Dear Iceland

Its a love hate relationship, this thing we´ve got, a thing I can´t ever fully commit to and never completely break up with. The summers are always summer loving, and when there´s fall, if fall ever comes, the colours of birch trees reddening and hay fields yellowing is glorious. Then our sun has begun its slow decent, and your light is always dramatic after the sheep have come down from the mountains. Things glow gold during the day and northern lights show up at night, and then the nights persistently grow until the autumn equinox when they´re triumphantly longer than the days.

Its your darkness that first pushes me away. The mornings when I wake up in pitch blackness and I´m not sure if its 9 am or 9pm because I swear I just fell asleep, but realize I´ve been unconscious for 12 full hours and still feel tired. 13 hours of sleep a night become normal by the end of November, as all my energy evaporates with the lack of light and vitamin D.

Christmas is a jolly old time each time, and I love the cosiness Reykjavik offers during the holiday season. Ice skating, shopping for pine trees and gifts to put under them, and drinking Swiss miss and Stroh with friends at café´s. New Years eve is a spectacular show, with all the explosives and parties, even during covid, and I thank you for giving me 26 days of Christmas to survive the first week of January.

Then its the cold that drives me away. The orange weather warnings and hurricane winds, the wind chills and white-out snow storms, the frozen roads and my car buried in cold snow. I can´t bear it – even my skin cries out as white, flaky, patches break out on my face and random places on my body. The allergies, the eczema, and the shut-in and shut-out feeling of society begins to grow as everyone else slowly winds down into hibernation mode.

Finally, its your people, our people rather, that destroy you. I can’t fit in anymore – just a little too brown, a bit too cheap, and too much of an accent standing between me and being Icelandic. I should be bitching about taxes and minimum wage, holding out my hands for free benefits like the rest. The jobless say no to job offers, preferring unemployment insurance to working for a living, and some only accept money under the table, just to make sure our ‘kreppa’ recession lasts a little longer. Privileged white men find ways to keep shitting on single, independent, young women, asking us passively-aggressively to shut up and accept their definition of gender equality. The married men keep cheating on their wifes and the ex-wife’s keep gold digging and fighting with baby daddies. The countryside people are tired of living in the country and Reykjavik people are tired of living in the city – the grass is always cleaner on the other side.

This year I made it to April, I´m not sure how, but February and March were abnormally kind. The volcano beginning March 19th was timely – may Mother Earth continue to rage and burn you beautifully. This April´s been a bitch, so I´m out. I´m sorry I couldn´t stay longer, the third covid wave was the last incentive I needed to bounce. Ill come back when the grass starts to green and the sun starts to warm, when more than 10 people can gather again, both in bars and public pools. Perhaps vaccinations will actually start helping people younger than 70 by then.

Im sorry but now I’ve got to go. I´ve always said that I learn to love you more each time I leave you, but I´ve still got to leave you long enough to get homesick. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes months, for me to miss you, but somehow I always come back. I can´t promise this time, but I´ll try my best.


the one who always gets away

My First Bachelor party, in Reykjavik

I’m not much of a bachelor, but getting invited to a bachelor party was a dream come true, one kick of the old bucket list. I was some kind of a tom-boy growing up and still love being one of the boys every once in a while, and 25 friends and friends of friends of mine were coming from the US/Canada to stag Mr. Chotzen, the groom to be. He’s a friend from UBC, one of the few that managed to party like an animal and snowboard all season every season at Whistler throughout undergrad and still graduate on time (spring 2008). I’ve only ever seen him since at Whistler, most recently over New Years, when we all starting planning his bachelor party behind his back.

The bachelor party of 51 balls and 2 tits... noone is sure who has 1 or 3, or if I have some, but that's the official count

The bachelor party of 51 balls and 2 tits… noone is sure who has 1 or 3, or if I have some, but that’s the official count

He didn’t figure out he was going to Iceland until they were already checked into the Icelandair flight and waiting at Sea-Tac airport, and one of the others accidentally mentioned my name. He would have found out 5 minutes later after going through security, but now the guy who slipped up will never live it down. And the stories just kept on rolling in after that.

the groom-to-be, Chotzen

the groom-to-be, Chotzen

There was the guy that got left at Gullfoss (and the guy who skinny dipped in Hvítá), the guy who hooked up with the flight attendant from the Seattle flight, the guy who got a special kiss in the Danske Kro bar bathroom, and the guy who passed out in his plate during dinner at Kolabrautin. I can’t say names, but I can admit that Chotzen wore a horned Viking helmet and the Borat green g-string one piece into the Blue Lagoon and nearly got kicked out. He was allowed to stay after he put on some extra shorts, but there were many other costume changes, including a pink tutu and shirts printed with a picture of him on the bow of a viking ship.

I managed to drag 3 bachelorettes out with me to a few bars; my polish girlfriend wasn’t even impressed but more horrified than anything else, and the two Canadian girls, who thought it would just be like being back home, were completely overwhelmed. When I was alone with them, I got a few looks of ‘How much are they paying you to do this?’, as if I may be their paid escort, but always admitted ‘these are my friends – I actually want to be here!’ no matter how embarrassing or rowdy it got. And I always pretended I was also American. It didn’t help running into people I knew, but time will heal all, and I can’t wait until my next bachelor party. I think I’ve been invited to at least 2 more and a wedding, just from this weekends shenanigans, and maybe my reputation as a bachelor party enthusiast will spread and I’ll get a few more invitations.

The Golden Circle on Horseback

The most popular tour Ishestar offers is the Golden Circle, running 13 times this summer. I guided two in June and finally got my ass into riding form. After riding very little since last summer, the aches and pains of muscles forgotten creep back into use and my hands turn into dirty, wrinkled working hands once again. Your level of hygiene and cleanliness lowers, as you and everything you own starts smelling like horse too, and eating anything but porridge for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch turns into luxury food.

a multi-coloured horse herd

Gestur and his sons run the tour from Kálfhóll farm, and there was where I began my summers with Ishestar four years ago. They have over 60 horses, and the herd we took was 30 or 40 strong. We rode from Kálfhóll along Þjórsá river, past the green farmlands and up to Gullfoss. We stay at Geysir two nights, and cross the highlands on our last days back.

We managed to lose one staff member in the highlands on the first tour, somewhere between the herd and the guests she or we followed a different track and missed eachother. She was still looking for us when we arrived to the farm but she eventually returned. A few guests fell off, as per usual, but noone got injured. There´s always one guest who comes and knows little or nothing about horses, or simply doesn´t really like riding, but gets dragged here by a significant other. There´s the token party guest(s) who always stays up later drinking with the staff. There´s usually a guy or two, if that, and a vegetarian or pescatarian. Every group has some or mostly German riders, and we randomly had two guests that lived in Afghanistan on the same tour, so being able to speak French and Spanish rarely comes in handy, unfortunately.

the view from Denni´s farm

It has been a perfect start to my summer, and I got just the right amount of practice and transition time before moving to Fljótsdalur in the east for the rest of the summer. Now begin the Egilstaðir highland tours, with our herd of 85+ horses, sleeping in tents and mountain huts, and exploring the southeast coast on a 9 day special tour. The summer weather is supposed to be the best in Iceland in the east, and living on Denni´s farm, the last farm in the valley, is a vacation in itself – there´s barely any cell phone reception, and all you hear is the glacier river running by, a few sheeps calling and a couple dogs chasing them every once in a while.

Gullfoss & Geysir

The first horse trip I took was a 6 day Golden Circle tour. Its almost 200km roundtrip, and starts and ends at the farm where the horses are from and passes both Gullfoss and Geysir, probably the two biggest attractions in Iceland after the Blue Lagoon. I certainly wasn’t in shape for 5 hrs of riding a day, so the first few days kicked my ass, but luckily this trip was actually considered a beginner level ride and the group took it pretty slow. There was even a 10 year old Swiss girl who made the whole journey, showing us all how unfit we probably were and even ran to the rescue when her mother fell off her horse.

riding towards geysir

I’ve been to the Golden Circle countless times at it is the main tourist day trip I take my friends on when visiting, and later in August took 7 friends there in 2 cars. There was something much more satisfying about riding up to Gullfoss though, since we rode along the gorge where the water flows and got such a better feel for the area where the waterfall is and enjoying the landscape around it, instead of just driving up 20 m from the falls and taking 10 photos, then leaving 10 mins later. Riding up to Geysir was also fun, since the 10km journey took an hour instead of minutes, and we got to watch Strokkur explode in the distance every few minutes as we neared the Geysir guesthouse where we were staying.

lunch time break

We spent two nights there, at a cosy hotel on a golf course just across the road from all the geothermal pools in Geysir, and I didn’t realize what a luxury it was that I had my own room until the next few horse trips where 25 people share one big room. The tour guide on this trip was Denni, a tour guide by summer but movie producer and director most of the other time. He was this really friendly, quirky guy with a great sense of humor, and once published a book on elves in Iceland but secretly admitted he made it to tease the fact that elves are actually believed in. My conclusion was that he was just a part-elf who tried to convince us of this since he couldn’t admit to being a visible elf… or he was just a really magical guy.

Denni & Thordur looking guilty

One night we decided to break into the pool next door since the punk teenager earlier that day made all of us pay 500kr per person to bathe when he thought Ishestar would cover the expense. The boy was still inside the pool house an hour after it closed, with some buddies just doing who knows what. We took the darkness as our cloak and stealthily snuck up behind a big tree and climbed the fence into the pool yard. There we changed into our suits and ran to the tub where we sat with water up to our ears to avoid being seen by the camera we realized was on us. We actually didn’t get caught, and climbed back over a different section of fence to safety – must have been the elf in Denni that kept us invisible to the pool boy.