Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Taking Suggestions and Feeling Alive

Wednesday July 7

As you hit the home stretch of a long journey, the percentage of items on the to do list never seems to match the percentage of time you have left. Despite spending a month in the country, there were still a few items left to take care of that will have to wait for another trip. I missed the phallological museum due to the lateness of the hour when we passed the town, and a similar story goes for the museum with the necropants (pants made of skin, cool mainly because the person who wore them would have been a necropantser). The partial setup site of Arctic Henge was out of the way and incomplete. Some hikes were truncated. And the nature reserve in the far north west of the country was out due to time constraints. The Snæfellsnes peninsula had been ruled out due to time and saturation of scenery, but when we found ourselves with a day to kill and no idea what to do, the guy behind the desk emphatically told us that we needed to rent a jeep and go see the peninsula. Turns out he was right.

Snæfellsnes is like a Iceland in miniature – a portion of land that contains the desolate mountains, abandoned houses, glacier, volcanic lava fields, hot pots, beaches, light houses, sweeping vistas, caves, whale watching and small villages. About the only things that the peninsula was missing were the bird cliffs and a city.

Following Kaisu’s guide book, we tracked down a South African immigrant who has lived half her life on the peninsula. The woman was a model for what I might one day be, a foreigner who fell in love with a place so hard on vacation that she never left. The guide book was a model for what I would like to write, a series based around good advice and catering to a specific demographic,  sounding more like a guy talking to you at a bar about the country than a regimented list of opening hours and possible options. In concert with a guide of the latter variety, this one feels like having a local over your shoulder the whole time suggesting that you turn left just up here, cause she knows an awesome coffee shop behind the gas station.

The South African gave us a map, directions, and sights to see, a recommendation for lunch and we were on our way. Rolling in a 4×4 vs. a small hatchback around the country is akin to rolling into a bar with muscles and a dress shirt instead of a faded Metallica tee. (Rolling out in a super-jeep* would have been akin to walking into the bar as a recognizable celebrity, but the costs are prohibitively high, so 4×4 was good enough.)

We trekked up a mountain next to a glacier, which is somewhat less impressive in a vehicle having hiked a similar thing the week before. Of course, I was asleep for much of this so my authority is a little diminished. But the ping pong ball effect was back, so it felt a bit of a wasted attempt. On the route we stopped at the Singing Cave, a small inlet big enough for a few people and sized just right for the acoustics to blast out. Kiasu was able to sing at one of the resonant frequencies. I was able to chant an octave lower for the same effect. This is a cave in which Rammstein sounds cool. Getting out of the cave was a bit more difficult given the wind. When most people say it is a windy day, they mean that your hair will get messed up. A windy day out on the peninsula means that a 60 kilo person will occasionally be knocked over.

The wind also made driving that much more of an adventure. We couldn’t roll the windows down because the glass started to bow. We locked the doors because the wind over the car pulled the driver’s door enough that you could see light through the seals. And music was not an option with the background noise of turbulence. I’ve never driven a jet engine, but this seemed the closest approximation for the noise. If only we had the speed as well, we would certainly have killed ourselves.

From there it was on to a lava-black outcropping with spots of grass, a white lighthouse and a dark storm looming over black water. And from there lava stone rooms built to dry fish – little growths on the landscape that flies were apparently unable to negotiate despite the large holes. I have a fly that keeps circling around in my office. Apparently if I punched more holes in the walls, he wouldn’t be able to get in. And from there on to the largest town on the peninsula, a place so bumping that the gas station was staffed by a guy too young to operate a motor vehicle and his friends’ best prospect at entertainment was loitering around and hassling him and scowling at us. Fortunately the best restaurant in town had a sympathetic cashier who gave us directions to her favorite hot spring – big enough for our crew and a better option than the pool which had just closed. The directions were of the most reliable quality – drive on this road to somewhere in this 20km stretch, look for a house matching this description, turn right, drive through the lava field, and you should see it, I think. She was then emphatic that we not popularize the place or put it in a guide book so that it could still be her relatively unknown place, hence the vagaries of my description.

We found the stretch, we found the house, we found the field, and the road, and drove it. We all had the impression the road would be about a km long and the spring would be at the end. We were all wrong. The road was about 10 km long, with a river to one side and swamp to the other. Looking for a hot spring in a field is relatively easy. Find the absence of grass and you have a pool of water. Finding the hot spring in a swamp doesn’t work so well, though we tried a couple and failed. Standing out of the window, one hand on my hat to counter the wind, I couldn’t discern any heated water. We drove through the lava field, to a field, through sheep farms, and over the river, then over rocky roads to an abandoned farm, then to a beach before accepting that it wasn’t happening and turning around. Though we could have used the heat and relaxation, the adventure of trying is what matters. At least that is what people who don’t accomplish their goals say, and such was our lot.

On the plus side, we did have a much more exciting experience than finding a hot pot. We almost died. And that is something that you can’t try for without cheapening it. A combination of a blind crested hill, a change in road surface, and a strong gust of wind was enough to push our 4×4 into a bit of a skid. From there the fishtailing started and increased to the point where we had three tires on the gravel hill sloping down into the water and only one on the dirt road. To her credit, the driver didn’t flip out (or flip us) and emphatically asked what to do. Ease off the gas. Lightly apply the brakes. Don’t jerk the wheel. I have no idea if she was listening or followed the instructions, but whatever she did worked. Without any control over our situation, James and I just accepted the adventure and our possible early demise. It became the best ride possible – one with an uncertain ending which is always more exciting than a roller coaster with safety checks. When the car finally skidded to a stop, on the driver’s side wheels perpendicular to the road and settled back onto all fours, Kaisu was shaking. James and I looked at each other and gave double thumbs up. She had all the responsibility of saving us, which had manifested in rattled nerves. We were just along for the experience. While she ran laps around the car to get her energy level in line with her actions, James and I smoked our celebratory cigarettes.

How do you feel?

I FEEL ALIVE! You?

ALIVE!

How are you doing?

I almost killed you guys…

Almost doesn’t count. That was awesome!

We rolled back into Reykjavik around 4AM, having gotten our money’s worth out of the one day rental and hoping that they wouldn’t find cause to charge more.

*Super-jeeps are vehicles on tires big enough to sleep in that should all have names like “Grave-Digger” and “Widow Maker.” They make monster trucks in the US that much sadder because super-jeeps have a reason for their steroid use.

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This entry was posted on July 7, 2010 by in Iceland.

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