The Path Not Taken
Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.
Where we are: Still in Reykjavik, having small adventures, but mostly just spending time with the kid, before they leave on Sunday.
The Path Not Taken
Lane is visiting, so we went for a little road trip yesterday. Iceland is full of geological wonders, and in one day, we watched a geyser shoot boiling water into the air, we hiked around the top of a dormant volcano that now contains a blue lake, and we took selfies in front of two thunderous waterfalls. Oh, and we had lunch in a tomato greenhouse that is, like the entire country, heated with geothermal energy.
It was a pretty good day. On the drive back to our apartment, though, I was a little pouty, because my ankle was too tired for the hike to a third waterfall.
I was annoyed because I only got to see two beautiful waterfalls, rather than three. I think I’m getting greedy.
We first noticed the phenomenon in Cambodia, back in the early days of our travels. We had been in Phnom Penh for longer than I was happy about—it was my first truly developing-country experience, and I was struggling with the smells, the physical discomfort, the rats, the dirt, and the profoundly upsetting history. At one point, from the back of a tuk-tuk, we saw a monkey walking down a street—I was shocked (it was my first urban monkey; I’ve since gotten over it). In short, I hated it, and I was (as ever) not shy about expressing my misery.
On our way to the airport, though, we passed a big, beautiful neighborhood full of new-construction homes and apartments. Lee’s response, of course, was Ooh—we should come back and see what that’s all about! Mine was more like When hell freezes over. And then I spent several months telling anyone who would listen just how awful Phnom Penh is.
Since then, though, I’ve learned that my experience of Phnom Penh was just a matter of the path not taken. We didn’t explore the glamorous neighborhood; we visited the monument to the killing fields. It was a choice. We didn’t wander around the mall; we toured the prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured people. Again, it was our choice. It was the path we took.
But sometimes our choices are more mundane. We don’t choose to do the One Big Thing that you’re ‘supposed’ to do in that place, because we’re busy, or tired, or just not interested in that particular thing. Or maybe it’s too crowded, or (this past year) we’re being cautious about avoiding the Covid, or maybe we’re just all touristed-out. It happens.
I’ve gotten used to having to choose, but admitting it is always a little awkward. Invariably, we get to the airport to leave a country, and we find ourselves chatting with other departing tourists. They want to compare notes: did you see XYZ? Did you go to this, that, & the other? It’s always a little embarrassing when I have to say no. The worst is the open-ended question: Oh—what did you do while you were there? Our response is invariably a weak list, including things like: we bought lightbulbs, we went for a long walk past the US Embassy, we spent three afternoons shopping for new sneakers, and we learned how to buy bus tickets.
I’m feeling a little FOMO here in Iceland—we’ve been here almost three months, and I fear we’re not going to make it to the Snaefallsness Peninsula. I hear the eastern part of the country is beautiful and green; will we take the time to drive that way & stay for a while? Will I miss out on seeing orcas if we don’t go up into the Westfjords?
Maybe, but it’s raining at the moment, so for today’s big adventure, we went to IKEA for lunch. The food was pretty mediocre, but the whole experience gave us a fascinating glimpse of local life, full of young families, senior citizens, and immigrants. We could’ve gone to one of the fancy seafood restaurants with a beautiful harbor view, but in the last few weeks, they’ve suddenly filled up with American accents. The IKEA cafeteria was much more interesting. I’m glad we went.
Regret is always about the choices we’ve made, isn’t it?
If that’s true, then regret is also a choice in itself. We took the trail to the right and saw nothing but flies. It turns out the trail to the left was the beautiful one (true story). It’s like seeing the neighborhoods on the way to the airport—there’s no sense fretting that we missed something, because the world is big, and we can’t see it all. We can, however, choose to appreciate what’s right in front of us. I wish I were better at remembering that.
From my writer’s notebook:
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (which I’ve never visited, but really want to) has created a reconstruction of one of Rembrandt’s most famous paintings, The Night Watch. Bits of the massive painting have been trimmed off over the years, so the museum used artificial intelligence to figure out what it most likely looked like when it was painted in the 17th century.
History meets the future. That’s kind of cool.
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