Iceland is huge, and although summer is the crowded season, we more often than not found ourselves alone in the spectacular countryside, which has been shaped by fire and ice over the last few million years.
It was bracing, if scary, but in a good way (after the fact).
The rigidly enforced policy/practice of showering to clean before getting in the pools is at first nervous-making to body-shy Americans (or at least it was to me, especially when changing and bathing in front of young children of both sexes), but after a time it just is ... the precursor to a relaxing and enervating ritual that I came to love, and have been missing since we got home.
The picture above is of Grettislaug, a hot pot out in the wild, at the end of a rugged peninsula pointing at the Arctic ... this pool, unlike the tame ones in towns and villages across Iceland, had a healthy colony of algae growing on the bottom and a few spots in the floor where superheated water that would have raised blisters in a few seconds if not avoided kept it full, and me warm on a cold and breezy day by the Greenland Sea.
I found it bizarre to be so wedded to my watch for a sense of time during the weeks we spent in Iceland ... I have spent much of my life satisfied with looking at the sky, and knowing within a few hours what time of day it was, there was no way to do that on this trip, and I became a slave to my watch's version of time, even though I generally had nowhere to be, nothing to do, besides be.
Nobody is the same from one day to another, but I genuinely feel that my life and brains and soul and path going forward have been irrevocably altered by the counter-clockwise path I followed around the rim of this amazing country for 14 days.
Hákarl keeps bouncing around in my brain ... it's fermented/putrefied Greenland Shark t5hat captures something of the essence of Iceland for me.
Hard winters make for hard choices. Icelanders knew that eating Greenland Sharks made them sick (or killed them if they ate enough), but starving was also a bad option. Some brave soul discovered that shark they'd buried for a few months had benefited from the degradation of the overwhelming amounts of urea in the flesh into ammonia that would mostly evaporate if they left the exhumed shark hanging in the wind for a few additional months.
More than any other nasty food of which necessity is the mother, Hákarl had always fascinated me, so I made a point of stopping at the museum celebrating the "food", which also happens to be the nation's top producer of the stuff ... we all tried some, and although it's not going to replace steak or nachos in my diet, I could manage it if I had to in order to survive.
The thing that grabbed me is that these vikings who'd left their homes in Europe behind, to settle this rough and brutal island far to the north, found a way to push back at lack and starvation and death ... to shout no in the face of literal darkness (as in the summer it never truly gets dark, so in the winter it never truly gets light in Iceland).
Something in me changed when I learned about, and tasted, Hákarl.
We explored the inside of a volcanic tube, venturing more than hundred feet, through cavern after cavern down and away from the light and warmth up above. When we had reached the deepest point of our journey, the guide with us asked everyone to turn off their lights and stand quietly in absolute darkness ... the first we'd seen since arriving, maybe ever.
It was interesting to hear the drips of water filtered through a thousand cracks in the volcanic rock all around us, to feel the coldness pulling at the edges of our clothes in search of warmth to steal, to feel the dark, a solid and powerful thing, pushing at my eyeballs ... it looked the same in any direction, with eyelids open or closed, with fingers in front of or pushing at my eyeballs.
It was an unnerving experience, more so given we'd been living in perpetual light for weeks, and we all rose back into the world of the light and the living different than we'd been an hour earlier.
I'm interested to see what the new Jamie is, the Jamie who went behind this waterfall with his love, and came out the other side ... who saw the sun set on June 4th, and then not again until the 18th, who explored the fire and the ice, who was scraped and polished by wind and sand.
I feel as though I stepped off the world for a couple of weeks, and returned a radically changed man.
My writing will be, must be, altered by the changes, the miles, the nightless nights ... I'm eager to meet the new me, and to share him with the new world I've rejoined.
JS - 6/21/18