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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Iceland Part III: Siggi and the Lighthouse

We lasted 33 hours before we fell into bed in our van, exhausted but happy to be camping in Iceland at last. Our friends Ryan and LeeWhay, who had shipped their Sprinter van over a few weeks previous, were at the campground to greet us, and Rasa, Craig and their friend Michelle had shown up a bit later in the truck/camper they had rented for the trip. It seemed hard to believe that we were meeting up with them in such a faraway place. But first, we're really tired guys...

The next day we popped awake early, ready to start this adventure.

We met Siggi at the door of the Gar∂skagi lighthouse. He seemed a bit grumpy when we said hello after passing him on the walkway. At first, we didn't know he worked there, we thought he was just hanging around enjoying the view like we were. When he told us we could come in and have a cup of coffee, we politely declined after looking over the small menu posted at the door. Four bucks for a cup of coffee seemed steep, and we were enjoying the weather and exploring the old boats and historical plaques scattered around the park there. He made a comment about how Americans always just wanted to take selfies and drive off to the next waterfall, then drifted inside.

Huh. Ok.
An old fishing boat was moored in the parking lot of Gar∂skaga Park.
Behind it, the "new" lighthouse, built in 1944.
A view from the top deck of the "Holmsteinn Gar∂i"

Our friends had an appointment in town and had to leave us, so we made lunch in the van and looked at the map. Today was supposed to be a relaxed, get-used-to-Iceland day and it happened to be a bright sunny one at that. It was nice not to have a set itinerary.

"You know, why did we come here?" I asked Mark. "To see stuff and find out what Iceland is like, right?"

We tossed around that thought for a bit, and decided the perfect introduction to Iceland and its people was grousing about Americans in the lighthouse just a few yards away.

"Let's do it."
Gar∂skagaviti Lighthouse

We walked in the door and found the guy fussing with the tables and chairs. I don't think he recognized us from our initial meeting outside. We told him we'd like a coffee and hot chocolate, and with that he visibly brightened. "Oh! Good! Sit down, I'll get it ready for you."

With the price of a cup of coffee, you get a tour of one of Iceland's oldest lighthouses. Our host introduced himself as Siggi, and he lived in the nearby town of Sandger∂i. He told us the lighthouse had been built by women in 1897 to guide their fisherman husbands home from sea. It was, he said with a flourish, The Lighthouse of Love.

The view from inside the cupola.
With that, he sent us up the set of rickety ladders (God I love a country that trusts you to not hurt yourself!) leading to the roof and cupola where the light used to reside (a newer, taller lighthouse was constructed a short way inland, making this one obsolete in 1944). It was a great view, and I can imagine a fantastic place to view whales and dolphins that sometimes swim by. We took some photos and squinted in the sun and wind, then came back down for the rest of story.

Mark stands ghost-like inside the tower of the lighthouse.
The view back toward the new lighthouse.

From here, I will paraphrase Siggi:

Icelandic people are different from others. They treat their women with respect, no different from the men. There is little divorce, and women are strong and smart. Icelandic men don't feel they need to prove anything, and are happy to share everything with their wives (at this point I punched Mark in the arm). Siggi pointed out that he was a highly respected football (soccer) coach, and he had trained many winning teams for Iceland. He could have any woman he wanted, but he was happy with his wife. "Why would I want more?" (Mark received another punch).

This lighthouse was built by women because they decided too many fisherman were dying at sea. They designed it so it would have thick walls to withstand the winds, and a bright light that would guide them home. Each stone was placed with care, knowing each one would contribute to a family that would not lose a loved one.

He regaled us with stories about the Vikings (Wikings!) and how they claimed to have discovered Iceland. How did they discover a place where we were already living? They did not discover Iceland! He told us about Leif Eriksson who sailed to Iceland with his mother from Norway and became a great explorer in part by spending time here. He sailed to Greenland and hunted walrus so he could sell their skins and make money to build a ship. He told us how Icelanders like Italians, but they were full of bologna when they claimed Columbus discovered America. How could he discover a place that Leif had already discovered four hundred years before? (At this point I couldn't help myself, I told him there were some Native Americans that might have a problem with that. Siggi just shrugged and kept talking)

He told us about tourism that has become a boon for Iceland, but also a source of amusement to the locals. The Reykjanes peninsula, on which the lighthouse was built, is at the confluence of the polar waters from the north near Greenland and the warm Atlantic Gulf stream, the cold and warm currents meet right at the point. This not only causes treacherous seas, but contributes to a warmer climate with more clear days–the best place in Iceland to view the Northern Lights. He said the Japanese believe a child conceived under the Aurora Borealis will be blessed with good luck, and that before there were enough hotels built here the locals told their children not to wander around here after dark, there were so many Japanese couples trying to make luck. Now they have built a special hotel with skylights in the rooms over the beds. They call them Production Rooms. Siggi winked and smiled.

At the end of the story, Siggi got up and disappeared into the kitchen, talking as he went. "Now, there is a saying that the women in Iceland have. No matter how hard it gets, you must always remember to be thankful. You could lose your husband to the sea, but you still have your children to remember him by. You might have only fish to eat, but at least you have something to eat. Life might seem hard, but there will always be someone that needs more help than you." He walked back to us and held open both hands. In each palm, he had a small lava rock, smooth and black. "Carry this with you and let it be a reminder of everything you are thankful for. Keep it in your pocket, and once a day pull it out, remind yourself that there is much in life to be thankful for."

We took the rocks from him and rolled them around between our fingers. There was something comforting about the way they felt, this tiny bit of Iceland small enough to carry with us. We slipped them into our pockets and thanked Siggi for a wonderful time. An hour had passed, the coffee and hot chocolate was gone and it was time to say goodbye.

Back in the van, we took the stones from our pockets and looked at them again. We didn't know how much a (slightly) grumpy guy telling (slightly) tall tales in an old lighthouse could brighten our day, but we knew we were thankful he did.

Siggi and Mark inside the cafe at The Lighthouse of Love
(Next up: Camping in Iceland)

1 comment:

  1. Yesterday I saw a sign that said "On this spot in 1897, nothing happened". Not so there. Great story. Looking forward to Chapter 4.