stretching along wide glacial clifffaces like corridors with mirror flooring. We stayed in the area and waited until nightfall to watch the northern lights. They were scheduled to start around 9pm, so we grabbed hot dogs from the local IKEA and waited for them to start, but sadly it was announced at 8.50pm that they were cancelled due to too many night kite flyers flying kites that night. We were soooooo disappointed, so we decided to stay longer and try again the following evening, which gave us a chance to climb Mount Cragyskjolvejg (see photo) during the daytime. The peak is over sixty Icelandic kilometres above sea level and gives you such a good view of all the Icelandic ice.

That night was our lucky break. We sat beneath the stars in fold-out camping chairs, looking up at the chasm-deep black sky, when suddenly green needles of light started to warp and flex above us. I never realised that the northern lights make a noise – a kind of ‘wooooooaaaarrrrrrhhh’ sound like those moo-tubes you get from the one-pound bin at a toy shop. For an hour and a half the lights fizzed through the air; no one said anything; instead we just drank the sight in with our eyes, knowing this was as close to science fiction magic as we would ever get. The colours blended from green to yellow to turquoise and the stars blazed behind. From the irregular dance of the shapes and forms it seemed like a secret language that we simultaneously instinctively understood and yet would never decipher. It was unforgettable.

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah Icelandic cakes are rad.


Rose T