WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Explosions in the Sky

By on January 12, 2016

Icelanders put a Jackson Hole New Year’s Eve to shame.

Páll Oskar, Iceland’s most beloved DJ. (Photo: palloskar.is)

Páll Oskar, Iceland’s most beloved DJ. (Photo: palloskar.is)

Jackson, WY – Culture was only a four-hour drive away and I couldn’t wait to get out of our little fjord town to experience it. After an intense five-week Christmas celebration, including three consecutive days of nonstop eating, a handful of the Hildibrand Hotel employees (myself included) decided to rent a car and drive 200 plus miles to the closest big city, Akureyri. Driving north from Neskaupstaður brings you through one of the most desolate areas of Iceland, the only part of the Ring Road that veers near the treacherous interior.

Akureyri is often dubbed the “capital of the north,” although it is neither a capital nor the northernmost Icelandic settlement. But with 17,000 people living in the city and the surrounding area, its size is very similar to Jackson. When I was a whale-watching guide in 2014, Akureyri was my home base, which meant I was very familiar with the best spots for nightlife. It had been recited to me time and time again that New Year’s Eve was the biggest party night in Iceland. You hear that and you don’t really take it too much to heart. Surely the parties I experienced during the Iceland Airwaves music festival were comparable.

Gods was I wrong.

Unlike in Jackson, fireworks are easily purchased and can be launched from just about anywhere in Iceland. There’s no danger of burning down National Forests (or any forests, really) or of scaring wintering wildlife. You just buy your boom sticks and blow that shit up. I was told that Icelandic families can spend upwards of a few thousand dollars just on New Year’s fireworks alone, which, to me, seemed like an overestimation.

My friend Lína’s father was a captain of a large fishing boat that was docked in the harbor, and I was lucky to be invited to view the fireworks from the top of the ship. Climbing the snowy ladders was difficult enough while the boat was stationary, so I can’t imagine how those sailors keep their balance out on the open sea. But I digress.

What I saw looking out over the Akureyri cityscape was mind-numbingly beautiful. All across the city fireworks erupted in gigantic, constant explosions. These Icelanders didn’t just dish out cash for sparklers and Roman candles; each location had more firepower than a Snow King New Year’s and Fourth of July combined. Like some Middle Eastern war zone, the whizzing rockets and explosions lasted over half an hour, as if there was some competition to see who had the most fireworks to launch. Also all of the rescue flares expire at the end of each year, so the sky was full of soaring red flares shot off by the sailors.

“What do you think?” Lína asked. Her boyfriend Valdi just smirked, waiting for my response.

“Uh,” I said with a laugh. “I’m pretty sure there are more fireworks here than I’ve seen in my entire lifetime.”

Afterwards we got ourselves dressied up (travel tip: if you plan on partying in Iceland on the weekend, girls wear heels and guys wear blazers and ties) and went to the biggest party in Akureyri: Pallaball. Iceland’s most famous (and most flamboyant) DJ, Páll Óskar, is famous for hosting the craziest dance parties in the country, and we were lucky to have him choose to spend his New Year’s Eve in Akureyri. The details of the night are vague, but I do remember smoking outside with a fellow who seemed unfazed by the bleeding gash he’d somehow acquired above his eye.

“It’ll heal next year,” he said.

I’ve had my fair share of memorable (or not so memorable) Pink Garter nights, but it’s clear that Icelanders know how to throw down better than the rest of ’em.

Quentin Tarantino also has celebrated New Year’s in Iceland and famously told Conan O’Brien: “I’m in a room of supermodels who are drunk out of their minds, standing up on a table, [shouting] ‘GET THE PARTY STARTED, LET’S GET THE PARTY STARTED!’”

It doesn’t get more cultural than that. PJH


About Andrew Munz

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