I’ve Been to Hellnar and Back

A year ago I was in Iceland with a torn-but-healing (but still painful) Achilles tendon, the side-effect of taking the sinister and evil antibiotic, Cipro. The house where my friend and I were staying was nice, but, for me, problematic. It was in the town of Hellnar on the Snæfellsnes peninsula at the foot of the Snæfellsnesjokul, or Snæfellsnes glacier.

The only beds were up these sadistic and space-saving “Norwegian” stairs. Because of my tendon, I could not climb them.


Stairs from Hell

I slept on a makeshift bed I assembled from the lounge end of a sectional sofa and an easy chair.






The plan had been to stay in a comfy house in this national park and ride Icelandic horses and hike.

I pause for a moment of grim laughter.

I discovered I could not mount and dismount the horses and this was required if I were to ride them. I thought I’d just get on in the stable or paddock, ride around and get off when we returned. No. There was a moment when I was in the barn, standing more or less against the back wall, supposedly finding a helmet that fit, when the guide said, “We will be getting on and off the horses several times.” I looked across the crowd of Icelandic horses between me and the exit, wondering if they were as indifferent to the random movements of human beings as I had read. They were.

My friend had a nice ride. I think it was the high point of her journey.

Meanwhile, back at the house, I sat at the kitchen table, watched the sea birds and the wind, and worked on my novel.

My upbringing stood me in good stead in Hellnar. When I was a kid, if I complained, my mom usually answered me with, “You’re going to like it whether you like it or not.” 

All the while we were there, the weather was abysmal — four? Five? days of rain and sleet. The wind blew so hard that the rain “fell” at a 90 degree angle. In this midst of the gray and bleak — which I kind of liked, seeing it as an “authentic Icelandic experience,” I was inspired in a most Herzogian way and decided to make a documentary film. It’s only a minute and a half, but believe me, it seems a LOT longer…


I never saw this volcano or the glacier that covers it except from the airport in Rekjavik as we were leaving. Far, far away, glowing gold and white in the reflected sunlight, the glacier and its mountain laughed at us as we got on the plane to go home.



Lamont Tells Dude about Iceland’s Elysian Fields


“What, Lamont?”


“Ah. Now what?”

“Do you remember? No, you weren’t there. Strange times. Strange place, but I loved it. It had its downside, though. Not exactly ‘down’ side, come to think of it. More wool, though the ducks and geese were everywhere. Danger of wool gathering.”

“What are you talking about?”


“Oh god. How do you know it was Iceland and not some other remote tundraesque locale on the planet?”



“Finally had enough of the routine — always the same. Get thrown in the pen with a bunch of ewes in the fall, pulled out after I’ve sewn my seed and set on my own, grabbed in the spring, all my wool sheared off — you think it never snowed after that? You think it was never cold after that? Fuck no. It WAS cold and it DID snow and freezing rain could come blasting at my poor shorn self any time. Who knew? They SHOULD have known. It happened all the time, but NO. Then I got it. It was my wool they were after. And my sperm.”

“Could be a lot worse, Lamont. All the ewes you could, uh, service? And all you had to do was let them take your wool? I’m having a hard time seeing the dark side. It’s not like they were turning you into mutton.”

“It would come. It always came. I saw it hundreds of times. So, I left.”

“You LEFT?”

“Yep. Walked away one fall while they were busy assembling all the ewes. It was easy. They were distracted and we all pretty much look the same. The gate was open. I left. I just started walking. I’m not even sure they noticed I was gone.”

“Wow. So you were a maverick sheep in Iceland?”

“I had a couple of buddies. Sometimes we’d meet up, walk together for a while. It was good. It disguised us as a herd, not that anyone ever looked for us. We still got to service ewes, if we found one and she was willing — happened a lot. Long dark winters in Iceland. BUT all that wool WAS heavy, especially after a good rain, still, we were never cold again. And we became legends.”

“Yeah, a legend in your own mind. I think you’re telling me a yarn, Lamont.”

“Suit yourself, Dude.”


Lamont and Dude are characters I came up with a couple of years ago. They have the uncanny ability to remember many of their previous incarnations which gives them a unique perspective on life, the universe and everything.




In Switzerland, when someone asked where we were going next, and answered, “Iceland,” the response, universally, was;


Now, in Iceland, all I can do is laugh at that.

We arrived at the airport in Rekjavik where we were to pick up a car we were renting from the same person whose vacation home we’re now staying in. The car is an older Grand Vitara with the clutch from hell. The vacation home — which is nice enough, and located on the dramatic and wild Snaefellsjokull Peninsula, has no bed down stairs, and horrific stairs to the top floor, so I am sleeping on a make-shift bed assembled from the lounge part of a sofa, sofa pillows and a chair… The weather is abysmal and makes sense of every bleak Icelandic film I have ever seen. The wifi doesn’t work except on my friend’s lap top which I am enjoying the use of now.

The landscape is beyond beautiful, exceedingly dramatic, and I like it very much. Icelandic horses are all around, including on the menu. This makes sense to me as there are at least as many horses per square mile here as there are cattle in the San Luis Valley — but I would find it difficult to knowingly eat horsemeat. The small Icelandic sheep wander everywhere. It’s lambing season and the tiny ones follow their mothers into the road.

Lois went to ride Icelandic horses yesterday. I went, too, but when I saw what I would have to do to get up on one (which isn’t far, mind you, these are small horses) I knew it wasn’t going to happen for me so I returned to our “haven” to watch the rain and further plan the feature film I’ve begun which will be called “Icelandic Clothesline.”

This trip has made me very, very aware of my physical limitations and the top of my list right now is finding out about joint surgery as soon as possible after I turn 65.

I love Icelandic sagas, and we went to Bogarnes to the Settlement Museum and saw museums of both the settlement of Iceland and Egil’s Saga (which I love). The museum was really a work of art, original and evocative and brave.

In the photo above — taken at the Settlement Center — Skallagrim, Egil’s father, is telling Egil (the little boy) that he cannot go to a party because he’s too difficult to deal with even when he’s sober and impossible when he’s drunk. Egil is three…

Not having internet and not being able to get around easily and comfortably, and having recently walked and stayed in the “ancestral valley” in Switzerland has renewed my interest in the novel I started writing last year and it might just happen that the Schneebelis make it to America after all.