Ok, shall we start with a quiz this time!
Where on earth can you, in a span of a single day; climb a mountain, explore crevasses, peep into a volcano, gallop a horse, get swallowed by a raging blizzard and a sand storm in succession, saunter on a beach, gaze breathtakingly at never ending twilights, dip in a blue pulsating geothermal pool, feast on mouth watering gourmet and if you still had any energy left then feed your finer senses with eclectic music and concert?
Don’t say, nowhere, since I did just that during my month long sojourn into the Arctic. Those of you who know me and know where I have recently been then you know; it’s the most isolated country in the world that is without any land boundaries and surprisingly still not called an island, but is Iceland or Island in local parlance. Even my charcoaled senses, which comes after having witnessed natural wonders all my life across the globe and being stuck at all sorts of places, are so subliminally awakened now post Iceland that I must dedicate the next few posts only to this land of wonder.
Though I first visited Iceland only in 2004 and then in 2006 and now in 2009, I have known of this land since I was a toddler. Like I have told you before, I had this globe at age 4 that I would twirl each day and discover new places, to quiz about to my father in the evening. He of course pilled and pilled to save his adult dignity and aura of divinity over me, but one day he got so tired of hearing another new name from me, that he managed to unearth the then official UN list of countries and gave it to me to do my own investigations. In 1970, I guess, it had much less than 200 countries, but what it had and hasn’t change yet, even now, is that in the list of nations, Iceland exactly precedes India. There is absolutely nothing that stands between Iceland and India. So I always knew that someday I would find my way around to this country. Heightening my curiosity was the fact that even my omniscient (as he appeared to me then) dad had no clue about Iceland. He had no clue where it was, he did not know about its language or the kind of people who lived there. I mean his imagination must have run dry by then, because he seemed to have known a whole lot about Easter Island that even the natives did not. Never mind my dad though, may god bless his soul!
I now actually wish to collect my jottings and pottering around Iceland and offer it to the Iceland tourism office for publication. These posts are only a prelude to that. I would intentionally underplay the ice and climbing part as I always write about them, but this time around I would like to ponder more about the people, who are the nicest… sorry, second nicest people on earth, and about other facets of nature besides the white snowy vistas and the rich tradition of the Icelandic people. I went to meet strangers but returned with lifelong friends. In this post, I would first list down some of the peculiar things I noticed. Not necessarily bad or amazing, but peculiar, purely from my point of view, hence I could be wrong. But then this is my blog and I need not put any disclaimers and well, as for my Icelandic friends reading these posts, I have learned one thing about them, that I am with friends and they love to laugh at themselves. So here goes.
There is a literal WHALE menu in Iceland, in which whale meat is served as the main course
You will not find a single T-Shirt or souvenir that proclaims: I love Iceland; they all say, LOST IN ICELAND (now I know why the dreamy look in every inhabitant’s eyes)
It is impossible to get lost in the capital city of Reyjavik. I tried it for one full day… simply couldn’t get lost
There is a ring road all around the country aptly named No 1. This road is nearly 1500 km long and takes two days to cover (by car of course, what did you think!!!)
Icelander’s love horses in all forms, including its by-products; the ubiquitous horse shit
Icelander’s love swimming, geothermal pools are everywhere, even where there is nothing else
No matter what you do, what you eat, how many times you scrub yourself and whichever perfume you rub, you will return from Iceland with a faint suggestion of rotten egg around your aura. It is not a bad thing, I realized eventually
Every Icelander is either someone’s son or daughter; but then, aren’t we all? But they proclaim it, so that it leaves no doubts. In place of the usual location of ‘family name’, Icelander’s like to announce who fathered them, followed by what did the father, father: son or a daughter! So my dear friend Thorsteinn has the rather tongue twisting name of Thorsteinn Thorsteinnson since his father was called Thorsteinn as well. A girl in his place would have the second name of Thorsteinndottir. Therefore an Icelandic name is a dead giveaway as to the gender. Name ending with son or dottir means a man or a woman respectively
Icelandic ducks follow traffic rules. This is a true statement. I witnessed it. One day, Thorsteinn and I were driving out of the Iceland University premise, which has a lake by its side, which is full of ducks. Suddenly this mother duck leading a train of three chicks emerged out of the water and started waddling towards the road. I got alarmed for the chicks… they were really cute. But they stopped at the road side, where the zebra lines led to the other side, right beneath the ‘pedestrian walk’ sign post. The moment the lights turned red for us and we stopped at the zebra line, out came the mother leading her chicks in a single file, strutting their breasts and beaks proudly on to the other side, never going out of the zebra line. My eyes popped out of my head. If I could, I would have shot this scene and played it for the traffic in India
Any shop sells no less than 12 kinds of normal milk and 15 kinds of sour milk, and I am not even talking about the different flavors. For a visitor, buying milk can be one of the most traumatic experiences in Iceland. For me it certainly was.
Cheapest place to shop is a series of stores scattered across Iceland called BONUS (they did not pay me to say this, by the way)
Icelandic people simply celebrate life. I visited them during the worst economic crisis of their entire history of existence but all I saw was plenitude and happiness and warmth and fun. Like my friend Magnus said, the only thing that the recession has done for Iceland is a sharp drop in road accidents
Icelandic language has a particular word, which to me sounded incredibly similar to ‘sex’. This word is rather common, as I gathered and mind you, I was not really feeling deprived of it either. So if you eavesdrop on to an Icelandic conversation then it would in all possibility sound something like: xxxxxx sex xxxxxx sex xxxxxxx sex xxxxxxx sex xxxxxxx sex xxxxxx sex xxxxxx sex bless. Only if you know Icelandic will you appreciate why the ‘bless’ at the end
Though Iceland has countless lakes and lagoons, each has a name
If you are gay, do not visit a thermal pool, or any public pools for that matter. I will leave it with only this; rest is up to your imagination
The annual number of tourists to Iceland by far exceeds the total population of the country, year after year
Icelandic people hate the Brits, so if you know your Queen jokes then you can earn a living doing standup comedy in the pubs
There is actually a mountain peak called ‘OK’. I am sure there is no other mountain in the world by the same name. Sadly I could not climb it due shortage of time
Iceland really does have the best natural spring water in the world (at least among the 150 odd countries that I have visited so far)
There are countless more things that I could add to this list, but then, for now the above must suffice. I would conclude with a quote from the famous collection of Viking wisdom, named Havamal: in my copy of Havamal, the first wisdom is aptly titled: Advise to a Visitor, and it says:
Watch as you walk on,
Inspect as you enter.
It is uncertain
Where enemies lurk
Or crouch in a dark corner.
Havamal dates back to the days of the earliest settlers’ way back in 800 / 900 AD and in those days with wars raging all around the above might be true. But for today, I would like to alter the above saying just by one word, in place of ‘enemies’ I would insert ‘friends’