On Painful Death

Since I’ve been on the subject of dying in Iceland, let me just say it: Iceland will kill you if you’re not careful. It’s called the land of fire and ice, and that’s bad enough—and the roads are bad, too. But then there’s everything else.

Hundreds of tourists have died in Iceland in the last four or five years, and hundreds are injured every year. It’s a lot of people not heeding warnings—gigantic ocean waves sucking them out to sea, hiking glaciers sans crampons and falling into crevasses, etc. I even read one thing about tourists climbing onto sections of broken off glaciers and then being totally surprised when the damn things upend and send them into the freezing waters. Mr. Pretty and I ran into just such a group at the town of Arnastapi.

We were on a platform (with actual barricades, so there was little chance of falling to your death—an unusual find in Iceland) overlooking these gorgeous volcanic rock arches in the water, along with a colony of terns clinging to the rock walls. There was another promontory you could walk down to, except there was no barricade on that one. A group of about six morons were actually trying to descend down the promontory as far as they could without falling off. One of them was taking running dive bombs at the people with him. I thought for sure one of them would end up plummeting into the rocky waters below.

Mr. Pretty asked if I wanted to go over there to see the sights. My answer? Oh, hell no.

It’s not that I’m afraid of death (although certainly it’s not something I’m really excited about) . . . it’s that I’m afraid of dying painfully. Hence the whole fear I have of falling off things from a great height. And that promontory at Arnastapi is a great height. Onto rocks. Into freezing cold water. Water with a very strong current. Yeah, like that wouldn’t be an awful way to go.

Mr. Pretty isn’t quite as cautious as I am. We made a stop-off at Djupalonssandur Beach, a pretty black beach with the remains of a ship wreck strewn about (and real talk: the ship wreck is just a couple pieces of twisted, rusty metal at this point). There are a few paths to take from the parking area—every last stinking one of them was packed solid with about three inches of ice. The path with the least amount of ice led up to an observation point that, again, had a railing to keep you from accidentally getting bumped off the cliff onto the beach. It was still really slippery, though, and the path on one side was a sheer drop-off. My stomach was in knots, but I managed to get out to the observation point by walking in the snow off the path on the non-sheer drop side . . . which I felt bad about because I think I might have been walking on vegetation growing on dried lava (and that’s kind of a big no-no).

Then, Mr. Pretty asks if I want to go down to the beach on a staircase that was nothing but ice. No handrails. Yeah, no.

Yes, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Not if there’s a chance I can fall more than 30 feet.

No lie: after our day on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, I was lying in bed that night picturing how close I’d come to seriously dangerous drops, and I got all sweaty and nauseous. Even the drops with railings to prevent sure death freaked me out in retrospect.

Of course, that had me wide-eyed, wondering if this is just me getting older and more cautious. I turned 45 last month. I could break a hip, don’t you know?


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