Cynthia in Iceland

Cynthia in Iceland day 1 8/14/19 and day 2 8/15/19

The trip was as painless as one could hope for. We boarded en masse right on time. We took off at 10:55 pm. The plane was 2/3 empty so I was able to get 3 seats and stretch out and sleep for 5 hours of the short 6 hour flight. If my life depended on understanding the Icelandic language, I would be dead. We landed in Reykjavik at 10:30 in the morning. They barely seem to care that you are coming into their country. I showed my passport to the immigration guy and he stamped it without saying a word. After that, you get in either the line with something to declare or the line with nothing to declare. If you are in the line with nothing to declare, you simply walk out of the airport! I guess Iceland doesn’t have too many problems with global terrorism!

Made it to the hotel ok and immediately ran into what turned out to be 4 of the other 5 people on the tour- 4 late middle aged women who were all together- but more about that later. They invited me to walk around Reykjavík, where 60% of the population lives.  Reykjavík is a very pleasant place. It is somewhat hilly and of course set on the ocean like almost every other place in Iceland. The streets are narrow and full of people and shops. Everyone speaks English, so there is no need to even try to learn Icelandic. Ironically, the only word I have learned so far is foss, which means waterfall.

The shops are really nice. There are some travel stores filled with adventure style clothing, such as down jackets, waterproof pants, backpacks, gloves, etc. The prices are about 50% more than they would be in the US, but the quality of the items appears to be good. Also stores selling beauty masks, cooking items, salt, children’s clothing. 

The houses and shops are one or two-story and often very colorful. There is also lots of street art. You can’t really tell the difference between the tourists and the native ice landers, Although the Icelanders do tend to be very Nordic – tall, blonde or light brown haired, in short, many look like Vikings.

The four ladies on the tour are all from the Detroit area,and walking around, I ended up walking individually with two of the four.

What they all have in common is that they are extremely conservative. They basically stated that by saying that they hated liberals. They also bring it up frequently with subtle statements about fake news or immigrants or climate change. I kept my mouth shut, but I imagine they have figured out my politics are definitely not in line with their’s.

We had our welcome dinner in the hotel where we are staying,which is downtown, with Siggy the Viking, our leader and the one other participant in the tour whose name is Dan. 

Dan is also very wealthy, having been a fundraiser for the Republican Party. He appears to have retired early, being about 55 and having been retired for about 10 years. He has an RV that he keeps in the west and drives to Las Vegas once a year, he has been on many many trips and he too has about $40,000 worth of photography equipment. Both he and Vickie have drones. He, too, has been doing photography since high school and has traveled every place imaginable to do it.

Siggi, our leader, is tall, and Nordic looking , with light brown, wavy hair, a beard and blue eyes. He is about 45 and has a wife and two small children In Reykjavík. He is a self-taught photographer and has garnered quite a bit of notoriety for his photos of Iceland. He is very nice and puts a lot of effort into the tour, beyond the call of duty.

Siggy is half American; his father was stationed at an American army base in Iceland when he was conceived. His parents did not stay together and he was raised by his mother. His father lives in South Carolina and he is in touch with him from time to time.

So that is our cast of characters and we are about to set out on a six day trip to photograph the beauty of Iceland. Other than Siggi, there will be only a little interaction with Icelanders. We will take in the culture not by interacting with the people but more by observing.

Iceland is an island located between Greenland and Scandinavia. It is a five hour flight from New York and the time is four hours ahead of New York. The area of the island is 40,000 sq miles There are 360,000 people and 120,000 of those live in Reykjavik. The rest primarily live on the south coast. Iceland has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Traditionally they have made their living through fishing and farming, primarily raising animals, many sheep. Now they get about 2,000,000 tourists a year so that accounts for a large percentage of the country’s income. I saw nothing even resembling poverty here.

Day 2 

The 7 of us set out in a 16 person minivan toward the east. I got on last, but it turned out Siggi moved his stuff off the front seat, so I sat there. I heard some sort of buzz from the others, but did not know what it was about. 

The first place we stopped was a waterfall called Skógafoss, which we photographed from afar in order to get the reflection in the small pool in front of it.

Next, we visited a black beach. The beaches in Iceland are black because it is a highly volcanic country. Iceland has 30 volcanic systems, the most recent of which erupted in 2010 and disrupted air travel in Europe.

This is where the puffins are practicing flying to prepare for their migration out to sea until spring. Half of the puffins in the world live in Iceland. The puffins are very cute birds and the beach was beautiful!

We had dinner – I had Arctic Char, which is very popular here and very delicious, in fact, they have some of the best food here I have ever had in my travels. Every day, we spent full days shooting, so on this day, we hit another waterfall Seljalandsfoss at Sunset, where we walked behind the waterfall and got wet!Then back to the first one, where we waded in the water with boots and took night shots. We ended our day at the hotel in Vik, which was clean, simple and nice. Many of the buildings and the furniture look like something out of IKEA.

Cynthia in Iceland day 3, 8/16/19 and day 4, 8/17/19 

 Day 3 Friday

 We left Vik after breakfast. All of the hotels provide a sumptuous breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, cucumber, fruit, cold cuts, cheese, yoghurt, pastries and breads. The breakfast items that seem to be uniquely Icelandic are char salad ( fish), creamed or pickled fish and baked beans.

When I got on the bus, the four women decided that I needed to sit elsewhere, so they put me in one of the single seats on the other side of the bus, which are uncomfortable because it is narrow and your stuff is in front of you and it is always flying in the aisle or tipping over. They then seated one of their own in the first seat. Even though they said we were all switching seats, everyone else stayed in the seat they were in the previous day. It was all very amusing.

Our first stop was the lava fields. In 1783-1784, Iceland had a massive volcanic eruption of the Skaftáreldar Volcano. The eruption spewed 500 Cubic km of lava and blew to Europe causing massive crop failure. Some say it caused the French Revolution! The lava covered a 565 square km area and is 35 ft thick. The fields are massive and bumpy and covered with moss and a few flowers and small plants. The leader and two of the people on the trip have drones (the two rich ones, of course) so they fly them most days when it’s not windy. 

Next, we went to a very green volcanic canyon with a narrow flowing waterfall and a rushing river.

On to a glacier lagoon, Svínafellsjökull , part of the biggest glacier in Europe, which was quite a hike and the wind was blowing at about 30 mph.

We checked into our hotel near the town of Höfn near the southeast end of the island and had dinner as we did for the following three nights. The food there was delicious. I had lamb.

Finally, we ended up at glacier lagoon at sunset, which is at 9:30. This was a lagoon we went to that had many huge pieces of blue colored ice that had broken off from the glacier.

The other participants, except for one, who was with them, were extremely experienced photographers with very fancy equipment. They usually wanted to spend about twice as much time shooting as I did, so I spent a fair amount of time waiting for them.

We got back to the Hotel at about 11 o’clock and I went straight to bed. All of the beds have a little single white down comforters and many of the beds are two single beds put together.

Day 4 Saturday 8/17/19

This morning we “stayed home” and had a lecture on editing. Our guide Siggi is a very talented photographer and uses all kinds of editing techniques and stitching techniques (combining photos together) to make especially nice photos. Many of the postcard photos in Iceland are his. 

We set off in the afternoon and I got on the bus first, so it was my turn in the first seat.

We have done a fair amount of riding in Iceland. Some places are brown, flat and barren, but most places are grassy with grass leading up to snow capped mountains. You see sheep, which are numerous, but quite spread out. They graze from April to October, and then the farmers work cooperatively to round them up for the winter with horses or ATV’s. Iceland is known for it’s colorful knit winter garments, which you see everywhere, even though it is summer.

The Icelandic horse is a  breed of horse developed in Iceland. Although the horses are small, at times pony-sized, most registries for the Icelandic refer to it as a horse. Icelandic horses are long-lived and hardy. In their native country they have few diseases; Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return. 

Our first stop today was Fjallsárlón, which is a glacial tongue. Seeing it just brings home how fast the glaciers are disappearing. Siggi said that in 200 years all of the glaciers will be gone from Iceland. He also said that he spoke to people from all over the world and everyone except perhaps the four women I was traveling with said that they were experiencing all different types of climate change.

This day  was incredibly windy with wind gusting up to 50 mph. It made it hard to stand, let alone take photographs.

Our next stop was the “Diamond beach“, so named because of the pieces of ice that washed ashore. It seems to me that photography in Iceland consists of a lot of trick shots. Things like smoothing out waterfalls and making the rocks on diamond beach look a certain way by doing a long exposure and filming when the tide is just going out to get a certain look. I was monumentally unsuccessful at that technique, so I just took some pictures of the beach.

The search and rescue company of Iceland was putting on a firework show over Glacier Bay, which is right down the road from our hotel and across from diamond Beach. It was very crowded with mostly Icelanders, but we found a place to set up and were instructed on how to photograph fireworks. As with all of the other shots, I felt completely inferior to the others, but my shots came out OK anyway!

After the fireworks, we sat in the parking lot for about an hour and a half in hopes that we would see the northern lights, the sky was clear but there was no magnetic activity which is what causes the aurora borealis. Siggy has quite a sophisticated set of tools which are worldwide to forecast and track the northern lights. Unfortunately the conditions were not right and so we headed home and got there at about 1 AM.

Cynthia in Iceland day 5, 8/18/19 and day 6, 8/19/19

Day 5 8/18/19 Sunday

I was first on the bus. So I had to decide which seat to take. Dan, who was not with the four ladies was sitting in seat two and I decided that that was the strategy I would use and therefore I sat in seat 2. When Dan got on he said oh we’re changing seats and he proceeded to sit in seat one. As time went on the ladies began to dislike Dan more and more, he was very aggressive in finding the best spots to photograph and he was very fit. He often held us up taking too long to shoot, but for that matter, so did they!

I never saw any of his photographs except one which he had Photoshopped to add in a firework and another where he had done some sort of trick editing to make it look like our leader was inside of the wave. Both were very clear and very attractive. 

Our first stop of the day was Vestrahorn mountain and its  black sand beaches and dunes. The “trick shot” here was to get the reflection of the mountain in the shallow water of the beach. I found it to be a calm and beautiful place. I walked down to the part of the beach closest to the ocean and watched the children play. 

Today I had my most memorable lunch in Iceland. They have a few Subways, but no other fast food chains, so the gas stations have little restaurants where they have hotdogs, hamburgers, fish and chips, etc. This one had of all things, grilled lamb chops and grilled vegetables and fries. The vegetables and lamb chops were to die for!

 Next we came back to Diamond beach to try the trick shot again. This time it went well.

Day 6 8/19/19 Monday

I know by now, you’re wondering what seat I’m in. The doctor explained that we were switching seats, so I was now in seat 5. Seat 5 was not as good as seat 2, but it was ok.

We left our hotel near the town of  Höfn at 9 am. Our leader wanted to give our drone owners (including himself) an opportunity to fly their drones over the braided rivers ( Krossa ) , so we stopped in a field and they sent them the two miles down to photograph them, while the rest of us tried to find something photograph worthy. Drones are becoming more and more popular and I noticed that many of the postcards in Iceland were taken from drones.

If you are a Star Wars fan, you will like the Hjorlifshofdi cave or “Hoda Cave”, our next stop.

We stopped to photograph the puffins again. Dan has loudly told his wife on the phone that he had photographed enough puffins.

The trick shot for puffins was to catch them in air. I didn’t have a camera able to do continuous focus nor a long enough lens, but I gave it a try.

Our last stop of the day was a black sand beach with basalt columns called Reynirfjara (my second Icelandic word, fjara means beach). Iceland is pretty full of tourists and this place was one of the worst. Couldn’t really take pictures of the basalt columns or the little cave, but took lots of pictures of the sea stacks.

Cynthia in Iceland Day 7, 8/20/19 and day 8, 8/21/19

Day 7 8/20/19

I found my stuff on seat 2 indicative of a new level of acceptance! Dan ended up on the little side seat as a punishment for monopolizing all the photography spots.

It was Siggi’s birthday, so he was in a hurry to get home, nevertheless, we made three stops.

Tullfoss, the golden waterfall was first. It was challenging to photograph for various reasons so I did the best I could.

Next we went to the Geysir (3rd word) 

Last we went to a national park where some of the game Game of thrones was filmed- Siggi took a picture of me.

We arrived at the hotel in Reykjavik and had our  farewell dinner and that was the end of the tour. I learned a tremendous amount!

Day 8 8/21/19

I saw very few people of color in the small towns, but Reykjavík had a few people of color working in the various businesses. It is such a pleasant country and the people are so nice, that I wondered what it would be like to live there or visit as a person of color.

I got my nerve up to ask a black guy working in the local equivalent to Walgreens whether he thought there was discrimination in Iceland. He was originally from the UK, but he had lived there a long time. He told me absolutely not. He said everyone is nice and polite and he has had no problems. Although it is a statistical universe of one, it was good to hear.

Some of the Icelanders are kind of rough looking with wind blown, uncombed or matted hair,  and clothing that  looks kind of used. They like tattoos and their tattoos are well done. Like here, some people have blue or pink hair and lots of piercings.

After that, it was two busses, a long walk at the airport, 6 hrs and a long walk at O’Hare and I was home!

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