From Iceland — Battle of the Golden Circle

Battle of the Golden Circle

Published October 28, 2009

Photo by
Michael Zelenko

One PM and it’s a sea of silver heads on the Gullfoss and Geyser Express Tour as international pensioners claim seats. I’m contemplating the mysteries of old people when  Linda, our tour guide, comes on the loudspeaker, introduces herself, and sprinkles us with Icelandic trivia: 115,000 people live in Reykjavík, 11% of Iceland is covered in ice…etc. Before long, Linda’s on a roll: from trade winds to medieval history, Linda is slowly but surely blowing the bus away with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the island.

I can tell Linda is just getting started. The closer we get our first stop, the more excited she becomes, reciting endless dates, names and locations. I know a challenge when I see one: If Linda thinks she can drown me in facts she has another thing coming.

I vow to record every ounce of info Linda can deliver.

Michael Zelenko Gullfoss

A Great Divide

When the bus pulls up to Þingvellir the weather outside is miserable and very Icelandic. Standing on the North American viewing platform, we can’t quite see the European side of the valley. “Do you see the dark vertical lines there?” Linda asks, pointing deep into the fog. We don’t. A tall, red-nosed Dane squints over the abyss. “It’s fascinating being here at the edge of two continents,” he says. He takes one look around and hustles towards the dryness of the tourist centre.

Back on the bus, Linda, that titan of information, is pepper-spraying us with more facts about fauna (mink and reindeer) and flora (poplars and native berries). My hand is sore and I have to switch pens, but I’m keeping up.

A Hell of a Foss

Gullfoss is the most remarkable stop of the tour: a mammoth glacial river smashes and tumbles down two cascades and shoots a wall of mist into the sky.  Gullfoss also makes a great back drop for your ‘I went to Iceland’ picture. The sheer number of cameras present quickly leads to a multimedia showdown. It’s obviously time to go when I see a boy taking a picture of a woman taking a video of a man. I’m slightly upset—Linda is nowhere in sight and I start going through information withdrawal.

Geysir Michael Zelenko

“I’m Gettin’ Wet”

Next stop is the Geysir and the weather turns from bad to worse. We beeline towards the largest Geysir, circle it like a pack of wolves, ready our cameras and wait. It’s raining hard and after a few minutes of staring into the lifeless hole everyone feels stupid.

A few more minutes go by and complaints bubble up—a child to my left pulls at his mother’s sleeve. There’s a puddle in my shoe. A chubby Brit in a red sweater announces, “I’m gettin’ wet,” but no one pays him any mind. Everybody is getting wet.

With a hiccup the geyser erupts, launching a foul-smelling column of water into the sky. The crowd gasps, scrambles for their cameras and snaps away. Seconds later everyone is running toward the bus, dripping wet.

The Death Blow

On the ride back to Reykjavík, Linda delivers Icelandic odds and ends she hasn’t had time to address: bore-hole drilling, unexpected hot springs, earthquake safety, and the wonders of Icelandic horses—including a detailed résumé of each of their 5 gaits. My eyes settle on the fog outside.

I jerk myself awake: we’re downtown and Linda isn’t on the microphone anymore. I panic and grab my notebook, flipping to find the pages of facts I’ve transcribed, to claim success. This is what I find: a mysterious set of percentages; a list of years I can’t make sense of; the word ‘energy’ framed by cartoon steam.

It’s an illegible heap of shit. There’s even a stray pen mark across the page I must’ve made as I fell asleep.

I exit the bus a failure. Linda looks me straight in the eye and asks me if I enjoyed the tour, her voice as chipper as ever.

“I did,” I mumble.

“Great,” she smiles, victory in her eyes.

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