So here I am, amongst several hundreds of sheep, which seem to behave like particles flowing around you, not touching you, despite seemingly charging straight towards you. I am equally excited as slightly anxious that I get trampled over, but when I look at the little kids around me, who are barely taller than the sheep they are trying to catch, I am becoming more confident and can focus again on my task catching, identifying and sorting hundreds of sheep, who belong to the farmers around here. I am amidst the traditional sheep gathering at the end of summer in Iceland, where over a series of days, farmers gather sheep with dogs back from the mountains towards the fields where they can fence them in. The last part of the gathering is held on a field where there are several smaller stone fenced stables, out of which each belongs to a farm or family. They all are marked with a special sign, the same sign which can be found on the tag in the ear of the sheep. That way each sheep can be identified to a farm and the participants job is it to catch the sheep and drag it towards the right stable, which feels like a big, crazy game of memory.
48 hours ago, I didn't even know yet that I will find myself amongst hundreds of fluffy but surprisingly strong and quick sheep somewhere near Myvatn in the North of Iceland. Well, I did know that I would be in Iceland, but even that decision came relatively quickly. It was the end of summer in 2015, I just graduated in spring, was completely broke and needed to start earning money in order to stay in Finland and afford living there. I tried to freelance as a videographer and photographer, but the income was too unstable and little back then. I sent out a couple of applications and finally got accepted a position as an in-house video producer for a startup called Yousician. I was super excited, but not willing to immediately give up my entire summer and start working right away, besides still having some unfinished ongoing projects. I scraped the last emergency buffers off my bank account and bought a ticket to Reykjavik, which has been on my wish list for way too long.
I didn't have a big budget and I knew that accommodation would be very expensive. Luckily at the time, the brother of a good friend of mine was on study exchange in Reykjavik and offered to host me on his couch. I didn't have any program or agenda for Iceland and just wanted to go there and see what happens. Still at my departure airport in Helsinki, I receive a text message from Arsi, my host, asking if I would be interested to help his Icelandic friend's family with the sheep gathering that weekend – I instantly answered yes. When I arrived, he added another detail: "The farm is 500km up North." – so obviously the next thing was to organise a rental car.
It is the day after my arrival in Iceland. The evening before, Arsi showed me around the pubs and bars in Reykjavik with the highlight ending the evening: a dark and hypnotic hip-hop/electro performance by an Icelandic artist (will update the name and places) in a small local venue.
A misunderstanding with the car rental company delayed our start several hours, but we finally got going on a first cloudy but later rarely sunny day, 500km up and around the west coast of Iceland. We see equally alien as beautiful landscapes: uninhabited, scarce yet colourful and seemingly endless. Arriving late at night at our destination Húsavík, we are warmly welcomed by the family of Arsi's friend. We are offered tasty traditional lamb stew and enjoy great conversations.
We finish the dinner and step into the car again. It is still bright and the sunset seems to still last for hours. We are driving towards a local outdoor hot tub, which like so many in Iceland, is open to the public. You can find a dressing room and showers as well as a post box for a donation to cover the maintaining costs. We change into our bathing suits and step into the perfectly tempered pool, watching the gradient of the sky changing in endless blues and magentas.
We start the next day with a luscious breakfast to have enough energy to gather and drag along dozens of sheep. It is a great family event, where the teenagers come back from the city to the countryside, the kids are drinking hot juice, the grandfathers are chanting and everyone is excited to be part of it.
On the way back, we stopped at the magnificent Goðafoss waterfall, which I can highly recommend visiting. When we returned to Reykjavik, I had one day left to spend as my flight would leave late in the evening. I decided to take the rental car and drive along the Golden Circle for as long as my time would allow with a first stop at the expensive, but very relaxing blue lagoon. Continuing the drive, I made a stop at Þingvellir National Park. There you can hike along the canyon, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide.
It got dark eventually. I ran out of time and had to turn the car around. I didn't want to leave and just keep on driving. There was so much responsibility waiting for me back in Finland, with a job to do, an apartment and bills to pay – I stopped the car. I stepped out and looked up. What I saw was the most amazing aurora borealis I had seen in my life. My surroundings were completely dark, there was no light other than the dancing aurora above me. There were no sounds, no traffic – nothing. I felt like this was Iceland's way of waving me goodbye, of saying it is time to go and take this as a souvenir.