Kindness

To quote (from a blog entry of a global nomad) "It's huge to be able to split the cost of accommodation... to pass off the driving when your eyes are starting to flutter... the most important thing a travel buddy can do for you...is The Sacred Bravery Trade-Off. Because it's hard to be brave. Impossibly hard. It's hard to always be the one thumbing the ride. The one approaching stranger after stranger to jump the dead battery."

Around 23:00 in the Arrivals terminal of Bergen, Norway, I was having a meltdown. After three weeks lived from a suitcase, delayed flights, missed connections & blatant lies from the customer service department of Scandinavian Airlines, now my credit card was not being accepted by Avis Rental Car.  To clarify, it was not being declined due to a lack of funds.  It did not have a faulty magnetic strip. Beforehand, the agency confirmed that my Discover card was accepted at this location, but now no amount of arguing or alternative solutions ended the gridlock.  Pay for the vehicle with my Visa & incur the 3.5% fee, or no car.

I heaved myself on the same staircase that I could barely walk up a week ago from being so ill.  The one that my mom hauled her rolling suitcase and mine up.  There, I had a proper cry. I was whooped, my patience tested, my adaptability wavered, and my homesickness kicked in.  On day 21 of 27, life abroad was beginning to take its toll.

I've experienced moments of weakness like this before.  Affectively, they were the lowest of lows.  For example, in Puerto Rico when slumber evaded me all night because I was too terrified to stay [in my hire car] in a destitute, jungle driveway.  Or after I had lived in Australia for 3 months & started to forget the sound of my own mother's & grandmother's voice.  I felt like I was groveling around the dark ocean floor & even though I looked up, no glimmer of light could be seen.  In essence, the way out was unknown to me.

Crying never changed any of these situations -- nor my current predicament in Norway -- but, for me, it brought clarity.  I allowed myself to cry & purge all the angst, fear, and frustration out of my system so I could rebound emotionally and physically.  Case in point, on my fourth evening in an Ohio hospital, I vowed to rip out my IV & leave in a gown on day 5 if the endocrinologist didn't stop pussy-footing around with my health. 

However, there was one major difference with the Bergen conundrum: my mom was there to console & breathe new motivation into me.  She embodied a fresh perspective ("We'll just sleep in our rental car tonight and start the road-trip in the morning") and let me have my cry without letting me wallow ("It's only money; don't let it ruin your trip").  It was a relief to not have to be the strong one this time.

Still feeling like a sook, I desperately wanted to email my grandmother to let her know we made it back to Norway's mainland from Svalbard. Yet, to access BGO's complimentary internet, one needed a code texted to his/her mobile phone.  Not possible since I had an American device & American phone number.  With my newfound enthusiasm to ameliorate my heartache, I approached a stylish man in the terminal & beseeched him to obtain an access code (for me) using his cellular phone.  He obliged & my gratitude was amplified due to my extreme emotional fragility.

Mother & I met such kind people on a lot of our journeys, Scandinavia included (like the gothic man in Svalbard who counseled us on the caveats of Norwegian maps). I used to think Australians were the most gregarious people on the planet, but Icelandic people go out of their way to help others.  It seems quite capricious: these people inhabit such a geologically volatile island; even in summer the weather warrants a long-sleeved shirt; the country (around 66º N) hovers below the Arctic Circle (68º N), skirting Polar Nights -- a 24 hour period without any daylight.  The natives should be miserable.
Disembarking in Keflavíkurflugvöllur a.k.a. Keflavík International Airport at midnight Mom & I faced another Arrivals terminal kerfuffle.  We reserved a vehicle with SixT but -- after four laps around the bustling lobby -- could not locate the rental booth.  A local driver told us SixT was not located on the airport property, so wait for the shuttle, , but where exactly "I'm not sure."  Still clueless, Mom inquired at the Hertz kiosk where the sweet Becky (a male) called SixT to arrange for our retrieval.
Now with wheels, Mom & I set off for Reykjavík around 01:00.  We were aided by the Midnight Sun, which gave the impression of driving at dusk.  Past the glistening rainbow scales of Faxagarður a.k.a. Harpa Concert Hall, we managed to miss the turn-off for our apartment & did not realize it until I almost drove into Reykjavík's bay.  I pulled into an industrial parking lot & examined the map with Mom, floundering at where we might be.
Nearing 02:00, I secretly eye-balled the approaching lady with my periphery.  When it became apparent she was headed directly for the hire car -- instead of simply riding past on her bicycle -- I apprehensively cracked my window to speak with her.  The fit, blonde asked if we knew where we were going. Nei a.k.a. no.  When I stated our destination, the woman took our map & first showed us our current spot.  Great! Now we could navigate ourselves to the apartment since we knew its address.  The Icelandic woman interjected in a heavy Viking accent, "but I cannot think if you can go that way" because of the one-way vegur a.k.a. roads.

My mother & I would have been completely satisfied with the help from the local woman at this sketchy hour.  However, she insisted that we follow her into the city centre where she would point out Vatnsstigur since she could not recall from which direction we would  approach the apartment due to the one-ways.  The assiduous woman cycled onto the road, gradually picking up speed as our car stalked her in the night (although it was never technically night, due to summer's Midnight Sun).  A mile further she literally pointed to Vatnsstigur on her left, then moved out of the middle of the road.  As we overtook her, Mom rolled down the window to wave thanks, but the lady halted!  She reiterated the correct route & showed us -- one more time -- on the map. 
(it's past 02:00!)

Later in the week, Mom and I became disoriented in Reykjavík's city centre while searching for the vegan-friendly cafe, Grænn Kostur.  Despite knowing the address & being equipped with a map, we had issues finding the storefront.  In a quiet corner off Hverfisgata ("gata" meaning street) Mom & I simultaneously turned in opposing circles, looking for the storefront.  A young man with long legs stopped pedaling his bicycle to ask if he could help us.
After the scourging from Búri, I left my underwater camera -- filled with photos from my entire week in Iceland -- in the souped up company van.  However, when I called Extreme Iceland to report my mistake, the office was closed.  Distraught that I'd never see the pictures, I could only wait until morning to call again.  A few hours later, Mom & I returned to our flat from dinner and the manager presented me with my camera which my guide, Jön, dropped off after-hours, having remembered where he picked me up that morning for the tour.

Iceland's small businesses have bounced back following the banking collapse of 2008.  The Prime Minister lives in the heart of Reykjavík and is listed in the phone book.  The American family I toured Silfra with witnessed the P.M. -- just him, no secret service -- step out of the government house and wave to the passers-by.  Iceland is the only NATO country with no standing military, navy, nor air force, only a "coast guard being in charge of deference" according to my local source Atli & Wikipedia.  Oh, and its police officers are unarmed.  Believe me, Icelandic folk are the epitome of amicableness.

Whether solo or in a group, you'll need a reprieve from the battery that is full-time travel.  If you're flying solo, the reprieve will probably manifest internally -- in my case, with a whole-hearted sob. If you're in a group, The Sacred Bravery Trade-Off suffices. My Godsend of a mother has always been that partner for me; my better half.  But what is a traveler to do when everyone in the party is lost or befuddled?  Answer: pray you are in Iceland.

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