Monday, August 25, 2008

Becoming the wind and the rain and the sea

Where to begin!? Apologies to those devoted readers who've been waiting for an update on our trip around Iceland. It´s been an incredible few days since I last posted to the blog.

We're now in Reykjavík, staying at a huge apartment overlooking the "floating" city hall and downtown lake populated by ducks, seagulls, and a pair of swans!! The weather has been alternately windy, rainy, sunny, cold, damp, and refreshing - sometimes all in one hour. We're eating really well and somehow not spending a bloody fortune (tonight we've pledged to try puffin).

When last I wrote, we were headed to the Látrabjarg bird sanctuary where hundreds of thousands of sea birds nest during the spring and summer - including one of the largest puffin colonies in the world. It's also where we decided to scatter Chris' ashes. The place is ridiculously inaccessible - mountainous hairpin turn gravel roads cut into the sides of steep cliffs. But the reward once you get there is truly awe-inspiring (a word I've gotten used to using every day)!

We climbed to the second-highest peak, seeing puffins, guillemots, seagulls, and other birds all along the way. We stopped at a grassy spot with a stunning view out to sea and decided that this was a place where Chris would be free to become the wind and the rain and the sea. The wind whipped up from below the cliff edge and carried his ashes up into the cloud-torn sky where they disappeared. Ironically he probably might not have been able to get up to that place, even with a transplant, and so it was even more significant that he become part of the wild freedom of that beautiful place.

Later that day we took the Baldur Ferry to the little town of Stykkishólmur where we stayed the night at Hótel Breiðafjörður. Arriving too late to eat dinner at any of the restaurants in town I had a pylsur at the local gas station grill - yummmy!

Next day we headed for Snæfellsjökull, pushing our sturdy Skoda Octavia even further than we already had. Up, up, up further and further into the never-ending switch-back turns of the mountain gravel road we finally ended up in clouds, our windows misting with drizzle. The landscape up there was truly lunar, nothing visible beyond about 50ft and only lava rock and acid-green lava moss. Earlier visitors had left many Inukshuk-like rock piles and they sprouted around us like the elves that are reputed to live all around us. The road down to Hellnar was washed out so we had to turn around and drive all the way back!!

The drive to Reykjavík was positively boring in comparison and I actually napped along the way. We arrived to a Happy Anniversary banner and chilled champagne for David & Mark's 4th wedding anniversary (planned weeks ahead with my accomplices at the guesthouse). We lit up the disco ball on our living room ceiling and kicked back thinking that if we left the next day, we would already have had an incredible trip.

Our first full day in Reykjavík coincided with the city marathon AND the annual culture night Menningarnótt which is basically a big city-wide street party celebrating music, painting, theatre, etc. Galleries have open houses, mimes do performance art, painters show kids their techniques, shops offer sidewalk sales, etc, etc, etc. It´s a free-for-all that has something for everyone!

Art installation of front-load washing machines all "vomiting" water down the middle of the street! Just one of the dizzying array of things going on for Culture Night.

Late that night we grabbed some more delicious Icelandic baked goodies and headed down to the harbour along with thousands of other people for the big fireworks - what a show! We just happened to sit down on a little hill and the fireworks were literally set off right in front of us! The sky was clear as a bell but being Iceland it was barely dark even though it was 11pm. We cheered and clapped along with everyone else and afterwards, families and friends wandered along the harbourfront. To celebrate, we popped into one of the many hopping bars along the busy shopping strip and bought beers which we simply walked out onto the street while drinking - when in Rome! The streets were packed with families and merry-makers, laughing and strolling and drinking. What a great energy in the air!

Yesterday we drove along the south-west coast through Selfoss where we visited Bobby Fisher´s grave at a tiny church with a beautiful interior. Then it was on to Hella where we ate our picnic lunch overlooking a river before visiting a craft shop filled with handknit sweaters, ceramics, and hand-carved wooden bowls. We stopped for awhile at Skógafoss where we walked up to the pool at the base of this thundering waterfall - Iceland's highest. We got soaked in the spray and loved it! There is a wonderful museum there as well highlighting Icelandic life up until the 20th century including buildings around the museum grounds that you can walk into and see how people lived as far back as the early settlers in turf/sod houses.

Unbelievably, the day just kept getting better and better despite the driving rain. We decided to take the Lonely Planet suggestion to walk on Sólheimajökull glacier nearby and took the gravel road definitely less travelled by car, walked the last kilometer or so before climbing a rock pile and there lay a glacier before our eyes... It's so hard to put into words that experience - and everything that being there represents - how is this possible, why is it allowed!? We walked across the silt and gravel streams that pour out of the base of the glacier and then actually stepped onto it. There was not a single other person or man-made object as far as the eye could see, we were the only ones there... incredible.

We drove onwards towards the town of Vík and turned off down a country road that led us to a breath-taking view of a long curving black volcano sand beach where the icy cold waves crashed endlessly. Behind us rose a long line of basalt stone columns resembling a huge formidable cathedral organ. Above in the cliffs, hundreds of birds circled - including puffins. In the misty sunlight at the far end of the black beach stood the huge rock formation of Dyrhólaey glowing as if lit from the inside. It reminded me of our famous Percé Rock in the Gaspé region. The entire scene was almost too much to take in.

We left the crashing waves and birds to their ageless cycles to find a delicious dinner of tender marinated lamb in a tiny, bustling pub called Halldórskaffi. The drive back to Reyjavik was a late one but rewarded with a perfect crescent moon sliding out from behind the clouds.

We´ve seen so many incredible things and this snippet doesn´t nearly do it justice but I will continue to scribble and will elaborate when I return home.

Until next time...


Amanda M said...

Oh my goodness. Never has one blog entry stirred up so many reactions/emotions in me.

1. Crying over the beauty of the place you chose for Chris.

2. Puzzling over the pronunciation of the Icelandic placenames (might you consider a phonetic helper?)

3. Jealous of all of the amazing things you've seen and places you've been.

4. Discombobulated over the cuisine. You eated puffin??

5. Eager to see pics.

Glad to hear you're having such a great time, Sandra.

Lee Anne said...

Hey Sandra,
Congraulations on not only picking a fabulous spot for Chris' ashes, but also just physically gettting there. I admit I gave my own cheer to learn you manage to get the ashes over there still in your possession. Good job!

Sounds like this trip is everything you had in mind and more. I'm happy for you.

Travel On..Lee Anne

Kerry said...

WOOOOWWWW!!! I can't wait to see the photos!! It sounds like you are having a fabulous trip! Anxiously awaiting your next post :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to update - it's good to hear your voice!