I’ve often wondered how self-proclaimed 101-ers would survive outside Reykjavík, where stiletto heels and converse sneakers would leave toes frostbitten. It really is as if Reykjavík is its own artistic enclave of a country, where Mt. Esja inspires admiration of Mother Nature but no real interaction. City dwellers would rather write songs about it than actually set out to explore the dramatic landscape. Let me begin by stating the obvious, that this is a generalisation, but in many of my interactions with Icelanders living in Reykjavík I’ve found that they have only a very basic knowledge of the wild and turbulent landscape that surrounds them.
On asking several Icelanders what their favourite part of the country was, the responses varied from Þingvellir to Ásbyrgi. However, asked when they had last visited their cherished site, all replied the same: “I was a young kid. My parents took me.” I was really shocked at the oblivion to which vast natural treasures were relegated. Mountains became faded memories with creeping spider webs. The distances are relatively short for one to be able to escape the hustle and bustle of the rúntur and the every day routine. But it seems as though no one is interested in escaping. These creatures of comfort would rather drive their car down Laugavegur all weekend.
Once when I invited some Reykjavík friends to the nearby town of Hveragerði for a day trip, they were warned there was a hike involved but that their efforts would be rewarded with a dip in a hot river that sinuously seduced the fumaroleridden landscape. When I went to pick up my friends they were wearing rather club-inspired attire and – I kid you not – fancy “these better not get any mud on them” boots. I wondered whether they had ever been hiking before. I kindly mentioned that their expensive shoes would lose their spunkiness after an hour’s hike. We actually had to go buy shoes because my partying pals didn’t have a single pair that would withstand dirt or any form of exercise. I began second guessing myself about the trip until we finally arrived at our destination and these rúntur obsessed people seemed like children let out in the wild for the first time. It was great to see the deep joy they felt at being reintroduced to their free spirits. Grass-stains were quickly forgotten and even encouraged.
I know it is really easy to develop a routine and hard to let go and live life to the full. It happens to all of us. So I suggest a trick: behave like a tourist. Create in your mind the ability to think like a foreigner and explore your own backyard. It isn’t necessary to always go to Sweden or Denmark to have a holiday. Internal tourism allows for an exploration of one’s culture and roots while being reminded of the trivialities that thrive in the city (such as those really expensive neon pink jeans you were eyeing). I practice this myself when I am in my country. I purposefully travel everywhere as much as I can. When I lived in Puerto Rico fulltime I tried to leave the capital every other week whenever possible. I would purposefully throw my comfort zone out the window and spontaneously get in the car and just go. And yes, I know Reykjavík is wicked and there are galleries, concerts, and the same bars with the same people, but I think it is a necessary dose of energy that rejuvenates and connects you with yourself and your country.
The other day I was talking to one of my friends who I’d kidnapped from his beloved couch and he proudly showed me all these spectacular pictures of Iceland. He thanked me and told me he knows he thinks like a tourist and loves looking at himself and Iceland at a distance as an outsider looking in. I think I might convert these creatures of comfort one at a time. It’s a great excuse for me to discover more nooks and crannies of the disturbingly beautiful Icelandic countryside.
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