Arrival in Keflavik is always a dreary affair. Maybe it is because we arrive just before midnight, but it is eerily quiet for an airport even though four flights have deplaned at about the same time. And even though the sun is on the horizon and it is the longest day of the year, the light is gray and dusky. The airport is efficient, however. Our luggage arrives on the baggage belt by the time we walk there. At the passport check, they ask us the usual questions with poker-faced officiousness: How long are you staying? Business or vacation? Iceland has a population of 320,000; last year it had 800,000 visitors. But all this attention to their country seems to leave Icelanders extremely apathetic. When Bev steps up to the passport booth, she tries to awaken them with a loud, “Hello!” Then they take an especially long time looking at her passport, flipping the pages back and forth. “It’s like a book of Iceland, with one trip to China,” she says cheerily. Their response is deadpan. It means nothing to them that we suffer from Icelandophilia.
What welcomes one to Iceland are the billboards. They are friendly, pretty, and culturally informative. This year it’s a campaign of Icelandic sayings. At least the tourist industry is trying.
The geographical placement of the airport is not exactly welcoming either. It is on the western tip of a rocky, brown, inhospitable part of the Reykjanes peninsula. Nothing but volcanic rocks, the famous lunar-type landscape on earth our first astronauts practiced on. This is the first looksee of the country and it is not pretty. Certainly no green and pleasant land. Just hardscrabble lava turf and a scattering of rough grass. And rain. Did I mention the constant rain?
I got into a conversation on the plane with a woman who sheepishly admitted that she had been to Iceland three times already and people can’t understand why she keeps going back? “Welcome to my world,” I said, “This is my 8th trip.”
So upon arrival my enthusiasm always wanes for the country, “Um, why am I here again?” Why this otherwise forgotten island thrown up by volcanoes in the North Atlantic ocean? I hear my husband’s pesky voice in my ear: “Why can’t you be obsessed with Italy?”
Bev and I meet up with Kat, Esther and Beth coming in on the Boston flight. We all look a little flight fatigued and disheveled. Kat goes off to pick up our rental car and we wait, and wait some more. We buy yogurt and chocolate covered cookies at the airport foodmart. An hour or so later Kat comes back with a set of keys. “We had to get an SUV; I hope all our luggage fits.”
We stuff, push, jam our bags in the back of a Lincoln SUV and slam the hatch door shut. The latch catches and we cheer. Then the five of us, with the overflow luggage at our feet or on our laps, head merrily to Reykjavik. And I mean merrily, too. All of us are talking at once, in a voluble banter.
–Kat explains about the snafu at the car rental place. The station wagon we reserved was too small but the people who reserved the SUV thought it was too big, so we switched. “It all worked out. See, the universe takes care of it.”
–Beth talks about her equine-assisted psychotherapy, and the influence of the positive psychologist Tal Ben Shahar.
–Bev talks about her tai chi trip to China last year, which segues into Esther talking about Iyengar yoga. “Finding the perfect balance is nirvana,” she says.
–There is a brief aside on why Kat and I like Game of Thrones so much.
–Then we’re on to people we know in common.
–Bev talks about the necessary ingredient of friendship: “a measure of grace.”
–Beth says [friendship] is “like energy attracting like energy.”
–Esther, apropos of nothing I can remember, declares: “I have hypomania. I do!”
The engine light is on and the brakes grind and squeak, but Kat assures us, “the car rental guy said that was normal.” After a short pause of concern, we pick up where we left off.
And the dreary landscape gets softer and greener. A farmhouse on the coast is illuminated by a burst of two a.m. sunshine. Beth says emphatically, passionately, “I can’t believe I’m here, you guys. This is so beautiful.”
And it is. Truly wondrous.
I am with this group of women I travel with every year to Iceland, and my heart is full of deep affection for them. Hurtling toward Reykjavik with lousy brakes and an intense camaraderie, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be, or anyone else I’d rather be with.