Ernie goes to Iceland pt. 7 (Feb 2016)

The Blue Lagoon, front and centre in many a travel guide, its soothing blue waters promising rest and restoration for the skin and the soul. Problem is, soothing isn’t how I’d describe the idea of soaking in an outdoor pool with a hundred other strangers. Before leaving for Iceland, Ashley and I went back and forth on whether or not we should even go to the iconic pool – it’s not exactly cheap either. We looked up other hot springs in the area, thought about other things we could do, but, in the end, we decided that it behooved us to at least check it out, given its international prominence. In an effort to avoid the morning and evening rushes, we arrived at the Blue Lagoon just after lunch. There were still a lot of people, but it didn’t feel terribly crowded, and the experience wasn’t half-bad. We soaked in the lagoon, rubbed muds and clays on our faces, and wandered in and out of the saunas and steam rooms. There’s a swim-up bar where you can grab a drink or two, and some shallower sections where you can recline in the water and watch the day go by. After spending the greater part of our afternoon in the water, we had an early dinner at LAVA, the fine-dining restaurant on the premises, before making the 40 minute drive back into town. Honestly, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a day, but I don’t think you’d be missing out on anything essential to Iceland if it somehow failed to make it onto the itinerary.

On our last full day in Iceland, we drove about 30 minutes outside of Reykjavík to Laxnes Horse Farm, to spend some quality time with their stable of Icelandic horses. We’d seen distant troops of these stubby, muscular horses while driving around Iceland in previous days, and we were keen on getting a closer look. Laxnes offers daily horse riding experiences throughout the surrounding countryside, which Ashley and I did not hesitate to sign up for, and we arrived at the farm early enough to hang out with the horses in the barn. The gentle creatures wandered over to nuzzle our mitts, breath smoking in the morning air, as we waited for the other guests to arrive.

After another 15 to 20 minutes, a shuttle bus pulled into the parking lot with the rest of the riding group, and, as we zipped into our fantastic jumpsuits, the trainers assigned us our horses. Ashley was very comfortable with the idea of riding a horse in the open country, having grown up in Colorado, where, apparently, it’s a thing that people do. I, on the other hand, was a different story, having done little to no horse riding growing up in the Toronto suburbs. The trainer handed me the reins of one of the larger horses, by the name of Indiana Jones, and I was very aware, and wary, of its size and strength.

Nevertheless, we set off into the countryside, single file, the distant hilltops shrouded in winter clouds. I never felt completely comfortable on my horse, but I settled into an uneasy alliance with the hairy creature. There were some concerning moments throughout the ride when the horses began trotting in unison, threatening to break out into a run without warning. I don’t think I was the only person worrying about falling off either, a nervous sort of energy emanating from our group whenever the horses got excited, and eventually someone did lose their perch. On our way back to the farm, the horses, itching to get home, started picking up some serious speed. I heard a sharp yell from some distance behind me, and then a riderless horse raced up the line, a blur of blacks and browns in my peripheral vision. It wasn’t a serious fall, thankfully, but I gripped onto Indiana Jones just a little bit tighter. Ashley, on the other hand, was having a great time, and that made it worth it. Still, I was glad when we finally got back to the farm and I was on my own two legs again.

After we got back to Reykjavík, we grabbed a quick lunch at Fish and More on Skólavörðustígur (fantastic fish soup), and then I had to book it back to our guesthouse. At the beginning of the year, I had applied for the Master of Journalism program at the University of Hong Kong, and part of the process was a two hour exam in February. When I explained that I would be on holiday during the scheduled exam date, they arranged for me to do it online instead. So, for two hours that afternoon, I sat down at the wooden desk inside our room and wrote like a mad man, while Ashley wandered around town. I wasn’t sure how I did when I submitted it, but they asked me back for an interview a few weeks after we returned to Hong Kong, and I was accepted into the program in April. Part of the reason why I started this blog in the first place was to practice and stretch my writing in preparation for starting school in the fall. I’m currently one month into the program, quitting my job and doing it full time for a year, and I don’t regret a single thing.

Even after the incredible road trips, the alien landscapes, and the spectacular sights of the past week, there was still one more thing we needed to do. On our last afternoon in Iceland, we stopped by Kaffi Loki, across from the Hallgrímskirkja, and ordered four pieces of hákarl, the infamous fermented shark. A rite of passage for all visitors to Iceland, we steeled ourselves for the strange assault on our taste buds, and it still overwhelmed us. We made little effort to enjoy or appreciate the local delicacy, swallowing it as quickly as possible, and banishing it from our memory for all time. With that, our Iceland trip was finally complete, and we flew back to the humidity and heat of Hong Kong the following morning.

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