Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Hershey, We're Not In France Anymore

It's the invasion of tourists! As I walk down Laugevegur, the main shopping street, as someone else pointed out I hear more English on the streets than anything else. That's because it's also the main tourist street. I see people with cameras strapped around their neck, I see backpacks. I find myself categorizing, "That must definitely not be an Icelander. That one is, that one isn't." And I know I really shouldn't do that, basing someone's nationality on the way they look or dress or act, that's an -ism.
I bet there will be way more tourists this year than ever before, what with the low krona rate and nothing beats publicity like bad publicity! It was different in the fall, when the tourists were slowly disappearing. No one wants to be here in the dark days (except for Airwaves and New Year's). Now, the sun rises at 7:00 and sets almost at 8:00. It's like summertime except it's only the end of March. Too bad I won't get to experience the whole sunshine.

Anyway, I really should stop drinking coffee. Before this year I drank a cup or two a year. Now I need at least 2 or 3 a week. I don't drink it every day, but...I should stop.

I'm going to begin listing the things I will miss about RVK:
1. The cafes.
2. The dairy products. I went to the city's most famous ice cream shop and it is very good ice cream. Also: milk, cream, Skyr is good. I admit the cheese is nothing to be desired.
3. Umm...I will think of more.

What I've Been Up To

No news is good news, right? I haven't been doing much. Last week I went on two daytrips, one to Grindavík and the other to Vík. This is, after all, the land of the víkings. Anyway, in between those days, I went to a GusGus concert. They are one of my favourite Icelandic bands and one of my favourite electronica bands. Oh, and of course I celebrated St. Patrick's day.

Forget where this is. On the way to Grindavík. The drive here was dangerous as there was a lot of wind and rain and we were very near cliffs.

The saltfish museum in Grindavík.


Hver-something on the way to Vík. Boy, I'm really bad with my geography. A greenhouse growing bananas. According to the guidebooks, Iceland grows the most bananas in Europe.

Vík. The weather varied a lot that day - sun, rain, hail, freezing rain, snow, sleet.

Tout Nu Sur La Plage

Today I went for the first time to the geothermal beach. Yes, with all of Iceland's cold Atlantic water and black sand goodness, Reykjavik still has a beach.

It is open all year round and what you do especially during winters (it is like the Lake Ontario polar dip), you can go into the sea and then run back into a hot pot/tub/puddle.

When we went some people were celebrating a few birthdays there so the pot was really crowded. But there were free hot dogs! I felt like I had a great cultural experience. The sea water is not so cold now - just like a cold summer's day at the beach in an Ontario lake. And what a beautiful sunset! Un jour parfait.

A cool house that faced the sea.

Bathing options: tub or sea.

Sorry M! I know you don't like being in pictures...

No, he's not a dead fish. J just didn't want to get out, even as everybody else had already left and the water was draining away.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Don't Put Away Your Jacket Yet!

Like any other country with four seasons, March is the time of fluctuation between winter and spring. The changing weather is all the more pronounced in coastal Reykjavik. Just two days ago the sun was shining, birds were chirping and finally I thought the winter was gone for good. But just now there's more and more wind, coming first with freezing rain then hail then a full snow storm. Ugh. Why can't the weather make up its mind?! That was that week. This week, the snow melted, there were puddles everywhere for one day but then it was really good, spring-like weather yesterday. Then today a depression came in and the wind picked up again. The clouds were moving like crazy which made the sky look really cool, especially with the half-light of the sun.

But still, I can smell spring in the air. More people are walking and working outside. The days are noticeably getting longer. I feel like throwing off my scarf and mitts, but I know I might need to hang on to them until May.

You Are Now Crossing the International Language Line

There are many, many different ways to tell time across languages but more markedly across dialects. Half five could mean anything from 5:30 to 4:30 to 6:00 (and don't forget 17:30, 16:30 or 18:00). That is, the translated way. I once asked some Germans what the time was. One girl told me it was ... and then another German said, "Wait, that's not right!" and then a whole argument about the correct way to say the time ensued.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Kulusuk Photos

Here's what Reykjavik looks like from the air.

It's Greenland! The other side of the plane looked even more interesting, unfortunately.

First look at the village: From the airport you hike about 3 km, round a mountain corner then see this.

Our cabin/ accommodation for the next few days. It's made out of strong, flexible wood and can stand storms, even though it doesn't look like it. There were already kids hanging around when we got there.


Notice the blue, blue sky in the background. It's like an inverted version of the colours of the sea in the Mediterranean or Caribbean.

Cute girl who just ran up to us and started playing with us.

Tobogganing, or 'sledging'.

The storm! Spot the houses!

The windows after the storm had really intricate designs.

The brown barrels are there to hold the house down and prevent it from blowing away!

Bingo night.

Rocks, with lots of striations.

At the edge of Kulusuk.

Our food group, who shopped and cooked together. With lots of Ritter Sport chocolate.

Once more, the cracked ice. They look like continents from up here.

I wish I could've taken more pictures of the mountains as we were coming in, and also the dogs. But such is chance.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

One-Way Return

I booked my flight, a one-way ticket from Reykjavik to Toronto today. A little less than a year ago I had booked my flight from Toronto to Reykjavik without booking a return ticket.

I never wanted a return ticket, but now it's cheap and I don't think I have any more money for the Norway/Scandinavia expedition I had originally planned on.

This flight confirms everything - it confirms that I was here for almost a year and it confirms that I am going back home. The reality of it is sinking in - this is not my home, and I am going back home.

I have a little less than 3 months left on this island. I am not going to do everything I intended to do. But it's way more than I ever asked for or expected.

Cool Kulusuk

"The violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghosts; all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction, who were at once obeyed, soon detested and always misunderstood."
- excerpt of The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa

That passage was from a book I was reading about sun-scorched Sicily while I was on "vacation", but it perfectly describes Greenland and it sums up my experience quite well.

I went to Kulusuk which is about 65 degrees on Eastern Greenland. The population is around 300. Greenland is part of Denmark although since it found oil it's becoming more autonomous.
I hesitated coming on this trip because I thought, "I could see this stuff in Canada."
But when do I ever go up there in Canada and when will I ever get a chance to go to Greenland again?

Day 1: The tundra is actually just a cold-climate desert, but I think of it as the prairies of the north because it goes on and on forever into the horizon. And then you start to see the mountains. It's an amazing experience, landing onto ice surrounded by white mountains on both sides. It really makes you feel insignificant. There really is nothing in Greenland except for snow. It seems like an alien planet and yet it is very much a part of the earth.
There is so much snow, endless, I've never seen so much of it.
But then you round a mountain corner and then in front of you are those colourful houses just perched like someone chose this spot to stay. You've seen lots of pictures of them, and you never thought you'd ever be there in your life, but then you are here.

We went into our cabin and then met our trip organizer, a jaded Icelandic anthropologist. He tells story after story of the villagers. When I finally meet the characters he talked about, it's funny because it gives me a different perspective of them. It's not necessarily bad but it's almost as if I say, "No, this guy couldn't have been through what the anthropologist just told us! They're tall tales!"
As we headed towards the edge of a lake with lots of icebergs (not technically bergs because they weren't that large), the husky dogs continuously howled. I was to discover over the next few days that they do not stop. I've read somewhere that huskies are the closest breed genetically to wild wolves. A villager said that one family tried to "domesticate" one and it got too aggressive; instead they are all chained up to poles outside. When we got to the lake we just lay there and for once in my life I heard complete silence. No white noise. It sounds very different from a sound-proofed, indoor room. It sounds like eternity.

Day 2: We went dogsledding and it was very fun.

Day 3: Others went hiking while I relaxed with AH in the cabin.
She noticed that the hot tap is on the right and the cold on the left: culture shock! We were alone in the cabin when a phone with sombre classical music came on and immediately following that a guy holding an axe walks past the cabin. We wonder if that he was introduced like that every time he walked past? Then we found out that the music was the ring tone of a cellphone.

Day 4: Some people decided to dig a snow cave (igloo) so we could sleep in it one night. Ambitious idea. MM and I went out to help but then got sidetracked by a cute kid who wanted to play with us.

It's funny how I love snow more as an adult than as a kid. As a kid all I could think of when it came to snow was scratchy, hot clothing, the wet, and the contrasting cold air. It was horrible. But now I play.
That's why I joined some people for a tobaggan ride. Unfortunately nobody told me that there were bumps on the hill. I had absolutely no control the first time I went down the hill. I weathered the first bump, but then there was a second bump and then I went even higher and then the third bump made me land face-first into the snow. People later told me I looked like a stuntman in an action movie. If only. I was laughing at the end, but it was pretty embarrassing.

Then at night there was a home visit and drum dancing. That was nice.

Day 5: The thing about Greenland is that it really is a frontier. The skies are cloudless, when the sun decides to shine it really shines and when the sky decides to storm it really storms.

When we got up there was a storm with lots of wind. Nevertheless, we wanted to see what it was like to go to church. The way up hurt a lot because ice pellets were hitting our face. After that I decided to stay in for the rest of the day.
The wind was like plane turbulence if you were on the second floor of the cabin. Pretty strong. The houses and cabins are made out of really strong, flexible wood.

Day 6: In the afternoon we sort of gelled with the local community. There were slides that were shown to the public from the 1960's. They looked rad. Then there was fish soup and bingo, all to raise money for the 100th anniversary of the village celebration in August.

Day 7:
Back in September I wrote that some people didn't know about sweet potatoes. Well, today I discovered that some people had no idea what oatmeal is and that syrup could be put on pancakes. hahaha, I'm sorry if you are the one reading this but it's quite funny what things I take for granted.

Although I'm not the best hiker, I decided that if I went all the way to Greenland I might as well see the country(side). Hiking is what makes the 'frontier' notion of Greenland all the more real.
In Canada when you go somewhere to hike it always says, 'do not stray off the marked trails'. But here, you are the one making the trail, the first footprints in the snow. You see a mountain or point in the distance you want to reach and just go. There is nothing around for miles. No park wardens, no buildings, nothing.
We headed out. It was a beautiful, mild day and we decided to go towards the ocean and hike along the coast. Maybe I've seen Vertical Limit or something, but somehow I got lots of vertigo and I feared for my life more than once, while the other people had to help me out. Seriously, they must've grown up on rocks and were goats in their past lives.
At one time, MM and I were about to go around the face of a mountain, just the two of us, and all of a sudden she said, "Where's the polar bear? This is the perfect scene for a polar bear."

Day 8: Last day. We woke up to some wind. It was supposed to be the day we're flying out, but we heard stories of some groups having to stay up to three weeks extra because the weather was so bad that they couldn't fly out. Then the anthropologist got a phone call saying the plane had taken off from Reykjavik. There was another phone call saying that we can't go directly back to Reykjavik, first we must stop at Caip, which is....north of the arctic circle! I was so excited. It would be my first time in that zone, and definitely not my last.
Well, other than the harrowing walk to the airport, it was one of the best plane rides ever and reminds me of why I'm in geography and love to travel. The thing about travel in Greenland is that it is like before all the airlines went into terrorism alert. We got to visit the cockpit, there were absolutely no security checks, we had to show our boarding pass only once, and we didn't even need passports. It was kind of crazy. And when we arrived in Caip the plane didn't taxi at all. It just braked and then the seatbelt sign went off immediately. The north was way more cold than Kulusuk. Another reason for a good plane ride was the amazing views of everything. The sea ice looked like continents from up there. There were no clouds, we were flying really low into the sunset against a backdrop of endless snow and small mountains.
There were also two filling meals. If only all air experiences could be like that, flying would be like taking a (European) train.

That is all for now, but I think that's enough.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

I Wear My Sunglasses at Night (Cancel all your plans)

I was just about to complain about the proliferation of English here. But now I'm thankful for it. I'm thankful that I'm in a country where all medics know how to speak English and where friends can communicate to people about problems in ENglish.

You see, without English it would've been total chaos and confusion when last night I had an allergic reaction to who knows what.
I was walking home from the dinner when halfway there I felt my eyes swell. I thought it was just because my contact lenses were dry. Then at almost the exact same time I started having trouble breathing, but I just thought that it was because we were going uphill and I wasn't getting enough exercise.

So I went to the close home of someone who was walking to me. I sat down, she asked me how I was and then without answering I vomited. So she called an ambulance.
Anyway the details from there are standard procedure but I got to ride in an ambulance!

Oh, by the way, pics and accounts of travels to Greenland are to come soon.