Jökulsárlón, Iceland



Christina van Deventer

When I first came to Iceland I had barely entered adulthood. I was young, unemployed and scared to death of the gaping hole that was where my future was supposed to be. Thus far, everything had been pretty much pre-ordained. I would go to school, have certain kinds of friends and when I grew up I would go to University and study something that would sound more important than it was. In my mind that something had always been Music. I´d been schooled in every aspect of it since I was little, naturally I would want to see it through to the end. But I wasn´t going to, because for me, like for so many other teenagers, the future was untreaded territory in which anything could happen. That was why, mere weeks before I was about to start Music studies back home in South Africa, I found myself in Iceland, chasing a different future.

Like every great story, mine starts with a boy. We´d met in Chicago and pretty soon his arctic world collided with the sunny, multi-cultural world to which I belonged. Iceland was where we´d see if the relationship was worth pursuing.

I arrived around four o´clock in the afternoon in freezing mid-December temperatures and pitch black skies. Great, I thought. I paid all my savings to come to a country where the sun won´t come out for the entire time I´m here.

On my first day in Reykjavík, it rained. And it was dark. Only for an hour did I glimpse the dusk, which turned to dawn for a short while before the darkness was ushered in once more. No, not darkness, blackness.

Luckily, inside my boy´s family home, things were going swell. I could tell I was liked and the feeling was mutual.

In my first days in Iceland, we went to see all the usual touristic spots. The Golden Circle, Hallgrimskirkja in downtown Reykjavík and the lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes. We fed the ducks at Tjörnin, we did the walk down Laugavegur and we even went to Grasagarðurinn, Reykjavík´s botanic gardens, although, it being winter and dark, there was little to see.

Meanwhile, I was having a lot of hot chocolate to wash away all the strange meals I was being fed. Skate, prepared in ammonia on Þorláksmessa (23rd December), whole-roasted Ptarmigan on Christmas Eve, salted foalmeat, whale-steak and various types of fish, all of which I hadn´t even known existed. Thankfully, I managed to talk my way out of having hrútspungar (ram´s testicles) and hákarl (cured shark), and out of drinking Brennivín.

While I was having a great time with what I hoped would be my future in-laws, I was slightly disappointed that it hadn´t yet snowed, since I´d never had the privilege of seeing snow before. This little admission convinced my boy to bring me to a glacier where there was always snow. Except, we couldn´t go on top of one, because it would be too dangerous in winter. So we did the next best thing. We drove from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón for the day.

We set out from Reykjavík at around nine in the morning, all the while praying there wouldn´t be any snow cancelling our plans along the way.

We stopped for something to eat at Kirkjubæjarklaustur, possibly the most enchanting town in all of Iceland, and headed past the Elfhomes towards Jökulsárlón. Thus far, we´d seen a lot of grass against backdrops of black and white; snowcapped volcanic mountains that would make any picturebook look bland in comparison. Soon, however, the landscape took on a new dimension. Mountains fell away, making space for endless stretches of black sand. Black desert, I thought, because it seemed like nothing would be able to survive out there. Along the road, these black deserts started reaching into the ocean. Where colour lacked, contrast certainly didn´t. Finally, I saw a glimpse of Svínafellsjökull, a tongue of the greater, more well-known glacier, Vatnajökull.

´We´re almost there,´ my boy said. Not long after, he pulled over the car.

It was a bit of a hike, one on which I saw nothing but more sand. Then, coming up on a hill, the world opened up around us.

´Welcome to Jökulsárlón,´ he said, leading me downhill towards the water.

I couldn´t stop staring. It was looking at heaven, or something godly. Blue ice floating in water so still it had the appearance of polished mirrors in the dusk. Yes, it was dusk already, because we´d been driving all day. Five minutes later, everything was shrouded in darkness, but we´d seen what we´d come for and my future had started taking shape. I couldn´t leave what I´d seen behind forever, so I didn´t. I never completed my studies in music. I did, however, make Iceland my home.

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