Iceland · travel

The Iceland Sagas: Sell-yer-land-foss

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 19, 2015
Somewhere around Reykjavic we had decided to fully tackle the Icelandic language as only Americans could: with Texas accents. Abandoning all hope of proper pronunciation, we defaulted to becoming the Peggy Hills of Iceland, butchering every scrap of language we came upon. As we scurried around in our compact car, endless hours of jet-lagged entertainment awaited as we careen towards Vat-n-jock-you’ll and Sell-yer-land-foss.
From Hella to Seljalandsfoss is about thirty minutes. Apart from some comically mis-scaled maps and Google Maps, there was virtually no signage to point travelers in the right direction. There were so many unmarked waterfalls, sometimes we couldn’t be sure we had gotten the right one.
Felt a bit like this.

For an over-planner, this became an exercise in letting go. I couldn’t really know if we’d made it so I had to become content with what we had found rather than winding myself around the notion of getting to that one thing. Trusting that the thing you’ve just seen is definitely as great as the thing you might be missing requires a good deal of neurotic breathing practice and silly mantras.

Luckily, the thing you’re seeing definitely, probably, is as cool as the thing you missed, and we actually did find Seljalandsfoss. When driving through the flatlands with the ocean peaking out ever so often, the GPS whinging about the failed Irish Slave Rebellion (“But why did they have to kill their old masters? Why couldn’t they just talk about it? Now everybody’s dead,” opines Kim), how did we know that we had definitely, definitely found it?

It came with a parking lot. Not only that but it came with a hot chocolate stand and gale force winds. We hoisted ourselves out of our tiny Ford amongst about twenty other vehicles and began adding layers of clothing. This was reminiscent of playing in snow as children- if I didn’t have snow pants, the remedy was five layers of normal pants, three sweaters, a coat, hat, and two gloves. This time, I pulled some stretchy, $20 DIY waterproofed Ann Taylor pants over my leggings, tucked them into my wool socks and into my trusty boots. The wind fluttered my sweater up so that got tucked in too, zipped up my packable down, added my bargain rain shell, pulled the hood up, stuffed my pockets with kleenex, and gloved up. I was the Michelin Man in black.
Even all this was not enough to combat the wind. Tears streamed down my face. My lips chapped a deep shade of red. My nose ran. My hair snuck out and slapped my face. My kleenex escaped my fumbley hands and blew away before I could even consider chasing them. Mopping my somehow damp hair into a disheveled bun, I dabbed my face dry, rubbed on chapstick, and trudged forward into the mist.
I imagined that in summer, perhaps the mist felt refreshing- like what they offer at theme parks when its 102º out and people might actually die. Here, though, it was more like forceful sleet. My three companions took sisterly photos with each other on the rock before the falls. I had mine taken alone. Somehow it seemed more fitting.
Me, bundled on the rock

Seljalandsfoss is famous for one’s ability to migrate around the edge of the falls, behind it, and back around. It had just rained so our tiny, muddied foot path was even more worn than usual as we tread around. The loose and rotting boards of the steps bent under our weight and, apart from a thin, sagging rope, nothing would keep us from falling in.

tiny people
And itty bitty specks of people…


View of the Icelandic plains
A successful hike around without a ruined, borrowed DSLR!

I won’t pretend to know how many people call it quits after Seljalandsfoss but I will say that if you do, you miss another foss down the road. Granted, after stumbling over the wet rocks, you arguably may want to call it quits. No one likes being wet and cold and wind struck. Suffice to say that if we were all reincarnated as animals, we would be sheep and Melanie would be the sheepdog urging us forward. She was relentless in her enthusiasm to see it all, even if it meant trespassing through some poor farmer’s very quaint yard to see Gljufrafoss.

Gljufrafoss is something you might miss if you weren’t paying attention. In May, the water trickles out between two enormous slabs pinching a boulder. It’s navigable but requires waterproof shoes. Even so, with what little visitors the falls had, I still had to wait twenty minutes for an elderly couple to get just the right shot before I could get through. In deep summer, I figured, the whole thing would be so waterlogged I’d practically have to canoe into it. That or it would be so bogged down with visitors one could merely clamor over them.
It felt very Indiana Jones. The beauty of travel is that since hardly anyone knows who you are, reinventing is easy. In this case, I was breezy, moderately outdoorsy, totally capable of swinging myself around jutting rocks, slippery moss, and deceptively deep creeks. I had come prepared- fully appropriately dressed in my waterproofed everything unlike these other hipster fools in their sopping jeans and Chuck Taylors, haplessly sloshing their way through ice water. I was a descendant of Vikings. I was mostly dry. I was homemade granola with bee pollen to these corn syrup cereal bars.
Kim and Mel
On the  rock
And a note on travel reinvention: Sometimes it does the most bizarre things to people. I passed my phone off to the aforementioned hipstery couple. He had an Android. I had an Android. Surely they would know how to take a picture, especially if I had it lined up for them. “Zees zhings,” his blue-haired girlfriend shrugged as she snapped, looking elsewhere, “I do not know how zey vork.” She handed my phone back and they lumbered off. The photo was pitch black and not of me. Later, as we walked past them in a single file, we watched them clicking off photos on their phones- the exact same as the one I gave them- with California accents. We ran into them three more times- each time they had a different accent, each time they pretended we had never met.

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