How do you manage to see a country, which, though known for its smaller population is also known for its many and diverse attractions including mind-numbing display of nature – from volcanoes to glaciers, geysers and waterfalls – to strange sagas and traditional dishes such as fermented ram testicles, in just two days? And I don’t like just grazing through a country and its people.
This was my dilemma as I set foot in Iceland on a summer afternoon.
I was staying for two nights, but because I arrived in Reykjavik only on a late afternoon and was leaving early afternoon two days later, the stay was actually one full day plus a couple of hours before and after.
So, after lot of deliberations, I had settled on the following: a couple of strolls through the city, visit to the Phallological Museum, a trip to see a geyser, and, of course, the quintessential trip to the Blue Lagoon. In between, try some good Icelandic food, though my courage does not now extend to tasting delicacies such as the fermented ram testicles.
Iceland, Once a ‘Closed’ Country
I came to know Iceland mostly in the eighties, when it hosted the historic summit between Russian leader Michail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan.
But then the country disappeared from my view and did not feature when, years later, I created my list of dream places to be visited.
Then, a few years ago, I was reading an essay by the noted travel writer Pico Iyer describing his experiences in Iceland. One of the notable passages that stuck out for me was the fact the presence of him, a brown face, was sufficient enough to warrant the local television station in the capital to interview him. That is how homogenous the country was.
Iceland then struck me as a closed place of white people with those strange Nordic names.
The chance to visit this strange, unique country arose as I planned a trip to Norway and Finland. IcelandAir offered the cheapest flight and what’s more, it also offered an incentive to break the trip in Iceland by charging no extra fee.
That is how this short trip came into being.
I was staying just outside of the capital, in Hafnarfjordur, a port city about 10 km south west of Reykjavik.
Wifi in Bus & Edda’s Farmhouse
One of the key features of Iceland that struck me as I was on my way to Hafnarfjordur was that the bus had wifi. So, I emailed Mrs Edda, owner of the Edda’s Farmhouse bed-and-breakfast, that I was on my way. She was to pick us up at the local bus halt.
Alas, Mrs Edda was not to be seen when we got off at the bus halt in Hafnarfjordur. I checked with the hotel reception just across the halt, and they had not seen her, either. My phone was not set up to make calls in Iceland and nor did I have a data connection. And I did not have any local currency, either.
After some more waiting, we moved to a set of banks nearby and while my wife remained there with most of the luggage, I took my hand-luggage and decided to walk to the bed-and-breakfast. My Nokia Lumia’s map, however, had trouble finding the street. I walked almost parallel to the sea, and then asked a young man for directions. After some thinking, he pointed his fingers to the right.
I changed course, but my intuition kept saying it was not the correct path, so I started returning to my original route. Close to an apartment building, I asked another Icelander, getting off his pickup truck. He asked me to keep walking straight ahead, as I had always assumed I should do.
I started walking, and then he came back to me to tell me that if I could wait until he drops off his stuff at someone’s apartment he could give me a ride to the address I was headed to. I was still smiling at him, but my alert internal eye scanned him. Was he trustworthy person?
Well, Iceland was, after all, a western country, and there was still light, so I could not think of any harm being done, and I said yes.
A little later he came back, and took me to my lodge. Along the way Igor, who runs a barbeque-party organizing business, gave a brief on the latest economic situation as he showed me the huge apartment complexes that were put up during the heydays of Iceland’s economy in the last decade before it crashed.
He dropped me off at the lodge and sped off. Mrs Edda was not there, either, so I waited. Fifteen minutes later, she appeared. She did go to pick us up, but was delayed, and therefore could not see us. We went back.
These acts of kindnesses, then, set the stage for my experiences in Iceland.