Most countries I visit have something that leaves me discombobulated. Here the simple expedient of a sliding door on a gents toilet saw me standing in the corridor like a lemon until another customer walked past me and slid it open revealing empty cubicles and porcelain. I’d pushed it and it hadn’t budged so I assumed it was locked. Instead I came across as some shifty sleazeball.
Another toilet, another challenge, this time those motion-activated taps. Why was it that when I waved my hands under one tap, four others started pouring away precious water, yet the next guy merely set off the one in front of him.
Or the bloody nonsense in Keflavik airport. Here the fancydan taps had built in driers, like handles on the side. You wet your hands – motion again – from the central spout, soaped and rinsed. So far, so normal.
You then moved your hands a few inches left and right and waved them under the side shoots. Warm air, accelerated to Mach N (where N is fast enough to turn even the most stubborn DNA back into its constituent alphabet soup) then poured out.
Ok it dried my hands but it also blasted the remnants of the suds that were sliding gently towards the plug hole with such force that they exploded. While the splatter pattern may have been CSI compliant, it also ensured that a rogue high-velocity smudge-pellet shot behind my glasses rendering me briefly sightless. What moron thought this design clever?
So I’ve been toilet-trolled since I arrived but, that, the incipient chill and the extraordinary cost of everything have not dampened any spirits. This country is chilly, wet, pretty devoid of trees and extraordinary.
Therefore continuing my lessons, what else have I learned…
Lesson 6: I really love waterfalls.
There’s something humbling about watching a torrent hurtle over a cliff like a thousand aquatic horsemen of the apocalypse hunting a lapsed catholic.
They come in all shapes and sizes.
The millefeuille frothing pastry, the ponytail and the twitching curtain.
They spray and they stun and, give them a little sun, they release the inner strumpet, dazzling with rainbows and arches of opalescent white.
Of course, like a cracking light show, a waterfall needs a good infrastructure behind it, the basalt rock putting more wimpish sandstone to shame as it refuses to be eroded, standing proud, nay priapic… Sorry Iceland is its own phallusy.
Lesson 7: If the land is growing, then the ice isn’t.
Nine years ago the Vet visited on a school trip and photographed the glacier.
Well, it’s not so much receded as turned tail and sprinted for the hills. It’s now blackened too by the ash that covered so much of the south east after the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010.
Lesson 8: Iceland doesn’t panic or feel sorry for itself. It gets on with things. In 1939/40, with no standing army it had no choice but to let the British invade. When America joined the war it shrugged as they took over. When they left in 1946 it had gained: two airports, several hundred Nissan huts and numerous babies. When they returned with the creation of NATO they shrugged again, smiled slightly and built a bigger maternity hospital. The infrastructure that came with that and the Marshall Plan money – per capita Iceland received the most from that startlingly generous fund – allowed Iceland an easy postwar recovery. It got itself into a pickle when it tweaked the British tail over the expansion of its fishing waters to 200 miles, thereby setting off the Cod Wars – making the British seem petty and bullying in the process – why isn’t that hard? And the British lost, which is also unsurprising. But generally all was fine until hubristic banking pretty much killed the economy in the 2008 Banking crisis. And then Eyjafjallajökull erupted, the ash blew south away from Iceland itself, decimating world airline schedules and everyone and his dog had heard of this volcanic wonderland. Tourism erupted and pretty much saved the nation. It’s now stable, at ease with itself and a grand place to visit. Oh, and just the tiniest bit smug.
Lesson 9: A landscape that appears to be best by one person forest fires is a landscape like no other.
Yellowstone is heavily wooded and undulating so you don’t see the myriad little steam puffs in the way you do here. But the boiling pools and geysers fascinate in much the same way.
They are mesmeric.
Lesson 10: Just because the water is safe to drink doesn’t mean you should. The Icelandic water naturally has a high mineral content so the geothermal hesting systems use the naturally hot water to heat purer water that is then used to drive turbines to create electricity. If they used the naturally occurring water it would furr up the machinery. However it’s not furring up that is the issue in our hotel but the disconcerting experience of climbing into the shower, turning it on and being sure someone else must be in with you as you know you’re not the one who has just farted. Living on a volcano has its large and small consequences each, in their own way, disconcerting.
Maybe that’s why people do silly things…
As well as soppy…