Thursday, April 26, 2018

Finding Stillness in Iceland

The other day morning I was gazing over a framed road map of Iceland proudly hung up on the wall in my apartment, waiting for the mug of fresh-brewed coffee in my right hand to cool slightly. 

Visiting Iceland in the late fall/early winter of 2016 was the best adventure I've ever taken, and I'm confident that it'll be hard to be topped. 14 days of exploring by 4x4, hiking boots and tent across this raw, beautiful country- by myself. I visited nearly every corner of Iceland, minus the distant Westfjords which at the time were inaccessible due to snow. Back home in the United States, I find myself often tracing my route, gliding the tip of my finger along the map, reminiscing and lusting to return. 

There's one place that stands out to me on the map, and I've recently been thinking a lot about it for some reason: Hraunhafnartangi. Don't ask me how to pronounce it, please, because I will humiliate myself trying haha. I blogged about this part of the country, nearly as far north as one can venture in mainland Iceland, but reflecting again now...this particular spot deserves more than five sentences. 
I remember sitting in my little red Suzuki Jimny 4x4, looking in my Lonely Planet guidebook's chapter on this region of the island, scanning over the the big printed map I also bought, and seeing this point north of a tiny almost-abandoned village called Raufarhöfn, jutting into the Greenland Sea. Daylight was dwindling but I felt a strong urge inside me hinting to go and stand at the end of the Melrakkaslétta peninsula. It's said this is one of the most forgotten regions of Iceland, and the eery desolation of it proved so. Raufarhöfn during the 1940s and 50s was the country's biggest export harbor, when the Herring catching trade fueled Iceland's economy. But when the fish disappeared and the docks became silent, Raufarhöfn began to turn ghostly. There's only one road, #85,  that enters into the village, taking you past a fueling station, post office and weathered, deteriorating blocks of prefab housing units that sit mostly empty. Today there's only about 200 or so people living here.

Upshifting into fourth and then fifth gear, I continued driving north on road #870 that narrowly skirts the shorelines of the peninsula, and apart from one or two homes, there was nothing out here past Raufarhöfn. Nothing. The sun was falling quickly, faster than normal since during the winter here in Iceland, daylight seems to be only an illusion that lasts for a few hours. Looking out my right window, I spotted off in the distance a lone lighthouse,  Hraunhafnartangi, signaling the end of mainland Iceland. Leaving the paved road, I slapped the Jimny into four-wheel-drive, and cautiously started crawling over a slippery, bumpy, rocky path maybe 20ft from the water towards the point. Attempting this feat behind the wheel soon became not realistic, and I didn't want to have to abandon my stuck 4x4 and seek help on foot in a part of the country this drastically remote. I shut off the Suzuki, threw on a down jacket, grabbed a headlamp and began hiking.

The winds blowing off the frigid ocean were drowning loud. Trekking over rocks, seaweed, driftwood of all colors and shapes, webs of tangled washed-up fishing nets, an orange faded bouy, and rusty parts broken off from boats. I was the only one out here for miles and this raw solitude gave me the chills. Thirty minutes later, I reached the base of the white, orange-capped lighthouse, built in 1951. I remember huddling in the doorway to seek relief from the ferocious wind  and tightened-up the laces on my boot.

At this exact place, the Arctic Circle lays only a short 3km north, out in the icy crashing water on the horizon. I kept hiking beyond the lighthouse as close as I could get to the very edge of the land before it dropped off into the sea. The determination I had was unstoppable and I kept thinking in my head to myself "I have to stand there,  I have to see this." One final scramble up a few craggy rocks and I froze. There was no where else north to go, but the ocean and Arctic Circle. I felt like I was on the edge of the world, and unexplainably content. I just stood quietly by myself, taking it all in. I remember my heartbeat rapidly beating, not out of exhaustion, but out of the sheer exposure to this moment I was in.

Facing out into that abyss of blue, I had never felt so connected, calm and still. We as humans need intimate moments and experiences in nature, like this, to grow and open our minds to what else is really out there. I've always believed and advocated nature does give off this powerful vibe that moves us deeply internally. Shaking us to our core, waking us up, that this world is alive. Never have I ever, felt such a connection with nature than standing here at Hraunhafnartangi. It was profoundly humbling, and not only fueled my wanderlust mind with awe... but it served as a grateful reminder that while this is a huge beautiful planet, I'm only a small, tiny part of it.

With the sky darkening, I slowly hiked back inland to my Suzuki 4x4, frequently turning my head around, over my shoulder to look back at that spot. I felt this attraction to it, the farther I distanced myself. I learned a valuable lesson in stillness at Hraunhafnartangi, and it's changed me forever for the better.

Now that you've read my story, I encourage you to go out into nature, and find a place that brings you the most calm, the place that makes you absolutely still.