Light

It’s 11:30 p.m. Carrie and I have long ago slipped into our sleeping bags, our bellies warm from rehydrated minestrone soup, our eyelids relaxed and heavy. The wind has died down. The grass around our tent moves softly. What a perfect time to sleep.

It’s 11:45 p.m. Gravel crunches under tires. A van door slides open. Someone kicks a ball and starts giggling. The giggling is followed by more giggling. The giggling turns to laughing, which turns to fits of shouting, as the newcomers start a soccer match in the middle of our peaceful night’s sleep. I hear the crack of beer bottles opening. It’s going to be a long night.

Our guide book warned us of such behavior as if what we were reading about were precautions to avoid dangerous animals. “Young Icelanders spend most summer weekends staying out late and getting completely hammered. Stay away from campsites near urban areas.” We happened to be in one of said campsites, not by choice, although the location was great until the animals showed up, but because the next campsite was another day’s ride away. We were trapped.

The soccer match halted for a few rounds of guitar-led singing and drinking. What does the guide book say we should do? Are Icelanders violent drunks? Will their alcohol-fueled Viking blood cause them to rape and pillage us?

We got our answer when Carrie decided enough was enough. She dressed, got out of the tent – I encouraged her to at least bring our pump for defense – and calmly, so as not to startle them, asked the young Icelanders to be quieter.

When she got back in the tent I asked her how it went. “They seemed surprised, really.” Surprised? They were making a racket. “They seemed surprised that anyone would sleep when it was still light out.” In the summer, when the sun naps just briefly below the horizon, young Icelanders go to bed only out of drunkenness or sheer exhaustion.

Carrie and I never had a problem sleeping in the dusk of an Icelandic night (maybe the hours of cycling every day had to do with it) so we were usually upset when some pack of Icelanders tried to stretch the party until what the civilized call ‘morning’. We were so used to the light that it was a shock when we first encountered real darkness again.

It took us about four weeks and 1,100 km of cycling to get out of the persistent Icelandic sun. After a pleasant ride into the city of Aukureyri, we decided to celebrate our first urban experience in Iceland with dinner and a movie. Although our Italian food was edible at best, the movie made up for it.

Before dinner we bought tickets for the midnight showing of Batman – the one with Heath Ledger as the Joker. We arrived early hoping to get a good seat but as it happened so did about one hundred other people. The usher hadn’t opened the theater doors so the great mob of us waited in the lobby. There was no line, no semblance of order. It was like a slow motion, albeit, polite mosh pit. Teenagers jostled for position near the door while talking on their cell phones and chatting with friends, often simultaneously. The smaller and more timid of the lot (including us) hung around the outside of the main mass, afraid of being trampled. Then the doors opened.

The mob surged forward passing its tickets to the frantic usher. Carrie and I dove in. We didn’t want to get stuck in the front row. We were willing to risk our lives for it. After settling into our seats (no where near the front!) it finally happened. The lights dimmed and then wham, it was dark. It was beautifully dark. For that brief period before the projector started, Carrie and I smiled. Well, I know I smiled. I couldn’t make out Carrie’s face.

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