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Europe » Iceland » Southwest » Reykjavík
June 27th 2010
Published: April 6th 2011
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Besides my rucksack and laptop, all I took from Haiti was a couple
good-sized bruises, a few scrapes on my forearms, cement burns on the
tops of my fingers, ten broken and jagged fingernails, an unbearably
foul-smelling pair of socks and shoes, and a lifetime of good
memories. Ah, volunteering with Hands On always leaves me with a smile
on my face, regardless of self-inflicted pain and mutilated body
parts. As long as I continue to survive deployments with HODR, I shall
carry on with the volunteering.

I left Port-au-Prince in very windy conditions, a by-product of a
depression brewing in the western Caribbean. A day after I left,
Tropical Storm Alex was officially named and became the first
Caribbean storm of the season. Bummer I left when I did. I could have
used a bit of excitement.

I spent a long and uneventful night on a bench in the food court at
the JFK Airport and departed 21 hours later for Reykjavik, the capital
of Iceland. Last spring, just after the unpronounceable volcano blew
in the south, I booked my trip to the intriguing country in the
extreme northern Hemisphere, for one because I have wanted to go there
for ages, and for two, and perhaps the real reason, cause it was less
expensive for me to fly from New York to England with a one-week
stopover in Iceland than with a one-hour layover just to gas up the
plane. I am not in the least bit disappointed in my choice; in fact, I
now am starting to plan my NEXT trip to this fabulous country, and
while writing this I am only on day two of my first time here. That
tells you something.

I arrived Saturday, June 26, after a 5 hour flight from New York
(Fast, eh? It's faster to get here from the East Coast than it is to
fly back to Cali), and because the summer solstice was 5 days earlier,
it was still quite light outside, even just after midnight when I
finally stepped outside the ultra modern, yet quaint Keflavik
International Airport. The famous Icelandic "midnight sun" was hidden
behind a shroud of clouds, but it was well light enough to see. In
fact, it reminded me a bit of perpetual twilight.

My lovely Icelandair seat mate, Bertha, offered me a lift into town,
saving me the $14 bus trip. Her daughter came and picked us up and
took me directly to the house of the Couch Surfer where I was going to
be staying the next couple of nights. Conveniently located right in
the downtown area, she lived in a flat only a 15-minute walk from/to
the bus station, where I needed to be two mornings later. The land we
passed on our nearly hour ride from the airport into Reykjavik
reminded me of a moonscape. Now, I have never been to the moon, and
don't think I will ever get there in my lifetime, but this is what I
picture it to be up there. The lunar landscape was visually exciting
and new and all around me the terrain was volcanic, mossy, rocky, and
barren, with low lying grasses, and high peaks in the distance.
Zillions of purple lupine lined the road, illuminated in the midnight
"sun." Steam hissed all around us out of pockets in the ground. Ok,
maybe the moon doesn't have purple lupine as pretty and lovely as the
ones I saw, but who really knows? Any of you readers astronauts?

I spent my first day in the capital exploring, as usual, by foot. I
found the restaurant meals over-priced for my budget (they averaged
about $12-15 for a lunch entree) but soon found a grocery store with
$3.50 sandwiches. Now this was more to my liking. I bought some
simple-to-prepare meals (ie. spaghetti and canned baked beans, which
had also gotten me by for the two months I spent in New Zealand last
spring) to last me for the next couple of nights, where I suspect I
will be staying in HI Hostels and set out to explore the city.

Right off the bat I found a tourist information center and walked in
to inquire about buses to the north of the island; this is when I
discovered they offered free WIFI to those with laptops. Perfect. I
wasn't online for long since I know how easy it is to get suckered in
to staying connected longer than I should, and I only have six days to
cram in as much of this country as possible. In fact, I don't plan on
sleeping at all until next Sunday.

I explored Reykjavik by foot, away from the tourists and the bustling,
modern and chic downtown area. I wandered through neighborhood after
neighborhood, down to the harbor, then the old harbor, ate a sandwich
on a bunch of rocks overlooking some more water and then found myself
aimlessly meandering in yet another residential neighborhood. I
checked out but did not go into one of the many neighborhood thermal
pools where I witnessed a dozen Icelanders frolicking in the water
with their kids. Many of you may not know this, but soaking in the
multitude of geothermal baths and pools found in this country is a
favorite pastime of Icelanders. Geothermal water is one of Iceland's
greatest natural resources and is used to produce electricity, heat
homes and, well, sit and soak! There are supposedly over 150 of these
pools scattered around the country and many are located in the
different neighborhoods of Reykjavik.

The city of 120,000-200,000 (depending on your source and taking in
the possibility of the greater outlying area of the capital) has a
plethora of interestingly built houses, from all-wooden construction
to corrugated steel to plain concrete buildings. There are a multitude
of colors to be found on the exteriors of many a home all over this
city, in every nook and cranny, from the lower or middle class (though
I have to wonder if there really is a "lower class" in Reykjavik?) on
up to the affluent areas. I have always loved color and found the city
to be quite striking in that regard. There seems to be an immense
amount of pride in this thriving small city (more like a large town,
really), as evident in the upkeep of the houses, their small but
impeccably-groomed gardens and front yards and the city in general.

In the late afternoon, I found a lovely bookstore with a coffee shop
upstairs affording a grand view of downtown Reykjavik. Lo and behold,
free WIFI once again. Life is grand. I ordered a coffee for what I
thought was a good deal, found a seat and plugged in. My order was
soon called and as I walked towards the counter I noticed what looked
like a sample glass standing in front of me, nearly blending in with
the woodwork. My heart sunk as I picked up my microscopic latte, and
three sips later, my glass was empty. Pitiful. I made up for it by
spending a few hours in the early evening playing catch-up to
neglected emails.

I got back to my Couch Surfer's house at 9:45pm, though it felt as if
it was only 4 in the afternoon, given how light it was in the sky and
all the pedestrians hustling and bustling about on the streets. The
sun was still up. I finally fell asleep close to midnight, the light
streaming in from the window as if I had left a hall light on on the
other side of the room.

Tomorrow, maybe I'll go to Akureyri in the north, or maybe to a little
town about half way between here and there. I can't think that far
ahead. All I know is I have only five days left in Iceland and must
make the most of each and every one of them.

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