Sunday, July 29, 2012

Iceland: Part Three

Continued from Part One and Part Two.

Sedisfjordur is an east-coast town that was home to about 600 people and an arts scene: when we drove past the town's border, we also passed a yarn-bombed tree. The woman who ran the hostel recommended Skaftfell Bistro for dinner, and that we have a drink at the local tavern. The bar, which had burned down a few weeks before our arrival, was temporarily relocated to the local library (!!), so after a meal of seafood and excellent chocolate-cardamom meringues, we checked out the library/bar. It was like drinking in your grandma's unrenovated-since-1972 basement, and very endearing. We did a shot of Brennivin, Iceland's alleged "black death" liquor, and staggered back to the hostel in the midnight dusk.

One of the best things about this trip was how much walking and hiking we did. Sure, we had trusty Ravmunder, our Icelandic RAV-4, and he was invaluable. But almost every day had a hike somewhere scenic and ever-so-slightly off the beaten trail. After lunch in Sedisfjirdur, we hiked for a half-hour and came across gorgeous streams and postcard-worthy waterfalls. It was pretty amazing. (If you hike for half an hour in Toronto, you'll be frolicking next to a Shopper's Drug Mart.) While I know that vacation-stuff and living there-stuff doesn't really overlap, it was a relief to not sit down for hours a day. That was a souvenir I was grateful to bring home: a renewed interest in physical activity. Jumping jacks and gym yoga sort of don't cut it when you've grown accustomed to scenic vistas and rivers.

Icelanders are like, "Ho hum, this is my backyard."

We left Sedisfjordur and headed to Hofn, where the local social scene seemed to be centered around the gas station. We went directly to the guesthouse and played about 40 rounds of Munchkin, the card game that kept us occupied for the majority of our trip's downtime. Hofn was a bit of a bust, but hey: every country needs its Windsor, its Flint, its Birmingham.

You know what's not depressing? Walking on a glacier. Tragically, the Vatnajokull glacier is retreating at about 30 meters per year; it currently covers about 8% of the country and can be seen from space. Semi-frequent volcanic eruptions means Icelandic glaciers aren't the pristine white snowcaps you might picture: they're covered in frozen soot and German tourists. However, much like tsunamis or waterfalls, the sheer size of glaciers is breath-taking, and I found myself marvelling at the abstract art-esque colour palette and the thrill of standing on something so ancient.

Abstract modern artists are like, "This is my jam," but they probably use different words to express that sentiment.

After staying at a horse farm (where the dogs were mind-boggling cute and one of my travel companions accidentally zapped herself with an electric fence), we capped our trip with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. This was definitely the most touristy thing we did: there's a swim-up bar and all manner of accents were floating around the pool's perimeter. We dutifully glopped silica mud all over ourselves, and some of us might have taken advantage of the opaque blue water to engage in some PG-13 hanky-panky. The Blue Lagoon is sort of an upscale spa/hot spring/restorative swim experience, but it is damned relaxing.

The trip acted like a tonic: I left the country feeling relaxed and restored. There are huge chunks that we missed seeing—the Westfjords, for example—but nine full days was a good length to get sense of the country's size and scale and wild landscape. We lucked out with bright sunny weather, amazing hosts, and great travelling companions. Their propensity for smoked fish and flavoured sparkling water is enough to get me back on a plane ASAP; throw in some skyr cake and a cozy sweater, and I'm practically ready to swim there. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I would recommend it to everyone I know. It's amazing. It's Iceland!