Vagabond Vignettes: Icelandic Attributes

by D Heimpel, originally published in Iceland Review.

We decided not to stay in hotels. For three nights my friend, Van Arde Pretorious, and I roamed Iceland. We slept when tired, in the car or on the ground, like animals.

The Wind

“The wind drives you insane,” a waitress with dark eyes once told me.

Van Arde and I were at Lake M?vatn, an area where the Eurasian plate tears away from the North Atlantic, causing mud to boil and creating red pumice that’s ripped away by the wind when you throw it.

The wind rocked the car as we pulled off the road next to a peninsula dotted with moss covered craters. It was our last stop in a day spent staring at neon yellow sulfur deposits, swimming in steamy water belched up from the Earth’s stomach and trying to have full thoughts while the wind pulled them apart.

We stepped outside, the wind blaring off the lake.

“I’m just going to take some pictures. But I’ll walk if you want,” Van Arde said.

I didn’t move. The wind had won.


“We need to rest,” I said when we arrived in the northern town of Akureyri. We drove around looking for a soft patch of grass. The gate to the soccer field was open. Van Arde took out some blankets. I took out my sleeping bag and we lay down.

I looked up. Clouds came over and it drizzled for a moment. Then I slept. At midnight we woke up and continued on.

The Romantic

I was lying down on a luxurious mixture of moss and grass. I had my shirt off and the sun was hard and steady. I wanted to screw the sun up there so it would never move. I wanted a spear, a jug of wine and my woman.

Van Arde walked up, big against the blue sky.

“You’re gonna cry when you hear this,” he said.


“I’m going to go all over the world and find beautiful places – I was just in this little cave. I’m going to write, ‘Will you marry me?’ in those places. One day when I’m with the woman, I’m gonna say there is something I have to show you. And then I’ll take her to that place, and show her.”

I made fun of him but was jealous that he had thought it.

Ice on the Beach

The sand was a black powder. Icebergs crushed by the sea were strewn across its surface, like big, rough diamonds on black velvet.

A gray seal peaked his head of the cold ocean. It was only five feet from shore. I followed it. It looked at me, and I looked at it. I thought he was lonely.

What a Drag

At about eight in the morning, after three hours of sleep in the grass and under a mist coming off a 69 meter waterfall, Van Arde and I took off. An old man in a dirty, worn, black suit stood by the road with his thumb out.

We pulled over. He mumbled something and pointed to his car. Not knowing what he said, I asked, “Do you have jumper cables?”

“I have everything,” he said.

His car was an old, white, station wagon with a long rope tied to something under the hood. He hooked it up to my tow, and I got in my car and started driving.

“What a drag.” Van Arde said.

The Earth is Hungry

“I think we can get down that way,” Van Arde said.

“I don’t know man.” I was looking down from a dripping glacier. Below was a brown lagoon with floating icebergs and three streams that flowed cold and fast from the uncountable tons of ice.

We clambered down the glacier. We took off our shoes to cross the icy water.

I made it over the first stream, my feet numb and burning. The mud wobbled beneath me, and in a 20 foot diameter the muddy earth released air bubbles. My foot sank in and the mud tried to grab me. It sucked hard but I managed to extract it.Van Arde was struggling also. But when we were free of the quicksand we thought it was funny.

Just Two Cave Men

Van Arde was ahead of me, high above the muddy lagoon and the bobbing icebergs. He was looking away. I had the ice axe and started running at him. When I was 15 yards away he noticed me, and I started yipping and raised the axe over my head.
He ran off picking up stones as he went. He hid behind a big rock and starting flinging stones in my direction. I waited at the border of his range till he threw out his stash. Then I rushed him, like a little kid, laughing the whole way to the rock.

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