Singing Around Iceland,
Or How To Make Friends With Icelanders
Ever get those days where you find it difficult to get going, to start something you know you'll enjoy once you've just taken that first step? Ever found you've lost sight of what you enjoy in life and can't remember how to go about finding it again? I know, welcome to my world... So what do you do? Phone a friend? Ignore it and hope it'll sort itself out? Start drinking? Bite the bullet and go to therapy? How about setting yourself a challenge you have to rise to fulfil, to kick start your higher synapses again? How about cycling round Iceland for two months for charity?
There's nothing like making someone a promise to get me going. So when I said I'd be cycling 3000 kilometres around Iceland for two months, singing for my supper every night, most people thought I was nuts. Some knew me a bit better and knew damn well I was nuts, but secretly thought I'd manage it anyway. I'd come here last year on a choir exchange with Kvennakór Kópavogs (Kópavogur Ladies' Choir) for a wonderful mad weekend of singing, sightseeing, drinking and laughter, but I'd known since I was very young that sometime I was going to explore this strange, remote, exotic world for myself. Many from Kvennakór had been helped by Ljósið (one of the charities I was supporting, a cancer support centre in Reykjavik), so I'd be giving something back too. But this was just as much a trip for myself—to see a world I'd spent hours reading, dreaming of; cycling, unsupported, for seven weeks through mind-blowing, challenging landscapes—and to reawaken something in me, to give me the boost I needed.
Two months is a long time, and this would be an expensive trip. I'd need places to stay, equipment, food—LOT'S of food. I'd be spending a lot of money while not getting paid for anything. And I thought again about Kvennakór. If I was riding for charity—an Icelandic one at that—people might put me up for the night. What could I give them in return? Bringing heavy, expensive presents wasn't an option. How about singing for them? A solo concert in return for bed and board—could it work? Would Kvennakór know enough people to get me round? Maybe not, but their friends might. And hey, if I needed a catchy hook to get the media interested, Singaroundiceland.com was it.
Now I know this idea won't work for everyone. But one of the difference I've found between Brits and Icelanders is that they're far more ready to try new things, take chances, and to welcome people into their lives. There was only one door I knocked on unannounced, only one place I rang up out of the blue to ask for a bed—my friends and their friends were generally six steps ahead of me and had rang ahead. I camped for thirteen nights, hostelled for three, stayed at eight guesthouses, and met 22 families. I still spent over 400.000 ISK on this trip, but Icelandic goodwill for a good cause saved me an awful lot of money.
I'm not going to talk about the jawdropping scenery; others can give far more detail than I. Suffice it to say, though you'll see some incredible sights round the ring-road, they're the ones you already know about: Jökulsárlón, Mývatn, Goðafoss. But to see the best of Iceland you need to get off the beaten track: the Westfjords, Eastfjords, Snæfellsnes. You also need to make friends with people who know the places without the big billboard signs for tourists—the most memorable place I sang was in a secret hot pot in a rock cave, for three hotel staff, by starlight. Once-in-a-lifetime? Oh yes.
What has this all taught me? Talk to people. They'll probably be fun and friendly, and they might just know something you don't. Take your time: there's so much I still have to see, but it's gonna have to wait 'til I come back. And take a leaf out of the Icelanders' sagas: work hard, play hard, but don't take life too seriously or fix your plans too firmly—you might just miss out on something.
THANK YOU ICELAND: I was already a convert but I'm now carrying a candle for you. Take care!
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