It’s 1:32 AM and while I would love to be sleeping right now, that seems impossible as there is a large group of people belting out the Ghostbusters theme song just down the street (although it sounds like they’re in my bedroom). So I guess instead of bemoaning my sleeplessness, I’ll blog. I know I still have several days to catch up on, but I’m going to write about today while it’s fresh in my mind.
Most of our day was taken up by a river rafting adventure on Hvítá (“White River”). After a two-hour bus ride with views of Selfoss (the town, that is), steam plumes, dozens of Icelandic horses, a KFC (their slogan in Icelandic: svooooo gott!), and vast expanses of the starkly beautiful volcanic landscape, we arrived at Drumbó, basecamp for Arctic Rafting. When we left Reykjavík, it was a perfect blue sky and sunshine day, but as we drove, it kept getting cloudier and darker. By the time we set out on the river it was raining, and it kept raining until maybe the last 10 minutes. It never did pour, but still, it added to the cold.
Oh, I should mention one other thing – today was (well, still is, in the States) my birthday. Ásta Sól gave me an Icelandic children’s book about a kitten named Brandur who has all sorts of fantastic adventures, and everyone sang happy birthday to me, some in Icelandic and some in English :) Til hamingju með afmælið!
We ate a picnic lunch, which gave me plenty of time to freak out about this impending so-called ‘fun.’ I had never gone rafting before, I’m a sucky swimmer, and I had a traumatic experience getting trapped underneath an innertube in junior high. So this kind of thing would not exactly be my first choice.
Our three guides were all Finnish, I believe. Ben was our main leader, I guess, and let’s be honest, he was pretty hot. My boat was guided by Anna, and I actually can’t remember the other woman’s name. Oh, and best of all, the bus driver was a guy whose name is pronounced like “Freaky” (probably Friki or something? I don’t know). Anyway, Ben the Hot Finnish Guide showed us how to put on all our gear. Putting on a wetsuit is not fun (and getting it off is even worse).
[Music update: I have now also heard reggae and mariachi music in the street. Doesn’t seem terribly patriotic in light of the fact that tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day, but okay Icelanders, do whatever you wish.]
Once we were all suited up, we got on another bus and drove about 15 minutes to the starting point. Along the way I chatted with a Swedish girl named Erica who’s here with NordJobb. She was VERY excited about rafting (and also curious to know whether my high school in the States had a metal detector. Random, but our conversation provided some insight into how Europeans view America’s gun culture.)
Ben taught us the four basic commands: forward, backward, stop, and hold on. “Hold on” was my personal favorite and means you should grab on to the “oh shit line” (the rope on the side of the raft) and lean in. We also learned that if you fall out you shouldn’t try to stand up if the water is shallow because you can get your foot stuck under a rock, which is bad. Finally we split into three rafts (we had all the Snorris, some NordJobbers, and I think a few strangers) and set out.
There were two or three rapids right away and they had names like “The Bad Omen” and “The Keyhole” (a very narrow space, that one). They actually weren’t nearly as terrifying as I expected. After that, we tied up and everyone had a chance to do some arctic cliff jumping should they so choose. Most people did it. I was not one of them.
We got back in our rafts and continued on our merry, but now quite freezing, way. After those first few rapids it was pretty smooth paddling, so we had plenty of time to admire the gorgeous scenery. The river is actually an aqua or turquoise color, but it is kind of milky (I think it has something to do with silica? Sorry, ég er ekki jarðfræðingur), and the cliffs on either side are impressive and have all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies (elf housing, perhaps?). Not to label myself as too much of a nerd, but it looked like Middle Earth, specifically the part at the end of the first Lord of the Rings film when they’re paddling down the river between those two statues. Let me find a picture:
I can’t find an actual still from the movie, but supposedly this is the river where they filmed it (not in Iceland, in New Zealand, which is also a highly volcanic country). By the way, no actual pictures from the trip today since my camera is not waterproof, but Ásta Sól and maybe a couple other people took some, so perhaps they will surface on this blog at some point :)
[Music update: Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T. A rather brassy version.]
In case you were wondering, the rapids were a class 2 (out of 5). Not totally pathetic, but not too threatening either. In fact, I think Friki’s bus driving was scarier and more dangerous. I can’t say it’s something I’m eager to repeat any time soon, but I survived and I would be open to trying it again.
By the way, I believe the famous waterfall Gullfoss is basically glacial run-off that feeds the Hvítá river. Do some research if you’re interested in geology. I’m sure it’s fascinating :)
After a cold, soggy bus ride back to base camp, we got out of those wetsuits quickly and headed for the sauna/shower/hot tub. A change of clothes and a cup of heitt sukkulaði later, we were on our way back to civilization (where, of course, it was still sunny and probably had been all day).
Jolene and I helped Ásta Sól pick up a bunch of pizzas from Eldsmiðjan for dinner (mmm so good!). We all rested for a few hours, then Jolene and I headed out for a midnight walk (literally). We walked down toward the harbour and there was another beautiful pink and orange sky over Harpa. This being Saturday in Reykjavík, there were people everywhere, Icelanders and tourists alike, all ages, even a group of sailors from who knows where. They were strutting up the street and people were whistling at them and saluting them. One of them even stepped out into the middle of the street and ‘directed’ traffic for a minute. And yes, we did see one guy peeing in the street.
We stopped at a shop to get a couple things and I noticed that right by the registers they have a rainbow display of women’s leggings. This explains so much about the fashion in Iceland (Icelandic women seem to consider colorful tights and leggings to be a wardrobe staple).
Tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day (they gained full independence from Denmark in 1944). The group is meeting up to go watch the parade, and after that we’re all free to enjoy the festivities on our own. If you haven’t heard, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are in Reykjavík for a few days before heading up to Lake Myvatn to shoot a movie, so maybe they’ll join in the festivities ;) If not, I can always go stalk them – I hear they’re staying at the swanky Hilton Reykjavík Nordica just east of here.