Grouchy While Traveling is an inexcusable sin. There’s no crying in adventuring.
But if this blog is actually chronicling my days and not just sugar-coating life, I gots to be honest.
Day#11,401: I woke up grouchy.
Maybe it was Iceland’s midnight sun shooting laser beams of light past our flimsy hotel room curtains (and leading to some really whacky nightmares, I might add… Tim Burton wishes he had a portal into what was going on in there). Maybe it was the swarms of tourists that descended on the hotel breakfast room by the busload, laying waste to every edible square inch riiight before we made it in. Or maybe it was trying to shower in the airplane-bathroom-sized “shower corner” and getting completely twisted up in the steamy ‘Cling-Level: Saran Wrap’ shower curtains. (Somehow clean wasn’t exactly what I was feeling whilst unpeeling my mildewy shower-curtain body wrap.) Whatever the case- and without adequate excuse because despite these minor inconveniences, I was still… drum roll, please… in friggin’ ICELAND– I was grumpy.
Sometimes it happens.
At least my grumpy was tempered by excitement. Mr. M & I had plans to roadtrip across the southeastern coast of Iceland to Jökulsárlón, the legendary ice lagoon. As Mr. M informed me (he knows a good history lesson always cheers me up), it wasn’t until the 1970’s that engineers were even able to construct a paved road along the southern coast. The area is subject to unpredictable and violent flash floodwaters released from the nearby glaciers, which kept washing roadwork away. Any place that can’t be domesticated after more than a thousand years of occupation piques my interest.
Driving through the area was like traveling through the real life version of one of those Olde Tyme maps of far-off fantastical worlds. You know what I’m talking about. The tea-stained maps with lightly burnt, curled edges and each magical land labeled in sweeping calligraphy.
Iceland’s distinct ecosystems stretched on for miles only to stop without warning, immediately giving way to a new, more bizarre land to carry on the same pattern. As our radio lost all signal, Mr. M & I amused ourselves by naming these lands as we imagined tribal chiefs of yore did while riding their Icelandic horses to the annual parliament at Þingvellir. Expanses of black sand etched with icy rivulets became “The Barrens”… we had “Fields of Many Colors,” “The Great Rock”…
It’s hard to be irritable while naming imaginary fairytale lands.
Finally, oh, finally, we made it to the foot of Skaftafell National Park. Antsy to stretch our car-legs, Mr. M & I decided on a hike to see the Svartifoss waterfall.
The waterfall was beautiful, but much more intriguing were the basalt rock formations that flanked it, creating a backdrop reminiscent of a church pipe organ.
The insistent Iceland rain picked up just as we were headed back down the mountain trail, and our walk turned to a full gallop. It was still raining really hard when we reached the ice lagoon of Jökulsárlón. Like sprint-from-the-car-to-the-ticket-booth hard.
As the Breiðamerkurjokull (say that five times fast) glacier recedes back from the ocean, the Jökulsárlón lagoon grows in the icy space between.
In fact, the lagoon has quadrupled in size since in the past forty years, thankyouverymuch global warming. Huge icebergs calve from the glacier face and float through the lagoon until they’re released into the sea.
A zodiac boat tour seems the best way to appreciate the beauty of the ice lagoon, and despite the throngs of crowds, Mr. M were somehow lucky enough a zodiac and guide all to ourselves.
Because summer in Iceland is not actual summer (repeat: NOT SUMMER), we were suited up in heavy-duty waterproof jumpsuits to protect us from the freezing rain and whipping winds. Zooming across the silvery-mirror lagoon ended up being my very favorite moment in Iceland. We even got close enough to touch a few of the floating giants.
It. Was. Magical. Mr. M remarked on how gorgeous it would’ve looked on a sunny day, with every shade of blue imaginable reflecting off the ice.
Sitting so close to an iceberg that completely dwarfed our little boat was a good reminder that my sundry annoyances are miniscule at most. Clingy shower curtain? Get over yourself, the melting iceberg scolded me. And stop wasting time that could be spent enjoying this wonderful life. Truer words were never spoken by anthropomorphized ice.
As all of my fingers were white and had completely lost all feeling, our guide let me hunker down in the front of the zodiac for the wind-whipping ride back to shore.
SO much fun. Soaked and with no other dry clothes at the ready, I changed into my long john pajamas & flip flops in the gift store restroom, and Mr. M & I skipped through muddy puddles and ice back to the car.
As we settled into our bad-for-us roadtrip snacks (my personal favorite: an Icelandic Doritos flavor called “Cool American”- I’m pretty sure that translates to Cool Ranch, but it’s always nice when your snacks compliment you), we replayed just how magical the afternoon was.
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid grumpy.
But as an iceberg once reminded me, it sure is a waste of time.
To explore my next day’s adventures eating horse and nearly being blown off a puffin cliff, click here!
Tips on Avoiding a Grumpy Day in Iceland:
1. Bring appropriate clothing! Iceland has Weather. Not our weak-sauce American “weather.” Serious, beard-curdling weather. The smartest visitors I saw were wearing full raingear, complete with waterproof track pants. At the very least, bring a LOT of back-up clothing to change into when you inevitably get drenched.
2. Rent your own car. Iceland seems largely to be traveled by tourist bus, depositing huge groups at site after site. Driving in Iceland is easy enough (save for the occasional torrential downpour, ash sandstorm, and rogue sheep in the road)- rent your own car to avoid the swarms.
3. Bring CDs for your inevitable roadtripping. The further outside Reykjavik you get, the more distant and esoteric the radio stations. Not all rental cars have USB ports for iPods, and the alternative is a couple exasperating hours of Icelandic talk radio. Or… gasp… conversation with your loved ones. Noooo!!!
4. Know how to get gas. Iceland has a unique and curious system that requires you to use a debit or credit card with a PIN number. This is more common in European countries, but here in the U.S., we typically don’t use PIN numbers with our credit cards. Pop in your card at the pay stations adjacent to the pumps and select the kroner amount (a fair idea of the exchange rate will be necessary) that you’d like to pay. It’s hard to guess exactly how much it’ll take to fill up your tank, so start conservatively and revisit as necessary.
5. Remember that there are two different zodiac companies that operate within Jökulsárlón lagoon. I jumped the gun and had Mr. M swerve into the first parking lot we saw… and learned that the next tour was 3hrs later. The company just across the river had (cheaper) openings with less than half the wait.
**This post is dedicated to my beautiful godmother, who passed away last night after a battle with cancer. She was one of the most adventurous women I knew, a courageous role model, and NEVER one to let a bad mood get her down. The world that she loved so much will miss her.**