When Mo came to Iceland, he didn’t know he’d need a Scooby gang of Aussie backpackers.
One minute I was sleeping in my bedroom alone… the next when I woke up, the room was full. Chock-full of Aussies, that is. I heard their accents as soon as they began to stir. And I was quite relieved! These were some people that knew how to travel!
My previous roommates, two Dutch men who had just finished backpacking Mount Helga, had left the night before, leaving me all by my lonesome. My other roommate, a Norwegian man going to study in Massachusetts, had left earlier in the evening as well. It put me in a quiet room, overlooking the city center of Reykjavik.
Church bells going off in the church right next to the hostel I stayed at (owned by the Salvation Army), I tried to enjoy the noise for a few moments until I realized that I had better come up with some ideas on what to do the following day. I had tried catching my friend Anna, a local I’d met on my previous trip to Iceland, with no success. Worried, I thought that my time in Iceland would be a silent and boring one. But I reminded myself; things can change in a minute when you’re backpacking. One moment you could have no plan and total boredom staring you right in your face. Then the very next, huge plans, looking forward to the activities you’ve set up with the new people you’ve met. I hoped the latter would come soon. For I really hadn’t seen any hip backpackers in this place yet! I definitely didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of bores.
I stared out through the window into the dull, azure blue sky. Soft, long streaks of clouds hovered over the city as I looked at my watch. Damn. Only 2 in the morning. It felt really strange to be in a city where the sun never set in summertime. It made me feel off-kilter a little bit. After the bonging of the too-close-for-comfort-bells had ended, I heard outside the windows some screaming Icelanders. I peeked through the shades to see two females, happily walking down the street drunk as skunks. They were dressed very provocatively. It made me giggle. God, the women here are so attractive! I promised myself to one day find the machine that made all these beautiful women somewhere above the Arctic Circle. Ha, I guess what they said about the Scandinavians was true. Hell, I knew it was; it brought me back here a second time.
After thinking a few moments, I decided to hit the sack. Hoping that the following day would bring some brilliance to mind in finding something to do, I undressed, had a few beers I smuggled into the hostel, and went to sleep.
Lucky for me I had company when I woke up the following morning.
The Aussies were traveling in a big group – and in Iceland for just a short while, just like I was. Most of them had been living in London and had jumped on a cheap flight via Ryan Air to Iceland to check out the scene. I guess Iceland’s social and scenic beauty was really spreading around the world. And that was a good thing, I thought I was the only one who knew about it!
After some quick introductions, I asked the guys if they would mind me tagging along with them on their excursions into the city. They said sure. Kewl! That’s what I loved about backpacking; there’s no awkwardness about anything when you’re alone and need some people to hang out with. I didn’t feel strange, or weird about it at all. It was the backpacker thing to do. If you are traveling alone and meet up with some cool company, sure, they most always would want you to hang with them. Such a great thing. All I could offer as thanks was to point out some of the places that I hung out at on my first trip there. That mainly consisted of bars. Especially my favorite place, called the Astro, where I’d met Anna Augustdottir, an Icelandic local who was nice enough to stay in contact with me. She had offered to show me around on my second visit, hence myself trying to reach her.
Out of the group I was with, there were two guys that stood out. A guy named Scott Fraser, and another guy named Glenn Power. Whatta name. Glenn was a real character from Canberra; he totally had the appearance and personality of a game show host. I could see this freaky dude being the host of Dog Eat Dog, Fear Factor or something. His personality was quite magnetic, and he was very outgoing. Rail thin with spiky blond hair and mirrored sunglasses, I knew this guy would be a barrel of laughs to hang out with, and all of his friends thought so as well. As for Scott, he was tailor-made for one of my female friends back home, a woman named Barbara. She had a thing for Aussie guys, and would jump on him in two seconds if he came to New York. He had told me earlier that he had planned on it and I offered the match up, which he accepted. Along with Scott and Glenn were three couples, which included Scott’s’ sister, who came out with her man to hang with them.
Eventually after some sightseeing in and around the city center of Reykjavik, the guys felt comfortable enough to ask me if I wanted to take a tour with them outside the city the following day. Flybus (the main Icelandic bus service) runs sightseeing tours around the country, especially in Summer. After figuring out that I would be back in the afternoon early enough to try Anna again, I said sure and signed up at the youth hostel’s reception area for the tour.
The tour was great. The guide was a retired Icelandic man who had been guiding for several years, and was very helpful in explaining the volcanic and rather violent past of Iceland. Apparently it was settled at first by monks, then by other Scandinavian raiders from countries now known as Norway, Sweden and even the North of Scotland and Ireland. He said a lot of people seem to believe that Leif Eriksson discovered the country as well along with Greenland, and even North America. But that’s all left to debate.
But what isn’t left to debate is that the Icelanders have a history strewn with clan warfare, colonial expansion and eventual independence from Denmark, political intrigue, and most of all a strong will to survive despite all odds. That will to survive had to be paramount in a country such as this. You had to be very resourceful; Iceland is a very rugged country, with a very harsh, cold climate most of year. The only freedom that everyone seemed to get from it all was their summer, which wasn’t very long at all. And from what the guide said, everybody lets their hair down with festivals and parties, since the weather is generally warm and the sun never sets. I guess seeing those lovely drunk women proved it to me earlier!
Mo and the crew get a good dose of sulfur.
With natural hot springs busting up all over the place, the Icelanders took that natural form of energy and converted it into electricity to power their main city of Reykjavik. The tour took us to one huge power plant that did just that. The thing that I remember about that power station mainly, was the smell of sulfur. That smell is quite a common occurrence in all of Iceland. It permeates the air, and is everywhere. Especially in the water. Geez, is it in the water. So much in fact, that on my first trip there I had thought that the water was bad everywhere – until I realized that the Icelanders were pulling this water up from wells deep underground, treating it, making it safe to drink. Though a lot of the sulfur was pulled out of the water used for consumption, it still had a peculiar odor. It kinda smells like an armpit. You just had to ignore it when drinking, which was no problem for me (especially after drinking gallons of Kava in Fiji!).