Thursday, 13 October 2016

Storytime with Sturge: the Icelandic day of weather


For those wondering why I'm telling stories, see my last post. It's OK, I'll wait here while you skim through it. All good? Grand.

Once Upon a Time, really not that long ago - in June this year, in fact - I travelled to Iceland with five friends of mine. I say 'I travelled to Iceland with them', I mean, I did, but that gives me a much more active role in the trip than was actually the case. Five of my friends organised a holiday to Iceland and asked if I wanted to come along, which I did, so I joined them. Extra additional Sturge. Anyway, that's not the point. We essentially did a circuit trip of the island, taking trips into the middle here and there, but travelling around much of the perimeter of the country in our two week trip.

This is my whale-watching-wondersuit. I honestly wanted
to take it home with me. Essentially a waterproof onesie.

It is insane how much good weather we had. I mean, I don't want to brag about it, but it was Iceland in June, and while it was terrifically chilly overnight (we camped, so we definitely got to experience that at close-quarters), I did come back with a pretty enviable face tan. For me, anyway. It wasn't necessarily warm, but we did get a fair bit of calm, sunny weather. But we weren't really thinking about it - all of our plans were working out well and nothing was being disrupted. This worked particularly well in our favour for the boat trip out to go whale watching from Husavik (which was genuinely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Why am I not telling that story?!), especially because I have a significant phobia of sick and was worried that going out on a choppy sea for three hours was going to be a vom-fest and I would have a panic attach just south of the arctic circle and have to swim back to harbour to escape it in my all-in-one zip-up wondersuit. But it wasn't like that, it was a mill pond, and we had an amazing time, because we were having an amazing run of Icelandic weather.
Loo-ooooook! Issa humpback whaaaale!! #RIPme #DeadWithExcitement

#millpond #dawntreader #novommingherethanks
Until the 24 hours where the weather turned, and the amazing run of Icelandic weather ceased.

We were coming down the east side of Iceland, down the fjords. The plan had always been that it would essentially be a whole afternoon of driving - but a really scenic one, where we could get out and admire the views, have a picnic, you know, enjoy the day. Instead, it rained. All afternoon. Instead of pretty views and photo-op stops, we hunkered in with the Prince Caspian audio-book (which had upgraded its lion's roar to an actual lion roar sound-effect rather than just making the man playing Aslan make a roar-y noise as per the previous story, which we all approved of but it wasn't as funny), ignored the homogeneous misty blur passing by our windows, only stopped at service stops to use the loo's, and powered on through.

Generally on this trip we were camping, and the previous night we'd wild-camped for the first time, so had just found a nice little clearing that was sort of in the direction that we wanted to be travelling and had settled our three little tents in that cosy nook for the night. Having braved the wild camp so successfully we had wondered whether this night we could do it again? But as the weather got bleaker we decided that while wild camping is free, not dying of hypothermia was a price we were all willing to pay for, so we found ourselves a campsite to stay at. For the first time, we donned all of our waterproofs and erected our little tents in the wind and rain, with slightly sad expressions pulling on what had previously been such a perky collection of faces. 

The relief came in the form of the facilities at the campsite, which was what seemed to be a converted school. There was an actual kitchen we could use (which was a God-send as cooking outside in that weather would have been all but impossible), warm showers, and a dining hall where we could eat our however-many'th meal of pasta with tomatoes, chopped veg and chorizo (but candle-lit), drink a little whisky, stay inside in the warm for the evening telling each other ridiculous stories, and only head to our tents when we were right ready for bed. A God-send, I tell you.
Look at all those warm, clean, happy people :) Perkiness restored.

For the full effect of the next morning I will quote you from my diary (which I rarely do in public, I'll have you know, as it so rarely documents a day-by-day account of life, but this is my exception):
We woke up very wet. It poured with rain and howled with wind all night, and was still going in the morning. Was very grim. A low point for us all, I think. We packed down wet and left early to get to the Ice Lagoon for our 9:30 boat trip...when we arrived (in the wind and rain) we discovered the trip had been cancelled due to the weather. Thankfully (?) we could re-book on another kind of boat at 11, so we sat in the little cafe for a bit. The first wifi access since Rejkjavik, was glorious - hello whatsapp, I will now send the family all of the photos. Equally glorious was a very strong coffee from the cafe.
To clarify the ramblings, the plan had been that we would travel early to the Ice Lagoon, a beautiful lagoon that has blue icebergs in it, where they've filmed some cool movies (?), to have a super-awesome tour around it on a RIB. Now, just in case you're not all as well-initiated as I in the world of oddly-named boats (ahem, yes, I just Googled this), a RIB is a Rigid-hubbed Inflatable Boat. I would have called it a RhIB, to be honest. Call me pedantic, but sure. Unfortunately the weather was just too choppy for us to go out on the RIB safely, but they told us there was space on the big fat amphibious boat an hour or so later, so we rebooked and sat in the cafe, all slightly damp already, hoping the weather would ease off.

The weather did not ease off, no. 

10:45 rolled around and the wind and rain were still lashing against the cafe windows, but we were ushered out to the shore, donned with life jackets and herded into the beast. Making like a waterproofed Clarkson, Hammond and May, we drove (or rather, were driven) round the shoreline to the access point, and then trundled our way into the lagoon, praying for more watery success than our small-screened amphibious counterparts. 

I think the only way I can describe the trip was 'hysterical'. Despite being a lagoon, and so not directly out on the sea, the water was still choppy. Not, like, 'out in the middle of the Atlantic' choppy, but still the regular yet random swell where you have to consciously stand, brace your knees and will yourself to 'have sea-legs'. The wind was such that would blow your hood down just as soon as you'd got it up so you gave in to the soggy hat in minutes. And every so often we'd hit a wave that would splash right up the side of the boat and get caught by the wind, and blow a tiny thousand frozen sea needles right into your face. 

Look at all the freezing wet fun we were having!
But the blue ice was genuinely very cool (pun intended) (photo courtesy of Rashwell)
It took about five minutes for me to realise that both my waterproof coat and my waterproof trousers were not actually entirely waterproof, but leaked at the seams. I'd already discovered that my walking boots weren't completely waterproof earlier in the trip, so the damp toes situation didn't surprise me, but as I felt my arms and pants gradually getting colder than all of the rest of me my suspicions about whether my 'waterproof' clothing would hold out were confirmed.

Literally, how?
(another amazing photo by Rashwell)
It was at this point that the hilarity of the situation struck me. I was sodden, as was everybody else, it was literally throwing it down, we were being kept watch over by a pair of RIB-cowboys, and we were 'those tourists' who were so keen to make the most of this one morning we had at this part of the country that we decided to come out in the most disgusting weather to gawp at some blue ice. We laughed a lot.

By the time we got back to shore, some 45 minutes later, the weather had calmed a little, but the wetness was irreversible. As we, and the other however many people were on our boat, tried to get dried and changed in the two or three loos the little cafe had, there was plenty of time for wringing out of gloves and hats in the sinks, patting of damp faces with still-wet hands, and trying to find one scrap of dry fabric to clear and dry glasses on. That is not an easy feat. You glasses wearers know what I mean.

(I realise that this is the type of story that could potentially never end, because we just kept moving on and doing more things, but...) After a short while to recover with hot coffee and big chocolate bars ("Here, eat this. It will help."), we hit the road on our way to Skaftafell - a site of a brilliant glacier and the Svartifoss waterfall (which, for language buffs among you, is a tautology, as 'foss' means waterfall, but I thought just calling it 'Svartifoss' wasn't fair enough context.) As we journeyed the weather cleared ever more, until it had stopped raining completely. But, at one point, I watched a gull try to take off, literally not move anywhere, stop flapping and then get blown in the opposite direction because the wind was so strong. It made me laugh so much it got its own extra diary entry when I remembered it later. 

Thankfully the day that rained, where we were thrown around a lagoon and soaked to our skins, provided us the biggest contrast we'd had on any day of our trip. Once we'd erected our tents at Skaftafell a small miracle occurred: the clouds parted and blew away, and then the wind died down, and it was...beautiful. Desperate to make the most of what might only be just a moment's sunshine we quickly unwound the laundry lines and found every available branch to strew all we owned that was damp (or outright sodden) out in the sunshine: sleeping bags, roll mats, coats, socks, hats, pants, the lot. We emptied our bags into the sunshine, and then sat there, basking, in the hottest weather we'd experienced on our entire trip. The boys got their shorts on (as did the girls who have legs) and we slathered on the sun-cream, and just sat, drying and thawing until we were inspired to move again. Bit by bit the warm, Icelandic sun warmed through to our bones.

It was the most unexpected end to one of the more ridiculous days I've experienced, but it meant that we got to enjoy, in full, glorious sunshine, an afternoon's walk round this rather wondrous place (but you must forgive the quality of the pictures as my camera had died and these were taken with emergency phone reserves...).
The crazy geology at Svartifoss
The waterfall in its scenery
The big, fat, wondrous glacier
and finally, the big fat beautiful mountain view from next to our tents.
So that was the day of Icelandic weather. 

I hope you enjoyed my rambling Icelandic next story will likely be much shorter, much less like I'm showing off with all the travelling I've done (don't worry, I haven't been further than the Co-op since Sunday, I'm making up for my jet-setting now), and will feature some familiar charaters much closer to home.

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