Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meet the Icelanders

During 3 days of traveling without a couchsurfing accommodation I had a chance to meet some local people in three locations. A great opportunity to have a peak into Icelandic way of living.

First night - Grindavík. I notice some small kids jumping on the trampoline, so I assume parents must be at home and also guess that family with kids will be nicer than some kid-less grouches. I ring the bell and a middle-aged man opens the door. I tell him about my situation and he agrees without hesitation, same about his wife. They say it might be too cold at night and offer me the spare bad. Just after that Arna invites me to join her in the hot tub. After one hour she leaves for a meeting and Elli keeps me company for another hour. From both of them I get to know about the monetary crisis in 2008 and how it affected people's lives - everything is much more expensive, different groups of people felt it in a different way, for some it meant just no longer being able to afford the most expensive products, for some it meant going bankrupt, losing their jobs and houses. Many Icelandic people left for Norway, leaving their old life and debts behind. Elli tells me about his job as a fisherman, and long time he used to spend away from home. Today his cruises are much shorter. Arna shows me some family photos from the time when the house was being built and from some family holidays. They give me a computer to use, offer some food, and I feel too humbled to express my gratitude. Arna really encourages me to go to Blue Lagoon and tries to find some discount offers, but the system doesn't accept my non-Icelandic data.

The plan for next day is to go to Kleifarvatn and Seltun geothermal area. Trying to hitchhike direction east from Grindavik doesn't bring any joy. A young girl offers me a ride to Reykjavik and accept it, hoping that more people will be going south from the capital region. But they aren't. Only trucks are passing me. After an hour I give up and decide to slowly make my way to the closest town, Hafnarfjörður.

I stay there with an elderly couple, Albert and Ingibjörg. Without a second thought they let me pitch up my tent in their garden. When I'm finished I show them the tent and they invite me for a dinner. I ask them if they speak Danish and from that moment we only use my favorite language. Albert and Ingibjörg have always lived in Hafnarfjörður, apart from 5 years of studies in Oslo. After that they have returned back to Iceland. They used to travel a lot and they tell me about their road trips in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria. Such trips used to be very cheap for them, they took a van and drove all around, but they're not anymore and the most expensive thing is getting out of Iceland, so they stay there most of the time. They often make short trips and their favorite place is Snæfellsnes. I tell them I used to study Geography and they tell me which places I should see here to experience Geography at its best. They tell me about Iceland, teach me some words and explain differences in difficult pronunciation of Icelandic letters. They have a son Oscar who is a sculptor and makes sculptures out of wood. His works are very elaborate and my praises mean a lot to him. They give me a guestbook and I contribute to it. I find messages from Danish, Dutch, Chinese people, messages in languages I don't understand. They tell me they've had many foreign guests, many of them being their friends from studies, but it never happened to them that a stranger came home and asked for a place to stay. Nevertheless, they admit such once-in-a-lifetime surprise makes it special, because you remember the person more. Their huge hospitality makes me speechless, they invite me to come once more if I pass by Hafnarfjörður, alone or not. I'm pretty sure I will.

I end up in Reykjavík for the last night. I linger too much in the bookstore using free internet and it's already too late to come back to Hafnarfjörður to stay with Albert and Ingibjörg for one more night. A guy from a Christian organization stops me on the street and we talk for around half an hour. When we're done it's almost 23. I'm in central Reykjavík and I believe my chances of finding a person willing to help me are not as high as in previous locations. The third time I ring a bell is successful. The woman explains that this part of the town is inhabited by many important people and her neighbor, the ambassador of Norway wouldn't be happy to see a tent in her garden. She offers taking me to the campsite, but admits she's just drank red wine, so somebody else will do it. A male member of her family brings me there and on our way tells me that the lady was an ex Minister of Health of Iceland. I sleep on a campsite in the middle of the capital, but I feel very safe. There are two vans parked there and one tent. Another time, the kindness of strangers saved me in a town where I had nowhere to go.

During these 3 days I could see how people's attitude towards a person in need can vary. A person who has no place to rest their head, a nomad. I've had the highest percentage of unreplied requests ever - maybe people don't like declining and prefer not to say "no" to a homeless bum. On Paris emergency couch group my request caused a big debate - some dickhead criticized my lifestyle, not knowing when I arrive, dumpster diving. Some people have stared at me as if I were some UFO when I walked the streets with the big backpack. But memories of such experiences fade away when you think of all the generosity of people who are happy to help you. For them you're a person they can learn something from, not just a homeless bum. I ask them just for a place to put my tent and they give me back tons of warmth. They share their lives with me. Such experiences remind me that good people can be found everywhere. If you believe they are this way, you'll always find them. The best things in life are free...

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