The hot springs were as much an Iceland draw as the elusive and as-yet-unseen aurora borealis. So, after two days spent tooling around Reykjavik, I'm itching to get out into the countryside and into a geothermal pool.
Ross and I scour our dog-eared array of guidebooks and maps as we plot our first Icelandic road trip.
"Please, please, please can we go to the Museum of Occult and Witchcraft?" I plead, bracing myself for the obvious No that's absolutely warranted in the face of the 500-plus-mile journey—each way—and no other tourist attractions even remotely near the northeast portion of the western fjords in which the museum resides. I quickly rationalize the jaunt by pointing out that the museum is only 45 minutes away from the geothermal fields that promise an endless array of hot springs.
"Sure," says Ross.
We only have six days to rock the Arctic, and he's willing to spend one of 'em on some asinine journey to a super, very out-of-the-way witch museum? He's either the best boyfriend in the world, or is having a stroke. I assume the former and go about mapping our course.
En route, I read aloud from a guide book about the museum's famed necropants—full-length knickers fashioned from a male corpse's bottom half that promise to bring the spell-caster riches, as long as she remembers to store an impoverished widow's coin in the garment's scrotum.
"Awesome!" gushes Ross, warming up to wonders awaiting us at the witch museum.
Four hours later, we're (still) winding our way around tiny seashore towns populated by a single farmhouse and lots and lots of sheep, and I'm starting to question the wisdom of this decision, which was already questionable when I proposed it.
Driving through the fjords is a little like this: You're drooling over the extensive art book collection at the Santa Fe Art Institute, and you're famished. You call Mama Pacha and order a Medicinal Salad (no mushrooms, extra mulberries) to go. As the proverbial crow flies, the café is super close. You can almost see it from the college. But St. Michael's Drive is no longer a paved thoroughfare; it's an impassible arctic ocean teeming with sea monsters. So, you cut down the sidewalk of the cul-de-sac that is Llano St., which is no longer a short block but, rather, a 70-mile inlet. You do the same at Fifth Street, and another half-dozen invisible Icelandic cul-de-sacs, each colored with a stunning smattering of volcanic rock, moss and lots and lots of sheep—plus the occasional stack of drying driftwood. Such is the beautiful inefficiency of fjord-driving to your favorite local raw restaurant. True, by the time you get there, your salad still isn't ready, but you've just burned through half a tank of pricey European petrol and lost five and a half hours of your life to the excursion, so the wait is bittersweet.
"The destination is irrelevant," Ross reminds me, as I wonder aloud if we should turn back. "It's about the journey."
The adage proves helpful as the 40-mile-per-hour scary freezy arctic ocean winds greet us in Holmavik, home to the Icelandic Museum of Occult and Witchcraft, and nothing else whatsoever.
The proprietor, a salty dog/sorcerer in clogs, rainbow hippie pants, stinky lopapeysa and elf hat, is infinitely more excited to show us the invisible boy exhibit (an empty glass case) and an ancient bowl, which may or may not have been used to hold ritual sacrifice blood, than the famed necropants, which turn out to be fake—shoddily crafted of cheap rubber with sheep's fur glued to the thighs and calves, and with a glaringly, shockingly empty scrotum.
I draw pictures in the guest register while Ross snaps photos of hand-written symbols and spells.
Lunch is out of the question because the only restaurant in town is closed for winter. So, we head into the mountain in search of hot springs in which to while away the rest of the afternoon naked and hungry and vacationy.
It takes us an hour to cut through the countryside and meander our way into the area the guidebooks claim is rife with hot springs. We spot a bevy of steaming clouds wafting up from the earth, but they're all overlaid with metal grating and located directly behind quaint little crofts, and are spitting distance from oversized farm tools.
"Should we ask a farmer if we can float naked in one of the puddles behind his house?" I wonder aloud.
"Um…you can," Ross says.
We delve deeper into the wilderness, past the houses, past the steaming puffs of geothermal steam and, as I maniacally pore through the guidebook, I realize that, in Iceland, "hot spring" is a boiling hot energy source—not a temperate pool in which to languidly float naked.
We race back to Reykjavik for the film festival premiere of the Freddie Mercury documentary, nibbling the dwindling almond supply left over from the flight, and laughing at the absurdity of our adventure.
It's the journey, not the destination.