Icelanders, like many Europeans, eat sliced meats and cheeses on rolls for breakfast. Lunch food. At our hotel buffet, yogurt, granola and muesli were also present, along with marmalades and lingonberries. What stood apart though, was a bottle of cod liver oil surrounded by plastic shot glasses. Sadly, I just couldn’t make myself do this, especially having been told that I would burp fishy all day. But, next to the cod liver oil was a bowl of pickled herring. I love pickled herring. I grew up with the stuff. My Summit Station mates – Phil, Sam and Guy – cringed a bit as I mowed down herring on crackers for breakfast. I did not burp fishy.
As we ate, the call came in that our flight to Greenland was canceled. It was no surprise. Phil and Guy were convinced that we wouldn’t fly for several days due to high winds in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. We were all happy to have an extra day in Akureyri. We were quite jet-lagged from jumping seven time zones in six hours. We would go back three upon our arrival in Greenland, throwing us off that much more.
After a lazy morning, I went to the Bláa Kannan (blue pot – as in coffee) Cafe to get a sandwich and a rich hot chocolate with thick whipped cream on top. Real whipped cream, only lightly sweet and incredibly creamy. Then I paid $50 for a haircut (Iceland is exorbitantly expensive) because I could no longer stand the shaggy mop on my head, even though it would probably help keep me warm up on the ice cap.
In the afternoon Sam and I headed to the geothermal pools. Since my last visit to these pools, two large tube waterslides have been installed. We sat in a hot pool for a while, did several laps on the waterslides, and then repeated. I learned my first Icelandic word – “toilet” – which was the name of one of the slides. It flung you sidelong into a large enclosed funnel with the exit in the middle, a bit like those donation funnels you roll your pennies into. Back in the hot pool, we people watched, eventually deciding that the best way to tell the local Icelanders from the tourists was this: Icelanders look like they belong either in an epic viking saga, or in Minnesota. These tell-tales are, of course, mutually exclusive.
After developing hot pool prune fingers, we went to our hotel bar for a beer, which is incredibly cheap during happy hour: only $7. There we met a British couple on vacation to see the northern lights. Unlike many, they had actually succeeded. Soon Guy and Phil joined us and the Brits asked us questions about our work on top of the Greenland ice cap. “So it’s just the four of you for several months?” they said, “Wow, don’t kill each other!” Phil told them that he inventories the body bags, and there are only three, to which the Brits replied, “Well then, may the best man win!”
We made an exit to the restaurant next door, which has many traditional Icelandic meals on the menu. Sam and Guy got “Fish Hash,” a delicious dish much like potato au gratin, but with fish in it. Also on the menu was “Guillimot” and “Filet of Horse.” But when I saw “Grilled Whale,” I couldn’t help myself. I have this overwhelming desire to try exotic food whenever the opportunity presents itself. This desire has led me to eat kangaroo, guanaco (like a llama), monkey, horse sausage, kudu (a large antelope), ostrich, and even boar skin, grasshopper and scorpion (not to mention several items whose ingredients I was never able to determine). I had to try the whale. Had to.
* Now, before you argue that eating whale is a terrible thing to do, let me just say that I’m pretty sure it was the last whale of its kind, so what difference would it make, really? Oh, and I think it was a baby whale. Orphaned. The last baby whale of its kind. I mean, what kind of life is that? I’m certain it wanted to be eaten.
It tasted much like steak. A very dark, nearly purple meat, but with a distinctly fishy flair that was not subtle. I wouldn’t order it again. In addition to not particularly liking it, I’d be broke.