Tours can be great for authors – all that professional wisdom and tidbits of useless trivia only we can appreciate. Weird little things can come up in the oddest places, such as my overhearing that until the 20th Century most ships couldn’t dock in Reykjavik because the harbor is shallow and other harbors were the ports of choice. This is actually important if I want to show a character landing in Iceland accurately. They won’t be stepping off the ship, onto a dock, the way we would depict it in London or Boston. But the buyer needs to be wary – as I mentioned before, Iceland is expensive and you need to treat every expenditure as an investment in your vacation fun or your writing research.
Don’t bother with the overpriced, unimpressive, rushed, big bus tours. I thought I was being wise: new to the country – let the experienced people show you the land. Nope! I was wrong: the big bus tour to Þingvellir National Park was stressful and lead by a guide who frankly wanted to be somewhere else. He was, in fact, stunningly dull and disconnected. The driver was quite friendly and willing to answer questions, but the guide would give a one-word answer, often “dunno,” and then walk away. We still saw gorgeous sites on that tour but the new plan is to go back and take our time. 30 minutes to see where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is tearing an island apart is … no duh … not enough time. The big bus tours are packed, cramped, rushed and not much fun at all.
Then of course there’s the whole tourist factor: you want to see Gullfoss (foss means waterfall) and 100 septuagenarians have packed the 120 steps down to the best viewing spot – in both directions. Even I move faster up stairs and I have the grace of a Minke Whale (which by the way is likely part of the reason Icelanders eat them – they’re not the quickest critters in the deep.) Don’t even think of getting a nice bottle of glacier water at the tourist shop – here too the non-indigenous septuagenarian has come to roost in more numbers than the Puffins and you were only given 30 minutes to see the foss, peruse the shop, buy something ridiculously excessive in cost, get your water (from ANOTHER check out, of course) and get back to the big bus before the surly guide scolds you in front of the tourists who had enough sense to abandon it all and get back early.
You can imagine what the line to the bathroom was like and with all that rushing water … ugh!
The next day, however, we booked a super jeep tour to the south, to go to the volcano in Eyjafjallajökull (by the way jökull means glacier, not mountain.) Why yes, that IS the very same volcano that messed with air traffic in Europe back in 2010. Everyone say it with me: Eh-ya-aff-la(t)-yo-kull(t). Knew you could.
These tours are family operated and usually only have six people plus the driver/guide (http://www.volcanotours.is). We got lucky: it was just me, my friend, and “Clint” Erlingsson (the fellow on the right.) As I’m sure happens every time, we asked him for his real name, and Clint had the graciousness to not roll his eyes as we butchered it. You can picture it, and write it, as real dialog:
“Okay, my name is Hlynur (sounds a little like saying “Clint” with a really bad head cold and congestion.)
“So, Clint, where are we off to?”
We were off down the southwest coast of the island in an SUV on steroids, with bacon wrapped hot dogs (look, they eat horse, fermented shark, Puffin, and Minke Whale – bacon wrapped hot dogs just seems normal.)
Waterfalls … did I mention that there are waterfalls in Iceland? Holy Cascades, Batman, are there waterfalls. Most are coming down from the numerous jökull in the south and central portions of the country. (See, you remembered that means glacier, didn’t you. You’re learning.) Which of course means that they are cold! But amazing.
Once we’d filled up on waterfalls, it was off to the devastated land around the infamous volcano. We were grateful for the super jeep. Not only are the tires bigger, but the air intake for the engine is located above potential waterlines. This is important as we are driving/swimming/snorkeling our jeep through substantial rivers. There is no cell phone signal at Eyjafjallajökull. I have no idea if this is due to distance or the lack of desire to climb a crumbling, exploding mountain to put up a cell tower for the 6 humans silly enough to drive out there. Needless to say, if one floods their engine, help is not really on the way.
And with that, I have to cut my blog into more parts. My self-proclaimed agent and everyone who has the slightest knowledge about blogs agrees that 500 – 900 words are best. Besides, I want room for photos, so stand by – the actual Volcano visit is next!