Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Icelandic Adventuring (Part II)

We worked well as travelers. We all had around the same level of of caffeine addiction, driving skills, and affection for Icelandic hot dogs (a hot dog in Iceland comes with about seven unidentifiable and delicious toppings). We were equally obsessive about keeping track of how much money we owed each other, and obviously, all of us were game for making a rather delirious music video. We all were happy to pull off the road at random intervals, to photograph more lambs or pretend we were on the moon.

 Road block on Iceland's main highway.
We also made a great traveling trio, because Katie or Isa always inevitably wanted to sleep in the backseat while I always wanted shotgun. (That girl, pictured above, with a camera case on her head, can sleep anywhere).
 (How could you not pull over for that, really?)

On the third day of the Great Icelandic Road Trip we traveled to the Lake Myvatn region, a popular destination for Icelanders in summer. The lake itself is beautiful and right near the (active) Krafla volcano. We climbed over wetlands and volcanic rocks and swam in the Myvatn nature baths--a ridiculously warm geothermal pool that left us awestruck and with happy straw-like hair that smelled like sulfur.

Wetlands wandering:

Nature baths: 
 We stopped at Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe (I'm beginning to find waterfall superlatives particularly amusing...mainly because I've heard a lot this year...would you rather be the most powerful waterfall or the biggest? And, as Victoria Falls makes you question, is size measured by the length of the waterfall or the height at which the water falls?)

Near the guesthouse we were staying was also Hverir, a landscape made up of craters filled with bubbling goo. The word "belching" comes to mind. We marveled at the general grossness until the smell got to us and we made a quick retreat back to Thor. (Apparently the technical term for these holes are "fumeroles"...traveling in Iceland makes me realize I've never really learned any geology).

The next morning, we braved some windy roads up to the Krafla volcano and hiked around one of the "Viti" craters ("Viti" apparently means "hell" in Icelandic, because people used to believe that hell was the insides of volcanoes. I'd believe it.)  We all agreed that the Caribbean-turquoise water inside the volcanic crater was dangerously misleading and began constructing contingency plans for if any of us fell in.

 (They're not actually jumping over a crater).

It was only hiking around the volcanic rock areas of Krafla, that the idea for the video took off, and the rest is history. The rest of the day consisted mainly of collecting moon rocks and listening to Carly Rae Jepsen as we drove from Myvatn to the cottage in Skagastrond we were staying in (fun fact: Skagastrond is also Iceland's country music capital). All of the shots below are places we stopped at along the way.


The following day, we drove back to my Reykjavik apartment with stops for some gnome houses we found on the side of the road and also Thingvellir National Park.


Despite the fact that we were a bit burnt out at this point, Thingvellir is a pretty amazing sight. It's where the first democratic parliament was held in 930 and also where the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tetonic plates is visible. We made wishes and threw coins in the fissure, a tradition supposedly started by King Frederik VIII of Denmark.

Thingvellir has the reputation of being the "most important historic site in Iceland."  The Althing general assembly met there from 930 to 1798. It's pretty amazing to stand in a place that was, essentially, an outdoor parliament. It's wonderful to think of almost the entire population gathering there, which has happened several times in Iceland's history, to stand below the rock where the law speaker used to recite all the laws by heart, and to think of the space as one of great decisions.

We returned to Reykjavik for some delicious fish & chips, a few episodes of Girls, and attempts at goodbye.

Consistently throughout the visit, I was reminded how great it is to have friends. I feel like a kindergartener skipping home and proclaiming, "I made FRIENDS. And they are so COOL." Because they are. And because I kind of forgot how great friends could be.  I was talking with Deivid, the other Swarthmore Watson, the other day, and we were both saying how at some times during this Watson year, it's as if everyone from home only exists in some virtual world, as if we've just dreamed them up. They are so separate from our daily lives.

It's nice when relationships from home don't have to be dependent on how good a wifi signal you have.  It's even nicer when your friends come prepared. Katie, in her DC-political-organizer-super-on-top-of-it wisdom, brought flash cards. She told me that she & Isa wanted to hear all about my year, but they knew that asking, "so how was it?" would be the lamest thing ever. So while we drove, and hiked, and ate, and drank coffee, occasionally, a neon colored index card would come out of her backpack. "A new skill," she'd say, or "a get-me-home-moment," or "best sunrise." As she said, the cards were ambiguous enough that we all could answer all of them, whatever journeys we'd been on this year in our separate lives.

That's just the kind of considerate, thoughtful, friends I'm lucky to have. And seeing them (in person! I have FRIENDS. And they are so COOL), just gave me another reminder of what I can look forward to about being home, even if the idea of going home sometimes feels more overwhelming than exciting these days.

Thanks for flying to Iceland, you two. And thanks for your thoughtfulness, dance skills, humor, compassion, and flash cards while here. I'm already counting down until the next reunion.

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