Even though I never left the airport, I somehow ended up falling head over heels for Iceland.
In March, I had a brief layover at Keflavik Airport in Iceland. We flew in at sunrise, and the pink-orange tips of dawn gnawed at the ice-capped island. From my porthole, I could see the faded blues and reds of Rekjavik rooftops in the distance and how they nestled against a little mountain for warmth. This was the jagged land that had belonged to the Vikings.
Even though I never left the airport, I somehow ended up falling head over heels for Iceland. Before flying with IcelandAir, I had virtually no interest in the Mid-Atlantic island whatsoever. It seemed too cold and unpopulated to be of any value. There was neither the Louvre nor the Prado to capture my aesthetic interest; I valued the manicured intentionality of Japanese gardens more than the raw power of natural sights. And in that regard, I found the idea of Iceland’s geysers and monumental glaciers to be quite intimidating.
Yet, I fell in love. I am not sure if it was the various documentaries I watched on the plane, the statuesque-yet-elegant flight attendants, or the general inundation of tourism advertisements. Maybe there was something in piquing my curiosity but not ever sating it with actual experience of the place—something in the suspension of looking out on a place through advertisement, experiencing a culture through the front they wished to present. Regardless, Iceland is now on the top of my travel wish list.
I am drawn by Iceland’s mystique. It’s evident in how the font of its language crowds together in unwieldy breaths of air, spell of tongue. There are so few people—only 300,000—yet the land is no longer hostile enough to isolate them to only certain regions. Each region has its own place in Viking Saga and its own unique local culture. It is an ancient country and people have wandered there in search of saga.
A land once marked by strong pagan vibrations, Iceland captures my imagination. Every January men and women gather to celebrate Þorrablót, the end of winter festival in honor of the Norse god Thor. Patrons pick from platters of dubious delicacies such as rotten shark, boiled sheep head, scorched lamb shoulder, and pickled testicles. Besides these adventurous dishes, the old culture of Þorrablót offers freshly smoked salmon, deer slathered in bittersweet lingonberry preservers, Icelandic dried mountain herbs, and rye bread cooked in the sands surrounding geothermal springs, each of which sounds indisputably delicious.
From what I gathered that day, Iceland is one of the purest and most environmentally sustainable of countries in the world. I yearned for a breath of Iceland’s brisk air that would energize me and bring me closer to nature. The majesty of forests, glaciers, wind, snow, volcanoes, grasses, and animals are integral to this culture. The most prominent advertisements were for the fishing industry, which feeds the small nation, and the sheep rearing industry, which clothes them in warmth. Otherwise, lightboxes displayed people floating in the hot springs of the Blue Lagoon while gazing up at the haunting northern lights. My primal spirit was mesmerized at the prospect. To think that a layover in an airport could convey so much of man’s experience with nature.