Bart Och - Travel Journalist

Acquainting a new chicken with the general flock is quite tricky. While some chickens will be tolerant of the newcomer, others will give the bird a hard time wary of the ‘intruder’. Instead, giving them a little time to familiarise themselves with their new living arrangements, your chickens should be settled and quietly roosting after sunset before you introduce any new members.

This is exactly how I arrive in Iceland.

I touch down in Reykjavik past 11pm. I take no time to absorb the serendipity of the moment – I find my luggage and swiftly leave the oddly small airport in a shuttle bus that drops me off at the city’s only campsite where everyone seems to have retreated into their tents already. Undercover of the night, quietly and completely unnoticed, I eventually pitch my own.

Though I only sleep for a few hours, the next day I get up early to catch the first light. Outside the air is thin, cold, and crisp, and the sun has only just begun to rise. England feels ten thousand miles away from me now, and it is as if I have been here in this flock of seasoned backpackers forever. The truth is, and I am shy to admit, that I don’t fit in here. In my never-worn-before shoes right out of the box and a gigantic backpack that is bursting at the seams, I stick out like a sore thumb.

With my left cheek pressing against the cold window, I watch the landscape in a blur as we drive by. Gently sloping hills tower above and alongside the road. On the other side, an empty diner, a small shop or an occasional petrol station obtrude the view of the rocky coast. I don’t know if I fall asleep or if I drop into some kind of spell or even how much time passes. Eventually, I arrive in Skógar – a small Icelandic village with a population of roughly 25 – at the foot of a 60-metre-high waterfall.

As legend would have it, a Viking in the 10th century hid a chest filled with treasure behind these falls. Centuries later, someone found the chest and tried to retrieve it, but the ring on the side of it broke off, and the chest with all of its treasure disappeared. However, the golden ring, which can be found in Skógar Museum, remained as proof of its existence.

As a child, I also hid little trinkets – mostly worthless coins and pebbles – in small boxes, which I then buried in various places. Convinced that someday I would desire to recover my treasures, I drew ornate maps like those in adventure movies.

And now, with a real map of a very real place – a narrow but well-trodden path along the river lined with wooden, colour-coded stakes sticking out of the ground like wonky nails in a wood board – I take the first step. After that, the second, the third, and so on. Imprints of my shoes vanish quickly behind me until I lose count and the miles remain in my memory as a number that signifies all the effort I will have made not only to earn my place in this flock but to find the strength to carry on when I flee.


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