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Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière, France

Europe 2013 zd

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[Interlude] I Found Magic in Iceland, Part 2

Why the hell was I in Iceland?

I asked myself the same question. Over and over again. Every decision you make steers the course of your life in a different direction, and then you reflect back on those pivot points.

Where are they?

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I’ve been following The Case for Wanderlust for quite some time now, mostly through Facebook. I can’t really remember why we became friends on FB. I think we had met briefly once so many years ago, but I guess on social media these days, everyone you meet is your friend?

In either case, she is my friend on Facebook, and she is a solo female traveler. I follow her travels, photos, and writings, making the case for wanderlust, and I often think to myself, she doesn’t have to convince me, I already believe in this.

So if I believe in wanderlust, what am I doing here, sedentary? I was having one of those moments when I was yearning to travel again, and although those moments translate into almost a state of constant being, this moment of yearning was particularly strong when she posted that she will be going to Iceland. She’s inviting people along to travel with her for the first time through GUST, a platform she’s building.

GUST “believes in the magic of people experiencing something together, and [she] hopes GUST conveys that with every adventure.” Through GUST, you host an adventure and others can come along. It essentially is a way for people to pay to travel with you, and Iceland will be the first adventure.

I felt bold and immediately messaged her, she responded within minutes saying, “Ai! I’ve been hoping to hear from you. Let’s talk.” Pivot.

So we talked. We shared our stories, and why it is we yearn to travel so much. I think whenever you meet a fellow wanderer, a person whose soul calls her to explore and adventure simply to do so, there’s an unstated cosmic connection.

I told her, “My soul is calling me to go. This felt right.” She responded, “This might be the universe answering your call.”

Who talks like that? We do, because we believe in it.

Before our Skype call ended, I had booked my flight. This was a Monday in September.
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I tabled the trip, and didn’t think about it until October 31, the day of the departure flight. In less than two months, school, work, and life wore me down more than I let myself process. Emotionally and spiritually drained, I arrive to go an adventure with 4 other strangers. We all agreed to go experience something together, for whatever reason. Each of us has her reason.

What was mine?

The next day, I happened to turn 27. Usually, after something happens or the years go by, you reflect back and think, that was a turning point, that year was really important, or that was the moment my life changed. It’s always after the fact, hindsight. Can I do it before? Can I call it? This will be the year. Pivot.

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Whenever I go on a trip, I’ve recognized a pattern in which the trip is a transformational experience for someone. Sure, everyone gains something from every trip, but for someone, it’s a point in which he or she undresses the burden of the past, and without those heavy layers, the person can lightly step into the future. On this trip, this was it for J. On Sunday, the last day, in the tight confines of a jeep, with just us five girls and our tour guide, Birkir, J told us her story.

There’s an evolution in every trip where a group of strangers arrive at the same place and time to go somewhere, together. Whether the trip is one day or two weeks, at a steady pace or accelerated, the process of evolution from unattached strangers to connected spirits is always the same. That moment of transformation happens at a specific point when we as guarded individuals open that door slightly ajar and invite someone else in, independent of the location or activity of which initially attracted the strangers together. That particular day, we had ventured together through the enchanting, rolling landscapes of Iceland, and we’d seen it all. Nature at her most exquisite. Really, this is one of her masterpieces, and all the critiques agree. But for us, in the close quarters of the Super Jeep, with hours of driving left to go, this was our moment of transformation.

And it was for J. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to be vulnerable. She was brave because she needed to be.  The power of fucking vulnerability. Don’t underestimate it.

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As for me, my heart was still hard and my self still guarded. Why is nothing happening?

I was ready to be broken, but this wouldn’t be my trip.

On the last day, we all said our goodbyes, which are always hard when, not a day before, you just found your rhythm and connection as a we, and all of a sudden life will revert back to an I again.

Everyone left and I had a few hours before my departure, so I strolled the city. A couple of record shops, an Icelandic wool shop. About an hour before I was to leave for the airport, I walk into the Hallgrímskirkja Church, one of the sights to visit in Reykjavik because you can ascend the tower and view the entire cityscape, mountains and sea and all. I profess to be more spiritual than religious, but being in religious monuments evokes a certain stillness and reverence that is unique to its space.

This space calls you to its pews and sit. So I close my eyes, and ask, “Why am I here?” Within an instant, it’s as if all the seemingly disparate events, conferences, classes, projects, people, and paths over the course of my short 26 years synthesized for a moment of clarity. I had an idea. Ai, this is who you want to be, so this is what you are to do, and this is how you’re going to do it. Pivot.

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And this is why I’m here: to make the transition from the exploration phase of my life into the building phase. Of course, I will always be exploring, but now I need to build. Ái, who you want to be is a wanderer, a storyteller, and a developer. Ái, so then you will be location independent and thus you need to be your own entrepreneur. Ái, then, in order to accomplish that, you will build a platform capitalizing on the growing community of travelers + wanderers who are already master storytellers through their photos, writings, designs, to build a story and narrative for international non-profits or causes that need help developing, crafting, and disseminating their story.

First answer the question of who you want to be, and the answer to what you will do will come shortly thereafter.

Sometimes, transformations aren’t grand, visceral experiences. Sometimes, they’re discreet and stealthy. One or the other, or somewhere in between, that moment of clarity always shakes you.

I came to Iceland with no expectations, and left with an answer, so thank you, Iceland, for your majesty and beauty. But now, back in New York City in November, moving toward this newly self-titled phase, the hard part begins.

[Interlude] I Found Magic in Iceland, Part 1

Reykjivek Panorama

I was intrigued. I had absolutely no reason to go, and every reason not to, but I somehow found myself in the magical realm of Iceland.

I became enchanted. To breathe the air is to fall in love with the country – her lands, her people, and her music. They fill your lungs, your heart, and your body.

The land, the people, and the music are so inextricably woven, as if they are variant manifestations of each other. Threads weaved so tightly that they’re almost indistinguishable, their beings exist and flourish together.

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The land.

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So majestic, so regal, but so inviting. Breathless; catch me because I’m falling. In one day, we journeyed into five different terrains that made me feel as if I’ve entered into alternate realities. We stepped into the beginning of time, from the stretches of the black volcanic ash sand to the pillows of lava rock formations beneath verdant lush moss; then from the amber fields of grass glistening gold in the sunlight towards the mystical mountains grander than the mind can fathom, and finally we rested at the edge of the world: the Vatnajökull Glaciers. Here, time and space co-exists in a delicate balance, but the universe pressed pause and I am suspended in time and space and light and air.

Iceland dares you to not believe in magic.

You will lose.

The people. 

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I’ve never met a people with so much pride for their land. Everyone here exists in reverence and awe of the stunning world in which they live, and genuinely want you to experience beauty with them. They’re disappointed if you don’t. Icelandic people, so happy and welcoming, reflect their land. In a casual conversation with the Kex Hostel Manager, Gummi, I asked, “Why is everyone so happy here?” He responded, with a chuckle, “We just don’t know any better.” What better way to be?

Ah, by the way, Kex Hostel was an old cookie manufacturing factory, and “kex” is the Icelandic word for cookie. That alone brings a smile to my face.

 The music.

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This music envelops you like a gust of glacier air, as if it’s piercing your soul. There’s just something about it. A sound by a people who’re undeniably influenced by nature. I’m speaking as someone who naturally operates in the visual-spatial-linguistic realm, but I am moved by Icelandic music. It evokes all of the senses all at once with a dignified restraint. You feel the mountains, you smell the glaciers, you taste the winter. It is indeed a sensual experience.

We were serendipitously there during Iceland Airwaves ’13, which by far is one of the best music festivals I’ve ever known. The music is incredible. Just view this Rockumentary about Iceland Airwaves and let me know if you’re not yearning to be there immediately.

Listen to and fall in love with the following artists, just to name a few: Ásgeir TraustiÓlafur Arnalds, Low Roar, Mugison, Pascal Pinion, Kirayama Family, & one of my favorites beforehand, Retro Stefson.

Join me at Iceland Airwaves ’14?

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I am shaken. The land, the people, the music, I love it all. Deep breath, take.

Not even realizing how much I needed her, I came to her with no expectations, but, damn, Iceland, she enchanted me, and I was shaken.

To be continued, Part 2.