The sign, handpainted and hung low enough that it could have been a child's handiwork, was simple, but baffling. Dead Whale. Sounds pretty self-explanatory, and if the words had been Fresh Corn or Yard Sale we could have easily taken it at face value. But the words, again, were DEAD WHALE. It's the sort of sign that stops you dead (ha!) in your tracks. In our case, it had us reversing our rental Toyata Yaris after a few seconds of discussion. "Do you think it really...?" "Is there actually a...?"
We weren't the only ones who followed the lead. Along a rocky ridge, we saw a family of five and a young couple standing and looking out toward the water. As we moved closer, we noticed that their chins were tucked into their necks. They were all looking down at something.
Maybe they were looking down at nothing. The three youngest gazers turned and walked away silently and we took our place up on the viewing platform.
I'm not sure why I was so startled by the enormous lump rising from the rocky shore. Why I yelped, "Oh my god!" and slapped my hands over my face. What else was I expecting? I hadn't really thought it would be a hot dog truck named "Dead Whale" to reel customers in as I'd joked. (Though Icelanders do love their hot dog trucks). This is what I was hoping for, what we'd turned off the road to see. A dead whale it was, plain as day. A young woman climbed on top of the beached whale while her boyfriend took a picture. I imagined her hitting a soft spot and falling straight through into the rotting corpse of a giant whale. Jonah! the horror movie.
The thing is - the waters surrounding Iceland are some of the best for whale watching in the world. Humpback, minke, fin, sei and blue, they're all regularly sighted around the coast. So, I arrived in Iceland with anticipation. Would I get to see a whale?! I guess that's what made the dead one so jarring. It was a whale all right, my very first outside of the technicolor captivity of Sea World, but I wasn't really getting to see it any better off than Shamu. It was still amazing to see the majestic creature, a little smushed but without swarming bugs or snacking seabirds disturbing its rest. There wasn't even a stench. More amazing was the fact that we'd found it following a sign put up on the side of the road. Just another day of driving around Iceland.