The whole Icelandic experience was refreshing in every way. There is something magic about the place.

Glynn Cardy
Glynn Cardy

In April this year I left New Zealand for a holiday in Seattle, Iceland, England, and Scotland, followed by a retreat on the Isle of Iona. Although each place was special, whether it was catching up with friends (like in Seattle and England) or the spiritual richness of Iona, I have found myself, in conversations since, continually returning to Iceland. Something about that place deeply refreshed me, in body, mind, and soul.

I think there might be some sort of correlation, a spiritual equation, between the number of unrestricted vistas of mountains, sea, snow and rivers, the number of permanent residents (about 380,000), and the number of horses (about 60,000).

Into the first part of that equation, I would want to include the clarity of the air, the long Spring nights and early mornings, the vast white moonscapes of lava-formed plateaus covered in deep snow, the frozen and melting lakes, the huge waterfalls, and the wide-expanse of ice fields and glaciers. The place stretches the eyes and the imagination.

We took crampons and walking poles which were much used. Each waterfall, canyon, or crater, took some hiking. The temperature was cool, but usually above freezing, and the wind was unusually kind.  After a good drive it was great to move the legs up a hill or more. After my usual somewhat sedentary Auckland existence it was good to get out, away, into the wild-beautiful, and walk upon mountains.

The geographical size of Iceland is about 2/3 of New Zealand’s South Island (Waipounamu) with about a 1/3 of the South Island’s population. So lots of broad and open spaces. Reykjavik’s population is a bit smaller than Dunedin. The most people I saw congregated in one place was at the airport.

Everywhere we went people seemed to be hospitable, helpful, and kind. Once when we were perilously close to running out of the gas (the next station was 41 km away) a kind woman, Lucy, lent us her spare, full, petrol can. From then on she was St Lucy.

There is an absence, particularly outside of Reykjavik, of advertising billboards and other forms of blatant commercialisation. Even popular destinations or restaurants don’t have large signs, just something discreet above the door. Maybe its just my urban upbringing, but this is very welcome, refreshing. Calming even.

Then there are the horses. Not ponies, horses. Small though, and sturdy looking. We circled the island on the main road (called the Ring Road), and only occasionally went off it. Yet we must have seen literally hundreds of horses, most in free-roaming herds. We would stop from time to time and go up and say hello, and they’d reciprocate.

I know very little about horses, and every time I’ve ridden one the horse has had a great chuckle at my expense. Not that I tried to ride an Icelandic horse. I just admired them from the other side of the fence.

There is something though about horses, especially lots of horses together, that could be called spiritual by its presence. Somehow these animals infect the air, change the atmosphere, make the environs hospitable, and do something to our soul if we let them. The best word I can think of for that something is ‘integrative,’ joining us to something bigger than and more vital than just our self.

The whole Icelandic experience was refreshing in every way. The scenic beauty refreshed the eyes and more. The walking, including up a glacier and on the tops of canyons, refreshed the body and more. The absence of demand and the presence of kindness, the absence of crowds and the presence of horses, refreshed the mind and more. There is something magic about the place.

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