"Iceland 2000" story # 12

Ýtri-Tunga           July 28, 2000

Modern Oddyseus here, with news from my grandma, the nurse. Apparently, the headaches I get while swimming here are caused by my blood vessels shrinking from the cold. She says they´re shrinking in my body and my brain, and that´s what kills you.
     That news comes as a slight disturbance, but I only heard of it just now so my week was happily uninterrupted by such negative thoughts of death.

On Monday, my courageous friend, Haukur, became the second person to join me in the Icelandic ocean. He screamed and complained a bit, but when he swims, he really swims! He and I stayed in the water for nearly ten minutes, which was good for me because I´d always been afraid to stay in for so long. When we got out, he wasn´t even cold, which he attributed to his "extra insulation." (Haukur has a baby beer-gut)
     He said to me, "When I heard you did this, I thought you were crazy, but..." He finished tying his shoes, as we stood on the rocks. "...now I know you´re crazy!"
     I corrected him: "Now you know YOU´RE crazy."

The next day, I got the plan to go to Reykjavik´s harbour, with the mission of somehow getting onto a cargo-boat headed for Greenland. I told Sigga what I was trying to do, and she said, "Good idea."
     I paused in disbelief. Had someone actually told me an idea of mine was GOOD? That´s a phrase I hear about as infrequently as "I was thinking the same thing, Justin!" And much less than I hear "Isn´t that really dangerous?" or "Don´t you ever get sick of eating just ice cream?" or "So, how do you like Iceland?" (I´ve probably answered that last question atleast 100 times)
     That Sigga´s got a good head on her shoulders. I´ve invited myself to watch her favorite movie with her, Big Blue, which incidently is about diving in the sea. Maybe she´ll be my fourth snorkelling partner in Iceland!?

As it turns out, I wasn´t able to get on a boat to Greenland.
     If I had gotten on the boat, my budget would´ve been in a very interesting shape. It would´ve been necessary for me to stretch my 67 US dollars over a week in Greenland, with enough left over from that to pay my rent for August, which is 267 US dollars.
     Hmm...now that I see the budget situation in writing, it hardly seems manageable.
     Nevertheless! the next boat leaves on Monday, and I hope to have a little chat with the cap´n!

I sampled a CD by The Doors at the music store. I pondered my next trip from Reykjavik - it would no doubt be less exciting than hunting polar bears from a kayak with the Greenlandic Inuit.
     I decided to hitchhike to Ýtri-Tunga, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula north of Reykjavik. The Doors´ "People Are Strange" played in my head. I love that song! It´s about how scary it is to be alone in a new place, getting unfriendly reactions from people and having nobody to help you.
     I was excited by the first car that I rode in. The driver and I had a good conversation, and (rare for me) we spoke only Icelandic! I was picked up next by Stefan and his brother-in-law, both of whom are getting married within ten days.
     All I knew about Ýtri-Tonga when I arrived was the one sentence I´d read about it in a travel brochure: "Sea-life is abundant behind the farm at Ýtri-Tunga." And yet I hitchhiked two hours to get there to snorkel in 45 degree waters!? I guess Haukur´s not as crazy as me after all.
     But it became apparent as I neared the ocean that I´d misread the brochure. It must´ve said "Seal-life is abundant..." because two grey seals wiggled off some rocks and into the water. Ha, ha! - the perfect opportunity for me to attempt to swim with seals!!!
     I got in the water. I swam towards the seals, certain they´d act curious and not hostile. The seven-foot long balls of blubber allowed me to get within fifteen feet of them.
     Actually, I quite felt like an Inuit. The tiny, inquisitive eyes and shiny heads and snouts of ten seals bobbed in front of me, all pointing in my direction. Behind them sat the triangular Snæfellsjokull glacier, the only interruption of white in the wide, blue sky.
     The seals´ behavior was more tame than I´d expected. If I went underwater, they bolted their heads below. Sometimes, their sausage-like bodies would roll to the surface as they dove. I brought a ball with me and started kicking it with my feet. I´d heard rumors that seals are playful, but they didn´t join in the fun with me on this day. I probably managed only to make them think, "Look at this moron!" as I pushed the ball around with my nose.
     Unfortunately, the water wasn´t incredibly clear, so I didn´t get to observe the seals swimming, which really would´ve been cool. But, I have to thank Haukur for our swim together, because I had the courage now to swim with the seals for over fifteen minutes. Ofcourse, once I got out I wished I could´ve borrowed a bit of his "insulation."

Halfway back to Reykjavik, I called Stefan, who I´d ridden with earlier in the day, and he invited me for dinner. The big front window to his house, in Borganes, gave a relaxing view of two ten-foot waterfalls and a wide river.
     When I learned Stefan was serving lobster, my mind entered into a direct conflict between two of my highest-standing moral opinions: "I don´t eat seafood, because I love marine animals too much" and "If it´s free, TAKE IT!" The dilemma was decided when the free beers I´d already consumed told my brain to "SHUT UP and EAT! I´m hungry!"
     The small Icelandic lobsters, garlic bread, salad, and white wine from New Zealand decorated the table. They were surrounded by me and four people twice my age, who I´d never met before this day. My deepest apologies to the poor lobsters who gave their life for me, but you guys tasted good! The dinner conversation wasn´t as excellent, though. Only five English-spoken sentences were spoken, and four of those were, "Do you want some more wine, Justin?" And ofcourse I did. Hey, it was free! So, I got a bit drunk, but luckily I didn´t have to hitchhike home still because Stefan had a bed made for me.
     (This all makes me feel very bad for Jim Morrisson´s travels. I guess he´s never experienced the Icelandic hospitality - sorry, Jim, I would´ve told you, but...you´re dead now)

On my way back to Ýtri-Tunga the next day, I rode again in a car where English wasn´t an option. Let me tell you - speaking in a language you don´t know is nearly as fun as swimming with seals. Whenever Anna-Dís, the 14-year old daughter of the driver, made a joke which I understood, it absolutely killed me. And I even said, "Þeir muna ekki tala ensku í Spána...eða islensku!" (Take my word for it, it was funny)
     I suppose you get an added joy from saying something that makes a person laugh when you´re not 100% sure that your words won´t have an opposite effect and make the person punch you in the face. (That hasn´t happened yet)
     But when I left the car, I realized that my Icelandic still hadn´t created any good friends for me who I couldn´t have met just speaking English.
     Until now! Justin...meet 8-year old Kristiana. Kristiana took an immediate liking to me on the beach at Ýtri-Tunga. We managed to speak together for an hour and a half! She laughed because I had a parrot (or pávagögur), and I laughed because she stuck her finger through the hole in my shoe to explain that toes are called tær.
     Our only disagreement came when she said, "Mér finnst krea eru mjög fallegt," meaning that she thinks a bird, called krea, are very pretty. I told her I hate those birds! Krea are small, with black heads, and their call is a rapid, high-pitched "cheap." When you walk through their nesting area, they fly above you and swoop down within inches of your head. I´ve walked though countless nesting areas, and sometimes they´ll harrass you for ten minutes straight. "Ég het krea!"
     The day´s swim with the seals wasn´t too good. There were only two seals, and I didn´t bring my ball. But, one did come within eight feet of me!
     But the good news is all the hours of studying Icelandic have finally come in handy. If I didn´t speak Icelandic, I couldn´t be friends with Kristiana!

later, Modern Oddyseus

"People Are Strange, When You´re a Stranger...Faces Seem Ugly, When You´re Alone..."

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