That people and politics is like a volcano: it lurks there under the surface bubbling and boiling away until an election or budget cracks it open and then there is molten anger flying everywhere.
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.
So, as near as I can figure, the closest we ever really hotel’d to Bardarbunga, that volcano that is suddenly threatening to explode, was Lake Mytvan, about a hundred or so klicks north.
One year ago (as I write this) I was on a two week vacation with my daughter, wife, and my wife’s extended family. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, at the time I was also on a blogging sabbatical, journalling dry-spell, and all-round record-keeping leave-of-absense. It might go without saying, then, that I don’t have much written down from those two weeks of our frantic Hawaiian holiday. I’m hoping to rectify that with a few posts recalling the trip now that a year has passed, the dirty laundry has all been washed, and I’m kinda wishing I could go back…
I like good food. I would ask the question “who doesn’t?” but I fully understand that different people have different ideas of what constitutes so-called good food.
I admit it, as pejorative as that label has become in recent years, I am something of a foodie. I like weird food. I like eclectic food. I like unqiue food. I like clever food. I like beautiful food. I like spicy food. I like foreign food. I like food.
This fact is doubly true when I am travelling.
One problem: my last three vacations have been to the United States where — though I am told by numerous television shows they have wonderful food — I have encountered, in order: (1) the Hawaiian-ized version of multiple chain restaurant’s food, (2) Las Vegas casino food, and (3) Disneyland amusement park-style food. Not a fair example of American cusine, I admit… but that’s what I got.
I had two gripes (and just to be fair, three unexpected surprises) about eating in Hawaii. First, when traveling with a group of six adults and one child, to appease all palettes, I find one tends to lower to the level of least adventurous taste buds. You can cast your own evaluations on that statement. But let’s just say there was a lot of compromise and a few heat-and-eat pizzas from the local convenience store. Second, in what I assume is a bit of corporate low-bar-laziness, many familiar chain restaurants with establishments in Hawaii tend to just toss a slice of pineapple on a familiar dish and call it “Hawaiian” — which is lame.
I spent two weeks trying to get a sense of something uniquely Hawaiian, and the best I think we did was a Maui Mixed Plate… which gave me a bit of a stomach ache later. So, not the best va-food-cation ever.
But as promised, I did have three munching highlights of extreme awesomeness…
One: Upon venturing into the International Marketplace in Waikiki, tucked into the back corner of the bustling shops, we found a kind-of food court. There were lots of loitering pigeons, some wobbly plastic picnic tables, and most of the signage was a cross between garish-neon-retro and hand-painted-on-plywood-aestethic. But, bar none, the spicy shrimp platter from the seafood joint there was the tastiest and cheapest lunch I had the whole two weeks.
Two: Hawaiian shaved ice takes about five minutes to prepare after you order it. The lines are long. The look of it in its trademark plastic umbrella cup is kinda like… huh? But if you eat one, you’ll spend the next year of your life wondering where you can get another.
Three: When renting a condo in Maui we happened to find a place that had a communal beachside barbecuing area. We didn’t think much of it at first, but standing ocean-side, watching whales spouting against a vibrant watery orange sunset, all while sipping a brew and grilling up grub for the family — including a squid you’ve gutted and cleaned yourself — is one of those bucket-list moments.
It was hard to forget that Hawaii is pretty much a string of volcanic islands sprung up out the Pacific Ocean. And of course, the idea of “the volcano” is so embedded in the Hollywood-perception of both Hawaii and Polynesia, too.
Where we stayed in Maui, the beach — if you could call it that — was essentially an obstacle course of dark black, wave-pounded volcanic stone. You needed shoes to walk on it because there were parts so sharp that their epic sharpness could have rivaled shattered glass… shattered glass with ocean bacteria to boot.
Overlooking Waikiki beach is Diamond Head, what we believed as we tromped up — foolishly walking the too-long-journey from our hotel to the trailhead — a volcanic crater. As numerous quantities of on-hike signage informed us, however, Diamond Head is not a volcano. It is a tuff cone vent of a volcano. And it was not going to spew lava all over us at any point, noted most impressively by the guy selling cokes and hot dogs right about where the lava might be flowing.
We hiked to the top, a convoluted series of switchbacks, tunnels, concrete staircases, and squeezing through openings not exactly tourist friendly, emerging at one of the ridge peaks in the epic ocean wind one might expect in such a location. Of course, amidst the hundreds of other people hiking that day, somebody was always trying to sell you something. I got offered to buy a “I conquered Diamond Head” T-Shirt when I was half-way down. And the guy who climbed up to the peak to spout off a well-rehearsed speil for a travel-tour package — for only $79, if you bought it from him, today only! — had quite the gig going on, too.
The bulk of Maui seems to exist only because this volcano called Haleakala happens to have been belching up rock for many millenia and nice stuff has grown on it. Though again, we were informed, not a REAL volcano: a shield volcano. You can see Haleakala from pretty much everywhere, usually shrouded in clouds.
Either way, we drove the the epic winding road — in a sad little mini-van packed to the rafters with seven people and two-weeks worth of luggage because our next stop was the airport — to the ten-thousand foot summit, y’know, just to have a look. Which was nice. High. So high that the summit is also where the US Government keeps some of their important astronomical telescopes and military surveillance equipment. (It’s all on Wikipedia.)
At some point in any Hawaiian vacation — or so I’m told — you’ve got to go see a luau. Part of me is absolutely certain that somewhere along the line the luau was invented — cobbled together from some more authentic styles of entertainment — just as some kind of show designed to entertain tourists. No other reason… just to give tourists some evening entertainment when it was too dark to surf.
This is how it goes: You pay a hundred bucks, give or take depending on the quality of seats, to watch a fairly interactive stage show featuring dozens of Polynesian-style dances, some guy juggling fire, and somewhere in there to eat a bit of barbecue. All ’round it’s a right fun time.
Near the end of our stint in Maui, at the tail-end of our trip, we attending a rather nice little luau in Kihei. Karin sprung for the top-tier seats and we had great seats right front-and-middle for the stage, positioning me perfectly to snap some great photos of the dancing and fire juggling later on in the evening.
Claire, shy as she is, held back from most of the kid activities they had set up prior to dinner — well, apart from the bouncy-castle — but a year later the video I shot of that night is still her favorite and we watch it over and over and over, particularly the parts where she was coaxed on-stage.
I don’t want to break into review-mode here, apart to say that an evening at the luau was definitely one of the memorable — and one of the more ‘just-what-I-was-expecting’ — Hawaii moments we had on vacation. Also, I can’t really compare; I’ve only been to one.
But the fire juggling — and trust me, I’ve seen and photographed plenty of fire juggling at the Fringe Festival over my years volunteering — was definitely top notch.