Friday, May 30, 2008

Day Two: Gullfoss, Geysir, Faxi, and Skalberg

Where did I leave off? I think we had just seen the Drowning Pool. We stopped at a tourist house and saw a film of the area, and I noticed some recesses in the ceiling that depicted the positions of the stars when Christianity was decreed for Iceland. At this point we trundled back onto the tour bus and drove out to Gullfoss ("gold falls").

We drove out into the countryside--even more countrysidish than we'd seen thus far--skimming along the foothills of some mercilessly craggy mountains. Occasionally we saw a patch of RVs and campers and Bob informed us these were rental units, I think, for winter sports or people who just like to get out into rural Iceland the rest of the year. There were a few flocks of sheep and once in a while a horse ranch. Mind you, Icelandic horses are small, and ignorant foreigners such as myself may be prone to calling them "ponies," but let me tell you this. If you wish to provoke the good-natured, even-tempered Icelander to violence, there are three ways you may do this:

1) neglect to take a cleansing shower before slippng into one of their thermal pools,
2) refer to all the towns around Reykjavik as "suburbs", or
3) refer to the stout, sturdy Icelandic horses as "ponies."

Oh, such resentment you will brook by these thoughtless gestures. Best to play it safe and be respectful: Hafnarfjorður is not a suburb, and the Icelandic stallion that comes up to your shoulder is not a pony.

So, as I say, we drove out a broad, flat (and consequently windy) area with a small brown shack. This was a gift shop and café where Bob assured us we could buy the best lamb soup he's had in the country. I, of course, had to try some (and one free refill meant lunch for two) and also bought a little bottle of Brennivin, the herbal schnapps they nicknamed "the Black Death." It isn't black, it's colorless and transparent, but it could certainly share shelf space with Jägermeister or even absinthe for that matter, being strongly redolent of anise. The soup was actually very good, though I thought a bit thin, but full of (I assume) regional herbs and seasonings. At least I can say I had some. Rebecca was partial to the bread that came with it--she's something of a connoisseur of bread, despite her allergy to gluten, while I am unschooled in such matters.

To stand before the little brown restaurant, you would never guess what lies beyond it. To stand in this broat, flat, unassuming landscape, you could never guess what's just around the corner. We walked behind the restaurant, down where the wooden planks led to a rough-hewn stone staircase, and abruptly the ground fell away into a furious, frothing river fed by a raging, roaring waterfall of tremendous tumultuous power. Where did this come from! We were amazed that such a waterful as could carve out wide berth in solid volcanic rock could still sneak up on us like that. This was Gullfoss.

We bused out to the geysers and visited the one, Geysir, for which all others are named. We witnessed the geyser Strokkur blow a couple times, I got pictures with my digital camera and the Diana, loaded with black-and-white film. I'm excited to see how that turned out. I went to each of the geysers and hot pools and recorded them all, as well. Bob warned us that this was a "common sense" tour, meaning that the only obstruction between us and mortal peril was a single strand of rope. Gullfoss was roped off, the flesh-scalding geysers were roped off. Anyone with half an inclination could wander beyond the rope without any trouble, but the tour relied on people's common sense to not do so. Frankly, I'm stunned we didn't have to helivac several blistering bodies back to a hospital and report to authorities how we lost a few more to whatever sheer drop-off, but I suppose there weren't that many Americans in our tour group.

We drove out to Faxi, a much smaller waterfall which was very pleasant and calming to regard. It was near a large... well, it looked like a sheep pen crossed with a spider web, and this is evidence of an interesting story. Everyone who owns sheep out there simply tags their ears and lets them wander. When it comes time to claim them, they simply herd them to a place like Faxi, all of them, and all the farmers come out and claim their sheep. It's that honest and that simple. Again, such a thing could never happen in the States (a statement often repeated throughout my vacation).

The next stop was an historic church at Skálberg. If memory serves, it had burned down a couple times until being constructed in its present condition. Inside was an impressively detailed mosaic of Jesus that covered the broad and tall wall behind the altar. I took several photos of it, the windows, and other details inside. A door next to the entrance had a hand-written note indicating the way to the "crypts," with a little donation box. I asked Bob about this and he said it was nothing more than a few bones and some old stuff behind a sheet of Plexiglas. The lighting was poor and the collection was scant, and it only served once upon a time as a gimmick to cull spare kronur from the tourists.

Next to the church was a large plot of land in a state of excavation--not like a quarry, but like a ransacked cemetary. It was not a cemetary, but a former settlement. Some students had rallied funds to dig up a viking village on this spot and began the study of one house they unearthed--indicating the floorplan including the kitchen, the "school," the dining room, etc.--before the local parishoners began to view this as an imposition, and a gun-shy local government shut the project down. Many of the structures were wrapped in plastic and grass had begun to creep over the rest. The archaeological dig never realized its full potential but plenty was learned from what little progress was made, anyway.

(more soon...)


Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm stunned we didn't have to helivac several blistering bodies back to a hospital and report to authorities how we lost a few more to whatever sheer drop-off, but I suppose there weren't that many Americans in our tour group.

Oh, how you make me laugh.

Anonymous said...

That soup looks just like the stuff my grandmother makes every Christmas and Slava. I can't get enough of it!

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