I’m back. It’s strange mostly because it’s not as strange as I had feared.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget I’m even in the city.
And then I’m abruptly reminded.
Throughout nearly this entire adventure, I’ve been wrestling with my status as a “tourist” or “traveler”. It bothers me because I have a visceral feeling of disgust when I see a group of tourists or overhear an American accent in a foreign country. That clueless stare of the lost tourist and the oblivious halting in the middle of a walkway or roadway to gawk and photograph conjure a physiological anger within me. It leads me to believe that I am superior and that my method of travel is just plain better than all of these ignorant tourists cloistered away in their hotels.
And now, I write this from the cafe of my hotel as I wait for my prebooked airport shuttle.
This is not the first of my logical contradictions. I’ve often scoffed at the relatively small number of Americans who have a passport, my comments triggered by the witnessing of one of those Americans who actually use their travel documents. I might have laughed at them for some ignorant remark I overheard, yet failed to recognize that their mere presence in a foreign country is a giant leap toward remedying that ignorance. With a train of thought so riddled with logical errors, how can I expect my grander views on the subject of tourism to be any less faulty?
Why exactly it bothers me so much that nearly all the guests of this hotel are American is a subject I ought to explore on the flight back to the US, but one thing is becoming abundantly clear: my prejudice against tourists is nothing more than self-righteousness.
There are good and bad tourists. There are better and worse ways to travel, and when I have a proper keyboard to detail what I believe to be the best way to travel to ensure maximum personal growth, I will expand on that. But the mere act of going abroad is, at the very least, a step in the right direction. Those who choose to partake – which I hope is everyone – need to approach it in a responsible manner, though. Cities like Reykjavik are changing significantly and rapidly because of the influx of tourism. This is a sign of economic growth (i.e. rises in the incomes of local Icelanders), but it can also lead to a feeling of unfamiliarity for people in their hometown and (especially here in the North Atlantic) damage to the natural environment. Even I, the sustainability obsessed ideologue that I am, have an impact when I travel. The best I can do is try to lessen that impact and make it positive.
I’ve made it to Reykjavík and sooner than expected. Even though the ferry brings hundreds of people to Seydisfjordur on the east coast a couple times a week, there isn’t a good bus connection to the only proper city and capital in the Southwest. So, after meeting a fellow traveler on her way to her temporary home in Reykjavík, I agreed to split renting a car. Given the emptiness of the buses, it was probably the more environmental option for the two of us to take our little fuel-sipper along the southern half of the ring road.
I’m glad we did so. It was a beautiful route, and the buses don’t go that way. It was also a good chance for a long conversation with a new acquaintance. In the whole 8+ hours, we left the radio off and had only a few minutes of silence. Marie is also passionate about sustainability, so we discussed at length the state of society and our hopes and predictions about its future. She’s much more optimistic than I am.
Now in Reykjavík, I’m fully feeling the end of this adventure. After checking into my hostel at about 20:30, I crawled directly into bed without even changing or cleaning up. Even though the day involved almost zero physical activity, I was exhausted. I slept soundly through the interruptions of inconsiderate roommates until 7:00 this morning and still struggled to drag myself out of bed after 8:00.
For my last night abroad, I’ve booked a hotel room right next to the big church in the center of Reykjavík – thanks Chase travel rewards! I’m killing time at a cafe until check in. I feel I should go exercise, but I might just go back to sleep. My flight leaves tomorrow evening, and honestly, it can’t come soon enough.
As I said, I’m done. Not done enjoying my travels, but I’m done trying to prove anything. I’ve left the light suffering of outdoor living for the comfort of the city and have moved into a cozy apartment in Tórshavn for a couple days. Tomorrow, I’ll meet with a friend of a friend, but tonight is for being alone and enjoying some sustainably raised Faroese salmon with roast vegetables. I’ve been missing this meal. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!
(I’m not sure how to share this “photosphere”, but if you can actually scroll around in a 360° view, this is the best I’ve been able to capture the view.)
I forgot something yesterday. I had another item on my to do list for this adventure: hitchhiking. And I had great success. I cought five rides that took me out to the western end of the islands and back. Except for getting back from the almost uninhabited west coast of Vágar, it took less than ten minutes to get picked up. The first driver, Johannes, was on his way to work in Tórshavn. He has worked for Maersk for 23 years both on the sea and as an engineer for their oil drilling division. We may have opposing industries, but we had a great conversation. The second gentleman spoke only enough English to figure out where I wanted to go and even drove 4km past his destination to drop me closer to the trailhead. On the way back, it took my walking abouy 45 minutes back past the small town of Bøer, where I had been dropped off, to flag down a young man, Samuel, who was on his way to Tórshavn for some errands. We had a great talk about rowing on the fjords since I could sympathize with similarly choppy water on the Severn. The next car was a couple on their way back from a day in Tórshavn. Bodur (something like that) is a fisherman who works mainly between Greenland and Iceland, so he works two months away and has two months off at home. His wife, Bekka (sp?), cares for their three kids while he’s away, but he makes up for it when he returns! The last leg back to Klaksvik was with a couple of elderly gentleman who spoke almost no English but were having a lively conversation the entire time. Faroese is a really charming language. It sounds a lot like the Gotlandic dialect of Swedish but completely incomprehensible to me.
The hike in the middle was short but yet another walk into a foreign world. The island off the coast, Mykines, looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park. The view of the hamlet on the far side of the ridge is in no way captured by the photo. It just can’t reflect the scale. I deleted half the pictures I took because they were so disappointing.