Iceland: Land of Ice and Fire

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2012

It is true what our geography books teach us: Iceland is green and Greenland is covered in ice.
During the summer months, Iceland receives 24 hours of sunlight, which means that at midnight it looks like noon. In the winter months, Iceland is in complete darkness except for two to three hours in the middle of the day when it becomes dusk outside.
I discovered through my family vacation this summer that in order to sleep, a person needs blackout shades and earplugs as everything in nature is alive and thriving.
Iceland has never had an army and it is a safe continent for both residents and tourists. The jail in Reykjavik is a small stone building, and in my 10 days in Iceland, I saw only one police officer and upon asking for a photo with him, he went to his vehicle and strapped on his gun to look professional. Most law enforcement professionals are called upon in emergency situations such as cars getting stuck in the snow.
Iceland is called the island of ice and fire and is very sparsely populated. The Vikings first settled the island in approximately 800 AD and it was easy for me to feel as though I traveled back in time, as the landscape was much the same as it is today: unspoiled beauty. There are massive fjords at the top of mountains and ground that boils not far from the base of the snowy mountains.
From the remains of lava flows from the massive volcano explosions (the last one stopped air travel in Europe for a week in 2010), there are the most spectacular waterfalls you will see. We easily saw between 10-20 in one day, all different, all jaw-dropping. The water is Caribbean blue, and the glacier water is so clean that you can drink right from the river. Geysers are also popular for tourists. If you have patience to stand staring at the Strokkur Geyser until it builds enough pressure to bubble and burst, approximately eight minutes, it is a wonderful sight.
About 99 percent of Iceland’s energy is from eco-thermal energy. The Icelandic people still cook bread, lamb, fish by digging a hole about three feet in the ground and placing the items in a box to cook.The eco-thermal energy heats and supplies power to almost every home, and parents do not get mad when their children take long hot showers.
Icelandic people also love their spas (also called pools) where geothermal heated glacier water has people’s worries floating away. The most famous spa is called the Blue Lagoon, located on the outskirts of Reykjavik, which is expensive but absolutely breathtaking.
Travelers to Iceland need to be prepared to spend money. Hamburgers cost around $15, without fries and a drink; however, the best tasting hot dogs in the world (as declared by President Clinton) are only $3.50 each. I believe it is their blend of mayo, honey mustard sauce and onion rings that make the hot dog so tasty. Subway is huge in Iceland; however, McDonalds is no longer established there.
Icelandic citizens are very proud of their environment, music and sagas, which are full of magical and mythical creatures. The two most famous mythical creatures are trolls and elves (not to be confused with the characters found in “Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien, although the movie’s landscape is similar to Iceland’s. ) It is easy to imagine the trolls living in caves away from the sunlight, as they are shunned because of their devious acts, and elves happily living in huge stones with their elf families. Around Iceland, people stack stones on top of different-sized stones to show their respect for the beloved elves. I created a small elf structure at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean, and it was my hope that a fun-loving elf would appreciate my architectural design.
At Christmas, Icelandic children are visited by Yule Lads. The Yule Lads are pranksters who will put a gift in a child’s shoe who has been good. This is completed over a 13-day period as each lad has his own day. Their names are hysterical, including Spoon-Licker, Pot-Scraper and Bowl-Licker.
One of my favorite memories is when we went on a whale-watching boat and saw dolphins jumping out of the water and puffins flapping their small wings in order to get home. Many animals and birds have adapted to their environment in Iceland and look a bit different from my viewpoint. The most common pets in Iceland are sheep and rugged Icelandic horses, which are unlike our household dogs and cats.
Icelandic people lead a no-frills outdoorsy life. Most restaurants and four-star hotel rooms are minimally decorated with IKEA furniture. Icelandic air conditioning is made easy; just open a window. For the women, Iceland has some of the cleanest bathrooms in the world, even when you are visiting their “port-a-johns” in the middle of nowhere. It is quite amazing to say the least. It’s not hard to believe that the work is done by many happy little elves.
Kayla Tucker will be attending Catawba College this fall.