ICELAND: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
At home, I have a lot of conversations that go along the lines of:
“So Kaine, where are you off to next?”
“I’m going to <insert country here>. Should be awesome.”
“Oh man, I’ve always wanted to go there!”
“Well come with me.”
This is usually followed by uncertain laughter and a joke about quitting work to get time off. People aren’t really sure if I’m serious. I usually am, so when I started telling friends about Iceland, there was a lot of tentative interest, but I was pleasantly surprised when four people from various parts of the world actually followed through. Thus, here I am in Iceland planning on driving the ring road with four cool people. We’ve been pooling lists of things of things to do and of course we now have enough to fill three months of travel and a little under two weeks to do it, so we’ve had to limit ourselves to a just a dozen of the beautiful waterfalls and only one or two volcanoes.
Iceland has become a hot destination. Not literally of course. Literally it is rather the opposite. People often say “Iceland is green and Greenland is icy” but I can assure you Iceland has more than enough ice to live up to it’s name. It has been snowing off and on since we arrived and the wind has been cold and harsh, flinging grit and snow at anyone stupid enough to be out walking in it, which appears to be nearly everyone here.
The Icelandic people have been really friendly, though rather stoic until you start talking to them. I say that to avoid saying they all seem to have resting bitch face. The women here are quite pretty too, though I can’t imagine they will be interested in a weakly shivering man, wearing 12 layers of clothes and pointing at a puffin with undisguised wonder, but you never know. I have been asking how to pronounce the local place names and have discovered everything I assumed about the language was wrong. I will eventually write a few things about it, but right now I’m still trying to work it out myself. As the Icelandic would apparently say “Ég kem alveg af fjöllum” which translates to “I come completely from the mountains”, which means “I have no idea what the fuck is going on.”
The capital city of Reykjavik seems a strange blend of small town life with city conveniences, such as 24 hour supermarkets. Australia could learn a few things from this tiny northern city. Cafes and restaurants are in abundance and they are exceptionally good. We treated ourselves on our first night to a ten course tasting menu at Fiskmarkaðurinn. This was interesting, unique and, above all, delicious.
I have a confession. It is something I am not proud of. In fact it is something I am rather ashamed of. I ate whale.
I wrestled with every aspect of this from the moment it was placed in front of me. I have been supporting anti-whaling for decades. I’ve spent hours helping rescue stranded whales. I have cheered as Sea Sheppard challenged the Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. And yet when it was placed in front of me, overcome with curiosity, I tried it. I have guilt, which is why I’m telling you. I deserve your disdain.
In my defense, I would like to say it was part of a tasting menu and we didn’t know it was going to be served. Had I known, or thought to ask, I would have asked to have it swapped it out. However the first I knew was when it was placed in front of us. We looked at each other, the same questioning look reflected back, then decided together it was less ethical to allow it to be thrown out than to try it. I will be sticking to that story.
If you’re wondering, it was actually reasonably tasty, with the texture of a dense tuna sashimi. The sauce was delicious enough to be made from baby seal pups and tiger hearts. I have another confession. Apparently you can eat puffin here. I’m going to eat that as well.
The landscape in Iceland has been rapidly changing as we have been driving. The best description I have heard has been “it is like a game of Mario, where everything changes within a second.” And it really is like that. One moment, you are driving through huge flat volcanic fields, large mountains of black rock rise out of the plains suddenly, without the normal foothills, making them seems almost fake. Huge waterfalls cascade over cliffs, throwing water into the air; the spray turning to ice before rejoining wide freezing rivers running over black gravel to the North Atlantic.
There are always a few learning experiences when arriving in a new country. For example, I now know you shouldn’t undertake a snow plow. Your windscreen will get covered in snow making an effective screen to watch your life flash before your eyes. You should also not have your car window open while doing this. No further experimentation is needed on this. Trust me. I have also learned to put on waterproof trousers before you walk behind the waterfall. This may seem like common sense, and it would be to anyone who wasn’t sleep deprived and slightly intoxicated on the idea of clambering over slippery wet rocks, down a cliff, and walking behind a waterfall. I have also learned you need to book everything in advance, including swimming in a lagoon.
We are hanging at the hotel this morning as some have some work to do, others are resting after travel, and I need to catch up on all the coffee I missed out on over the last few days. This afternoon though, we’ll be walking over a glacier and doing some ice climbing, which should more than make up for it. There is a rather large storm rolling in, so the road may be closed later. A nice, warm hotel seems a better place to ride it out.
Tomorrow, we are planning a boat ride through icebergs. I have my reservations, as I have always thought boating and icebergs didn’t mix that well. We shall see. Later in the trip we are diving the Silfra Fissure, which is a gap between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. Ignoring the possibility of a massive earthquake, freezing to death or having a sea monster tear its way from between the plates and eating me alive, it should be intensely fun.
And, of course, we will be spending most evenings trying to spot the Northern Lights, aka the Aurora Borealis. This will be a combination of luck and patience, hoping the sun does some acrobatics about eight minutes before I decide to look upwards. We shall see. If it doesn’t happen, then I might have to book a later trip to Norway, or Canada. Not a bad consolation prize.
Being from New Zealand, I have an appreciation for beautiful countries. Iceland is definitely one of the most untouched beautiful countries I have seen. I understand why everyone who visits Iceland has such great things to say about it. I can’t wait to see more of it.