ICELAND – PUFFINS, THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, AND MIDNIGHT DISTURBANCES

On our second night in Iceland, we found a super nice campground (or at least that’s what we thought the first night).  It was quiet, had very clean (and accessible) bathrooms, and was just what we needed after staying in a parking garage the night before.  We parked our campervan, paid the $38.16, and nestled in for a great night’s sleep.  I slept so well too!  The windows were cracked and the fresh Iceland air coupled with a thermal sleeping bag were perfect.

The first event the next day was Puffin Island.  Puffin’s are a bird that looks kind of like a penguin but are the size of a chicken.  They can fly and spend their summers on an island off of Iceland.  This is where they mate, and during the winter, they go to the south of Greenland and spend their time on open water.  We learned that Puffins find a mate around the age of 3-4 and only have one mate for their entire life, which is 25-ish years.  During the winters, they separate and then reunite in the winter for mating season.  Our tour guide joked that perhaps this was the key to a successful relationship!  When the female returns to Iceland each summer, the male performs a little dance around her (the male always comes early to prepare the nest).  And about 45 days later, a little puffin (or puffling) is born into the world.  It should also be noted that male and female puffins alternate the caretaking responsibilities.  One day, the female will go fishing for food, and the next the male will find the fish, and so on.  It is a true equal partnership.

Later in the day, we found a restaurant that served puffin breast.  I did not have any but Tony said it was very tasty, smoked and served raw with a mustard sauce.  (Tony loves to try new meats, and the night before had a horse burger, which is very common in Iceland).

We were now two whole days into our Iceland trip and hadn’t seen the countryside yet.  With a bag of snacks and two coffees in hand, we headed out into the wild to see The Golden Circle.  In Iceland, The Golden Circle is a way to drive and see some of the top tourist attractions in about 4-5 hours.  We saw the Silfra Fissure, where the European and American tectonic plates are separating.  There is actually a scuba diving option here, but we did not have the proper certifications for cold water diving, so weren’t able to partake in this activity.  Also, as I had previously mentioned, I detest the cold, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise.  None the less, it was cool to see the tectonic plates, about two cars lengths apart.

The next stop was Geysir.  Geysir is exactly that…a geyser.  In fact, all geysers are named after this Geysir, which means ‘to gush’ in the Icelandic language.  While this geyser hasn’t been active for years, it’s neighbor, Stokkur, goes off every 5-10 minutes.  We saw it shoot in the air three times, and it was quite spectacular, my favorite thing in Iceland actually.

The final stop on The Golden Circle was the Gullfoss waterfalls.  Like all waterfalls, these were just as majestic.  I’d say they are about the same size as Niagara Falls, but nestled high in the mountains, and gushing an intense amount of glacier water.

So here we are, about half way through our day, in the middle of the countryside, and tired.  What do we do?  Find a parking lot and crawl into the back of our campervan.  A one-hour nap and we were ready for the next half of the day.  Quite convenient actually.

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The Gullfoss Waterfalls.

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A street sign near Silfra. There was a street that many (certified) divers had to cross to get to the water between the tectonic plates.

I had read that the Snaefellsjokull peninsula and glacier were beautiful, and the coast was lined with black sand (lava) beaches.  It was about a 2.5 hour drive from Reykjavik.  We figured we could do this and be back into the city by the evening.  We started driving and the further we got, the less traffic we saw.  The roads became narrower, and at one point, we found ourselves on a gravel road going over a mountain.  There were few souls to be found, but the scenery was like nothing I’ve seen before.  Waterfalls around every corner, a glacier high the sky that never left our view, mountain cliffs protruding here and there, all on the backdrop of the clearest blue skies I’ve ever seen.  Towards the end of the peninsula, we found a small fishing village.  I would guess no more than 500 people lived there.  For the last hour of the trip, Tony and I had been asking if we should just turn around, thinking we’d seen it all.  But in the end, we found this village and I’m so glad we finished the trip.  The views and complete remoteness were calming.

On our journey that day, we spent a lot of time talking about the most random things ever.  One of the topics that sticks out is our conversation about emotions.  We shared what we thought were healthy emotions, and what we thought were useless emotions.  We discussed anxiety, and worry, and grief, and happiness, and joy.  Tony suggested that he thought fear was a healthy emotion, and I agreed, with the caveat that it really depended on what we did with that fear.  We can turn it into courage, or we can turn it into worry.  I guess I had never verbalized it, but it really hit me during our conversation that fear is something we concur each day.  It’s inevitable and out of our control, but how we respond to it is something we can learn to control.  I share this because there have been so many times in my life where fear crept in, and it quickly turned to worry for me.  Almost 100% of the time, the worry was a useless emotion and exhausted me.  If I can learn to take my fear and turn it into courage, the feeling I get from conquering that will take me so many places full of pride and honor and joy.

I think it also important to mention frustration.  I think this is a healthy emotion, and something I should be sure to address in this blog.  Campervanning is not an easy feat for someone who uses a wheelchair.  I can’t sit up in the van, I can’t reach the bed in the van from outside the car, the restrooms are difficult to get to over grass or gravel, and getting in and out of the van involves some heavy lifting and awkward pushing by Tony.  Frustration while traveling is something I almost always experience.  I know this going in, and I fight it like a bull in heat, because I’ve decided that I don’t want to miss out on life.  But along with that frustration comes a lot of anger and demanding requests from whomever I am with.  (People always tell me they want to travel with me.  I’m telling you, it’s not always easy.  While I desperately want to be able to do things on my own, sometimes I just can’t, and I have to ask for help.  This is by far the hardest part about traveling to places that don’t have the luxuries of the States).

Tony has been a blessing in my life, and perhaps the most patient person I know.  On night three in our campervan, back at the same campground that we loved the second night, I was changing my clothes in the back of the van, completely nude, when someone opened the front of the van, reached in, and turned off the car.  (The car was running for a medical device we needed through the night).  We had only just arrived and were settling in, but my privacy was utterly interrupted.  This old woman with long white hair did not say a word.  She didn’t knock and she didn’t respond when Tony said, “Excuse me, can I help you?”  Instead, she just turned off the ignition and slammed the door shut on us, never to be seen again.  I felt so violated.  How could a fellow camper be so incredibly passive aggressive, invading my territory like I was a prisoner?  Weren’t we supposed to be friends?  My frustration had peaked.  I couldn’t do it anymore.  I dressed, we settled in for the night, and the next morning dropped off our campervan.  I needed a flat surface where I could wheel to the toilet without help.  I needed a place where I could sit up to put my contact lenses in.  I needed a place where I could dress…alone.  Fortunately, I have found an AirBNB for half the cost of the campervan.  I’m sitting in a coffee shop now, writing this story, and giddy with excitement for my first shower in four days.

As we fell asleep last night, I asked Tony, full of anger and fear, “What do you think I’m supposed to be learning from this experience?”  He said, “Do you always ask yourself that after a bad experience?”  I thought everyone did, but maybe I am one of few.  I’ve been thinking about it since then, and while there is a lot to be learned, I am trying to remember that I don’t know what this woman’s story is, or why she responded the way she did.  And she also doesn’t understand my story, and why I feel so violated, or the frustration I had building up in me.  I’ll never see her again, but as troubled as I am by her, I am trying my damnedest to learn something from her.

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Tony’s puffin breast dish.  I had a very boring (but absolutely delicious) halibut entree.

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The Silfra Fissure, where the European and American tectonic plates come together.  Certified divers can dive into the extremely cold and extremely clear glacial waters here.

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