A ‘Writing Retreat’ that my daughter was selected for, became my reason to visit this most beautiful place I have ever seen. I took a 12 day visit to two places: Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland on the western coast and Siglufjordur, a small fishing town in northern Iceland. Iceland is not all ice or snow as the name suggests, at least in summer. Icelanders write it as Island, which it of course is. Iceland has temperature of about 4 to 8 degrees Centigrade in summer and one can see the locals enjoying ice cream at that temperature. Iceland has volcanos and glaciers, the glaciers occupying the large central area of Iceland such that people inhabit the peripheral coastal and near coastal parts of Iceland. Transportation has thus not developed across Iceland and people rather travel around Iceland. There are no trains in Iceland and so when I had to go from Reykjavik to Siglufjordur, I was made to realise that a journey by bus would involve changing bus three times, take almost the whole day and be more expensive that air travel which would be relatively less expensive, take less time and be more comfortable. The flight also provided a beautiful view of Akureyri, the airport nearest to Siglufjordur. The bus journey for 76 kms between Akureyri and Siglufjordur is a journey through fairyland. The green valleys on the side with horses grazing in them, mountain on one side and sea coast on the other and three long tunnels along the way make this 75 minutes journey one of the most pleasure-able one.
Siglufjordur has a population of about 1000 people, living in houses with sloping roofs and bright colours, well kept and gardens around most of them. There is no taxi service or bus service in town, about 3 cafe, a grocery store, a church, a post office, a hospital, a pharmacy, a wine shop, two museums and an Icelandic poetry centre. Most of the shops open for a limited time, about 4 to 5 hours. Surprisingly, it is one of the most expensive place of the world in terms of accommodation, food, any museum ticket, any tourist activity like whale watching experience, hiking, cycling or boating. It literally burns holes in your pocket and your Icelandic Kroners disappear. There are no malls, no cinema halls, no big show rooms and the big town closest to it is Akureyri. During my stay for 12 days, there was no night ever, although having bright sunlight was rare. In winter I am told, it remains dark all through the day.
The mountains are majestic, the North Atlantic Ocean awesome, the ducks and seagulls beautiful and the ships in the harbour inspiring. It is different in terms of the fact that no chain of foods like Domino’s or McDonalds have reached here, no separate shop for footwear or clothes and no entertainment places. There are no police stations, no traffic signals, no ATMs, a single bank and a couple of bars. Bread, chocolates, cakes and pizzas are baked fresh by the locals and cafe play old time songs at low volumes. Most of the display or information is in Icelandic language, although most young people know English well enough. There is a cycling lane on roads, there is a gymnasium and one can see children and older people cycling.
Fishing is the predominant occupation and the fishing industry of the town has in the past, at times of economic crisis and even now contributes in a major way to the Icelandic economy. The fish preparations of Iceland are famous, but to me as a vegetarian, it offered enough and more to survive well on yogurt, fresh fruits, sandwiches, chocolates, dry fruits, pizzas and cakes.
The beauty and peace of the place is unmatched. I met a local artist, Orlygur Ktistfinnsson, who has written three books, one on Siglufjordur which has several paintings by him as illustrations. He also sings traditional Icelandic songs and has been the person who designed the much acclaimed Herring Museum. He was 68 years old, walked or cycled around Siglufjordur, had retired as Museum in-charge of Herring Museum and although had seen the world, believed in promoting Icelandic culture amongst locals and spreading awareness of its richness to visitors by his writing, talking and singing. One of his books that he gifted me shall always be my prized possession.
The people and the place seem to introduce one to a ‘new’ way to live, which is the whole ‘old’ way to live. It was twice that I let myself feel one with the mountains, forgetting all that life was and is. These brief encounters each time took me, within me, uncovering a depth of thought unknown to me. The paradox of travelling to see the world is all about looking within really.