On January 22nd, I traveled to Iceland for a 3-day road trip with my friend DL. The following are snapshots, brief glimpses of the fascinating people we met along the way.
// BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport. Concourse E. After a mildly chaotic boarding process, we all find our seats. Next to me, in seat 24A, is a middle-aged man, wearing glasses and professional clothes. He is dark skinned and looks to be from somewhere on the Indian subcontinent.
"What brings you on this flight?" I ask.
"I am headed home to London. My son and I just came to America to see the inauguration. We love politics!" Turns out the man had placed a friendly wager with his son as to who the winner of the American election would be. "I wanted Hillary. My son wanted Trump. Now he's 500 pounds richer!" Not content to watch the proceedings from the comfort of the British Isles, they flew in to observe it all firsthand. The immigration officials had found this difficult to accept. "They looked at us in disbelief. We had to argue for quite some time. 'Why don't you just watch in your own country,' they said to us. My son and I simply wanted to experience the inauguration, a fascinating thing! Eventually, thankfully, they let us through."
Our conversation ranges from politics to his life in England to his emigration from Sri Lanka at 26 years of age. A thoughtful man, a good man, a citizen of the world, a loving father to his son.
// It is 9 AM. Iceland's south coast is covered in fog and the air filled with light yet driving rain due to wind. DL and I drive up a winding, rutted gravel road to the overlook at Dyrhólaey, park our Jeep, and jump out into the wind and rain. Next to me is a tiny white euro econocar, in which I can barely make out three faces and cigarettes.
"How's the weather?" asks the driver, cheerily, with a cheeky grin on his face.
"How did you get up that hill in that car?" I respond, impressed.
"Oh, this old girl? She can go anywhere," he says, patting the steering wheel with pride and affection. "I call her Herbie. What a trooper."
DL and I wander off to attempt to photograph the landscape before the winds pick up and I start to lose feeling in my hands. As I return to the Jeep, the same cheery voice rings out:
"Enjoying the weather?"
// It's one day later. Rain and fog and strong winds have given way to some small amount of sunshine. We are headed west, passing through Vik. Just before the Ring Road heads up a steep hill, we pass a hitchhiker, thumb out, camping pack full.
"Uhh..." DL says. "Well...do we have room?" I say.
"We'll make room! Why not?"
"Alrighty then!" DL points me to a turnaround, which brings us back round to our new hitchhiking friend. I roll down the window. "Hello! Where are you headed?"
"I am headed to Reykjavik! Where are you going?" she says, happily.
"We are exploring the waterfalls and the Golden Circle area, or maybe Gjáin, haven't decided yet. We can certainly get you closer to where you need to go!" DL and I move our photography gear out of the backseat and we're soon on our way.
"I am Rosie, by the way. Who are you guys?" We discover Rosie to be a chipper and talkative person. Her love for people and adventures is plain to see from the outset, before she even tells us of her time traveling through Asia and then Australia, only shortly out of high school. Her family owns a berry farm in Canada, where she works and refinishes furniture. Rosie peppers us with questions about our lives, freely shares some of the questions she's been wrestling with - as all of us seem to do in our twenties! - and makes friends with other tourists as we stop to explore various sights. Her life, as with any life, is not without its sorrows and difficult questions, yet I find myself impressed by her courage and openness in the face of past trials. After just a few hours traveling with her, DL and I are convinced she'll live a life full of wonderful encounters with amazing people in amazing places. With that, we say farewell to Rosie as she begins the final legs of her journey home.
// It's 8 PM. The sun has slept for two hours already. DL and I arrive at Guesthouse Heba, just off the main road on a small sidestreet. A large poofy dog smiles hello as we walk to the door. A knock, a creak, the door opens to reveal Kristjan, a wiry man with sharp eyes and a full blonde beard. He is neither middle aged nor elderly, but somewhere in between. We leave our muddy boots in the entrance and he shows us to our room.
"I am quiet," says he. "When my wife arrives, she will talk to you." A soft smile plays on his lips. "Shall I bring you some tea?"
// Heba arrives half an hour later and quickly comes upstairs to greet DL and I as we sip our tea and edit photographs. She exudes a unique earnestness and a wonderful spirit of hospitality.
"Where have you traveled," she soon asks, expectantly. We recount our days and she adds soft exclamations of delight, as if to say that our enjoyment of the countryside is of personal honor to her. Next comes a history lesson as she takes us around the house. "This quilt is a cross-stitch, yes, that my mother made years ago. See the date here, yes? 1945. These creatures are those that guarded this islands when the vikings first came ashore. Incredible, yes?"
She shows me her mother's typewriter, a 1940s Smith Premiere. "If only I could get a ribbon for it, that would be wonderful, yes?" she says. I do a bit of research and write up a little note for her including some history of the typewriter, where she can purchase a typewriter ribbon, and the unfortunate fact that some part of the mechanism is broken and the carriage will not advance as it ought on most keystrokes.
Now, morning. Still another hour until we see the sun. The house is filled with the smell of fresh-baked bread. Heading downstairs, we discover a beautiful dining room and a table with an incredible spread. "This is homemade bread, yes, and hummus as well. Garlic, Turmeric, Coriander. And here Danish jam. Icelanders are particularly fond of Danish jam. Skyr - yes, you have heard of it? Icelandic yogurt. And smoked lamb, Icelandic cheese, and this here, the butter."
We express our gratitude to this delightful couple, appetites fully satisfied, and continue onwards.
// Keflavik International Airport is crowded; lines of weary people spill out the gates and into the main hallway. I begin to wonder - will I sit next to someone interesting on the flight home?
A resounding yes. I find my seat, near the back of the plane, to be greeted by a kind face in the aisle seat. "Hello," says she, "I am Meriweather."
Some folks have a spirit of generosity about them. One can simply sense that they enjoy connecting with people. Meriweather is such a one. Indeed I am surprised by a wide-ranging conversation that lasts perhaps three hours.
Meriweather is a journalist, I discover. Having lived in several states over the years, she now finds herself in Virginia. The paths of life have been strange, difficult, fascinating, and joyful. For the past several years, she has settled happily into a calling as a biographer for the United States Marine Corps. Indeed, she was just wrapping up several weeks of travel in the British Isles, spending time with the Marines who happen to be stationed there.
"These men and women face incredible odds and terrible circumstances. The courageous acts they have undertaken are rarely shared, rarely honored. So I tell their stories. It is my privilege to know and love these Marines, to listen to all they've faced, and recount it that others may know their bravery and sacrifice."
She tells me of the family that the Marines have been to her, how she's encouraged many of the young men as they find wives or become fathers. She is expressive and alive, for she has found a meaningful work to do on the earth. "God has called me to this service," she said, "With a quite voice over many years. If I can say one thing to you, may it be this: do not ignore that voice! Follow it!"
// As a photographer, I often go to capture landscapes. For various reasons, I rarely photograph the faces of those I meet - certainly an oversight. Yet is it not the encounters with the generous, wonderful, hospitable, kind, and amazing people that will stick in our minds most deeply and gladden our hearts most clearly?
In Iceland, I met some beautiful souls who were crafted in love by a Father in heaven who sings over them, who delights in them. "See my children!" He says, "See them honor others, craft furniture, tell stories, bake bread! See them bring goodness into the world!"
I pray you, dear reader, would hear that Voice sing over you today, and you would know the greatest Goodness that has been brought into this world.