> I was sitting alone at the picnic table next to the harbour fountain, when I noticed a guy riding a bicycle packed with more than twice my luggage. He passed right behind me, heading to one of the only two restaurants in town.
“So, I’m not the only one bikepacking in this region…
pity that I have to depart today.”
I waited there until the last whale sightseeing tour had left, then I reached the gas station to catch the bus to Borgarnes. While I was rearranging my gear to ease the loading of my bike in the bus trunk, a guy came up to me and said:
“Hi, I’m Martin from Switzerland! I’ve seen you before at the port;
sorry if I didn’t stop… but I was really, really hungry.”
And so, we spent the whole trip chatting about solo cycling in Iceland, travelling around the world, the underrated primacy of experiences over belongings… and, of course, one of the main reasons I was there: Oakenglass’ crowdfunding campaign for suicide prevention. When I introduced this heavy topic, one thing really amazed me about Martin: instead of showing signs of discomfort and the wish to change subject, he was sympathetic and keen to hear my story. The rare and admirable virtue of listening in place of speaking. Once I had finished, he said:
“Suicide is a widespread problem in Switzerland as well. Perhaps I will also try to raise funds through my next bicycle adventure. Thank you.”
And he shared with me some slices of his dried apples. I tried to return the favour by offering him one of my whole-meal shakes, but he refused, rather grossed out. We then enjoyed in silence our fruit bits and the scenic view that unravelled before our eyes; he hadn’t stopped eating until we arrived at destination.
After unloading our bikes from the bus, I noted that his rack was missing a screw and it had been reattached to the frame with a blue raffia string.
“Eheh… I have packed my rack with too much food
and one screw has broken off.”
Obsessive as I am, I had two spare screws, so I gave him one. He fastened it in a hurry, because he had to hop on the bus to Reykjavík, which was about to leave in a couple of minutes.
“It should hold until the end, thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. See you around.”
And thus, we parted ways.
My way was the campsite at Borgarnes, where I had planned to stay for two nights to explore its environs. As I was pitching my tent, a lone backpacker in his mid-thirties started to plant his own, two spots far from mine. There was something shady about him, I don’t know what, but my gut feeling told me to stay vigilant: my strategy was to sleep with one eye open and leave at dawn. Therefore, I sealed myself inside the shelter to get ready for a long night. First things first, I switched my SIM cards to get data connection on my Lumia, so as to update Oakenglass’ Instagram page. There, a day-old message from Cinzia & Virginio:
A short excursus. While I was at home planning my journey in Iceland, for a series of unbelievable and unforeseen coincidences, I came across a blog post about Milli Vina, a guesthouse close to Borgarnes. It is owned by Cinzia & Virginio, an Italian couple who have been brave enough to leave their hometown and chase a dream. Their hometown? Never tell me the odds… same as mine, Bergamo. I immediately wrote them an e-mail to let them know how bizarre all of this was and to promise them a visit on a future trip. From then, we began to follow each other on social media.
“If you want you could be our guest for two nights,
so you don’t have to sleep at the camping ground…”
“I’m seriously speechless… thank you. But I’ve read your message only now that it’s dark. Is it ok if I come tomorrow in the early morning?
“How about we come to get you now?”
They did. After leaving my bike at the gas station, we covered by car the 30 kilometres that separate the campsite from Milli Vina. Each of its six rooms is distinguished by a different pastel colour, so I picked my favourite one: green. Then I rushed downstairs, because they were preparing a cup of steaming tea for me. Like old friends who had not seen each other for a long time, we spent all evening talking together about everything: from the reality of living in Iceland to the difficulties of managing a little guesthouse, from the spectacle of wild nature to the wonder of human connections, from where we started to where we want to end. In a few hours I recovered all the words I had not said and all the words I had not heard during that week. Eventually, we said goodnight. I rested my head on the fluffy pillow of my queen-size bed and went to sleep, safe and content. That day had unfolded in a marvellous shape.
On their way to Reykjavík, Cinzia & Virginio took me to Borgarnes to retrieve my bike, and recommended a destination for a day trip: Stálpastaðir, a forest of foreign evergreens on the banks of Skorradalsvatn lake. Sold! After a quick roam through the southern boroughs of the town, I crossed the bridge and turned left on a secondary road with mild traffic. Despite this, it crosses my favourite corner of Iceland: pearl waters, obsidian mountains and jade lands… all around cosy, little homes and curious, little horses. Then right, on the (mostly) gravel road that would have brought me into the woods. American-fifties style swimming pool billboards, a yellow farm, fields of sheep that run away from (or with?) me, a blue expanse, glass and wood villas parcelled out along the lakeside, an evergreen frame.
There was no one. Was I, again, alone? Boom: silence. Me in the middle of the road, throbbing blood, the friction of my tyres on the ground, wheezing breath, the rustle of the wind on my gear, dripping sweat. My mind was no more: no concern, no pride, no hope, no doubt… not a single thought. Instead, my body and the cosmos embraced in boundless unity. One consciousness with no past and no future, but lost into the space of the present time. Then I became aware of my existence and that, in this weird experience, I was not alone. I was solo with everyone. No more fear, anger, hate, pain, shame, guilt and sorrow… nor even bliss. Just a flawless flow.
I kept sailing in this inner-outer state until I got back to my temporary home. There, at last, the first real hot shower I had in more than a week; after drying myself off, a nice (at least, for me) sulphur scent persisted on my skin. I took a seat on the bed with the intent of enjoying the view outside, but I soon let my back fall down on it, arms wide open. With my eyes closed, I waited for the slowness of the ambiance to fill me up. That sensation, I wished to save forever. When I opened my eyes, the shadows were about to get longer.
Then, a message from Cinzia:
“Virginio is cooking lamb fillet on the barbecue.
We are waiting for you with us in about half an hour…”
“Just wow! I’ll be there.”
I don’t know if it was his culinary skill, the quality of the ingredients or the fact that I had been drinking liquified powder for many days… but, honestly, that was the finest meat I’ve ever eaten.
“It’s still early… do you want to see the waterfalls
and the hot spring near here at twilight?”
“What? I didn’t know they were there… of course!”
I enquiringly listened to their storytelling about the natural and cultural background of those hidden gems. Hraunfossar, almost a kilometre of rivulets pouring out of lava fields. Barnafoss, a ruthless water slide that some say had killed two children who had tried to cross it via a natural stone bridge, later demolished by their heartbroken mother. Deildartunguhver, a hot spring so hot that a large part of its water is being piped for kilometres and kilometres to supply heating and, who would have ever said it, warm water. The crimson light of dusk had certainly added a somewhat dramatic vibe to the entire walk.
As it was getting dark outside the jeep, I asked Cinzia & Virginio two of the most stereotypical questions:
“What do you miss from Italy?”
“Good garlic and Pantelleria capers.”
“What would you miss from Iceland if you came back to Italy?”
“The quality of life, especially in terms of friendships.”
If you think about it, these are quite strong statements to reflect upon. I was doing so in my bed, when my mind drifted away.
The day of another goodbye. I woke up early to fix my things, have breakfast and try to lose the anxiety I always have when I’m about to move beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone: at the end of the day, I would have been in Reykjavík, with no idea what to do next. I went downstairs into the common area to chill myself, and found two perfect ways to do it: a box full of Diabolik comics to read, and stacks of tourist leaflets and travel guides to take away. After reading a couple of thief stories and taking a mini-guide about the capital area, I was finally ready enough to leave.
Like Milli Vina itself, my hosts have been exquisite and adorable: they offered me a ride, a roof, a meal, a jaunt and, above all, they cared about me… even though I was a stranger. Yes, a fellow citizen, but still a stranger. I couldn’t have asked for anything better, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.
“When this land will summon you the next time,
we hope to see you again.”
“I hope it, too.”
And thus, we parted ways.
Thirty rather easy kilometres to Borgarnes by bike, and then on my way to Reykjavík by bus. The same dull landscape I had kind of hated on my arrival, now acquired a new pleasant taste. Maybe it was brushed by a better light, or maybe I was seeing it under a better light. However, as soon as I reached the capital, every luminous beam disappeared.
“This is unbelievable. How come it’s always heavy raining in Reykjavík?”
I pitched my tent under a campsite tree, snuggled up inside my sleeping bag and started studying the guide.
Three days of sun (!) exploring Reykjavík city centre and its outskirts. Knowing nothing about them, I was stunned by their beauty… which, like an artist’s masterpiece, cannot be grasped by simple words. Those colours and contrasts must be lived in first person. So, please, watch nothing and plan nothing; just go there. You’ll find hundreds of things to see and, if you can afford them, do.
On my fourth day in Reykjavík, the city that amazed me most in all my life, I had to prepare for my departure.
I rode to the place where my cardboard box was stored not to retrieve it, but a small box inside. I needed the latter to pack my tent and sleeping bag, but I didn’t need the former to pack my bicycle… as I wouldn’t have brought it home. In fact, I had previously decided to hide my bike near the bus stop to the airport, so that Cinzia & Virginio could have recovered and kept it. I really cherished the idea that a part of me would have carried on wandering free in that wonderland, for a little while longer. This would have been the perfect closure.
Just before leaving Reykjavik, it started to rain; a thin, on the brink of freezing, rain. During the bus ride to the airport, I didn’t feel the classic nostalgia of leaving, but instead harmony. For two reasons, I believe. One: I was living the world in each moment, above time. Two: thanks to my experience of failure, I had been struck by many new insights… these are just four of them.
Not over-planning keeps the surprise intact.
Reaching out can change a journey, or even a life.
Life isn’t a speed run, and should be lived at a slow pace.
I’m not done searching for something. Hopefully, I’ll never be.
But mine, are just hollow words. You have to go out there and get to this kind of realisations on your own.
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