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.
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.
There are moments
in moist love
is jealous of what
we on earth
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.