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Angels in the Hearts of Men – Iceland Prelude

“Don’t these talking monkeys know that Eden has enough to go around?” – Keenan

On balance, goats are superior to American parkour teams. This, after 14 days of remote contemplation and meditation in Iceland was the answer that the Universe gave to me. Grab a brew and let me explain.

It was, in the main, an uneventful journey to Iceland. The motorway slog to get to the car park at Heathrow. An hour trying to find the car park, who’s location according to the sat nav seemed to be either in the middle of a motorway or 300 feet under ground. ‘Bother’, I muttered, ‘these directions do seem to be slightly less than optimal’ as I joined the M4 for the 3rd time in an hour. 

The usual 2 hours sat amidst an array of coffee and designer shops in the terminal. I don’t know who is buying a £1000 handbag when they’re about to get on a plane, I splutter at the cost of a bottle of water. I think they spelt Evian the wrong way round. For a brief second I caught the gaze of one of the sales people. A thousand yard stare, I think any will to live had gone long ago, sucked away by standing next to 20 handbags for 10 hours at a time. I don’t know what they would hate more, having to put up with overly pompous customers who are spending more on a bag than they earn in a month or watching people like me stare at them like a child watches the polar bears spin in circles and their parents whisper how terrible it is. 

You have to wonder if all the motivational 8am talks about sales targets and customer service would be forgotten by five past when the latest instagram post tingled in their pocket. We’re all celebrities now and we’re all lost in the gaping maw of anonymity and dopamine laden thumbs ups and hearts.

It’s an eclectic mix at airports, most of humanity condensed into a single area.From those sat at the ethanol altar, draining the optics  to ward off their fear of plummeting to their deaths to the wild eyed children, high on saccharine and the promise of endless ice creams and going to sleep later for 2 weeks. The business travellers, their osteopaths rubbing their hands as their spines curl forwards and their eyes strain to answer one more email and fill in one more spreadsheet before the sanctuary of flight mode. The backpackers, aloof with their sense of adventure as they fly thousands of miles to get the full experience of homelessness but in another (warmer) country. The frugal well dressed middle age couples with their own sandwiches, sitting in mock solemnity and awaiting the first call to arms from the tannoys. The supermodels in their five inch heels and floaty dresses, ready for a fashion shoot and gliding down the alleyways with a fixed stare and shoulders thrown back. Then their ankle turns, they wobble and a broken bone is avoided and everyone around breathes a collective sigh of relief when they realise this person is human after all.

Everyone sits, some wander aimlessly and then it happens…after 2 hours of nothing the call comes. Panic stations, everyone is up and doing that quick walk to the gate. Despite having a reserved seat and there still being half an hour, like lemmings we flock to the gate, passports bending in our clutch while our shoulder shuffle begins as the bag straps slip under the weight of our essential carry on items. 

I can’t stand instant coffee but boy do i enjoy it on a flight. It’s the whole ritual and illusion of grandeur I think – you’re being served in a seat. The trolley arrives, the attendant smiles just for you, they lay out a napkin and then they gently, nay they caress the coffee from the pot into the cup and they give you the extra milk if you ask for it. It tastes awful but you finish it anyway because you know in a few minutes she will be back offering a bottle of the finest (naive) water and it would be a social faux pas to not be ready.

Seating etiquette. Everyone KNOWS there is an etiquette. You don’t kick the chair in front. If you’re on the outside seat, you don’t take the inner arm rest and you don’t throw your seat recliner back on a day flight. Everyone KNOWS this apart from the people who sit in the seats immediately around me it seems. The thrill of flying again after many years evaporated at about 1000 feet above Heathrow. I hadn’t fully realised it yet but I was about to enter the tourist zone for several days and as regular readers will know, this is anathema for me and can only be described as a feeling like root canal without anaesthesia.

I plan to write more about the trip to Iceland and this blog is a prelude of sorts to the main description and images (which I am still working on). The first part of the trip was mainly in the tourist spots easily within reach of Reykjavik. I knew it was going to be tough to cope but wow, I hadn’t realised how tough it would be for me after years of riding a motorbike into really remote parts of Europe. The main parts of the trip however, saw me get away from the tourist blast radius of Reykjavik and the beauty of Iceland really opened up. More on that later.

For now though , Instagram Churchill’s, mountain climbers, raving goats and Brad the frat boy parkour dude. Spoiler alert, the goat wins.

Ive said it before, ill say it again but it comes as a surprise to most people. There is no wonder of nature, whether it be a mountain, a waterfall or a river that is ever improved by your mug being in it. I know people want to update their profile picture and I get it but that doesn’t mean you stand in the river, climb over the rocks and ruin it for everyone else just to get your 2 minutes of instagram likes. In the sites close to Reykjavik, people completely ignored the barriers and trampled over everything, all looking to create that perfect pose. I could understand if the intent was to shoot the waterfall but the waterfall was secondary – the photo was all about them. Instagram tourists seemed fixated on ‘v’ signs in every photo for some reason and I do mean every single photo, always with the ‘v’ sign. Even stood under a waterfall getting soaking wet and staring blankly at their phone and wondering why it wasn’t working anymore. Half the time I was angry, the other half I was filled with disbelief. With limited time on their tours, it becomes a free for all, a race to get the shot and get back on the bus and to hell with anyone else.  With limited time to see such awe inspiring forces of nature they use it to get an instagram shot pulling a ‘v’ symbol. 

The Sólheimasandur plane wreck, the feature photo of this blog, was tourism at its absolute worst. The plane is an hours walk from the nearest parking area and having headed down there, I waited patiently for people to take their shots. Unfortunately not everyone has the same sense of etiquette and how to behave. Many of those visiting the crash site looked, photographed and then let others get their shots and go inside. Not so for the mountain climber and the frat boys. The plane is falling to pieces after years of being on the beach and is completely unsafe. This didn’t stop a middle aged couple alternately climb on to the top of the plane, pull v signs whilst the other took photos. You could hear the frame of the plane creaking. If it was just one shot, it would have been disrespectful as it is a tourist attraction. But one went up, the other went down and on and on for 20 minutes – that’s way beyond disrespectful. No one could take a shot, until I eventually waved at him to get down in what can only be described as a firm and unequivocal and universally understood form of sign language. Then, they both got on top to take a romantic selfie on top. The saddest part was their young daughter sobbing her eyes out on the beach because she had been on her own for 20 minutes. Hope they got lots of likes to show her

Now I’ve no idea if the parkour gang were from a fraternity but they played to that stereotype. There must have been half a dozen of them, all over the plane, crawling through windows, doing backflips off the wing and all kinds of rad parkour stuff. They couldn’t get grip on the slick, weather beaten metal and with bare feet they started to jump up and down on the wings and kick parts of the plane to flatten areas out. Two of them stood ready to video everything. ‘You ready? What’s not to like for instagram, black sand, Iceland, crashed plane, make sure you get it this time’ one shouted. About 20 of us were waiting to take shots but it was the comment of an Icelandic tour guide who was leading a 4×4 expedition that got to me. He said how sad it was that people would come and destroy one of their attractions but there was nothing he could do as he had no power. 

I’d had enough. As one of them jumped up and down on a wing (in bare feet – look at all that twisted metal, sheer madness) I called upon the power of sarcasm. ‘Mind you don’t fall’ I shouted to him. He feigned a fall and teetered on the edge of the wing, laughed broadly to his friends and then sneered ‘don’t worry, i won’t’

My reply, ‘you misunderstand, I’m not worried’. He paused and the message hit home. An awkward hour ensued as they huddled and looked over and put on fake English accents, glared and gradually felt more and more uncomfortable as everyone stared at them. They never did get their parkour shot and I’m glad about that, the plane is there for others to see for longer. Many will disagree with me, think I’m a killjoy and blah blah blah. I don’t care, I really don’t. If you can’t put your litter in a bin and you cant appreciate the rare sights that are in this world without trampling on them and destroying them so that others are deprived in the future then please stay at home, travel isn’t for you. Phew, that’s off my chest now and I feel better – don’t need that kind of negativity dude.

The goat. It’s an awkward situation when a goat jumps into your camper van, starts eating your charging cables and seems to be getting ready to relieve itself. Now, I have no idea what goats eat but the nearest thing to hand was a round of whole meal bread. The goat seemed interested as I waved it madly in the air and seemed to understand when I asked it if it wanted some bread. I jumped out of the van, the goat jumped out faster which is not surprising on reflection since it’s a goat. I held out the bread and it almost took a finger off as it grabbed it and wandered off to eat it. The only problem was that the goat then followed me around wherever I went, like a lonely wallflower after a bottle of cheap Prosecco when the slow songs come on. I managed to shake off the goat with some ninja like skills and a bit of a run and headed up to the reception for some welcomed warmth and a hot drink. When I say ninja, i mean i hid in the toilet.

I spent an enjoyable evening there, getting warm, backing up the shots and generally revelling in the warmth easing the aches of long hikes and the shoulder soreness from driving rough roads. The sun never sets in Summer but as my eyes fought to stay open, I slugged down one last mouthful of coffee and stood up quickly to shake myself awake. 

I opened the door, the cold air hit me and i hunkered down into my fleece as I stepped outside into the dusky light. A group of campers had set up a fire pit and were drinking beers and cooking. They were laughing and joking in a circle around the spitting logs and the party would no doubt go on for quite some time.

I smiled and then paused, looking back again to the circle of people. Five of them all sat down staring into the fire and whilst it took a few seconds for my eyes to work it out, there was a sixth figure. A goat, equally mesmerised by the flickering flames and enjoying the moment. The goat abides.

Until next time when the Iceland blog begins in earnest.

 

Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability to lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here.

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