Wednesday, August 26, 1998 3:07 PM
part 8

After our swim, we went on a long, meandering drive through the country side. Icelandic road conditions are the worst in any country in Europe except for Albania, and 4-wheel drives are essential for access to some parts of Iceland. Iceland is a country of geological paradox - at first, on our left, there were dark-grey craggy-topped mountains with steep faces worn smooth by rockslides, but in and around the niches in the rocks, were bright white birds, nesting, gliding, calling; while on our right was a plain of slate-grey volcanic rocks, stretching to the horizon, and yet amongst them could be seen a small clump of tiny purple flowers. A focal point of beauty in such a barren landscape. Of course, some people would consider the rocks to be beautiful, and the flowers as just an ostentatious display by nature, but those people would be mistaken. :-)

We continued through this, and drove to the top of a hill. On the other side, mountains coloured green and red and brown, and lush grazing land... the grass really was greener on the other side.

There were sheep grazing on the land, but with a difference: Icelandic sheep have no tail. They are born with no tail, and none grows. Everyone in Icelandic knows that Icelandic sheep have no tail. When the Icelandic 100 kronor bill was designed, it was drawn with Icelandic sheep on it - sheep with no tail - but the printing company was in the United Kingdom, and their sheep do have a tail, so someone thought that there must have been some kind of mistake, and drew a tail on the sheep! The 100 kronor bill was replaced about 15 years ago, and the original bills have become a collector's item.

Soon afterwards, we arrived at a site of boiling mud and steam eruptions. There were pools of mud, grey, brown, black, blue, yellow, green. I think that boiling green mud looks peculiar. The location of the mud pools isn't static for very long because they fill completely with mud and become blocked, which causes another eruption somewhere else, and thus a new pool forms for some time. The stream eruptions were more interesting, though - a fountain of stream, reaching nearly ten metres in height before being caught by the wind and either blowing away or liquifying immediately. We walked past the eruption, just as the wind changed direction and blew the steam towards us, but the water cools so quickly that we simply got wet and cooled, rather than boiled. It was like being caught in an extremely isolated rain storm. In winter, the water can freeze in the air, so it would become an isolated snow or hail storm. The Icelanders intended originally to harness the steam to power turbines, but the eruption was so fierce that it destroyed the drill and blew apart the pipes. Now it is merely a tourist attraction, but costs nothing to visit - perhaps the marketing people think that it has no commercial value worth exploiting.

After that, we drove to a town called Grindavík. "Grind" is an Icelandic word that means "frame", or "grate", but is also the name for a type of small whale, so perhaps this whale is striped. The name of the town translates to "bay of the small whale". The town got its name from the beached whales that were found there. At the time, a beached whale was considered to be not an environmental disaster, but rather... lunch. Food from the sea was believed to be a good omen, evidence that the gods were pleased, and so the village was built there.

On the way back, we passed a large tidal lake. While the boss was telling us about the legend of the creature that is supposed to live in the lake, I was imagining something like the Loch Ness monster, which would be lost in such a body of water, until the boss said that the creature is the size of a dog. Not even a large dog! What a waste - Godzilla could swim laps in that lake. :-)

Then we passed the fish racks: rows and rows of horizontal poles held above the ground by a frame, over which are draped fish being dried in the sun. The Canadian has seen them before in Canada, so while I stared, he shrugged.

The Monday after the first weekend of August is called the Shopkeepers' Holiday. Originally, it was a day off for shopkeepers, but then everyone else wanted the holiday, too, so it became a national holiday, then people complained that the shops were shut, so some shops are open now. Mostly, however, it remains a national holiday.

It was Saturday evening, and I was going for a walk. Somewhere nearby, I could hear music with vocals in English, so I went looking for it. I saw that a small crowd had gathered around some people... Icelandic wrestling, perhaps? Close - line dancing. In Iceland. I kept walking.

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