Like most globetrotters, I get this odd endorfine kick whenever I go someplace new. For the first few days — sometimes weeks — in an unfamiliar environment, I have almost unlimited energy: I can go hours without food and never tire of work, of walks, or both. Everything is exciting and interesting.
In most places, that initial boost levels off with time. Every place has its routines and even foreigners quickly settle into the rhythm of their temporary home — be it slow Central American beachsides or the sprawling metropolises of L.A., Sydney, or London.
I have felt strangely attached to places that I’ve visited before, most especially those places where I spent years or lingered for months. Painfully parting with them when it was time to leave, dreaming about them when I’m gone, always searching for a way back.
What happened on my latest trip, however, was something entirely different.
Passing another hill in the breathtaking, golden evening light of Iceland’s marvallous summers, I spotted a large waterfall in the distance. Quickly checking my map, I realise it’s the waterfall we meant to visit the next day, but we somehow stumbled upon tonight already. With the orange-golden shimmering light of these magic summer evenings, I know that I wanna go there right away. Every inch of my body is physically screaming for it. Craving it.
To the west, the silhouette of a large hill, darkened against the setting sun. It’s only 10.30 pm, and the sun won’t touch the horizon for another hour, but the valley before me is rapidly losing light. I know that if I want to see this waterfall in precious sunlight, now is the time.
I get out of the car, bouncing in anticipation. The thunderous roar of the waterfall hundreds of meters away is a subtle reminder of what’s awaiting. I feel the excitement in my bones, and start to run towards the lookout point. Halfway there I notice a strange, tingling sensation across my left side — like I’m shivering, but in an odd, agreeable way.
When I round the last corner of the jagged path, the great Goðafoss comes into full view. The fall is only 12m high, but very wide, rounded and perfect. As I stare in wonder at the fantastic scenery before me, the roaring water splashes moist into the air, drizzling stray drops on my forehead, on my arms and gloves, and on my far-from-waterproof runners. Don’t care. I barely even notice. Nothing else matters but the sight in front of me: the storming waterfall, the magic midnight sun shining its ethereal light over that tumbling Icelandic hillside.
I’m too far into a sense of wonder, so emotionally in trance that it doesn’t even occur to me to snap a photo. I scoff in disbelief at how wonderfully perfect this sight is. Loss for words. Unreal. Insane.
And then it happens. The sun moves across the ridge for that stunning pre-sunset glow and the unfamiliar tingling in my left side expands to most of my body. The light is exploding in the distance, the sparkling colours a perfect complement to an already perfect sight. If nature were a deity, I’d be a converted believer.
At once I know that this is the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. It went straight to the top of my Stunningly Amazing Moments list — and I have experienced some truly extraordinary places: immense morning-light colours on a beach in Abel Tasman; a magically foggy sunrise from a New England mountain; magnificent glaciers in Argentina; unforgettable sunsets in Costa Rica.
This, though, beats them all. Tears cascade down my cheeks as I can’t take the intensity of the emotion. Nothing else matters but this moment, the turbulent but pristine beauty of nature.
This, this is where I belong. Here. Now. Forever.
The Swedish playwright, novelist, and comedian Jonas Gardell once described meeting the love of his life for the first time. “Oh,” he remarked matter-of-factly to himself, “there’s who I’m spending the rest of my life with.”
That evening in Iceland, my world shifted in exactly the same way — except that it wasn’t calmly and matter-of-factly, but with muscles tingling and tears streaming down my face. That moment, I knew Iceland would be my home.
Strange for somebody who hates the cold, I know, but for this I think I can bear it. When I come back, it will be a one-way ticket and life in a paradise very different from the one I had long imagined.
This is my home now. This is where I belong. This is me.