Learning about the Indomitable Spirit of the Icelandic People

They say if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. On the Overseas Adventure Travel trip, Untamed Iceland, we were not only on the road less traveled, but true to the OAT travel philosophy, we met locals who truly embodied the spirit of the harsh and unforgiving nature of the country. But they did so with big and open hearts that looked into the optimism of future, warmer days.  And I got to experience first- hand the kind of harsh conditions that country had to offer, which made me appreciate the people we met even more.

 We had great plans one rainy day for a nearly two-hour hike, passing by the glacier that is the ” center of the earth, ” followed by a fermented shark tasting event. So, I cleaned up, no longer looked like an adventure traveler, even sprayed my hair a bit. Everything in place, hiking stick at the ready. The rain started coming down so hard as were the wind gusts passing by, that we actually saw a waterfall with the water running upward due to the wind. As we progressed, we got word that the longer segment of our hike was to be cancelled due to heavy weather conditions. Just the short half hour hike to the volcanic blow hole. So, I donned my poncho over my heavy coat and began the hike.

The poncho has no snaps and no way to secure it I realized, as I basically walked into gale force winds and rain. My poncho had suddenly become the sails, and I was merely a vessel being carried along. I had zero control! I fell down once and everyone tried to help, but once up the wind kept sweeping me away. So, I literally floated past slow walkers and picture takers, didn’t care much about the blow hole and more about the fact that on one side of me was solid grass, the other side a steep cliff. The bus had left to pick us all up, so I had to keep going. I laughed when I thought about my hair, since the wind had prevented me from keeping any head covering as the rain continued. I literally was blown into the bus! We never saw the glacier due to poor visibility today, and I had no interest in fermented shark, but it was an amazing and unexpected part of learning and discovery to see how fragile we are in the face of nature’s elements.

The Icelandic people I met both as part of the tour and in casual conversation on my own, know this, of course. They seem like sturdy people with a big heart. They are not fooled by mother nature. They know that the beauty and warmth of Autumn will lead them into the abyss of winter, and they embrace and prepare for it all. Our hosts at a home hosted meal kept traditional Icelandic folk songs alive as a hobby and a joy. They met and married through an organization that fosters the performance of traditional Icelandic folk songs which they sang for us. It was Autumn when I was there, and they were telling me they know what is coming soon, and already look forward to the first blooms of spring. That kind of optimism and joy in life is a real gift, and a great takeaway from this trip. We can enjoy the autumn that enters our lives, and like it or not, there will always be times that are horribly dreary with unexpected gusts. But in the end, it’s all about sloshing through the tough times until we see that first bloom, isn’t it? A great reminder about life, mentioned at dinner during this trip, and experienced on my hike as well.

But Iceland seems to be a country with different personalities depending on the season. Volcano names are impossible to remember there, but we saw the area where the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, which spewed all the volcanic ash and lava for days, and which cancelled flights worldwide. It’s also near one of the most beautiful waterfalls we visited. We saw a movie about a family who pretty much lived under that volcano, and at the end they came out and we met them. They now own and run the small visitors center, and the new soil that has emerged as a result of that eruption has enabled their farming to become more lucrative than ever before.  Amid the lava, life finds a way of coming through to create new growth, as we saw first- hand. Life was everywhere amid the barren. That is the indomitable spirit of the Icelandic people as well.  We saw homes left for ruin after the huge volcanic eruption, and not far away, brand new farmhouses and a thriving farm, young birds near the waterfall so close to the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and all the ruined homes. 

It was a joy to meet these people who said yes to nature’s destruction, who wanted to make the most of it and stand up to nature’s adversity.  They now own two Mercedes Benz s and have found a way to prosper despite the odds. After a natural disaster new life frequently emerges. Nature can make us feel so small and it is a constant reminder that we are not in control as much as we like to think, I was glad they had prevailed. I guess in the end we are all just like leaves falling randomly from a tree, maybe part of some big design, maybe not. My hiking adventure where I nearly parasailed off a cliff taught me briefly what these people know only too well. Mother Natures is really at the helm, and it’s up to us to make the best of it while we can.  

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