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Brazilian cocoa for Nowness
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Old Parsonage Hotel
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Umu for Amuse
Designers in Residence for Design Museum London
Rio graffitti for Nokia
Iceland is as much a testament to nature's might as it is to human stubbornness – a harsh place where the air reeks of sulfur, mud bubbles in pits, and hot water gushes from the ground, where winds shatter car windows and strip the roads of asphalt. Enormous amounts of ice carve their way through mountains, and volcanoes can kill a quarter of the country’s population and an estimated six million worldwide in a single, months long eruption. Snowstorms, sandstorms, thunderstorms, flash floods, avalanches. Things get so rough that in the 18th century the Danish king deemed Iceland “unliveable” and considered moving everyone to Denmark. Still, Icelanders stayed, grew, and somehow prospered. A hardy bunch indeed, and I was about to get a glimpse of just how so.
With dreams of parking each night in a more beautiful place than the last, my partner and I set off on a 2,800 km journey around the country. We’d cook a little, drink a little, and be at one with nature. Only, nature does its own thing in Iceland, and is not always up for being at one with you.
On our first – and last – night of wild camping we found a place atop a hill overlooking a glacial river, and pitched our tent toward the open space. It soon started to rain, but we didn’t mind, opening a bottle of wine and settling in to cook dinner and enjoy the view. It just hadn’t occurred to us to bring matches; bread and tuna had to do.
I also hadn’t considered that between finding the perfect spot to pitch our tent and the marvel of waking up in the great outdoors, there were about twelve hours of actual existing there. I started to suspect they don’t allow you to camp in the wilds of Iceland, they dare you to. At first it was very exciting, but as night fell the magic hour felt tragic. There was no sunset. The day just slowly faded, and a feeling of deep sadness and isolation took over me, the kind only such a land can stir up inside. A land so grand, so untameable, and so beautiful in its strangeness, it is an entity, one that exists despite any and all of us. It would have made no difference if no human had ever set foot or eyes on this land, just as it made no difference that we were there that night.
We closed the door, switched on a lantern, spread up a map, and planned our route for the next eight days. Then rain turned to storm and crazy winds relentlessly whipped our tent from all sides. At 07:30am, as if on cue, my alarm rang and the tent finally collapsed on us.
We scrambled out and rushed to pack everything so we could warm up in the car over breakfast. The wind didn’t die for a good four days. It only got worse and brought with it a variety of the country’s many perils. But what we saw next made every hour spent rocking in the car, freezing in the tent, fighting frost, water, wind, sand and snow, having roads close behind and ahead of us, all of nature’s hazards, absolutely worth it.
The sky cleared and we could see miles in every direction. The incredible Hekla, a volcano famed for its elusiveness, always hiding amongst the clouds, revealed its full splendour (also revealed were loads of turbines and the fact we unknowingly chose to camp in a wind farm). Beyond a tapestry of black earth, green slopes, snow-capped peaks, rivers, and valleys, lay a white wilderness my words do no justice.
It was a perfect preview of the days to come: constantly attacked by the elements,yet also constantly rewarded by utterly humbling, if somewhat violent beauty.