Explorist: Sean Hotchkiss
June 12 2015
Iceland had topped my travel wishlist for years. So when my friend, Justin, suggested renting a house there for his 30th birthday this June, I was heavily in favor of the idea. After short stays in Copenhagen and Stockholm, I planned to meet the birthday crew in Reykjavik.
I arrived in the Icelandic capitol on the morning of June 4, a full day ahead of the others. A couple things about me: I love to travel alone and I love to eat. I checked into my room at the 101 Hotel and knocked several restaurants off my list: lunch at a cozy corner table at Bergsson Mathus, a friendly café, and dinner at the bar at Snaps, a crowded bistro with a local following. Early June in this part of the world means little-to-no darkness, so I wandered the streets after dinner that first night for hours, stopping for cocktails at Slippbarinn and orbiting a tattoo convention, where I smoked Marlboros and attempted to mingle with the leather jacket clad twentysomethings that hung around outside.
I woke up the next day and met Spencer, Justin’s friend, at Reykjavik Roasters and we checked into a small rental annex downtown with a cheery yellow facade. We linked up with friends visiting from Washington, D.C., and bounced between a series of bars – Boston, Kaldi, Kaffibarrin, and Prikid. Our night culminated with a food cart cheeseburger, eaten while watching the midnight sun rise high over the bay in Reykjavik.
Note: The constant daylight dismantled my system. Human bodies are kind of hard-wired to go when it is light out, and without the anchor a sunset provides, it becomes difficult to feel like you should be sleeping. I found it tough to turn in before 4 or 5am, and when I did finally get to sleep, I slept hard – often ’til noon or 1 the next day – something I haven’t done since college.
A wakeup from Emily and Justin the following day at 0830, just hours after we’d turned in, was especially jarring. We hopped into their SUV and made the 65-mile journey to Hvolsvöllur, on the south coast of Iceland. The home Justin arranged – Syori-Rot – was a white box set on several serene acres. Horses roamed the fields. The only sound in the evenings was the caw of the circling birds. A perfect porch wrapped around the house, where I’d sit, smoke, and stare out at land and sky.
The country showed us everything it had over three days: mist and fog hovered over peaks to the Southeast on one day, bright sunlight flooded the house at all hours on another. Breezes blew off the North Atlantic and burned our cheeks. We drove east, to Vik, and climbed high into the hills above black sand beaches and towering rock formations. We ate stew in a tiny bistro near a red-topped church. Waterfalls were frequent distractions. We swam in pools framed by snow-capped mountains (Seljavellir) and roamed National Parks (Skaftafell). Each night we’d relax, play music, and rest our bodies before the next day’s adventure.
Iceland obliterated my expectations. (And I’d heard enough to build up a strong set of them.) Its natural beauty was vast and ever-present, the culture friendly and no-nonsense.
The lack of any real language barrier for Westerners made both directional and social navigation easy. I’d love to say I’d return soon, but the odds are I probably won’t – there are other locales I’d like to see, taste, smell, and feel. Besides, I find that some trips are memories worth preserving in an unaltered state – dreamlike, dramatic… departures useful for escaping to in my mind at any moment. That’s where I’ll keep Iceland. Maybe not forever; but for now.