Saturday, September 07, 2013

My Icelandic Saga Ends

Just a little more rhapsodizing about the place:  It's like pictures of Greenland or the High Arctic, except that you can drive around in it.  Virtually any place you stop and gander would be a national park in just about every other country in the world.

There's just that little problem with the weather...

But Wednesday morning the sky was almost entirely blue, and by 11 am it was getting--dare I say it?--almost not cold.  In fact, for the first time on my circumnavigation I could actually take off a layer.

Instead of a Hyundai I should have been driving a Fjord, because now I was driving up and down and around all the indentations on the east side of the country. Not quite as dramatic as the northwest, but wonderful enough.  And, hey, it was a sunny day.

For those not of a geological bent, I should finally explain why Iceland is so geomorphically special.  You see, what with Europe and North America having drifted apart for the past 100 million years or so, new land is continually being created in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  Usually way below sea level.  But for some reason the area that is Iceland has been pushed up.  Which is why it has all the lava and volcanoes and geysers and such.

But besides lava it also has obsidian and jasper and calcite and quartz crystals and all sorts of other cool minerals from the Earth's mantle.  And in 1922 a girl was born in a small, totally isolated village on one of these fjords.  Her parents improbably named her Petra (which means 'stone'), and from a young age she decided that, since she was no good at writing poetry, instead she would glorify God by collecting all the beautiful rocks He had made.  So for around 50 years or so (she just died in 2012) she would climb the incredibly steep and high mountains behind her house and geodes and calcite spars and the like. 

She ended up with almost 100,000 of them, and she ended up displaying them all in her house and in a garden she created behind it.  Needless to say, it is now one of the most singular and strangely inspiring roadside attractions in the world.

And what makes her story even more interesting is that, whereas all the young urbanized Icelanders are hip and thin and English speaking, my impression of the rural people is that they are/were direct and honest, but simple and relatively unimaginative.  Also rather unsentimental, as you might expect from people who have spent a thousand years making a (precarious) living primarily by killing things.

I left the last fjord behind and hit the southern coast of Iceland.  As I pulled into the fishing port of Hofn, my last hostel stop on this journey, I could see up the coast to the west a giant glacial tongue reaching the sea.  Yesterday I had seen Iceland's great ice cap from the 'top'.  Now I was seeing it from the bottom.

As I started out Thursday on my 300+ mile dash to Reykjavik, I could quickly determine that these glacial tongues--white, but with a lot of black dirt in them--licked down every available and conceivable break in the mountains.  In fact, my first major stop (along with a lot of other tourists) was at a famous iceberg filled lagoon at the end of one of these tongues. 

And the second major stop was at Iceland's most popular national park, Skartafell.  Which is on a tongue of land in between two tongues of glacier.  By now it was (for Iceland) amazingly warm: up to almost 60.  And no wind.  For once I was able to take a walk and not be absolutely miserable.  Up I went for 4 or 5 miles, sans even jacket, to see the requisite waterfalls and endless views.

Back down and on the road again.  Soon, after a couple of other detours, it was close to 6 pm, and I was entering Vik, Iceland's southernmost town.  It is also the country's rainiest spot, but still the weather today was blue and balmy.  What an amazing end to an amazing trip.

Just a couple of days ago I had been musing for the zillionth time in my life about how birds and small animals always seem to just get out of the way of oncoming cars.  But as I was slowing down to enter the small town a skua--an extremely large and, apparently, extremely stupid sea gull--wheeled up in front of me.  And SPLAT!!!  The eastern third of my windshield shattered into a hundred different cracks.

I was strangely detached from the experience.  After all, I wasn't to blame.  It was an Act of Gull.  Who knew that you were supposed to take highly evasive action should you see a skua?

I drove on, now calculating that, taking time to stop for pizza, a short nap, and filling out forms at Hertz, I was now on a tight schedule to get to the airport.  I stopped to take a picture of that unpronounceable volcano that shut down air traffic in 2010, and then to gawk at one last spectacular waterfall.  But a vicious cold wind had now arisen, breaking my two day idyll.  Back into the car and driving into the still never ending sunset twilight just two weeks before the Equinox.

I got to the airport at 10:45 and the Polish kid at Hertz determined that the skua had also bounced on the roof, and that what would have cost $300 to fix in Poland would cost $1600 here.  Hmm.  I guess I'll now find out if that supplemental credit card insurance actually covers stuff.  (Update: It apparently does.)

Then a quick jaunt over to the terminal to sign in for my 1:15 flight to Stockholm.  And as I sat there dreading the sleepless night ahead of me, I also concluded that this 3100 km ride was one of my greatest ones ever.  In fact, if possible, I would immediately get to the back of the line and do it all over again.

Except maybe for the part about squashing the skua.  Oh, and the part where I almost killed myself sliding off of that icy mountain road,

Other than that... 


At 2:31 PM, Anonymous Megan said...

a seagull ruined the windshield LOL!?!?! :) we just rented our car and bought that supplemental insurance. i scoffed at it at first, but now im glad we did! great reading about your adventures in iceland!


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