Iceland was not what I expected. And yet it was.
Let’s start with the basics. According to one of our tour guides, Sarrrrrah (she rolled her Rs), the country has around 330,000 souls inside its borders, 70% who live in and around the capital city of Reykjavik. To put that into perspective, Miami-Dade county alone has a headcount of 2.6 million. That’s right, shift the decimal over to the left and put those few remaining people onto a gigantic freaking island for comparison. It’s not what you would call densely populated.
OK, some bullet points:
– It’s cheap to get there, but expensive as hell to stay,
– They know how to raise their kids,
– The landscape qualifies as alien,
– It’s colder than you think, and
– The Northern Lights are not what I thought they were.
Those of you with A.D.D. can click to the next post. But for the rest of you, some details …
Prices are scary. Really scary. Beer (and that’s mostly all they drink) hovers around South Beach prices, but the food is beyond high. Two fish and chip lunches and a beer ran us $65. We learned quickly to eat less and make better calorie choices. And drink mostly water (which is seriously yummy, by the way. All natural!). The food was also mostly … meh … so that helped. Neither one of us was a huge fan of the cuisine. We did find some out of the way food goodness, but in general, Iceland isn’t for the foodie crowd.
Rotten Shark. Yes, that’s what I said, rotten shark. Let me allow Wikipedia to describe it … “Kæstur hákarl is a national dish of Iceland consisting of a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) or other sleeper shark which has been cured with a particular fermentation process and hung to dry for four to five months. Kæstur hákarl has a strong ammonia-rich smell and fishy taste.”. And yes, I actually liked it. You eat it with toothpicks, because if you use your fingers, they’ll reek for a very long time.
Landscape. Tis alien to say the least. No trees to speak of, they were removed a long time ago. Vast, vast stretches of flat nothingness, bounded by huge mountains and cliffs. Oh, and lava fields. And steam venting from the ground where the water is being boiled by the magma. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before. We spent most of the trip just getting lost and taking in the incredible scenery. No wildlife to speak of, very little vegetation. But the land just made you stop and wonder.
Weather. Bleech. It stayed between 3-6 degrees the whole trip. 30s-40s to us yanks. Not terribly cold, but the wind was always there. And usually moist. Made for some pretty brisk times. Sunrise (if you can call it that, didn’t really see it for the cloud cover) was around 9:30, and you had until 5pm for it to set. The daylight always seemed elusive. You got used to it after a few days, but the ever-grayness was a little depressing to us not used to it. But we were told that the Icelandic view was that there was no bad weather, just bad clothing choices and bad attitudes.
Lights. Didn’t see them. But I learned what they aren’t. I assumed you would walk into a field and continuous streams of light would dance before you. Not so much. For starters, it must be a cloudless night, far away from city lights. And then … you wait. The streams only come randomly, and the sun has to be particularly active the week before to put on any kind of show. We tried two nights, but clouds and bad timing foiled us.
The People. Not exactly a friendly bunch. Actually, that’s only partially true. They’re kind of stoic. They wear expressions like a mixture of mild confusion and a slight toothache. Not extremely joyful or outgoing. They’re helpful one-on-one, when you go to them, but don’t expect anything warmer than that. They also have serious issues with hula hoops. As in, they don’t believe in personal space.
Overall, you don’t go to Iceland for the food, the weather, the people, or the costs. You go for the natural beauty. And to reflect on what’s important in life. I spent a lot of time looking inward as well as out. The place just causes you to do that … to evaluate everything. So the bottom line is I enjoyed the hell out of the trip. I had a great travel buddy and a wonderful, wonderful time.
(I’ll save the story of the Bataan Death March for later. LOL)