If ever there was a time when it was good to be in a city of easy-going, peaceful Scandinavians, this was it. Because what ensued one day in Reykjavik might have gotten me beaten in another country.
It was July 2012, I was living the dream in Iceland for 2 weeks on a solo trip to Europe. I had stopped off at a bar for a quick drink before heading back to my rented apartment for a good night’s sleep.
It was there that a fellow American and I struck up a conversation. Kate was from North Carolina and, like me, was traveling on her own and loving the country as much as I did. We discussed the fact that we had both thought about climbing Mt. Esja, a mountain that sits ten kilometers to the north of Reykjavik and frames the backdrop of the scenic capital.
Mt. Esja as viewed from Reykjavik
We decided we would do it. We scheduled a meet-up time and place the next morning, from where we would then head to the bus station and conquer the mountain. Everything was going according to plan – bus station located, tickets purchased, albeit with a bit of confusion as to how/where/from whom we do that. But we’re a couple of smart chicks so we figured it out.
We had about ten minutes before our bus – the last for another hour – was to arrive and subsequently depart. So we made our way outside into the fresh morning air to wait for it. It was then that it occurred to me, as one can see from pictures, that Iceland is very much devoid of trees, and this mountain was no exception. Should I encounter a situation during our trek in which nature of the number two kind began calling, there would be nowhere to duck behind and heed that call discretely. I decided I needed to preempt this potential disaster and try to take care of things before heading out.
So imagine my delight to find, outside, a small bathroom in the form of a single cylindrical pod. Despite only having met Kate the night before, she seemed trustworthy, so I figured it was safe enough to leave my backpack (which contained tissues) with her but bring my wallet with me as a precaution. I wish I had been more paranoid and taken my backpack.
I’m not prone to taking pictures of bathrooms, so I’ll have to briefly describe this one. As I mentioned, it was small – room enough to fit one person with a door that slides open to the world – everything can be seen to everyone until that door is slid shut. When I entered, I closed the door but discovered that the lock was broken and there would be no privacy if I didn’t hold it closed manually while doing my business.
Success! My joy was temporary, however. It was only post-bidness that I realized the previous night’s rain storm had penetrated the potty pod and soaked the one and only toilet paper roll through and through. I couldn’t even get pieces from it that were bigger than miniscule, worthless bits. I had to think fast… our bus would be coming any minute now and we definitely didn’t want to have to sit around for another hour while the mountain beckoned.
My immediate thought was to sacrifice a sock. There are worse problems a person can have than having to hike for a day sans sock. The problem there? One hand was already occupied holding the door closed, and the other was holding my wallet. I wasn’t going to let my wallet touch a nasty, bacteria-ridden bathroom floor. If I freed up my other hand by releasing the door, surely that would be the very moment when someone would bust it open, to reveal to all 20-some people waiting at the bus stop a silly American with her pants around her ankles and, even stranger and arguably more embarrassing, with one shoe and one sock missing from her foot.
I decided my only option was to use some of the paper from my wallet. To you Icelanders out there, I promise I had no American dollars (or any other currency for that matter) in my wallet. In fact, the smallest bill (denomination-wise) was a 500-kronur note. At the converted rate of $4.27, it was the most expensive bathroom trip I’ve ever taken, but I was out of time and out of options. Desperate, I made use of the note, dropped it in the toilet, and hit the flusher.
No flush. Flush fail. Flusher broken. Seriously? Seriously.
It was as if I had chosen the most defunct bathroom in all of Iceland. And of course, true to Murphy’s Law, there was someone waiting to go in after me. To this day I wonder if he saw a turd with 500 kronur draped over it and thought that I don’t think too highly of their money. Or of Jón Sigurðsson, Iceland’s founding father. Their George Washington. I promise, Iceland, that’s not the case. And I sincerely apologize.
I can at least proudly proclaim that bathroom adversity gave way to mountain victory and we did, in fact, conquer Mt. Esja.