"Iceland 2000" story # 7

Akureyri          June 26, 2000

Hey, fellas. Let me clear up a few things from the last message. First, when I said Minke whales surface like circular saws, what I really meant was table saws. There“s nothing like a bad simile to eat away at your conscious for a week.
     Second, when I said snorkelling in kelp is like being in a forest, I was a bit off. It“s more like flying in a fantastic queen“s flower garden, such as the Queen of Hearts might have in Wonderland. Much of the algae is shaped like pedals on a brown flower. You“d feel like a bee, but bees only live in the summer. Thus, I doubt their brains ever get so cold they can“t remember the one turn they have to make to return to their hive (Iceland is the wrong country to be wandering in for fifteen minutes, while dripping and in a towel).
     Believe it or not, I was able to find a snorkelling buddy. She“s an older Dutch traveller. She once swam in Sweden in December and her feet turned white...hmmm, maybe she“s not the right crowd to be hanging with.

Wednesday, I returned to the mountain I“d failed climbing weeks ago. Mt. Esja. The mountain“s face leaned towards me, at it“s thickest where the eyebrows would be. It seemed to be saying, "Fool! You“ve come back for more?" In the crooked streams, trickled the wicked, incessant laughter...of Esja!
     My companion for the climb was Haukur, a (straight) co-worker with short, blond hair. Actually, the day“s climb was uneventful because - get this! - there“s a PATH up the mountain.
     I told Haukur about my last climb, as well as my all-ice cream-diet. He“s convinced I“m in Iceland because I escaped from an American insane asylum.
     But the most fun time I“ve had in Iceland was when we reached the top of the mountain (Haukur“s a much better yodeller than I am, by the way) and decided to take the quick way down. We slid down on a very steep, very long slide of snow. On our backs, we reached about twenty miles an hour. Snow flew into our pockets and mouths and eyes, and you could barely brake or see the rocks ahead. Whew, it was a blast.

This weekend had the longest days of the year, and I decided I couldn“t be bothered to work it. I made up my mind to hitchhike north to the midnight sun of the Arctic Circle, before learning the Arctic Circle only passes through Iceland at a tiny island called Grķmsey.
     I decided I“d still try to make it there, even if it meant hitching a ride on a plane. I reached the Akureyri airport, thanks in large part to a 20-year old who works 84 hours a week on a farm. But that“s as far as I got. Despite my brilliant logical persuasion of pumping my fist and saying, "C“mon!", the captain told me I couldn“t get a free ride on a scheduled flight.
     I would have to stay the night in Iceland“s booming "Capital of the North", Akureyri, pop. 15,000. It lies on a Crayola-blue fjord between mile-high mountains.
     I made up my mind to not give the Akureyri hostel any business when the owner came off as a real jerk. I reasoned that if I spent $15 on a big dinner, then the energy from that would keep me awake and warm all night and I could save $10 from staying in the hostel. Smart, huh?
     Well, things took a strange turn at the restaurant. Two guys, Valdi (Icelandic for "power") and Gilsi, invited me to join their table. Gilsi even gave me a place to stay for the weekend.
     Power looked like a sea-turtle on heavy sedatives. He said little, mostly just rolling his eyes at Gilsi“s comments.
     Gilsi likes drinking until he pukes and going home with women so drunk that when they wake up they don“t know who the puke had belonged to. He says sentences you“d never expect to hear. He kept saying, over and over, "We come from the land of fire and ice!" One morning, he said, "Don“t you love the smell of socks you“ve puked in?" Another time, he looked at me and said, "You know I never realized this, but you“re very, very ugly."
     He“s the kind of guy you hang out with only when he“s giving you a free place to stay (just kidding).
     The only thing Power and Gilsi had in common was that they wanted to get me really drunk, and they succeeded. (Imagine me walking sideways down the road, holding a map upside-down, and trying to remember street names like Žórhingstręti and Börgaržingata)

The next day, I visited Gošafoss, a half-hour from Akureyri. This is a 30-foot high waterfall, next to a 10-foot waterfall, where the pagan chieftain of Iceland though his idols into the water after the country adopted christianity 1000 years ago.
     Gošafoss is surrounded by rocks and small caves. While exploring, I jumped down a large hole in the rock before realizing how I“d get back up. I was thirty feet below where I wanted to be, and my only way to get there was by climbing the flat cliff. I found the best spot with a few good holds and headed up.
     As I climbed, I got farther and farther away from the big, pointy rocks I“d be falling on if I lost my hold. Halfway up, I tried throwing my backpack to the top. But when it landed, it only caused a bunch of stones to loosen and come falling onto my head, followed by the backpack. So, I had to climb down, get the backpack, and start again.
     I remembered being told that you want to have atleast three good holds on the rock at a time, when climbing. That“s a good thing to know. Once, my foot slipped out completely from under me. Another time, at the very top, only five speedy seconds from some broken bones, I simultaneously felt all three of the holds I had on the rock shift under my weight. But luckily they held, and I made it to the top. Relieved, I listened to Pearl Jam“s "Alive" on my headphones.
     "Ohhh, I“m still alive..."
     I next set to the task of finding a piece of wood I could use to float on while riding the river“s rapids. While poking around a messy barn, I spotted something that would work even better: an old, dirty mattress! I asked the owner of the Gošafoss guesthouse if she needed the beat-up mattress, and unfortunately she did.
     It“s too bad, because I think I could“ve went down the 10-foot falls on that mattress. People just don“t understand these great ideas I have...

At night, I watched a baseball movie, "The Natural", set in America in the fifties, I think. I love the good ol“ days: people ate in cozy diners, guys wore suits and bowler hats, and romance and dating were alive.
     Iceland is as far from those days as possible. People eat in fancy French cafes, fashion changes every week and is expensive to keep up with, and, as Gilsi said, "You only take a girl on a date AFTER you sleep with her."
     To emphasize the point of how bad the times are now, I was rejected by a girl at the club in Akureyri that night. Can you believe that!!!
     Her name was Rebekka, the third prettiest girl I“ve ever seen. Her face was Kelly Capowski-like (from Saved By The Bell). Her eyes sparkled, and her happy cheeks gave her face the shape of a heart. She had blond hair, in a pony tail that frizzed up at the back. She wore a tight leather dress, and the muscles on her bare arms were clearly outlined.
     It went something like this:
     "So, can I take you out some time?"
     "Okay, I“ll tell you what. We“ll play a game, and if I win I get to take you out. Do you like games?"
     "But it“ll be a game I have no chance at. Sound fair?"
     "I“ll...let“s see, I“ll try to guess your favorite flavor of ice cream. If I get it right, do I get a date?"
     "Alright, then. I need to ask you some questions first. Question one." I counted with my fingers. "What kind of music do you listen to?"
     "All kinds of music."
     "Question two. Would you prefer to be at a snowy mountain or on a sandy beach?"
     "Sandy beach."
     "Question three. Would you describe your childhood as happy?"
     "Question four. How many pairs of shoes do you own?"
     "Over twenty."
     I processed all this information in the ice creamulomometer (my head). It was a tough case, but her read wristband made it a dead give away.
     Dejected, I started to leave the club. But, then I came to a realization. Strawberry IS Hverjaberri!
     I rushed back and convinced Rebekka I was right. (The ice creambobulomatrix is seldom wrong) She consented defeat, and as with the agreement of the game, I will not be taking her out on a date.

My ride back to Reykjavik was an American who“d been playing in the Arctic Open. He told me of a friend who putted horribly in the tournament, so he sacrificed his $150 putter to Gošafoss. We agreed that the near all-night sun (Akureyri lies just outside the Arctic circle) was a pretty incredible thing to see.
     As I got out of the car, I realized how much my weekend trip had cost me: remarkably, I hadn“t spent a single kronur. That“s a good price. Especially when you only work two nights a week, and you took two of those two off this week.
     Man, I hate my job.

later, Justin

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com