Iceland – the after action report

Iceland: The after action report.

We flew home and tipped our body/sleep acclimation fully over for the second time in a week. I fully embrace that I am a delicate flower and such jagged transitions mess me up for quite a while. 4 days after returning and I am starting to see straight and walk fully upright. My verbal and emotional filters were compromised while I was recovering, so I’ve had to deliver more than my normal number of apologies this week.

Our brains expanded as a result of the trip. My dreams have been filled with black sand beaches, steep sweeping mountains and blue black seas. I’m not sure how the change will find its way into my life but I can feel it. Travel always does that.

The children were happy when we came back. Alan and Delores and Jami and Matt kept them occupied, fed and entertained while we were gone. Knowing the kids are taken care of by loving people makes our time away free from worry – which is huge. Thanks guys!

What was the price tag? Iceland is an expensive place to visit. The flights were cheapish- $420 round trip. The car rentals were brutal. Typically we rent a roller skate for $22ish a day. In Iceland that same roller skate was $65 per day. Lodging was on the cheaper side – decent VRBO apartment in a good location – $70-120 per night. There were cheaper places available.

Food on the other hand was brutal and kind of value random. A hotdog – $2. Bottle of pop- $6. Pub style hamburger – $27. Pint of beer $8-12. Glass of wine – $12. Extravagant seafood meal at mom and pop restaurant – $40. We figured it out too late to take advantage of the knowledge but the pattern was that locally produced food was way cheaper. Imported foods were brutally expensive. We could have done better with our budget and still eaten well if we had figured this out sooner.

All of the ‘attractions’ were very inexpensive or free. The Iceland tourism machine gave visitors a lot of tour and transportation options which didn’t seem terribly outrageous. $40-400 per day per outing depending on how grand of an experience you were selecting and how far or rugged you wanted.

Souvenirs were pretty steeply priced even at the duty free store at the airport, which was probably one of the grandest and most expansive duty free stores I’ve ever seen.

One other interesting thing about money was that Iceland, even in the most remote locations, is essentially a cashless society. The culture of the card is super prevalent. We never handled cash or had to deal with currency exchange the entire time we were there.

Kaety and I play a lot of travel games with travel card benefits, miles points and chain memberships and we weren’t able to utilize any of our discounts or cost reducing benefits in Iceland except for simple dollars for points on our credit card. The big hotel chains don’t really have big footprints in Iceland…yet.

Iceland – The church and last day

We spent our last morning wandering Reykjavik, shopping, seeing the sights and gawking at other people doing the same thing. We went to the church, looked around, remarked at its impressive and austere nature, and then took the elevator to the top to check out the city view. We had different experiences at the top. I saw pretty roof-tops and a dark dramatic sky line. Kaety smelled urine. When there’s that much perceptual space between us it’s always a signal that eating should happened soon.

We ate at a dark, romantic stone building that was so cool everyone stopped on the street just outside the window next to our table and took a picture of it. I got a kick out of watching them suddenly notice the place, dig out their cameras and then act like people who wear bi-focals as the tipped their heads back to peer into their tiny view screen.

We swam at the edges of big walking tour groups and dodged our way to various city spectacles.

We said goodbye to Iceland and headed for the airport. We fly back in time so we will get to Portland an hour after our flight from Reykjavik left except with a 7-hour full body hangover.

Iceland – the shower

I came to understand this as the kobayashi maru shower. The two sliding doors had to be closed after you slithered through the super tiny opening. You couldn’t turn the water on first or it would shoot out the door. If you waited until you got in you wouldn’t know what temperature the water was going to be when you turned it on. If you did make a terrible mistake once you were in, the walls were so close that you couldn’t raise your arms to fend off the problem.

Iceland – the double comforters

We’ve run across these elsewhere in Europe and they baffle me. Instead of a double bed comforter, you are provided to single sized comforters.

Is this the European version of the posturpedic mattress? “She likes a firmness if 5 and he likes a 2!”

As the night progresses the crack in the middle, which had been carefully overlaid upon getting into bed, has gapped open letting in a steady stream of cold air. And of course the only way to deal with this in the middle of the night is to start kicking randomly until the cold air stops. With two twin comforters the kickings always goes badly. Everything is in a wad on the floor in a quick minute.

It all baffles me. The only thing I can assume is that we are doing it wrong.



Iceland – Geothermal valley

We passed through an amazing valley with dozens of steam plumes lining the sky. The slight odor of sulfur was in the air. Several big vents marked the sites of big geothermal plants making electricity. We drove for miles through the valley which was essentially a lava field, passing vent after vent. At one point we saw sheep farms with bubbling pools in the fields, the sheep grazing nearby. We found ourselves laughing as both of dredged up one of the kid’s favorite books, “Oh no sheep sunk. Sheep sunk in boiling mud. Sheep can’t go. Sheep need help. Sheep need their crashed jeep operational!”

Iceland – The South Coast

We headed out along the southern coast route today to see various waterfalls and the black-sand beach.

In the Westfjords we’d gotten used to a landscape that changed every 5 minutes. Along the south coast route the landscape was more of a long game. Big sweeping hills with peaks of glaciated mountains in the distance slowly resolved into deep chasms, high cliffs, and tall waterfalls.

We spotted a huge waterfall off in the distance and turned off to see it. We were shocked to see that 200 other people were there also. We were completely offended that these other people were using our Iceland – in the Westfjords no one was using our Iceland.

The water fall was spectacular, but as Allison Walkingshaw had forecasted, Iceland pretty much spoils you for waterfalls. During our drive and after the 432nd waterfall sighting Kaety sighed and said, “You know…its just water falling off a cliff…”. I looked at her and laughed. Yep, we’d gotten spoiled.

After a 2 hour drive we turned off to Reynisfjara, aka, the Black-Sand-beach, aka, the place where John Snow found the dragon glass mine.

The geology was amazing! Twisted basalt, back sand, and signs of the crust flipping in its edge.


Iceland – Thingvellir

We got off our plane and picked up our oddly snazzy rental car and took off to Thingvellir national park and world heritage site.

Thingvellir is an interesting collection of natural and historic landmarks. It’s ground zero for the mid-Atlantic tectonic ridge. The whole place screams ’geologic transitions’ in play. Big hunks of crust are being pushed up from below forming big mounds covered in moss and open to the underworld. The rift lake and the fissure that run down the middle of the park are evidence of the space created as the plates come together. It’s pretty cool.

Thingvellir also happens to have been the assembly site for a bunch of ancient viking tribes who came together there to decide and arbitrate laws. Coincidently there is a ‘drowning pool’ near the ‘law rock’ – from the interpretive signage the drowning pool was exclusively used for problem women. I didn’t see mention to any ‘chopping rock’ which I assume is how the man problems were solved.

And as often happens with pagans they came into conflict with the spread of Christianity. The park signage told us that the dispute between the two religions was handled peacefully. One of the pagan law makers went into a cave for a couple of days – when he came out he told everyone that Christianity was going to be the way to go. There was some subtext that the decision was political and expansionist. The pagan law maker knew that Iceland would only thrive if immigrants came in and helped build the country. There were more eager Christian immigrants than pagans. You usually don’t hear this story told with an immigration context around it.

We froze our butts off but the park was gorgeous!.

Iceland – regional flight out of Wesfjords

We arrived at the Isafjordur regional airport for our flight to Reykjavík and found that it had been delayed.

“Weather?” I asked.

“No!”, he scoffed, “Never weather! The flight crew had to work late last night so they said they would not be able to work until they had slept”


So we killed time, drove around and looked at sheep farms, and we found the landfill!

We spent some time at a local pizza shop/mini mart/cafe and watched Chinese table tennis.

It was a random morning.

The rental car return process was alarmingly casual. The airport terminal clerk took our car keys and threw them in a bucket with a number of other keys. I kind of stood there for a minute waiting for the paperwork and the dent inspection. He just shrugged and said, “They come for it.”

I’m sure this won’t cause any problems for Kaety’s reimbursement with UABC.

Iceland – the Fisherman Trail conference dinner

I spoused along on Kaety’s conference concluding dinner. We boarded a giant bus at 6:30 which launched with the oddly ominous announcement from the bus driver, “Our separation will be short. We will reunite in 25km”

We were headed to Suðureyri, and the Fisherman’s Trail. I had to look twice and make sure it didn’t say trial. It was getting late in the day for a trial.

But a trial is what we got. We arrived in

and began our time with a tour of the fishing village. We made it not 50 paces from the bus and were beset upon by an epic winter squall. Horizontal Arctic Ocean rain came whipping in at 50 mph and had us soaked and shivering within minutes.

The lot of us ran like we were being pursued by wild dogs towards shelter…and beer.

The tour resumed from a chair in the town cafe as everyone dripped and fogged up the place.

We learned many things about Suðureyri which we swiftly came to learn was essentially a company town. The processor owned all the quota and everyone in the village worked for the processor including the fishermen, the baiters and the cutters.

One interesting tid-bit we learned from the Q&A session after the tour talk – the high school bus driver was the only guy in town who caught seals to ferment their flippers and purportedly enjoyed eating them with a big glass of milk.

Good stuff.

After the slightly depressing talk about how great their nicely marketed sustainable fishing village was they fed us…lamb. We were super confused.

Dinner with the international GIS people ended up being a complete trip. I talked with guys who were map makers from the Soviet Union who had smuggling ARC Info software across borders. There were so hungry for data layers that they would find any printed copies of maps they could find and digitize them – sometimes entering plot points by hand just to understand and visualize their world better. They would risk imprisonment by smuggling GIS software computer manuals into countries where owning such things was illegal.

Talking to them made me realize how far we’ve come and how important GIS data is to so many people.

Their criticisms of early benthic mapping were interesting – much of what the world used until the 70s was built on 5 transects and a lot of imagination.

Another guy I spent time talking to was a data consultant who worked with global industries harvested kelp – not the eating kind, but the food additive kind. The global politics regarding ownership of marine territory was fascinating.

We finished our meal in the community center and by 11 were convinced that our soaking wet lower halves would be sending us into hypothermia if a hot shower in a communal bathroom weren’t had soon.

When we got into the warm embrace of the GentleSpace we stripped out of our wet clothes that had become a clammy cold second layer. Kaety dug around near the closet and found the knob to our geothermal heating apparatus and announced, “Honey, I’m turning it up to 3!”