Holidays for shy people

Entrance to Seyðisfjörður.

Entrance to S—. (Photo credit: Cornell University Library)

Three nights at sea in the cheap bunks in the bottom of the ferry. No carpet on the staircases, but that’s ok, the boat rises and rocks smoothly, you can hear the water break against the hull.

The last morning in Iceland I went to the swimming pool for 45 minutes or so. It was an overcast day and light vapour came off the warm lap pool, old men talked shop in the hot pool, a lady in a cap was doing laps, and some young teenagers were throwing balls around.

I walked through the back streets. Windows are homely but neat, with knick knacks on the window ledges.

At the bus stop, I had a moment where looking back, I couldn’t say what happened for sure. I thought the bus driver looked at me, and I looked at him and his van and wondered if it was him, and he didn’t stop so I kept waiting. But maybe he did stop, and that’s when we looked at each other, but I didn’t go over and he didn’t get out. Anyway, I missed the only bus to the ferry and luckily hitched a ride with some old Islanders whose tour guide ‘welcomed R— from Australia, we’re happy to help you out!’, which I thought was a diplomatic way to tell the paying customer ‘like it or lump it’.

I had a dowdy night reading in my hiking pants and pink thermal, and talking to an artistic German bunkmate, listening to Icelandic folk sing-alongs in the bar, watching the fjord pass from the decks.

In the morning the next day, a grey landshape loomed up, and we started to pass through the Faroe Islands.

I watched the back hatch lower, and walked around for an hour or so. It was misty and drizzly, but the grass was green—i.e. not snow bitten—and daffodils were blooming. An Islander lady told me she thought Iceland was cold. I looked in the window of the Red Cross, prowled around a historic headland with cobblestone streets and turf roofs, and then came back to boat. I finished a book They shall inherit the earth, and liked the sweet naturalness of the couple in love.

In the morning I sat on the top deck and tried to reread Ripples from Iceland (out of novels). I like in that book how she says Icelanders are shy and take a while to get going. It reminds me that outgoing, public personalities are not the given, and that reserved or shy personalities may just as well be the norm in some cultures. The book was written from the perspective of a housewife of a time over fifty years ago, but the German says she thinks they are still shy.

Anyway, I didn’t get much into the book, but spent the morning daydreaming about the pleasant future and looking at the waves. I had my lunch and did a budget on Excel, and had a rest for a few hours. Up on the top deck we had run into mist. I looked through my book of Galway Kinnell’s poems and thought about something I read about telling the truth and writing about your passions and sadnesses etc, so tried for something plain of my own. Ran into the German girl, chatted for a while, read.

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In a lonely land

Monarch butterflies cluster in Santa Cruz, Cal...

Monarch butterflies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once back at the hostel for the night I was loath to go out alone even though I had only diet potato ‘chips’ to eat. But after two hours bleeding my eyes on the computer I went for a walk to a taqueria that had, when I asked, ‘comida vegetariana’, which turned out to be barbequed onion, green capsicum and pineapple stirred with stringy cheese (i.e. pizza topping), served with a pile of tortillas.

On the tv was a soap opera, then people sifting through ruins after what looked like an earthquake. A boy in the doorway was shaving meat off a revolving piece of meat, with flame. Coming back, the air was cool and the street curved away, empty, fronted by walls. Above, just a sliver of home lights on a black hill.

I paid a man to drive me to las mariposas, along with a woman from New England, who could talk alright, and a man from Mexico. In the mountains, conifers, and when we walked through the forest, a monarch butterfly here or there, and then butterflies flying through the trees like a disney movie, clumped over a tree. Also dead on the ground. The butterflies were like pieces of red snow, or light falling in the forest. You could hear their wings flapping. These are the Methuselahs that fly from the US and Canada to central Mexico, for ‘wintering’.

The herbs were burrs, thistles, yellow flowers, lupines. The valley bottoms were brown and flat but the hills were wooded. Because of the altitude the American lady and I had to walk slowly or get out of breath.

On the way back the water in the marsh was white against black plant clumps. The sun set red. There was little spots of burning along the valley, a kiln, scrub on a hill. A semi trailer had flipped on a bend, and spilled cubes of compacted recycled materials. What helped today: be as you are.

Then I took the bus to D.F. and another bus to P—. More burning along the highway, a causeway into a lake, men on horses herding cows, the stacks of corn stalks, lines of drying clothes on roofs. The taxi driver drove me to the hostel and I walked to eat mole enchiladas. On the way back the streets were almost deserted and I got lost.

I’m in a co-ed dorm with four men. I’ve forgotten how to be nice to people casually. One of the strenuous things about travel is constantly being around people who don’t know you. Unfortunately, I’ve started to cultivate a particular and audible nervous twitch when sleeping in the same room as strangers.

On the bus I remembered a poem called The Lonely Land by A.J.M. Smith about the Canadian landscape: the beauty / of strength / broken by strength / and still strong. The poet’s landscape is one of repetition of sound, of dissonance, ‘wind-battered’ trees, wild natural forces: of strengths breaking against one another but conserving their vitality and wildness, even when they’ve been hurled onto the rocks. Of strength that doesn’t dissipate or spend itself. I wish I could know how to describe the landscape here, especially the crumbling houses in the middle of straw coloured yards and rough scrub and cactus, which might be called ‘god-forsaken’.

My friend has written about certain forsakings ‘Everything will be fine, you’ll see’.

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