As you have read in the news, the tremors are numerous now in Iceland although we only felt a few of them as most are undetectable but the excitement and expectation is clear that another eruption may begin at any time. Bill and I spent time our first day back in Reykjavik at the new Perlon Museum which is a large domed high-tech museum about the geology and history of this country containing a lava video, a planetarium describing the northern lights, and a real ice cave you can explore. A geologist there told us that the lava in the fissure near Reykjavik was getting closer and closer to the surface and the pressure would push it out at any time. That happened at 4:40 pm on July 10 while we were in the airport about to depart and I could see the smoke from the nearby eruption when my flight took off.
Our last few days were spent in Reykjavik and on one more all-day adventure in the central highlands at Landsmannalaugar. In the city, we walked quite a bit and visited several museums and was surprised at the amount and quality of the contemporary art for such a small population. Maybe the long nights are conducive to artistic expression.
A digression into some comments about the Icelandic language: composed of many words joined together into long strings of expression, this country has made it a priority for the last 150 years or so to make preservation of their language a priority. Many of the words are similar to and undoubtedly related to English, but the diphthong consonants are difficult for us to pronounce. A lot of “hv”, “jk”, “fk” words with two alphabet letters that do not exist in Roman alphabet languages. Our Icelandic guide told us there is a government committee to decide on permitted baby names, with new names being considered and published each year, which names have to conform as a minimum to the four cases in Icelandic grammar. Even new citizens were required to have a listed Icelandic name until fairly recently. In a museum I saw a copy of the first printed Icelandic bible from the 1500’s and I asked some assistants at the museum whether they could read and understand this old Icelandic text with a knowledge only of current Icelandic and they said, yes, they could but it was similar to us reading Elizabethan English.
About the nights: throughout our tour around Iceland, the weather was usually overcast, occasionally a sprinkle of rain, with the sun coming out at some moments and creating shadows through the clouds on the ground below. Our outing on the Snaefellsnes peninsula was our first full day of bright sun which were followed by continuous bright warm days in Reykjavik which we were told is very unusual. But what I did not realize is that when it is a sunny day it is also a very sunny night with full sun streaming through hotel windows at 11 pm. I had thought the dusky light I had previously encountered was the norm but now I truly appreciate the concept of the midnight sun.
Our full day “jeep safari” trip to the interior was in a minibus which was outfitted with 42-inch tires to cover rough terrain and small water crossings. The park area requires 4-wheel drive as a minimum and our young Italian driver/guide did well — although we found out at the end that it was his first time driving such a complicated vehicle which required changing the tire pressure depending on the driving conditions. As I joked with him, if he can drive in Italy, he can drive anywhere.
We passed Mount Ekla, the site, now quiescent, of the last major eruption in 2010 which closed the skies above Iceland and parts of Europe for several days.
Our destination was a. National park camping site from which many long hikes commence — 3-7 day outings into the outback. At this beautiful mountain-ringed setting, with camping tents spread out in a flat area, Bill went for a hike into a splendid valley while I went for my first, and only, thermal pool soak in Iceland. In a cove surrounded by mountains, hot water poured into a calm pool where many people, all in bathing suits, were sitting enjoying the mineral-rich waters, talking together in small groups. As I found a location with just the right level of warmth and relaxed, I was entranced by the swirling sounds of a multitude of languages – French, German, Spanish, Russian, Danish and those I could not identify. It was a truly international collection of people and I thought how wonderful if everyone could always sit together so peacefully in the soup of the world. I also realized that there were no people of color in this mix and very few from Asia. So a slanted collection of human existence.
On our last full day, Bill and I walked down to the old harbor on a warm gorgeous sunny day. On an impulse we signed on to a short tour by rubber speed boat to a nearby island of puffins, fast and intense, with close sightings of hundreds of puffins in the air, on the water and nesting on cliffs. We were told that 60% of the world’s Atlantic Puffins were in Iceland.
We enjoyed it so much that after lunch at the city’s leading fish and chip stand (remember Icelandic cod has been their main export for centuries), we signed on to a whale watching tour at the last moment since we heard visibility was perfect and the water was calm that day. The well-worn boat was not crowded and we had a guide on the speaker system who was extremely clear and informative, sounding like an excited baseball sportscaster with an American accent. And the whales were out and swimming around our group of 3-4 boats — hump back whales, minke whales, a group of purposes, and even a seal (which the guide was surprised about). Swarms of seagulls would gather above a whale about to come to the surface. We would see the whale blow, then the arched back as it breached and then the fantastic large fin tail. It was remarkable and a good final experience on the water.
Our last walk around serene Reykjavik. The Town Square is filled with people enjoying the reclusive sun.
Bill and I had three dinners at the Loving Hut Restaurant near out hotel — a vegan restaurant which is part of a string of 200 locations around the world connected to a Vietnamese Buddhist nun — and one of the few reasonably priced places to eat in an expensive city. We leave feeling satisfied on many levels. Iceland is a wonderful place to spend a week or more for natural beauty, to experience the creative powers of our earth and recognize the fragility of the thin crust we live upon.