Héraðsskólinn Hostel at Laugarvatn

For the second night of my road trip I booked a bed at a hostel in Laugarvatn, a small town two hours north of Skogar. 

I knew nothing about the area, but I saw pictures of the hostel online. It was called Héraðsskólinn, which I learned later meant “secondary school” in Icelandic. The description said that the building used to be a boarding school, but it had been abandoned for nearly 20 years before it was reopened as a hostel in 2013. Immediately I thought of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, and that was enough reason for me to stay there.

I arrived at the hostel late in the afternoon. There was still a few hours of day light left, but the weather was so windy that day, it was painful to be walking around outside. So I decided to call it a day and hung out at the common area of the hostel. 

I set up my sketching stuff on a corner table by the window in the living room. I wanted to get a good view of the landscape. After a little while, realized that a familiar song was playing on the stereo, it was from Sigur Rós’s album Heima. I got super excited, and right then the owner of the hostel walked by. I called him over to tell him how much I love this music and how much I love the band, they were the reason I wanted to visit Iceland in the first place.

The first time I learned about Iceland was in college when my friend Micah invited me to watch Heima, a film documenting Sigur Rós as they performed free concerts all over their home country, Iceland. This was before the massive volcano eruption, you really didn’t hear too much about Iceland back then, at least, I didn’t. I’d always imagined Iceland being this frozen barren land somewhere very close to the North Pole. But what I saw in the film was nothing like what I imagined a country called Iceland would look like. It was beautiful, and lush, with black sandy beaches, and talented people who make beautifully epic music.

The owner listened politely as I told him all this. He was a quiet, serene man in his late thirties, and a hippie (a really hippie). He introduced himself as Sverrir. He asked me what I was painting. I showed him the sketch I was working on. Then he asked me how much would I charge for a portrait. I dislike doing commissioned portraits for people, mainly because I’m not always great at capturing likeness. But he had been so nice and attentive, I’d feel even worse saying no. I also didn’t know what would be appropriate to charge someone for a portrait, and I wasn’t on my freelance mode, so I told him, just let me stay the night for free. And so, we had a deal.

He pulled up a chair and sat across the table from me, humming along to Sigur Rós on the stereo the whole time he posed for the portrait. I’m not sure what the grand lesson of all this was, but right then, I did have one of those moments when you feel like things just came full circle, and it was a good feeling.