Lose Yourself in Iceland (for you will not have a choice)

It isn’t just that you will literally get lost when you visit Iceland, although that will certainly be true (you will make your husband pull over three times in order to make sure that Vestlandvergur is the same as Highway 1). It will be that you will have no idea how to conduct yourself in regular social situations, and you will be in no position to contend with the prevalent belief in Icelandic elves.

You see, you will learn that there are Dark Elves and Light Elves in Iceland, and then there are also Hidden People, who are built along the lines of Legolas (tall, fair-skinned, impossibly beautiful–what’s up, Orlando Bloom?) while the elves are far smaller, something like fairies or sprites or something. And they will be everywhere. Your in-flight movie to Reykjavik will inform you that more than 50% of Icelanders believe in elves. You and your skepticism will be outnumbered.

You will be told that the elves live in fissures along the hillsides, and sometimes they can prevent construction projects from moving forward by living inside of troublesome boulders. This will make no sense to you. The British transplant who is giving you a tour of a lava cave (because, yes, this is something that happens in Iceland) will tell you that some elves live in Ice Elf Cities in the wintertime, but they migrate back to the fissures in due course. He will show you Ice Elf City, which is deep inside the aforementioned lava cave, and you will be compelled by the beauty of this icy stalagmite city–but you will still not believe in elves. You will be told that there are mystics and spiritualists who somehow communicate with the elves, and that the Icelandic people who move to another country say they can no longer see the elves once they leave home. You will be expected to know that the elves are tied to the land, rather than to its inhabitants.

Your head will be full of questions, but who can you ask? If you ask the wrong person, if you ask a true believer in elves, and any of your skepticism and doubt creeps into your tone (or words!), then you have just insulted a culture and, perhaps, a belief system. And so, you will go to the Internet. And what you learn will leave you more confused than ever. There is far too much information, there are far too many scholars and academics who are fully on board with this elf business, and all of it will sound silly (though, of course, a bit delightful) to your pragmatic, American self.

Far into the Icelandic countryside, after a long elf-related discussion with your husband, you will stop at a gas station to use the restroom. You will be in the middle stall, and you will realize you have no toilet paper–but you will realize this too late, after you already need it. If you were at home in your own city, you might just ask someone on either side of you to pass you some extra and thrust your hand under the wall, a standard practice. But in Iceland you will not know if that’s something people do. What’s more, you will not know if the person on the other side speaks English and will understand your request if you make one. Perhaps they will think you’re up to something unsavory when you whisper something they don’t understand and put your hand under their stall wall. And so you panic. You sit quietly, silently, in the middle stall. Your pants are around your ankles, your head is in your hand, and you don’t know which open is best: ask for toilet paper and risk being deported for pervertery or, well, drip-dry.

But you’re savvy and brave, so instead, once the bathroom is quiet, you will hold your sweater in front of your waist, rush from the stall and sidestep towards the next one over. You will, of course, slip on some wet paper towels on the way and lose your grip on your sweater. You’ll swear loudly and throw your weight against the door behind you to bang your way into the next stall. And as your clumsy fingers fumble with the lock, you’ll find yourself praying that the elves in the bathroom are Light Elves and not Dark Elves–for then they might just keep all other customers out until your lunatic laughter stops echoing off the walls.

*Matt got super respectful of horses and actually rode one! Icelandic horses have a unique gait called the “tolt,” which is essentially the smoothest trot ever. American (i.e., not tiny) horses can’t do it, which makes this additionally cool.

*We saw a Minke whale! Jumped out of the water just in front of our ship. Also saw a pod of about 15 dolphins cruising around.

*Eating fish and chips at a great restaurant near the harbor was stellar–there’s something awesome about eating fish with the source in sight. They also have a different kind of fish there, so eating wolf fish was a new experience.

*In-water massages at the Blue Lagoon were a PERFECT way to start the trip. In the name of all that is holy and/or deep fried, go get a massage here. Such a unique (and weird and floaty and AWESOME) experience. Frankly, it might not be worth going to the Lagoon without it (I sense you’d get bored in about 30 minutes otherwise, and given what you paid to enter the place, you may feel it wasn’t worth your money.)

*Lava cave! In addition to seeing Ice Elf City, this lava cave was ridiculously cool. No smells, no bats, no echoes because the cave is made of porous lava layers–coolest cave I’ve been in, with a super amazing and knowledgable tour guide.

*The sun never sets this time of year. It gets dusky around 11:00, which did nothing to help with our jetlag, but was fascinating anyway. No wonder Reykjavik is the party capital of Iceland–you never get a chance to remember you should be sleeping if the sun is always shining.