Iceland’s Got Legs

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been.” ―Pooh

Iceland's got legs

Each day, there’s a chance of rain and thunderstorms in North Carolina, yet I am still drawn to things at the top of the world.

The Icelandic word for journey is ferð (with a little boat over the o that changes the pronunciation completely – to something like ferth.) And I, a ferðamaður in Iceland last month, witnessed and was told things from the contacts we made, that are still with me, largely our Airbnb hosts (farmers, artists, a fisherman, a policeman, a hairdresser, an activist, and a retired tourist guide) – as well as other worldwide travelers with their feet in the wild hotspots we dipped in. (In summer, the tourist population is seven times that of Icelanders. Think of it!)

♥ Iceland is an island at the edge of the Arctic with its own beach and harbor culture. Whether for commercial purposes or preservation, Icelanders are intimate with the sea. They came here on boats, and they know seafaring ways. There are also so many amazing waterfalls – thin, broad, towering, roaring, that after a while, you just expect them around every twist and turn of the road, not to mention rivers, glaciers, black, white, and pink beaches, and the secret lagoons. Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

“Geothermal, Baby.” All through Iceland, water is central to your experience. Naturally hot water is piped into each home for a small, flat fee (regardless of income or usage.) Each town and hamlet also has a sundlaug, which translates as a water facility, with swimming pools, and hot and cold pools of different temperatures, saunas, steam baths, sometimes slides for kids. Everyone goes to the sundlaug after work or school, sometimes before. The health of the entire population is greatly enhanced by these pools.

We did not go to the Blue Lagoon for several reasons. First the cost: $91-118 each just to get in. (We would go on our way out of the country if time and money permitted, we told ourselves.) But the amazing wild hotspots and sundlaugs in every town warmed us up for free or the $3 Senior fee, kept our muscles and joints limber, and offered so much more intimate talk with others that we are quite sure wouldn’t have happened at the Blue Lagoon, a beautiful, but very large, commercialized geothermal park. Not that you shouldn’t go. It’s just the way we rolled.

Iceland has a very low crime rate. We stayed with Kristian in Borgarnes, a policeman for 18 years, and asked him what he did all day. He shrugged, “Roadside help, maybe a traffic accident here and there. We just drive around all day.”

Our friend, Alma, told us there are a lot of guns, but no one has shot anyone in Iceland since 1976. Can you fathom that? “We fight with words,” she said, smiling. “And swords.” The last execution in Iceland was in 1850, and it was very traumatic for the country. So. No capital crimes, no capital punishment. There are many, many hunters, though, and they work very hard to secure their gun licenses. “It’s not easy,” Alma reported.

Kristian, our policeman host, gets a great salary, six weeks paid vacation, and up to nine months paternity leave, along with his wife, as well as no-to-low cost health care and free education through graduate school. Everyone has a job, and most make a livable wage, in spite of high costs. There are virtually no homeless people.

Icelanders are serious environmentalists, and they LIVE what they believe. They sit on the point of the earth where they see a lot of the weather changes currently happening, and nine months of little-to-no sun, plus storms and rain, preoccupy them with the weather. “We like it when it snows,” one man in the southeast told us. “It makes the sky brighter.”

We went to wonderful National Parks. Everywhere you go, if you pack it in, you pack it out. Because there are no plants in the world more sensitive than moss, and large swaths of Iceland are covered with moss, everyone is quite protective of it, warning you about harming it in any way. Many are oriented to protecting sea creatures, too, though some few also hunt whales.

“There were many good things when we were heathen,” Alma told us, “because then we understood Nature.”

Icelanders are relaxed and practical. They are also not modest, and it is so apparent there that modesty is learned. All the women we met were flat out, honest, adventuresome, and friendly. They were politically aware and active. Proud of their Viking heritage and island culture, they know their history, and want you to know it too. From the earliest age, they strip naked and wash off together once or twice a day in the sundlaug showers before they get in their bathing suits and go out to swim or dip in the hot waters. They do the same getting out. Everyone is a part of the human body, and it’s no big deal. They often warn foreigners not to be surprised in the locker room.

Icelanders love to be outdoors. They carry chairs and blankets in their car’s boot to sit out at a favorite spot, a stream, or a hotpot between the mountains.

It is still possible to shame a politician out of office in Iceland. There are several parties in their coalition government, and a new Pirate’s Party, about 12% of the people, mostly geeks who use the internet to find out about corporate ties various politicians have, or their other wrongdoings, and then broadcast them on the internet to affect the outcome of the election. It works. Alma is a Pirate, too, at 60. Remember “words and swords.”

The downside of the small population in Iceland, one man told us, – 340,000, only about 175,000 adults – was that if you argued with the opposing party or point of view, you would likely be talking to a member of your own family or neighborhood, so that made political discussions tough. (The same is true here, in spite of our large population.)

Horses are just part of the family. Other than sheep, no other animals are as prolific as the many wild horses of every shape and color running freely along the roadsides, or loosely paddocked on peoples’ farms, long manes flying. Do not mistakenly call them ponies, I was warned.

And the sheep! Every sheep family has at least one black sheep, so I felt completely at home in Iceland. Plus there are usually many black sheep!

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  

It was liberating to be with these strong, friendly, progressive Nordic people. Expensive, yes, though I found out you can get there cheaply on Iceland’s Wow Airline. But, it’s, oh, so worth it. Put Iceland on your Bucket List! Try two weeks in July. I intend to apply to various writers retreats and return in the winter to see the northern lights, and finish my tomes amidst the many other supportive artists and writers there, possibly in 2019. Want to come?

Please tell me about your Icelandic adventures below, if you, too, have been a ferðamaður there.

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