“it is like a disease, you know”

…aaaaaaand we’re back.  as soon as i landed in iceland, i disappeared.  i caught a red-eye departing at 7pm and arriving at 630AM local time, during which i did not sleep one wink (i wrote my previous post on the plane). i also only slept about 3 hours the night before so i could definitely sleep on the plane, so that didn’t work out. once i landed, i took a bus straight to my hostel where i dropped my bags off in a storage closet, then boarded another bus bound for a volcano hike.  the bus ride was about 1.5 hours outside the city, then the hike was only about 1 hour across desolate terrain up to the Thrihnukagigur Volcano, located in a very active system of volcanos, but which is itself dormant right now. it is the only volcano in the world for which the lava chamber has remained intact post-eruption.  the group was divided into 3 teams of 6 and then each team took a turn descending down 400 feet into darkness via a modified german window washing high-rise contraption/death cage.  i did manage to get a lot of this on video, but unfortunately the quality is not very good, as you can imagine the lighting quality was pretty poor. nevertheless, when i have the time to do some editing, you will see it!  in the meantime, check out some of these images to see the crazy colors down below that formed after extended periods of time with an active lava pot just baking the ground around it

the next day i awoke very early to hike up the fimmvörðuháls trail to the site of Eyjafjallajökull, commonly remembered as the volcano that erupted in 2010 and wreaked equally as much havoc in the european air traffic industry (due to expansive ash clouds covering all of europe for weeks) as it did among news anchors around the world having fits trying to figure out how to pronounce it.  this was a long day.  it involved about 15 miles of grueling hiking combined with extreme cold and rain with temperatures in the high 30s (Fahrenheit), along with winds up to 50 miles per hour on steep, unforgiving volcanic rock. it was a struggle to get up there, and our group had set a blistering pace (one that i admit i wish we had gone slower. partly so we could appreciate the hike, but also so i could give my burning quads a rest).  again, i got a lot of this on video, so i won’t bore with details here and save surprises for the film, but i will say that this hike offered some of the most amazing backdrops of starkly contrasted scenery that must be available to see on this earth.  beautiful green moss fields that emitted an almost eerie glow as they blanketed the rocky landscape, breaking only in areas where the harsh rocky terrain refused to let anything live, allowing the color void to create black canvases that made you wonder if you were staring off into space itself. as we edged higher and closer to the volcano, the terrain seemed to shift even more, offering red hues of volcanic leftovers hinting at the destruction that not so long ago completely obliterated anything within its reach, and warning us that it could just as easily do it again if it so pleased.

once we reached the top, we dug our hands into the ground and, despite the cold elements all around us, the volcano beneath us was still very, very warm.  it was spooky.  there’s still activity down there.  we decided to get down the mountain and out of the wet cold to our SuperJeep, where we did some offroading to get back to civilization.  bouncing around the inside of one of those things while we forded rivers and created our own road was really, really fun.  if you don’t get motion sick, definitely try it some day.

that night, i went to dinner with a couple of my hiking trail friends to this little hole in the wall place called the “Sea Baron.”  my new french friends were very funny and agreeable and they invited me along to try this place out that “had whale steak.”  i had yet to have an authentic icelandic meal so i joined them.  on our walk to the spot, they entertained me by talking about how much their friends back home in the french riviera didn’t understand why they would leave the comfortable banks of the french coast to journey to the harsh climate of the land of fire & ice.  they joked about how they wanted very much to break out of their circle and see something entirely different, something new and exciting and kind of scary, and something not french.  honestly, despite my french heritage, i think french culture intimidates me the most, but once my friends gregory and Þómas began sharing these thoughts, i knew i was among friends.  we joined another french girl they had met on their flight named Anaëlle and, as we walked across town to the restaurant, they joked and poked fun at typical french travelers and how they seemingly complain about everything. it was all in good humor, and they were being very self-deprecating, but in some weird way, i think it really did help me understand a little of how to interact with people when i eventually get to paris.  i was thankful for that.

when we arrived at the sea baron, a dingy little place on the docks by the edge of the city with its own earnest charm, we placed our order and then wandered around aimlessly for a seat.  the place was packed, and they were to close within an hour.  the only seating available was in the upstairs area, and, in what was to be the funniest part of my time in iceland, there was only one table left available to sit at.  i quickly and triumphantly strode over and claimed the table for my new friends, but when i turned around, my 3 new french friends stood frozen in the doorway with a look of something that can only be described as dismay.  i asked them what was the matter, to which Þómas replied in disgust with a thick french accent “everyone in this room is speaking french. they’re all french.  it is like a disease, you know.”   he said this with no refrain or care that someone might hear him.  i laughed uncontrollably, and as he and the others approached the table, i urged him to use a little tact so that he doesn’t offend anyone.  he replied “brandon, the thing you don’t understand is that people from france don’t speak anything but french. they have no idea what i’m saying.”  (obviously he was slightly exaggerating for humorous effect, but not a single person in the room seemed to understand or care about his less-than-cautious barbs.   i still couldn’t stop laughing.  we spent the rest of the meal laughing like we were sitting at the kids table at christmas, snickering at a word a grownup had said.  greg and Þómas interpreted the various different complaints or statements that qualified as “stupid” to them, and the whole situation just kept getting funnier and funnier, until finally a gentleman from the group of french tourists came back into the room and spat out (in french) to his friends: “they only have ice cream for dessert.”   the 4 of us lost it and made a scene, laughing over our meals, causing a few of the group to look over and wonder what was so funny before losing interest after a few moments.

after dinner we parted ways.  my french colleagues were returning to the french riviera at 6am the next morning and it was getting late.  meanwhile i had to find a bus and make my way to the southeast corner of the island to do some exploring in the ice. we said our goodbyes and they extended the invite to look them up if i should find my way to the city of Nice.  i just may.

the next morning i awoke to bad news. the season had changed that very day, and there were no more buses going the direction i needed to go until april. in order to find my way to the remote fishing village of höfn, i would need to rent an expensive car and follow a map to find my own way (i have no cell phone or gps or data plan at all. i rely solely on wifi in hostels for connection).  and so the journey continues…

here’s a picture of a big cliff:

 

fimmvörðuháls

 

guide companies used:
fimmvörðuháls hike:  http://www.adventures.is/Iceland/Hiking/VolcanoAlley2days/ 
experience rating:  A+    difficulty rating:  4/5   guide company rating:  B- (tour started late due to problems with the Superjeep, and guide was somewhat impersonable, not very talkative. very skilled guide however, and an incredible athlete. showed no fatigue at all on the aggressive hike.

Thrihnukagigur hike:  http://www.insidethevolcano.com/  
experience rating:  A+   difficulty: 2/5    guide company rating:  A+ (guides were knowledgeable, friendly, and passionate.)

and of course, your daily listen…

 

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