Each day of the Snorri Plus Program brought the chance to meet new people, see new landscapes and learn about the history and culture of Iceland. When I was asked to share my experience in the program last summer, a particular day of the trip came to mind mmediately as one that showed me better than all the others the wonder of Iceland.
The day began as we left Akureyri and ventured on an hour ride in the countryside where we caught glimpses of snow skimming the mountaintops. The first stop was the impressive Goðafoss or “Waterfall of the Gods”. According to the sagas, this waterfall got its name after the formerly heathen priest marked the conversion of Iceland to Christianity in the year 1000 by throwing wooden images of the pagan gods into the falls.
Next we ventured to a family-owned stable where we saddled up and had the chance to ride Icelandic horses. As they navigated us through a rocky field near Lake Myvatn in the misty rain, I learned to appreciate these beautiful but sturdy animals.
After a quick lunch we embarked on a short road trip to the Dimmuborgir area and walked around the eerily shaped lava field where trees, moss and toadstools have sprouted and where we half-expected to find elves or trolls living in and amongst the caves.
Unbelievably, just a few minutes away, there were pits of bubbling sulfurous mud and rocky pustules gushing with steam. At this point, my mom, aunt and I got a case of the giggles because it felt like this little patch of ground was so unusual that it had to be from another planet.
What made it even stranger was the fact that just on the other side of the parking lot was a lush green pasture with sheep being corralled for the annual wool harvest. After that, we drove past a geothermal energy plant and headed to an almost opalescent pool of water in the middle of a crater, called viti (hell).
The adventure ended with an evening trip to the heavenly waters of the Myvatn Baths. There we stargazed while soaking in the warm water and all the things we had seen that day. This day took us from hell to heaven with many adventurous and historical stops along the way. Having gone from powerful waterfalls to hardy horses to lava fields to sulfur pits to sheep pastures to craters and then to heavenly baths was certainly a sensory overload.
However, it was also much more than that. It was a glimpse into the extremes of the Icelandic geography and how its people have adapted to make the most of their incredible surroundings. To have been able to not only survive but to thrive in this environment, the people of Iceland, our ancestors, must have had a spirit of strength and ingenuity as well as a wonderful sense of humour.
I’ve always been proud of my Icelandic heritage, in part due to the exotic nature of being able to tie myself to a European country about which few people know anything. After being able to see the north- Icelandic landscapes where my ancestors were born and raised, my pride is now much greater.
They came from this harsh country and, even though they left, my great-grandparents and the other New Icelanders stayed true to many of the fundamentals that make the Icelandic people great: a focus on literacy and education, music and the arts as well as that good Icelandic witty humour.
At the end of the two weeks of the program, I arrived home more exhausted than when I left but with a far greater appreciation of my Icelandic roots that I thought possible. The chance to be able to share this with my mom and aunt as well as a group of other Canadians with Icelandic roots made it all the more meaningful. I keep trying to find an appropriate word to summarize our Icelandic adventure.
Neither awe-inspiring nor enlightening seems to be sufficient. What I can say is that this Snorri Plus Program was far more than just a vacation; it was an experience I will always remember.