I took this photo last summer and I love it for two reasons:
1) It's the ultimate anti-promotional shot, offering as it does a glimpse of the Real Iceland, the one we try to hide behind pretty pix of waterfalls and lush green coastal vales. This is the Central Interior Highlands of our island, like it or not, with miles and miles of nothing in every direction.
2) I chose to drive this road, Kjölur, by myself this summer, 160 kilometer north-south straight shot through the heart of the country. It was an endurance test and a form of break-up therapy for me: I thought perhaps the emptiness of the landscape and the long slow haul over the horribly dusty and pocked roads would jar to the surface and wipe clean any residual issues I had with Old Whatshisname, the ex.
I took the first half of the drive on Tuesday evening, arriving at the Hveravellir hot springs camp site shaken, thankful and proud of myself for having taken the risk of going the barrens alone. I set up my tent, soaked in the hot springs, listened to the sounds of birds and sheep and nothingness, then went to sleep.
The next morning I packed up early and hit the road. Once again I was all alone: for the first hour I saw no other vehicles at all. I felt like I was connecting with oblivion, tapping in to the void, freeing myself from all the emotional chains that had bound me to the Veil of Illusion that is life. I was waking up, anew.
Then in the distance, a few kilometers down the road, a lone white bus peaked over a hillock, chugging steadily toward me. It popped in and out of site for the next few minutes as it drove over and into the low hills and valleys, until it eventually hit the straight and even stretch that I was on. The road was narrow, so we each slowed as we got closer to make the pass-by. Just as our bumpers aligned, I looked up into the bus and saw a face that looked as shocked as mine became. It was him! The ex!
Now, I knew he was driving a highlands tour bus occassionally somewhere in Iceland but that's beside the point: there we were, each in our white autos, no other signs of life for miles around driving in opposite directions for totally different reasons. We passed each other. Then I stopped. He slowed more, then stopped. I opened my door hesitantly, and in the mirror I saw him do the same. We both stepped out onto the dirt road at the same time and began to walk toward each other. A morning breeze cleared the air between us and swept away across the endless, empty arctic desert. I thought of showdowns and dusty Westerns and imagine today that I heard the sound of jangling spurs on the wind. Each step was bringing us closer to our final closure. We locked eyes, moved in closer then stood face to face. We hugged.
"Hi," he whispered. I suddenly had nothing to say. I'd used up all my words for him. There was nothing left.
"Nice," he said, and pointed at my new haircut. He'd always had an opinion about my hair. I felt my lip twitch at the corner but supressed a smile; he seemed so excited, so stunned.
"New?" he asked, and motioned toward my car. Small talk seemed especially ridiculous in the Middle of Nowhere, and he reddened.
He paused. "I've got to go." He thumbed over his shoulder in the direction of his bus and took a small step back. Of course. He was always going. That's who he was. I smiled. We'd met like it was scripted all those years ago, like in a movie, and now we'd got our chance to end it beautifully, cinema-style.
"Goodbye," I said, slowly, surely, holding his gaze.
"Oh. Ok. Bye..." Something that might have been regret passed over his face, then he gave me a small smile. In thirty seconds we'd relived our entire relationship, and now we could let go.
We both turned away, walked in long strides back to our cars, then got in and drove away in opposite directions for different reasons and into entirely different futures, alone.
Posted by Iceland Eyes on January 24, 2005