Dreaming in Iceland
So we are a family of six, me Timo, my wife Jopsu, and our kids are Mimi 9, Muusa 7, Vili 5 and Iggy, who just turned 2. Our gang has always had a strong pull to be on the move. Luckily we’ve found work together in a field, which allows us to operate on the road. We run a creative studio Musuta Ltd. and work mostly in film and animation. Also we aren’t too afraid to stretch our comfort zone when it comes to planning where to go and what to do. This summer we decided to head to one of the rare covid-19 free places – Iceland. We packed our tents and other arctic camping gear into nearly bullet-proof cases and rented a big Land Rover Defender equipped to tackle the tricky mountain roads, river crossings, highlands and wastelands of Iceland. Off we were for a 6 week camping trip.
Taking a journey through the barren highlands is exactly like stepping into a lucid dream dropped off from the pages of a Haruki Murakami novel. People often say, that visiting Iceland is travelling to a different planet. I think a more fitting metaphor would be travelling to a different planet, all its moons, and then waking up in another solar system the next day.
What it does is, that it amplifies everything. Arctic climate is harsh to say the least, and it will slap one in the face, multiple times in a day to be precise. It might go from sweating in a T-shirt in the morning – while wrapping up the campsite – to 90km/h winds by afternoon, with wet snow flying horizontally in one’s face. It is no wonder that the old Norse myths and Viking sagas had so many gods for the elements. Storms appearing from nowhere can feel godly indeed, while the nature and vistas are nothing short of divine. Cooking for 6 can be a feat at home, so when camping, needless to say, even more so. A family of six also means a lot of dishes. And doing those dishes becomes quite a different chore in the middle of nowhere. Usually the facilities are far or sometimes nonexistent and hot water, even though abundant in hot springs, rarely finds its way into the taps over at the highland campsites.
Washing dishes in cold stormy winds and freezing tap water became a kind of a meditation itself. Instead of shunning away from the cold water, dipping hands into the water, paying very careful attention to that sensation. Strangely enough, it made the process very enjoyable. Somehow the cold exhausts itself and looses its grip. What really underscores this, is the feeling of grabbing a towel to dry the dishes and hands at the end. A linen tea towel has never felt so comforting and warm ever. If a Lapuan Kankurit towel feels luxurious at home, in the cold, in the middle of the highlands it feels out of this world. Even writing this paragraph makes my nerves feel the sensation of cold hands grabbing the linen to rub dry a titanium cup. It is surprising, which moments are the ones, that remind you that you are an actual living being.
No matter how well prepared and geared up, arctic nature will put anyone on their knees if it wants to. In our 6 weeks we experienced quite a few storms. The most memorable one was, when we had been out of coverage for a while and had missed the storm alerts through the local weather service. While the girls were enjoying a hot spring down the stream from our campsite, I was met with the ranger asking if we were absolutely sure that we are able to withstand the coming storm in our tents. 90km/h winds + gusts in scope I don’t even want to guess with heavy rain was approaching our mountain region. Judging from how serious the guy looked, a quick decision was made to take up on the offer to evacuate our family to one of their huts. And being Iceland, those red cottages were the cutest, sharp roofed elf dwellings sitting on a dreamy, grassy hillside. In a matter of two hours everything had gone from serene cloudy summer afternoon to a full blow storm reminiscent of Thor having a very bad day at Midgard. When taking down our tents the storm had already flattened both of them, even though they are made to withstand extreme conditions.
When driving across the river to get to our cottage, the wind had already become so severe that a grown man could barely stay on one’s feet while trying to dash over the grass to our hut. Everything was wet and battered, together with our gear we looked like a gang of Hobbits drawn out of a washing machine. The storm felt like it was about rip our cottage to pieces, luckily it didn’t. The next morning, catching Mimi, wrapped inside a Tanhu wool blanket with one of her Harry Potters is the perfect symbol for any storm – what will come, will also pass.
Iceland is a country of fire, ice and water – warm swimming pools and natural hotsprings – the latter, which can be nothing short of magical in the cold and harsh surroundings. But this time, braved forward by a friend of ours who is a keen ice swimmer, we started to take brazen swimming trips in the natural waters and lakes. It is difficult to describe that feeling of dipping into a natural pool under a waterfall running straight down from a glacier. Rebirth would be an understatement – dropping through the most translucent, turquoise liquid which feels so cold, that if it would stop flowing, it would freeze solid there and then.
I have to say, that our kids truly embraced Iceland as one giant, natural playground. Still it was hard to believe one’s eyes, when our then 6 year old daughter Muusa was the first of us to take a dip. We were so happy for having found Nyyti towels. Even for 6 people – two bigger ones for adults and four smaller ones for the kids, our towels didn’t take up much space, dried fast for camping and were light enough to carry up and down dormant volcanoes for crater lake swimming trips, needless to say how luscious those were. Merely the contrast of a soft towel against a harsh backdrop can bring a feeling of soft comfort. Packing for such a trip as ours, is always a compromise. But the few luxury items we were able to pack from Lapuan Kankurit were transformed into almost supernatural items in the Highlands. Folding an Icelandic sweater after a long day’s hike into a pillowcase can make a massive difference in how luxurious the night in a tent will feel – and trust me, nights below freezing can make one cast some serious hindsight over one’s summer plans.
It is hard to explain how trips like this, can be the most rewarding. Do you know how sometimes you might see a dream and the dream just sticks with you for years and years – some dreams even as far back as one’s childhood might seem so vivid and real decades after. A trip through Iceland will leave exactly that kind of an impression into the soul. I can still feel the cold rock atop a mountain under me and hear the rumble of a melting glacier wrapped in a blanket of fog. It feels like sitting in conversation with the sky, while taking a breath at the very last edge of the world.
Text & Photo Jopsu & Timo Ramu / Musuta