Yes, Reykjavík, Dettifoss, and Vatnajökull are simply wonderful. However, my favorite place in Iceland is the peculiar little chain of islands off the southern coast, Vestmannaeyjar. The Westman Islands were the introduction and meat of my first Iceland experience. I lived there with the family of a friend who I had met while studying abroad in Sweden. My stay extended through Christmas and New Year’s, which proved to be a wealth of cultural experiences.
I met Icelanders who loved cars. American cars. In fact, they had a lot of pressing questions for me regarding trucks, mudding, and redneck culture in general, in a way that suggested they liked this nice little institution of my Southern home that is a happy three-way of ignorance, religion, and bigotry. I’m sure most of my friends would find it quite hilarious to picture me in this bind. Fake it until you make it.
I’ve never eaten stingray before, nor have I eaten fermented stingray, so I had two firsts on Þorláksmessa (mass of St. Thorlak, Iceland’s patron saint) which falls on 23 December each year. FYI Iceland is cold, so in historical times they had to preserve everything to get through the winter. Skata is a surviving example of this tradition that rose out of necessity. While the biting sensation of the ammonia was immediate - the shot of Brennivín helped - the dish overall wasn’t bad, and put me on the fast track to becoming an honorary Icelander.
Eventually I inexplicably found myself inside of a red jumpsuit splicing firework fuses together that I would later help wire to a massive detonation board. The fact that I had absolutely no training whatsoever doing this did not seem to be a safety concern to the volunteer rescue team, which puts on a massive fireworks display every New Year’s Eve in an effort to raise funds for the next year. When I asked about the legalities of my helping out, my friend shrugged and said that they told the chief I was a foreign expert. Fair enough, although I know a LOT more about beer.
New Year’s Eve in Iceland is a pyrotechnic orgy, simply put. I’ve never seen so many fireworks for such a long period of time in my life. I’m not even referring to the aforementioned fireworks show where thankfully no one died at my inexperienced hands. No, average folks were shooting huge rockets off from their back yards, driveways, and streets. This went on for a half hour before climaxing at midnight in an almost frightening display that may have given me PTSD around fireworks for all time. Was anyone on the island sober? Probably not.