The constant snapping of photos on the Northern Lights Discovery tour turned me off taking any of my own, so no photos of the volcanos or geysers or glaciers. But here, the result of much sleuthing,  is the essential ingredient for Reykjavik’s licorice cappuccino: this crushed-up candy sprinkled on top of the foam. I have five bags.
The constant snapping of photos on the Northern Lights Discovery tour turned me off taking any of my own, so no photos of the volcanos or geysers or glaciers. But here, the result of much sleuthing, is the essential ingredient for Reykjavik’s licorice cappuccino: this crushed-up candy sprinkled on top of the foam. I have five bags.
My friend and I each harbored bad news when we joined up at the Portland bus station for the start of our trip to Iceland to celebrate milestone birthdays.

Mine was the looming country-wide workers’ strike, which would have us arriving in Reykjavik at 5 a.m. with no way to get to our hotel, and no sheets or towels in the room.

Hers was more serious: WOW airlines, which we were flying, seemed to be teetering on collapse, with passengers stranded for upwards of 17 hours in airports and on tarmacs.

My first thought was to just call it quits.

Not telling my friend about the workers’ strike, we decided to proceed at least to the Boston airport so we could assess the situation ourselves.

The airport showed an orderly line at WOW’s check-in desk and our 7 p.m. flight listed on time.

But my friend pointed out that while WOW might get us there, it likely would not get us back, and because I was testifying at a hearing in Augusta for an important domestic abuse bill the day after our return, I needed to be home as scheduled.

It was now four o’clock. Icelandic Air’s website showed four seats left on its Boston-to-Reykjavik 9 p.m. flight. The round-trip price was surprisingly reasonable. As wasteful as it was to buy a second ticket for the same trip, this was our best option, so we went for it.

WOW’s gate was next to ours, and we watched its departure time change from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and then, just as we were boarding the Icelandic Air flight, to 11:30 p.m.

Smiling flight attendants, a million stars in the black sky and a documentary about a lonely woman pastor in the Icelandic hinterland made for a comfortable and fast five-hour flight.

In Keflavik Airport, the overhead boards showed CANCELLED next to all WOW flights. The airline was kaput. If we hadn’t quickly switched gears, we would not have made it to Iceland, and with the ensuing chaos who knows how we would have gotten home.

On the door of our hotel was a sign that the workers’ strike was canceled.

Let the birthday fun begin!

In downtown Reykjavik, the hills were studded with blocks of primary-colored wooden buildings and startlingly tall and beautiful blue-eyed, blond young men and women. At a cozy lunch spot, I passed up the puffin and whale on the menu for a scrumptious cod and wasabi mashed potato dish. And in a corner coffee shop off of Laugavegur Street — where there was a turntable, a stack of albums fronted by Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” and a handwritten sign “Feel free to DJ. Peace and light” — I was jolted by the licorice cappuccino. The thick white foam was speckled with what looked like tiny black rocks, and the intense licorice taste with a sweetness tempered by a bit of a kick had me thinking: “Where have you been all my life?”

The next morning we were greeted in the hotel lobby by the big smile and strong handshake of Martina, our bus driver and guide for the three-night GJ Travel tour of the southeast that would take us to waterfalls, the second tallest geyser in the world, the Thingvellir national park, and the Blue Lagoon.

The title of our Northern Lights Discovery Tour notwithstanding, Martina lowered our expectations, telling us the Aurora lights are elusive, and her group on the last such tour did not see them.

This was the first organized travel tour of my life. Usually I travel by myself, finding my own hotels and stumbling on my own restaurants, and take in the feel of a place and its people rather than the celebrated sights.

Here, some spontaneity was lost — just outside a geo-thermal field with billowing geysers of steam was a parked truck with a handwritten “Fish and Chips” sign that I would have stopped at if I had been on my own.

But I would have missed so much, and there was something reassuring about not having to make decisions. Martina prepared us for each stop the way a teacher would prepare her kindergarten class, lulling us to the degree that one of the (adult) passengers asked her before stepping off the bus, “Should I put my crampons on?” and another asked when we stopped at a waterfall, “Will I be okay if I have a fear of heights?”

At the Icelandic culture museum, Martina pointed out that the fanciful initials carved in pieces of driftwood were villagers’ claim marks for wood found on the beach that, in a country with no trees, was the only building material available for houses and ships.

At the entrance to the Froheimar tomato and Icelandic horse farm she translated the sign as “Go slow: Wild children and tame horses.”

Here, Knuter, looking like the captain in the movie “Sound of Music,” mounted one of his 20 short and shaggy Icelandic horses to show us the extra two gaits this breed has over all the other horse breeds in the world, and, in a massive greenhouse draped everywhere with sheets of tomatoes fed with pure, geothermal water, I feasted for breakfast on a Bloody Mary, tomato soup and tomato ice cream in a little clay pot topped with a pansy.

If I had been on my own, I might have passed up the Blue Lagoon.

I remembered my friend Alex raving about this geothermal spa, but I feared it would be a tourist trap that I got to 10 years too late, like Monet’s garden in Giverny with the Japanese footbridge over the waterlilies almost straightening under the mass of camera-clickers, and Stingray City in Grand Cayman where Caymanians held up the docile marine creatures for people — standing ankle deep in clear turquoise water and hoisting children or red plastic cups of beer — to kiss.

But timed tickets here keep the experience civilized, and it was heavenly gliding shoulder deep across the expanse of warm, milky-blue water that was invigoratingly hot in spots, to a window for a lava face mask and another for a glass of wine, and then to stand under a rushing waterfall, surrounded by mist and with a snowy volcano range in the background.

(Tip: As good as the minerals are purported to be for your skin, they are bad for your hair. Put conditioner on before and after, wear a bathing cap, and do not put your head under water, or your hair, like mine, will still feel — and look — like clay a week later.)

One of the 10 passengers on our tour bus was an employee of the Manitoba Pork Council and posed a little pink plastic pig for photographs at the various landmark sites. A subway worker from Boston did the same thing with a Viking figurine, so enthusiastically that she fell into an icy stream on one of her set-ups.

The highlights of the trip for me, aside from the lagoon, were the two epic waterfalls, one graced by the full span of a rainbow; the hike on a glacier, past crystal-blue caves, crags of black volcanic ash and crevices that went down to the literal end of the earth; and the food, where even in the cafeteria-like settings on our budget-priced tour, the traditional lamb soup and fish, potato and onion stew served with sweet brown bread were superb.

My only disappointment was the Northern lights, and not for not seeing them. On the night that Martina said because of clear skies and the earth’s electromagnetic activity we had the best chance to view them, I stood outside in the cold night with the rest of the group scanning the skies but called it quits at about 11 p.m. A loud knock on my cabin door and Martina’s voice calling out “Northern lights!” jolted me awake and I scrambled to pull on pants and a coat.

But the cloud-like shapes that spread out across the sky did not dance and they were white, and I watched them for about a half hour before going back to bed. From the excited buzz at breakfast I was the only one who was underwhelmed. Eric-from-Australia’s expensive camera somehow captured the lights I saw as white as red and green.

I have heard in many cities the saying that if you don’t like the weather wait an hour, but nowhere is this as true as in Iceland: On the first day a thick layer of tiny white pebbles of hail covered the ground; we walked to the second waterfall in a freezing, lashing rain; and on the glacier hike it was so sunny and warm I wanted a sun hat.

The free weekly in the lobby of our hotel has a feature called Perfect Day in which a local celebrity relates their fantasy. Our last day in Iceland was, for me, this Perfect Day.

I woke up to a winter wonderland and at 6 a.m. walked through the foot of snow to the public pool — the biggest in the country and just a few blocks from our hotel. It was outdoors, and geothermal-heated. Walking from the locker rooms to the pool, in 25-degree weather in a bathing suit, was ridiculous, but I was warm as soon as I was in the water, and I swam laps with fat fluffy snowflakes drifting onto my face and hair. Then a soak in one of the hot tubs that ringed the pool, and time in a steam room.

On the walk back to the hotel, a stop at a corner fish market for a plate of fish and potato stew. At Te and Kaffi, a licorice cappuccino, then a stroll up and down the hills of Reykjavik, and a stop at a food hall where I had the best fish tacos — crunchy and feathery light — of my life.

And then, a goodbye to Iceland knowing I would return, and homeward bound to Camden — on an airline that I knew would get me there.