I have seen the Egyptian pyramids twice – once on horseback, once on a camel. I have shaved sheep in Australia. I have sailed in the Adriatic. I have been to Burma as a guest of the dictator. I arrived in Cuba by night on a 4-seater plane, watched lions mate in Africa, danced with Whirling Dervishes in India, galloped through the mountains of Patagonia, and dined with Pushkin’s relatives in Russia, but I had never been anywhere near Iceland. So, when deciding where to take my mother for her 90th birthday, I thought ICELAND. I am sure she wants to go to the Arctic in the middle of winter.
Our first day was a little disconcerting. Yoga at 10 am was in the dark, the sun apparently gets up even later than my teenagers. There was the possibility of reindeer for lunch, not to stroke but to eat, and we drove for some time along a main road that was unpaved…. apparently, they don’t bother paving most of the roads, ‘because the country is still moving’. There are rocks older than my mother, by about 17 million years.
If you happen to chat to a local fisherman, they will tell you they don’t bother wearing anything buoyant for safety, it might prolong death if they do find themselves flung overboard, and you would not want to prolong death in a raging artic sea. And raging it was…we got caught in a winter blizzard. Well, we thought it was a blizzard. There was zero visibility, gusting winds, and snow that was so brutal the little fluffy edges of the flakes had morphed into pelting balls. The Icelanders with us where completely unfazed ‘We want to take you to a shop for hot chocolate’. It was about the only two words that could have got my mother and I out in a storm. Hot Chocolate.
It was worth the trip. A charming Icelandic woman named Frida (the only pronounceable name we came across) offered us hot chocolate and insisted we taste the beginnings of a new apple liquor treat she was creating, inspired by Snow White, who allegedly comes from Iceland.
We stayed in Deplar Farm, part of the Eleven Experience. Deplar only has 13 rooms, each decorated with perfect Icelandic charm by its owner, Blake Pike. She incorporated as many local details as possible, including grass on the roofs and large tree trunks as chimney pieces, found on nearby black volcanic beaches, suspected to have floated over from Siberia.
Occasionally, Polar Bears also float over, on icebergs, from neighboring Greenland. They come hungry in search of better food. They really ought to look no further than the Deplar kitchen where they will find an award-winning chef, whose medals line the hallway. The chef greeted us on our first evening “My Lady Pamela,” he said gently, “during your stay I can prepare anything you wish for.” My mother, without hesitation, replied, “Oooh, I would love a shrimp sandwich.” I am not sure if the chef knew whether to laugh or cry…but the next day, in a small snowy mountain cabin, as we sat on wooden benches, warmed by an iron stove, he served us soup from his grandmother’s recipe and shrimp sandwiches.
The team at Deplar made everything possible. If you wanted to take your nearly 90 year-old mother snowmobiling and dog sledding, you could. If you needed her bouffant hair resurrected afterwards, they made that happen as well. They would bring her tea in the afternoon, as she lay by a roaring fire and watched night fall while I swam in the Theo thermal outdoor pool. I even skeptically slipped into the flotation tank, which I knew was going to be a bollocks experience – who really could sleep in tons of Epsom salted water? It was odd though, how quickly the time passed, lying there in a womb-like existence. Could it possibly be that I drifted off to sleep?
The only thing the team could not produce was the Aroura Borealis. Seeing these lights at this time of year is rather like tracking a tiger – unpredictable and never guaranteed. Would this spectacle have made our trip any more special? I’m not sure. Time together, on any kind of adventure with my mother, is always enough.