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 20, 2015
The morning after Halldorskaffi, I was glad that I had packed a thousand granola bars. My companions, still full from the last night’s soup, filed into the tiny car and we were on our way to Hofn, our eastern-most stop. This was to be our most active day, with meanderings to Foss a Sidu, Systrakaffi, Kirkjugolf, Dverghamrar, Vatnajokull, Skaftafell, and Jokulsarlon before ending in Hofn.
Our first few stops were lumped together. Systrakaffi, Kirkjugolf, and Dverghamrar were all along the outskirts of Kirkjubaejarklaustur. It seemed to be mainly a historic but none-the-less uninspiring Lutheran church and a grocery store. I let my companions marvel at the 1970s Lutheran-ness of the building (reminded me too much of home) and paced outside near the graveyard, looking for names. We drove a short distance through town until we stumbled upon Systrakaffi, a Y shaped, gently cascading foss that had carved some sort of dragon out of the surrounding rock. The three sisters photographed each other and I set out on my own, stumbling across slick rock and trudging through the overgrowth. I was debating how I felt about my otherness.
We continued on the Kirkugolf. A set of unintelligible signs notified us of its possible existence. A set of wooden ladders crawled over the unending fence and we climbed, glancing over our shoulders, sure we were trespassing. The local geese honked as we mucked through thick mud and hay. A series of basalt steps led to the basalt floor with a plaque asking our guess of the octagon tiles. The Vikings had thought these were the ruins of a church and had subsequently sacked the town. Alas, it was only nature.
Nearby was Deverghamrar, another cropping of basalt columns. They rose from the earth as wooly sheep ambled nearby. The rain misted us as we slipped over ancient stones.
Further down, we stopped for Foss a Sidu. Barely on the map, we followed other travelers who in turn followed us onto private property. We bumbled over uneven gravel before skidding to a stop. We all sheepishly looked at each other as if we’d better get our shots quick and move on- before some angry farmer came out with a shotgun.
The land became lumpier as we followed our black line to the coastal town of Hofn. It gave way to bizarre lumps of black and moss like a moonscape come back to life. Little footpaths cut into the deep green. “It can grow as high as 13 inches!” Kim exclaimed as she thumbed her guidebook.
For our big hike of the day, we stopped at Vatnajokull National Park, home to Skaftafell: The Black Organ Falls. It wasn’t a long hike, just uphill and wet. None of the trails were covered with more than loose, pebbly ash which swept up and creaked beneath stones. It was dangerous going. As we single-filed past an old sheep’s enclosure, a more experienced, elderly hiker said, “You all go ahead- I don’t dare go at your speed,” and I suddenly questioned our quick-stomp over unsteady rock and washed out trails. My boots proved trusty and we arrived sans issue.
“You have a funny walk,” Mel noted, pointing at my feet as I went. A physical therapist by trade and acid-tongued by nature, I made a point of taking this as merely clinical commentary. “You kick your feet out to the side and twist. It’s bad for you.” She passed me by.
The falls were more crowded than any other site we had been to. Hippy campers littered its rocks and snapped iPhone photos. They rummaged through backpacks and shot us disapproving looks in our amateur get-ups. Kim tip-toed across the slippery rocks to the center of the river. The water swirled around her, treacherous and cool.
Jokulsarlon was an unearthly blue. Ice caps bobbed and swam through its mineral waters. Seals mimicked them as they dipped through. I hunted for pebbles and watched for the black bodies of the seals as they played. Boston rowers waded into the water only their trunks. Pam tutted at them as the leader exclaimed, “I do this in every Northern country. Every one. Makes you feel alive.”
“Makes you look like an idiot,” she mumbled.
By the time we got to Hofn, the sun was beginning fade and our stomachs were rumbling. I had heard of a restaurant famous for desserts but no one was willing to wait or splurge so we ended up at a hotel restaurant. Famous for langostines, I was adamant to load up on anything remotely related. “We don’t like lobster,” the three commented. Incredulous, I stuffed my face, starting with a bisque with tender, sweet chunks of meat and a swirl of langostine cream.
Before we headed out, we stopped for fuel and I popped out, jogging across the street for dessert. I begged and cajoled before being sated by a to-go box packed with chocolate-espresso cake and a fluffy meringue. With no silverware, I wandered back into the gas station. The sisters were loading up on Icelandic chocolate bars for gifts as the clerk, all decked in hipster glory, folded his arms like a disapproving parent- confused and mildly outraged. “Do you have a spoon?” I asked, pointing to my box.
He held up an enormous knife. “No, spoon,” I said, gesturing stupidly.
He turned to his co-worker and they huddled and gestured “Silly Americans” before turning back to me- “One or many?” he said, whipping his white-blond hair to his undercut temple. His blue eyes pierced through me.
“One,” I said showing him the contents of my box. “For dessert and breakfast tomorrow. He smiled knowingly as we gripped the spoon.