Last Jellyfish Standing

Last Jellyfish Standing

“Trinco,” my brother said, “short for Trincomalee Beach, the newest tourist development in the country.” There was a reason for this. It was also home of the government’s military site that customarily battled the Tamil Tiger’s until their rebellion was put down only five short years before we planned to set foot in the area and also one of the locations hit heavily by the 2004 tsunami.

I was visiting my brother during his three month internship with the agricultural department in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon. We had already hit all the requisite tourist spots during his time off including Sigiriya Rock, Dambulla Caves and a number of white domed Stupas. His one request was that we make our way to the east and see Trinco, the only beach town he had yet to visit during his stay.

The problem was, no matter how often we looked online, it seemed there were no rooms available. We decided to throw caution to the wind and have our driver take us out there and find a room the old fashion way, by showing up and asking like Mary and Joseph, only, you know, without the birth of a messiah or being a couple, yuck!

Once we got there, we instantly knew why we couldn’t find a room. There were only four hotels total, in the whole beach town. No hostels and no rooms. We stopped at each one begging for a place to stay. We had come this far. We had a taxi to pay, we weren’t going to leave.

Trinco was the last place being developed with the new tourist boom and the rumors were it would be the next Cancun in a couple of years. We wanted to see it before that happened. We wanted the cred to say we were there first.

But what was this cred worth. I didn’t know anything about the civil war that tore Sri Lanka up for over 30 years before I set foot in the country (I’m not very good at doing my historical research ahead of time). This ignorance didn’t bode well for traveling to a destination where we discovered that the military still held customary drills, of which we could hear the echoes of down the beach at night. I also wasn’t aware the tsunami had hit Sri Lanka so hard, only hearing about the devastation in Thailand because of mass media coverage.

We finally found an available room at double the cost then my brother had wanted to spend, we dropped our meager belongings off, and hit the beach. Right away we could tell this wasn’t Cancun.

IMG_7908

Trincomalee was originally a fishing village and fishermen still line the beach, their small boats pulled up onto the sand, nets tossed over the side. One fisherman was trying to disentangle small silver fish before a flock of crows could descend on them and consume them completely.

IMG_7927
© Michael Goode, Post-production EG

We began to notice that each hotel was blocked by a barbed wire fence. With the drills in the distance we weren’t sure if this was to keep people out or keep us in. Still further, we paused between a gap in hotels and fisherman and noticed a gathering of small wooden crosses, some riddled with bullet holes, a reminder that the tsunami and the war took so many lives. Suddenly our hope of a relaxing beach vacation was looking a lot gloomier and making us reflective, which leads to philosophical questions. What is travel really for? Is it always to have a good time? To see only beautiful things? Should we always just be having fun? This seems unfair, unrealistic. Shouldn’t we also be aware of how we travel across this planet in actions, consequences? Shouldn’t we be seeing history as well and learning from it when we can?

2013-07-26 02.34.37

And perhaps Trincomalee wanted me to fully understand this lesson, that things can be easily lost, that everything isn’t pretty and perfect, that we travel to learn and sometimes to be so out of our element that we are truthfully fearful.

The next day my brother went out on a diving expedition with a local scuba club. He left at 1 pm and should have been back by no later than 4. I read a book, had a beer, got some sun. Four came and went. Five passed by. The sun started to set. I found myself so worked up with worry that I jumped out of my chair and took off down the beach without my camera or my shoes.

Right away something strange caught my eye. To not necessarily be crass, it looked like the beach was covered with hundreds of pink, used condoms. I peered down and realized they were small jellyfish. The beach was peppered with them. I almost wondered how I would even walk down the beach, there were that many. I tiptoed around the thousands of small venomous creatures, the sea’s lost soldiers, making my way towards the scuba club. But all was for naught, no boat, no Michael.

I made my way back and another hour passed. There were no restaurants in the area and you had to eat in the hotel by telling them what time you planned to dine. Our reservation was nearing and my brother was still not back. I was really worried now. Did his boat sink? Was he kidnapped by rebels still in hiding? My anxious brain spun out tons of scenarios, each more gruesome than the next. It didn’t help that I was reading Game of Thrones at the time.  There was nothing I could do but wait. I walked down the beach again and asked the divers where they could be. A man told me that they had to go further out than planned due to the jellyfish, those little pink jellyfish that the tide had now sucked back out to sea. The man believed they’d be back in about a half hour.

I walked by those tombstones, the barbed wire, the bullet holes one last time. I went to dinner, hoping that if I willed it, he would come. It was officially dark, close to 8 p.m. There was one light out towards the gate separating the hotel grounds from the beach. And then there was a bobbing, a dark shadow blocking the light and from this space my brother finally emerged. I was so relieved, and then as I always am with my brother, irrationally angry. Where was he? Why was he gone so long? What was he thinking?

He held up his arm to me and showed me the raised pink flesh. Jellyfish burns covered his elbows, wrists, bicep. I was so happy he was alive and back that this seemed comical to me now. It wasn’t so funny to him, but who couldn’t laugh when you’d been imagining beheadings all day and instead it was only the small stings from condom-shaped jellyfish.

IMG_7911
© Michael Goode

My brother was alive, while so many other souls whom I would never meet weren’t. So many fisherman, workers, Tamils and Sinhalese. All we could do was grab a glass of Arrack and pour some out for the lost citizens of Trincomalee.

Header image from Agarianna on MorgueFiles

Don’t F*ck with Monkeys

Don’t F*ck with Monkeys

Warning: Profane language

If there is one travel lesson you can learn from me, let it be this: Don’t fuck with monkeys! Simple and straight to the point. Don’t. Fuck. With. Monkeys! My brother has never learned this lesson…but then again, his dream in life was to grow up to be a Fishy Big One. Translation: an Orca whale. His plan to get there: Eat lots of fish food. He was five, cut him some slack. But either way, my brother has always thought he was an amateur Steve Irwin in training. His camera just one click shy of bringing him into communion with Mother Nature.

Oh, Michael.

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

I get it. They’re cute. They remind you of Curious George and you imagine yourself the imperialist in the yellow hat ready to snatch one home. They’re relatively small and covered in hair like your pet dog. But they can eat your face off if they want to and there’s nothing stopping them from trying.

I’ve been around a monkey or two in my time. There were the cute capuchins of Friends fame (#marcelthemonkey) in the mangroves of Costa Rica that looked like little old men waiting to give you a biscuit.

IMG_4336.JPG

Then there was the vervet monkeys of the Serengeti that snatched bananas and any other stray food from our lunches when we climbed from the vans for a snack while on safari.

IMG_0995.JPG
© Michael Goode

There were the “pet”Bonnet Macaques we fed scraps to outside the tea plantation in Coonoor.

2013-07-19 19.28.11

There was even the fearsome gaze of monkeys that lurked around villages in Rajasthan, slowly ambling alongside us as if daring us to cross some imaginary line where they would be allowed to attack. All these experiences have taught me one thing. Say it with me:

IMG_7308
I’m watching you.

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

My brother hadn’t learned it yet. We were in Sri Lanka visiting another holy sight, one of many on our two day drive through the Golden Triangle. We did not know that we were going to have a welcoming party. Over a hundred grey langur monkeys dotted the entrance to the holy stupa in Anuradhapura and scattered themselves like land mines along the path. There was no going around them and no avoiding them. The best thing we could do was tiptoe around them and let them do their thing, maybe taking a photo or two. The plan worked. We made it to the stupa, looked around, saw some prayer flags, contemplated whether or not the Buddha actually sat under this tree or not and headed out again. The plan back was the same. Avoid the monkeys as best you can and make for the car.

2013-07-24 03.08.57

Or this was the plan at least, until my brother forgot the number one rule. Say it again:

Don’t fuck with monkeys!

HS_38186
He might look cute here… ©Michael Goode
HS_38187
But think again. He’s ready to bite your motherfucking face off.  ©Michael Goode

My brother crept up to a pair of adolescents to get a few shots of the two interacting. As he got closer he realized one was holding onto a long stick. What did my brother think in this moment? If you said, “Don’t fuck with monkeys!” you would be wrong. If you said this to yourself in the same situation, you would be right, as long as you turned around and walked away. He did neither. My brother thought that the monkey might be brandishing the stick in a gesture of friendship, like an olive branch, and he slowly reached out towards it like E.T. pointing that shiny finger home. The monkey wasn’t having it.

HS_38210
You want a picture of me touching my friend’s balls? Who do you think you are? Come back here! I was talking to you! COME BACK HERE! ©Michael Goode

The monkey jumped up on his hind legs, whipping that stick around like a lance and took off after my brother. I had already cleared a good distance between myself and the monkey as I remembered the number one rule and our original plan of action so I didn’t realize what was happening until I heard a loud yelp behind me, turned around and saw my brother running off down the path Roadrunner-style, only instead of a coyote he had a small monkey with a stick in his hand on his heels.

Luckily for my brother, after a quick 40 yard dash, the monkey got tired, or realized he wasn’t worth the trouble and sauntered off back to his clan of teenage monkey hoodlums, leaving my brother catching his breath and clutching his heart.

2013-07-24 02.08.55
At night, I imagine them lighting barrel fires and having initiation ceremonies. “Let’s see who can toss this trash can the farthest.”

“Did you see that? That monkey attacked me.” Was it an attack or did my brother just forget the number one rule? Don’t fuck with monkeys!

2013-07-24 03.10.30
Cats are okay Michael, stick to petting cats.

Let’s give a big thanks to Michael for his share of the monkey photos and for being a good sport.

IMG_7735

Our book suggestion this week: Curious George of course.

Laugavegur Part Four: Reflections around a Bonfire

Laugavegur Part Four: Reflections around a Bonfire

We were officially crashing the tour guide, after-hour bonfire. It was a total “I carried a watermelon” moment. I had half a beer in hand, given to me from Germunder’s private stash, precious like miner’s gold. I wish I could have shown up with more, or brought firewood or something that would have been helpful. Instead I brought my tourist-ness, the scent of paid trekker.

IMG_0357
Germunder…have pipe, will travel.

It felt like a 90s comedy trope when everyone stops what they are doing and all you can hear are crickets chirping. Kim and I looked at each other. We looked at Francois, trying to beg him with our eyes that he was sure it was okay that we had followed him there. We’d been following the man for five days. How could we stop now? We looked around the campfire at the half circle of teenage Icelanders with dreadlocks and bulky wool sweaters. One half of the circle was empty and Kim and I decided, well we’re here, we may as well join. We grabbed a wooden bench and scraped it across the stone and pebble strewn riverbank creating a similar trope of the loud sound that continues to bring attention to the outsider. More blank stares. “So come here often…to this remote mountain hut that took us five days to reach?” We give up and decide to only talk to Francois about being Belgian and living in Iceland.

IMG_0328
Francois cooking up some porridge on our first morning. 

Francois hops over to the river and pulls two more beers from the cold water. Polar Beers. If I wasn’t in love with Iceland already, it was official now. Fantastic Fun Fact: There was a prohibition on strong beer from 1915 until March 1st, 1989. Imagine if Boardwalk Empire ended when you were 7 (for those of us born in the 80s) rather than 50 years before. My high school years would have looked a lot different and I probably would have gotten into UC Berkeley like I always wanted to.

As I sip the beer sitting by the fire, I take a moment to soak this all in. It’s our last night with our trekking group. A bottle of Glenlivet is passed around the circle and I take a slug of it. I’ve earned this. With the blaze of the fire warming my feet and hands (I’ve transitioned to wearing flip flops with socks when not hiking), I take a moment to reflect on all that I’ve seen and done:

I’ve walked around 50 miles (Germunder kept adding on “short,” two hour additions to our planned itinerary), half of that with an infected foot (confirmed by the doctors in our group). On one detour around the side of a mountain, Germunder stopped us to see the dew that collects in the leaves that grow along the ground. He told us that it is sweet and good to drink. Kim instructed me to bend down and try. I got down on my knees and stuck my face into the plant, sipping up the sweet dew. It was surprisingly refreshing.

IMG_3080
Germunder giving context to the scenery around us on another of his detours.

IMG_3513

IMG_0585

I saw a number of changing vistas, the Álftavatn Valley was one of my favorites in particular.  Beautiful wouldn’t even be strong enough of a word. Majestic, transcendent– none of them can quite do the Swan Lake and the valley around it justice. What was once brown and white from either steam or snow becomes a landscape of emeralds, sapphires, an ombré of blues and greens running into each other and spilling over cliffs. It’s as if the land responded to the change in scenery tactilely as well. Suddenly our feet felt like they were walking on the moon (or what I imagine it to feel like at least). The closest Earthly approximation I can make are those playgrounds made out of recycled shoe rubber that make you feel like you have the ability to jump ten feet in the air and be absorbed again by the ground as it dips and swells underneath you. The ground was covered with a soft green moss and it made the perfect place to take a short nap overlooking the view of the lake and valley below.

IMG_0393

IMG_3063

One member of our group decided it was perfect timing to fly a kite because when isn’t it. And she wasn’t wrong. The wind was strong and we laid our bodies even flatter to the ground to try to escape the tumult of wind. Your body is always warm when you hike, except when you stop. The second you stop the wind and chill creep in like the demonic baby of Stannis Baratheon and Melisandre [if you’re not already a GoT Fan: Spolier Alert]. Kim took to doing push-ups, tricep dips, lunges, anything to keep her body warmth up when the rest of us stop to eat cookies again.

IMG_0404

IMG_0387

This wasn’t the first time we visited the moon when we hiked in Iceland. Before entering Ermstrur-Botnar, the group crossed the basalt sand flats. The perpetual daylight of Iceland’s summer is well-known but what you don’t realize until you’re there is how much the prolonged daylight changes your perception of what’s around you. We hit the basalt flats around 5 in the evening but the light hits us at such a strange slant that is spreads long shadows out along the black ground so that we don’t appear to belong to this planet anymore. The hikers in our group are tired and spread out between smaller groups of twos and threes. As I trailed behind them, I can’t help but imagine them as astronauts trekking across untouched stellar plains.

IMG_3091IMG_0468

Everything here is shaped by volcanoes one way or another. The jagged canyons that shape the rivers have striations along the cliff sides formed when hot lava met glacial flow, capturing the rock like a flash going off in a dark room. One minute it’s flowing and the next there is hard rock, strange patterns, a thumbprint on the landscape.

After crossing the basalt flats, the trail started to resemble something more familiar. What you could call regular rock outcroppings, sloping hills on our sides, green plains…except for the giant mountain in the distance that seems to have a horn. At first it’s ruggedness almost made it look demonic, like an aged witch enchanted it with a curse and was hiding a princess at the tip, but when told the name you realize it’s another kind of magic all together. The mountain is named Einhyrningur which means “The Unicorn.”

IMG_3097

IMG_0501
You can see it in the distance as we move closer, almost like a rhino creeping up on us from the bush. 

And that’s what this place is, magic, magical. 54.4% of Icelanders believe elves and fairies exist after all. There must be something to those numbers.

The fire has warmed us now, as has the liquor. Everyone is chatting in one language or another and no one seems to notice or think we don’t belong anymore. We find out half the people at the bonfire aren’t Icelanders or tour guides either. They’ve come to volunteer and do trail restoration. It’s their first day in the country. Maybe one of them will find their Patrick Swayze. This isn’t my fate though. Iceland has another sort of magic saved up for me. We say goodbye to the hikers, the tour guides, the Icelandic teens, the volunteers. Goodnight to the fire, the river and its cold beers and volcanic stones. We say goodnight to the almost-dark non-night of the Icelandic summer. We head off to bed and get ready for our departure across the Krossá River in the morning

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then we are gone. We forded the river safely. No flash floods. We’ve lost half our crew to other trails, other buses, but the elves have something in store. The giant bus has taken us to a parking lot to wait for another bus to take us back to Reykjavik. It is freezing outside. The wind speed is too much to handle and I refuse to get off the bus until the next one is there. The driver has left the door open and Kim and I decide to move towards the back to stay away from the wind. As I stand in the aisle, something catches my eye. There is a different pattern on the wall, something doesn’t match, like one of those kid’s games where you try to discern what has changed between two pictures. I turn and see that my gray scarf is dangling from a hook, camouflaging itself into the carpeted wall of the bus. It is hanging from the same hook I placed it on only 6 days before. It’s a miracle (ok maybe not a miracle, but damn special at least). The elves have left me a final present. I believe this was their way of saying goodbye, of wishing me well on my last days in Iceland.

First and last day on the bus.

If you want to read about trekking and adventures on your own Icelandic hike, I would suggest picking up The Lord of the Rings and being grateful you don’t have ring-wraiths on your trail while you walk.

 

Laugavegur Part Three: Putting the Ice in Iceland

Laugavegur Part Three: Putting the Ice in Iceland

When we finally come down from the snow-peaked mountains, there are rivers. Rivers meandering back and forth across the landscape everywhere. All those ribbons of water mean river crossings. On the first day that I properly bandage my blister, I’m told within an hour of leaving the hut that I have to take my shoes and socks off and cross a frigid snowmelt. By the time I make it across, toes a burning red and pins and needles attacking my ankles and shins, the duct tape holding my moleskin and band-aide to my heel is flapping at the side of my foot and small pieces of black volcanic rock are flooded into what’s left of the skin on my blister. But this train doesn’t stop, so I wipe the water and rock off with my sock, put my hiking boots back on and push off with the rest of the group. Only to come to another river crossing…and then another. Are there no bridges in this country?

 

IMG_3065IMG_3066IMG_3512

I learn bridges are only reserved for the real white waters such as over the Syðri-Emstruá river, a canyon I have no plans of rappelling.

IMG_3112IMG_3505

Sometimes the icy rush of the stream feels good on my heel. Other times I contemplate leaving my shoes on and just rushing like an angry bull through the water.

Sometimes there are ice bridges. Francois gingerly steps out on the blue and white path, shoving a hiking pole as safely into the snowpack in front of him as he can to test for the strength and depth of the ice. He motions us to walk over it one by one, bypassing yet another rushing river.

These rivers can be powerful things.

In Þórsmörk, where we will all be picked up at the end of this trek, the Krossá River has movable bridges. The glacial river changes everyday and quite suddenly.  The bridges need to move to accommodate the people who cross it for hiking trails on the other side. The structures are on huge monster truck wheels and moved according to where the water is the deepest at that particular moment. This ever-changing water way is also the road for the departing buses. The hut keeps a photo album of all the buses and vans that have been picked up by flash floods. This does not distill a sense of safety or comfort for our future departure.

When we started the hike, the rivers were gurgling cauldrons of hot spring, sulfured water. The scalding water pipes steam up from the ground and depending on the direction of the wind, flows around the hikers as we march.

IMG_0308.jpg

As we move down the mountain, the water becomes more idyllic as it follows us through valleys and emptying into lakes.

IMG_0366

Other times it is tumultuous, livid, gushing. Or beautiful. Falling from cliffs and spilling down into canyons that spread below us, making bridge crossing feel so much more treacherous than having to dip our feet into some cold stream beds.

IMG_0464IMG_0442IMG_0450

On the third day, I become so sick of taking my shoes off that I travel down the river bank looking for a thin spot in one of the turns to jump across. Kim’s feet have been soaked and freezing every day as her shoes are not weather-proof and she has taken the just-walk-across-the-river course of action. I find a spot that I think will work and toss my pack to her on the other side of the bank. She places it on the dry ground and holds her arms out to catch me if need be. She cheers me on like the good friend she is. We watch our group down the river calmly stripping their shoes off and crossing like the dutiful hikers they’re trained to be.

I back up to get a running start. I assess the speed and clearance I will need. I swing my arms back and forth because for some reason I think this will help. I take a deep breath. It’s only water, after all.

“Okay, here I come!” I yell as I dash off to take my leap.

I am not athletic. I have a blistered foot. I’m padded down with layers of clothes and have been using every muscle in my legs for 10 hours straight for three days…but somehow, I make it! Kim clutches my forearms and my front foot sinks a little into the muddy river bank but otherwise I’ve cleared the river.

My adrenaline is pumping through me. We laugh so hard and are in so much shock that I made it that we momentarily forget how to high-five and flap our hands at each other in the air.

I look back. The gap in the river was probably 2 ½ feet. I’m still impressed. I grab my pack and we walk on. Rivers can’t keep me back. I’m a river beast!

By the last day on the trail, the temperature has increased dramatically and we have all stripped our clothes to the minimum that is allowable while traveling with others. Pants come unzipped from thighs and calves (oh REI), thermals tied around foreheads to block the sun. The river is mainly rocks now and puddles of neon green algae, yet somehow still wide enough in parts that we still have to ford it barefoot. I now understand why the packing list suggested river shoes. If only I had known what those were at the time.

IMG_0538

On the day before we leave, Germunder (his real name! It took me three days but I finally learned how to pronounce it) takes us on one last “short” hike around Þórsmörk. He wiggles us around the hills and paths between the two mountain huts in the area. We divert off the main trail and follow a low flowing river. This time there will be no crossing. We follow the water until we meet a cavern full of large boulders. We don’t stop there. Germunder leads us on, climbing over the large rocks that look as if they’ve been shaped by giants. He grabs our hands and pulls us over. After passing the rocks, we duck down onto our hands and knees to slither through the cave entrance. We find ourselves in a small, natural cathedral. Green moss drapes the rock walls and purple flowers dot the ground. A thin trickle of water flows from twenty feet above us and we position ourselves just so, letting the water spray around our faces and fall into our opened mouths.

IMG_0594IMG_0604

11760322_10207350112539390_1239883441507597489_n

“This is the Singing Cave,” Germunder tells us. The Alaskan Eight stand up near the entrance of the cave while Kim and I take pictures in front of the waterfall. “The cave is known for it’s good acoustics,” Germunder continues. Without a second thought, Kim launches into Lean on Me. I join in. Our Alaskan ladies don’t miss a beat and before you know it we fill the singing cave with so much song we drown out the water. The song swirls around us. This is it. This is our last moment together. We leaned on each other when we weren’t strong. We had pain and some of us visited sorrow. We definitely had to swallow our pride. Francois and Germunder quite literally gave us their hands multiple times on the trail. This is the magic of Kim, always knowing the perfect song for any given moment. We finish out the chorus and we all stand there for a moment. I let the water splash between my fingers. It’s almost as if you can hear us all exhaling a collective sigh. Slowly, one by one, we exit the cave.

IMG_0600IMG_0601

“One patriotic song followed another, echoing from the mountain in the hush of early autumn evening, till the loon ceased crying from the lake, greatly wondering…the last song, in praise of the country life, resounded from the marshes as a farewell to the people of Summerhouse.” -Halldór Laxness, from Independent People, the 1955 Nobel Prize in Literature and awarded to an Icelandic author

Next week is the last post about Iceland for awhile. We’ll move to another part of the world after that.

I’m experimenting with when to post. Leave me a comment and let me know when you’re more likely to see or read this blog. Has it been on the weekend? Mornings at work? After you get off on a weekday? I’d love to hear about when is best to send out a new post.

Laugavegur Part Two: The Things I Carried – Iceland Edition

Laugavegur Part Two: The Things I Carried – Iceland Edition

Disclaimer: While I completely understand that comparing my time in Iceland to a hellacious war is both in poor taste and inaccurate…I continue with my comparison anyways. If it offends you, you can refer to this post by the runner up title: What Not to Wear – Iceland Edition

Kim carried a red paisley backpack full of dates and confiscated rye crackers. She would crouch behind a lava rock the size of a small cow to stay out of the wind, place her wool gloves in her pocket and nibble on the crackers, counting how many she had left before we made it to our next mountain hut for the night. Sometimes others wanted to eat her rye crackers, not knowing this was the only food she had. She watched them like lions on a kill, devouring cookie after cookie, chocolate bar after chocolate bar, while still coming after her one and only snack, the rye crackers.

IMG_3009.jpg

Elizabeth carried her designer backpack loaded with an iPad, a ceramic coffee mug, a water bottle, a journal, a bagged lunch, a borrowed scarf, gloves (bought in the gas station before the hike started), sunglasses and a slew of other things no one should ever plan to carry on a trekking trip. Her Canon camera dangled from her neck covered by an unwieldy plastic bag to save it from the intermittent rain/snow. Depending on the strenuousness of the climb, her thin layers were peeled off and hung from the straps of her backpack so that she looked like a pack mule that had never left the paddock before. She dreamed of when she would no longer be wearing her brand new hiking boots, comfortable on the first day but by the third, they had produced a blister on the inside of her left heel the size of a nickel. Each step a reminder that the body was a fragile thing, wishing that humans produced pearls when irritated and not skin bags full of pus and blood.

To carry something was to hump it.

Dr. Alaska carried bandages, moleskins, duct tape on her long metal hiking poles. She carried with her a knowledge of healing that would come in handy when Elizabeth’s blister popped and Kim’s feet were frozen from the snow melting in her hiking shoes.

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity.

Ann and Dan carried wine. It came in a box and didn’t need to be chilled, already cold from the wind and snow that still clung to the hill. By the third day, wine was needed. By the fifth there was no question. The hikers were willing to pay 40 dollars a bottle, or 5000 Icelandic krona, for red wine worth 5 dollars at best. But they were in the middle of nowhere, what were they suppose to do? Hot chocolate could only sustain them for so long.

Francois and Gerrymander (not his real name) carried the recipe to lamb stew, the path we followed on the trail, patience, an ear to listen, plodding steps, a truck that held the group’s luggage and a knowledge of Iceland and which ways to divert the trail. They also carried beer.

They weren’t prepared for the shifts in weather. Among the clothing they had brought were yoga pants, thin hiking trousers, a raincoat made for humid weather, a scarf – lost, a sweater bought in Cambridge, a spring coat, sport bras, wool socks and a beanie. Their river shoes were plastic flip flops and canvas tennis shoes.

IMG_3519

The Laugavegur Trail was 55 kilometers of terrain that moved from spongy dirt hills precariously hovering over hot springs that smelled of rotten egg to snow-peaked lava fields peppered with obsidian the size of soccer balls.

IMG_3036IMG_2994IMG_2977

 

After 5-7 hours of walking a day, each mountain hut was welcomed with the flourish of a seven year old to a cupcake table. The shared bunk beds were a respite, two campers sleeping head to toe, barely moving, for once their body met the mat, sleep soon followed. The huts were heated. The trekkers felt secure inside their warm wood room. They watched the snow flurry outside the window, tent campers digging into the snow banks reaching for the dirt ground below to place their tent for the night. Those in the mountain hut did not grumble. They were overjoyed. They watched the scene of the summer snow storm unfold before them like reality television, each tent camper with their own story, their own troubles. There were the men trying to get their bunsen burner to light to make their evening porridge. The couple that couldn’t get their tent to assemble in the middle of the night and secretly slept in the entrance way where the trekkers shoes were stored. Some tent campers carried whiskey, clutching it to their bosom to stay warm through the night. Others begged for a bed in the warm room.

IMG_0314IMG_2986IMG_2984

In the morning, small white and black birds darted in and out of the giant holes left behind from the tents like astronauts visiting craters on the moon. The landscape was blanketed in white for miles, fresh, unmarred by footprints or visitors. They would carry themselves across this landscape, following wooden markers in the snow and trusting in Francois and Gilgamesh (not his real name). How had they come to be here? The white blinding and all around. Their truck of belongings barely able to make it over the hill, tires whirring and sinking back down into the snow. They were trekkers. They carried day packs and water bottles. They carried pink sandwiches and peanut butter. They would carry on.

IMG_0319IMG_0410IMG_3022

(I know I promised more information about the trail…but I had too much fun with The Things They Carried literary homage. If you haven’t read Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece, you’re missing out. Pick it up immediately and carry it on your next adventure.)