Don't let the bottle do your thinking for you
It was light out when I woke up. This wasn't alarming because it was light out when I went to sleep, too. Unfortunately, it was considerably lighter. I confirmed this with my cell phone display which informed me I'd slept about 2 hours too long. No whales or puffins today, but I still have tomorrow in Reykjavík. I went downstairs to check my E-Mail, transfer more money from my savings to my checking account so I could get more out of the ATMs I seemed to be constantly hovering over, and see what else there was to do. I once again skipped the 700kr breakfast on offer and stuck with cool, refreshing water (free) while typing some of this.
I also saw the Finnish girls waiting for the car to pick them up. Although I was going to be looking for something to do, horseback at 9:00a.m. just wasn't gonna happen. Shame, really, but... no. Still, I decided that I was going riding today and bought a ticket for the 4:30 p.m. round. "Be here by 3:45 for the pick-up". No problem.
There was still no room free for Saturday, but they gave me a paper with some numbers of other "less expensive" lodgings. I rang Hotel Býrgaðárgauþáððöllátargásttárgatur and was overjoyed at my luck. They had a single, private room available for only 3500kr or so. I confirmed it and was ready to head out.
I decided to go to the docks to see them and find out if there were any midday whale-watching excursions. Getting to the docks was easy: walk down the road along the water until you get to the boats. I re-re-re-packed my bags and handed in my key, then headed right back to Sæbraut to go to the docks, only a little past the turn-off for the city center
I got to the docks and saw a drydock area, and on that pier were a couple whale-watching boats. I walked down to the only manned (womanned) stand and since they were talking to someone else, took a leaflet. It was in Icelandic. I started looking through it as one of the two girls there came over to me and must have asked, "Talarðu íslensku?" because that's what one would normally ask in such a situation, but at the time, I didn't understand it. I guess I had that deer-in-the-headlamps look because I never got a chance to answer before she handed me a bigger leaflet, telling me this one is in English.
"That's OK," I said, "I can understand this." She raised an eyebrow. I hate when women do that. It generally means I've said or done something I'll later realize I wish I hadn't. "Well, this bit here says you go out again at three which is too late for me. This bit says you go out at eight tomorrow morning, and I might actually make that."
She replied, "That was very good, but you missed this bit here which says we go out at eight in September but at seven in July and August." I thanked her, took the English pamphlet as well, and headed off. Seven o'clock in the morning. Uh-huh.
I decided to keep on walking around the other side of the city and come up from behind.
There's no shame in asking
I walked along a lot of side streets and saw some interesting houses. Icelanders don't seem too picky when it comes to architecture. I rarely saw two adjacent houses which were remotely in the same general style. The sometimes gaudy colour I knew about and was prepared for. I was constantly reminded about how crappy the weather normally is.
I kept walking. There weren't many people on the streets. Almost none, in fact. It was a little eerie. The sun was shining and my skin had a haze of SPF-50 lotion. I walked on some more.
I don't know where I was, but I know where I wasn't - Miðbær (Mith'-baIr, or city centre). I was getting near the small Reykjavík airport. I knew this because of the plane that flew over my head on its way for a landing. Luckily, I stumbled across a sign near a cemetery. It was a large map made for tourists, except for two things: 1) it was mostly in Icelandic and 2) it didn't match the roads.
After staring at it for 10 minutes, I finally picked out that I was on Hringbraut road, that roundabout over there had to be this one here on the map, and the name of the road on the map is similar to this sign here and the difference was probably just more of that great Icelandic grammar they have such an abundance of. I mean, people's entire names can change, depending on the sentence.
For some reason, I never asked anyone for directions, and I don't know why. I was asking myself that as I walked past one shop or another, but for some reason, I didn't. Yes, I wanted to see more of the place, but after two hours of walking and being completely lost, I really should have asked. It's not that I'm afraid to ask directions. I think it had something to do with a sort of embarrassment about the language. Among the languages I speak are English, German and some Norwegian, so this Icelandic stuff shouldn't be too hard. I can sort of read signs (and I figured out Miðbær quickly enough) and when I hear them talking, I sounds like I'm just next to being able to understand it. It's creepy and it's weirding me out. I gotta say I like how the language sounds, but not understanding it is driving me insane.
Anyway, I picked out a route that used big streets I couldn't possibly screw up. I'd been walking more than an hour and a half, my legs hurt and I was starting to get hungry. Happily, my route took me past a Shell station. Say it with me, pylsa með ölli, and with potato salad, too! w00t. Of course, walking down the road and eating this dripping mess (I put on extra sauce and mustard) was difficult so I took a break and finished the thing. Afterwards, I was stuffed but ready to get to the city. I got to another roundabout that I didn't remember having seen on the map, and I started wondering why I didn't just take a picture of the damned thing to carry around as reference. Still, the road had to continue on the other side.
About 45 minutes of mostly uphill walking, I got back to the Shell station from a different direction. I did indeed manage to screw things up. I walked back the other way on Hringbraut, got down to an area I remembered. I came across some Church that's popular with tourists. I forget the name. Sorry.
I walked some more and and finally made it into the city. I'd been walking over three and a half hours. Uphill the whole time. In the sun. I grabbed a taxi and didn't get the scenic route.
I saw the Finnish girls and asked them how the ride was. "The bus never came! We waited an hour and a half for it!". They got replacement tickets for the afternoon ride, so we were going to go together. I forgot to mention that I endeared myself to them having lent them the sunscreen tube last night, which they left for me in the morning.
A Norwegian man was checking in with his son, embarrassing the kid with one dumb question after another. Something told me I was going to see him again. I went upstairs for a legs-up and some reading (Carl Hiaasen's newest, Skinny Dip) and some relaxation. There were a few hours to kill and I worked on this diary, too.
Dress for success
Though the girls were nervous, the bus indeed arrived on time to take us riding, picking up a few others along the way. Guess who came with us. Guess! Yep, Mr. Norway.
We got there and immediately had to sign some indemnification paper saying that they weren't at fault no matter what the hell happened to us. Fine. We followed the girl into the changing room and got the silly hats. She was sitting there trying to size our heads (and got every one on the first try) until Norway started telling her he had to have a 44, which is the size of a kiddy's noggin. He thought we were getting shoes.
Wearing the silly hats, we were led to a corral of horses. "Do you know how to ride? Uh-huh, take this one." Fearless Leader girl got to me and asked "Have you ridden before?" "Sure," I said, "The last time was when I was eight. Either I was really small then or these are ponies."
Don't call Icelandic horses "ponies". Don't. They're small compared to Arabians and Mustangs and whatever the hell other breeds there are, but they're sturdy and the Icelanders are rather proud of 'em.
"OK, here. This horse is Svartalskegg (or something like it). It means 'Blackbeard'. He's very gentle and good for you." I looked at the saddle and wondered how the hell you stay on. See, I know there's a knob (OK, "horn") and some other bits that help you not fall off on what I found out is called a Western Saddle. Not so here. You just sit on top, keep your toes in the stirrups and hope.
After I was mounted, the Assistant Fearless Leader girl came over and told me how to steer the thing. There's no "giddyup" or "whoa" or "gee" or "haw", Just a gentle tug at the reins left or right, a light pull to slow or stop, and a light whip of the reins to go. I don't belong on a horse, and the horse damned well knew it. I tried a gentle giddyup. Within five seconds he was demonstrating his supreme insight by ignoring every command. The bastard wouldn't go until the other horses went.
I was behind Niki who was behind Maria. The girls had forgotten their cameras so I had an even better excuse to take lots of pictures of them. Off we went in a line. No one knew how to ride but the horses knew the routine. Mine buried its snout in Niki's horse's arse. Niki's horse, however, walked a bit slower and failed to bury its nose in Maria's horse's arse. I tried to do a Michael Schumacher and get around Niki. My horse was having none of that. He was immediately rechristened Evil Docile Bastard.
As the gap widened, Fearless Leader, who had been riding back and forth along the column, passed me and called out a very simple and quiet "hup hup hup" and Niki's and my horses were off in a trot. It was at this point I learned something about clothing: briefs, not boxers.
Trying to shoot pictures from horseback is no simple task. Trying to get the face of a girl on horseback while you're on horseback on a horse with it's nose in the arse of the horse in front of it, itself being ridden by the intended subject of the picture is impossible. No amount of tugging or tapping would get Evil Docile Bastard to do anything he didn't want to do, which seemed to be more or less getting through the damned ride and getting me off his back.
Fearless Leader came to the rescue, but not before hup-hup-hupping our horses again and sending my goolies bouncing up to the back of my throat. I started trying to take my weight off the saddle and more or less stand in the stirrups, but this didn't work so well. I knew there'd be more chances to perfect my technique. Oddly, Fearless Leader's horse wasn't bouncing. The legs were moving but the back was smooth.
There are some crappy pictures that I'd never publish and won't even show to many people, but I have proof I was on the damned beasts. I actually might do it again. We rode through a lava field that had some bit of growth over the centuries, and as with all the other nature stuff I saw, I was awe-struck. I didn't get to do a lot of the awe-stricken, though; I was also trying not to fall off Evil Docile Bastard. I managed to get some shots of the lava field but most of them came out in a blur. Like this: On her next pass, I asked Fearless Leader why her horse was steady and mine wasn't. She said he's normally good about that but seems to have unlearned it, adding that he was fine this morning. So he unlearned it for me.
As the hup-hup-hups continued, I came up with a sort of trot-bounce the way you might see on TV if you're too lazy to change the channel and can't find the remote. It was better than nothing. I saw the gap getting too big, pulled the reins to the right and hup-hup-hupped my damned horse to finally overtake Niki. I did it! Joy! Elation! Even Fearless Leader noticed and commented her approval. I am Teh H0rs3 Master! I even managed to get a couple decent shots:
Then Evil Docile Bastard fell right behind Maria and buried its nose in her horse's arse. At least I could try to get a couple more pics of the girls. For them. Really.
We were kind of rushed through the end because one couple had taken the dual package of riding and Blue Lagoon and had to be out to meet the bus. That sucked ass, but what the hell, it was fun.
Back at the hostel, the girls (who were on a very tight budget) went to the kitchen to make food out of whatever was free or left by others. Even a hot dog costs about EUR4. Did I mention this place is expensive? Maria had already made them spaghetti with some crappy bagged sauce for lunch and grabbed the rest for dinner. I looked around and MacGyvered up a linguini primavera which duly impressed the girls. Considering there were no herbs, bullion, and only a scant bit of veg to be found (along with a whole 5T of butter and 2T of cream), I think I deserve a pat on the back. I made too much food however. While I was busy making this excellent feast, Niki had also found something to eat. I never noticed. They still ate it up; I'm a very good cook
I went back to the room to write some more and relax before going out. We'd made plans to meet up around 10:30 since Icelanders generally don't go out to the bars until a few hours before closing time, which on Fridays and Saturdays is 4:30 or 5:30 a.m. Considering the prices, I understand why.
I met up with the girls to go out, took photos of them and two roommates for each of the roommates. Four girls, four cameras, ten shots. And then they had to get someone else to take a shot with me. It was about 10pm when we set out. It's been more than a week and I still don't have an E-Mail. I hope I still have theirs.
We waited for the number 5 bus and took it into town. Then we wandered around, looking into a few bars which were all dead and boring the girls to tears. We ended up in the gay club which had been sort-of happening a couple nights before but was just as dead save for a few silly guests and a few visiting gays from NYC. The girls gave up at about 12:30 and I walked with them as far as Sirkus, the club I was in the night before and hope to guest bartend at. They had to take a 5am bus to the airport. I'd laugh at their misery, but I'm going to stay in Keflavik so that I can get to the airport at 4am Tuesday.
There were completely new girls behind the bar that night. I got my first drink from Ý (initial, not her name), a girl with the most stunning pair of blue eyes I've ever seen. I ordered a gin & Coke but she heard it wrong. I took a sip and expecting gin, instead found my mouth full of whiskey. "What's that?!" "Jim & Coke." "No, gin and Coke." She made the face that so many do when they hear that combination. Ý was ready to take it back and pour me what I wanted but there's no point in wasting a good drink and she was kind of busy anyway.
I stayed at the bar and ended up talking with another bartender, R, who spoke perfect English with what sounded like a completely neutral American accent. We were chatting a lot and I bought her a shot - as I see it, it's her bar and her choice. It was a mixture of Cointreau, Jack and Bailey's. It sounds disgusting, doesn't look much better, but tastes very nice. It's nameless so I think I'm calling it Jack-off. You have to see what it looks like when the Bailey's hits the other two. Buying a bartender a round is always a good thing to do. Rosa started presenting me with shots.
I did mention that Icelanders are a bit different in some inexplicable ways. The first shot she gave me was a let's-fuck-with-the-tourists shot of flaming Ouzo under glass, for which you're supposed to suck up the CO2 through a straw under the covering glass, then drink the Ouzo (burning your lips on the hot glass rim in the process), then something with the straw again which I don't remember because the night continued and I'm initially writing this some nine hours later still well under the effects of earlier shenanigans.
R kept busy with pouring drinks for other people and kept coming back to talk to me. I was talking about how much I loved the place and I don't remember what else, but it couldn't have been that bad because she invited me to a birthday party the next night.
Let's take inventory, shall we? I've been in Iceland not quite four days. I've met a couple really nice Finnish girls, I've spoken English, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Japanese... and broken French. I'm on the guest list for some big club here. And, now I'm invited to a private party. I'm not famous and I don't speak the language. Best. Trip. EVAR.
Some local customs should be avoided (I still haven't learned this one)
I started alternating glasses of carbonated water with alcohol to keep control and around 3:30 some girl (N) came up to me and asked me if I was interested in speed. No, but she was cute. Was I interested in anything else? Maybe. ISK 2500 (EUR29/USD35.50) a pop is a good reason why not, but I'm on holiday and 11-syllable chemicals tend to leave me in a very uncharacteristically good mood.
N and I ended up at another club well after the sun was up (which occurs around 3:30am this time of year here) and much hilarity ensued after drinks and dancing. Don't ask. Around 6:00 a.m. N noticed she lost some things she'd had. After turning out my pockets to prove I didn't take anything from her purse which I was never anywhere near anyway (and, in the process, losing something myself), she bawled her apologies to me and then to some Mr Potatohead who had shown up to take her home. That was fine with me since I needed to get back to the hostel for the 10:30am check-out time. I took a taxi.
Make sure the taxi driver understood you
I don't remember much of the beginning of the ride since I'd been up for about 23 hours and was under various influences, but at some point I noticed I really needed to be awake and aware. The taxi driver spoke no English or Norwegian and if I started thinking about it, my incredibly limited Icelandic vocabulary became even more limited. He didn't know where the hostel was and had gone way too far. Making matters worse was the pea-soup fog. Not the one in my head which I was also fighting but the one outside reducing visibility to about 10 meters. I don't know how I managed to do it but I was able to lead him to the right roads and the hostel.
I made it up to the room, saw the German water bottle and thought, "Oh jeez, what the hell am I doing?" Then, "Oh shit! The whales!!" just as I passed out.
1Note: some of this has been rewritten because I rang R a few days ago ad she had to insist that we met tonight and not last night so I was able to clean up a lot of notes I'd made a mess of. Thanks!
|< Her Deuce was wild | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >|