ArticleUp In Smoke
When people talk about the weather, they usually use words like “sunny”, “cloudy”, “windy”, “snowy”… When it comes to Iceland, all of that combined is not exactly enough, and one has to coin a whole new adjective, “erupty”. The coinage is necessary to account for about 50 geysers responsible for pictures like the one above. Most of them are located within 100 kilometers of the country's capital, Reykjavik (whose name itself is translated as “Smoking Bay”!), and the most renowned geyser, Strokkur, is part of the world-famous Golden Circle sightseeing route. Considering how impressive Icelandic geysers are, it's almost unfair to call them a mere retinue of the real stars of the “smoking show”, and yet… In a way, geysers are teenagers enjoying their explosive powers while trying to imitate the “big boys” named after the Roman god of fire.
…In 2010, it had grounded thousands on both sides of the Atlantic. Like its ancient namesake, it had raged for almost a week, and nothing could fly over the Atlantic through the skies riddled with ash and dust. Such was the power of its explosion that it threw the two continents into a time machine and left them as endlessly remote from each other as they had been more than a millennium ago, before Leif Eriksson's discovery brought the new continent to the old one's awareness.
An Icelandic volcano with a barely utterable name, Eyjafjallajokull, managed to undo (temporarily as it may be) what its, so-to-say, “countryman”, “a son of Iceland” Leif Eriksson had achieved a thousand+ years ago – and followed him into history. Historical figures pique one’s curiosity and, while it might be difficult to take a look at Eriksson, the “Eyja fire pit” seemed to be well within reach. Or so I thought when a murky Monday morning I entered a car driven by a friend and heading towards the volcano in question. The forecast was neither inspiring nor forbidding: according to it, the weather would remain cold and unpleasantly rainy and windy but, at least, the roads were to remain passable. And so they did...for a while – that is, until we left a highway and turned onto a side road that was about to bring us to our destination. It probably would have, had we only been in a jeep. As it was, our little four-wheeler was showing every sign of distress. When its squealing was replaced by a flat-tire syndrome, we had to turn back – an alternative of getting stuck in the middle of nowhere was becoming all too real. A thick fog thwarted our last desperate attempt to see at least something but an outline of the mysterious volcano.
All too predictable, volatile and often outright trying weather is an endless sort of frustration for a winter tourist in Iceland. A cold mix of rain and snow, whipped in one’s face by aggressive and gusty wind, can easily turn any vacation day into a bad one. Yet, this first-hand experience is rather precious because it helps to perceive, what it means to live – as opposed to visiting – on such an island marked by rough terrain, and open to every element sweeping over the Atlantic. Or, to be more precise, what it meant some 11-12 centuries ago when the first settlers turned this island into their permanent home.