Iceland: Waters tame and wild

June 23

(June 23 photos here.)

(Earlier Iceland photos here.)

(Earlier Iceland trip reports here.)

Our campsite was a couple miles beyond the city center, and this morning we decided to walk rather than take the bus into town. We followed the path along the harbor, walking beside a seawall of huge gray rocks. Later we’d learn that in winter, the storms are sometimes fierce enough to toss rocks right up over that seawall and onto the path. But in spite of the wind that blew and blew and blew as we walked, those storms seemed far away today–a clear bright summer day that turned the water a deep deep blue.

In the city we met up with sarah_create and her family, and spent a lovely day wandering the city with them. We headed to the lighthouse out at Grótta first, where the sheltered waters of the harbor gave way to the open Atlantic. It was nesting season, so we couldn’t visit the lighthouse, but we could walk along the ocean–a much wilder ocean than the sheltered harbors and fjords we’d been visiting all week, the scent of salt in the air, the wind whipping our hair. The same ocean (literally and in feel) that I grew up alongside, for all that here the sands were black instead of yellow, and the rocks worn smooth by the water were also still pocked by their volcanic past.

sarah_create pointed out small details she’d discovered during her two years living in Reykjavík: drying racks for fish by the sea (because a few fishermen still catch and dry fish in the old ways), a statue of a whale’s tail (a gift from Latvia, a country whose independence Iceland was the first to recognize), another statue of a man pulling another man out of the sea (startlingly moving, especially after seeing all those memorials to drowned sailors in the towns we’d passed through the past couple weeks).

We also visited Kolaportið, Reykjavík’s flea market, which sold all the typical sorts of flea market items one might find at our local swap meet here in the States–used clothing, classic novels and Harlequin romances (I wonder just how many languages Harlequins get translated into), trinket boxes and other bric-a-brac–alongside food items of all sorts that you definitely can’t find at the swap meet here, from fresh fish to frozen raven and horse meat.

Those food items included hákarl–fermented shark that’s buried in the sand for a few months to cure (and to give neurotoxins within time to break down), then eaten raw. Google searches on hákarl turn up hits like “seven foods for the fearless eater” and “the worst meals on this earth.”

Obviously, I was eager to give it a try. 🙂

Samples were available. “It helps if you think of it as a strong, overripe cheese,” the man behind the counter said as he handed us small fishy-looking cubes of hákarl on toothpicks. He was right–it did help. Eating my sample of hákarl was sort of almost okay, whiff of ammonia scent and all, so long as I didn’t think too hard about what I was tasting as I was tasting it. Afterwards, the hákarl selle told us that we’d sampled a mild variety. I believe him, seeing as how I was able–just–to keep from feeling ill as I ate it.

I was glad to have tried it. And now that I have, I’ll have no need to ever try it again.

I wandered on, sampling salmon, haddock, and herring, lovely fresh fish tastes that wiped that hákarl taste out of my mouth quite nicely. Then I can to a booth with samples I didn’t recognize. Feeling brave–surely having eaten fermented shark I could eat anything–I asked, “What’s that?”

“Minke whale,” the woman said.

I hesitated, just for a moment, my moral concerns warring with my curiosity. The moral concerns won out, but it was a near thing.

“Would you like to try it?” the woman asked.

“Not today, thanks,” I said, and moved on.

Later, after stops at a hot dog stand rumored to be Iceland’s best (the hot dogs were pretty tasty, though I was undecided about whether they were tastier than all the other hot dogs I’d eaten the past two weeks), the National Museum (which I’d also visited the day we arrived), and the Perlan (with its 360-degree arial view of the city), sarah_create and her family treated us to home-cooked fresh salmon from the flea market–melt-in-your mouth fish which second only (maybe) to our French-chef-prepared meal at Laugarhóll. The company was even better, of course; we lingered and talked, and learned, too, how to play the Settlers of Zarahemla (an alternate Settlers of Catan) from sarah_create‘s daughters. They (her daughters) slaughtered us both, of course.

Back in the campground we lingered some more, and proved ourselves thoroughly acclimated to the late sunsets by waking up one of the just-landed tourists in a nearby campsite. Oops. Not his fault if he didn’t know, yet, that the soccer game begins at 10.

Soon we’d have to return to a world in which 10 p.m. was long past sunset, though–tomorrow would be our last full day in the country. I was trying not to think about that, though, because I still didn’t really feel ready to leave.

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