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Iceland Day 9: Snoke is *totally* Jar Jar

Iceland Day 9: Snoke is *totally* Jar Jar

After taking a six-hour-long shower, gorging myself on the free breakfast, and bidding a teary goodbye to the comfortable bed1, I checked out of the Hotel Kea and drove Björk northward through Akureyi. Along the way I saw something I hadn’t seen since all the way back at Reykjavik: stoplights. As an adorable bonus, all of the red lights were heart-shaped.

Awwww.

The snowbound peril began again almost immediately as I left the city and headed up the western side of the fjord. Thank gawd for my studded winter tires.2 For the third time in three days, the road disappeared entirely in snow; I was traversing a steep slope that angled down to the sea, cautiously rolling along a flat strip halfway up the mountain. Then a van came at me from the other direction, towing a large boat. I made an audible Tina noise.

At the top of the peninsula was a series of long tunnels which were pretty creepy themselves, despite offering a break from the snow. They felt like cheap tunnel rides at Six Flags. Most were a single lane wide, with a gap every 500 meters for one car to pull over and let the oncoming car past. The longest tunnel was 11 kilometers long, with only a tiny gap of daylight in the middle.

It was here, on a long straight stretch, that a bright red light suddenly flashed at me from the side of the tunnel. …Guys, I think I got camera-speed-trapped. This would be (a) frustrating, since I was driving at Miss-Daisy speeds for 99% of the day; (b) scary, because omg how expensive are Icelandic speeding tickets; and (c) interesting, because they were pretty much the first sign of law enforcement I’ve seen in all of Iceland. I haven’t noticed a single police car, not even outside a police station.

I exited the final tunnel just past the town of Siglufjorður and rounded a bend. To my right was the Arctic Ocean, uninterrupted. Nothing but water and ice between myself and the North Pole. I looked it up later: the latitude was 66.2° N, easily the farthest north I’ve ever been. It felt like the end of the earth.

Santa?

After rejoining the Ring Road, I stopped at a gas station and had a very different kind of Treat Yoself experience: a hot dog3, an ice cream cone, and a coffee. Final tally for this calorie-fest was somewhere around $15. Way cheaper than dinner last night, unless indigestion is a factor.

I peeled away from the Ring Road yet again to head north into the Westfjords, Iceland’s wildest and least populated region. To my complete lack of surprise, a long portion of the road there—the ONLY road there, I want to emphasize—was unpaved. By now, I’m over it.

Me when I drove on my first bumpy, potholed Icelandic road:

Me when I drove on my 50th bumpy, potholed Icelandic road:

In the final afternoon stretch, the swings in the weather became downright comical. It went from blinding snowstorm to blinding sunlight and back to snowstorm in a 15-minute stretch. This is some wacky Neverland shit right here.

I arrived in Hólmavik, my destination for the day; watched the teaser trailer for “The Last Jedi” on my phone while standing in their little supermarket; and found a parking spot for the night overlooking the bay with its large population of penguin-looking ducks.

Tomorrow, Saturday, is an unknown quantity. The roads might be clear enough for me to make a loop through the region; or, if the road/weather pattern thus far continues, I might turn back towards Reykjavik and get there a day ahead of schedule.

Hmm, not many pictures to share today. Let me make up for it with a day-before-Easter tribute to the cute little churches of Iceland that I’ve seen in every little town and valley.

Iceland Day 8: Treat Yoself

Iceland Day 8: Treat Yoself

A fresh layer of snow had fallen during the night, and would continue to fall all morning. It’s funny how surprising this is for me; I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility of rain or ice on this trip, but steady snowfall in mid-April didn’t seem likely. How wrong I was.

But the show must go on! And so I gently slid Björk in a counterclockwise loop around Lake Myvatn, stopping first at a group of “pseudo-craters” that are the product of giant steam explosions from out of the earth in the ancient past. That would be quite a thing if it happened again, no? I’ve kinda been psyching myself up for sudden volcanic activity the whole time I’ve been here. (Or ice. Or rain. Just not snow!)

A small tangent: Icelanders repeatedly assure you that their tap water is safe to drink. This seems like an odd thing to reiterate, until you smell it: sulfur. It gives me flashbacks to summer camp, but not in a good way.1

Now, some areas of the country are better than others in the sulfur department, but at Myvatn it was serious, both in the water and the air. The steam from underground smelled of it—in some places it was mild, in others it was truly eye-watering. Being a chicken owner, you’d think I’d be more acclimated to the smell of rotten eggs.

My other major stop at Myvatn was Dimmuborgir, a giant playground of lava formations that have frozen over time into strange hoodoos of crooked rock.

Before heading out of the area, I had a customary tourist experience: pull over and pet the Icelandic horses, distinctive with their stocky physiques and emo haircuts. The interaction turned awkward, though, when I discovered they don’t like bananas.

Sorry guys.  :-[
There was plenty of time on the clock for the day, so I took a detour up north to Húsavik. The extra drive took me past more and more fields filled with jumbled piles of frozen lava, not as snow-covered as those back at Myvatn. Finally I rounded a bend and, for the first time in my life, saw the Arctic Ocean.

Looks cold.

I loved Húsavik! Charming little town. At the whale museum, there was a macabre but fascinating display of over half a dozen skeletons from beached whales, including a blue whale and a narwhal. I could’ve paid for a whale-watching tour, but I had other plans for spending all my money, so I headed back south.

The schizophrenic weather had veered back to brilliantly sunny. Weather is best divided into quarter-days in Iceland, I’ve found. I drove through a gap in a tremendous snowy mountain ridge and then, as though arriving at the end of a quest, I descended to the glorious fjord that would lead me to Akureyi. (ah-KOO-ree-yeh, I think.)

SVEIN-byarn-ger-thee, I think.

Today was the midpoint of my epic road trip, and I was celebrating with a night in an honest-to-god hotel, with a BED and a SHOWER. I also got a Moscow mule at the hotel bar, which at happy hour prices was “only” 1,500 ISK (that’s almost $13.50).

On the plus side, it came with a bendy straw.

Since it felt a little absurd to make dinner over Björk’s gas stove in the hotel parking lot, I extended Treat Yoself Thursday to include dinner across the street: locally-caught Arctic char with polenta and salad. Hello, delicious fresh food! Goodbye, $50! Food is ‘spensive here, y’all.

Having successfully parted my foolish self from my money, I forced myself into some productivity at the hotel desk before reminding myself what a warm bed in a climate-controlled room feels like…

Oh, yeah, I could get used to this.

Total random side note: Apple Pay works *everywhere* in Iceland. It’s amazing.

Iceland Day 7: White, wheat, or buried?

Iceland Day 7: White, wheat, or buried?

I’ve got a bit of a ranty Marc Maron-style opening today. Please feel free to skip down to the pretty pictures.

I TOTALLY get why people travel with other people. Someone to share your experiences and memories with, split the bills, yadda yadda. I’ve done it myself.

That! being! said! Among other things, I do NOT envy the picture-taking process:

  1. Person A poses in front of the waterfall/volcano/glacier/crashed-plane-on-beach.
  2. Person B lines up the picture, takes an impossibly long time composing the image, and takes 8-10 shots.
  3. Person A walks over to Person B to approve or reject their handiwork. If it’s rejected, go back to step 1.
  4. Switch! Now it’s Person B’s turn to pose.

And the whole time I’m there just waiting to get my shot. Give me a selfie stick any day over this little dance routine.

/rant

Not far from my campsite Wednesday morning was the trailhead for Hengifoss, “Iceland’s third-tallest waterfall.” They sure do love their superlatives here—how very Texan of them.

It was a two-kilometer hike up the hill to the base of the waterfall, wind blowing so hard I literally had to lean into it a couple of times, snow falling half-heartedly. There wasn’t anybody else on the trail for the entire trip up and back.

Geology nerd time! The cliff that you see there consists of layers of vertical basalt pillars interrupted by layers of red rusted iron. The pillars were once lava from nearby volcanoes. The layers were once ash from distant volcanoes. This entire mountain—this entire country—is a product of volcanoes. Amazing stuff.

Today’s weather was indecisive, with the sky overhead an ongoing battle between blue and gray.1 I’d say besides the SUPER-SCARY SNOWSTORM you’ll read about momentarily, it was the best weather since my first day out of Reykjavik. You know how residents of Texas, and every other state, love to claim the weather changes every 10 minutes? Yeah that actually happens in Iceland.

I stopped back in Egilsstaðir for gas2; used the Wi-Fi to write a blogpost while uploading pictures and downloading podcasts; then around noon, pointed Björk to the west.

Yet again the drive was pleasant to start with, but as I got to higher elevation, the snowstorm moved in and began blowing onto the road. I wasn’t losing traction, but I was losing visibility. At one point the road was covered in snow entirely, marked only by the yellow markers to either side. There wasn’t much for me to do but sloooowly creep my way forward through the snow, palms sweaty, knees weak, mom’s spaghetti, until I got to clearer conditions. Let’s not make a regular thing out of this.

Once it cleared a bit, the landscape was gorgeous in a Hoth-like way: broad and flat, with neither plant nor animal to interrupt the view.

After a hundred kilometers or so, I crossed a river valley and turned right to get to Dettifoss and Selfoss, two more amazing wonderfalls.

YAWN.

The parking lot was full and there were people yammering in a dozen different languages. Yep, I’m officially back in tourist country.

Ah, tourists.

A bit further west I approached Lake Myvatn, the biggest attraction in northern Iceland. It’s easy to see why; the whole area is arranged like an amusement park, with a cave or volcano or bubbling cauldron spaced out at seemingly regular intervals around the lake. Steam was oozing out of the ground right and left, in a few places creating mind-boggling sculptures.

Today’s fun fact: In Iceland they bake bread by burying it in the freaking ground. WHAT PLANET IS THIS.

I also poked my head into the cave where Jon Snow and Margritte got busy in that one episode of “Game of Thrones.” I couldn’t believe how not-child-safe it was: no handrails, no barriers, nothing to stop you from slipping into the hot-water pool inside. Fun story: this cave used to be a popular bathing spot until a nearby volcano eruption in the 1970s raised the water temperature to 60 degrees Celsius. I feel sorry for the first person who figured that out.

I was tired. Around 5:30pm I headed to the campground, and by 6:00 I was parked, sitting in the back of the camper, making an early dinner and going through my pictures. This is what counts as a “slow day” in Iceland: white-out conditions and boiling smokestacks in the earth.

My organizational system within the camper van is improving by the day. Just as these things tend to go, I’ll probably have it perfected just in time to return the camper and fly home.

Mmmmmm, instant coffee
Iceland Day 6: Drivin’ in a Winter Terrorland

Iceland Day 6: Drivin’ in a Winter Terrorland

I was right to worry.

The snow at the Höfn campground had melted overnight (which is not what I’d have expected, but, that’s Iceland for you). As I left town and drove to higher elevation, though, it reappeared. The first vehicle I passed was a snowplow, which would seem to be a good omen, but turned out to be a bad one. The road, it turned out, was only cleared in one lane—the southbound lane. And so, crazy as it sounds, for long stretches over the next 100 km, I was driving into oncoming traffic.

Pictured: mortal peril (don’t worry, I stopped to take the picture)

Any time another car (or a blind turn) approached, I carefully eased Björk onto my own slushy side, then back into the oncoming lane. Thankfully, the road was practically empty; I passed fewer than ten cars in two hours.

The weather worsened. At one point I was being simultaneously pelted by rain from above and snow from the side—and just to maximize the danger level, thousands of killer geese1 floating in the ocean to my right. The whole thing felt positively Biblical.

And speaking of Jesus Christ, at one point I caught a patch of ice and began sliding at an angle toward the far edge of the road and the steep embankment beyond. Now THAT will wake you up in the morning, my friends.

I did *not* attempt any pictures during this portion, so here’s a nice one from earlier.

I finally stopped in the little town of Djúpivogur to celebrate my continued existence and make breakfast in the back of the camper (yum yum, freeze-dried scrambled eggs and coffee). Then I saw the sign for the local baths and decided to stop in. The place was largely empty, just myself and a couple of locals. It was an unremarkable experience, but again, felt quite genuine, like a brief glimpse into Icelandic life.

North of Djúpivogur the road was cleared of snow and relatively easy going, though it turned to gravel for a short stretch.2 Snow continued to blow around me, almost certainly obscuring some spectacular views, but creating its own weird experience. In places it hovered in a stationary fog a few inches off the road. The world was black and white.

I drove a six-kilometer-long tunnel deep under a mountain ridge and emerged into a valley that took me to the day’s major stop, Egilsstaðir, population 2,306. After a coffee in the local info center, I took a side trip to Seyðisfjörður, best known from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”3 It was yet another snowy drive up and over a mountain ridge to get there, with still more eerie black-and-white vistas as I went.

And it’s just about as far as I’m going to get from Reykjavik, and Texas, before heading back.

Arriving in the scenic little town, I found… not much to do. The few tourist attractions were closed for the winter. (“Winter” lasts until May in Iceland.) So a few pictures later, I drove right back the way I’d come to Egilsstaðir. …Okay there’s not much to do here, either. Earlier I had asked the worker at the tourist center if there was a local pub; she circled a location on the map that turned out to be a secondhand store. Welp.

For the day’s final leg, I drove southeast out of town to Lake Lagarfljót (also known as Lake Lögurinn, apparently?) and along its eastern shoreline to my campsite for the evening. There I settled into my evening routine: typing this entry, listening to a podcast, eating freeze-dried dinner. (Veggie burrito bowl. Not as good as the gumbo.)

Tomorrow, the road adventure begins all over again—the next stretch of my trip was labeled “slippery” according to the road-conditions website this afternoon, and there’s more snow in the forecast. This is what I asked for, dammit!!

And now, this.

Iceland Day 5: Catastrophe

Iceland Day 5: Catastrophe

After running Björk’s built-in space heater for a few minutes Monday morning, I was able to convince myself to wriggle out of my sleeping bag. I shortly discovered my first serious snafu of the entire trip. Despite the switch being on the lowest setting, my little icebox had been acting as a freezer. Two Cokes and one beer had exploded overnight. I must have been sleeping like a rock.

And so, my first productive hour of the day was spent in the back of the camper, meticulously taking every item out of the icebox and washing and drying it like a dish, then mopping Coke-Zero-beer out of the back.

Mischief managed! These things happen, I suppose. On to the pretty stuff.

First, I drove down to the first of several black sand beaches facing the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s the opening-scene-of-Rogue-One beach! Worth clicking through to the big version.

Birds were nesting by the thousands in the cliffs, wheeling for no apparent reason in the air before returning to their nests.

Also worth a click.

Heading east out of Vik, I drove past fields of bumpy moss, wind-swept grass, and gray moonscapes, always with the mountains to my left and the ocean to my right. There were (of course) plenty of scenic stops along the way.

One thing I’ve failed to mention thus far: the driving conditions in Iceland take some getting used to. First, there are no giant billboards directing you to the major tourist attractions; you’ve got to catch the tiny directional signs, no bigger than regular street signs, as you zip down the highway at 100kph. Second, the side roads to many of the tourist attractions would, in any other scenario, convince you that you’d taken a wrong turn. “Bumpy” is a kind word for it. Suspension repair has got to be a BOOMING business in this country. Much like yesterday’s strange trek to the thermal bath, it’s not until you see the collection of tourist vehicles that you’re sure you’re on the right track.

The major event of the day was a walking tour of the Svínafellsjökull glacier (SVEEN-a-fells-yokel1). I checked in at the mountain guide center and was fitted with a safety harness (juuuuuust in case I slid into a crevasse!) and crampons.

What a dork.

Then myself and 20 other tourists spent a couple of hours criss-crossing a glacier. Yes, it was the one from Interstellar. Yes, it’s quite surreal-looking.

*overpowering Hans Zimmer pipe-organ score*

The tour had a funereal feel—our guide pointed out the many places where the glacier had retreated, with lakes growing in its place, and speculated that within five years they’d need boats in order to conduct tours. Glaciers are a dying breed, friends, see em while you can. 🙁

On the way back to the van, it began snowing.

By then it was 6pm and for the first time (but not the last) I had to cut stops from my trip to stay on schedule. Too damn much to see in this country! Sorry I missed you, Svartifoss.2 Instead, I continued east.

At one point I was crossing yet another one-lane bridge (they’re ALL one-lane bridges) over yet another glacial river when I happened to notice two strange shapes in the water below. Are… are those…

Seals?!?!

Seals were not on my Top 1,000 list of things I expected to see in Iceland. It was a lucky fluke that I’d even glimpsed them from the bridge. The country continues to throw me strange plot twists.

As I “turned the corner” of Iceland and the Ring Road began leading me north, the snow picked up. Before long I was driving through a winter wonderland, with mountains and glaciers alternating to my left. My enjoyment of the snow turned gradually to worry—I was close enough to my stop for the night (at Höfn, if you’re keeping track). But what would the roads be like in the morning? Would tonight be the night that Iceland’s weather shamelessly threw my itinerary for a loop like a fork in a garbage disposal?

FIND OUT, ON THE NEXT EPISODE OF HAPPYWAFFLE!

And now: a Justin Bieber music video shot in Iceland. You’re welcome.

Iceland Day 4: Kevin Gets Naked

Iceland Day 4: Kevin Gets Naked

Uhhhh.

To pick up my camper van on Sunday morning I had to walk to the bus station and take a 45-minute ride back to the airport, only to pick up ANOTHER shuttle and get to the rental agency. But after that and the usual stack of paperwork, I was finally introduced to her.

Now, y’all may know that I always name my cars after female solo artists—Fiona, Tori, Cher, Florence, and so on. And so, uncreative though it may be: everybody, meet Björk.

She’s a stick-shift, the sliding door doesn’t always open, the dome light doesn’t work, the bed doesn’t fold flat, and I love her to pieces.

I drove Björk back to the Airbnb, tossed my stuff unceremoniously in the back, and by 11:30 I was headed southeast out of Reykjavik on the Ring Road.

Oh yeah, the narwhalrus came on the trip, too.

To call this the best weather of the trip so far is an understatement. The sun peeked through broken clouds above; not a stitch of rain. Later in the day it would be downright sunny.

In most places, Iceland consists of very wide, very flat land backing up to incredibly dramatic cliffs and mountains. Off those cliffs fell one stunning waterfall after another. I could have literally stopped for a picture every five minutes. I joined the throngs of tourists1 at some of the major ones, but there were so many others without even have a spot to pull over. It’s an overwhelming experience.

Then I stopped at a grocery store, bought food, and made myself a PB&J for lunch, just to remind myself that mundanity still exists in the world.

My two afternoon activities each felt like some kind of bizarre cold-weather dare that I, for some reason, accepted.

Dare #1 was Seljavallalaug. Say it with me, now: SEL-ya-va-la-lowg. It’s an outdoor thermal pool that’s so far from the road, parking lot, or any other human habitation that only the ant-trail of fellow tourists convinces you you’re not walking randomly into the wilderness. I hiked almost 20 minutes up a narrowing ravine, carrying my swimsuit and towel in a plastic grocery bag. Finally I rounded a bend and saw… a guy’s bare butt. This must be it.

This place is some kind of life-after-people thing. The pool has been open since the 1920s, but only the barest of maintenance has kept it alive. The changing rooms were in ruin, which meant most of us just changed clothes right there in front of God and everyone, freezing wind spanking us the whole time. I quick-changed into my swimsuit and immediately dipped into the pool, discovering to my dismay that (unlike the Secret Lagoon) it’s merely warm, not really hot. Like hour-old-bathwater warm. Yuck.

There was a thin waterfall trickling down the hillside into the pool, so I backed into this little alcove and let the hot water trickle down my back. (“Naturally hot water” still doesn’t quite register as a logical thing in my brain.) There, I was able to relax for a bit. The mountain in front of me was brilliant in the sunlight. Occasional snowflakes drifted downward. It was pretty darn nice.

The real challenge was getting out of the water.

Dare #2 was Sólheimasandur (SOUL-heim-a-sand-ur). This is a beach where a US Army DC-3 famously crash-landed in 1973, and was largely left there to rot. You can hike from the Ring Road to take a look at the rusting plane sitting by itself on the sand.

The catch is that the hike down to the beach is crazy-long, like, almost an hour of brisk walking. Time and space seemed to lose all meaning as I walked on this straight track from the parking lot. The ocean was visible in the distance from the very start, but absolutely refused to grow any closer. The sun set slowly to my right2 and the wind seemed to emanate directly from it, my shadow stretching off to the left was like a wind sock.

Just when I had lost all hope of ever seeing my family again, the plane finally appeared in the distance. And yes, it is quite strange-looking, though all us tourists hopping around like flies on a carcass take something away from the effect. Still, a neat sight.

Of course it was almost an hour to walk back, this time directly into the wind. (I’m trying not to bitch about the wind constantly, but it’s pretty impossible to ignore.) I made it back and drove another few kilometers to Vik—finally, a place with a short name!—where I gassed up and parked at the camping area.

I wish I could have captured the moment an hour later, in the back of the camper, after I poured the boiling water into my freeze-dried chicken gumbo, set a timer for 10 minutes, and then just sat there, head back, white LED dome light dimly illuminating the scene. Only my hunger kept me from passing right out as I sat there. My watch told me I had reached almost 700% of my daily exercise goal. HOLY CRAP FREEZE-DRIED GUMBO IS SO GOOD, Y’ALL.3

ICELAND FACT OF THE DAY: There are currently no trains of any type anywhere in Iceland.

Iceland Day 3: Waffles! Waffles! Waffles!

Iceland Day 3: Waffles! Waffles! Waffles!

After enjoying many fun beverages and cool people at Friday night’s improv afterparty, I woke up chilly but well-rested at 8:30 Saturday morning. I’d previously learned that the “oldest pool in Reykjavik” (I don’t know how to verify these things) was just a block from my apartment. So I threw on my layers, walked over, and paid a $9 entry fee to soak alongside the locals.1 I sank into the 42-degree water (yes, that’s in Celsius) and listened quietly to their friendly Icelandic chatter, failing to recognize a single word. It felt like my most authentically Icelandic experience thus far.

My body temperature sufficiently raised, I then spent the $30 Of Shame on a new hat before returning yesterday’s rental car. The rest of mid-day was, as I’d hoped, chillax. I walked along the waterfront and had a perfectly decent burger at a well-known local dive. I wandered through a moss-draped cemetery, shoes squishing in the black leaves under my feet.

I went to the National Museum and saw thousand-year-old artifacts that had, in an amusing number of cases, been randomly found in some Icelander’s attic. In one corner was a shockingly well-preserved jawbone from a Viking woman, who had died in eastern Iceland shortly after 900AD and been partially mummified in the ground until a road crew uncovered her in 1938.

Plus this guy.

Then I pressed against the bitter wind, back up the hill to the Airbnb. Did I buy a sugar-covered waffle from a food truck on the way?

My friends, yes I did.

Back at the apartment, I found a newly-arrived tourist from Seattle in the adjacent room. She said she was making coffee and asked if I wanted some. “Sure,” I said politely, and a few minutes later was handed some sort of coffee-flavored pudding. Lesson learned: never assume the person offering you coffee actually knows how to MAKE coffee. The caffeine burst definitely helped, though, as I caught up on photos and Merlin Works stuff.2 Plus, the view out my bedroom window was not bad at all.

After a not-long-enough catnap I walked through the wind, which I’m pretty sure is getting colder and bitterer by the hour, to the theater for the final night of the Iceland Improv Festival. On the one hand, I should’ve said more about the festival thus far; on the other hand, IT’S NOT LIKE I DON’T TALK ABOUT IMPROV ENOUGH. But it was a delightful night of comedy, with an especial shout-out to the amazeballs headlining set from North Coast out of New York City.

I enjoyed myself at the tiki bar (?!) where the festival had its afterparty, then wandered back to the Airbnb for the final time. The moon rose beautifully behind the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, and I suddenly realized: the moon is out! For the first time since I arrived, the sky is clear! It might not last, but even at night, it’s mildly exciting.

Back home now. Still sorting through Merlin Works work. Tomorrow at 7:30am, I take the bus to the rental place to pick up my camper van. I doubt that I’ll go off the grid, but the Internet might become spotty for me. Barring a catastrophic volcano eruption, though, you can assume I’m fine.

Gonna abruptly end this entry with some cool graffiti (if this even counts as graffiti) in downtown Reykjavik.

Iceland Day 2: I Think the Swans Stole It

Iceland Day 2: I Think the Swans Stole It

First, some terminology: The Ring Road is the big drive. The Golden Circle is the little drive. Confusing I know.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 09.18.22.png

Today I took the little drive, splitting a car rental with two Brits (Phil and Katy!) and two Swedes (Peter and Daniel!) to visit some of the best views in Iceland within spitting distance of Reykjavik.

It was still overcast when I left the Airbnb—24 hours and counting with no sun—and walked across downtown to the car rental. I picked up the gang in my shiny new Kia hatchback and we headed east out of town, up a wide valley, the low clouds stubbornly refusing to show us the tops of the surrounding hills. As we got higher, white streaks of remnant snow joined the green-gray-brown of the landscape. Native Icelandic horses could be seen along the roadside, as well as various birds—especially swans. An unsettling number of swans.

After an hour we made our first stop: Þingvellir National Park. (Þ is pronounced “th” as in “this,” and ð is pronounced “th” as in “thing.” Yer welcome.)

There we tromped against the wind along a boardwalk, down a Middle-Earth canyon, to the first of two terrifically powerful waterfalls that misted us generously. I requested windshield wipers for my glasses.

Couldn’t take a picture any closer. Too misty.

45 minutes later we were at Gullfoss, which is professional-grade waterfalling, A+, would waterfall again.

Click to make bigger. See the little tourist-people on the left side?

Thirdly, after an errant drive down a comically bumpy road, we made it to the geysers at Haukadalur. One of them is named Geysir. We got the word “geyser” from THIS EXACT GEYSER. It’s inactive today, but another one called Strokkur burst into the air three times during our brief visit. It was a bubbly-cauldron landscape of weirdness. I’m gonna go with Monty Python & the Holy Grail for my movie comparison, just for the persistent random blowing smoke.

Arður, king of the Britons.

The weather throughout the day was nose-runny cold and generally miserable. I believe Forrest Gump would have called it “little bitty stingin’ rain.” But, you know what? Good! One doesn’t come to Iceland for its blue-sky 70-degree afternoons. This felt like an authentic experience. (Plus, there were free refills on the lamb soup at the Gullfoss cafeteria.)

And then came our final stop, the Secret Lagoon, my first Icelandic thermal bath experience.

Thermal baths are to Icelanders what saunas are to Finns, or what breakfast tacos are to Austinites. So, being in Rome, we unbundled ourselves of our various layers; took the required shower (there were diagrams showing the body parts to wash); threw on swimsuits; tiptoed hurriedly from the dressing-room door through the misty 40-degree air; and plopped in.

Ohhhh yes. I could get used to this.

We were quickly up to our chins in the exceptionally warm water, comfy as puppies. As our bodies acclimated and grew hot, we could comfortably lift ourselves into the frosty air, letting the thermal currents sort themselves out. I drifted off alone for a bit and found a shallow spot where I could sit half out of the water. That very same freezing drizzle, which had rendered me miserable an hour before, now bounced harmlessly away. The sun peeked through the clouds for one of the few times that day, and I even glimpsed bits of blue sky above. I smiled.

Somehow my hat went missing in the middle of all this; no idea how that happened. So tonight I’ll be a meat popsicle, and tomorrow morning I’ll pay way too many moneys (ohmygodsoexpensivehere) for a new one.

Pictured: Kevin Without Hat

It was less of a whirlwind day than this entry makes it seem. Quite a full one, though. By 5:30pm we were heading back to Reykjavik through the intermittent rain, over a snowy mountain pass, past more horses and swans ohmygodsomanyswans.

Tonight: dinner and an improv-festival after-party. Tomorrow: a much more chillax day, mehopes, and the last in Reykjavik. Sunday: I pick up my rented camper van, and the trip really begins.

Iceland Day 1: Sü-Sü-Süssúðío

Iceland Day 1: Sü-Sü-Süssúðío

I slept terribly on the overnight flight from JFK to Reykjavik, occasionally peeking out the window in hope of seeing the northern lights. There was an orange smear of sunlight growing on the horizon when our 737 dipped into a thick layer of low clouds over Iceland. Seconds before touching down, we emerged out the bottom, and I got my first glimpse of the country—mottled soil and rocky coast, all shades of gray this early in the morning.

As a tour bus drove me from the airport into Reykjavik, I had a better view: unkempt fields of green and brown and gray, sprinkled with broken black boulders, fading into mist on the horizon. There were still some smudges of snow clinging to life here and there. Very few buildings in sight; very few roads besides the one we were on. Already, on the ride from its biggest airport to its biggest city, Iceland seemed so beautifully empty.

Finally the city began to emerge around us—heavy industry, apartment buildings, hills and pine trees—and we joined the Thursday morning rush hour (such as it is in a town of 100,000). I listened to the final episode of S-Town so as to drown out the easy-listening music on the bus’s radio. I’m too jet lagged for ya right now, Phil Collins.

I checked into my Airbnb (a charming little room on the fourth floor) then immediately set to work wandering the city. First came Hallgrimskirkja, a tremendous spartan iceberg of a cathedral less than a block away. Then the Settlement Exhibition, more quirkily known as “871 ± 2,” where I saw the archeological remains of a Viking longhouse built sometime between (you got it) 869 and 873. Then at the Saga Museum, I learned about the history of the country, thanks to the goofiest set of wax figures I’ve ever seen.

I just censored a wax figure’s nipple. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

Lunch was at a famous hot dog stand. The Icelanders are mighty proud of their hot dogs, it turns out, but they dress them in stuff like gravy, mayonnaise, and fried onions. I know what you’re thinking: That sounds gross. But I’m here to tell ya… Yeah actually it’s a little gross.

The kind of food porn you regret looking at

After recharging my gadgets (with electricity) and self (with a nap), it’s now 4:00 in the afternoon, meaning this is really a first-half-day report. I’ll catch a few more tourist spots before seeing some friends at the Iceland Improv Festival. Tomorrow I’m going in on a car rental with a few of them—two Brits, two Swedes—and driving the famous Golden Circle.

Hmm, I should probably shower at some point.

ICELAND FACT OF THE DAY: Iceland was one of the last landmasses on earth to see permanent human habitation, only 1100 years ago. (New Zealand takes first prize; aborigines settled there less than 800 years ago.)

“Interstellar” is Dumb

“Interstellar” is Dumb

In 2012, I decided that I would visit Iceland in 2017. Yes, that’s ridiculously far in advance. I like planning things. Just ask my parents about our trip to Disney World in 8th grade—there were dot-matrix-printed spreadsheets.

But, five years is enough time to plan a serious trip. And now, sure as the Mayan apocalypse, the time has arrived. I’m flying to Reykjavik on Wednesday morning, spending the weekend at the Iceland Improv Festival1 in between sampling the tourist attractions and local cuisine.

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Local cuisine. This is an actual photograph.

Then on Sunday morning, I’m renting a ramshackle camper van and spending the next ten days driving the Ring Road (as it’s called) around the entire country.2

Iceland is about the size of Indiana. It’s got about 335,000 permanent residents, but 60% of them live in and around Reykjavik. The rest of the country is mostly empty, wild, weird space; “it feels like someone put the American West in a blender.” It’s played a zillion different planets and fantasy-lands—the glacier from Interstellar is right next to the ice pond where Qui-Gon had a sword fight with Batman, and just down the road from Galen Erso’s farm from “Rogue One.”

I got the outfit at REI.
I got the outfit at REI. The doll is homemade.

There’s a waterfall, beach, gorge, lake, volcano, or cave around every bend in the road. There’s a Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft, “The home of the Necropants.” There’s a Phallological Museum, with the excellent URL phallus.is. There’s something called “Interdimensional Hopscotch” (stay tuned on that).

My keyboard is programmed to type bizarre Middle-Earth-looking letters like Þ and ð. I have tips on the best hot dogs and thermal baths. I’ve bought and marked up a giant folding paper road map, like it’s 1986 or something. I’ve got the optional “sand, gravel, and volcanic ash insurance” on my rental car. Just like Disney World, I have carefully-crafted spreadsheets and itineraries—and Iceland’s famously capricious weather stands ready to blow them both to smithereens. (As I type this, a significant chunk of the Ring Road is closed to all traffic.)

Actual webcam image. It's called Iceland for a REASON, people.
Actual webcam image. It’s called Iceland for a REASON, people.

It’s going to be a wild time. Watch this space for more.