They have T-shirts and magnets for sale at every shop in Iceland, but for once, the cheesy tourist junk was tempting because it was funny.
“What part of Eyjafjallajökull do you not understand.” I HAD to get the magnet!
The Icelandic Kroner is a wildly flocculating rascal in the international exchange world. Rather more colorful than Monopoly money, it sometimes carries the same value. And of course, a week after we left, the value against the U.S. Dollar dipped and we would have had 30% more spending power. Well, perhaps it all worked to keep us on budget and to keep our luggage under maximum weight.
The weight of our luggage is key, as it is ridiculously expensive to have to pay for extra baggage capacity to the airlines (a scam, I swear.) You see, I had rocks in my luggage. And ash. And sand. And more rocks. I’m surprised I didn’t end up bringing 1/3 of Eyjafjallajökull back home with me. I’m also surprised I didn’t get searched by customs, but that story is a little later.
When last you heard, we, your temporary adventuring heroes, were threading our way up to the infamous volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, having passed by the unpredictable volcano, Hekla. Southwestern Iceland is simply gorgeous: black cliffs steaming with geothermal activity, broken lava flows, and flat pastures dotted with Icelandic Horses and Sheep. The ocean is on the right, volcanoes on the left, as you head down the coast. Perfect, in my book. With our super jeep guide, Clint, we headed east on a nicely maintained road – that became a decent dirt and gravel road – that became no road at all but a series of jeep ruts in black sand – that became river crossing after river crossing; the water often coming up to the door. Clint knew what he was doing (his mother owns the business and it was her jeep – fill in appropriately just how much he didn’t want to come back without the jeep. We had already paid, so we weren’t really part of that equation.)
To our left side was what remained of a valley, which Eyjafjallajökull’s subglacial flood waters had devastated. To our right side was the glacier and mountain. Suddenly, the right side opened up to a huge ravine and, you got it, we off-roaded our way deep into that bleak canyon. Clint explained that we were actually on the bottom of a lake bed. “Eyja” had flooded the underside of her glaciers with the heat from the eruption and the torrential rush of water had dragged down huge boulders. Boulders, erupted lava, and tons of ash mixed into a volcanic cement blasted out the side of the 30 meter deep lake and drained it completely out into the valley.
We arrived at the foot of the glacier, and I was stunned to learn that National Geographic does not photoshop color into its glacier pictures: it really is that blue. As we got out of the jeep, cameras in hand, and a rubber latex glove (more on that later,) in time to hear a deafening crack of ice and an enormous thud! Clint and I raced over to the edge of the hill we parked on, but never did find where that ice broke off. Below us was a good sized glacial (read freezing!) river, and boulders the size of our vehicle. Cooled lava and ash was everywhere. Some rocks were so fresh from the crater (about a football field’s length away from us) that they hadn’t solidified yet.
If one can describe Reykjavik as gray, here one must describe the land as black. No moss, no flowers, no insects, no birds … nothing mammalian beyond the three of us and four other tourists. Sound came only from the glacier, the river, the wind, and the mountain. Below us was ice covered in ash – and sometimes not well covered. Above us were the jagged remains of the mountain top – still smoking and hosting a microclimate drizzle. Just beyond our view was the crater.
I could hear the sound of the mountain, like an old voice wondering if anyone was coming to visit or we’d forgotten the volcano again? I’m used to noise: traffic, loud neighbors, TV, even my chatty cat. Here? Nothing but wind and river, glacier and crater. Silence.
When I went to Hawaii in 2008, we were told not to take the rocks. Don’t touch them, don’t take them. National Park Rangers regularly scowled at anyone with too much interest in the Hawaiian lava rocks. It’s a bit different in Iceland. Before we got out of our super jeep (which was at any time in danger of being swallowed up in a sink hole) Clint inquired if I’d brought my baggies. Why no, I don’t have my mandatory 6 kilos baggie with me. If he wanted to roll a doobie, he should have told me earlier – not that I know where to get weed, but hey, I would have given it my best shot. “Take anything you can carry,” he told me. Really? But, I honestly didn’t have a baggie. So, Clint produced a latex glove. No, I didn’t ask him why he had one latex glove in his jeep. I’m not that kind of voyeur. Yet the glove was handy (pun intended.) I scooped up wet, volcanic ash, filling every finger with the black goop (hence the name of this blog entry) and stuck it in my jacket pocket. I then proceeded to run around the glacial area, taking photos, trying not to fall into the river, with a rubber glove waggling its fingers like an octopus dancing. You could say the ash gave me the finger.
The said ash filled latex glove went into my luggage along with lava rocks. Lots of lava rocks. And a Raven’s foot (another long story for another time – suffice it to say that no Raven was using it at the time it was acquired.) Now, picture yourself as a customs inspector. A nice rollie with a pink satin bow comes under your x-ray machine and you see … yeah, as I said, I am still amazed the bag wasn’t put aside and I was not taken out of line at customs. Sure, YOU say it’s no big deal, but you weren’t there, looking at the fact that those big, burly, hoping-to-become-a-bouncer guys are carrying guns.
Said glove was eventually sacrificed to the volcano gods and opened up so I could dry the ash and put it in a lovely jar. The glove has gone the way of all latex gloves, but … hey, I didn’t mean it that way!