Iceland · travel

The Iceland Sagas: The Power that Flows

In the interest of preserving memories and acting as a future guide, this series of posts reflects on adventures spent abroad- meaning, outside of my own community, wherever I might land. It serves not only as a record but also as an exercise in memory and language. 

May 17, 2015

It was nearly 3PM when we arrived at Efsti-Dalur II. I had hyped up the location for a few months, including ramblings on our way up in the car. I had never found an explanation for what happened to Efsti-Dalur I. According to the website and reviews, it was a farm, restaurant, and bed and breakfast, nestled in the heartland of Iceland, just north east of Thingvellir and south west of Geysir. Visitors could wander through the small herd of dairy cows and Icelandic horses before retiring to a room overlooking the crags and valleys below. It was booked for our stay. Lunch would have to suffice.

The parking lot was mostly empty but we were greeted by a white sheepdog who lazed in the cool sun. Kimberly stopped to converse with it as we requested a table. We were in-between services so we were mostly left to our own devices. I ogled the dairy farmer who looked like Jax Teller, cleaned up and on a tractor. I was intrigued by the fact that this man- a man who was literally shoveling shit- looked as though he had just come off the pages of an edgy J.Crew catalog. I absent-mindedly spooned onion soup into my slack-jawed gob.

Mel and Kim awaiting Mason Jars of milk

“Can we see the horses?” I asked as the waitress delivered (quizzically) a glass of farm-squeezed milk to Kimberly.
“Ya, I’m sure zey vould loff it,” she replied, “but you know zey are vild- zey just came here to-day. I don’t zhink zey are very used to ze people, you know?”
“I can’t believe I just paid four dollars for glass of milk and want another one,” Kim gushed.
“Don’t forget the ice cream,” Melanie reminded.

Downstairs, a twenty-something year old blonde scooped cups and cones of semi-hardened ice cream. I picked strawberry and coconut, instantly wishing I had only gotten coconut. It wasn’t that the strawberry was bad; it was just that the coconut was phenomenal. Half the parlor contained windows to the dairy barn where a single row of roughly twenty-five cows munched on piles of yellowed hay. The large doors were thrust open and light streamed around them. Occasionally one or two would meander off onto the cliffside as the others flounced mouthfuls of straw into the air and onto their companions.

Happy cows!


Happy us!
The absurdly good Coconut & Strawberry ice cream from Efsti-Dalur II
Outside, though, were two blue eyed, fabled Icelandic horses. We had seen a few and had opted not to ride them (time and money constraints)- this would be the only time we were able to actually get near them enough to touch. They were surrounded by what we assumed to be an electric fence. It very likely wasn’t. This would render all of our angling and stretching entirely unnecessary. Jax Teller the Dairy Farmer (or as I renamed him Jorgen Tellyrson) was probably chuckling at us from his John Deere. “Silly Americans,” he thought, “Do they not have wires in their strange country? Do they know nothing at all?”
The horses could not have been more disinterested in our presence. After all, they had hay and we had empty hands. We had forgotten the guidebook rule: always carry carrots. Still, after a series of idiotic clicks and snaps at our nibbling friends, they acquiesced and let us rub their velvet pink noses before diving back in for seconds. All my life I had been moderately terrified of riding horses. Now that I was standing next to two who were likely perfect for my 5’4″ frame, all I could do was pat their nose and hope to not get bitten.
So small they made it easy to get over my childhood phobias
Little Emo
We arrived at Geysir after a short jaunt from the farm. The land was flattening and though it was nearing 7:30 in the evening, it was as bright as it was at noon. “We should stop in before the shop closes,” Pam suggested, and we clamored out of our silver Ford and into the waiting arms of the Geysir tourist shop.
I wasn’t aware at the time that virtually every tourist shop is full of legitimate Icelandic products. This one in particular was stocked with traditional geometric-patterned wool blankets, lopapeysa sweaters with their snowflake patterns, fisherman’s style knit tunics, fur lined gloves, and row after row of bright, itchy woolen socks. The gloves, like fuzzy silk on the interior and soft leather on the exterior ran for $70; the black and white modern tunic sweater, a cool $180. I couldn’t commit. It wasn’t all serious, though. Melanie modeled a face scarf ($60) before settling on a lopapeysa ($200) and I gaped at the counter’s selection of candy-wrapped condoms. “Enjoy the outdoors!” they beamed. Never in America, I thought. “I don’t think that means they condone plein air sex,” Mike texted later. I disagreed. Tents count as indoors, I countered.
Outside, we read that Geysir itself was generally not in the mood to produce much of anything. However, its sister geyser (the word is derived from Geysir), Strokkur, was. We hunkered down in our puffy coats and rain gear and waited ten minutes between eruptions.
Strokkur via Pam
wishing pools near Strokkur and Geysir
At 11PM it looked suspiciously like 8PM. It only ever got hazier. It was only through my camera that the world seemed to darken as it should at night. Luckily, for the semi-wearied traveler, having the sun still shining away at 11PM means more time to dabble in the surroundings. After a heated car convention, we pressed on to Gulfoss and headed south for our next Icelandair hotel (which was waiting with midnight hot tubs).
The mist of Gulfoss was still freezing into a slush on the saturated wooden boards that surrounded it. We had prepared for such unfortunate surfaces by making a pact to buy at least half decent boots which, combined with a sopping, cold rope, served us well.


The Gulfoss Ballet
It’s 11:30pm!
Gulfoss, we learned near a sad statue, was almost sold off to foreign interests, destined to be dammed for power. Instead, after a massive campaign, it was turned into a national monument where it continues to carve its way through volcanic earth with every gush of water. “It once flooded over the walls by thirty feet,” Melanie read from her travel book as though dictating a ghost story sans flashlight. “They had to evacuate thirty people.” Kimberly stifled a snort and glanced about at the empty land.
Big Rock Candy Mountain

After briefly losing Melanie, we meandered through the desolate countryside playing our childhood favorites: Goofy Greats and Wacky Weirdos. Roger Miller warbled about maple surple on “Dang Me” as we crossed cattle bridges and flocks of goats. Melanie cried and pointed at every floppy, gawky baby animal we passed as Kimberly snored in the backseat.

IcelandAir Fludir sat at the top of a hill in an almost empty town. Beyond it was a small school and row after row of glass greenhouses stocked with trees of tomatoes. “The guidebook says Icelanders love tomatoes and it’s one of their top local crops,” she yawned.
“Are we the only people here?” Melanie pulled bag after bag out of the truck as the others stumbled in. Only two other cars sat in the small gravel lot. A young Julian Richings greeted us at the desk. He slicked his long ebony hair back and bobbed his head like a large bird. He seemed uncomfortable looming over our petite frames as most Icelanders did and thus stooped a bit as though to strain closer to our level. He passed over two large keys and sent us on our way.
“The hot tub is occupied,” he called, “But if you try in a few hours!”
“It’ll be….4am in a few hours,” I muttered. Maybe we seemed incredibly old and boring to Icelanders. While the locals splashed away in their boulder surrounded pool (until about 4am, incidentally), I thought about how strange we must seem. Four twenty-something year old women, sensibly dressed, eating tiny meals, going to bed no later than 12. Every other American we encountered in our age bracket was gorging themselves on borrowed credit cards, aiming for drunkeness, ill-prepared, and out all night. Icelanders may have been more reserved in their intake but they were certainly up seemingly always. But I like having normal hours, I thought. I’m aging into my natural way of being: old and sensible. Besides, they’ll sleep their whole day away and forget half of what they did tonight. There’s no point in blowing thousands of dollars to not remember what you did, I self-consoled.
And with that, Pam and I laid our clothes our neatly on our respective chairs, packed our breakfast bars and water bottles (they charged for breakfast!), and turned out the lights.

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