Iceland – A Land Beyond Food

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There are very few moments where my body is propelled so far beyond shock and awe that I pay no mind to food.

Don’t misunderstand me.

I definitely ate food on my ethereal excursion to Iceland.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with fermented shark or platefuls of puffins (too damn cute to eat!) and there was no horse jerky in store for me. In fact, there was so much happening all at once that I was satisfied with the overabundance of trail mix and popcorn that I always deliriously opted for at the end of long, otherworldly day in Iceland.

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Friends. It was so unspeakably beautiful, my laughably amateurish photography skills could only capture a minuscule iota of the country’s majesty.

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So why? Why did I choose Iceland as my first trip out of the U.S. as an adult person?

I will be honest with you – I was at a very unhappy time in my life. I had recently quit graduate school and a  path that I had planned and worked towards since I was practically 16. I felt that I had failed and disappointed so many people, including myself. I was utterly dumbfounded as a 22-year-old, recent college graduate on where to direct my career, my interests, and my energy.  This, paired with a multitude of other stressful, confusing factors of being young, dramatic, and fresh out of the caressing cradle of university life – I needed to escape somehow. I would take any way possible.

Then, I saw these wedding pictures.

I was absolutely entranced. I looked at those pictures every day for two weeks. I couldn’t get Iceland out of my head.  I defiantly announced to anyone who would listen that I would go there. I would visit that magical land that seems so isolated, so vast, so cold, and captivating.

It wouldn’t be until an entire year later that I randomly decided to look up plane tickets to Iceland. I found an airline that sold round-trips from Baltimore to Iceland for $400.

I had no one to go with, no real plan, and just enough in my savings to pay for the plane ticket and hoped to save up for the rest before the trip came upon me. I spent that day mentally pacing.

Should I buy this ticket? I have $400. Barely, but….I have it.” 

I am notorious for overthinking. I am chronically guilty of convincing myself that I don’t need this and that. I am overly cautious far too often. I have workaholic tendencies that nudge me into taking an extra shift at my second job because “I can always hang out with friends later after the bills are paid and the animals are take care of.”

I have a terrible habit of not living my life.

So I bought the ticket. 8 months later, I flew on a crowded plane, craned my neck from the middle seat and saw the black, volcanic sand beaches of Iceland for the first time. My breath caught in my chest and I knew – I had made the right choice.

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There were days that tried me. There wasn’t a single day that my travel buddy and I didn’t collapse into our beds, utterly exhausted, a little bruised, and entirely awestruck at what we had encountered. We were thankful for every fleeting moment of it.

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We even got to descend into a small cave in what was once a volcanic lava field but is now the Snaefellsnes National Park.

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Oh! There definitely was food! I honestly can’t say that I was able to gather an accurate representation of the food culture in Iceland. We were always on the road and things were rather expensive so we stuck to the cheap, adventurer’s mainstays that we found at gas stations and small shops such as trail mix, nuts, hummus, and peanut butter. There was a lot of coffee and Red Bull in our veins as well.

However, I did have the best fish and chips there. Their seafood is definitely worth the extra expense. Fishing is one of the country’s national sources of revenue so, naturally, the fish was always fresh and accessible. They also have great coffee and cakes. There were multitudes of bakeries all around (to my great pleasure) and they were always busy with people buying daily breads and sweets.

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Our bed and breakfast hosts also fed us wonderful breakfasts. One house we stayed at put out a wonderful spread every morning of different toasts, smears, eggs, and  cold cuts. Another host made fresh breads in the morning and one of his specialties were mini-pizzas with fresh quail eggs from quails he raised himself and smoked salmon that he smoked himself. We felt incredibly special.

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What was also the most surprising was that the best thing we had there were the hot dogs.

Yes.

Hot dogs.

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The beef tasted especially flavorful and they had all sorts of strange toppings like tatziki sauce (Greek cucumber sauce), cheese, fried mushrooms, paprika, and so much  more. We devoured our hot dogs greedily. I barely had time to think of taking this picture.

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Iceland was a memorable time. There isn’t a moment since I’ve been back that I haven’t thought longingly about that lonely, icy, happy country. My mind frequently wanders to that place between looming mountains where whispers of birds and rushes of wind are the only disturbances to be heard. My heart longs for the country where driving ten miles further can offer a different landscape every time.

Even the day that we nearly ran out of gas in the middle of absolute nowhere, driving on narrow roads that had cliffs that dropped off into the sea – I miss that. Every moment in Iceland was challenging. I traveled there to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

I achieved that.

I journeyed to Iceland and ventured outside of myself. In a country where the remoteness gave you nowhere to hide, I found a strength that I had convinced myself I didn’t have. It was a strength that bubbled up to the surface and enveloped me like an iron grip.

We didn’t plan much. Perhaps that was a weakness in our traveling acumen. There were many days that tested us. The entire trip pulled at us in every which way. The weather was heavy at times. It was a consistent 30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower with wind. It would snow at times, then rain, then sleet, and then hail. It was always windy. There were days of no sunlight and, conversely, the sun didn’t truly set until 2:00 am. We went on a particularly painful, touristy whale watching tour that lasted 3 hours on choppy water with 10 feet-high waves and it sleeted most of the time we were on that small boat. I was so sea-sick and cold, it brought me to tears. I never knew coldness could be so excruciating. There were also no whales to be seen.

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And yet.

I cannot find a single regret within me. 

You could not find one cell that constructs my body that would not go back the moment I would be offered the chance.

I suppose, even for me, there is a point beyond food.  A point in which I find the meaning of how food fuels me. There is a measure beyond desire and greed.

Iceland.

I’m coming back for you.

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