Friday, May 20, 2011

Adventures in the nature

There were more chances to see that you shouldn't plan too much when you make a trip.

I decided to get a ride to the main road with Guðmundur at 4 am. My plan was to pitch my tent in the nearby big village but he managed to stop a car going the opposite direction and here I roll all the way to Ísafjörður! Not in the best companionship - 2 girls and 2 boys drinking and smoking all the time, not the most pleasant ride, but better than freezing my ass off in the cold.

The way to Ísafjörður. First snow I've seen since the end of January!
After a long ride I was really tired and pitched my tent behind a block of flats, very close to the shore and slept there from 10 to 13.
The place where I had my morning picnic the next sunny day

I took advantage of being on the Westfjords earlier and decided to visit my host in Hólmavík earlier.

Just after Súðavík. Incredible views, clear blue water and really desolate part of Iceland, Hornstrandir
I hiked to the top of a nearby hill on a very windy day.
That's hitchhiking on the Westfjords. Just few km hitchhiked with 2 drivers, around 6 km walked. Traffic almost none...
..but the scenery makes walking and waiting allright!

I stayed in touch with my host from Reykjavík, Marty, and we decided to meet each other at Snæfellsnes, in Ólafsvík , and hike there together with another couchsurfer, Rebecca from USA.

The scenery looks like paradise but the wind could strike you down.
Even among barren lava fields you can find some colors.
First wild camping in Iceland. That was the night that my water- and windproof tent was made for.
The view from my tent
A nearby waterfall we took water from
We went to Snæfellsnes National Park and visited cliffs at Malarrif.
Bird colony on the cliff
Snæfellsjökull  is far away...

It felt quite odd to be back in Reykjavík after so many days spent in the nature, far away from crowds of people, big buildings and cars. Yet I still felt I came back to another home and the thought that I'm surrounded by friends made my sorrows vanish. Luckily I won't stay here for too long.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A ride to anywhere

After one night in Borgarnes my plan is to get anywhere. After around 10 minutes a driver pulls over and that's how we start conversing:

I: How far are you going?
Driver: I'm going to the west.
I: Westfjords or Snæfellsnes?
Driver: It's the beginning of Westfjords. Where are you going?
I: I can go anywhere.
Driver: Really?
I: Yes. You can take me anywhere.

And that's where he took me.

Somewhere before Ormsstaðir, on a gravel road 590. it's only farms here, many of them abandoned long time ago. Guðmundur's farm is located around 1 km from Hvammsfjörður. It's surrounded by green fields and hills. There are many small islands close to the coast. People who live here permanently breed horses and sheeps, apart from this there are many birds. Guðmundur invites me to stay on his farm for the night and suggests that I take a hike up the hill. The surroundings look fabulous. I hike along a stream and a waterfall. I can't get very close to it because of a huge drop, but the view is breathtaking anyway. Almost vertical drop, part of the water is smoothly falling down on the rocks, part is swirling in the air as thousands of tiny droplets. When I ascend more, the deafening sound of the waterfall fades away and is replaced by quiet flow from a tiny stream.

The road to unknown

Waterfall near the farm


View from the top

Coming down

Snowy peaks of Snæfellsnes

The coast

My generous driver (right) and his "very disrespectful" friend, American pastor Michael

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Escapes from Reykjavík

I stay in Reykjavík for 3 days. My host is Marty, an American who's spent last 25 years in Africa. His wife works in an embassy and he follows her and works as a teacher in countries they go to. He tells me about the Computer Science schools he opened in some African villages and his own program of teaching. His at first fledgling enterprise, later turned out to be a huge investment in the lives of people from the poorest parts of Africa.

Marty is a man of action, hates not being involved in any kind of activities. He thinks it's a shame he's been in Iceland for 8 months now and didn't have many opportunities to see the country. He'd like to change it, do some camping and long-distance hiking. The chance comes quickly. For the first time since my stay in France I hike with a partner. We go to Kleifarvatn and marvel at the volcanic rocks of different shapes and soft mosses, we discover geothermal area of Seltún and check the temperatures of hot springs, we do part of the hiking trail to Esja and don't make it to the top, but rather enjoy the walk when the weather is so nice, share stories from our youth, talk about luck and less luck in hitchhiking, discuss the future, life and true values. I help Marty with choosing the right camping equipment. We'll for sure do some hiking in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Meet the Icelanders

During 3 days of traveling without a couchsurfing accommodation I had a chance to meet some local people in three locations. A great opportunity to have a peak into Icelandic way of living.

First night - Grindavík. I notice some small kids jumping on the trampoline, so I assume parents must be at home and also guess that family with kids will be nicer than some kid-less grouches. I ring the bell and a middle-aged man opens the door. I tell him about my situation and he agrees without hesitation, same about his wife. They say it might be too cold at night and offer me the spare bad. Just after that Arna invites me to join her in the hot tub. After one hour she leaves for a meeting and Elli keeps me company for another hour. From both of them I get to know about the monetary crisis in 2008 and how it affected people's lives - everything is much more expensive, different groups of people felt it in a different way, for some it meant just no longer being able to afford the most expensive products, for some it meant going bankrupt, losing their jobs and houses. Many Icelandic people left for Norway, leaving their old life and debts behind. Elli tells me about his job as a fisherman, and long time he used to spend away from home. Today his cruises are much shorter. Arna shows me some family photos from the time when the house was being built and from some family holidays. They give me a computer to use, offer some food, and I feel too humbled to express my gratitude. Arna really encourages me to go to Blue Lagoon and tries to find some discount offers, but the system doesn't accept my non-Icelandic data.

The plan for next day is to go to Kleifarvatn and Seltun geothermal area. Trying to hitchhike direction east from Grindavik doesn't bring any joy. A young girl offers me a ride to Reykjavik and accept it, hoping that more people will be going south from the capital region. But they aren't. Only trucks are passing me. After an hour I give up and decide to slowly make my way to the closest town, Hafnarfjörður.

I stay there with an elderly couple, Albert and Ingibjörg. Without a second thought they let me pitch up my tent in their garden. When I'm finished I show them the tent and they invite me for a dinner. I ask them if they speak Danish and from that moment we only use my favorite language. Albert and Ingibjörg have always lived in Hafnarfjörður, apart from 5 years of studies in Oslo. After that they have returned back to Iceland. They used to travel a lot and they tell me about their road trips in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria. Such trips used to be very cheap for them, they took a van and drove all around, but they're not anymore and the most expensive thing is getting out of Iceland, so they stay there most of the time. They often make short trips and their favorite place is Snæfellsnes. I tell them I used to study Geography and they tell me which places I should see here to experience Geography at its best. They tell me about Iceland, teach me some words and explain differences in difficult pronunciation of Icelandic letters. They have a son Oscar who is a sculptor and makes sculptures out of wood. His works are very elaborate and my praises mean a lot to him. They give me a guestbook and I contribute to it. I find messages from Danish, Dutch, Chinese people, messages in languages I don't understand. They tell me they've had many foreign guests, many of them being their friends from studies, but it never happened to them that a stranger came home and asked for a place to stay. Nevertheless, they admit such once-in-a-lifetime surprise makes it special, because you remember the person more. Their huge hospitality makes me speechless, they invite me to come once more if I pass by Hafnarfjörður, alone or not. I'm pretty sure I will.

I end up in Reykjavík for the last night. I linger too much in the bookstore using free internet and it's already too late to come back to Hafnarfjörður to stay with Albert and Ingibjörg for one more night. A guy from a Christian organization stops me on the street and we talk for around half an hour. When we're done it's almost 23. I'm in central Reykjavík and I believe my chances of finding a person willing to help me are not as high as in previous locations. The third time I ring a bell is successful. The woman explains that this part of the town is inhabited by many important people and her neighbor, the ambassador of Norway wouldn't be happy to see a tent in her garden. She offers taking me to the campsite, but admits she's just drank red wine, so somebody else will do it. A male member of her family brings me there and on our way tells me that the lady was an ex Minister of Health of Iceland. I sleep on a campsite in the middle of the capital, but I feel very safe. There are two vans parked there and one tent. Another time, the kindness of strangers saved me in a town where I had nowhere to go.

During these 3 days I could see how people's attitude towards a person in need can vary. A person who has no place to rest their head, a nomad. I've had the highest percentage of unreplied requests ever - maybe people don't like declining and prefer not to say "no" to a homeless bum. On Paris emergency couch group my request caused a big debate - some dickhead criticized my lifestyle, not knowing when I arrive, dumpster diving. Some people have stared at me as if I were some UFO when I walked the streets with the big backpack. But memories of such experiences fade away when you think of all the generosity of people who are happy to help you. For them you're a person they can learn something from, not just a homeless bum. I ask them just for a place to put my tent and they give me back tons of warmth. They share their lives with me. Such experiences remind me that good people can be found everywhere. If you believe they are this way, you'll always find them. The best things in life are free...

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Through the lava desert

The Skipsstígur trail is 18 km and starts very close to the base. At first grass dominates, the lava is not very exposed. The terrain is so flat that human settlements are still visible for a long time, to finally disappear from sight after around 1,5 hour of constant walking. The landscape is also changing - the terrain becomes less plain, short hill appear, the lava has very different shapes, some resembling The Giant's Causeway, some forming big holes in the ground, sometimes it's covered by a thick layer of moss that looks soft and fuzzy.

Finally it starts to sink in that I'm in the middle of nowhere. There are no humans in the radius of 9 km. The only sounds disturbing my silence are gusts of wind and sometimes wild ducks. The clouds are withdrawing, the sun appears, just to vanish in 10 minutes. This sequence recurs a couple of times. I like this wonderful solitude, when you stop thinking, worrying, all your fears are left behind and you simply feel your heart is at ease. I'm happy with my life.

I pass a "No entry" sing, or at least something that looks like this in Icelandic. The trail along a red pipe leads me to Bláa Lónið. I get there, with breaks no longer than for taking photos, in 2,5 h.

I continue the hike to Grindavík and pass some interesting lava formations and hills that are easy to climb on my way.  I'm very surprised to see that part of the village is also built on a lava field. It looks similar to Keflavík, with colorful houses, harbor, shrieking birds, volcanic rocks by the coast. Only the sea is much different - in Keflavík the water was almost still. Here it's an open ocean, the waves are massive and they crash over the rocks. I stay there for a while and marvel at the waves and cherish every moment and every part of the beauty I see.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On an unusual military base

My first hosts Ko-Leen (Canadian), Davíð (Candian/Icelandic) and their sons Kasper, Stefán, Leópold and the dog Rósa live on abandoned American NATO base in Ásbrú, just next to the airport, but because of security reasons everything is fenced and you have to walk 6 km. The base is fenced and looks like a small village. Most striking elements are colorful roofs. Living here is very cheap, since because of their "dislike" towards American people, Icelanders don't want to live here. You can see many ways of accommodating the area to Americans - American power outlets, American appliances, names of the streets in English, American school and college. There used to be American fast foods and stores too, but after the base was abandoned, some of the "American" facilities were also taken down. That's why Reykjanesbær  has the biggest unemployment in Iceland - most of the people were employed on the base.

My phone charger broke when I tried to use this damn American plug adapter. So now I'm happily phone-less.

My most welcoming hosts
I take a walk to Keflavik and around the base and make some interesting observations about Icelandic way of living.
*Lack of fences. You can sometimes see small fances on the side of the road, but never between possessions! Conclusion? People don't want to live in a cage.

*Lack of curtains in the windows. When you walk the streets when it's getting dark, you can witness how people live their nightlife. But nobody tries to hide it! In Poland even during the daytime, when somebody sees you pass very close to their window, they tend to shut the curtains. Here people have nothing to hide.
*People live in slow pace, nobody's rushing, everybody's happy to talk to you and give you a smile. Two little Icelandic girls say something that must have been "good morning" to me, I reply with "hello." It's time that I learned how to be polite in Icelandic.
*Amazing cleanliness! Trash bins on every corner, clean streets and no dog shit on the grass.
*Camping shouldn't be a big problem...

I go to the harbor and it smells like fish. I find a path along the shore with some rocks inviting to walk on them, so that's what I do next and can't stop taking photos. It seems that it's really impossible to take a bad photo on Iceland. You might imagine the country as a lava and ice desert, but just in a short time it amazed me with its true beauty that has colors, trees, birds and friendly people.

Ko-Leen told me about interesting hikes in the vicinity, so in a while I'm heading to Grindavik, passing through lava fields, 20 km of walking...