Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


We spent the next day in a bit of a haze; worried about people back home but trying to lift each other spirits by having fun.

It worked somewhat; we had a lovely meal at a traditional Icelandic restaurant.  Icelandic cuisine is pretty much based of the philosophy that if it moves, you can eat it with dill or béarnaise sauce.  I ordered the Icelandic surprise which contained various bird, hooved and sea creatures in potles and on a lovely pool of mashed potatoes.   
Reyjavik is  a lovely little city and extremely walkable.  Helen and I take another trip to the cathedral on the hill to pray for our friends and family in Christchurch.  As we light a candle, the cleaning lady turns on the vacuum cleaner, making it almost impossible to relax and mediate, to find peace and meaning in the earthquake. So we gave up and walked on.

After walking sadly around the city, we settle into our favorite cafe for a cup of coffee.  Looking sadly at each, we heard a brass band in the distance...the road was being closed off.  Suddenly, the streets were filled with dogs and dog owner.  It was, bizarrely enough, a dog parade.  We have no idea!!!

We laughed until we cried.  We realised that life is fuckin weird...earthquake at home and here...a dog parade.  Life goes on in the weirdest ways...

After dinner, we proceed to the Volcano show, run by Villi Knudsen. 

Villi isn’t only the projectionist, receptionist and narrator, he is also the filmmaker, camera man, producer and editor.  He has a dry, Icelandic humour which is delivered in a dark fashion.  He clearly loves his job and enjoys scaring the crap out of visitors about when the next volcano will go.

Villi has been making movies since he was 19.  Before him, it was a family business with his father filming extensively in the 1950s and 1960s.  There are typically volcanic pornography shots; with pools of hot lava spurting high in the air. 

One of the more interesting films he showed was about a little town in the Westmann Islands, just south of the island of Iceland.  In Vestmannaeyjar, a little town of approximately 5,000 woke up one morning in 1973 to a volcanic eruption.  The volcano, thought previously to be extinct, had not erupted in written history.  The footage is astonishing; right behind the town, large lakes and rivers of lava flowed, burning homes. 
But the people fought hard for their town.

For months, they battled with the volcano, using large high powered water hoses to cool the surface of the lava to building large barriers to divert the lava flow.  It worked; after months of struggle, only 200 houses were destroyed and some of the town could be saved.  The volcano stopped one day.  When you look at the footage, you wonder how those people could have survived with a volcano in their backyard; with ash, hot lava, earthquakes, and poisonous gases part of their daily existence.  One of the most compelling scenes is of the church service with the volcano in the background, menacing the town.  This was the last rites for the town; you can almost feel the men break down and almost give up.  But they don't.

Today the town is back to normal.  It begs the question: how far are you willing to fight to preserve your town or home?  I have to confess, I’m not much of a fighter.  I’m not certain I would have the patience they had, to live and fight the volcano and live in substandard conditions for months.  I would do it, but not for a place, more for the people. 

For them, it was never an option to give up on their town and I wonder: do we give up to easily now?  Do things like homes, places, relationships, work…when things get tough, how often do we just say to ourselves: this is too much hard work and I can’t be bothered?  These are the questions I ask myself, often when things get to tough, I just withdraw and find something, someone or someplace new.

I think the variety of choices makes us a much lazier people.  The people of the Westernmann Islands were the first to settle in Iceland, approximately 800 A.D. and they are very proud of this.  They are proud of their homes, lives and industry.  They didn’t feel like they had any other option.  I can’t decide if they were noble or foolish.

I get to thinking about recovery.  I have a lot of experience with recovery; it is a completely painful, awful process and I don't envy anyone who has to go through it.  But I do have some thoughts on it.  When recovering or during disasters, whether a physical or emotional one, you have a couple of options.  You can wallpaper over the cracks and pretend nothing happened, hoping that disaster doesn’t strike twice.  You can rebuild everything the way it was right away and just carry on.  However, disasters strike over and over again, many choose to give up the ghost and build somewhere else. 

No matter what people ultimately decide, I think it’s always best to take a step back.  Asking a series of questions to understand fully what went wrong and why.  The decisions we make do effect what happens to us in life and we have to take full responsibility in the role we play in our own lives.  It’s easy to play the victim, hell I’ve done it a lot.  But if we always play the victim, how can we ever hope to make any effective changes?  Only after taking a full and complete stock of what happened, processing it emotionally as well as mentally, can we move on, hopefully not to repeat the same mistakes again.

Okay, enough of that.

After the Volcano show, we get to bed early to go off on a little adventure around the southern part of the island. 

Helen, the most amazing trip planner I know, rented a car and had a pretty tight iternary for the day.  The scenary is astounding; large jagged volcanos and mountains in the background.  We visited the famous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull...below is us, excited geeks.

We visit a series of waterfalls and walk underneath one.  Erosion has made an amazing bowl shaped feature in the rock.  The waterfall drops 50 metres.  There is a small outcropping that I step onto and I’m instantly baptized by Iceland’s glacier waters.  It’s a great feeling.

We finally reach our destination, Skaggafell, and it is unseasonable warm.  The whole area is a river wasteland, with no green bushes.  You can see for miles across the flat, grey landscape.  It feels like we have come to the end of the world.

The icecap here is the largest in Europe and glaciers glide down valleys like fingers.  The landscape is harsh but takes my breath away.  We sit outside in a little café, drinking Viking beer and eating Icelandic hotdogs.  Yum.

We get a move on the next day and drive.  We visit a medieval turf house, which literally is a house with grassy turf stuck between the rocks for insulation.  You can’t help but feel sorry for those people who had to survive in such a bitter environment.  They must have relished the warmth of the fire and sleeping in fur beds.
In the distance, we can see the looming, angry looking Mt. Helka.  This mountain is where the concept of Hell came from and you can see why.  The Vikings believed that this was one of the two mouths of hell (the other one is in Cleveland.  That was for all you Buffy fans, I actually quite liked Cleveland).  The concept of fire and brimstone and sulfur was all formed here and persists today. 

We drive quickly to go to the Blue Lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s premiere tourist areas.  The lagoon water is actually effluent from the local geothermal powerplant…ah swimming in effluent, what a girl always dreams of.  The water is a milky, creamy blue and warm.  There are a series of large pools and smaller little coves.  It isn’t particularly packed with people, which is a surprise because it is so popular with tourists.

At the far end are tubs of Blue Lagoon mud that people slather over their face and bodies.  People float around with whitened faces.  It would make me laugh if I didn’t look just as silly.

Jessica, Helen and I enter into the lava cave steam room.  The room is low, with old looking wooden door and V-shaped.  We sit until we want to pass out and then nip over for a cool shower.  We go over to the heated waterfall and are pounded by the water.

One thing I’ve recently discovered is that my new bathing suit acts like a baleen whale, scooping up water and revealing my er…assets.  Embarrassing, but this is Iceland, people are pretty comfortable with that kind of thing.  The waterfall completely pulls my top down...I’m embarrassed but nobody seems to notice…yay me!

We leave the Blue Lagoon refreshed but our hair is dry like hay.  We go back to the guest house, which is beautifully decorated by our friendly Icelandic host, Daniel.  It is by far the best place we have stayed at. Helen and I stay up late to talk to Daniel about hidden people (I think I had an experience with one and Daniel confirms it), elves, chakras, spirituality, Icelandic politics and all manner of things.  Daniel is a cool guy and I would have loved to stay longer to chat with him.

Daniel bakes us nutty bread for the morning and we wake up, at the exhausting hour of 4:30 a.m., to catch our plane back to England.   We eat lovely smoked trout and pack sandwiches for breakfast.  We are all sad to leave but Helen is keen to get back to N.Z. to check out the earthquake. 

Iceland is an amazing place, with sagas, legends and magic everywhere.  I would love to return for a week, a year or a lifetime…

No comments:

Post a Comment