Today we had our first real chat with an Icelandic local. I met Halldor in the kitchen of the Olafsvik campsite, and within minutes of talking to him, he confirmed what we have already been suspecting about Icelandic people. We were both at the stove cooking, when I asked him where would be good to go around here. I was only expecting a short reply consisting of a couple of places before we returned to cooking our food in silence. What actually happened was he called his wife to fetch the map of the area and proceeded to sit with us for the next hour to go through each destination nearby and how to get to it. He was very animated when telling us the history of each attraction, and soon we were joined by his wife and two of his children. Warm is the best word I can use to describe his family, and they were clearly very close. Even though we were only 60 minutes into knowing them, I had to ask for his Facebook so I could keep a connection with both him and Iceland.
So our day was spent travelling around the tip of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there was something beautiful to see every five minutes of this journey. Firstly, we came across a dormant volcano that has erupted 3000-4000 years ago. What was now in the centre of that volcano was grass, and all that remained from the eruption was the crevice itself and the volcanic rock. Its amazing to think that what would have been such a fiery scene was now completely peaceful. There was no indication of that volcano ever erupting again.
Secondly, we came across both mine and Dan’s favourite attraction in the peninsula. In 1948, an English ship crashed onto the Icelandic coast, and just like with the DC plane, Iceland decided to leave the wreckage where it was instead of moving it away. What now remains are rusty pieces of metal strewn across the pebbled beach. We’re used to seeing the old being knocked down and replaced by the new, so its strange to see something man-made being changed over time by nature.
We also came across some stones that Icelandic sailors once used to determine whether a man was eligible to be an oarsman. Turns out Dan could be one (just)!
The last place we spent time in was the Arctic Tern breeding ground. The first thing that hit me here was the noise of the birds. Clusters of birds all gathered around the cliff edges and made nests, and the scene was bustling, with squabbling, feeding and calling out to each other. One feature of the Arctic Tern, is they have a long tail, which bobs up and down as they land, so you would see hundreds of these tails going up and down as you looked across the cliff. I doubt we’d have seen as much of the peninsula, had it not been for Halldor.
As we returned back to the campsite, we noticed a significant increase in tents and camper vans. It turns out that the main campsite on the peninsula was full, so over the course of a few hours, a backlash of campers returned to stay at Olafsvik. Everyone seemed in good enough spirits, but it did leave us feeling anxious as to whether we’d be able to sit in the kitchen or use the stove. We were very lucky as two seats became available almost as soon as we walked through the door. We took them quickly, and like the true Brits we are, immediately began making tea. The stove at the campsite becomes noticeably weaker the more it is used. We asked the campsite owner about this, to which she replied “yes, it does seem to get tired at the end of the day”. That one comment made us all feel a little sorry for the stove and how much work we were putting it through, whilst completely relating to its struggles as well. It’s beginning to seem really charming how easily they shrug off the petty issues. I actually wish we were allowed to talk to customers like that in the UK!
At out table were two other couples; one couple in their thirties and one in their fifties. Dan began the small talk this time, by asking the guy in his thirties how nice his yoghurt was. Believe it or not, this actually became a full five minute conversation about stevia and how crap a substitute it is for real sugar, and how Skyr yoghurts are amazing and everyone has to try one. It turned out that both couples on our table were Canadian, so we quickly steered the conversation to our advantage and asked them advice on what to do in Canada. It was perfect; the couple in their thirties were from Toronto, and the couple in their fifties were from Montreal. They were extremely helpful, and I’m sure between us, we could have easily planned the next two weeks of our travels. The younger coupler had both emigrated there; the man had emigrated from California and the woman (thought I’m not sure) had emigrated from Cuba.
The man’s dry humour quickly came out as he described pledging an oath to the queen as making him “want to slit his wrists”. And the woman soon matched him by saying how we become so quickly addicted to the monthly paycheque that, before we know it, it’s “time to die!” – She almost sang those words! We knew we’d like them from then on. The man was a software engineer, just like Dan, so their conversations dipped in and out of work from then on, and the woman was a project manager. She put my career worries into perspective by telling me outright that I should never consider an office job and that it was soul destroying. They both told us how they attempted to cycle the ring road, but began on the hardest part and decided not to. Fair play to them for evening attempting it, they had managed to tour all of Cuba previously on bikes which is amazing.
The older couple were also ambitious with their trip, by hiking one of the steepest trails in Iceland. Not only this, but the weather was extremely foggy, and at one point they needed rope to guide them. From both the photos they showed us and the way they described the hike, they appeared extremely relaxed, with only the woman mentioning that it was one of the harder hikes she’d done. They said they would make time to go out and do it more often (as if we were unimpressed with what they already did), but they had four month old grandchildren that they were eager to get back to. This steered the conversation towards motherhood quickly. It will always stay in my mind how both the women became immensely passionate when discussing the issue. It was obviously a topic they had a strong opinion on, and for all their Canadian politeness, they couldn’t resist speaking over each other.
The project manager was all for NOT having children. She loved the fact that any time off she had could be dedicated to travel and that she did not have the responsibility nor the ties that children bring. She loved other people’s children for sure, but knew from early on that she did not want to have any of her own. The older woman described having children as “getting the opportunity to discover the world again” by seeing her children grow and learn. She insisted that it was one of the best things she had ever done and all the work and challenges that go with children were completely worth it to have them in her life. You could not fault either of them for their persuasive ability, and both of them lacked regret with their choice in equal measure. It’s a massive topic that I’m grateful they were willing to share their views on in such a candid manner.