[ Itinerary ]
June 18th, 2008
The wheels of Boieng 737 hit the runway; flight number FI 0343 from Helsinki to Keflavik has landed on the inteded spot - surprisingly on time, too. Not bad at all. And if the ground crew in Helsinki have managed to pack the luggage on the right aircraft, things will get even better.
Everything seems to be OK. Timo, the reindeerman, collects the suitcases for all three of us on a trolley and walks briskly towards the customs. Pekka, my namesake, and myself are left only with the hand luggage. I explain something very important to Namesake, so intensely that it catches the officials' attention: there must be something fishy about those two. They stop us and ask us to open the bags. The officials find nothing to admonish us for. And how could they: all the extra magic potions, refreshing beverages, cartons of cigarettes and tins of pipe tobacco are in the cargo suitcases, already on the safe side of the customs area!
I spot a tall figure in the lounge: Stefon Sigurdsson, one of Reindeerman's business associates, that I met a few years back too, has come to pick us from the airport. Having shaken hands with everyone, Stefon leads us to the car park. We climb into his posh SUV, and start heading towards Reykjavik.
On the right hand side of the road there is the yankee military base that was closed down a couple of years ago. Stefon tells us about the period the base was active, its influence on Iceland, and about the past two or three years that the base has been unoccupied. The barracks behind the fence look quite modern but rather strange, uninhabited as they are. Not a soul in sight! The main gate is open: the place looks worth a visit later on during the tour.
Vast lava fields spread out on both sides of the road. Before his walk on the moon in July 1969, Neil Armstrong visited the place rehearsing his immortal utterance ”That's one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind”. No wonder it sounded so carefree and spontaneous once on the surface of the moon.
There is a snow-covered mountain on the horizon. Stefon urges us to guess how far it is. Some of us are even more wrong than the others. Stefon says it is about 130 kilometres away. It is an active volcano called Snöfjell. When it erupts, it makes a real threat to Reykjavik. When, not if! There is also a glacier there, and a nearly impassable dirt track leads onto the highest slopes of the mountain. Both Namesake and Reindeerman look into the direction, their thoughts seem to be wandering miles away. Surely they are not thinking of riding up there!
We check into a hostel, throw our bags in the room and rush back into Stefon's Mercedes. He has promised to take a spin round the city to show us the sights. From Laugavegur onwards I recognize all the places. I try to make the others aware of the fact that I've been here before. No one pays any attention to it. After a while we head back to the hostel. Stefon has a map of Iceland on him. He introduces to us places that he thinks are of interest. Reindeerman marks them on the map. Then Stefon has to dash to be busy somewhere else. Hands are shaken again. Stefon invites us to have dinner at his restaurant after we have finished the tour. That will be our pleasure.
We arrange the bits and pieces for the next day and the coming week. The number of plastic bottles Reindeerman has acquired at Helsinki Airport catches our attention. They are twice as many as Namesake and I have together. Reindeerman packs the bottles in his bag. Namesake takes a photo, and suggests Reindeerman should re-apply for the Sami status that he failed to obtain a few years back. This time the most crucial elements for the status should be OK; the photo will prove it beyond any reasonable doubt.
Time to have dinner. We talk about the importance of fishing industry to the Icelandic economy. I tell the junior members of the team about the good, old times - the times when the whale was considered to be a fish, not a mammal. The two look somewhat sceptical, but give in when I lay the cold facts in front of them: Our religion teacher at primary school, a sweet old lady, told us a hair-raising story of Jonah, the prophet, and how he ended up eaten by a fish when trying to escape God's wrath. Later on historians proved that the fish was a whale. In other words: the fish was a whale, the whale is a fish. Right?
Both nod their heads. No one in the religion teacher's position could be expected to tell lies to her pupils. The mates order whale steaks. With Jonah's depressing fate in mind, I stick to crab soup.
There is no certainty of Reindeerman's bike yet. He was promised a KTM at about 1000 euros for a week, but Stefon had his doubts about the rental firm. Namesake and I booked our bikes through www.ridingiceland.is at 850 euros per week. I call Hafsteinn, the owner of the firm, and ask him whether he would have one more bike for us. He has, another Kawasaki KLR 650, at the same rental terms. Good! Hafsteinn also says his mate Andri will come and pick us from the hostel first thing in the morning. That suits us fine.
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