#9 Velkomin a Islandi
We picked up our tour guide ‘Vlad’ at the airport in the usual fashion of looking around for boards held up with our names plastered across in bold writing. Before we travelled we'd imagined what Vlad might look like. We imagined him to maybe resemble a Viking (he did indeed resemble a Viking, only a little shorter in height and less hair) Vlad led us to our coach and there we met his accomplice – and driver - ‘The Silver Panther’ – we never understood his name fully and so we settled with ‘Vlad and Pinkie’ (Pinkie because we thought the 'Pink Panther' sounded better than the 'Silver Panther') – It was taken in good spirit and so on we travelled to our first taste of Iceland – an all you can Italian pizza restaurant.
Grendavik is an affluent harbour town by all accounts but appeared no different to other towns we visited – typically characterised by isolated houses in a rainbow of colours – some blue, others red. Each town was quiet – Iceland is an outpost for sure. It was here we got our test in Icelands unforgiving landscape – the Atlantic Ocean roared behind us. The wind was biting and a storm brewing – Iphones shut down. Iceland has no time for a Snapchat, tweet or an insta update. Towards the distance you are reminded this is an active place, toweringvolcanoes and a landscape (or caldera) that was formed only 500 years earlier is a reminder that Iceland is forever changing.
Vlad told us the mountain roads would shut down today and that it would be Pinkie’s job to get his foot down and get us to our accommodation outside of Reykjavik before things shut down completely. We were holed up in a youth hostel as our pre-arranged hotel accommodation housed the guests from yesterday who were now stuck for a further night. It was a long day but not without activity. Vlad told this was the worst winter storm he had experienced in years – we had no reason but to believe he was telling us the truth.
‘People die out there’ – Pinkies warning as we stepped off the coach at Reynisfjara black sand beach. The swell of the North Atlantic make for a long fetch at south Iceland’s lava beach. On a clear day you might just make out Antarctica (impressively this is the next land mass south from where we were stood)
The Katla Caldera is a short ride away from Vik. This is the same caldera which is responsible for the black sand and basalt columns that we had visited earlier. It has the Solhemiajokull (home of the sun glacier) – so called as its reflections make for an impressive sight – though we didn’t see this today. Thousands of years of compressed snow make these massive ice structures. We were told that this glacier is disappearing fast – the terminus (or front end) is retreating up to 70m a year as a direct result of global warming. If the caldera was to become active again (which is likely – and in actual fact over in its cycle of eruptions) then this part of the glacier would disappear.
On the roadside and in the fields we saw pony sized horses just about everywhere – the only breed of its kind on Iceland (due to risk of disease bringing in any other kind). More hardy than the Vikings – these things stand together with their heavy winter coats and become quickly animated as cars stop and people get out to feed them handfuls of grass (all we had were handfuls of snow - but the horses didn't seem to mind). Iceland eats horse (those which are fit for slaughter anyway) and the pint-sized horse is actually a speciality in most restaurants – tasting better than beef according to Vlad. In fact, a menu in Iceland is pretty far reaching - from fermented puffin to the more familiar lamb (sheep freely roam the high mountain sides making for a very tender cut resembling more like game than anything else) to a local favourite – hotdogs. Hot dogs were sold in most places along with Hardfiskur. Hardfiskur in my case was dried haddock. It was like the oceans offering to pork scratchings and in actual fact tasting not as bad as it might sound. Coffee (or Kaffi) is hit and miss – the coffee scene in Reykjavik is said to be growing fast but elsewhere around Iceland there appears to be some catching up to do.
With the soundtrack to Sigur Ros, Bjork (and even Justin Bieber shot a video here which apparently showed all the signs of what not to do in this precious landscape) it is hard not to be impressed with Iceland. It’s a rugged and baron place steeped in Norse saga and folklore (Up to 70% of Icelanders believe in Huldufolk – elves living in the rocks – one story is said a road planned changed its course after it was to pass through a mountainside containing these tiny people).
We said goodbye to our guides at the airport who were now our favourite people in Iceland. We had bought each a bottle of our favourite Einstok (a refreshing white ale brewed with orange and coriander) to thank them for their time and effort with our party. They had worked hard and it turned out after all that Pinkie could in fact speak English - he had become extremely animated on our last night with his tales around Iceland. With big Viking handshakes and hugs – we boarded our plane back to the UK with an excellent experience behind us - Takk.