Talk about remote. This place looks more like the moon than the moon does, not that I've been there, of course, have I? Well, not yet, although we've all seen those famous pictures of Buzz Aldrin on the moon, and we've all heard the conspiracy theories about those pictures being a mock-up, the wind in the flag? Its not true, is it?
This isn't where they were shot, was it? Naaaaa, couldn't be. I heard Aldrin was once confronted by a man spouting the conspiracy theory, that he said to Buzz that he'd never been to the moon, that the whole thing was staged for the camera. Buzz's answer? He punched the guy right in the face -- enough said.
Of course, unlike Aldrin, I'm not the first to venture into Iceland's seemingly uncharted territory. Hollywood types are all over the tundra these days. Iceland has been the backdrop for films like "Flags of our Fathers," "Die Another Day," and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" -- yes, that means Angelina Jolie is somehow affiliated with this place.
It's not until you land at Keflavik Airport that you begin to realize just how far away from anywhere else this island is -- especially Hollywood. It doesn't look anything like anywhere else. The guidebook says you are between Greenland and the north Atlantic Ocean northwest of the United Kingdom. For the record, it's 650 miles west of Scotland, 5½ hours from New York by air. I wonder how long by rocket?
The airport is huge; I lost count of how many runways we crossed as we taxied to the terminal. The United States used to pay Iceland to operate an air base here. The base closed last year, but until then this was the only country in the world to make a profit from its defense policy. Iceland doesn't really have an army, much less an air force. I guess its remoteness means it doesn't have much cause for them.
The terminal building is new, clean and efficient, all polished wood, steel and glass. As you pass through its modern interior you glimpse the landscape outside through the windows. It looks cold and bleak, and you find yourself wondering how cold it is, whether you've packed enough warm clothes -- this place is called ICE-LAND after all.
With surprising speed, you retrieve your baggage and find yourself at the car rental desk: "Four-wheel drive, sir?" the man at the desk asks. The price is prohibitively expensive so I plump for a saloon car. "Collision damage waiver?" he says. I think about the ice for a moment and agree. The car is in row A, block C, car park 4, and the weather appears to be drawing in. I want to get driving before dark. It takes a while to find the car with the aid of remote alarm. It's not that cold, just overcast and raining. This is February, and the days are already getting longer and warmer.
The airport road is a bit of a maze and I feel slightly inadequate because all the other cars seem to be four-wheel drives, some of them monsters. Oh dear, did I make a mistake by being too cheap? Up close the black rock of the landscape is jagged, horribly twisted and sharp to the touch -- it's like the side of a volcano, but everywhere. OK, concentrate, which way am I going? South, OK south, to the world's most northerly capital, mmm. The roads are straight, dirty from all the dust whipped up by the almost constant drizzle, but there's only one turn I have to make, then I need to stop when I reach the sea. There are huge storm drains on either side of the road, so be careful.