You go to see the Northern Lights in Iceland and during the nights of your visit, you see nothing except streaks of dark shadows in the sky. Hey, that’s why you went to the country, right? That’s what happened September of last year. The tour bus drove an hour outside of Reykjavik, parked and … nothing. Not even stars. After waiting a long while, the driver took us to another place, a farm about 30 minutes away. Still nothing. Next time he tried another deserted area, I just stayed in the bus and tried to take a nap. The drivers were chatting and took no interest in the hubhub and dilemma of the tourists wandering impatiently in the darkness and staring blankly at the heavens.
But even if you are not lucky to see the aurora borealis, there are many hot springs, one of them the Blue Lagoon. If that’s the kind of activity that engages you, it is easy to spend a whole day there. There are restaurants and bars in the premises and enough hot water to keep you warm in the cold weather. I saw a few customers moving between the pool and the bar effortlessly with glasses of apparently spirituous liquid.
You won’t see a lot of trees, only patches of scrawny bush-like growth. The landscape is beautifully severe. A volcano Boroarbunga dominates the scenery of sharp rocks, clear streams, glaciers and fjords. There are geysers (spelled geysirs), big and small, emitting an acrid, hellish smell. At least one of them is of such potency that it could spout a fountain of steam higher than the Old Faithful in Wyoming.
There is enough to do in this small country that sits on two edgy and shifting tectonic plates, the American and European. The tour guide on the bus joked that if you buy land, expect to find it expanding about an inch every year. Not good enough reason to invest in real estate and wait for it to double in size in a millennium. It must be morbidly exciting to think that one sits on volcanic rock and the end may come any time. Well, that’s a good enough reason for me to go while Iceland has not yet vanished from the face of the earth. There’s a certain existential stoicism required in thinking that when one wakes up, one may have accessed a region beyond the physical and material. A line of warning in the internet from a geologist at UC Davis who is teaching in Iceland alludes to the disappearance of subcontinents associated with the plumes of smoke coming from deep in the earth.
I wondered if that’s the reason the natives I met were so sullen and humorless.
Even the female receptionists at the hotel were unsmiling, keeping to their business with dry efficiency. But the drivers of the tour buses were so funny, joking about the “forests” of stunted trees and the flavorless food, I was tempted to ask where they were from. They said they were from Spain! Hola!
The printed tour guides claimed that the people were Vikings, the country colonized by Norway early on, Scandinavia and then Norway. There were buildings and churches that had the prow-like shape, evidence of sea-faring gypsies from another age.
Perhaps it is the religion? The country is Lutheran. Still …
I also wondered why their language is so difficult to read and pronounce. I googled this subject just now and found that the Icelanders have stuck to the native roots of their old Norse idioms partly because of their fidelity to origins and their isolation from the rest of the world.
That’s enough materials to introspect and contemplate for another time. But during one’s short visit, it was important to enjoy and appreciate the blessings of Iceland.
Because of the hot springs, there is hot water and heating available 24/7. The food was excellent. The smoked salmon was endless. I guess the vegies were raised in hot houses or imported. I had seen Andrew Bizarre Foods host hunting and eating puffins, the cute bird that looks like the penguin but can fly, and I wondered if they were going to be served in the smorgasbord at dinner. I was not disappointed not to see any. The guides mentioned hakari (pieces of shark meat left hanging outside in a hut), singed sheep head, skyr (what’s that?), and black pudding (which is probably flavored with blood). Instead there was cured ham and salmon, and lots of olives and capers and yogurt.
These photos are what’s left in my camera. The chill winds were whipping and whistling all day and night in September. I wanted to buy one of those woven woolen sweaters with the reindeer design, but they were too expensive for my budget.
There was something severe about the landscape, a kind of repetitiveness with subtle changes in the beautiful scenery, I stopped taking photos after a while and just contemplated the view from the bus.