I had a hunch. It was based off some browsing of photographs on Pinterest and a little background reading. But it was a strong hunch: Iceland is a really special place and I must go there.
My background reading led me to learn it was an expensive place. Somewhere that would ordinarily be a little out of my budget to save for a trip. So I hatched a plan; I would work there for a summer season to offset the inhibitive cost and learn about the true Iceland.
I ended up working at the most lovely guest house, an hour east of the city of Akureyri in the heart of Myvatn. I couldn’t pronounce any of that either, before I moved there, and I still struggle now.
I began my adventure in Reykjavik, meeting a friend of a friend, who graciously offered to take me for a tasty local Icelandic restaurant for dinner and help me find the random Icelandic man who I would be taking me in a a car share to northern Iceland.
Iceland’s a very safe place, and I thought it more adventurous, faster and cheaper than a bus.
I can’t say it resembled Peter Kay’s “Car Share” all that much – I was nestled in the back with two other young women and a boy in the front seat, all of us car sharing and paying a fee to the driver (the random Icelandic man who didn’t speak any English).
I was instructed to meet an older gentleman at a random cafe in the centre of town. It felt like something out of a movie, and when I met the jolly pseudo grandfather, I knew instantly my time at Iceland would probably continue along that theme of amazing.
During my three months I took up knitting with Icelandic wool, taught by my new friends who doubled as my work colleagues. We shared stories on our wooden deck that overlooked the mountains and vast Icelandic vistas, and we shared many cheese and tomato toasties together (with lots of black pepper).
I befriended the adorable Patti, who was my favourite man in all of Iceland, and liked to sit on my lap at every opportunity. Though he also loved to chew on Icelandic wool, so there was a hobby that never intercrossed.
I made friends for life with the wonderful people I worked for. Who, on a whim, would drive nearly a 30 minute round trip just to get ice cream from the local shop, with caramel sauce and sprinkles.
During more of a low point, I bravely tried Hakarl, the Icelandic delicacy of rotten shark, and can safely vouch that it is by far the foulest thing I have ever eaten in my entire life and struggle to imagine anything worse that I could ever eat again.
The traditional method is by gutting and beheading a Greenland or sleeper shark and placing it in a shallow hole dug in gravelly sand, with the now cleaned cavity resting on a small mound of sand. The shark is then covered with sand and gravel, and stones are placed on top of the sand in order to press the shark. In this way the fluids are pressed out of the body. The shark ferments in this fashion for 6–12 weeks depending on the season. Following this curing period, the shark is then cut into strips and hung to dry for several months. During this drying period a brown crust will develop, which is removed prior to cutting the shark into small pieces and serving.
Iceland was just amazing. It didn’t matter which way you turned, and even when the wind howled so badly you could barely open the door of our house, because it threatened to wrench your arm off, it was never disappointing.
As if the wondrous theme of make-believe needed any greater excuse; in my final month at the guest house, a volcano began to erupt only a few kilometres south of us. Far enough away for us to be safe, but close enough for us to potentially hear it, if it did blow it’s lid in a spectacular fashion.
The eruption ended up being a slow and steady process, but the cloud and orange of the sky could be vividly seen from the top of the hill beside the guesthouse. I will never forget the magic and wonder of driving up there, in the gale force wind, to stare mesmerised at the volcano in the distance. Glowing in the night sky that never truly sets in summer.