I’m sitting at a wooden table in a cafe in Reykjavik, sipping a cappuccino. It’s 4pm, but here it could be 4am; the sky looks exactly like it did when we made the middle of the night ride from the airport to the hotel. They aren’t kidding when they call this the land of the midnight sun: I don’t think the sky was dark for one moment last night.
I’m not supposed to be in Iceland, not this long, and not yet. My 17-hour layover in Reykjavik was supposed to happen at the end of my trip, in the middle of August, and not right now, at the very beginning. This Iceland layover was only suppose to be 1 hour.
I worried about how I would get down to St Jean Pied de Port- my starting point for the Camino- after hearing about all the French rail and air strikes. My family joked that I might be stranded in Paris, or Iceland, and I joked back: “That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!”
And so far, it’s not. My flight out of JFK was delayed about 4 hours, not because of the French strikes, but because the Icelandair system was down. When I got to the airport, I sailed passed the long line of people waiting at Icelandair, and breezed through security. Not having to check a bag made things so easy. I marveled at how fast I made it to my gate: less than 10 minutes after being dropped off at the airport by my dad. Incredible!
But I knew something was wrong when, after another hour, there were only a few people waiting at the gate. One was a woman named Julie, and after talking for a few minutes, we discovered that we were each walking the Camino, and that we each planned to begin on the 26th from SJPP. Instantly I could understand what everyone means when they talk about the Camino spirit. It was like I already had a friend: someone to look out for me, and someone I could look out for.
After awhile, we found out that our flight was being checked-in manually and that we’d have to go back to the line, go through check-in, go through security. All over again.
I made some friends with the people I was waiting with in line. We’d walked down together and joked about how backwards this whole process was. We were the very last in line, and I was the final passenger to be checked in for our flight. We were hours behind schedule and the workers at Icelandair cheered when they realized I was the last one. The man helping me said, “This has been a nightmare, but you know, so much of the personal interaction has been lost by using computer systems. It’s been nice to actually talk to people.”
And in some ways, I have to agree. This has been a hassle, but it’s also been nice. Our flight was delayed again on the runway, we were four hours behind schedule, our connecting flight to Paris was long gone by the time we reached Iceland, once we were bussed to the hotel there was only enough time for a few hours sleep. I was put on an afternoon flight to Paris but then changed it to an even later flight because of train schedules; I’ll arrive in Paris about 24 hours later than originally planned.
But. I stood in line and laughed and joked with three young people on my flight: Emily, who is spending the summer in Vienna, doing a law school study abroad program. Luke, who is traveling to the south of France for a cousin’s wedding. Heather, who will be working in a cafe in Paris for the summer.
And I met Julie, my first fellow Pilgrim; she sent me an email while we were on the flight, updating me on our connection and the rescheduled flights. She gave me a hug in the airport as we parted ways (she was put on an earlier flight to Paris, so the next time I see her, if ever, will be somewhere on the Camino).
A smooth flight and making all of my connections would have been great, but something would have also been lost. The camaraderie, the unexpected twists, the adventure.
I’ll make it down to the Camino, and really, it doesn’t matter when. I have a lot of time to walk. For now, I get to finish my coffee (good! strong! Is Iceland known for having decent coffee? I’ll have to look into this more on my way back), and I get to soak up this beautiful Icelandic landscape and roam around Reykjavik for a few more hours. For now, the Camino can wait.