It was late, nine-thirty pm east coast time. In my mind, it should have been dusk if not dark but below me, glowing like mid-day, the icy contours of Greenland awed me. Large expanses of white gave way to melting glaciers creating rivers heavy-laden with icebergs. I have the pictures to prove it but they pale in comparison to the wonder imprinted in my brain at first sight.
I was hoping for rain and cool weather in Iceland. California has been hot and dry this summer. I haven’t seen or felt rain for 3 months. The extremes of climate change will create longings in us who experience too much of one weather pattern. The sorrow the people of Houston must feel for their losses and hoping it never rains again and our sorrow with burning forests and smoke choking us indoors hoping for rain. I wondered what Icelanders hoped for or regretted.
We arrived on bumpy air. The misty rain and cool air was a joy. The crowded airport at 12:30 AM was a shock. Reykjavik is a hub from Europe and the Middle East and the US and we all arrive in the middle of their night. Luggage took almost an hour to retrieve and finding our rental car was worthy of an Saturday Night Live skit.
ProCar is not your typical car rental. Avis I had been told would have cost $3000 for 2 weeks. I should have trusted Avis was the way to go. We weren’t on ProCar’s list when our Iceland mafioso, moonlighting on the graveyard shift for ProCar, showed up around 1:30 AM. He told us to follow him. Dragging our bags through the mist, down a slippery incline toward his van, Heather had to haul the bags into the back as he looked on. The best part of the ride was after explaining why I couldn’t crawl into the way back seat with a bad knee, I got to sit next to him in the front and listen to Icelandic rap. The van filled with Italians, and having traveled in piles, experience dictates that Heather gets the bags while I book it to the counter to beat the others. The counter person extorted an extra $524 in insurance as I became giddy with laughter after he said I could pay that or put a deposit of $3000 for the car on a credit card. He then explained that the small orange dots that I would see on the body of the car were previous dings from accidents. I convulsed in laughter – I had ordered a clown car. “Whatever” I said handing him my credit card while signing my life and Heather’s away. I grabbed the keys, dragged our bags around the corner of the shed they called the office where there was no light and found the car by hitting the panic button. And what a car it was. I think it was a 1999 Suzuki SUV maybe a 2000 with testy windshield wipers and headlights that took us 2 tries to make sure they were on. We had a 45 minute drive into Reykjavik. Heather drove as she gets car sick if she isn’t in the front seat and from reading anything. I turned on Google maps and prayed at 3:30 AM we would find the Radisson Blu Hotel. Due to construction on the main road into town our efforts at finding an entrance were thwarted but at that hour I told Heather to go through the barricade and hoped no police were lurking.
I had spent a couple of nights in London at a Radisson Blu and vowed to never to do it again. My travel agent said that this hotel would be different. We had gotten a deluxe room. I have been accused accurately of being a New York cynic because my New York cynic knows and it didn’t fail this time. The room was so small that our luggage didn’t fit in it. One went in the shower. We were exhausted at that point but still had to move the twin beds which barely fit in the room to the other opposite side where the electrical outlets were so I could plug in my snore machine and Heather her c-PAC so I wouldn’t hear her snore and I wouldn’t hear anything with my snore machine balanced on my pillow – the one I brought – I have learned. Every picture of beds that I saw on the websites of the Icelandic hotels suggested we would be sleeping on concrete with a sheet over it. I was not disappointed. They were so hard I had to put the hotel pillows under me for sciatica protection and thus the reason my intuition said pack your pillow. I double dosed myself with melatonin and slept like a baby and woke to a body so stiff I thought I had died.
The deluxe of that room was it was only a one night stay. Never more, never more! The day was partly sunny. Loading up the clown car, we headed out of Reykjavik and turned west down a coast road through towns I will never be able to pronounce – and this is where the hopeful future journey began.
It took a while for the senses to realize they stepped out of time. The further from Reykjavik we got the further away we got from the 21st Century. The road was a narrow two-lane road with no shoulders on either side so driving carefully was a must, although there are so few cars or trucks or crazy people in souped up cars with rap blaring it lulled and quietly eased the mind. Clouds hung on mountains like shrouds bouncing the glimpses of sunlight onto deep green expanses of land and lava stone covered in light beige velvet. The moss that takes decades to grow on the black stone is so delicate and beigey that it looks like velvet. I had to find a turn out and get out to feel it just to make sure.
The air is unlike any air I have ever breathed. It is sweet tinged with cool purity. I thought we had great air in Shasta but it pales in comparison to the sweetness of North Atlantic unpolluted air. The deeper into the country-side we drove, the calmer we became. It took several days for me to realize that our senses are not assaulted with signs or traffic lights, too many cars, shopping malls, suburban sprawl or the over-all sameness that corporate America has perpetrated on our psyche. Hotels – the few that exist out there – are located by their flags flying near the road or a small sign that you pass by barely noticing. There are 300,000 people in Iceland, 660,000 Sheep and 88,000 horses. The landscape expands the senses rather than diminishing them. There are still tourist traps loaded with bus loads of people who scurry to the geyser or the great falls with camera’s in hand, taking pics and selfies to prove they were there. Yet, unlike many such places, the wonder of nature’s handiwork stops even the most ardent selfie taker in his/her place to marvel at what they see before them – but not for long – as they scurry back to the giant bus on their way to the next site.
The geothermal pools are another wonder. We found one down a long gravel road, figuring where 4 other cars were parked must be it. We climbed a hill and just above was a tiny hut with a grass roof. In the front of the hut was a pool with your garden variety naked guy taking up the entire space because no one wanted to be with this deviant looking character and behind in a trench-like pool – perhaps 4 feet wide and 12 feet long – were 4 kids from India, a couple with their daughter from Holland and Heather and me. We had a jolly time of it in the warmth of the spring bubbling up from deep below.
The picture of the rainbow over the bay was a serendipitous sighting. It was 9:30 PM going on 10 and I happened to be getting ready for bed as I looked out the window and saw it. The nights are still long in Iceland. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was the hotel, a few houses one could rent and a church all situated on the hill above the bay and behind us the glacier known as Snaefellsbaer. The skies had been partly cloudy all day, mist rose from the bay and the lava creating just the perfect moment. As the sun was setting, it kissed the mist, creating the rainbow, welcoming all who pay attention.
Iceland is what much of our world could be. Even the remotest areas have internet service. Their landscapes are uncluttered partly due to nature’s winter ways but I suspect partly due to their deep appreciation and love of the land. They don’t over-populate which destroys resources. They use their resources wisely. The country is powered by geo-thermal energy, the water is drinkable from the tap – like ours in Shasta – and heated by the geothermal system. They live in volcano and earthquake country and their buildings are designed to sustain nature’s burps. They are made from concrete and corrugated steel. The steel weathers beautifully into rust tones or painted in blues, yellows and reds. It is expensive however. $7.50 for a gallon of gas and food is outrageous. We had a lunch of 2 hamburgers with fries and 4 sparkling waters costing the equivalent of $150.00. Reykjavik was a bit less expensive as it’s the most populated city but it too was expensive
I hope Iceland resists the temptation of signage and shopping malls outside of the bigger cities. It’s great expanses of green and mountains dotted with glaciers and monumental clouds hovering over icy seas was a meditation. The stillness was a blessing and the geothermal waters was a cure for aching muscles after a night’s sleep on their hard beds.
The lesson was how desperate the human senses are for a reduction of unnecessary external stimuli for internal peace.