Tag Archives: hofn

without wifi

i arrived in Höfn in a mix of relief and exhaustion.  i’ve been on marathon roadtrips before where i’ve driven 30 hours straight without sleep and this was definitely not that, but i also stopped at every attractive turnoff or side road for 300 kilometers this time and that sort of behavior really starts to wear you down during a full day, especially when you don’t know exactly where you’re going. so when i pulled into town, i was running on fumes.  so much so that i didn’t even realize how small the town is (less than 2,000 humans.  i can’t count the elves because they never show up for the census, but iceland knows they’re out there…  (no but seriously. i’m not joking. click here if you don’t believe me).  after doing a few laps around the town before finally finding my nondescript hostel (i’m pretty sure this place was a hospice center or rest home for the old and dying previously.  seriously it was a very sterile place, not a lot of charm, and it had a weird vibe to it.), i settled in and went straight to bed.  the next morning, i awoke and plugged my wifi code in to my little trusty laptop/tablet hybrid to see what the world was doing.  i had about 5 minutes of facebooking under my belt before the tragic occurred:

the wifi went out.

and it stayed out.

look, i know my last post did a nice job of waxing poetic about getting off the grid and not being connected to technology, etc…  but dammit, i love the internet.  it’s maybe the most amazing thing ever invented, so to be completely unplugged from something that you hold in such high regard… it requires a little patience.  i was losing mine quickly.  i needed the wifi to at least look up a couple fun things i could do in the area, and to make reservations for guided tours of the national park skaftafell or the glacier lagoon i previously wrote about.  so when i couldn’t do that, i sorta just threw my hands in the air and just went for a drive.  yep, you guessed it, i put the pedal to the metal and burned a couple pounds of rubber along the eastern coastline of iceland.  more scenery, more random stops, no real goal in mind and nothing really accomplished.  I did manage to make friends with some Icelandic horses on the side of the road though…

hofn horses

when i got back to the hostel that night, i noticed something odd.  i couldn’t understand anything anybody was saying. i know i’m in europe (and in the country with arguably the weirdest language of all), and in a place where there are different languages being spoken all the time, but this was different.  all the languages sounded the same, but none of them were in congress with each other.  i looked around as i ate my peanut butter and jelly and nutella sandwich (meal of champions right there, and i am obviously aspiring to greatness), and i started to notice the pockets of people in the common areas of this hostel.  groups of 2s and 3s and 4s, but nothing larger than that, and all speaking the same language.  a language with an interesting treatment of the “R” sound. and an a lot of “sh” sounds. and… yep. germans.  germans everywhere.  in the middle of nowhere iceland.  it was strange.  but there was no big bus full of organized tour-goers here.  these germans were all randomly here in the same middle-of-nowhere town somehow at exactly the same off-season time.  what twilight zone episode had i landed into the middle of?

at first it was funny.  i mean imagine this scene. you’re the only person who doesn’t know what the hell is going on.  and german is sort of a funny sounding language to me. it’s not really “harsh” sounding like i consider some languages, but it’s also not exactly a “romance language” like italian or french. and sometimes german sounds a little angry or uptight to me, so i get confused on the social queues. so i just sat there taking it all in, listening to a bunch of verbal distortion that i had zero ability to decipher. eventually some of the groups started to realize that they weren’t the only ones speaking german, like they probably usually assume when they are in a country as far away from theirs as iceland.  their conversation groups started to merge.  i watched as one by one, a majority of the room started to enthusiastically converge, and eventually i was the odd man out.  it slowly went from entertaining to disappointing, as one of the reasons i embarked on this trip was to explore human connection and interaction, but i did not want to selfishly interrupt this case of sociology developing before my eyes, so eventually i just went to bed.

but i realized something as i lay in bed, trying to sleep.  the wifi was still down.  these people were being unknowingly coerced into interacting with each other due to lack of options.  and they were having a blast! i wondered if they ever would have made these connections if these certain set of circumstances hadn’t lined up to provide such an opportunity. and then i found myself jealous that i couldn’t really be a part of it. and this continued for 2 nights.

One of the nights, I didn’t really feel like sleeping, so around midnight I went outside to see if I could see the northern lights (typical season for this starts in October and runs til march, so I wasn’t expecting anything). There had been a major solar flare 2 days prior and there was a possibility of seeing them, but unfortunately most of the sky in my area of the island was covered in clouds.  After about an hour of searching, I did manage to see an aurora form in the distant horizon, but it was very faint. It’s not really even worth describing because I then noticed something even more fantastical.  The volcano barabunga, which has been in the headlines recently for a rather weak but steady “fissure” eruption (a long crack in the surface with lava flow, instead of your Hollywood volcano that features a monolithic triangular mountain with volcano spewing from the top) was on my side of the island, but on the far side of the vatnajokull glacier that separated us.  The clouds above this volcano were low enough, and the night dark enough, that the glow emitting from the lava was actually reflecting off of the low-hanging clouds over the glacier.  The effect this was producing was similar to a vibrant red and pink sunset over the rocky mountains back home in Denver, but the difference was that this was localized to one peak on the mountain ridge and it was well past midnight.  The rest of the sky was black as space.  It was awe-inducing.  I stared it this phenomenon off in the distance for an hour before retiring for the night.

lucky for me, on the final night of my stay in Höfn, after a couple days of exploring around by myself and then returning to my temporary solitude, and after a few failed attempts on previous nights at trying to ease my way into conversation with some mildly attractive german girls, everything changed again.  i came home and everyone was gone.  almost the entire hostel was empty.  with the weekend starting that night, everyone had moved out toward the capital or onward toward other adventures in other areas of the island. before i could lament what was lonelier, new occupants started to slowly trickle in from the road. and each time i watched comically as they expressed their disgust at the fact that the wifi was down.  i started offering small jokes to voice my relation to their plight, and my sympathy began to build connection.

Eventually a group of Israelis came in who were particularly friendly.  Finally, someone who wanted to interact.  We made a couple jokes back & forth, and then at one point they were looking at the brochure section in the lobby, obviously trying to figure out what they were going to do the following day.  I ventured some advice, seeing as I was getting pretty familiar with the area, and they were very grateful.  They went back to their rooms and returned about 10 minutes later, walking out to the back patio with a box.  On their way out the door, they leaned back and looked my way. I caught this out of the corner of my eye and looked up, to which one of them said “friend, would you like to smoke some hookah with us?”

I love hookah. For the uninitiated, it’s basically tobacco flavored with fruit preserves and powder, and it is smoked through a traditional middle-eastern water bong. it is much less harsh-tasting than cigars or cigarettes and tastes wonderful. it isn’t particularly good for you, but what vice is?  The best part is that it is a great tool to bring people together.  This is a regular thing in the middle east, in fact, in many Lebanese or Moroccan or middle eastern restaurants that you’ve been to in the US often use these hookah bongs as decorations, but you may not have even noticed.

So there i was, an American smoking an Arabic hookah with Israeli friends in nowheresville Iceland, sharing travel stories and enjoying the night air. and then the magic started again.  Two guys who were traveling the ring road together whom had just met each other in a hostel in Reykjavik on the 1st day of their trips and decided to rent a car together, one from mexico city and the other from Switzerland, came outside for a cigarette and joined us, thanks to the Israelis’ generous invitations.  The group then expanded further when another couple came outside, a polish male and an Australian female, the polish guy offering to share some of his vodka after partaking of the hookah.  I think there may have been a Brazilian in there somewhere too, I can’t remember. the conversation waved to and fro, people sharing stories from their backgrounds, comparing worldviews on different subjects, comparing notes on what to do when you find yourself in this country or that city, and every person trying to convince the others that someday you should come to visit my country, it is a great place I will show you around, etc.  it was incredible.

And I still couldn’t help but come back to that realization from the other night.  None of this would have happened if the wifi had been working.

getting off the grid

after the volcano adventures and the whale steak hijinks, I awoke the next morning with the intention of hopping on a bus to the remote fishing town of höfn in the southeast corner of iceland.  simple enough, right? not for ol’ miquelon, it’s never that simple. after the front desk person at my hostel attempted to book a ticket for me, she hung up the phone and gently informed me that on that very day, bus service to a majority of the island had shut down until the spring time.  I was either out of luck and stuck in reykjavik, or I had to now rent a car and strike out on my own.

this is what I had been hoping to avoid. renting a car in iceland is roughly 3-4 times as much as you might pay in the US, and to make things worse, the last thing I did before I left denver was cancel my cellphone bill.  my iphone has become nothing more than an ipod, which means no gps, no navigation, no google maps, no texting, no calls.  no nothing, just music (which I could probably make a case is more important than navigation in my life).  the thought of venturing off blind into the unknown in a strange country without any preparation or real knowledge of the laws or landscape was minorly terrifying to me. i had been hoping i could just jump on a bus and they would magically take me where i wanted to go and i could just sleep the whole time. I’m ordinarily a very prepared person in day to day life, and especially on trips, I usually have everything planned out to a T so that once things start happening, I don’t have to think about anything, it’s just automatic. I just roll from one thing to the next and life is smooth. That’s the way I look at it. Other people don’t always see it that way, however.  I’ve had girlfriends leave me because I wasn’t spontaneous enough, and I’m “too much of a planner.”  there was probably more that went into their decision.  I hope there was.

but here’s the real truth:  I knew this was going to happen eventually, I just figured it would be later on in the trip. I get very frustrated when things don’t go the way I’ve prepared or planned in my life, and often times I let these things bother me so much that it can change my temperament or ruin my whole day. so one of the key things that I wanted to do on my journey was address this. I wanted grow and learn patience through trial and error by “going with the flow.”  one thing I did in order to force myself into this style of thinking is I have not made any plans for after amsterdam, the 3rd stop on this trip.  I have ideas, but no reservations. one effect that I’ve noticed but did not anticipate was that I find myself living more freely in the moment.  I’m not paranoid about making sure I’m in the right place at the right time.  I’m trying to enjoy life in the present tense, and I think it’s actually having a calming effect on me.  I’m sure the stress will creep back up when something goes wrong again, but each time it does, I work to create new habits, and I start to get a little better at handling them. I’m not always sure what is harder: building new habits or breaking old ones.  Or maybe they are the same thing, I don’t know.

hyundai i10 escape pod
hyundai i10 escape pod

so I went and rented a little Hyundai economy class escape pod that looks like it was ejected from the rebel spaceship on star wars. seriously, this thing barely fit me, and I’m not even a big guy.  at first my distaste for the car led me to produce the nickname “whitey,” and i would yell “kill whitey!” whenever i would floor the accelerator, but that slowly evolved to “whitney” after i started liking the car the more i drove it. I fueled up and then guessed my way out of the city.  Luckily, once you leave Reykjavik, there is one main road that you follow, the “ring road” it’s affectionately called (or highway 1), and it will take you to about 95% of your destinations elsewhere in Iceland.  not only that, it is a gorgeous drive.  as mentioned in the previous post, the landscape has such strong contrasts that you can’t help but be mesmerized and wonder if what you’re looking at is really there.  It’s as if nature decided to snap a selfie of a beautiful coastline and put it on facebook to impress her friends, but she didn’t feel the photo was impressive enough so she photoshopped a fortress-like wall of deep, black volcanic rocks with iridescent green moss covering the first 800 feet of elevation.  Pretty good, but not good enough, better add some low drifting fog and a setting sun off in the distance.  okay that should work, nature will get a thousand likes for this one.  actually, more like 50, because there’s NO ONE around once you get outside the capital city.  okay sorry, i’m getting lost inside my own ridiculous metaphor.
porsmork canyon
actually, speaking of the remote loneliness of the countryside… I’d be lying if I didn’t say that one of my unexpectedly favorite things of Iceland was pushing my crappy rental car to its top speed of 160 km/hour (100 mph) and whipping through the country roads with the only threat being the occasional wandering sheep in the middle of the road. I think I saw one cop the entire time I was out there. It was fantastic.   I definitely got my money’s worth out of that car.  Especially after the first time I tried to fill up the gas tank.  things to remember in iceland:

  1. unleaded gas is in the green pump, and diesel is in the black, and not the other way around like in the US.
  2. your rental car will still run like a champ when you absentmindedly pump about .2 liters of the wrong fuel before realizing what you’re doing.

but the car took me wherever i needed to go, even offroad a couple times whenever i’d get the sudden urge to turn off the highway and follow a random trail to see where it went.  those sudden impulses almost every time yielded some incredible undiscovered gem that was certainly not in any guidebook, be it a waterfall, or a different view that hardly anyone else had discovered of the massive glacier Vatnajökull.  all in all, halfway through my roughly 300 mile drive, i started to enjoy being “lost.”  it was sort of liberating, not knowing exactly where you’re going.  not having a female-ish cyborg direct you turn by turn to your destination was somewhat calming, and i stopped caring about when i would get to my hostel.  i would just stop wherever i felt like and enjoy what the world would send my way.

skogafoss
the massive waterfall of Skógafoss

that night i landed höfn, on the far southeast of the country.  it wasn’t quite what i expected, but i was open to possibilities…

And lastly, your earcandy for the day.  This is a new track from Delta Sprit, the title track, Into the Wide.  I find it particularly fitting for the Iceland portion of my trip.  Here are the lyrics:

“Into The Wide”
At the end of the last road in town.
At the edge of that wall of trees.
Further in, past any trail or sign.
Back to the wide open arms of the Earth.

The wind whispered no name,
but it’s voice cracked off the cliff.
Almost see it rush right through you.
Back to the wide open arms of the Earth.

It’s a grind, the business role.
Every new year, a new bell to toll.
Before it’s too late, I’m gonna save my soul.
Back to the wide open arms of the Earth.

https://soundcloud.com/dualtone/delta-spirit-into-the-wide/s-rBvxe

(sorry, i am unable to embed this song in the post, you’ll have to follow the link for the song)