Well, no Northern Lights so far. Come on, sun, get magnetic!
Saturday morning, I got to work clearing the snow and ice off the hot tub on the deck of the cabin. I had to use the hose carrying geothermal-heated water to un-freeze the plug from where it had been frozen-in-place before I could start filling it. Then with the important work done, I shoveled a path to the truck.
Our first trip of the day was to Geysir. I’m sure you can guess what happens there. Iceland, as you may know is partially on both the North American and the European tectonic plates. And the area in between is quite active (thus the magic of our geothermal hot tub). Geysir is the geyser from which all other geysers get their name. It used to be one of the tallest geysers in the world, but, according to local legend, British tourists used to throw rocks at it in hopes of making setting it off (take this, lazy water spirit!) and ended up clogging it up so much that it no longer erupts. This was in the 1950s. Fortunately Strokkur, which is right next to it, still erupts every 5-10 minutes. It’s pretty amazing. One second there’s nothing, and then boom: a thirty-foot tall plume of steaming hot water creating shapes in the air. Mobs of mostly Asian tourists struggled to capture as many of the eruptions on video as possible.
After that, it was on to nearby Gullfoss Falls, a truly amazing site. Picture a Grand Canyon-like tear in the earth, covered in thick sheets of ice, with massive waterfalls crashing into the chasm from multiple directions. The first time we tried to descend into it, mist from the falls was freezing into thick ice on our glasses, so we retreated to the visitors center for a surprisingly good lunch of salami sandwiches, lamb soup, and mocha cake. After that we descended back into the maelstrom, three of us falling on the same stretch of ice. It was funny to imagine what this place would look like in America. There would be walls and chicken wire fences everywhere with people suing because it was too hard to get down to for the elderly. Basically, it’s an ice covered, sloping mountain path, from which you could easily slide into the chasm, leading to a vertigo-inducing, equally-ice-covered ledge overlooking the roaring falls. The only offering to safety was a six-inch high, ice-covered wire strung along the edge, which offered (at best) a sporting chance of slowing your fall a little after you slipped to your death.
We drove home, dodging honest-to-god monster trucks that made our SUV seem like a sub-compact, then headed off to the town of Selfoss to buy some groceries. And that’s when tragedy struck.
I was getting pretty used to driving the roads in Iceland. You generally drive down the center of the roads, because that’s the only part that gets plowed, pulling into your own snow-encrusted lane only when someone is coming from the other direction (or if you want to let someone pass you). But as we came over one hill, I suddenly saw the road ending in front of us at a T-intersection. I hit the brakes just as we were hitting a patch of slick ice covering the whole descent of the hill and it pretty much did nothing. We went hurtling through the intersection and ploughed right through a fairly sturdy highway sign. There hadn’t much time to think, but since I was terrified of rolling the SUV, I had decided to go straight through. The impact was pretty awful, but we all made it through apparently unhurt. Well, except for the sign and the SUV.
A passerby phoned the police for us and after a chilly wait, someone came by none-too-pleased with us. He phoned the rental place and set up that they would bring another vehicle to the police station in Selfoss in a few hours. We did our grocery-shopping, then left the bags (in the freezing air) in front of the police station and went out to grab a lovely dinner at Kaffi Krus, where the food was delicious and they played nothing buy Belle & Sebastian, which (along with some cold beer) was just what I needed to calm my nerves a little. A bit while later, we were back on the road (the rest of the group can drive from now on!) without incident.
Well, almost without incident! See, our replacement vehicle doesn’t have four-wheel drive so it can’t get up to our cabin. We parked at it at the lodge where we got pizza the previous night, grabbed our seven bags of groceries and trudged the mile up the snow-covered hill to our cabin. The night was dark, the wind was biting cold and the groceries were purchased before we realized we would be hiking with them. But two things helped. First, the night sky was amazingly full of stars. More stars even than I had seen back in rural Texas in ’99. Really gorgeous. Secondly, we made a friend. This little, fur-covered dog came trotting out, super excited to greet us, and decided to walk all the way up to the cabin with us. He actually walked at least twice as far as us, since he was circling our party, most likely out of some herding instinct. We named him Li’l Pups and he entertained us all the way up. When we got to the cabin, he went right in. We decided to give him some water and affection, and let him warm up, but not to feed him, because he had a collar and we didn’t want him staying away from home too long. When he saw there was no meal on the way, he went right to sleep.
In the morning, I let him out a few times, but each time he came right back and asked to come in. Finally, on the third or fourth time, his hunger got the best of him and he headed home from his adventure. Only then, did we realize we forgot to take a picture of our new friend! But then, since we’d been reading Icelandic folktales, we figured he was probably some sort of Icelandic spirit taking the form of a dog in order to cheer us up and most likely wouldn’t have shown up in photographs anyway.
After he left we ate a huge breakfast of toast slathered with awesome Icelandic butter and raspberry jam. My preferred ratio of butter to bread was about 1:1. So good. Staying in sounded good, so I whipped up a batch of chili and left it on the stove to simmer. Despite the freezing wind, K. and I braved the hot tub and it was great. It’s kind of funny to be taking a hot bath outside in a tub surrounded by snow, while Bill Withers tries to sing “Ain’t No Sunshine When You’re Gone” over the turbine-like winter winds. We came in, ate some chili, read some more Icelandic folk tales, and talked about whether Li’l Pups would come back and what form he would take. Then, and I’m not going to lie to you, there was some drinking and napping.