Landing in Iceland again

Some uncomfortable dozing brought me near Iceland, and we began the slow descent into the clouds.

Like before, we exited the plane directly into the cold open air and a light rain. A short walk brought us to a bus, which brought us to a building, which funneled us to a long line for checking paperwork.

Exiting the plane and heading for the shuttle.

I was too tired for an audiobook so I just stood around and gazed at people. Ahead of me, an older woman with a smart-looking jacket and a wheeled suitcase was talking to a couple in hiking gear. She explained that she was returning home from Portland, after spending six months tutoring a woman there in the Icelandic language.

“I go all over the place teaching people,” she said. “It’s a good job because I get to be a tourist too. Usually it’s business people that want to learn, but this woman said she wanted to find an Icelandic husband and get married.”

She had just a hint of exasperation in her voice, as though she thought the woman was wasting her time. I couldn’t decide if it was because she thought there was no chance of impressing an Icelandic man… Or because she thought Icelandic men were not worth so much effort. Maybe both. I didn’t have the guts to ask.

The immigration desk went easy on me. I just handed out my passport and that little card I got from CVS Pharmacy declaring that I’d had two shots of the Moderna COVID vaccine, and they rubber-stamped me and let me in. No warning about quarantine, no request for a more official document, no reference to the questionnaire I filled out online before I left Portland. And just like that, I was back in a world where nobody wore a mask indoors.

“If I end up getting sick in the next few days,” I thought, “I’m going to feel like a complete idiot for taking this trip.”

The airport pooped my box out of the wall, safe and sound.

Just like before, the bicycle was waiting in the oversize area, unattended and unmolested. I stuck it on a pushcart and collected my other bags. From there I manhandled the cart out into a very crowded post-security waiting area.

I couldn’t figure out where my hotel shuttle was, or the next time it was due, and though I had an Icelandic data plan ready for my phone I couldn’t call any local numbers. The shuttle had to be booked a day in advance, and I’d forgotten to do it, so unless someone else booked it the shuttle might not appear at all.

I walked my tired, hungry butt up to a taxi driver, who quoted me 40 dollars to get to the hotel — a steep price because my baggage would fill up his entire minivan. Ouch. Well, this luggage will pay for itself in the coming days. I’ll be out of the red again as soon as I hit the first campsite.

I think this is supposed to symbolize exploration and transformation. Instead it makes me think of parasites and aliens.

The hotel was the same one I’d used before, and I was delighted to see that I remembered the landmarks along the route.  There’s the jet on a stick, there’s the guy playing guitar… Somehow I’d expected the place to feel as consistently foreign this time as it did the first time.

Turns out I arrived way too early for check-in. It would be four hours before the room was empty and clean. The desk clerk very kindly let me store my enormous luggage in a utility room.

I was starving, and found a vending machine in the lobby that sold candy (hello again, Prince Pollo bars!) but I had no idea where to get cash. I couldn’t remember where I’d got it from last time. A bank in downtown Keflavik maybe?

There were restaurants over there, but it was a very long walk. I asked the desk clerk what she thought I should do, and she opened a drawer and handed me a slip of paper, then winked at me. It was a ticket for the upstairs breakfast buffet. Thank goodness!

This time I was ready for the milk carton that actually contained yogurt.  I poured it on a pile of granola, then poured soy milk on top to loosen it up, and chomped down my American breakfast abomination.

First Iceland meal. Anything's good after eleven hours.

When I came back downstairs there was a crowd of people in military uniform gathered around the desk, reminding me that this hotel was next to a military base. It seems weird from my perspective, but in fact the military base could be credited with the existence of these hotels, and this airport, and most of the city of Keflavik; and the existence of the base in turn can be credited to World War II, and the ensuing nuclear arms race. All the infrastructure I’m using to have a nice vacation is here because taxpayers in my Dad’s generation financed it, as America tried to reduce the chance of yet another global war.

I sat around for a while thinking that over, and texting hello to friends and family back home, and eventually just dozing. When my room was ready I had just enough brainpower to haul the box and suitcases inside and crawl onto the bed.

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