I was rudely awoken by my alarm clock at seven o’clock the next morning. Mornings are nearly insufferable while I travel because I don’t want to miss out on experiencing each new place’s nightlife but I also can’t afford to sleep in until noon the following morning. Hence, each night I eat, drink, and am merry until the early morning, and then a few short hours later I rise again in anguish.
Erin and I packed our bags and brought them to the storage locker because we were checking out that evening, and as I packed the hunger pangs set in. It was now ten hours since my bowl of noodles filled me up and now they were long gone. Have you ever felt that odd stomach pain that results from hunger but makes you feel so nauseated that you almost don’t want to eat? I hope not, but if you have, then that was my condition as I packed. The feeling got worse, probably because of the beers from the night before and because I chose to take a pill on my empty stomach. Erin was downstairs making her breakfast of peanut butter toast when I scurried down the stairs and snatched the bread from her hand. “Sorry, but if I don’t have something to eat right this minute I’m going to puke.” She gave me an understanding look and accepted my excuse, and that is why she is awesome.
We boarded a van in front of the hostel for the day’s excursion. As it drove around to the various guesthouses in town picking up other passengers I was slowly revived by the morning sun and eventually felt human again. After the last passenger was retrieved the driver announced to us that he would be our guide for the day. This was a pleasant surprise, because normally on Icelandic bus tours, the vans pick up passengers and then assemble in a central location where they all board a giant coach bus. Instead we would only be traveling with a van full of people; a far more manageable way to see the sights.
Our main destination was the glacier lagoon, some five hours from the city of Reykjavik. Hopefully seeing the icebergs majestically float towards the sea would be worth this long haul. As we left town our driver narrated points of interest that we passed by: lava fields, a geothermal power plant, greenhouses where Iceland gets all its vegetables from. I was attentive at first but eventually my exhaustion got the better of me and I nodded off to sleep. Fortunately, Erin was wide-awake and snapping away, so I can view photos of all the cool places I’ve passed by while sleeping. We made a couple stops along the way but for the most part we drove directly to the lagoon, hoping to make it there before the site was flooded with other tour groups. Our endurance paid off when we arrived and were only the second tour group on the site (there were nearly a dozen when we left).
The glacier lagoon was a medium-sized lake full of floating chunks of ice. Some of them were only big enough to stand on, and some were the size of houses. As most people know, only a small fraction of an iceberg is visible above the surface, so I can only imagine how big those cottage-sized ice chunks actually are. The variety in the icebergs was stunning. The different striations, layers, and colors made the icebergs each unique. We stood on the shore in awe of a view we’d likely never have again.
Fifteen minutes later we boarded an amphibious vehicle and plunked into the lagoon. The boat-truck drove (cruised? Sailed?) around the lagoon so that we could see more of these natural wonders and appreciate them up close. At a certain point they stopped the engine and one of the guides stood up and educated us on the glacier lagoon.
These icebergs were the result, not of global warming, but of salt water entering the glacier from the sea and melting the ice away. The ice has been frozen for over a hundred years. The black patches are from volcanic ash that fell on the fresh ice and was eventually enclosed in new layers of ice. Some of the ice is blue because it is still completely frozen and unexposed to the air. When light travels through it, part of the spectrum doesn’t bounce back- the light is trapped in the ice- hence making the ice appear blue.
Next our guide plucked a small shard from the lagoon, chopped it up, and gave us each an opportunity to eat some ancient ice. We then puttered around the lagoon some more before returning to shore. Back on the bus, we drove in the direction of Reykjavik. Now that we had witnessed the main event, the driver said, we could take our time seeing some other sights on the way back to the city. Iceland has innumerable waterfalls, a few of which we stopped to climb and walk around. It’s so interesting to consider the contrasts in Iceland. The waterfalls and the constant rain are clear signs of how much freshwater the country has. It also has an endless supply of renewable energy thanks to the geothermal activity and hydroelectric power. But these precious resources do not make up for what Iceland does lack. The cold climate and volcanic landscape makes the ecosystems very fragile and overuse of pasturelands has caused massive erosion and desertification. If only Iceland could trade some of its ample fresh water for fresh fruit! Instead, Iceland must import lots of items that make up a supermarket. Iceland is a land of plenty and few at the same time.
After the waterfalls we stopped for dinner in the small town of Vik, where we walked the black sand beaches and ate traditional lamb stew and an egg burger, a standard hamburger with a fried egg placed on top. We made it back to Reykjavik by nine o’clock. We had to switch hostels that night and there was concern that we might not be able to make the switch and still be at dinner at 10:30. I politely asked our guide if he would drop us off at our new hostel after allowing us to pick up our bags from the first hostel, and after a moment of hesitation he agreed. Upon arrival at the hostel it turned out they were overbooked and only had one free bed in the room. My girlfriend Erin and I are completely comfortable sharing a bed, so we asked if they would allow it given the shortage. They agreed and charged us the one-bed rate for the night.
I know that it’s not good to generalize but anecdotes are important, and I feel like this never would have happened in the United States. There’s much more stringent adherence to the rules, and it appeared to me in Iceland that people were willing to be accommodating if it didn’t come at someone else’s high expense. The tour guide and the hostel manager both bent the rules to accommodate the situation; something that we noticed and were quite grateful for.
After a rapid changing of clothes we headed off for the restaurant and fortunately made it in time for our reservation. We ordered the minke whale appetizer and the horse steak dinner. Erin and I were guarded about trying these two foods that we had definitely never seen in the US before. Fortunately, both dishes turned out to be delectable. The whale tasted like beef fat and the horse tasted almost identical to a beefsteak. Do I think that these foods should be served in the United States? I definitely think the horse should, because the US has plenty of horses and I don’t see why their status as pets exempts them from being food. I would eat the whale again as long as it was sustainable to do so. The minke whale conservation status is currently “least concern,” so I would serve it if I had a restaurant so long as its status stayed there.
After our Icelandic delicacies we headed back to the hostel and crashed after our long day.