Life on Ice

‘Is it still there!?!’

‘Oh my goodness YES!’ I scream and jump under the quilt. Paloma looks on at her mad parents perplexed. It’s silly of me to even ask because I can see for my self it is still there and it is freaking us out. The Sun.

At first seeing the sun shining brightly at ten pm is a novelty. One can go for walks and swim or sail a boat. But sitting down to dinner with no sign of the dusk is a little unsettling. Are we crazy or is it really lunch-time? When midnight rolls round and we peek out the shades and survey the view, but Mister Sun is smiling high in the sky like it is three o’clock. In Iceland at least we could go for a game of Midnight Golf if we can’t sleep, they love that. From the window of our apartment in Reykjavik we watch electric pinks, violets and sherbet oranges light up the harbour and Mount Esme behind it. For the first two weeks of our adventure in Iceland the sun never sets, it merely kisses the horizon and bounces back up, darkness never falling and we sit entranced.

I have trouble speaking English most of the time so you can feel really sorry for me trying to ask directions in Icelandic, even something as simple as the main street name makes me sound like I’m speaking backwards! Try Laugavegur not to mention the word Slokkvilidhofudborgarsvaedisins meaning fire station and which Ben’s work mates never tire of asking him to repeat.

We have once again attempted to defied mother nature, the weather reports and any one who tried to tell us prior to our adventure the maximum temperature would be 15 degrees, at the height of the Icelandic summer. I am resplendent in my ruby kaftan decorated in pom poms with my gold sandals and Ben on permanent holidays in his Hawaiian shirt. No doubt the looks we receive on the main street of Reykjavik are hilarious.

Reykjavik is a small city surrounded by nature. Like Sydney it is a bit of a mish-mash of eras and styles. The houses are cute Scandinavian homes, colourfully painted corrugated iron exteriors with window boxes filled with flowers. The Hallgrímskirkja church in the centre of town is actually built to resemble a lava flow but looks more like a rocket ship blasting off to me. Sitting on the rocks on the harbour we watch the cruise liners and fishing boats come in and out sounding their horns followed by little tug boats.

Taking a stroll on Laugavegur, the main street, on our first day, I am wrapped up in my red blanket, Ben thinks it could be the next fashion statement but I am a little embarrassed. It is grey and overcast and quite freezing. The town is filled with the cutest old-fashioned cafes, luckily it is totally set up for this false summer weather. Tiu Dropar comes to be our favourite haunt, wall papered with green deco fronds and hung with beaded lampshades it is really cosy. We warm ourselves with French beef soup and swiss mocha hot chochlate with a Icelandic pancake chaser. The kids on the street are so cool. Any of them look straight out of the pages of iD magazine. Fluro leggings, puffy assymetrical tops and over sized neon glasses frames top off the look. I am impressed at the amount of young designer boutiques lining the main street too, selling wonderful creations of fashion fantasy. Over the next few weeks I frequent all of them and love visiting the pop up galleries and chatting to other mum’s who are interested in Paloma and I and how it is to travel with such a young baby. As Ben is at work every day I spend lots of time hanging round with Paloma. When does a newborn become a baby and when does a baby become a child?  Because of the close relationship you share with your baby you feel they can understand so much and are so clever, but really only you, the mother, notice this. On-lookers only see a little baby going ‘Goo-goo gaa-gaa’ but when I see other mums and their bubs there is always a smug look of pride we all share ‘Yes, my baby is really clever and so advanced!’ We can never admit it out loud but we all think it. One Icelandic baby is scooting round the café like a little red telle tubby, she is adorable. I almost break my back picking her up for a cuddle, thinking she must be a year old I’m shocked when the mum tells me she is only eight months! Judging by the rate at which she devours her mum’s chocklate cake and downs a milkshake I am not surprised. Paloma is a cave baby in comparison and is still only interested in smearing food across her face and eating the closest cardboard box.

Ben stops by in the ambulance to introduce me to his work mate Andri one morning. Andri offers to take Paloma and I on a day trip with his wife Ragnheiður (but you can call me Ragna, so much easier as my sister in law has the same name!) and their boys, Atli who is four and Axle who is fifteen days younger than Paloma. Such is the kindness and hospitality of the Icelanders, everyone we meet goes out of their way to help us enjoy our stay.

A few days later they rock up in a massive mountain Bedford van with multiple baby seats and we set off for the famous ‘Golden Circle’. A thick white fog shrouds the road and landscape eerily. After driving for an hour the emerald green of the fertile hills starts to emerge and I am constantly gasping in amazement at the beauty of this land. The air is sweet scented, the sky blue and the Geyser hot and explosive. I am mesmerised. Standing close by the edge of the crater the suspense builds as the water sloshes side to side and the pressure builds, suddenly an enormous spout of water funnels into the air, many meters above our heads in a gust of sulfur steam, water and joyous claps abound from the many other on lookers. Geyser watching must have been the equivalent of TV for the ancient Vikings.

Rolling lush green mountains unfold into the distance and white steam clouds billow across the landscape from the many geo thermal plants which power practically the whole of Iceland.

We picnic at Þingvellir, the sight of the first Icelandic parliament and Ragna spreads out a delicious picnic on the springy ‘kate’ moss (Andri’s joke). Atli gets a hankering for fishing and throws his rod into one of the many ancient crevasses which tourists are snorkelling in also. The rest of us pick wild blueberries from the moss covering the black lava rocks, they are delicious.

On to Gulfloss ‘Golden Falls’ the magnificent waterfall which looks like gigantic steps decending into the earth and I am struck dumb when I see a glacier snaking over the craggy mountains in the distance. Paloma gets very excited by the prescence of another baby as she has been starved of playmates for four months and constantly reaches out to touch Axle and stick her fingers in his eyes. He’s is such a cutie and is a bit in love with her I think!

We have had a wonderful day and arrange another trip with Ben to the hot springs. Andri and Ragna demand we wear ‘proper’ clothes and fit us out in 66 Degrees North, the equivalent of North Face gear. Ben has never seen me in a grey anorak, but in my jacket and mountain boots I feel ready for anything and we are inspired to start bush walking back home.

Trying to keep in the Icelandic spirit of things we have cook with the local produce, a favourite is crisp white wine and smoked herring with lemon. Delicious! ánægjulegur!

Something that is not delicious is accidentally washing your mouth out with hot water when brushing your teeth before bed. Because actual geothermal spring water is piped into homes here it tastes like sulfur, disgusting! Paloma is now seven months old and needs to be in bed at the same time each night. It’s a bummer that we are in the city that really never sleeps, where it is said the locals are crazy drunks and the music scene is thriving. Well, we can make our own fun at home.

Getting in our car and driving around Iceland is the high light for us. Stopping to pat the beautiful horses, steam ourselves at hot springs, immerse our feet in chilly mountain rivers and being surrounded by the magnificent nature inspires us as this place is like no other on earth.

Before we leave, a trip to the Blue Lagoon awaits us. Set amongst balck volcanic lava rocks vast milky lagoons becon us in the freezing air. At this state of the art spa complex we shed our fluffy white robes and submerge our bodies in the fountain of youth waters. Paloma is as excited as we are and splashes around causing a commotion amongst the other bathers, as they all coo and have photos taken with her. Whats new. We spend hours floating, drifting and swimming in the pools. The silica rich water makes our skin feel as soft as silk and the minerals enliven us. Oh why can’t we do this everyday! Paloma gets sleepy and we get out have lunch and when she wakes we jump back in and float for hours more, slathering ourselves in the naturally occurring silica gel and giving each other mini facials. It’s a divine decadance of nature to provide so much goodness and a fabulous way to end our amazing adventure in Iceland.

Wanderlust

‘Aaaaaaahhhhhh!’ a sharp inhalation of breath is heard. In unison we gasp at the spectacle of nature unraveling before our eyes in the late evenings sunset. Monolithic blue icebergs melt very slowly into the freezing mirror water. Jigsaw pieces never to be put back together are scattered like toys, their tips poking through the surface of the lagoon, another world. The Jökulsárlón Glacier spills oh-so-quietly over the looming mountain and into the icy lagoon, then out into the ocean a little further down.

As we climb over the small green hills covered in springy Icelandic moss, big woolly sheep skittle out of our way in trios. The sound is superb from our spot up on high. Soft tinkling and cracklings can be heard as the ice gradually moves to its destination millimeter by millimeter. The arctic wind lifts our hearts and cleanses our souls. Purity and lightness abound and we inhale this feeling of freedom. Surrounded by the beauty of nature we observe the vista with gratitude and joy. Being in Iceland is a dream I have held close to my heart forever and one that Ben has now made true.

It surprises me how much we love being in this cold crystalline world as we are such sun worshipers. But on our travels we are drawn to extremes and contrasts. Serendipity has brought us to this glacier at sunset, which is actually about 11 pm, and the sun is still high in the sky! The light glints at crazy angles from the icebergs creating rainbow hues reflecting in the water. The sight and silence is heavenly and we could sit here admiring the view forever, or until our noses turn as red as Rudolf’s.

Iceland is so pure it can clear a mind until there is no babble left and only peace, space, serenity, visions of the future. It is wild and dramatic, stripped back to the basics. We want to run fly and dance off the valleys. How can a land so ancient look as if it was just formed yesterday?

We leave our place in the sun and wander down to the edge of the lagoon where slippery black seals dance in the water that is rushing over gigantic icebergs that have cracked-off and drift toward the ocean in which they will eventually completely melt and disappear. We chase them over the black volcanic sand and are once again are stopped in our tracks by a most strange sight for Australians, a sight we never thought our eyes would take in – jagged blue and white icebergs washed-up on the fine black sandy beach, sparkling like perfect glass against the black sand. Paloma and I run to the foamy waters and hack little pieces off with volcanic rocks. Despite the cold I am hungry to taste the thousand-year-old ice. Few people can say they have eaten something a thousand years old, can they? Paloma loves to suck the shards as they soothe her teething gums. Enormous sea birds flap and squwark around us then perch sentinel-like on the largest ice rocks. It is a playground of surrealist proportions.

Back at the lagoon the next day, an amphibian boat awaits us, the black wheels are taller than Ben and keep us safe as we drive over the rocky road and slip into the waters. In front of our boat is an inflatable rescue craft, also checking that the water is safe from runaway icebergs. We don’t want a mini Titanic disaster in Iceland! Unfortunately, in true Ben and Kass and now Paloma style, we have come to Iceland completely unprepared for the weather. Silly Aussies, always in denial of the cold! It is hard to get your head around the news that the maximum summer temperature this summer will be 15 degrees. And our friends and family back in Sydney are complaining their winter is cold! The other passengers on the boat are decked out in the 66 Degrees North – the Icelandic version of North Face – head to toe with big hiking boots. We wouldn’t be seen dead in anything this practical and we are quite a sight ourselves me in my green floral kaftan with pompoms and Ben in his Hawaiian shirt I found for him at the Reykjavik markets. So we end up the coolest on the boat, in more ways than one.

Slowly we move through the towering icebergs. A spectrum of blues, whites, grey and stripy black is the artist’s pallet on this occasion. Helga, our guide, is hugging a seal-shaped slab of ice and says the blue of the larger icebergs is caused by the light not being able to penetrate all the way through. The black smudges are rocks and debris collected over thousands of years of the glacier moving hundreds of kilometers to it’s final floating place and the white icebergs are actually the underside which have flipped over as the bergs melt and regain their balance. Usually the glacier moves down five hundred meters a year but last year the Jokularson came down eight hundred meters thanks to the effects of rising earth temperatures. The crinkling-crackling sound is amplified in the ice caves and walls of ice we are stopped in. The sky above us is grey and surrounded by ice we feel we are exploring a magical winter wonderland.

Back on terra firma we warm our selves with delicious hot chocolate spiced with lashings of rum. Unable to tear our selves away from this majestic setting we sit by the lagoon and watch the seals dance.

Traveling west on the windy road with the ocean now on our left we pass through vast luna landscapes of lava fields and it is really hard to keep the car on the road as we get mesmerized by this changing scene. Stopping constantly to enjoy it up close, we wonder if we will ever arrive back in Reykjavik. Luckily the sun never sets and we can drive all night. To our right mountains rise from the sea in curvy soft folds, lush velvet blankets of cloud have been laid over the rocky outcrops where the top sedimentary layers are revealed, lines once horizontal are on angles pointing heavenward where the earth has pushed up over the millennia. Moving white spots dot the landscape and are everywhere – the famous Icelandic sheep. Notorious for careening across the road in front of your car, may locals take out special sheep insurance just in case!

Bumping along a dirt track off the main road we listen to Icelandic music Ben has dubbed ‘Snow Folk’ and arrive at the rocky shore of the sea, scampering into enormous basalt caves decorated with geometric patterns. I wish my dad the geologist was here to tell us about this crazy land and the formations.

It is really a nature lovers playground. I have a habit of collecting flotsam and jetsam along the shore and I even find a ready made seweed and rock necklace for my collection. Ben spies me sneaking pebbles into my pockets and reminds me of our luggage weight, he doesn’t realize how many I really have sneaked!

Waterfalls split the green mountains and decend like white hair from the sky we stop and fill our water bottles with the delicious fresh nectar. Have we happened upon the fountains of youth? We feel so light and happy here. The scent of the air is fresh and rushes through the car as we head back to Reykjavík. I don’t want to close my eyes and miss anything, around every corner of the coastal ridge is another wonderous sight. So Paloma and I nestle looking out as the finest of creation slips by. Iceland, my dream come true!