Friday, June 25, 2010

Iceland: Final 411, The journey home and The aftermath

First here's the photo gallery.

Emptying the notebook of Icelandic info:

• There are 90,000 horses in Iceland, according to one tour guide. There are 110,000-120,000 horses according to another. Horses cannot return to Iceland once they leave and neither can their equipment or even a saddle. Icelandic horses, which are small, have been so genetically isolated for hundreds of years that they cannot risk any "contamination."

• There are between 500,000 and 600,000 sheep. The worst thing you can be called in Iceland is a "sheep stealer." It's so bad in Icelandic that our guide didn't even say the Icelandic word. This is because back in the Viking days, sheep were a family's sustenance (clothes and food). So if you killed/stole a sheep you fucked an entire family, hence why that was death penaltyable or exile.

• Volcanoes erupt every four years on average, so I'll have another chance to see an erupting volcano in Iceland. I need to time my return trip around one. And I WILL DEFINITELY BE BACK.

• Half of Icelandic women are genetically linked to Irish/Scottish women because of old Viking days. Vikings stopped in IRL/SCOT on way to Iceland and pillaged and murdered men and then brought women to Iceland. Hence why you see some Icelandic redheads.

• Swimming is the favourite physical activity of most Icelanders. They love it. There are public pools all over Reykjavik.

• In Reykjavik people get the day off in the summer if it's 25 degrees centigrade.

• If you want to get noticed as a Californian wear an Amoeba Music hoodie. I got recognized by three Californians in 15 minutes while wearing one Saturday night in a bookstore. I had to explain myself to the person I was with.


The journey back to the States:

Shortly after getting to Keflavik Airport I see a sign promoting that Keflavik was voted Europe's number one airport in 2009. As someone in dire need of nail clippers to declaw myself I would say that ranking is crap. No place sold nail clippers, but I had my choice of several places selling Topas or Opal (the cough-medicine-tasting Icelandic liquers).

Oh well, once we board the plane (already running a few minutes behind) we end up sitting on the tarmac. After noticing we're 30 minutes behind, guy behind me says that he's getting a little nervous because he's got someone planning to pick him up in Seattle and no way to tell them that we're going to be late.

"We'll be fine," I offer reassuringly. "We'll make up the time in the air. They do that all the time."

"Are you sure?"

"Well, no. I am just a passenger, but I'm not crazy, right?" as I look to other passengers to nod in agreement. They do.

We soon learn that we're late taking off, because we're waiting for someone connecting from Europe. That person's plane landed in Iceland late and since this is the last flight to Seattle for another 24 hours, Iceland Air opted to wait for said passenger. There are some groans, but mostly I feel like this is a cool thing, trying to imagine what if that were me.

Eventually we get off the ground 45 minutes late. Fortunately on this flight my in-seat entertainment system works so I watch two episodes of Pressa (an Icelandic television show about a tabloid newspaper that actually treats reporters intelligently). I also monitor the plane's progress on any of the half-dozen maps that allow me to do that. I notice that the one noting our time to destination never seems to indicate that we're doing anything to make up even a minute of our late departure and the flight crew hasn't said anything about that either. Suddenly I wish I was on an American airline.

At 6:30 p.m. PDT we land in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). My 105-minute layover, which allowed for plenty of time through Customs and perhaps a bathroom break and quick snack, is now just 60 minutes. And I'm in the second last row of a plane full of people who totally ignored the flight attendants' request to let passengers with tight layovers (me) go first. But after spending nearly eight hours in a flying tin can, I can't even begrudge those people.

6:42 p.m. I finally disembark. I now have 48 minutes to go through Customs, have my bag checked again, check my bag in again, go through security again and figure out where in the hell or Sea-Tac I'm supposed to go to catch my flight to L.A. I notice that my flight is of course ON TIME.

6:46 p.m. Customs Cattle Call. "If you have a U.S. or Canadian passport and are a citizen of either country please go to 'area 4.' Everyone else please go to areas 1, 2 or 3." Area 4 has as many people as areas 1 and 2 combined. I cannot even get into the official bank-style, velvet-roped line of Area 4, and neither can another two dozen people also overflowing from the Area 4 waiting area.

6:48 p.m. I am going to miss my flight. Oh well, at least I have a laptop and a phone and my friend Derek in Seattle, who I can try to call.

6:49 p.m. WHOOOOOOO! They open up Area 5 for U.S. and Canadian citizens and those of queuing up outside of the official Area 4 waiting line are now at the front of the Area 5 line. Perhaps I'll make it?

6:55 p.m. (35 minutes until departure). I am next in line to go through passport check. Meanwhile, three people have been pulled out of our line because they're "residents" not "citizens" and need to be walk to areas 1, 2 or 3. So here's the set up. The passport check stations are like bank tellers. There's a five-foot wide lane we're supposed to wait behind until called before we approach the agent, just like a bank. The person with the customs agent finishes just as the three "residents" start walking out of the Area 5 line. "Go, you're next!" a woman a few people behind me in line agitatedly instructs me. I wait because if I stepped forward at this point, I literally would have walked into the people leaving Area 5. "You're next. Go. Now. Move," most-impatient-woman-in-the-world says.

"I'm not going to be an ass," I say loudly enough for all of the people waiting in the Area 5 line to hear. I approach the passport check Customs agent.

6:56 p.m. "Everything OK?" he asks.

"Yeah, we're all just a little testy'" I reply.

"That's my job all day," he says and smiles with recognition, "dealing with testy passengers." He verifies my trip and passport and I'm done. It's now 6:58 p.m.

6:58 p.m. As I'm walking down the stairs I notice that my bag is coming out of the baggage claim conveyor. I grab it without breaking stride and head to the line to declare my purchases and once again verify the details of my trip and show my passport and Customs form.

6:59 p.m. They're asking me the standard questions, how long was your trip? What were you doing? yaddayaddayadda. The Customs agent scribbles on my Customs form. This has not happened to other people, by my observation. "Sir, you need to walk over there." He's pointing about 50 feet in front of me to an empty line and a lone Customs agent standing at a table. I walk over. This isn't good considering my flight leaves in 30 minutes and I'm not expecting them to wait for me, like we did in Iceland.

7:01 p.m. "Sir, you've been randomly selected for a manual baggage screening. That's why there's this mark on your Customs form. Do you know what this means?"

Now, I know the most basic rule of going through Border/Customs stuff. Don't fuck around. But at the same time ... the stand I've been standing in is turning into quicksand. "Yeah, it means I'm going to miss my flight," I say with the what I hope is the right balance of nervous urgency and resigned humor and a smile.

Agent Patrick gets it. "Let's hope not. It's 7 now. When is your flight?"


"It's not gonna take me that long. You got good shoes on?"

"Yeah, I'm wearing sneakers."

"OK, I'll try to make this as painless as possible."

Agent Patrick is great. When he asks if I want to amend my Customs form with anything I may have forgotten I mention that I forgot a pair of gloves. "I'm not that anal," he says. Basically, $10,000 is the threshold for Customs attention. "I don't think I have $10,000 to my name," I say only half-jokingly.

Theoretically, he has the legal power to take literally everything out of my bag and ask about it. He doesn't do this, obviously. When he comes across my plastic bag filled with my dirty laundry he asks about it and when I tell him what it is, he's cool. He unzips all the pockets, sifts through the folds of shirts and stuff and about 10 minutes later we're finished. I have hope.

7:11 p.m. I take my bag and hand it to the baggage transfer people who take bags from transferring international travelers. Hooray for not having to go through any standard baggage check-ins.

7:13 p.m. I am standing in a security line. Again, it's just for international passengers transferring to other planes. I de-belt, take out the laptop, remove shoes and throw everything with metal into my carryon.

7:18 p.m. I am through security and have shoes back on. I figure out where I need to go (Gate D6) to catch my flight which leaves in 12 minutes and is still on time.

7:19 p.m. I find the train I need to catch.

7:21 p.m. I find the second train I need to catch.

7:23 p.m. A flight attendant is standing on the escalator up. It's super narrow. I choose the stairs. I start jogging up the first flight, which is the equivalent of four flights of stairs in an office building. I easliy beat flight attendant up to the platform mid-stairs and take the escalator now running.

7:25 p.m. "All passengers for Alaska Airlines flight 481 to Los Angeles should be boarding now." I'm running now. Not jogging. Running. My shirt is stuck to my back with sweat and I can feel beads forming on my forehead.

7:28 p.m. I'm at gate D2 "Final boarding for Flight 481 to Los Angeles." I sprint.

7:29 p.m. I arrive at D6 and see the last few passengers turning in their boarding passes to the gate agent. Whew. Of course once I get on the jetway, I'm just standing there for five minutes. Needless sprint. :(

After watching two passengers get really pissed at each other about overhead compartment space (one guy wants to put his duffel bag up there but business traveler guy doesn't want his carryon with his suit getting wrinkled. ultimately they each remove the other's guys stuff until a flight attendant deals with it), I sit down. I immediately apologize for smelling. My rowmates are totally cool.

9:40 p.m. I am at baggage claim but my bag isn't. It turns out that those of us coming from Reykjavik were faster than the luggage transfer people and our bags didn't make it with us, but will instead be on the first flight out of Seattle in the morning.


Since returning, I've been beyond tired but super happy. The trip was worth every penny (of which it totaled betwen $3k and $4k).

I've had to stop myself from saying "takk" when wanting to thank people.

And I've been evangelizing Iceland to friends. If you want a great vacation with the perfect balance of city and wondrous nature, Iceland is a no-brainer. And no country could be more grateful that you're there.

1 comment:

clrobins42 said...

Gotta love the U.S. airports. On the bright side, at least you didn't have to transfer in Philly. ;-)