Party Round the Country

Fog clung to the mountains again this morning.

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I tried walking up to the lip of a glacier bowl called Naustahvilft that looms over the town but quit halfway up.

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It wasn’t the burning in my lungs that bothered me; it was the steepness of the path and the fact that it was made up mostly of loose gravel.

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The thought of coming down is what got me. So when the path got steeper and looser I turned around and retreated, thinking the whole time that Adrian would have scrambled up without another thought. I’m not that brave–at least, not brave in that way.

I ventured out of town after that, to go to a little fishing village one fjord away. But it was quiet–everyone was back where I had just left from.

To get there and back, I had to go through another long one lane tunnel.

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These tunnels almost feel fake to me, like a plastic version of what a cave should look like, with rough edges and dripping water. It reminds me a little of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a Disney World amusement that took place in a dark, cavernous space and sticks vividly in my head from a childhood trip with my mother because right as we were hurtling towards a closed door, the ride froze. We couldn’t tell, at first, if it was supposed to be part of the ride. And once we realized the ride had broken we couldn’t figure out how to get out of the tunnel.

Anyway, in real life, you hurtle (or drive at a moderate pace) through this tunnel built through the mountainside, looking for headlights coming straight towards you and then find a pull-in quick so you don’t crash into one another.

But this tunnel is even more unique because about a kilometer inside it there’s an intersection. In the tunnel!! One underground road heads to the fishing village and the other heads south to other fjords.

Back when I was in Akureyri, one of the helpful information center guys was pointing out potential highlights on my impending drive into the Westfjords. “You’ll pass through this old tunnel and this new one,” he said, pointing at the map. “Which is great because you’ll really be able to see how far we’ve come in tunnel construction.” I nodded, but thought that didn’t sound like much of a highlight. I stand corrected!

Back in Isafjordur, the outskirts of town were THE place to be.

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This town has the distinct honor of hosting the European Championships in swamp soccer. Forget about the Olympics: this is where the real athletes are.

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Okay, athletes may be too strong a word.

The rules are much like soccer except that pushing and fouling are encouraged. And players are knee-deep (and often face-planting) in mud.

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It’s advisable to duct tape your shoes to your feet before starting a game or you’re likely to lose them instantly in the mud. Your shoes, that is.

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There were dozens of teams. Most of them seemed to be Icelandic. I couldn’t really understand the announcements but figured out that they were team and field assignments when I heard a matchup between what I swear sounded like “FC Mother Fuckers vs FC Milan.”

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Teams were mostly split along gender lines, though there were some co-ed teams as well. The matches between female teams seemed to be especially popular with spectators. I wonder why.

Could it have been the elaborate uniforms they wore? It was like they were also competing in synchronized Halloween costuming: there were slutty fairies, slutty Bay Watch life guards (though the sports bras under the bathing suits kind of dampened the sex appeal), slutty pirates etc.

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Then there were the guys dressed as…rednecks? Complete with mullets. I’m pretty sure they were Icelandic.

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You’d think you had seen all the teams and then a dozen guys would emerge from the tent site dressed as track stars from the 80s, with Afros and fake mustaches. Or prepsters with slick hair and button-down shirts. Or Mexican wrestlers. Or as Viking (beer) storm troopers. Or in bathrobes. Or Scottish tartans. Or the yellow vests that roadside workers wear so no one hits them.

It was a bizarre spectacle but quite enjoyable.

***

This is a big weekend in Iceland, a long weekend where shops are required by law to stay shut on Monday, I’m told. So everyone’s out and about. There was a big crowd gathered at the cafe where I had dinner. They were glued to a big screen tv that was showing Olympic handball. Icelanders go mad for handball. Today was the semi-final between France and Iceland. Spoiler alert! Iceland won. And the whole restaurant cheered.

As I was leaving the restaurant I noticed that people seemed to be streaming to the edge of town. Old people, families, teenagers in tight swarms. So I followed them.

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I found it a little alarming to see the black smoke billowing up, but no one else seemed to think it odd. When I got closer I could see the big bonfire and the men in silver suits fanning the flames.

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It seemed like the whole town was out. I asked a young guy standing next to me in a scarf with the Icelandic flag on it if this was an annual thing. “I think so,” he said. “There are lots of parties all around the country this weekend. But I don’t know much about this town; I’m not from here.” Turns out he’s from a different fjord, and presumably a much smaller town, because half the population of this entire area lives in Isafjordur. But when I asked him what was happening back in his town he said “Nothing. Everyone’s here.”

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It was a festive atmosphere and when the rowdy rock band gave up the makeshift stage for some folk musicians, everyone crowded in to sing. I got the feeling that these were songs everyone in the country learns from birth. Many of the teenagers were enthusiastically joining in without any discernible eye-rolling. But these songs are perhaps not as traditional as I first imagined, because at one point they were definitely singing “Home on the Range,” just not in English. Who knew there was an Icelandic version!

I stayed for the fireworks before retreating back here to my guesthouse. But I have a hunch the party will be carrying on long into the night.

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One Response to Party Round the Country

  1. In my experience, the people of Iceland are dedicated to carrying the party as far as possible into the night. This could be because beer was banned in Iceland from 1915 to 1989.

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