Until December last year, Colombia had been my number one, my recommended destination, the best country I’d ever travelled to. People would ask me “why Colombia?” or “what’s so great about Colombia?” – I’d reply with just one word: Cartagena. The sun, the sea, the cerveza and the ceviche; Cartagena was my favourite place in the whole world. Or at least, my favourite place of the 30+ countries I’ve visited in the whole world.
But two-and-a-half years later and 15 new stamps in my passport after visiting Colombia, the South American country has finally been knocked off my top spot. It’s successor? A tiny Nordic island in the middle of the North Atlantic, with a climate so extreme it’s a wonder any form of life survives there. An island inhabited by a nation of culturally curious oddballs who believe in elves, trolls, folklore and fairies. An island that has just fours of daylight in winter, and only two hours of darkness in summer.
In December 2017, my long distance love affair with Colombia came to an abrupt end. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t been looking for a new relationship – though I’d flirted with several countries over the last two-and-a-half years, I’d never cheated on Colombia. It’s not in my nature. Sure, India had the Taj Mahal, Jordan had the ancient city of Petra and Mexico had beautiful beaches, Chichen Itza and more street art than I could possibly have dreamed of, but none of them were a patch on my Colombia.
But unfortunately for my Latino lover, as soon as I met Iceland it was love at first flight. So I said “adios” Cartagena and “viltu drykk?” Reykjavík. I didn’t even give myself a chance to enjoy being single for a while. Iceland stole my heart before I’d even had time to unpack my carry-on (which actually took quite a while, as somewhere between the airport and the hostel I ended up with the wrong bag without realising… but more on that another time).
With only a three hour (and £50) flight between Reykjavík and I, we’re definitely more compatible, and the relationship more sustainable, than the 15 hours (and £700+) of travelling needed to reach my beloved ex, Cartagena. This obviously ticks a few extra boxes that Colombia didn’t.
But as with any new partner though, there are always going to be some niggles, some bad habits and pet peeves that you must endure for the sake of the relationship. Though you may never fully embrace these niggles, you feel so much love for your partner that you’re willing to make a few allowances – their positives far outweigh their negatives, after all.
For example, as much as I love Iceland, I’m not sure I could ever get used to (and heaven forbid, learn to like) the pungent stench of rotten eggs that escapes from every hot tap and shower head in all the land. At the hostel, at the swimming pool, at Björn’s apartment, even when I turned on the tap to wash my hands in the bathroom by the Seljalandsfoss waterfall (which is in the middle of bloody nowhere), all I could smell were eggs.
Have you ever tried to shower, with water running down your nose and throat, while attempting to hold your breath to prevent inhalation of the sulphuric stink that seeps out of the Icelandic plumbing system? I have, and it’s not pretty. It involved gasping like a goldfish for several seconds, then holding my breath for as long as I could before I’d next need to inhale. Sexy.
But even the rank eggy smell of the water can’t put me off the place, my new favourite country in the whole world. And you shouldn’t let it deter you either. Though I only spent five short days in Iceland last December, the out-of-this-world landscapes, peculiar people, curious culture and interesting history were what stole my heart.
In fact, I love it that much, I’ve booked to go again in March. Though I think this time around I’m gonna pack a peg for my nose.