I left my check-in bag in Keflavik Airport on purpose because Kurt Vile was playing at ten thirty and it was already twenty past. I had to decide between figuring out storage or rocking out to some moody tunes; by the time I landed my clothes seemed unimportant compared to Kurt’s sweet sad voice and the lingering sound of his guitar, so I went for it.
My mother said his music was whiny and repetitive. We drove from Reykjavík to the Southwest of Iceland, a thirteen hour road trip to Stodvarfjordur where we stayed for one night before catching a ferry from Seydisfjordur to the Faroe Islands. When we showed up to our airbnb “private rental” another family was sleeping inside the house. My mother’s reaction to the fifty year old couple wearing sweaters and eighties underwear while standing in the middle of the hallway, I will have to write about some other time.
The night before we left the city we had sushi with Margrét and Lena, two women that I met at ATP thanks to destiny and thanks to rock radio celebrity Ólafur Páll Gunnarsson. I asked him for directions to the camping grounds on the first night of the festival; he didn’t know where they were. It was raining so he volunteered Margret and Nanna to give me a ride. Nanna was driving a beat up Land Rover and she shared a slice of her orange which tasted like bliss after a day of traveling and a night of Jägermeister. Margrét asked if I was sure that I wanted to camp, the view out of the car similar to a rainy winter afternoon in Pennsylvania if Pittsburgh looked like another planet that was flat, desolated and still bright at two thirty in the morning. “Welcome to the moon” they said when I accepted Margret’s offer to sleep in her ten year old son’s bedroom for the weekend.
Margrét met Ólafur at the radio station where she worked for nineteen years. She quit the position for a number of reasons, intense stress and some tough politics that did not line up with her agenda. Now, only six months later, she is happy living at a spacious apartment ten minutes away from the center of town and managing a neighborhood coffee shop down the street from her house; all of this while writing a book about sustainable living. Through her I met Lena, another power player that works at Icelandair, Lena is not only a hilarious woman with no tolerance for bullshit, but she knows the island well and she is proud of the tourism that started more intensely five years ago after volcano Eyjafjallajokull erupted and put Iceland on the radar of international explorers.
During dinner they said that before the eruption in 2010 Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main street, would have been completely quiet on a Monday night. Now, the main street is always busy with people wearing colorful
I don’t remember the last time that I signed up for a guided tour, but, despite my dislike for the rushed stops and the strict agenda, seeing the Golden Circle while hearing about old houses being moved across the frozen lake with pickup trucks, was worth the investment. We stopped at a private volcano, two euros to enter and walk around it, when I asked how it was possible to own a volcano the guide avoided the question by saying that the owners were smart millionaires who understood the importance of tourism and funded relevant projects such as documentary films about conservation. We all paid the fee and walked around for twenty minutes.
In Iceland you can see volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, ice blocks and landscapes ranging from green fields like the ones in “A Little House on the Prairie,” to naturally epic movie sets from “Game of Thrones” and “Troy”. In one day you are likely to experience rain, sun, warmth, cold and breeze, especially if you invest in covering miles across the country. Doing so is a costly and worthy investment wether you go on a bus, a guided tour or a rental car. I did all three, the bus possibly being the most relaxing experience when I went north to visit Linda and Ægir in Ólafsfjörður, one hour and a half away from Akureyri. Linda and Ægir moved into the town of 750 people and after three months of living in it they swear they will never go back to Reykjavik. Linda tricked Ægur into moving, supposedly a holiday trip first but after only ten days they had jobs and a nice apartment and couldn’t think of a good reason to leave.
It’s more common to meet men when you travel alone as a woman but for me, Iceland was the opposite. I met many incredibly strong, approachable and open women like Lena, Nanna, Margrét and Linda. All of them examples of a culture with a strong voice and a healthy vision of what life should be. I learned that in Iceland families don’t have to be glued by traditional structures, I saw that people thrive when they live full lives involving good music, old friendships, heated pools, hipster fashion and a respect for nature. It seems to me as if in Iceland you can have it all. My mother asked Lena what Icelandic men were like in the home and her answer summarized my take on Icelandic women and Icelandic culture: “I am lucky, because I have a husband that cooks and cleans and takes care of the children as much as I do. In the not so distant future, I will not be considered lucky, it will just be normal.”
When you visit Iceland make sure to stay at the Kex in Reykjavík. It really is the best hostel in Iceland.