Friday, October 12, 2012

Iceland: Day 3

The morning of Day 3 started much like Day 2 did; an early, cold, and rainy climb on to a bus with some truly beautiful views. Today we ventured east through still more fields, under a beautifully streaked blue sky. Unlike the grassy fields of the day before though, these were the rough and shadowed textures of a young lava field. Maybe a few thousand years old, it was still considered young in the eyes of a countryside so accustom to their presence. 

At what appeared to be the side of the road, our bus slowed to a stop. Argnr told us that we would be visiting a cave today, but there were no mountains near by. Nothing but the jagged youthful lava on either sides from miles. Surely caves were buried deep into the hills on the horizon and not here. But as we waddled off the bus, warmly bundled and ready for our trip underground, there were our glacier guides from the day before; grinning and surrounded by dozens of brightly colored helmets. Well, I seem to have been mistaken. Somewhere around here, close by, was the Leidarendi Cave. Over 2,000 years old and NOT in a mountain. 

A short walk through the lava field brought us to the opening of the cave. What appeared at first to be a large, muddy crater in the ground, was actually the mouth of the cave. Here Argnr left us and, with the guidance of our other Icelandic pals, we switched on our lights to begin to walk down below. 

The cave was wet and dark as any of us would have guessed, but also jagged and small. At one point the tunnel got to small that our line of explorers had to army crawl in order to get past an incredibly large "boulder" suspended from the ceiling. The opening reminded me of the Cheshire cat's crooked smile from Alice and Wonderland. If only he would have laughed a little wider at the thought of all of us climbing through his front teeth. 

Our crawl brought us to a large open pocket, what could be considered the cathedral of the cave. A rock ledge ringed the outside of the space and provided the perfect place to stop and share some local legends. After making sure all of us were securely seated, the guides had us turn off our head lamps. In an instant, the world went black. Not the black that you experience when you first turn off the lights at night. Not the black of entering a movie theater or even of shutting your eyes in the dark. This was dense, solid, void of light, black. Dark enough to make you loose your balance if you were standing (even sitting for some of us). So black that you could place your hand on your nose and still not be able to see even a shade of difference as to where your fingers were supposed to be. Just a thick, velvety curtain of nothing that your eyes tried to convince you was not real. 

It was in this black that our lead guide told tales of people "saved by the bell" in graveyards after having been supposed dead because of being frozen in a storm, of lovers running away to the caves to escape unwanted marriages only to be pursued by an irate father or uncle. One of the guides then posed this question. When we all turned on our lights, would we rather one person be missing or one person be added?

Chilled by each option's implications (I believe most people chose to have someone join rather than be lost, but even that could be sinister), we moved on through the cave and eventually back up to the surface. The sky still blue, the cold still biting, we made our way back to Reykjavik for our free afternoon.

After a brief rest in the hotel, Emily and I decided to explore some of the sites Argnr walked us past on the first day. Armed with more breakfast buffet "sandwiches" and skyr, we trekked up to Hallgrímskirkja, the tallest church and sixth tallest structure in the country.

From the top of the 244 foot bell tower, you could see the entire capitol. Short, colorful buildings stretched out around the church as if it were the center of a clock. In one direction, expansive fields, sky, and faint mountains. In the other, the harbor and still more beautiful snow topped peaks. I can easily say that Midwestern me was confused and delighted to have such flat and spiked places all together. 

It was so peaceful up there. I completely forgot I was (am) afraid of heights and just stood there at the window's edge. Face pressed into the bars and leaning into the sky.

More wandering and some souvenir shopping later and it was time to head back for the night. Dinner at a local tapas place brought us to try some odd and all-together not that tasty local "catches of the day," bringing another wonderful day to a close. 

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