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By pure chance Annika Tague found herself in Iceland sipping crisp apple cider, shivering through frigid temperatures and mesmerised by breathtaking geographical beauty.
Imagine yourself in an Ikea-like world where everything is glossy and crisp, words appear to be the product of a flu-induced alphabet and your childhood games of elves and fairies, hiding beneath mossy tree branches, are nothing but a true sanctity.
You are in Iceland. I am in Iceland; confused and in awe at the geographical magnificence. I’m trying to get to Paris from NYC as cheap as possible and I find myself in one of the world’s most wanted and unlikely travel destinations, for its convenience.
A low budget leaves me with minimal exploration opportunities, forcing me to stroll Reykjavik’s dense, pastel streets, and observe what I discover to be one of the most interesting groups of people. Assuming they would be bitter from the six-degree summers and the salmon-scented air, how surprised I am by their warm smiles and gracious hospitality.
My father attempts to reassure me, after expressing my fear of a terrifyingly confusing language barrier, “Don’t worry sweetie, I’m pretty sure Icelandic constitutes as a dead language these days.” No one likes to think their Dad holds the capability of being wrong about anything but, oh Papa Bear, how incorrect you were. While most of the citizens do in fact speak English, it’s more for the basic necessity of communicating with the tourists. I sort of get the feeling that most females have experienced while “relaxing” in a nail salon run by people who don’t speak very much English, “they’re laughing at me; they’re talking about me and laughing at my weird feet.”
Fortunately, Icelandics are too friendly to be making snide comments about your asymmetrical facial features, or at least that’s what I told myself.
Perched on a bar stool located in the hostel, slowly sipping on a crisp apple cider, I turn my head towards the crowd filling in behind me and realise the place is congested with bantering locals rather than a usual influx of nomads. That’s a traveller’s greatest achievement; making friends with someone foreign to you but not your location.
Enter Helga, a dark haired, curvy 22-year-old with sapphire, almond shaped eyes and wide set brows. Her staggering speech proves more endearing than necessary and as she grabs my hand, pulling me to the bar, vows to be my eyes and ears whilst staying in Reykjavik; regardless that this is my final night. I don’t remind her of this fact, because being offered an underground, starlit tour of a majestic city like this one is on par with being asked to sit at the cool kids’ lunch table. Despite any negative qualms that flutter your brain, you say yes; you always say yes.
Discussing my intentions for being here, Helga gives me a warm, but frazzled smile, as if to say, “Why on earth have you come to Iceland?”
In fact, in a not-so-cavalier way, she does ask that. She provides me with the courage to step through the heavy glass doors out from the hostel and into the frigid atmosphere, completely exposed on this narrow strip.
My left hand clasped tight in her right, clammy with anticipation, her arm steadily moves between her mouth and the rhythm of her hips, exhaling thick cigarette smog from her nostrils. She looks at me; teeth bared in a grin and quietly asks if she can show me something. My slow but steady nod must express some feelings of apprehension, but she either doesn’t notice or doesn’t really care. Her pace quickens and we begin to run, hand in hand. I struggle beneath my thermal layers and woollen coat, sweat prickling across my hairline. She stops suddenly and lifts her feet upon a stone ledge. Confused, my eyes follow her extended arm. Before me is a glassy lake, reflecting a tall green mountain covered in dusty snow. It’s a vision that is so real and so splendid, that you spend countless moments separating yourself from a dreamlike state, placing your mind into reality.
The view pushes me back, taking hold of me, and that is when I realise, this is why I am in Iceland.