On to Stapi: 1929

olive crossing desert

olive crossing desert

Olive decides, on returning from Thórsmork, that she will travel around Snaefellsnes and to Akureyri. The distance will be three to four hundred miles and will probably take about three weeks. Quite the trip for a woman traveling alone on horse back in 1929.

She prepares for the trip by sending her luggage by sea on a mail boat to Akureyri. She takes two haversacks and includes in them all her sketching materials. Her friend, Stefán, discovers that the Sudurland, a small cargo boat will be going to Stapi. There is a farm there where Olive can stay overnight before riding to Búdir. She will have a guide and three horses to take her from Búdir round Snaefells Jökull to Stykkishólmur. That part of the trip will take five days.

Stefán takes her to see the Sudurland. “We had to climb across some planks, over the sides of three other small vessels in order to reach it. Accommodation appeared very scanty, but the captain, who was on board, told Stefán that he would promise me a berth if possible.”

“These arrangements settled, I climbed back over the other boats, across planks and up and down iron ladders to the quay, where I stood for a while lost in wonder at the glory of an Icelandic night.”

“Five nights later the Sudurland sets sail. Olive discovers that she should have bought her ticket in advance. All the sleeping accommodation is taken. As she says “the little boat was already packed to overflowing with Icelandic farmers and fisher-folk”
She tries to sleep on deck but it is too cold. The ship’s mate finds her a bench “between the side of the ship and the stair rail that led below….In spite of a calm sea the “Sudurland” pitched and rolled like a trawler, and I had difficulty in not falling off my narrow bench.”

In the early morning the ship anchors off the creek at Stapi. “One had either to jump or be lifted into the boat from off the iron steps down the side of the Sudurland. Olive’s haversacks get thrown into the boat and one of the boatmen carries her. “At last we were all wedged safely in between a mail bag, a lot of sacks, and some timber that had been taken off the “Sudurland”.

She crosses a creek, gets one foot soaked, climbs up a steep bank to the farm where she will stay overnight. “It was a primitive-looking little cabin built of wood, peat and lava boulders, with a corrugated iron roof. The front door led into a narrow passage very dark, with an earthen floor, and walls built of peat and stones with tufts of grass growing in between. The entrance was so low that I had to stoop my head for fear of hitting the roof! My friend, the farmer (from Búdir), kindly inquired for me if I might spend the night there before riding on the next day to Búdir.”

“The woman of the house, who was regarding me with great interest and curiosity, understood no English, but I gathered that I was welcome to stay as long as I liked, although she could only offer me a sofa in the bath-stofa, as all the beds were occupied by her family. Thankful for small mercies, I accepted the somewhat hard and narrow sofa which my hostess did her bet to make comfortable for me.’

“At eight o’clock we all sat down to coffee and cakes, after which I tried to get some sleep on my sofa, but this was out of the question, for the farm at Stapi, like so many of these primitive and isolated little homesteads, is the proud possessor of a telephone. It was constantly ringing, and either the farmer, his wife, or one of the other women, and occasionally all of them together, would hasten to answer it, continually repeated: “Ullo! Ullo!Ullo!” sometimes for as long as five minutes on end.

It is 1929. How Iceland has changed. Olive often travels in trucks or cars for part of her journey. The roads are primitive, full of pot holes and rocks, sometimes no more than a dried creek bed, but there are roads. People and goods are moved more easily and quickly. Horses are being displaced and the change can be seen clearly when Olive reports that horses are frightened by motor vehicles. Before, there was nothing to frighten the horses.

Symbolically, the horses being frightened by the vehicles presages the near future in which these vehicles will replace the horses, taking away their essential part of Icelandic life. Now, there are telephones. Telephones that change life in Iceland dramatically for isolation was an essential part of Icelandic life. The farms were far apart, the weather, harsh, traveling conditions extremely difficult and dangerous but now there were telephones. No wonder the farmer’s wife and his daughters jump up and run to the phone every time it rings.

Although Olive is simply recounting her travels around Iceland in the year 1929, she is, inadvertently, recording profound changes in Icelandic life. The very foundations of Icelandic society as changing.

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