by Tory Bilski
Iceland is open for tourists. The last time I checked in with the country was pre-Covid, and the Icelandic tourist folks were wondering how to handle the expected explosion of tourism. The case of sudden success becoming a certain problem. They dealt with it by setting up more infrastructure: laying down the rails for a train service —the first — from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik; building more hotels; charging fees for popular sites; publicly shaming tourists who did stupid things like taking a 4-wheel-drive over delicate heath. They closed the Grjótagjá Cave where the hot Game of Thrones scene of Jon Snow and Ygritte was filmed in the steamy waters. Iron gates barred the entrance because people were leaving too much garbage behind (making it a little less hot).
And then, like everywhere else, in March 2020 everyone’s plans were shot to shit. Iceland had one of the first surges of Covid due to an infected planeload of Icelandic skiers returning from the Italian Alps. It spread to the community, and flights were canceled inside and out. No longer a concern of too many people but of not enough, or relatively few, or in fact virtually none. The case of sudden success being replaced by a sudden pandemic, still equaling a certain problem.
Early last month Iceland put it out there — proof of vaccination is your ticket into the country, one of the first countries to do so. Iceland lowered its fares, and from certain US cities to Keflavik, round trip was obscenely low – in the $300s. The country wanted its tourists back.
Carpe diem, YOLO, FOMO, whatever you want to call it, you never know when the next pandemic is going to send you back into the nesting life of sweatpants and beer bread recipes. If living sequestered for a year has given us time to reflect, here’s what I’ve come up with: our years on earth are limited, our lives are often limiting. A virus laid us low, and though in relative terms we are fortunate to live when we do, I was often reminded during this past year of how life used to be — and why the plague-ridden, pox-fearing 17th-century poet advised his readers to Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May. If travel is your way of re-entering the world, of expanding your view, of disconnecting from the ordinary, of getting lost, of finding yourself, then go, make haste, for time’s winged chariot is hurrying near.
Iceland happens to be my go-to place, so much so that I wrote a memoir about it. Twenty years ago, it became my true north, my compass setting, and I try to return as often as possible. Each time I visit, I find a horse to ride and go out trekking because, like hiking, it focuses your attention on the ground, on the sky, on the weather, on birds that dart in front of you, on the flutter of the lupine, on the fly that makes horseflesh quiver. It puts me in real-time in a real place in elemental beauty. It is where I stand, even in the midst of summer, and a cold whistling Arctic wind power washes me clean, sets me right in this world. Tells me, here I am. Time to go back.