Iceland. Untainted and raw. Coming from the United States and getting the opportunity to engage with a country like this left my jaw dropped on the hardened lava floor at every turn. Giant coastal fjords, volcanic craters, waterfalls ad infinitum, massive straight drop cliffs, the majority of which is covered in kaleidoscopic moss. Thermal pools – piping hot and highland lakes – icy cold, add to the superabundance of sensations to be had on the island. Chrissy and I opted for a camper van through Rent.is as our means of transportation and shelter, the old two in one. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Although it gets tight at times, the great outdoors replace the poolside grass pavilion of your average hotel and the trade-off is well worth any momentary discomfort.
This was the first leg of our trip, and like any aspiring American vagabonds, we were gob smacked with the variety of experience to be had.
Our first day we got right off the plane and drove around the peninsula surrounding Keflavik then made our way to the tourist rich but still well-worth-it Blue Lagoon. It’s sub-cerulean pools were laced with white silica and the contrast of the geothermal waters against the cool Icelandic air kept us more than awake after a nine hour flight. At the pool, we met a solo traveler by the name of Arijana, of Bosnian descent but calling Seattle her home, she moonlights as a comedian. She invited us to a show the following night that she had booked on the fly. After the lagoon, we headed back into Reykjavik and after much vacillation, found a dimly lit side street where we parked the camper and cooked Ramen that I had purchased in the States.
We went to the comedy show the following night. Insightful to say the least. To say that I understand anything about Icelandic culture, politics, and/or geology after six days driving the Ring Road would be far more than a stretch. But, because I can’t help myself, I’m going to go ahead and put out whatever limited knowledge I picked up along the way, most of it informed by this comedy show.
Joe was the name of the guy hosting the show, a semi-jaded, semi-optimistic expat who was happy to relish in the European notion of American insanity. He had plenty of commentary on school shootings and the US political situation, nobody seemed to be clueless as to what he was saying so obviously, they were tuned in as well. He announced several comedians who went up and gave their best shot. Some joked about their sexual liberation, one in particular, a straight guy whose mom thought he might sway the other way, decided to take her notions to heart and give man on man connection the old college try, it didn’t take for him, but needless to say, it made for a shit load of laughs and equivalent levels of shock from Americans in the audience.
Another comedian, a giant Icelander with hunched shoulders seemed like something of a blend of the Big Friendly Giant and Thor’s weird little brother that nobody really understands. I thought there was an element of genius in his act in that it was not at all malicious but he had figured out how to play the awkward to the fullest extent, he harnessed it and cultivated it, and used it to his benefit. Arijana killed on stage. Her American sense of humor translated perfectly to the audience and Icelanders were raving about her as we walked out.
The next day we woke up and headed out to make our way around the Ring Road. From here, and throughout the rest of the trip, I found myself in a high-speed daze, like one of those sped up time lapse montages in indie flicks. Using that theme. I’ll try to break down what it was like:
- Waterfall – Moss Covered – Gushing a million gallons a second
- Volcanic Crater – Mars Like – No Life – Massive
- Waterfall – Nestled behind quaint houses – Magical
- Thermal pool then frigid Lake – Body burns and freezes
- Moss covered lava field – Green – Yellow – Orange
- Barren highland landscape – probably where they filmed the “lunar landing” (that is not a political statement) *Quick tidbit – there was a NASA training station in Iceland at one point in time
- Waterfall – Walk behind it- Sprayed with mist – Ecstasy
- Glaciers – Unspeakably massive – North of the wall – Breathtaking
- Icebergs – Cut with blue light – Giant
- Waterfall – Running out of ways to expand
- Black Sand Beaches – Kind of like white sand beaches, but black
- Puffins – I had to resuscitate Chrissy
- Reykjavik – A quaint but modern town in the North Atlantic just outside the Arctic Circle
A few more little pieces of information that struck both Chrissy and I as noteworthy. If you’re an Al Gore type, you’ll be happy to know that Iceland is powered entirely by geothermal energy and that they will have no gas-powered cars by the year 2030. They have a minimum wage of 280,000 ISK per month, that translates to roughly 3000 USD. If you aren’t into the whole increased minimum wage thing, you can argue against your MSNBC indoctrinated by pointing out that fish and chips cost roughly 25-35 USD and gas runs somewhere around 7.5 USD per gallon. Iceland really is a geological wonderland. To try to piece together how it popped up between the Eurasian and North American continental plates in such a short amount of time (the past 25 million years) leaves me baffled and awe struck. In 2010, it gained increased notoriety on the world stage due to the eruption at Eyjafjallajökull, the ash that entered the atmosphere grounded planes in as many as 20 European countries.
Its history is rich, Irish monks are believed to be the first people to voyage to Iceland in 825 AD, the vibe is definitely right for the monastic life. In the following century, they were driven out by Vikings, the Vikings then joined by other Norwegians settled the country. Around 1100 AD the entire county was converted to Christianity. This could have been for a variety of reasons, possibly from an impulse of the Icelandic people, and possibly from Norwegian economic pressure to convert. Regardless, they rolled into the middle ages as a Christian Nation. They suffered hard times due to the Black Death in the early 1400’s and then underwent significant changes during the protestant reformation in the 1500’s. Between smallpox and volcanic eruptions in the 1600’s and 1700’s, Iceland’s population was devastated. The country shifted towards Nationalism in the late 1800’s, and after hashing out trade deals with its neighbors in the following decades began to flourish.
With a current population smaller than that of Anaheim at about 340,000, it seems like a relatively small ecosystem, both economically and biologically (there is an incest joke somewhere in there, Icelanders would get it), and perhaps that simplicity is why Iceland seems so squared away, minimal crime, maximum progress (but seemingly maximum government too). How it will end up in years to come, time will tell that story, but for now, I’m grateful I got the chance to see it in its current state.
Read more: Iceland on your own
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