Finger Lickin' Good!
Our host told us about a hot pot a few miles away that few knew about – great setting, beauty all around, cheap – we should go.
We gathered our suits, a towel, and took off with barely a sense of where it was.
Eventually after pulling into the wrong valley a couple of times we found the right one and saw a rickety structure next to an outcropping of rocks next to several huge plastic tubs. The whole thing looked a little gross – slimy sides of the pools, rough rocks and gravel for flooring. The changing shed was dark with no benches. Not my favorite move to try to get my pants and socks off while standing up and trying not to touch the cold wet floor the whole time. I left my clothes on a hook in the shed and came outside wearing just my bathing suit and my untied hiking boots to protect my feet from the rough ground.
I assessed the situation – 5 tubs, three with people, all Icelanders, in them. I dangled my fingers in the first – scalding! No wonder it was empty. Second, still too hot though a couple of people were in it. Third, not too bad, four people enjoying it. I climbed in and alerted Chris to join me when he came out. After a time I found it too cool. The temperature of these outdoor hotpots was regulated by a balance between the flow of scalding hot water rising naturally from the Earth to heat it versus the ambient air temperature (about 40 degrees) cooling the still water. No fancy mechanics here – just a teal PVC pipe with hot water refilling with drips or flows what we splashed out as we entered and exited the tubs.
I decided to try the other tubs to see what they were like. I climbed into the first but soon felt like an explorer caught by a cannibal being cooked up for dinner.
The second, finally, was the Goldilocks solution – it was just right. I climbed in, grateful to be out of the bracing air. Chris joined me right away. Just as we were beginning to settle in and enjoy being alone in the tub surrounded by glorious nature with the sun shining brightly above the mountain peaks in the distance, I noticed something on the surface of the water. A stick? There were no trees within a mile of the place. And a rock wouldn’t float. I glided over to look, tiptoeing on my haunches so I wouldn’t have to stand up in the cold air.
I sprung up when I realized it was a mouse. Dead, I guess. Cooked, I guessed.
I squeaked to Chris that it was a mouse, hoping, I suppose, that he would do something about it. He began his process of sorting through the information, trying to figure out where he could find a stick of proper dimension to lift it out, or where he might get a bucket. While he sat lost in his thoughts, making slow headway towards a solution, my typical impatience took over as I recognized this man was not going to be able to come to this damsel’s distress anytime soon, and I wanted the pecker out of there FAST. I took a deep breath, picked it up by the tail and hoisted.
It slipped through my too tentative fingers back into the water with a measly splash.
Horrified, I reached in again and squeezed my fingers tightly, impressing my pointer fingernail into the fur and flesh of his tail and lifted with strongest intention. Once I was sure I had it, I flung that sucker as far as I could (all of three feet) then ended with a squeal as I jumped up and down flapping my hands in disgust.
I splashed my hands in the hot water to wash off the yuck then sat back down next to Chris who was still absorbed in trying to figure out how to get the mouse out of the tub and save me from having to do it. He was surprised to see me next to him again. I rolled my eyes and leaned back to enjoy the warmth, the sun, the beauty, and to try to let go of the disgust – maybe if I pretended it hadn’t happened, I could enjoy the hot tub.
That worked, and an hour later, properly sated by beauty and relaxed by hot water, we climbed out and got dressed in the shed then decided to head east to Hofn for dinner.
We curled around the waterside until we got to the harbor where we explored the fishing boats and the very busy fishing scene.
I noticed a restaurant, the Parkhus, and suggested we check it out for dinner. We got a seat right away, something I came to appreciate quickly as scores of tourists showed up as soon as the clock struck six, and soon the lines were out the door.
Meanwhile we ordered. Uncharacteristically I got the most expensive thing on the menu because it was precisely what I wanted – langoustine (small lobsters) broiled, served with melted butter. It arrived steaming hot on the platter along with homemade bread and more butter. The server pointed out that the langoustine had just come in on the boat we could see out the window not two hours earlier. Impressive!
I dug in with gusto. I pulled the succulent meat out of the crispy crackling shells and popped it into my waiting mouth. The texture and taste were perfect, the butter divine. I sucked the juices off my fingers and reached for a second langoustine. I was in gustatory heaven.
Around about the third crustacean, Chris and I were reveling in sharing our experience of the day and it dawned on me quite suddenly that I hadn’t washed my hands since hoisting the mouse out of the hot tub. The very same hands I'd just sucked to within an inch of their lives to get every last drop of butter and meat off of them. Oops.
I got up from the table and ran down the steps to the bathroom, pushing aside the tourists waiting to get in. I washed my hands with Lady Macbeth’s insistence. My disgust finally turned to hysterical laughter – I wasn’t likely to die from it – the water was hot, probably antiseptic, I’d been in the water for an hour even without soap – it was fine. I collapsed against the wall in laughter, water running, soap bubbling off my hands. Finally I dried them, turned off the water, and made my way through the crowds to our table where the rest of my fabulous dinner awaited my delight, finger-licking good!
Susan Singer travels to Iceland every chance she gets. When she isn't there, she's scheming about how to get back or painting it or writing about it in one of Valley's classes. It is her spirit place.