Iceland might be about as far as an Australian can get from home! While perhaps not geographically the furthest landmass away from Australia, it certainly seems so. Oh, I guess I could go to Greenland, or Savlbard, where almost 3000 people toil doing God knows what in a climate that would make most sane people drink in the AM. Over the last week this apparent distance from my homeland has been on my mind as I have walked around Reykjavik. Frankly, it is amazing to me that there are people here. I mean, my mind tells me that there is no reason that people should not live here, just as in Australia which, it could be argued, has a much harsher climate. But still, I possess an almost childlike thrill every time I see an Icelander doing something… well, normal. The first day we were here I drove Ashley almost crazy with comments like, “Look, that man over there is an Icelander.” And also, “Check that out, that family is drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk.” I have also watched a good deal of Icelandic TV in the evenings, my favorite is “Grillad” where Brugur, Bjorn and Birgir (this might not be their names) cook up wonderful dishes using only their humor, good looks and a BBQ.
In addition to petty amusements, today was a first for me. I actually stood in the rift between the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. A rift is like a great zipper, opening Earth’s crust a little more each year, and every now and then something unspeakable pops out, to the shock of everyone around, like an old man’s pants in the supermarket. Iceland is an incredible place geologically (as Ash has reminded me ad nauseam) and aside from the lava, earthquakes and thermal what-have-yous, one of the stand out features has to be that the island of Iceland is actually growing! The two plates mentioned above are moving apart you see! (the crust comes back together around the Pacific rim). I find this stuff amazing to consider, and still more amazing that the Icelandic tourist board is willing to let busloads of tourists with blue hair wheel their walking frames down into what resembles the entry way to an evil underworld (their loud talking on our bus ride made me want to send them to the real underworld, let me tell you).
In addition to this natural wonder we also visited the sight of the original Geysir. Apparently the word Geyser is the one and only contribution that the Icelandic language has made to the English vernacular. With street names like “Kaplaskjólsvegur”, “Kirkjugarðsstígur” and if the last two were not enough, “Höfuðborgarsvæði” it is astounding to me that we are not all speaking more Icelandic. I kid because I care, really, Icelandic is actually an amazing language, if only I could speak it, and is so unchanged from medieval Nordic that modern Icelanders can in fact read the ancient Sagas as if they were a John Grisham novel. The original Geysir was a no-show, a guide told us it was lazy (probably those damn elves again) but the one next to it (Strokkur) went off in a loud gurgling spurt every five-minutes or so. Wonderful.
Gullfoss “the golden waterfall,” is a stupendous waterfall once threatened by British investors wanting to dam it for hydroelectric power. It seems that the daughter of the landowner that sold the property to the British raised such a stink that the plant was halted and the land given over to the state of Iceland as a national park. This battle is now being fought in other places all over Iceland. Strange that a country so very “green” in terms of power generation can be so short-sighted when it comes to their areas of natural wonder. Our guide on the first day explained this by saying that one of the fatal flaws of Icelanders was that they were always looking forward, never back towards the past. This explains the relative scarcity of old buildings in Reykjavik; that and the earthquakes, harsh winters and the interest Icelanders have in the creature comforts available to the rest of the world.
Our week in Iceland is fast coming to a close and I find myself wishing we had more time. It seems that every time I get to know a new country I experience a certain “where have you been all my life” sensation. Iceland has been nothing less than fabulous, and I hate the thought of leaving so soon after getting to know it. Better to have experienced it at all I suppose, and there is always the excuse to come back and sample some more of that wonderful Hákarl.