“Can you imagine being up there, literally on the moon, flipping the pages of your instruction manual, and coming across this?” Dr. Huw Lewis-Jones says, with laughter in his voice and eyes. He’s pointing at a little black and white picture of a nude girl in a quite provocative pose. The museum hall fills with hearty chuckles and smiles. About two dozen people sit in front of him, soaking in his every word. Looking at the audience over the course of the day, I slowly come to realize that I’m surrounded by truly interesting people with diverse stories, all proving that exploration is a daring, dangerous activity that steals the hearts of the brave.
The occasion is the first Explorers Festival, held in the small northern whale town of Húsavík. A brilliant, charismatic and devilishly inspiring bunch of explorers and adventurers assembled there; the kind of people who makes you want to order ten new books, rummage in your closet for a thick sweater, and set out for Antarctica.
The first event in the programme, a poetry reading, proved that seemingly unrelated things can come together in beautiful ways. It was a chance to hear written works related to exploration through the mouths and minds of people with a unique and intimate understanding of it.
“ I had great hopes for this event, but it was 10 times better than I had expected. Many of them simply went flying.” Said the organizer of the festival Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson.
But poetry was just the beginning of the myriad ways the festival explored its subject. The names on the list of speakers for the series of inspiring talks at first made me imagine a huge, overcrowded auditorium—but this intimately scaled event instead gave us the opportunity to personally meet almost each and every one of them.
And you want to meet them. Tashi and Nungshi Malik are 24-year-old twin sisters from India, who are the youngest people ever to have completed the Last Degree Explorers Grand Slam (includes climbing the “Seven Summits” and reaching the North and South poles)—something only 51 people have accomplished. Scott Parazynski is a NASA astronaut who has flown five Space Shuttle missions and conducted seven spacewalks, climbed Everest, and dived in a frickin’ volcano. Kari Herbert, the daughter of polar explorer Sir Wally Herbert, spent the first years of her life in a remote island in Arctic. The list went on.
The talks made jaws drop, one by one. The lightness, humor and modesty with which the speakers handed their often alarming and exciting stories was mesmerising. Iceland’s new president, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, gave voice to the quality of the event when he said: “All these amazing people we’ve listened to tonight… I’m just humble to be a part of the evening we’ve had here.”
The organiser of the event, Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson, pointed out that exploration has shaped today’s world—and the stories don’t belong only to the explorers themselves. Again and again, they come to life in the mind of the public, via museums and paintings, film and poetry. Such things offer these adventures a wonderful rebirth—and that’s what the Explorers Festival aims to celebrate.