Monday, May 31, 2010

Now what?

We have been home for just about a week and a half now. It took us a few days to get acclimated to the time change, as well as just being back in the states in general (for the first few days I was waking up around 5:30am, and then when I would see cumulus clouds I'd think "volcano!").

As glad as we are to be back (real beds, real showers, fresh fruits and vegetables, good beer) we are definitely missing Iceland already. Our trip, to sum it up in one word, was epic. I don't believe I have ever been on a trip where I have seen so many amazing sights, met so many friendly people, or come away from a trip and instantly wished I could go I was epic. (*more pictures have been posted. it's most certainly not all of them, but it's Iceland in a very small nutshell*)

The time has come now (after almost two full months off) to go back to work (if it can be called that). We have made it back to Whitefish, MT and are in the midst unpacking from Iceland and repacking to head out to the woods. Spotted Bear Ranch (in the Bob Marshall Wilderness) will be our new home for the next few months.......and I'm sure it, too, will be an adventure filled summer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I'm in the process of editing down my pictures (I think I had a little over 1,000 that I downloaded onto my computer.....though most were repeats that needed to be deleted). It's been demanded that I start posting, so I've put few pictures up. Keep checking back for more.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Home Again

Four weeks is a long time to be living out of a backpack in a country where you don't understand the language (and don't even have any comprehension of it at all because once you think you've figured out how to say one simple word and then say it in front of a local you find that you still have it totally wrong).

Four weeks is a long time to be constantly one the move, afraid that by staying in one place for too long means you will have to forfeit seeing something else (and that just can't happen in a place where everything you see is pretty much the coolest thing you have ever seen in your life).

Four weeks, however, was not long enough to see everything I wanted to see. This trip has been one of the best, most amazing experiences I have ever had, and, though I'm ready to be back home, I'm truly going to miss that little island of ice and fire.

.........though, I can't say I'm not excited for showers with real towels and beds with real sheets.........Good bye Iceland. Hello's good to be back.

My Birthday in Reykjavik

I can't say that it was the most wildly exciting birthday I've every had, and by "wildly exciting" I mean it wasn't spent in a drunken haze with shots and beers and absolutely no recollection of the happenings when I woke up this morning (though, some of that had to do with the fact that there wasn't that much money left over in my travel fund, and piss-beer for $7 isn't really what I wanted to drink on my birthday).......but I did have fun, I did spend it in Iceland, I did have a couple celebratory beers, and I did spend it exactly they way I wanted to; walking around the city on the last full day of the trip with friends.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Westman Islands

History Lesson: The Westman Islands (or Vestmannaeyjar in Icelandic) were created from volcanic activity, the most recent being Surtsey in 1965. The largest, and only inhabited Island, is Heimaey, to which we made an impromptu, and very last minute, visit. (We had met a couple of French-Canadian girls in a hostel the day before who said they were going to visit the islands and how cheap it was, so, of course, we then had to look into it and go as well) In 1973 an unknown volcano (Eldafell) erupted, burying part of the town in lava and enlarging the island. Afraid that the lava was going to close off access to the port, the people brought in giant water guns and sprayed the oncoming lava flow with sea water to slow it down, and hopefully stop it. Luckily it worked, nobody died, and the port was saved.

Fast-forward 37 years. Eyjafjallajökull is now the erupting volcano, and the only way to get to Heimaey is to take a three hour ferry (since air traffic is most likely going to be canceled).

We arrived on Heimaey) often called ''the pearls of Iceland'' in may travel and guide books) in the midst of an ash storm. It was like landing in a war zone. Ash and dust filled the air, coating everything in a blanket of grey. The streets were practically deserted, and those that were out (walking or driving) donned dust masks, and the police that were patrolling the streets were handing out masks to those who didn´t have any.

The four of us bee-lined it for the hostel and stayed indoors until things calmed down. The two girls were only staying one night, so they lost part of a day of exploring, but Cory and I have decided to stay two nights and were able to see pretty much everything we wanted. We climbed to the top of both volcanoes (Helgafell and Eldafell), see the town after the ash settled and cleared a bit, we walked to the very end of the island, and (the highlight of the excursion....and possibly the entire trip) saw some puffins! (which are probably the cutest birds on the planet)It was the perfect (almost) end to a practically perfect trip.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Ways of the Icelandic Nightlife

Let me just preface this by saying that the Icelanders sure know how to have a good time. They are, by far, the craziest partiers I have ever encountered.

At home, we tend to begin our fun (and debauchery, if one is so inclined) around 8 or 9 (maybe 11 at the very latest) and generally only go until about 1 or 2. But not here. No. The party doesn´t even start until 2 and continues well into the early hours of the morning. Sure you´ll see people out drinking before that, but trust me, they´re just getting ready to begin. The stumble out of the bars and clubs around 5 or 6, donning sunglasses, and head off to work......actually, that last part may not be entirely true, as things often don´t open around here until 11 or 12, which is probably because they are still trying to sleep off the booze they had imbibed the night (morning?) before.

I have a couple of theories for this outlandish behavior.

Theory #1: Since there is so little sun in the winter time, the Icelandic people spend almost all of their time inside sleeping and staying warm. In doing so, they begin to store up (what we will call) ''energy units.'' These ''energy units'' accumulate until there is no more room for them, and if not soon released will explode, sending the poor Icelander into oblivion. Luckily, though, it is just about this time (when they don´t think they can hold any more in) that summer arrives and though the sun does set below the horizon, it never gets much darker than dusk. And because it never gets dark, there is nothing to indicate that it is actual night time and, perhaps, one should think about going to bed. Thus, the Icelanders stay up all day and ''night'' (only taking naps when absolutely necessary) until all of their ''energy units'' have been completely depleted..........and when they have run out and don´t think they can go on for another minute, winter hits, and they go into hibernation mode and this crazy circle of the two day\night extremes begins again.

Theory #2: Because things (most of all alcohol) are so expensive here, the Icelanders can only afford to go out once a week. So, in order to make the most of it, they choose to either go out Friday or Saturday night (which ever has the most going on that particular weekend) and make the most of it by staying out with their friends as long as they can last.

Whatever the reason, the nightlife here doesn´t compare to any I have seen anywhere else, and though I have found it slightly difficult to keep up, it´s been an experience to try. So grab a beer and party on.


Thursday, May 13, 2010 say that three times fast

Our adventure (for this particular leg in our trip) started in a little hostel in Hvol (which is about three hours to the east of the volcano) We were debating on what to go see for the day.....more waterfalls and rivers or the volcano. We were debating, that is until we looked west and saw that giant mushroom cloud of mayhem that has been disrupting so much of the world. There was no way we could drive away from that site.....I mean, you see an active volcano with ash spewing into the air, and the only rational thing you can do is drive toward it, right?

Although our main mission was to get to the volcano, we did have to make a few mandatory stops at two of the major waterfall attractions in the south. However, there was nothing could have distracted us from our goal, including the cloud cover that began to form after passing under the big, black, threatening ash cloud that blocked out some of the sun.


Hoping that the cloud cover would dissipate on the back side of the mountain we headed towards a hostel made up of turf homes. It was at the end of a very long half paved/half gravel dead-end road. Unfortunately the clouds were still hanging low and the road up to the actual hostel appeared to be closed. Disappointed, frustrated, and hungry we turned back to Hvolsvollur (not to be confused with Hvol because they are two totally different towns), which was the last place we had seen any sort of establishment.

We never found a payphone there, but we were able to sustain ourselves on some less-than-satisfying burgers and fries. The sun started to break through at this point and we could, once again, start seeing that ominous cloud. With food in our bellies and slightly lifted spirits we went back the way we had just come from until we found a church on a hill that had promise of a better vantage point in which we could view this spectacle. It payed out.

We sat on the hill taking pictures and just watching the ash rise until the clouds started creeping back in and we realized it was getting a little late. Toying with the ideas of going back to the end of the road and sleeping in the car or chancing it and driving to the next hostel (where who knows if they would have even been open at that hour.....which, by the way was only about 8:00pm), but unable to decide, we left it to chance and flipped a coin. The coin said to sleep at the end of the road. And that's what we did......hoping that the morning would be clear.


holy shit!!
me: response...........
cory: caitlin! you have to look at this!
me: what?
cory: the volcano!!At this point I came out of my slightly sleep-deprived daze and realized where we were. I swung open the car door and to my awe-struck eyes saw clear skies, the sun not quite up and over the horizon, and a massive, pink pluming cloud of ash billowing out of the mountain side. It was one of the most mesmerizing sights I have ever seen. You can see the ash come up as the cloud gets bigger and bigger, and you are just unable to look away. We stood there for I don't know how long, it might have been 20 minutes, it might have been close to an hour......and every now and then we could hear the faint sounds of earth and ice breaking and crashing.

WWOOFing on Vallanes

PART TWO: the work.....US vs The Cursed Cous-Cous

The work on the farm wasn't actually all that hard. We would be woken up around 8/8:30am and have some breakfast, which was always "Gabriel's Breakfast" (I think it consisted of barley grain, apples, dried cherries, cinnamon, and maybe some other sweet spices) and bread. It was delicious the first day or two we had it....but it quickly got old.

Work began at 9:00am, and, like I said, wasn't extremely difficult or exhausting. Lunch, which always happened to be some sort of barley soup, was around noon, and then we were back to work by 1:00pm. The work day ended at 5:00pm and we had the rest of the day (which, since it pretty much doesn't get really dark anymore, was until about midnight or 1:00am when you realized you should probably go to bed soon) to do what we wanted, only having to be back at the monster house around 6:30ish if you wanted to eat dinner with the rest of the group.

Our job for during our stay ended up being to sow the carrots in the carrot field. Normally, I think, this was a task that took maybe a full day (and that's if you were taking your sweet-ass time with it). However, that was not true if our case. Eymundur decided to do an experiment and mix the carrot seeds with cous-cous instead of sesame seeds (he does this to ensure that the carrot seeds are evenly dispersed when they are planted). The problem with this though is that the seeder we were using (a two wheeled apparatus that basically drops and sows the seeds for you) didn't like the cous-cous. It was like putting kitty litter into a record player. We would take two steps and the wheel would clog up. We spent more time de-jamming this stupid contraption than actually sowing seeds, and after one afternoon, a whole day, and part of another morning I was about ready to hammer-throw the f*cking thing across the field. We decided that the cous-cous had won, and, defeated, we walked back to the Monster House to find Eymundur. Luckily (I guess more for him than for us) he knew of a farmer that had a different type of seeder we were able to borrow, and newly equipped for battle we returned to the field. This time, in the span of a little over two hours we were able to complete what had originally taken us almost two days. Victory was finally ours.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

WWOOFing at Vallanes

Week #3, which included an introduction to organic farming, new people, and vegetarian meals, is coming to a close much sooner than I was expecting (though, I can´t say that I´m sad about the vegetarian meals part.....I like my meat).

We have spent the past week WWOOFing on a farm near Egilsstaðir. For anyone who doesn´t know, WWOOF is an organization where you work worldwide on organic farms. So basically there are farms all over the world that you can travel to, and in exchange for room and board you do a bit of work........probably one of the hippiest things I will ever do, but it was extremely interesting, and just one week was not quite enough time.

I suppose that I will probably go into a bit too more detail about the farm than I would like for one post, so I will be breaking it down into parts. (Mostly because it´s kind of a nice day, and I´d rather go outside, plus, no one reads long blog posts anyway).

PART ONE: the farm.

The first farm we chose is mainly a barley farm, however, Eymunder (the farmer) also produces a lot of other products like massage oils, beet chutney, some sort of organic crackers, and a few other things (so basically he doesn´t grow just barley). We didn´t choose it for any specific reason other than he was the first one to respond to any of our emails.

It´s a nice looking farm, quite large in fact (by large, I mean a LOT of different fields) and it even has it´s own ''forest'' which Eymundur planted himself (it´s puny, the trees are. but it is rude to snicker at the trees). To the East are beautiful, snow-covered mountains, and to the west there is a giant lake about a 15-20 minute walk from here (where, apparently, a like monster resides), On the property is a little white church with a red roof (I think I read some where the at one time farmers owned their own chuch......but I´ll read up on it later and explain).

We live in what is called ''The Monster House.'' It is the equivilant of two trailer homes put together (perpendicularly <----new word?) and the outside is graffiti-painted (well, I guess maybe more mural-like). It can house up to about 14 people, I think, and currently we have about 10 or 11 right now. It´s very peaceful here, but unless you hitchhike into town there isn´t a whole lot to do in your free time....other than go to the lake or the forest. The weather has been beautiful (sunny), but in the early afternoon the wind picks up and it´s much nicer to sit and read on the sofa and just look outside than actually BE outside.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Seyðisfjörður: quite possibly the makings of the best horror film ever

Seyðisfjörður is such a unique little town I thought it deserved a post of its own. It is a little fishing town at the end of a fjord on the very east side of Iceland, surrounded on three sides by giant, snowcapped mountains. The only way to describe it is as a town that lives on the brink of a blissful existance and complete insanity. It sucks you in with its quaint peacefulness, and just when you are getting ready to leave, the mountains close in like teeth until you are trapped. Unable to leave, every day is spent exactly as the last until they all run together and you can´t tell yesterday apart from tomorrow. (very much like ''Groundhog Day'')

It was completely random that we even found our way there. We were heading east towards Egilsstaðir and, flipping through the travel book, randomly found a town (just a little further east of Egilsstaðir that had a hostel) described as ''a writer and artist´s hub with a bohemian flair.'' That should have been our first clue as to what we were in for.....because everyone knows artists and writers are just a tad bit crazy in the head. But we went. We drove up, and up, and up into the mountains, over this pass, the snow gradually piling up higher and higher on the sides of the road. Then we descended into one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen. (words can not do it justice, so you will just have to wait until i insert the picture once i am home. but it will go here)

Upon arrival we were directed to the old hospital-turned-hostel where we were to stay for the next night or two. We were greeted by Richard, and American man with a Brittish accent trying to get his residency in Iceland. He was slight of frame, and his thought process was so inconsistant he could could not string together more than two or three sentences before changing the subject he was talking about (generally mid-sentence). It was quite obvious that he, at one point, had drank a few too many cups of mushroom tea or maybe a few too many hits of LSD.

It was at this moment that I was convinced that we were in the midst of a horror movie gone terribly wrong......Four travelers coss over a trecherous mountain pass, though blowing winds and snow (it was actually quite nice as we came over the pass, the sun was out and we stopped quite a bit to take pictures) and find themselves in a sleepy fishing village at the end of a fjord. Late in the night (it was actually mid-afternoon), with no other place to go (I´m sure we could have turned back if we had really wanted to) the only refuge they can find is at a converted hospital run by an old, drug-dazed American.........

We survived the night, however (no ghost hauntings, and Richard didn´t have any crazy hallucinations and try to kill us in our sleep), and the night after that. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, climbed (most of the way) up a mountain, saw the town, drank lots of beer, and had some very interesting conversations with Richard (he´s crazy, but he grows on you).

We hardly saw a soul in town, but it is apparently quite busy in the summertime, and I can hardly imagine what it must be like in the summer time with the hustle and bustle of the artists and writers and tourists who flock there.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Highlights from Week Two

As the (somewhat cliché) saying goes, '' time flies when you are having fun,'' and week #2 has ended. While in Akureyri we met two Americans (who happen to be from Bellingham, of all places) who had rented a car. So we jumped in with them and traveled together for the week. We went from Akureyri to Lake Mývatn (staying in a little cabin in Reykjahlið). From Reykjahlið to Húsavík. From Húsavík to Seyðisfjörður. And from Seyðisfjörður to Egilsstaðir.

We´ve seen\done:
- the waterfall Goðafoss
- Stakhólstjörn (a psuedocrater filled marshland)
- lava formations at Kálfastrandarland & Dimmuborgir
- The Námafall Hverarönd mud pots
- Volcano Kraftla & the crater Viti (though it was a bit snow-filled)
- swam in the Mývatn Nature Baths (considered the ''Blue Lagoon of the North'')
- climbed up a volcano-crater and walked around the rim
- climbed (almost most of the way up a mountain side)
- partied with the locals

And now we are beginning week #3 (also known as the second half of our trip) where we are staying and working at an organic farm just south of Egilsstaðir. There are quite a number of other kids that are here as well, so I am predicting that it will be just as interesting as the first half of the trip has been.