I made the right choice, I think to myself as our little grey Toyota Corolla pulls onto the gravel. We’re in good company, with another half a dozen explorers doing the same thing.
I learned my lesson from yesterday. That is, when in Iceland, always wear comfortable shoes. Not boots, not sandals, not flip flops, but runners. Every few minutes, there’s a waterfall, geyser or, this time, a flock of wild, majestic Iceland horses.
It’s the kind of view you see in the photos and assume it’s photo-shopped. There’s half a dozen horses meandering around, arching down to drink from puddles of water. The uneven short, sparse grass, a dull dirt colour is starting to awaken, after a long, unforgiving winter.
I gaze into the distance at the snow-capped mountain. It feels like it’s worlds away, until I look down and see its mirror in the accumulation of water – snow turned into the purest water, as the early May sun starts to show its colours. I almost feel equal with the mountain, like we’re in harmony.
There’s a few of us here. I pick up on a few words but I can’t make sense of the language. Everyone is smiling. As I’m attempting to replicate the beauty of this place into a picture, I’m nudged from behind, just above my right elbow.
A gorgeous horse is standing right behind me. His coat is chocolate brown and his unkempt, mangled fringe covers his eyes. I’m drawn to his gentle demeanour.
“Hello! Are you going to the waterfall?”, startled for a second time in minutes.
A blonde girl, about my age, is looking at me, smiling, holding out her phone. She’s got her jumper wrapped around her waist – something that I do all the time. I have since high school. It gives me this nostalgic feeling. I like her already.
I stop patting my horse and move closer to her to see the photo. It looks like this mysterious, other-worldly place. Like something you’d see in Game of Thrones. The water is an aqua blue, a colour I’ve never quite seen before.
We’re driving with no destination but to see this, I’d go anywhere. Without even asking my friend, I say yes.
I quickly run back to my horse, wrap my arms around its face and whisper goodbye. We reach the car and I fill my friend in, who I briefly lost, smitten by the view.
The girl introduces herself as Sam, and my friend picks she’s a Russian almost instantly. This surprises me. Sam doesn’t strike me as Russian. She’s friendly and respectful, unlike other Russians I’ve met. I temporarily feel a pang of shame, as I’m playing into stereotypes.
“So, where is this place?” my friend asks, bringing me out of my thoughts.
“Here,” Sam prompts, pointing at a pin on a Google Maps image. Awesome, off the tourist trail, I think.
“It’s not far but we need to go off the main road,” she says, encouragingly.
We begin exchanging the pleasantries like ‘how long are you here for’, ‘what have you seen’, and ‘do you travel often.’ But with all travel friendships, they develop quickly.
I want to know her story. We seem to have a similar mindset.
“How did you get here?”, I question.
“I hitchhiked. That’s how I always travel. Sometimes I switch 15 cars a day. People always ask me the same questions – where are you going, what’s your favourite place, how can I afford it…”
I catch myself in a moment of jealousy. I wish I could just hitchhike without a plan. I have a business and clients to think about. Travel has become a part of my life, now. And while this has always been my dream, that feeling I used to get when travelling has faded a bit. Maybe this is why I’m comparing myself.
I stop myself, instantly. You’ve done all that, all those crazy adventures. You love your life. I pump myself up again.
We pass a cyclist. He’s riding his bike up this very long, endless hill, in Iceland of all places. Where is he going? Maybe, he’s just riding as far as he can.
Maybe that’s the key to happiness, when you don’t need anything. Like that cyclist, or Sam, their happiness isn’t external. It’s now, in this moment. Conscious that I’m following my thoughts and missing this conversation again, I look to Sam as she navigates us.
“Yep, this is the road.” We pull off the main road, from a line of tourist cars following the Golden Circle – one of Iceland’s top destinations.
‘I don’t think there will be a sign. Not many people know about this place. My friend told me about it.”
The thin gravel road snakes up steady hill and all three of us try to spot a sign telling us we’re going in the right direction. A small, auburn hippie flag attached to a wooden stick dances in the wind. I see it from a distance and instantly know that’s the road. I can just feel it.
We park the car and follow a few footprints that lead to a tiny trail and fence with a ladder. It’s like a fellow nomad strategically placed that there, as a subtle marker. It’s unusually hot, so I pull off my sweater and wrap it around my waist, too.
One large bottle of water and two very muddy shoes later, I hear it, before I see it. The rumbling sound of that aqua blue water cascading down. I visualise Sam’s photo. Seconds later, we pop out behind dense scrubs and I have to squint my eyes.
The snow on the distant mountains and the white wash giving off intense brightness. The water is the striking blue of a pool, it’s almost hard to believe it’s real.
We’re pretty much the only people here. There’s a couple taking photos down on the water’s edge. It’s the closest to nature I’ve ever felt. This feels different.
I don’t pull out my Sony. I want to remember this feeling. I sit on the uneven stones for what seems like hours. My friend waves at me from the bridge, telling me to come back up.
I don’t rush. Moments like these, they’re too important to let go until you’re ready.