As I sit here in my lonesome prison cell counting the bricks that surround me and try to remember what it feels like to be a free man I... What a load of rubbish!! :)
Sure I've been in Iceland for a very long time now. In fact I visited nearly 30 countries in Europe in about the same time as I have already spent in Iceland. Perhaps that is what leads to the frustration I feel within. The sudden shift in an otherwise rapid tempo. The lack of measurable progress on a map. The stagnant country count. The absence of the illusion of control.
But hey!! This is by far not the worst place I could be! Iceland is spectacular and I have been busy. I received an invite from Arcanum Glacier Tours (www.arcanum.is) to join them on a snowmobile trip on a glacier. How often do you get to try that!? We rode around in the winter landscape navigating by GPS in order not to drive into any deadly crevasses. Iceland sits on top of 2 tectonic plates; the Eurasian and the North American. This causes a lot of volcanic activity, earthquakes and geothermal activity as well. My guide, Sigurður Guðjónsson, was well adapted to the surroundings and would on and off educate me about the geology and history of Iceland. Fascinating! Would not miss it for the world! :)
Then Arctic Adventures (www.adventures.is
) asked if I would join them on the "black & blue". This is an event where they tie you to a pole and beat you senselessly with sticks until you are black and blue...all while forcing you to listen to "tell me what you want" as performed by the Spice Girls...?! :) No, not really; the "black & blue" is actually a customized trip into the darkness (black) of a cave which has been created by the lava flow long ago. You venture inside with flashlights and get to gaze at the marvelous formations that have been left by the volcanic activity. That is pretty great but I have seen a lot of caves in my lifetime so it did not have a huge impact on me although it is definitely worth doing.
The "blue" part was however something I could do again and again!! Sometimes in life you do things you never knew you wanted to. The blue part was exactly that! The 2 tectonic plates are moving away from each other with the insanely fast speed of about 2 cm per year. But it's been ongoing for a long while so today a lake has formed between the plates. And I had a chance to snorkel in that very environment! Cold? - no, not at all. You get a "bear suit" which is very much like a body fitted sleeping bag and then you are fitted with a dry suit to keep the water out. After this you are ready to walk into the crystal clear water and slowly drift with the gentle current. It's amazing!! There are no fish, no plant life...but the shifting colors and formations make it a once in a lifetime experience as you almost "fly" across this hidden world. After a while you get out of the water and make the short walk back to the tour bus. Wow!
The next day Arctic Adventures invited me to go on a glacier hike and climb. How do you say no to that? I was lucky enough to have the same guide as I had on the "black & blue". Fannar, which is his name, absolutely thrives on the nature of glaciers and we set out on what would prove to be another amazing day. Before getting up on the glacier we were fitted with crampons which are these spiky metal contraptions which sort of click onto your boots. With the crampons on you can walk across ice as if it was nothing special. It's interesting because your brain takes one look at the shiny ice that arches as thick waves ahead of you and tells your body: no way!! Your natural instinct is that if you put one foot on that icy surface then you will loose your footing in an instant and probably your front teeth seconds after that. But it works! Who would have thought? :)
The real treat for me was however doing the climb. Fannar picked a wall for us and I got to go first. I was equipped with 2 ice axes...one for each hand. BANG! That was the ice axe in my right hand which I whacked into the ice wall. But what about the left hand bang? Not so much left hand bang...I've probably never hammered anything with my left hand in my entire life? Oh well...my arm isn't just there for decoration...and after a little fine tuning the left ice axe was in place. Then the spiky feet, then the right axe again, the left axe, the spiky feet and up we go...the first 2 thirds were kind of easy but then suddenly the wall had some overhang and it was like looking into a wall. Now what?! Well...just keep going I guess. My heart started to beat faster and I trusted the ice much less! The blue ice wall in front of me looked like it was ready to release both my axes in one fatal fall plunging me into...well...into the safety line that was keeping me secure. But you don't think much about that line when you are up there imitating Sylvester Stalone from Cliffhanger. ADRENALINE!! I felt it rushing through me for the first time in years!! Big foot ain't got nothing on me!! And I whacked myself to the top of the wall! Now that was a real treat! ;)
A few days later ATV Adventures (www.atv4x4.is
) wanted to know if I was interested in trying their 1 hour trip? Sure! So they picked me up and drove me out to their garage. They have around 30 ATV's and not the small ones you see at carnivals. The big manly ones ;) What is an ATV? The abbreviation stands for All Terrain Vehicle and it is sort of a 4 wheeled motorcycle. First you start off on a somewhat easy training round which takes you past half a ship which lies on land rusting as the days goes by. Soon after you pass the other half which is also on land. When I asked my guide about it he simply explained that it is a shipwreck which the ocean chewed on and spit out. Massive waves had flung the shipwreck far up on land and now makes certain people think about why they are not flying across these treacherous waters?
After the practice round we took the ATV's out into "All Terrain". Imagine taking a ride on the surface of Mars. How spectacular is that? Now, there were girls in the group so we had to go a little slow...but revving the engine I had no doubt that the potential of these beast were great. We climbed the ATV's up on top of a spectacular viewing point and paused for a bit. Then we made our way back to the garage. Now who wants to sign up for the 4 hour trip? Me, me, me!! :)
The only thing I really wanted while in Iceland was to see a geyser. Where else in the world would you do it? The word geyser originates from the Icelandic word geysir. So while they exist throughout the world I figure Iceland is the right place for it. And what do you know...Reykjavik Excursions (www.re.is) invited me for the Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness tour. Reykjavik Excursions kind of seem to tie up all of Iceland. They run a vast amount of buses that take you to all the popular sights and they can arrange for pickup at all of Reykjavik's hotels and hostels. The Golden Circle is a very popular day trip which takes you around to see all the popular sights including my geyser!! Yes thank you...and off we went. Now I'm not going to try to describe the wonders of what makes Iceland a uniquely beautiful country...you just need to get here yourself.
But the geyser!! Oh yeah! I've got to get me one of those! About every 5-8 minutes it actively burst out a fountain of boiling water and then kind of just lies and waits for it's next performance. It is absolutely mesmerizing. And you can't help wonder what would happen if you discreetly dumped a dishwasher into the waiting water. How high would it go? :)
Before returning to Reykjavik the bus took us to Fontana Wellness. A small wellness center situated on top of a very active geothermal area. So active that they demonstrated how they can bake bread just by digging a 40 cm hole in the ground. Inside the wellness area you can enter a number of steam baths which are heated by the geothermal activity. The air in there gets very hot within minutes if you shut the door and window and when it gets hard to speak you know that it's time to open that door again :) Around the steam baths there are different shallow pools which have been heated to different temperatures ranging from 38 degrees to 44 degrees. All of this is located next to a lake with spectacular views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. Guess who was the only one dumb enough to walk into the cold lake?
Back in Reykjavik it is easy to find such "hot pots" at various swim bath facilities. Some inside and some outdoor. The name of Reykjavik translates into smoky bay which is a name given by the Vikings when they first arrived. The smoke of course wasn't smoke but steam rising from the highly active area. Iceland enjoys the high thermal activity as it powers electricity and heats homes providing near clean energy for most of the country. The real treat I find are the many hot pots which I have enjoyed around 10 times by now. I sit in the naturally heated water soaking my body and pretend that I am a wealthy Roman from 2000 years ago.
Iceland has by far surpassed my longest stay at any destination since I started traveling. The interview I did with Kastljós has created a few funny incidents where people have recognized me and have stepped up to say hello and happy traveling.
The ever lovely Kristín of "the Bus"
I have been fortunate to stay at Reykjavik Bus Hostel which I continue to rate as the best hostel I've stayed at so far. The owner, Kristín, is an absolute sweetheart and her hand picked staff combined with the great atmosphere made it a lot easier to be in Iceland for such a long time. I truly love Iceland!! I love the people, the culture, the land, the history, the way of life, the fresh air, the possibilities, the can do attitude, the ever changing weather...
However, this is Once Upon a Saga - a journey to every country in the world! Not a journey to Iceland...I am more than ready to leave this magnificent rock and get on with the adventure. Unfortunately delays in Poland, Scotland and now Iceland have pushed the timeline into a corner and I fear that there is no option for going from Greenland to Canada before much later into the year. Chances are that I will travel to Greenland and have to return to Iceland and get the connection from there. But let's see ;)
Calculating that the entire journey will take about 4 years we are still good on time. The speedy trip through most of Europe has left a strong tactical advantage. But a great part of that "lead" will possibly evaporate throughout the trip to Greenland. Greenland however is a magnificent place on this planet and I will not cheat you of it! It does however mean that I will not have a great deal of time for neither Canada or the United States. Also I might rush through Central America as I was there in the beginning of 2012. Back then I bought a motorcycle in San Diego and did the trip down to Panama City through every country on my way. A total of 10,077 km in only 31 days. I anticipate that the same stretch might take about 2-3 months this time.
It pains me to "run" through countries like this. Who wants to live forever? I do!! And I would spend forever in every country! I want to visit Jenny in Canada, Amy in the States and a whole lot of other people while I venture south. But simply crossing a huge country like the United States will probably take about 5 days in sheer transport. And to refer to the math: 30 days in each country amounts to 16 years. That would mean that I would be almost 50 years old when I got back home - and though my girlfriend is loyal I doubt she would still be waiting :)
It's been 4 months and I do miss my friends. In different situations I think of them, about what they would say or what they would do. I would love to share my experiences with them. At the same time I feel privileged beyond compare. As Jenny (in Canada) so nicely put it:
"My name is Torbjørn and I am spearheading a groundbreaking project called Once Upon A Saga. This involves traveling to every country in the world (203) without flying. Iceland is country number 39."
That makes me proud and happy! And I get to share it with all of you! ;)
Thank you for following. This next leg will take us across some of the worst seas at perhaps the worst time of the year! The waves easily rise to 30 meters and the icy cold water is unforgiving!! I however get to travel across it in the capable hands of Captain Rúni from the Faroe Islands. The name of the boat is 'Ilivileq' and I'm already onboard. We may sail tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day, or the next day, or the next day....
Getting it done the Ross Way ;)
Torbjørn C. Pedersen - tick tock, tick tock, who's afraid of the big bad clock ;)