So Ranch = American. I guess the two names make about equal sense.
Like regular hiking, but on a fucking glacier. It may sound awesome, but it in fact totally sucks. How do I know? I know because—I mean, just look at that! Look how easy it would be to slip! You’re much better off with NORMAL hiking. Normal things are always more fun. That’s practically a law of physics.
A cave. Made of ice. In a glacier. Isn’t it the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen? Believe it or not, it’s even uglier in person. Anyone you meet telling you how beautiful ice caves are is just playing a mean practical joke and wants to see you fly all the way to Iceland only to get smacked in the face with pure, unadulterated ugly.
Ice climbing! Now, of course any sane person would look at that picture and think “there’s no way I or anyone else would ever want to attempt something like that.” But the Iceland tour guides just want your money, so they’ll go to great lengths to make it sound fun and appealing and not insane. Even if you’ve never had any experience ice climbing, they’ll offer you a guided and safe introduction. To make it extra enticing, they’ll even provide all the equipment for you! I’m telling you, they’re sneaky. Stay away!
Waterfall, shmaterfall! Waterfalls are way prettier without all that pesky, pristine snow surrounding them anyway.
Jokulsarlon + Aurora Borealis
Jokulsarlon is a glacier lagoon. All that means is it’s a lake with big pieces of ice in it. Totally overrated. They say that Jokulsarlon is one of the best places in the world to view the northern lights. However, I’m convinced that these aurora whatever are a giant hoax. Everyone knows the sky is blue. I personally was in Iceland for a whole fucking week and all I saw in the sky were clouds. Have YOU ever seen these mysterious lights? I didn’t think so. Hoax confirmed.
How many caves are there in the world? A lot. So why go all the way to Iceland for a stupid cave that sucks? Oh sure, this one might be enormous and made out of lava and have icicles all over it, but in case you didn’t know, lava and icicles totally suck. There, I just saved you a lot of trouble.
Iceland’s weather is unpredictable. If you go during the winter with your heart set on seeing, say, anything outside a one-hour radius of Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital and only city), you may be disappointed. Luckily, though, everything outside a one-hour radius of Reykjavik totally sucks! Which is why I’m not at all bitter or upset that I wasn’t able to do or see any of the above during my trip. It’s not like I was planning to do any of those stupid things anyway. And it’s not like I specifically went in March to avoid the harshest weather. I was happy to stay in my hotel room. I got lucky and saved money!
I did get this though:
In Icelandic, that means “I don’t speak Icelandic.” The shot glass doesn’t suck.
“Do you know why it’s called Shangri-La?” the driver asked.
I was in the back of a car with my travel partner, Reid, coasting through China’s Yunnan Province. It was early evening now, and the sun was playing hide-and-seek, darting behind hills and reemerging in the valleys and plains. Our car was the only one in sight on the 2-lane road surrounded by verdant fields. The topic of conversation had turned to our destination.
“To attract tourists?” Reid offered. The driver seemed genuinely confused and responded without irony: “Oh, no! It is called Shangri-La because it is the most beautiful place in the world. There are flowers and lakes and hills. When people visit, they want to stay forever!”
Reid and I exchanged glances. The mythical “Shangri-La” is a popular embodiment of an archetypal paradise. Since its creation in the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton, it has pervaded the modern psyche and spawned countless pop culture references.
“When was it named Shangri-La?” I asked.
“And what was it called before then?”
The very recent name change did little to abate my cynicism, but the conversation lulled and my gaze returned to the fields. I watched the sky’s blue hues transform into orange and pink and purple, then finally collapse into darkness.
We arrived at the Songtsam Hotel exhaused from our day’s adventures in neighboring Lijiang and the long drive. With an early and full day ahead of us, we decided to stay low key for the evening and get a good night’s rest. Instead of venturing into the adjacent town, we had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant.
We were given two menus, which I assumed to be a dinner menu and a drinks menu. I browsed the dinner menu and found a healthy mix of Chinese, Tibetan, and International cuisine. I made a mental note of a few intriguing options, then turned to the second menu.
There are nine things I love in this world, and numbers one through five are mushrooms. This was a mushrooms menu. Matsutake. King bolete. Caesar’s amanita. Many I had never before chanced to taste. I ended up splurging on the dinner, sampling a variety of luscious morsels.
An entire menu just for mushrooms! What a hotel! I was still in awe of my luck as my head reached the pillow and I sank into a contented slumber.
The next day was packed with planned attractions. It was exhausting, but we returned in the evening determined to see the town. We meandered, pausing to take pictures and stopping by the small shops. At some point we realized we were hungry. Considering the previous night’s delights, part of me wished we were back at the lodge, but my inner adventurer could not tolerate eating at a hotel, of all places, for two nights in a row in a foreign country. We hadn’t paid note to the eateries we’d passed, nor had we researched in advance where to eat, so we simply walked into the first restaurant we saw.
We sat down. We were given two menus.
Not in my wildest dreams had I imagined that the hotel’s enthusiasm for mushrooms was anything other than a quirk. Yet here I was, at a nondescript town restaurant, reliving the wonder. Dinner. Mushrooms.
Yunnan Province, as it turns out, is one of the world’s major exporters of wild mushrooms. But nowhere else in Yunnan—or the rest of the world—had I so truly satisfied my rapacious desire for mushrooms.
I had found my Shangri-La.