We just finished dinner at 10:30 at night, and the sun is starting to get nestled behind the ridge of mountains to the north. If we were about 15km north from here (just on the other side of the ridge), we’d have full-blaze sunlight all night long.
Could life get any better? Wait, it could! A family of toe-headed Scandinavians just walked past, on their way to the geothermal-heated hot tub that awaits less than 100 yards from my bed. Yes, life is good in Lýðveldið Ísland (the Republic of Iceland).
Two days in, this trip has challenged me in a couple of ways, first and foremost being that I never realized that Iceland is a huge country. Iceland is slightly smaller than Kentucky, according to the CIA World Factbook, but for some reason, I would have thought Iceland was the size of the Big Island of Hawaii (Iceland is about 10 times bigger).
I also never realized that humans could live so closely in harmony with nature, and once you’re here, you understand why: you can’t walk one step without realizing the interdependence between man and the environment. Whether it is soaring mountain tops, mineral-laden white-blue waters or wildlife that literally stands in the middle of major roadways, there is a connection here between humanity and the natural environment that is undeniable.
Consider, for a moment, that a good number of the cars on the road here are European-style mega-economy cars, like the Toyota Yaris. Why? I don’t really know, except for the fact that Icelanders are technically Europeans. There is no smog here, no pollution. Not even random pieces of garbage blowing across the highway. Aside from the fact that gas prices are insanely expensive (brace yourself: it costs about $133 in American dollars to fill up said Yaris rental car), I have to think there’s some serious environmental consideration going on here. The gas prices can’t be the whole deal, because I’ve already seen personally that a sandwich and beer in Iceland can easily cost $40 (is it any surprise then that there’s no tipping in Iceland?).
Today’s adventure took us deep into the Icelandic interior, with a difficult-to-reach visit to the Langjökull glacier, the country’s second largest. The drive just about did our poor little Yaris in, and we have to thank whatever Divine Being is looking down on us, because after one especially tough situation on a mountain road, a car load of Poles flagged us down by waving our recently departed hubcaps out the window at us. Thankfully, Shawn jumped out and kicked the recovered hubcaps, which flew off after a serious encounter with a large rock, back into place.
You may have heard some people describe the mountainous sections of Iceland as a “lunar landscape,” which isn’t too far from the truth, except that during the summer, everything is either deep green or has a green tint to it. Even so, it was one of those massive moon rocks that nearly cost us the tens of thousands of Icelandic Kronur it would have required to replace those hubcaps! (Did I mention that this is one expensive country?)
Following our trek to the top of Iceland, we found ourselves in the midst of an Icelandic summer ritual: camping. Given that spring/summer and relatively warm weather don’t last very long here, when it does arrive, Icelanders hit the campsites in droves. After leaving Langjökull this afternoon, we started driving back in the general direction of Hvalfjörður (I throw these crazy Icelandic words around as if I actually know how to pronounce them) when the pangs of hunger hit. We stopped off in Húsafell, which is technically a village (which, in Iceland, means at least four people actually live there), but during the summer swells as a massive campsite for the natives.
It was in Húsafell that we experienced the first Americans we’ve encountered on this trip. There were two couples: one was quite a bit older and seemed to be traveling around the country with an older Icelandic couple — kind of like an elderhostel, I would guess. The American man couldn’t get over the fact that in Iceland, instead of serving ketchup with French fries, you get a small, hermetically sealed cup of what we would call Thousand Island dressing.
The other couple was much younger and walked in telling each other they hoped to find other Americans. When I heard this, I told Shawn to be as quiet as possible. Fortunately, we ate alone.
I’ll post a couple of photos from today’s adventure, which began in the village of Reykholt. Nearly 1,000 years ago, Reykholt was the home of Snorri Sturluson, one of this country’s greatest poets. I don’t mean any disrespect to Icelanders, but Shawn had fun butchering this poor man’s name for most of the afternoon. I gave up and started calling the great Icelandic poet Mr. Snuffleupagus. Alas, we are destined to suffer the the pits of Icelander’s Hell.
Tomorrow we’re off to Reykjavik, the capital. Should be a lot of fun!