From August 6 through 16, 2014 five of us — my parents, Karin, Claire and I — drove the Iceland ring road. Our adventures were numerous and my photos were plentiful. I chronicled our trips in a live-ish blog post summarizing the highlights of our trip, in chronological order… but I often find that after such a mind-blowing adventure, it’s good to step back and reflect on the many things that have left an impression upon your mind, body and spirit. This is the thrid of four of those Icelandic Reduxtions, reflecting more narrowly…
on Lava, Sulphur & Volcanos
Claire admitted that she had a bucket list for Iceland, too; She wanted to ride a horse and she wanted to see a volcano.
Luckily, while a live and active volcano was not in the cards –though had we stayed an extra week we could have been around for the Bardarbunga quakes– the six-year-old volcano hunter was perfectly content to check out some of the volcanic vents.
We found some vents on our trip across that stretch of the interior swinging up after the fjords and heading north and inland. We’d just crossed an expanse of fifty kilometers that left us wondering when exactly we’d arrived on the moon, and swung into a parking lot and stepped out onto the surface of Mars. We’d arrived at the steaming, venting, oozing anus of the world, otherwise known as Hverarondor Hverir… which I think is Icelandic for “this place smells like ass so the tourists will love it.” …or something… my Icelandic is pretty weak.
I’ve alluded to the lovely reek of sulpher that filled many various places in Iceland, but none stunk worse than Hverarondor Hverir. Great steam vents wafted into the air filling the cool Icelandic sky with the demon-spawned decay of a billion rotting eggs.
Claire was sated that her volcanic bucket list criteria had been met –though we did climb a few additional and magnificent crater bowls that fit the bill much more aptly, stood at the base of Eyjafjallajökull (which oh-so-infamously erupted in 2010) and pondered the many and diverse rolling landscapes left behind by the mysterious flows of lava as it boiled across the landscape — but it was the vents that fit the bill in her mind, and having witnessed them and snapped a photo or two, she plopped herself down refusing to breath any more of the local air than absolutely necessary.
A few days later we were driving around the base of the fog-shrouded Snaeffelness, the more famous volcano often linked to the work of Jules Verne because it served as the entry way in his “Journey to the Centre of the Earth.” In fact, we downloaded the audio dramatization and listened to that as we drove through the rain and the mist and thought of the massive volcano hovering in just off to the left of the car. That’s the one that got me.
on Stone Sculptures
In a land with so few trees –really, I think there are more sheep than trees in Iceland– the people express themselves by building things out of rocks. Maybe it was the locals. Maybe ancient vikings. Or maybe it was just those-damn-tourists.
Fences, stacked and piled with tetris-like precision into ancient barriers around turf-built-houses.
Rock cairns. In fact fields of rock cairns, where you would step out of the car and look across a few hundred meters of thousands upon thousands of little neatly-stacked, piles of rocks. Of course, Claire wanted to participate, and would without fail or hesitation start stacking her own and demand we take a photo of her with it. She never quite built one more than maybe a foot tall, but whether at the base of a glacier, or the crest of a volcanic crater or just in a picnic area adjacent to a road-side parking lot, she took some basic joy in stacking up some rocks.
There were also markers of a sort. I recall driving through a stretch of the interior, and for at least twenty-kilometers (probably much further as the road and the path diverged) a path off to the side of the road –and old highway or just a trail through an otherwise barren and dangerous quasi-wasteland– was marked with meter-tall rock piles, stacked as trail markers every fifty to one-hundred meters. It was truly surreal to see what may have easily been an ancient travel route, possibly pre-dating the highway, all carefully built through a rough wilderness with no trees, no plants, and oh-so-many deadly crevasses hiding in the lava rock fields.
on Safety & Personal Responsibility
I realize upon returning to Canada how much of a nanny state we’ve become.
Coincidentally, upon arriving home, the first thing I heard debated on the Monday morning news show was that the City was considering wrapping the pedestrian walkway of the High Level Bridge in an ugly protective fence in an attempt to reduce the number of suicides from the 50-plus meter nearly-kilometer long trestle bridge spanning the North Saskatchewan river. I’m not here to debate that (though I would heartily disagree with it) but the idea was even more contrasted by our tour through Iceland which seems to take a much more European approach to personal safety; In other words, your safety is your problem.
Oh, there are cute little signs telling you when you might be approaching a dangerous cliff, or about to fall into a bottomless chasm that may or may not result in your death by boiling geyser water, lava, or impalement upon rocks below. But where in Canada we put up those signs along with sturdy fences and high tech security systems protecting the apparently doh-dee-doh populous from accidental death by dumb-tourism-blunders, In Iceland there were little pegs… with ropes… right about ankle height.
I don’t want to belabour the point, but in a way it was nice to (a) have a closer (and admittedly more dangerous) unobstructed view of some amazing sights, and (b) not be treated like a six-year-old around things that have the real potential to kill me. I had a six year old, so I know the difference.
on Fish, Chocolate, Licorice & Skyr
In a previous redux I wrote about some of the oddities of Icelandic cuisine, but there were some tasty snacks to be discovered on our driving adventures, too.
But as we discovered in the many service stations, cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, and hotel lobbies we visited, throughout our travels fish –or specifically, little bags of fish-jerky like snacks called harðfiskur– were not only plentiful and relatively cheap, but kinda… sorta… in a got-the-muchies-in-Iceland sorta way, a little bit addictive.
We ate our share of “normal” fish, too, of course. Cod and potatoes were common. But harðfiskur ended up being that little plastic pack that we’d pass around the car between meals. It is “fishy” yes, and does have a very I’m-eating-salty-dried-fish taste… because that’s exactly what it was… but it worked.
When we craved something a little sweeter there was plenty of chocolate, licorice and chocolate-covered-licorice. It’s a thing there. They love their chocolate-covered-licorice. It’s as common as chocolate-and-caramel is in Canada, as in every other candy is exactly that: chocolate-covered-licorice. Claire was not impressed, but I didn’t mind one bit.
And of course, as I alluded to in previous posts, there is skyr. Skyr is a uniquely Icelandic yogurt-but-not-yogurt dairy product dating back to Viking times. But if you happened to get addicted to it while travelling there you could probably find a modest substitute in greek-style yogurt, that thick, protein-heavy, slightly-sour blend that has been trendy lately here at home. I’m not a yogurt expert, but that would have been my best comparison.