Hmmm… let’s see. Let me type this into Google, hit return and, no.
“B is for Bubble” episode on the Muppets.
No, that’s not it.
Baby Piggy and the Giant Bubble – Muppet Wiki.
Nope, not that either. Let me add Iceland and see what happens.
Created deep in the volcanic bowels of Iceland… hills of bubble-filled lava rocks… is the spiritual home of scaremongering muppets…
Interesting, but that’s not it either. It was definitely the “bubbling muppets.” This tidbit of information was dangling from my amazing trip to Iceland, to the furthest point north I’d ever visited.
Perched on the front right hand seats of the tourist packed bus from Akureyri around the fjords in northern Iceland, we listened as our guide explained that in the village of Reykjahlíð, we’d need to change buses.
Blending in nicely with the fair Scandinavian and Germanic travelers, Powell and I took in the enormously thick windshielded view full of countryside that looked something between the surface of the moon and a batch of slightly burnt, slightly moldy, chocolate chip cookies. Being far more familiar with the cookies option myself, I chose to imagine a heavenly aroma just outside the heavy hissing door that seemed to vacuum us shut into the travel capsule.
Powell and I were newly reunited long-lost friends who’d never actually met. We’d both enrolled in an online course on travel memoir writing earlier in the year, and about three weeks into the class, she threw out the idea of a writer’s workshop in Iceland.
“Anyone interested? It’ll be in early August, for a week” she posted during our weekly chat.
Before I’d registered my reflex, I saw my typing on the screen – already entered – in front of me, “Hey, yeah! I’d be interested! Can you send me more information?”
I hadn’t had a vacation – that is to say a non-work, non-family trip – in nearly seven years. I was well overdue for some fun and exploration. And thus it began, an adventure launched in cyberspace and materialized in the land of the bubbling muppets.
Our guide continued, “The bus you’ll join in Reykjahlíð will take you further east and north to Húsavík where you’ll enjoy a lovely afternoon of whale watching on Skjálfandi Bay.”
Whale watching? I thought quietly to myself. Powell lives in Hawaii. Did she really book us on a tour for whale watching? She’s always going on about how she can see them from her back yard. Strange. But I suppose if I saw whales, instead of souped-up, bass-booming bling mobiles outside my door, maybe I’d do more whale watching, too. And anyway, who was I to judge, I’d totally invaded her escapade.
“This bus, definitely, will continue as per the schedule on to Lake Mývatn where we will visit the lake and, of course, the bubbling muppets.”
Bubbling muppets? Did the guide really just say “bubbling muppets”? I tried to look at Powell for confirmation, but she was already so focused on suppressing her laughter that she couldn’t glance in my direction without risk of being tossed off the bus for bad behavior. With all due respect to the 230,000 Icelandic cousins – apparently they’re all related – they actually sound like muppets when they speak.
Over a bottle of vodka, or maybe two, we collectively decided that the real way to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull, the now famous erupter-disrupter volcano that brought air travel to a standstill in Europe for over a week was, in fact “air of Hitler’s yogurt”. Probably the tourism board wouldn’t adopt our methods, but they were working for us. Pronouncing things in Icelandic was decidedly giggleicious and our phonetics went downhill from that endless day forward.
By the time I heard “bubbling muppets”, nothing surprised me. I only wish I’d heard it while walking down RipTorn Street in shredded cut-offs! I’d come on this trip to Iceland to learn more about the craft of travel writing but also to clear my mind of the ever-increasing pile of life sitting on my proverbial plate. Thinking it an excellent break from my day-to-day life, I thought it would be, at the very least, fun. I needed fun. Fun is to this trip what the sun is to light. I haven’t laughed so much, and for so many days on end, since – well, perhaps ever.
On days three and four of our travel writer’s workshop, we were each to go off on an adventure. Explore Iceland, meet Icelandic people, and see what we could see. Experience the country. I immediately decided to go to Greenland – easy to reach from Reykjavik, hard to get to from anywhere else. My father had worked there on the US Air Force base in Thule some fifty-odd years prior. “Odd” being the operative word, according to him. My family are all devoted travelers so it stood out when my father once said, “One place you never have to go, kiddo, is Greenland. What a wasteland. Save your money, anywhere but there.” Never one to follow logical thinking, I headed off to the tourist bureau to book a ticket for the wasteland to the west. “If you booook it on the online, it’ll be cheaper for the tee-cket. On the online”, the plump agent said, nodding towards her computer.
Okay then, back to the guest house and on to the online. Booked. No seats available. Everything booked. I must be doing something wrong. Back down the two blocks between the simple framed Icelandic houses in colorful
11/17/13 Iceland: Looking for Bubbling Muppets | Travelati
hues and just to the left before the skateboard park in the square near the yellow painted Ice Bar and back to see Guðrún, our favorite person at the tourist bureau. Okay, the only one I ever spoke to at the tourist bureau, but certainly she’d still be my favorite. She cursed occasionally, mostly in Icelandic, or maybe she was saying “stupid muppet, who goes to Grrrrrreen-a-land, it’s a wasteland, everrrryone knows that.” I liked her squat, dark- haired presence behind the counter, smile lines deepening each time she laughed at – I mean, with – us. “Boooooked? The online is boooooked for Green-a-land? Well, let me try then.” “Fooooly boooooked. Says so on the online. Sorry – you can’t go to Greenland.”
Standing next to me was Powell, waiting to book her adventure up to the North of the island. I smiled my most sheepish grin and asked, bleated, “could I? Greenland is fully booked, would you mind? Could I join you?”
She smiled back at me and we booked the trip setting us on an itinerary that would only take a scant two days, but would feel like a lifetime, even if it didn’t include the bubbling muppets.
We left our guesthouse at 6 a.m. the following morning and flew up to Akureyi where we met our tour bus around 10 a.m. We stopped at the Goðafoss, a double waterfall allegedly hailing from the heathen gods. Iceland is steeped in folklore, but this tale was lost on me.
Our guide Hattis told us all sorts of delicious details, like the fact that they have tomatoes all year round and have one the largest banana plantations in Europe. When she spoke about the countless sheep, she drifted off into a reverie of longing, “I used to have some sheep of my own, they‘d been handed down by a grandmother or maybe a grandaunt.”
She snapped back into reality when she continued her stories telling us that to smoke the fish they’re so famous for, they often used cow excrement. “Sheeeeeet”, she stretched it out the length of a ruler. “That is shit, sometimes of the cow, sometimes it is of the sheep shit. It is very nice.”
She then pointed out the “Cow Shit Cafe” which, upon closer inspection was actually the “Cow Shed Cafe.” But, close enough. Continuing, she shared in her muppet voice, “the mountain that starts there, well, it’s rainy there, and it sends itself all the way to the desert…” I was becoming enamored by the way they phrased things “sends itself all the way to the desert” as if the mountain was alive. Later she told us that most of the woods were forested by birch, notoriously short trees. She then told her favorite joke: “What should you do if you get lost in an Icelandic woodland? You stand up!”
To which she and the outrageously cool 25-year-old driver with her dyed jet black hair, matching black Ray Ban shades, skinny jeans and sneakers, laughed aloud.
Powell and I eventually left our guide, Hatti and the hipster driver, and continued on to Húsavík where we did, indeed, enjoy an afternoon of whale watching. Once on board our whale watching vessel, another young hipster announced that he’d be pointing out the whales and porpoises to us and that we were in good hands with him and the rest of the crew. Captain Ahab and the First Mate Thruster. By this point, Powell and I could barely be near each other lest we appear to have epileptic fits from our uncontrolled laughter. Several whale and porpoise sightings later, and after dispensing hot chocolate and cinnamon brioche to the passengers – hot chocolate being not such a great option on a bouncy sea – we returned to Húsavík. Chugging our approach to the dock, our whaling narrator mentioned that we “should not miss the chance to visit the Phallus Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated entirely to the penis.”
How could we miss that? How could I miss that? I mean, honestly, I carry my own penis with me when I work; certainly it was worth a visit. We found the museum and, truthfully, were a bit disappointed. A girl can only look at so many penises before they start to look alike, I suppose, but we did give it a go.
We eventually made our way back to Akureyri and found a place for the night. A purple place. A guest room the color of a Prince album. Amazing. One doesn’t sleep much in the north of Iceland in August since the sun never really sets, but the purple walls didn’t help. There were also no towels for the shared bathroom, but a room is a room. Purple or not.
The following morning, we left on the early side and wandered back down into the center of Akureyri for a nice breakfast and then headed back to the airport for a quick jaunt up to Grimsey Island to see birds and cross the Arctic Circle. One hundred people live on Grimsey in the summertime, only about 70 in the winter as the older children go off to the mainland for school. We saw the Church where our lovely young Grimsian guide, Karala, explained that one day she’d get married there.
“The Church seats a hundred, so absolutely everyone can come!”
As we wandered about this tiny piece of earth, I was struck by how awesome our planet truly is. I was exhausted when I’d arrived in Iceland and hadn’t really slept since, but I felt absolutely free in my mind and rejuvenated in a way that only nature can do. The air was so crisp and the colors surreal in the clarity of the views. I’d made a new friend – Powell – and counted myself incredibly lucky to have stumbled upon this experience.
Once back in New York and on a better on-the-online connection, I did a few more Google searches and determined that our guide had actually been saying the “bubbling mud pits” but I’m choosing to ignore that fact. Indeed, I have decided that I’ll have to go back to Iceland. Also to the wasteland to the west they call Greenland, but mostly, to find the ever-elusive bubbling muppets.
[This piece was originally published in Travelati, Travel Magazine for iPad in Spring 2011.]