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Iceland: Overview

The land of fish, dwarves, mother nature and hot dogs.

semi-overcast 50 °F

Here are a few tidbits I've learned after only a few days in Iceland:

1) Iceland is big; I am very, very small.
This must be how Jack felt in "Jack and the Beanstalk" -- trespassing in a land of giants. Whether it's the geothermal "hot pots" of boiling mud and water, newly created volcanic islands, prehistoric bird cliffs rising out of arctic waters, or roads (often gravel) that seem like temporary scars on a vast landscape--you are constantly reminded that this land is permanent and we are the ones just passing through. In big cities like Los Angeles, we aren't humbled by nature very often, driving on twenty-lane freeways, always running late, losing time we never felt we had to begin with. In Iceland, the pace is beautifully measured--probably because people here realize exactly where they sit in the pecking order. Waaaay at the bottom.

2) Dwarves are real; even if they are just horses.
The Icelandic sagas, written from oral traditions and dating back to the 10th and 11th centuries, have tales of dwarves, elves, trolls and creatures of all shapes and sizes--fended off by dragon skulls, the sign of the cross, and Icelandic toughness. The "hidden people" are taken very seriously in Iceland still, with a majority of people here believing in mischief-makers, child-stealers, and small doors in the mountainsides, accessible only by the correct password, leading to tiny hidden homes. Although I haven't seen one yet, the ever-present Icelandic ponies, seen across the countryside dotting the hills like the sheep (which there are more of then people in Iceland), are odd enough--with their thick lion-like manes and stubby, dwarf-sized legs--that I can imagine the hidden people in all their various shapes and sizes would feel right at home.

3) All you can eat fish, skyr...and hot dogs.
The entire country of Iceland feels, smells and is remarkably clean--and the food is too. Whether it's the countless varieties of fresh (and I mean 24 hours out of the ocean fresh) fish like cod, char, halibut, mussels, and salmon; the crystal clear water coming out of every tap that's cleaner than the stuff I buy in bottles at home; or the fresh blueberries picked from road or trail-side bushes--everything is tasty, plentiful well seasoned and superbly prepared. Although I've steered clear of a few local delacacies like putrefied shark, minke whale and puffin, there is one ubiquitous staple in the Icelandic diet that can't be overlooked (and it's not cod liver oil--although that's a close second). Hot dogs are everywhere! Made of finer stuffs than their scrap-meat counterparts in the states, Icelandic dogs come with crispy onions and a variety of sauces and, although I've opted for fish more often than not, the dog I tried was quite a few steps above Oscar Meyer. And last but not least, I may be leading the campaign to bring one Icelandic delicacy state-side. Icelandic "skyr" is a thick, cream-cheese style yogurt that's filled with protein, is non-fat, and amazingly delicious when mixed with a variety of fruit flavors. Be careful Dannon and Yoplait, if Americans ever find out about this stuff, it's all over.

4) If you step off a cliff with no lawyers around...what happens?
The most startling realization about this odd spot on the planet is that the people here trust you--no questions asked. I don't know if that comes from it still being a relatively remote and expensive place to travel or if it's just in their small-town nature (the population of the entire country is a little over 300,000) but the number of times I've noticed this phenomenon made me realize how much people in the states don't trust you (at all). From hotels not requiring identification or a credit card at check in (not kidding--they just ask for your name and you pay when you check out) to "honor bars" (the hotel bar has a book where you write down the drinks you have after the bartender goes home for the night) to the countless trails and roads without any guardrails, and organized adventure trips without insurance waivers, the general feeling is--you're a responsible, intelligent person who can make his/her own choices. But if you make the wrong choice, you face the consequences. We're not your momma...just deal with it. And I'm sure it comes as no surprise that 85% of all Iceland search and rescue missions are to rescue tourists. P.S. Rest of the world--take a clue from Icelanders. Don't let the bad apples ruin the bunch.

Now on to the more interesting details of the trip so far...

Posted by Maltags 01:56 Archived in Iceland Tagged birds fish nature lava iceland skyr hot_dog dwarves icelancic_ponies

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