I can tell I have been traveling for almost 7 weeks now. My body has ways of informing me, often not very subtle, that it´s time to slow down and recharge. My muscles are aching, my feet throbbing, my brain drifting in and out of a haze. I just need to rest and be.
So I have come to Vestmannæyjar, the Westman Islands, this volcanic island chain off the south coast of Iceland. If life is going to slow down anywhere, it is here, a small fishing community nestled between craggy sea cliffs and the ominious peaks of two volcanoes.
My feet so far have been heroes, taking me through Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroes, rarely complaining as long as I nurture them, soaking them in warm water – with the regular hot pot dip at the local geothermal pool – and wrapping the foot that suffered the stress fracture in tape before any hiking or major walking expeditions.
So here I am in Heimæy, a work-a-day fishing town on a mountainous, volcanic island. I hiked up to the top of the newest volcano, Eldfell, which appeared unannounced in 1973 when a fissure suddenly ripped open on the island´s east coast and began a five month long eruption that buried one-third of the town under lava, led to a mass evacuation, and threatened to completely close off the harbor. The islanders worked valiantly to save their harbor, using ships equipped with massive hoses to spray seawater on the advancing lava. They succeeded and today their harbor is tucked behind the lava cliffs, safely away from blustery storms.
To stand at the summit of this fresh volcano – for the time being quiet – is a thrill with a side of incredible sea and island views. The puffins are mostly gone now, but seabirds swoop and glide just above the waves. Incandescent blue waves crash into black sand beaches. And I survey the rocky, black, forboding lava field beneath, a new chunk of land. Heimæy actually grew in 1973.
A quiet place. I need quiet. I hiked along the west coast this morning, out to the radio tower, my solitude disturbed only by a couple of local old men digging among the seaweed on the beach. Sit on a driftwood bench and pour out poetry as I come to terms with my longing for the Faroes and my inevitable return to reality in the States. Heimæy is a nice halfway point on this emotional journey back to where I was.
Only I cannot return to who and where I was, not really. As with all encounters with the world, I opened up and bared my soul, unsure of what I might find and encountered the home I never knew I was missing. So I leave a piece of myself behind in Torshavn, waiting to be reclaimed. And set off across a black sand beach to ponder myself within this wide world. My footprints are the only traces I have ever been here.