Field Notes from the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip: Part 2

Envy.

IMG_3304

Sometimes I find myself comparing a trip to other travelers’ experiences. Meeting someone in a hostel some night who has biked a hundred miles and gotten back from their yarn factory tour just in time to go whale watching can make you feel like you’re just not making the most of your days. Trying to shake the feeling that I was missing out on something, I took myself on a last-minute horse-ride tour.

All alone with my guide, Pitla and Baelur the horses, the cold wind on my face, tugging at the collar of my jacket. Saddle jouncing between my thighs. We didn’t talk much, just breathed air in the shadow of the mountains, listening to the animals sigh and trot, closing my eyes.

IMG_3384

IMG_3431

IMG_3414

On a cold, clear night in Akureyri, I went aurora hunting.  Three women and myself, strangers, freezing under the stars, wind so sharp we could barely keep our eyes open.  We never did see any auroras, but we laughed until we cried, until it was time to give up and head back. I went dancing that night with another group of just-met pals, some Belgian boys on holiday from school. I danced until I was done and left without saying goodbye.

Earth.

There are moments

in moist love

when heaven

is jealous of what

we on earth

can do.

  -Hafiz

~

Before this trip was a reality, when it was an unformed lump of travel lust, I already knew I wanted to get to Mývatn, a lake in the Northern part of the country with a small, beautiful, less-touristed hot spring.

This day’s weather was predicted to be the best for the next week in Mývatn and so in the morning, I made a snap decision to go there immediately. I didn’t tell anyone. I packed my bag and got into my car and sat for a moment, wondering at all that, feeling like I was getting away with something.

I think I was.

~

I had about six hours of daylight and a lot of stops to make, my teeny tiny car bouncing dutifully down gravel roads, up mountain roads, and over crusty lava fields.

I went first to a hot spring inside a tiny cave, steamy and breathy and dark and damp. Its water was so clear and glassy I had to throw a pinch of sand to see where the surface of the water began before my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, a shocking little ripple of sparkles right at my feet.

IMG_3468

There was a sulfur field at the base of a low mountain range, with burping pools of blue-grey mud, teal and copper and ochre earth split with rivulets of hot water, steam vents screaming their constant hffahhhhhhh of release, the chokingly present stink of earth’s breath.

IMG_3503

IMG_3519

IMG_3547

IMG_3508

IMG_3552

Down the road, a turquoise floodwater lake in the crater of an ancient volcano. I ran up to the edge, breathless, scrabbled around the ridge circling the caldera.

IMG_3643

IMG_3583

Nearby, a recent volcanic eruption (the year before I was born) left still-hot earth, steaming vulvar fissures in the mountainside, black rock like brain synapses.

IMG_3681

IMG_3719

I made a little list in my notebook:

1. I never realized I was so afraid of volcanoes.

2. I believe in magic.

Folded over earth with decades-past drips under the overhang and milky blue water in unexpected pools.

IMG_3700

IMG_3717

IMG_3761

IMG_3763

Light waning, I drove to the last stop of the night, a lake on a farm spiked with with bonelike lava pillars, surly sheep and shocked ducks. Midge flies hovering around my mouth and nostrils,  I tried to breathe through the down collar of my jacket.

IMG_3834

IMG_3839

IMG_3860

IMG_3880The entire day was so secret-feeling and wild and gorgeous; frantic and rewarding at the same time.

And in then, it began to snow, light, nearly imperceptible…..and I had no idea what terrible weather was coming the next day.

~

Plane Tickets, Country Music and the Lonesome Wind of Northern Iceland

I’ve been listening to a lot of country music lately. It’s so lonely and romantic, and there’s something so terribly alluring about broken hearts on the open road, about horses and trucks and beer and pretty ladies.

IMG_3658

IMG_2662

In the week leading up to my departure from Minneapolis, I found myself driving too fast, listening to country music as loud as I could stand, and crying on the highway with that bubbling-up-crazy, what-the-hell-am-I-getting-myself-into excitement energy.

I wasn’t nervous until I knew my ride to the airport was on his way, and then general travel anxiety kicked into full gear. What if I go to the airport on the wrong day? (I’ve done that) What if my credit card number gets stolen right at the beginning of the trip? (that happened once) What if I get food poisoning and can’t even keep water in me and almost pass out from weakness on the way through customs? (I’ve done that)…and, worst of all, What if I don’t have any fun?

IMG_2969

This is my first time traveling alone, without a host family to catch me, without a partner by my side, without even a friendly face to greet me at the airport.

People keep asking me, why Iceland? Why alone?

I chose Iceland for a few reasons. First, D and I had planned to come here a year and a half ago, and while that obviously didn’t happen, it sparked my interest (and also he’s pretty good at picking out awesome places to travel, so I knew it would be good). Second, MSP is a hub for IcelandAir (take note, Minnesotans!) and therefore it was fairly inexpensive to fly to Keflavik. Third, I was getting some little nudges from the universe (sounds crazy); mentions in books I was reading, overheard licks of conversation at restaurants, and not one but two of the relatively few internet dates I went on mentioned their trips to Iceland. Fourth and not least of all, I enjoy a good cold, desolate landscape. As for why I came alone, I wanted to make up my itinerary by the moment, to spend some time reflecting, and to meet people in the way that you don’t when you’re traveling with someone.

And so the Single Lady Pilgrimage Trip was born.

IMG_2998

IMG_3169

IMG_3449

IMG_3495

I’ve been here for nine days and I’ll be here for nine more, hiking lava cliffs, soaking in geothermal hotsprings, riding moody horses, driving through mountain tunnels, eating smoked fish and applecake and drinking glacial water (also beer made with glacial water). After having one of the most magical days of my trip yet, I’m grounded in a snowstorm right now in the Mývatn area of Northern Iceland, listening to the bitter wet wind batter the lava fields.