“KUMUSTA biyahe mam, sir?” said Louis, from Cagayan de Oro, who picked us up from the airport.
“Do you know where you are going? You will see a beautiful country. You might want to stay forever.” Louis is one of few Filipino OFWs and business owners who’ve made this country home. He drove us to Reykjavik where all the people live. Outside, the sky was summery and it would be daylight till midnight. I felt like a child for whom bedtime had been canceled. Louis has never completed the Ring Road, the two-lane highway that circles the country, but swears it’s going to be chada kaayo.
There are no motorways in Iceland, an oddly comforting thought. There are no railways, no McDonald’s nor Starbucks. The Ring Road circumvents the whole island and we did it in 10 days. It wasn’t built for tourists but for farmers. It doesn’t have much of a shoulder, and in some parts it is unpaved, especially the part that traverses the cloud-shrouded peaks in the interior. There will be no towns for long stretches, and the only sign of life is Despacito on the radio.
On day three, our road took us inland from the sea. A glacier grew on our car windows: Vatnajokull. It’s a massive dollop of icing on a cake of land. We crossed a bridge to Jokulsarlon, or glacier lagoon, a popular tourist spot. We are met by Hokan, a Nordic man and glorious wearer of Gore Tex. “I bet you haven’t seen anything like this where you’re from,” pointing to the bright blue icebergs, “very beautiful and haunting.” He took us on a boat to the glacier wall where the icebergs float like ferries from Hel. I asked how climate change is affecting the glaciers. Before replying, Hokan goes on about Game of Thrones, Sigur Ros, Bjork, and Fast and Furious 7, where they blew up the 500-year-old ice. Then he continues, “Here in Jokulsarlon, the glacier is retreating at a faster rate. The winters have been warm for the last 10 years.” As the ice cap melts, the land underneath it is rebounding. Experts say that this is causing more volcanic activity and earthquakes. We ate the iceberg as an ode to Vatnajokull, the great halo-halo, succumbing alas, to global warming.
A storm came, chasing us along the sea and we drove on, penetrating the rain. We reached a bridge that spanned a vast, alluvial fan of black sand. When we reached a turf house, Amabelle said, “that is a turf house.” Then we came upon Dettifoss, a waterfall of brute fury. The most glorious waterfalls in the world are in Iceland. There is pretty Gulfoss and young Godafoss that splatter light beams into prisms. But heartless Dettifoss comes crashing down over basalt cliffs so uncaring of our gawks.
Our GPS went berserk and wrote its own saga. It forced a wrong turn. Our SUV made a screeching halt before falling into the boiling, bubbling sulfur mud fields of Hverir. Geothermal power provides the country’s heating but in Hverir, it is untamed and smelled of boiled eggs. I’ve always wanted to smell like boiled eggs so we went to the hot springs of Myvatn for its relaxing perfume and healing properties. On the wall I saw graffiti that said humju RHIAN RAMOS WAS HERE, and I wondered who would vandalize a place like this?
Just wee shy of the arctic, we arrived in Akureyri, the second biggest city. Nothing much goes on here. We shrugged and took selfies. I ran into a Cebuana in the parking lot, and she asked me if I was a tripulante. “Yes,” I lied.
Westward, the road traced the shape of a hand, in and out, in and out. Long ago, the glaciers bulldozed the earth underneath. It carved the narrow inlets, or fjords, that are now sanctuary for fish and humans. Nestled in its steep walls is Seydisfjordur, a quaint town with wooden Norwegian-style houses. It is home to artists, musicians and writers, as if Brooklyn had a lovechild with Oslo. The art is hip; the beer is good.
The next day, my tulpa left my body, climbed up the cliffs and flew over the waterfalls overlooking the town, and it could see for miles and miles. This has only happened once a few days before, when it flew over the black beach on the cliffs of Reynisfjara. It landed inside a freezer in the middle of the wilderness in the western Snaefellsnes peninsula. A freezer in Iceland is redundant, so artists repurposed one into a theatre. When I came to, there I was in a black room of the Freezer Theatre where the locals were staging Jules Verne’s classic novel, singing “When these frail shadows we inhabit now have quit the stage, we will meet again and raise a glass together, in Valhalla.”
Would that it were so.