After the adrenalin of our glacier hike and adventures in Vik, and the harrowing drive back to our Farmhotel – so much so that at dinner that night a couple from Sydney, Australia stopped by our table to ask what we had been doing that had engendered such excitement – we decided our last full day needed to be one of stark contrast.
We had seen an advertisement for lunch in a family-owned greenhouse that produced 18% of Iceland’s tomato crop, which seemed bizarre enough to fit well with the overall ethos of our trip. But first we wanted to sample one of Iceland’s famed hot springs, which we thought would be a good balance to the frigid ice of the day before. So we said farewell to the Efstidalur and set back along what was now our favorite snow covered road, heading, of course, in the general director of Fludir.
We had already decided to reject the more famous Blue Lagoon hot springs in favor of the much closer Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal baths. For a very reasonable price, you are given access to a series of pools situated at the edge of a lake, which is surrounded by snowcapped volcanic mountains in the distance. The changing room was possibly the most spotless place I have been – two girls were diligently vacuuming the tops of the lockers themselves. The pools ranged in temperature, rising up to 50 degrees Celsius, and were adorned with rocks for resting your head, jets of varying water pressures, and benches to sit on. After steaming ourselves for a while, we started to resemble good New Orleans shrimp that has just started to turn pink. That was our sign to transfer to the Finnish-style, cedar lined sauna to dry ourselves out. Once our shrimp-like selves had started to take on a slight bacon-like overlay, we felt that was a clue we had had enough. M and I retired to the previously empty women’s changing room only to discover it had been taken over by a bus load of middle aged jovial naked German women for whom this was clearly one of the highlights of their trip. We also realized we had probably violated most of the shower rules (don’t ask) but fortunately no one had been there earlier to observe our general American incompetence.
Keeping the red theme going, we then slipped and slid along more snow covered roads to the tomato greenhouse, Fridheimar. And what a greenhouse it was! Masses of tomato plants, all growing from small boxes at the ends of the aisles, their vines entangled along string structures spanning the entire width of the greenhouse. Electricity is very cheap in Iceland due to the geothermal energy pulsing under everything, and no one would think twice about the energy costs of greenhouse gardening of this magnitude. Automatic on off light switches don’t even exist. Tables were set for lunch, which was, of course, all you could eat tomato soup, or if you were a big spender like S, pasta with tomato sauce. There was also a hollowed out tomato filled with birch schnapps – Iceland was covered by birch forests until the Vikings cut them all down.
Having had our fill of tomatoes, we returned to Reykjavik by way of a quick hike around and into the Kerid crater and a stop at two seaside villages. Very empty in March – the small towns are best summed up by unpronounceable names, giant waves crashing on sand bars out at sea, black sand beaches littered with tiny shards of snail shells, and a solid 50 mph wind that didn’t let up. That wind pursued us the whole way back to Reykjavik, where even on the main road the local drivers had slowed down to a crawl due to the blowing snow. When we finally staggered back into the by then familiar Hotel Natura we were more than ready for a happy hour drink in the bar, together with the car mechanics convention attendees who seemed to have taken over much of the hotel.
Demonstrating some travel smarts, we enlisted the aid of the front desk clerk who was able to wangle a reservation for us at one of the city’s trendier restaurants – the not particularly creatively named Seafood Grill. All the food was good (although I could have passed on S’s whale and puffin appetizer) but the desserts were outstanding. I had an almond skyr cake infused with thyme….possibly one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.
We headed back to the airport the next day. But adventure still wasn’t letting us go. Just when we thought we had already faced some of the worst driving conditions known to man (at least to Florida man), the road to the airport – exposed, flat open – was simply consumed by blowing snow. J could see absolutely nothing – occasionally the yellow stakes at the side of the road made a brief appearance, but much of the time we were simply in whiteout. We arrived at the car rental return place to the spot where supposedly you could refuel – only to find the pumps were closed and we had to drive yet another 10 km to find gas. We did, eventually, only then to have to turn around and drive along the same terrible road we had barely survived before. And, if anything, it had gotten worse the second time around! To say we were happy to leave the car with the rental people is an understatement. We later learned the road had been closed right after we had driven along it following a six car pileup.
But lest you think our happy travelers simply then boarded their plane for a smooth flight back to the land of sunshine and oranges….no, not indeed. We had been unable to book a direct flight back and were returning via Toronto. But our flight was delayed out of Iceland (I’ll leave it to my brilliant readers to guess why) and the airline would not hold the connecting flight from Toronto to Orlando the necessary 15 minutes – despite the fact there were about twelve of us on the plane who were missing that very connection. But this blog doesn’t exist to complain about the incompetence of airlines – by now that’s just part of the condition of human existence – suffice it to say that we ended up with an unexpected night in Toronto and a very early morning flight back to Florida.
I’m now sitting here listening to one of our first Florida wet season rain storms pelting down, and contemplating the next summits facing us in June in Ecuador. Iceland wasn’t really a summit, per se. But travel takes all forms – and travel with friends is one of the highest.