Today involved a lot of driving. I’m happy that I decided to do the drive up north over two nights of camping rather than one. The original plan was to just push through and go all the way to Lake Myvátn in one day after spending a day in Reykjavík. Instead, I decided to cut out the trip to most of the city in order to spent more time in nature up north.
I got up around 9 am after staying up late journaling. I saw Shay on my way out, the guy who I had talked to at 3 in the morning. I said good-bye to him, but not much else. There is something oddly thrilling yet melancholy about the way we can interact with people and then they pass through our lives. Incidentally, I have not really met many people on this trip yet. I don’t know if it is because I have not been exuding a welcoming vibe, or if I just haven’t had the opportunity to speak with anyone. The advantage to this is that I have to feel comfortable with my solitude and myself. Although I don’t really know if you can count this as solitude since I have been on social media every day fighting homesickness by using Facebook messenger to stay in contact with my friends.
After checking out of the hostel, I went across the road to Krónan to buy groceries for camping. The grocery store reminded me of the smaller markets around a town where they have one of everything essential, but not many options. The man at the checkout counter reminded me of my old friend Topher from my very first job at Edible Arrangements. He had the same long hair and glasses except he wore a blue and yellow sports coat with the Krónan pin of a smiling pomello.
“Hi. How are you?” I said. I’ve adopted this as my standard greeting everywhere. I only learned later how awkward it is to ask a random stranger how they are in Europe.
“I’m good. I had a great night last night so I’m surprised I made it to work on time,” he smiled as he moved my nectarines and bananas across the scanner. I asked him if there were any good places to grab breakfast around here.
“Ah, I’m not sure because I usually have a coffee and a cigarette for breakfast,” he chuckled, “I eat lunch though.”
“That works for me. Where is there a good lunch spot?”
“They just opened a new food court down Laugevaur Sqaure. It’s like a 5-minute walk away.”
At this point an older, bald gentleman in a gray wool suit stepped in and affirmed, “Yes, it is brand new.”
The cashier also told me he had a comedy night Tuesdays at The Green Room. I think that is why he had a good night. Maybe not…
Armed with my supply of peanut butter and jelly fixings as well as those bananas and nectarines, I headed to the square.
One interesting characteristic about traveling in a place where you do not speak the language is that you find yourself extrapolating meaning from things a lot based on context. For example, across from the building marked “Jörgensen Kitchen + Bar,” which merited a message to my friend who shares that last name, there stood a squat building in the middle of the intersection. At first, the only features I could distinguish from the front were glasses hanging upside down on racks, so I assumed it was a bar. Then I poked my head in and noticed women in the back cutting giant squares of some pastry, a store front advertising Vietnamese cuisine where two women worked prepping for the day, and a few other stalls packed one next to another. Finally in the corner by the bakery, I found a coffee shop where the swiss mocha and the adorable big-cheeked cashier did not disappoint. After grabbing my breakfast, I walked down Laugevaur sipping my morning caffeine intake, drinking in the new scenery. It was then that I noticed the Icelandic Phallogical Museum (or Penis Museum) that my friend had talked about was literally across the street. I had fed the meter for an hour, which you would think would be enough time to look at penises, but at the end I still found myself rushing to get through.
When I walked up to the admissions desk, I could not quite tell if the stalky man with long, wavy blonde-hair was curious about me going in alone, or if I really just cannot read Icelanders at all. The story goes that the museum’s founder collected the genitals of beached whales from all around Iceland.
There was even a comic on display jokingly poking fun at him. The cartoon depicted the man sinisterly leaning over a dead whale with “X’s” in its eyes while sporting a hatchet. Beneath the scene read, “If you are a beached whale, you better believe (Icelandic-Name-I-Can’t-Pronounce) is coming for you!”
As I walked through the museum, I laughed inwardly at the absurdity of our bodies and minds: the weird games that they play on us. This museum was a testament to that absurdity. I find it odd how the penis of the rest of the mammalian groups are conical like fleshy spears when humans have rounder, less aggressive looking genitalia. I learned that chimpanzees still have the penis bone, but humans are one of the few (or only?) animals that no longer do. They postulated that it was because human males attach to a single female with frequent copulations in order to ensure paternity (cue laughter) where in other animals the penis bone helps maintain erection to ensure completion during the less frequent encounters. Incidentally, the blue whale ejaculates anywhere from 5-10 gallons of sperm every time.
I felt like a scientist in a lab minus the white coat as I inspected jar after jar of pickled members.
Right before I had to leave, one of the last things I saw was a painting that oddly reminded me of the painting in my hallway at home. The painting at home takes up nearly an entire wall with a faceless figure reaching into a river of faces while surrounded by a swirling dark storm of birds and skeletons hidden between the lines. I always extrapolated the search for identity in that piece. In this oil painting, a naked woman and man lay stretched out on the bottom of the frame against a dark background which could have been a tumultuous sky filled with emotions, or it could have been a manifestation of passion swirled into some dark obscurity.
It was time to hit the road. I had a long drive ahead of me. After buying some souvenirs, postcards, and Band-Aids I returned to the car and told Sarah to lead the way to Godðofoss. The rest of the day I drove and drove. It’s impossible to put into words the breath-taking beauty of the Icelandic landscape. Right out of Reykjavík I crossed the bay through the longest tunnel I’ve ever been through. I thought of the tunnel that they drive through while escaping town in Stephen King’s The Stand, yet this lacked the piles of apocalyptic abandoned vehicles. When I rose from the depths, I pulled over to marvel at the sparkling bay.
At one point, driving through farmlands with houses that looked like dollhouses, a cover of Björk’s “Jóga” came on the radio and everything felt perfect.
Other times, I drove through the valleys and hills of Mars. The volcanic rock seemed to be the only thing for kilometers and kilometers.
Coming up north, I began to see the northern glacier Langjökull off in the distance. At first, I mistook it for a low bank of incoming clouds only to realize that it was a solid expanse of white rock. I thought of “Game of Thrones” where John Snow and his cohorts ascend beyond The Wall and all they can see are the vast fields of emptiness looming in the distance. I must say it was enchanting.
I stopped for lunch in Hvammgardi because a wooden sign cut into the shape of a sea lion said it was “The Land of Seals.” Naturally, the search for cuteness called to me. I drove into the fishing town down to the pier and seal wildlife center and sat on a windy patch of rock overlooking the water eating my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and yogurt.
When I headed back to my car after using the water closet in the visitor center, I swore I saw a bunch of seals swimming off the pier only to realize they were big birds dunking for fish. Onward ho.
I had contemplated picking up some hitch hikers who were waiting by the wooden seal sign back on the main road, and I told myself if they were there after lunch I would give them a lift. I couldn’t help think of Shay’s voice in my head about his struggles trying to get people to pick him up as he hitchhiked around Iceland. Secretly I hoped they had found a ride because I was torn between the fear of traveling alone with strangers and fighting that very American xenophobia with a militant desire for inclusivity.
I finally got to Akureyri in the evening and I decided to sit down at a real dinner to figure out whether to press onward to camp in Godðofoss or find somewhere near Akureyri. The city feels like a fishing town to me, being from a metropolis such as the Bay Area, but a friend back home had praised it over Reykjavík and I can see the charm of the art galleries, museums, and Nordic architecture.
I ate a dinner of smoked salmon on naan with avocado, tomato, and aioli in a backpacker’s hostel because everywhere else sold burgers, steaks, and seafood at prices true to Iceland’s reputation for being outrageously expensive.
Eating at the bar of that packed hostel made me feel a pang of loneliness as I looked around at all the backpackers drinking beer and recanting stories of the day. To be honest, I was OK being alone and what made me decide to find a campground for the night was that, for once, I was not interested in going to have a beer at a bar.
I went to a gas station to refuel the car and the machine asked me to pay for gas in pre-paid chunks of money. Somehow I managed to pay a set amount that equaled about $250 US dollars. Fortunately after a frantic conversation with the gas station attendant, he informed me that I would be refunded what I didn’t use. I decided to spend the night at Hamrar campground since it was getting dark. The thought of driving even more without being able to see the surrounding beauty did not seem appealing.
The campsite map reminded me of Fairyland back home with the different areas drawn out on the map in bulging, psychedelic shapes. The fog rolling in convinced me that I had made a good choice to call it a day and that there would be no northern lights tonight. I bundled up with all my layers, leaned the driver’s seat back, and gave myself wholly to the fae who coerced me to sleep.