My life has been punctuated by volcanoes, so it was only natural that I would have to come to Iceland. From the lava fields of the eastern Cascades to the ever-growing coastline of Kilauea, I have until recently lived my life on the freshest skin of the earth, and Iceland struck me as a patch of home I had not yet seen. Every so often I would come across a photo of stark, undulating landscapes of stunted grass and wildflowers filled with sturdy galloping horses, or a fiery volcano spewing arcs of lava into a night sky streaked with green ribbons of aurora, and I would find, in the words of John Muir, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
Flying into Keflavik, Reykjavik’s international airport perched at the edge of a sprawling western peninsula some 40 minutes from town, it felt like I had somehow found myself over the coast of Hawaii. The same barren brown and black shores, punctuated by streaks of black flows, were uninterrupted by so much as a single building. The illusion of course was suddenly broken the moment patches of snow fields appeared, and even more as I stepped out of the airport to a sharp, cold wind instead of the weight of tropical humidity. Still, the tinge of familiarity made me giddy, adding to the excitement of my own miniature moon landing.
As seems to happen when you’re traveling with only the expectation of new things and people, I found myself falling in with my neighbor on the plane, a young guy returning from a 9 month stint as a fitness instructor on a cruise ship around south and central America. He gave me recommendations on where to go around Reykjavik, and after finding my hostel was a matter of blocks from his home, offered me a lift with his cousin who was waiting as we passed through the almost non-existent customs check. I sat quietly over the trip as they bantered in Icelandic, enjoying just being surrounded by so much that was new to me. After exchanging info with the possibility of meeting up again later, they dropped me in front of the nondescript door of my hostel and left me to start my wandering in the land of fire and ice.
On first impression, the city itself struck me as being as sturdy as its inhabitants. The majority of buildings around Reykjavik are simple and boxy, with little flair but clearly made to keep as much comfort as possible within. The only exception is a few newer structures built in the heart of the city, made with an amount of glass that makes them look like newly-unwrapped designer stereos. The people themselves go about their lives with little flair but an air of general content, and in many cases infuriatingly casual attractiveness. As a city, Reykjavik does not take itself very seriously, something I can’t help but find endearing.