everything is much farther away in iceland. everything is far more vast and spread out. everything takes way longer to get to. especially when an increasingly purple looking sky is racing the camper van for shelter.
it’s a far piece from the glacial lagoons to vik. we tried to hurry it up, but every time we entered a lava field we were reminded that we wanted to take pictures, and either rolled down the window and went for it, or pulled over and took proper photos. and every time we rounded a curve in the island and came across another huge mass of cliffs of volcanic mountain, we did the same. and the sands. and the pillow lava. and the pointy lava. and look, horses.
like this field in the middle of nowhere filled with built cairns, where everybody felt compelled to add a stone, and the boys set about tearing them down to build their own until i stopped them. jim wandered around taking pictures.
mostly the boys sat in the back and played, and never noticed the scenery. i don’t know why it still bothers me. but every scenic place we visited, all they wanted was to play among themselves. i wonder if this will be the same every time we take them somewhere. it’s not like we mightn’t have bothered; i’m sure it will sink in at some point, but you’d think they’d even notice.
never mind. jim and i noticed. and pulled over. and got out. and wandered around looking for good photos.
and then the landscape changed once again, featuring caves and overhangs i just knew needed exploring, and then we were in vik.
i pulled in to the gas station, of course. when we passed thru vik before, on the way out, i dragged jim into the wool store and we bought him a hat, because he’d left his wool beret at home. we also let the boys get fridge magnets (a reindeer and a wolf), and we got a troll couple magnet to express our love. but this time, we parked and peed and then walked down to the sweeping black sand beach and those great sea stacks that are so obviously a troll pulling a masted sailing ship.
that black volcanic sand is deep, and slick, and hard to walk on. we kept having to go toward the shoreline to get any kind of grip on the sand, and that’s dangerous because of rogue waves. nefarious reynisfjara beach is just past the troll ship, on the other side of the massive volcanic mountain on top of which the air force used to have a sonar/radar submarine listening post. the volcanic mountain was formed in a hurry, and parts of it show the columnar lava, only it’s curved, like it burbled in huge candy lumps across the landscape and then froze.
there were thousands of birds wheeling around the cliffs, and they barely show up on camera. there were also some hang gliders launching from the top of the mountain and gliding down over the town and into the field across from the gas station – there were guys with gopros standing at the edge of the road waiting for the landings.
we walked right to the end of the beach, where large rocks catch the incoming waves and the cliffs stop any progress out to the ship or around the edge of the mountain. you have to go ten miles around the damned mountain to get to the other side of the ship. and that’s the beach that kills people, so just no.
on our way back to the camper it became obvious that it was going to be very difficult on everybody, so i left everybody in the lower parking lot, to play in the black sand and sit at picnic tables (if you’re grandpa), and hiked back to the gas station, thru town. i like this town. i spent a day here when i left the artist residency two years ago. it’s too bad we couldn’t stay, because i’d told avery i found a bunch of icelandite up on a farm road, and he really wanted some. we picked up lots of pebbles that were clearly icelandite (a couple of degrees too cool to be clear obsidian, but it’s black and spalls like glass).
but oh well. the storm was closing in. we climbed into the outflow gorge cut by myrdalsjokull when it scraped out vik’s topography, and then cut across more volcanic mountains until we wound back down to coastal sandy plain again, and from that point it was all flat and no glacier until we got to thorlakshofn.
and i got tired, somewhere east of hella. and pulled over at a gas station for a short rest. but i could hear the wind picking up, and feel the rain spattering harder against the side of the camper. so after only ten minutes, i turned on the truck and got back on the road. and it was windy. and the rain was gusting across the road. the storm was catching us from the southeast, and it just got more and more. but by this time we were off route 1 and getting nearer our destination. we went out on a stretch of roadway built on what looked like a sandbar, or barrier island, and enclosed a huge estuary lake that people used for fishing and swimming – we passed a lot of cuts in the dune that led down to the beach. visibility was worse, tho, and the wind was rougher, and we pulled into thorlakshofn and found our way by gps mapwork. the campground was deserted except for one vehicle. it was behind a 6′ earth berm that surrounded the camp field, and this was right next to a huge sports center. so i left the kids in the car and went to check, and then went back and grabbed the kids and the suits, and damn well drove the camper back around to the front of the sports center, and we all got out and went swimming. except grandpa, who read his book.
this swimming pool was newly built, and designed with kids in mind. there was a large indoor baby pool, with slides, and big buckets of water that filled and dumped over, and big balls, and warm water the babies loved. connor tried to drown me as i wallowed in the baby pool. i made him stop and lectured him. like crying for help when you don’t need it. don’t drown grandma.
after the boys got used to the warmth, we headed outside, into the wind and driving rain, which was cold. but we plopped right down into the main part of the pool, and the boys started their repeat trips along the poolside, down to the ladder and all the way up to the top of two slides – a curly blue one, and a straight red one – that ended not in the regular pool, but in a tank above ground, where they climbed out and ran for the ladder again. i watched, because connor doesn’t actually swim yet. and avery is not the strongest of swimmers, but he can touch bottom. everything was good until connor decided to come down the straight slide face first. which pictures tell you not to do pretty clearly, and we’d walked him thru the pictures already. so the nice lady came out and asked how old he was, and then said the slides are for kids older than 5, and he made a pouty face but got over it. and soon he was talking to this 9 year old who had near-perfect english, and they got into a diving contest together.
they spent an hour in the pool, and then i got into the hotpots for a few moments, and beat them out to where grandpa was reading his book.
and so we went back to the campground, and ate something unmemorable, and went to bed in the driving rain and the shaking camper.
and when we woke up at whatever time i had my phone alarm set for, it was densely foggy outside. so never mind whatever tourist plans i had woken us up for that morning, the only thing for it was to get back to hafnarfjordur and drop off the camper as quickly as possible.
which means we didn’t see the heath as we passed over it, or anything about the not-route-1 road we took to get there. we did, however, pass a couple of patches of snow, which means we were right up there in the mountains, and the road sloped alarmingly off to the side. so when i could, i pulled over, dragged fighting boys out of the van, and led them thru foot-thick moss to the snow mass, broke off a couple of chunks with my boot heel, and dragged them back to the camper, where i let them throw the chunks at each other. quite the anticlimax, but they’d been bothering me about playing in the snow from the moment i first mentioned iceland.
we arrived at kuku campers (thanks folks) just only a few minutes late, after cruising up and down alfheidi, the street where our airbnb home for the night was. we’d arranged to drop off our stuff early, and the kind folks let us go ahead and check in at 9 am. which was great. we unloaded our junk into a spotlessly clean apartment with a swingset right out the back window, and prepared for our day, which was basically meeting my friends for the few moments we had available.
so we took our bathing suits and walked over to hellisgerdi, and my friend ragnhildur who sees huldufolk, and has been teaching me a lot of things about their world and their interactions with us. we sat with her and her husband over the traditional table spread with food and drink, and we caught up. i knew jim would like them; they’re unusual people, and very creative.
the kids played with the toys in the living room. all icelanders have young kids somewhere in their lives, so there are toys in every house, thanks be to thor.
then when we’d talked enough to make up for two years of not seeing each other, we gave a final pat to the dogs and trooped off into hellisgerdi park, where we let the kids run around on the lava.
and then we walked all the way across town, past the harbor and down the road, until we got to the pool, recently designed with kids in mind.
and again, grandpa stayed in the observation area and read his book, and the kids and i went in for a swim. i’m afraid i’m mixing my pools up a bit.
we only went to three of them, but i’m not sure which is thorlakshofn and which is hafnarfjordur now. leave it to say that they boys ran when they weren’t supposed to, jumped off the slides the way they’re not supposed to, and didn’t drown or get injured or yelled at more than once. they found friends to play with, didn’t try to kill each other, didn’t complain, and didn’t cling. good boys.
we found a walking bridge that you can use to go over a sort of closed off entrance, and avery practiced holding his nose and swimming under the bridge, back and forth. this showed actual swimming techniques, which i only noted at the time, but will be working with in our local pool this summer. and after an hour, and me in the hotpot only long enough to take a deep breath, we joined grandba at a table. actually, i joined him; we could hear the boys in the dressing room playing with all the other kids for ages, until i sent grandpa in there to fetch them out.
and then an interminable walk back to the apartment. the boys complained, but we walked up and over the suburban streets rather than going down the main drag the way we did on the way there. lovely old houses. they use corrugated iron as siding on the old houses; i think it’s a nordic tradition, rather than being introduced by u.s. airmen back in the war. i see where it was imported as ballast in ships coming from england, and used in place of the wood which wasn’t there except as timbers washed ashore.
what did we do then? we probably napped. the owners of the apartment showed the boys how to use the tv, and all that goes with it, so they were set, except for fighting over what to watch. and aside from repacking, there was nothing for us to do except read our book… so i think i napped, waiting for kristruna and siggi to come by. we were going to meet with my friend mary, an artist at listhus when i was there, who was coming back to be an artist at nes at skagastrond, but the boys were being buttheads and i figured taking them swimming was something that would serve a bunch of purposes at once. they would never have behaved in a cafe having a nice talk with mary. so oh well. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
runa and siggi came soon after my head hit the pillow; connor let them in. they’re as laid-back a couple as you’ll ever meet, and tho i don’t know them any better than any of my icelandic friends, i feel like i’ve known them forever, like all my icelandic friends. they’re strong, independent, have their own opinions, and would take the shirts off their backs to help you. which is what they did last time. i’d met them on the bus going to akureyri. they were driving the bus. and i loved them both at first sight. so when i came back into reykjavik at the end of my residency with an injured shoulder, they took me around in the middle of the night, rousted a doctor out of bed to treat me, and then took me home and let me see their menagerie, or maybe coterie. just like i was related to them. so of course i am now.
they came and took us out to dinner, a kebab place downtown in reykjavik that caters to locals, meaning it was still reasonably priced. and it served kids food as well as grilled lamb cutlets, which jim and i got, only ate half of, and put between bread for the plane ride home the next day.
and then siggi drove us all around downtown while the boys, especially avery, stewed. he didn’t want to see the old government buildings. he didn’t want to see the monstrous new housing blocks and offices. he resented being driven out to the lighthouse and being able to run around for a minute. he didn’t want to go see the view from perlan (and neither did we at that point). so siggi drove us home, past unrecognizable haunts from his childhood, pointing out what used to be where houses and apartment blocks now took up the landscape.
avery went immediately down to the swings, and so we watched him work off his anger while we stood around the apartment and chatted. turns out runa lived in the next building up the street, and siggi had lived in a side street of alfheidi, which was built in the 60s. it’s such a small world. by the time avery was right again and siggi and runa went home, they’d promised to be back in the morning to take us to the airport. yay!
so we went to sleep, and i set the alarm for 6, finished packing, couldn’t find the scale the lady of the house suggested might be in one of the kids’ closets, made my best guess and closed up all the bags. then it only remained to get plane food organized. i’d told the kids i was going to get up at 6 and take them swimming one last time, at the old pool in hafnarfjordur, just on the other side of hellisgerdi. it opened at 6:30. but they were sleeping, and jim was sleeping, so i just did the necessary and left them alone. when i walked up to the store and got sandwich bread, things to drink, some more candy, my phone went off because siggi and runa had come back an hour and a half early so they could take us sightseeing on the reykjanes peninsula. but they still had to wait for me to use up all the food making sandwiches, and give them the rest of the perishables to take home with them, and leave the apartment clean and orderly.
and we went for a last tour of the area, led by our supreme tourguide, siggi, who is a professional tourbus operator and has been all over the country, and knows things about everything. once you can get him to open his mouth. he mainly watches, like jim. and runa and i have lots to talk about – knitting, messed-up family dynamics, so mainly he listens. or not. like jim.
first we found ourselves passing a sign for krysuvik, and i squealed, because this was one of the major reasons for staying the night in thorlakshofn, and we’d missed it because of the fog and my general weariness. but there we were, and the road turned right into graded gravel the same color as the mountains around us. the mountains looked like an open mining area – it was all fine black gravel, like mountains of tar macadam, and the road was only a scraped flat place for siggi’s suv to drive over. i had doubts i’d have chanced it with the camper. even tho it was only a short stretch of road, over unstable surface that wouldn’t take a road for more than a few months before buckling or covering it (i guess), and resumed as paved surface when we got out of the i guess newish lava field. it was all black, and that means no plants, so it must be new.
he drove us to seltun, which is mud pots and boiling springs snug into the crack between hills (mountains) and running as a stream into a huge green lake below. there’s a boardwalk, so you know it’s dangerous. the boys did their thing, but in this case they took runa as their toy of contention, and took dozens of photos with her tablet. perhaps she can delete them now.
and then we cruised the tourists sights of the peninsula one by one. this time i was a passenger, and just sat and looked at the landscape as it changed, not knowing where we were. we’d drive for a long time, and then a sight would appear, and we’d pull over and stop. and then we’d have to drive again for another long time until we stopped at another picturesque spot. and finally we started seeing the airport tower in the distance, and maybe large planes parked on the apron. and we were there.
we said goodbye; they promised to pick us up at the airport next time; we checked our luggage – i’d packed so carefully, but the big suitcase was 1.6 kg over, and all the backpacks were over 5kg. however, unlike the agents in atlanta, these in iceland just shrugged, never looked at the weights, and cleared everybody. huh.
so outside we went again. the boys ran around a pond with a metal egg-and-plane sculpture in the middle, i got coffee for us both, and we finished off the kleinur. greasy but good. and then i remembered that grandpa needed a wheelchair, so i went in and told the cute but confused looking wow agents that grandpa wheelchair sorry inconvenience, and a lovely young security guy came to wheel us thru security and into the food court. he might show up at our door someday; he said he’d rather visit atlanta than new york. you never know.
we decided to go for a walk, loaded grandpa’s chair up with our bags, and left him within range of all the cute girls eating at one of the cafes. i spotted an abandoned salad with all the non-vegetables eaten, and plopped it in front of grandpa to eat later – fresh raw veggies are a must in iceland, it doesn’t matter if they come out of a dumpster, they’re still gold in your body. a run thru the souvenir store just got us looked at, as avery and connor went straight to the fur stuff and started trying things on.
but we’d already gotten souvenirs, and i detest souvenir stores in general, and the boys were attracting attention, so we rejoined grandpa, who was indeed chatting up pretty girls from his wheelchair.
we ate our greens, and avery wheeled grandpa all the way to the gate, where they were already getting ready to board. so we were whisked to the front of the line for our boarding passes and passports, and then set next to the elevator, loaded onto the plane three minutes ahead of anybody else, and were securely stowed in the back of the plane, on the right, and caused nobody any harm at all. the boys were one to a row, with avery next to grandpa and me in charge of connor. as usual, the boys only looked out the window when we summoned them, and played with their toys. grandpa and i got to look out the window as we passed greenland – the western edge of the island was clear of snow and ice for a very long way inland. i didn’t see any settlements, but i’ll bet that area is green in a few weeks. how green does greenland get these days, anyway?
and we’ll leave it here until i can finish the narrative, sitting on the train platform outside of bwi airport, tired and hungry. we still have three days in northern virginia with my family of origin, and a very long 16 hour drive back home in the rain. but i’ll get to that later.