Of Elves and Gods

Our fearless leader, Dora, had the worst combination of food allergies for sampling iconic Icelandic cuisine – no fish and no dairy (for a start). So she told us it was a requirement that we sample the skyr provided at breakfast, so that she could live vicariously through our experience. Skyr is a bit like creamy Greek yoghurt, but has a less sour, sort of mild cheesy taste. I was an instant fan!

We spent the morning at not one, but two waterfalls.  (Dora threw in a bonus one because, no doubt, we were such an awesome group!)

The first, unofficial waterfall had several rocky layers and the water had carved away at the rock so that the fall wasn’t fully visible externally. It had quite a mysterious vibe!


  
  
  
  

After I had gone to bed the night before, Dora had told the Canadians (and honorary Canadians) about the hidden people, the elves who live in the rocks in Iceland.

Most Icelanders are open to accepting the existence of the elves (and rightly so, in my opinion), but it seems that those who don’t, tend to be staunchly Christian and give that as their reason for dismissing the elves as myth. Interestingly, one of the explanations for the origins of the hidden people are that they are the children of Adam and Eve who weren’t washed and were consequently hidden in (behind?) a rock instead of presented when God paid an unexpected visit. God knew that the children had been hidden so he decided that they would be kept hidden from humans forever. However, elves can choose to reveal themselves to you if you perform certain rituals around their rock houses.
It isn’t uncommon for building projects to build around rocks that are suspected of being elf houses rather than demolish them and to hire elf consultants on projects that appear to have nature-related misfortunes befall them (presumably as a consequence of annoying the elves).

Our hotel in Reykjavik was called Hotel Klettur, Hotel Rock in English, because it includes an elf rock as part of its foundation.

I did a little googling about the hidden people and found myself in a search snowball which ended up in my reading about the reasons Icelanders believe in ultra natural forces and then, facts about the very small percentage of Icelandic women of the 18th century who were married, only 47%. So, more than half of the women would expect to become servants in their relatives’ households, rather than having the opportunity to have their own families. One of the articles I read attributed the sadly common tradition of “carrying out children” to the lack of opportunity that many women had to seek love legitimately. When a child was born out of wedlock, it would be carried out to the forest and left to die in the cold. This is quite humane compared to what was done to the unwed mothers. But certainly, this kind of treatment was not unique to Iceland at the time period. Trust me to find information relating volcanic rocks to the oppression of women …

Along the road to the second waterfall, we spotted a rock house in the hillside and Dora stopped so that we could get a better look. We were all convinced that it was an elf house, but Dora ruined the magic by informing us that it was actually for sheep.


I was pretty impressed with the first waterfall of the day, but Skogafoss was really something else! I can see why it was chosen to represent the entrance to Asgard, the home of Odin and Thor.


  
  
  
  

I took lots of photos with rainbows, stones, Paddington and Canadians, but I don’t think I was able to capture the majesty as well as my fellow traveller, Sam, did here: Sam’s Instagram

Next was the Black Beach. If you know me, you will know that I’m not a beach person. I make an exception for this beach. The cliffs are prisms of rock in basalt stacks and the beach is made of smooth black pebbles. The tide is deceptively calm but apparently deadly, often sweeping naive tourists out to sea. I earmarked the cliff at the other end of the beach as the site for my future dream cottage.


  
  
  
  
  

Dora pointed out to us the importance of following the rules because “Iceland is actively trying to kill you.” Four tourists had already died in Iceland by the time we arrived. We were already in the bad books for trespassing to get a photo with the sheep house so I vowed to keep to the path and stay out of the water, although one of us ended up with wet shoes after being attacked by the ocean. I was still living down my horse attack so I was glad it wasn’t me.

After the beach, we stopped for some lunch. The restaurant had some special chip spice on the table, so naturally, I had to have a burger and chips to get the full cultural experience.

Back in the mini-van, Dora told us the story of Búkolla the magic cow, as a way of introducing us to the concept of trolls. This is a good translation of the story if you’d like to know about Búkolla.

Icelandic trolls seem to be like the Middle Earth trolls I am familiar with – stupid, gross and with the unfortunate habit of turning to stone in sunlight.

This story was the perfect segue to the moss-covered lava fields which were our next destination. The lava flow occurred between 1782 and 1783, but it took another 200 years before the ecosystem recovered sufficiently for the moss to grow.

We took some selfies, while sticking to the snow and not touching the “protected” moss.


  
  


On this drive, Dora also pointed out the house of the giant who protects the South. I think this is why I took this photo …

On the roadside was a mangled steel structure which used to be a bridge, until Icelandic nature decided it wasn’t going to be anymore. As it turns out, it still works as a slide …


  

Last stop of the day was the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. We’d made very good time and our accommodation for the night was really close by, so we had lots of time to spend walking along the shore and photographing the friendly, photogenic seals who posed for us.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

This day in Iceland really made me feel like I was in a David Attenborough documentary. (Perhaps it also indicates that I’ve watched Frozen Planet too many times!)  There were birds nesting in cliffs, waterfalls, glaciers, seals … the only thing missing were (live) arctic foxes (we did technically see some foxes in a gift shop, but they were pelts rather than predators by then).

My cabin for the night had a great view and the kitchen served amazing peanut chocolate cake, but was a bit chilly. It seemed that the heater was missing. Luckily, I had a chemical heat pack, the doona from the second bed and Paddington to keep me warm through the night!

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