On the final day of my Icelandic sojourn, the girls suggested we go to a sweat lodge. Now this is not a particularly Icelandic pursuit but in the spirit of doing everything once, apart from incest and drinking your own wee, I agreed to take part. The sweat lodge was located in the back garden of a ramshackle bungalow, down a cinder path just off highway number 1 on the outskirts of Reykjavik. On arrival, we were greeted by two old queens and a herd of rabbits (I know this isn’t the correct collective noun but they were seriously en masse). Everywhere I looked there were bunnies – around our ankles, under the cars, in the bushes. Why there were so many and why they were so tame was never explained but this is Iceland – a country that believes in elves and trolls so let’s say no more. The house itself (which was thankfully bunny-free) was a labyrinth of small interlinked rooms, each one festonned with fairy lights, lurid murals and various eclectic nicky nacky noos. No surface was untouched by the hand of kitsch.
The first stage of the sweat involved putting on some cheap plastic sunglasses that corresponded to our date of birth (I was turquoise), having our pulse points dabbed with a melange of suspicious smelling unguents and then going inside for some wild dancing in the disco room. Here, 18 barefoot men and women in various stages of undress moved, grooved, shimmied and flailed to the likes of Frankie goes to Hollywood, bongo from the Congo and something by Madonna involving the lyrics ‘kill the bitch’. It wasn’t exactly spiritual but we did all get off on the raw energy of ‘Relax, don’t do it’ and I had tremendous fun shaking my maracas. After we’d worked up a light sweat, we put our cozzies on and went out into the chill night air to the sweat lodge itself, a low-level yurt type construction covered with tarpaulin and blankets with no windows and only a small entrance. We had to bend double to get in – scrabbling to find a space in the dark, smoky interior. There we sat, cheek by jowl in a circle around a fireplace waiting for the sweat to start. Then the hot stones came in, the flap went down, the water went on, and the chanting began. ‘ooooooohhh I’m not claustrophobic, I’m not claustrophobic’, I chanted to myself as the Mexican lady with the big legs next to me keeled over. In between each 15 minute session of wailing and panting, the flap would open and someone would throw a wet flannel and a bottle of water at us. By the end of the fifth session, one girl had had a panic attack and legged it and I was rolling around moaning and wiping my face in the dirt – the only piece of cool in the whole ruddy place. Then Nonni (Master of the Flannel and ecstatic dance DJ) said we were done and could leave. I crawled out and collapsed on the grass, a quivering wreck. Nonni came over and threw a bucket of cold water over me and we all got in a hot tub. Later on, around midnight we had some watery soup and Nonni read my rune stones. He said I shouldn’t travel the next day as something would happen. I felt like slapping him.