Iceland 2014 and Euro+Morocco 2014 Thoughts Part 1

I promised someone I’d post a recap of things I experienced, learned, and realized after coming back from Iceland. Since I went on another trip since then I figured I’d combine the two somehow. First step: Iceland. Those who have already seen numerous photos of Iceland may not feel the same, but for me seeing them again always gives me a sense of joy. The country stole my heart and soon you shall know why.

Iceland was the first destination I ever planned and went to on my own. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect and everyone insisted that I go with at least one other friend. Well, that one other friend never appeared and I didn’t want to just do nothing. My flight was purchased after some research via Google Image Search. That’s how it happened. Two months before the trip I found out about ice caving and booked a tour for that. Two weeks before leaving I did more research and planned my route and booked two hostels out of the five I eventually stayed at.

Isolation and loneliness right off the bat. Getting off the plane and the rest of the day after that was a period of adjustment that didn’t quite got adjusted. Knowing no one and not knowing the area well (other than from a Google Maps perspective) made me feel lost. Lost. My being there at that point was meaningless, pointless, and useless. The memory that stands out most from that day is pulling over at the side of a road, pulling out a map, and alternately staring at it and the outside of the car. I probably sat there for a good 30 minutes unable to make any decisions. It felt like hours. Finally, decision made: get out of the car and just look around where I am. Outside the car the air slipped through the cracks of my clothing, the wind tried its best to push me away from the comfort of the rental car I had. My fingers by that point started to feel like they were expanding and contracting at the same time and I started to shiver. I grinned and let a warm chuckle escape from my mouth. “I’m in Iceland” I realized. And for the first time on that trip I felt excited. But it didn’t last the whole way through.

Experiences like this taught me that, sometimes, moments of loneliness just happen. I can never expect to get rid of them forever, even when doing something that is supposedly fun or exciting. Experiencing isolation and loneliness can feel either positive or negative depending on the context and realizing that only made me more comfortable in doing things on my own. That being said, I can never get away from the desire to share an experience with another person. By that I mean one of those “I wish you were here” moments. In any case, enjoy the moment. I do so more now than I used to as a result of this trip.

Excitement, wonder and confusion at being in Iceland. The things I could experience, see, and do! The oddity of how everything seemed to be. Recognizing nothing was refreshing. The newness made every experience wondrous. Not knowing anything was confusing. Doing things such as grocery shopping was always tough since most things were in Icelandic and half the time I couldn’t figure out what the item itself was. That made it fun. A typical experience born anew. Realization: “boring” things can be made fun or exciting by throwing in a different context to it. We need consistency in our lives, but it’s always nice to change it up and going on far flung trips isn’t always necessary for that. Admittedly, this is one realization that I have yet to apply in my own life.

Calmness is pretty important for travel and especially for  life. The being lonely part helped me rethink priorities, goals, and needs. Admittedly, this is easier when you aren’t stressing out about any events that actually affect your life. My main concern for the trip was finding things to do on certain days the day of. It seemed like a waste of time to be doing nothing or not seeing sights, but at some point I just stopped caring. As long as your enjoying yourself there is no need to be having some life changing experience every moment of every day while traveling or being able to see everything. Doing so (if it were even possible) would make every travel experience the same. What sights others found beautiful I found bland and vice versa. Just be calm and enjoy the moment as it is. If it’s boring, then it’s boring. If it’s amazingly life changing, then it’s amazingly life changing. No big deal if it isn’t what you expected. Don’t stress when you travel, you went traveling to relax. Why stress if things aren’t going like you expected? One of the big things I got back from going to Iceland.

Traveling can be boring. 

Strangers can be more fun than you realize.

Make it your own when you travel. Being asked “Why Iceland?” sometimes out of genuine curiosity, other times out of shock as if “Why would you ever go somewhere cold?” reminded me of how often people tell you how to travel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course since the experiences of others are often extremely helpful. It all depends on what you want to get out from traveling. If you want to go somewhere different then you don’t necessarily have to go off the beaten path. If you don’t want to be surrounded by other tourists then off the beaten path you may go. If you want to go and find yourself then the way you travel is probably going to be more grabbing your own bootstraps.

There are all these posts telling you about what traveling has taught people (case in point, this one) and how amazing it is (it isn’t always going to be the case, sometimes your trip will suck, briefly or the whole time). Travel itself isn’t what gives you life lessons or amazing experiences. It’s what you decided to do when you go travel. Each experience is different and not every form of travel works for everyone. And here’s something that’s possibly blasphemy in the travel world: You don’t have to travel to live life, learn things, or be open minded. Traveling doesn’t always make you a better person, be happier, or help find your life’s path. If it were that easy, then holy crap go travel! You don’t have to travel to some far flung place with a different culture. Sometimes doing it all at once is just too much and sometimes it backfires. Rather than appreciate a different culture, a person could just as easily find it below their own and use that experience to justify being superior. Yeah, that happens.

If you do learn anything, it doesn’t stop once you get back from your trip. Even now, I find myself discovering or rediscovering realizations based on my experiences from my solo Iceland trip. If anything, traveling does tend to enhance certain qualities of a person more so than others so traveling has that going for it.

TL;DR Travel your own way, don’t always listen to others. Especially those talking about how traveling is amazing, more amazing than rainbows.

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Iceland, Day 11-13

Condensing the last few days I spent in Iceland into one post for the sake of brevity. Yes, I know it is over 3 months late. But I owe you nothing.

It was during these days that I met over half of the people I met during my whole travel in Iceland. At first I had thought that solo traveling was an oddly a unique thing to do in Iceland, but I was wrong. A lot of solo travelers come to Iceland. However, most tend to stay in the capital city of Reykjavik and make that their place of operations. So tour groups out and about to see the Golden Circle. Things like that. I have to admit that after seeing the South, some of the East, and some of the North-West I really didn’t care for the city all that much. I didn’t really explore it as much as I could have and I used the 2 days and 3 nights as time to wind down and relax myself before heading home again. When you get the chance to rest, you damn well take it. Having a chance to sleep in until 8am was amazing, never thought I’d consider that sleeping in.

Day 11 was spent going around and exploring the areas surrounding my hostel, buying food to cook with for the next few days, cooking that food, and checking out a little restaurant my hitchhiker friend suggested. We didn’t get a chance to try it out together because it was late, 11pm, when we got to the place and it was closed as a result.

Day 12 was spent watching the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey game despite telling myself I wouldn’t bother. Because Canadian. I did some more cooking in the hostel kitchen and ended up discussing and trip planning with three other guys who were thinking of driving the same direction I took. There was something about the planning that got me all excited. Conversation about world politics and life ensued as well.

This was followed by one of the more random things I’ve ever done. I walked up to a group of fellow travelers and asked them if I could join them because I was bored/lonely/looking for peeps to chat with. Something along the lines of that. The answer was: an exuberant yes. Turns out they were all exchange students studying in London, damn did that make me jealous! “I should have done an exchange” I thought amusingly. Good things sometimes follow each other and another great thing came to be. That night was another one of the stronger Auroras. One could see it very clearly from the balcony of the hostel, what a mesmerizing sight that was. At first it was a very pale green color about 3 bananas in width. Then it grew to be a very bright green colour. It then danced and curved across the sky over our heads. Did I mention it was mesmerizing? To be able to just chat and relax on a balcony while an aurora flows over you as if it was the most common thing to do in the world, I hope never to forget that.

Day 13

Final day: Grab breakfast, head to the airport, fly home, and contemplate life.

 

This is all to get the missing days out of the way for an upcoming trip!

Iceland, Day 10

This day, I wake up and end up having a short, but interesting, conversation with a lady from Sweden who was originally from the United States. Long story short, she packed up her bags and moved to Sweden for neuroscience. She even made every effort to get her dog over there too! Obviously she loves that dog. From here, I’m off to the KEF airport area to drop off my rental car. But first, some more exploring of a place I had Googled a few nights prior. Really, all it was was a massive frozen lake and some geothermal spots. It wasn’t particularly interesting. The drive on the other hand I did enjoy. As a city boy there was something fascinating about driving on unpaved roads. Here are some more shots of the car:


I should consider shooting car ads. Yeah.

My last stop was the Blue Lagoon. It seems like something everyone who visits Iceland should do so I told myself I’d shell out the ~$50 and give it a go. However, by the time I got there and saw the line up I really couldn’t justify sitting around in a pool of water for that much. If I were there with friends, it would be different. It would be like a social gathering, a nice way to wind down and chat. By myself…well that seemed a bit pointless. Granted I could have struck up a conversation with some strangers, but the lagoon really did not appeal to me. I ended up just walking around the outside and taking some pictures there. The following shots are from my phone:

The next stop: the airport. I drop off the rental car and I have to say, Blue Car Rental was very accommodating and we did a quick review of the car. Everything seemed to be in order and I was on my way to take the bus back to Reykjavik. If you go to Iceland, Blue Car Rental is a great place to rent a car from. Highly recommended. The bus ride to Reykjavik was, in a way, boring. I imagined what Iceland would look like to many people who took the bus there. It wasn’t really all that special. I ended up taking a little nap for most of the trip since I had a whole two seats to myself. Spread out and pass out. My final hostel location, the Loft Hostel, was only a short walk away from the BSI Bus Terminal. The one thing about the streets in Reykjavik, at least in the winter, was the sand. Bits of it would get stuck in the wheels of my suitcase, making the walk there longer than it should have been.

Loft Hostel, check in, get to the room, and lie about. Clean some of my gear, dry out my tripod, and sort out the suitcase so I’m ready to leave for my flight. Yes, I still had three nights but I like to pack early. It helps keep things clean I find. It’s at the Loft Hostel that I meet more solo travelers. It hit me that most solo travelers wouldn’t venture out on their own with a car or such. It’s much easier to make a place your base of operations as a solo traveler than it is to move about all over the place. At least, that’s what it seemed like. It’s not only safer, but it is less stressful. Of course, costs also play a factor in all this. It is indeed much more expensive to rent a car on your own. The trade off is that you don’t get to explore on your own either, not in a lonely sense anyway. There were moments where I didn’t drive past anyone for a long time and it felt like I was the only person in Iceland at that moment. It’s a strange feeling to be alone in an unfamiliar place where the closest person could be dozens of miles kilometers away. I’m not really sure how to describe that sort of feeling.  The words that come to mind are vulnerable, isolated, and despair. Traveling solo in Iceland in the main city seem to be much safer, less stressful, and more relaxing than the previous 10 days than I had just experienced. Here I gained a sort of appreciation for the different kinds of travel that exists. Solo travel is overly romanticized, or at least that’s what I found. That being said what I do it again? Yes, I probably would. Are tour groups good for travel as well? Yeah they probably are. They’re just a different kind of travel; more relaxed and less stressful. They have their upsides and downsides Group travel? Probably a better form of travel, best of both worlds. It is definitely less lonely than solo travel and less restrictive than tour groups. I’d have to say the spectrum goes like this: solo travel—group travel—tour groups. That is that for this day.

And here’s what the dorm looked like, I have to say the Loft Hostel was fantastic. I highly recommend it if you ever choose to stay in Reykjavik. It’s a little odd as reception is on the top floor, but it makes it unique. Everything was super clean when I went and for about $25 Canadian in the winter, it was kind of a bargain really. One of the better hostels around I hear.

Iceland, Day 8 & 9

Just as a note, I didn’t end up taking very many photos these two days. I ended up just taking shots of the car I rented, the Suzuki Swift. I fell in love with this car not because of its style, sportiveness, or speed. In fact, the acceleration was awful. Mostly it was the fact that it had a USB port so that I could play music from my iPod. That and it took me all over various parts of Iceland, I pushed the car to do certain things and it delivered. It took me through all sorts of conditions and it made Iceland a blast!

 

I’m just going to put some shots of the car here and there in this post. I can see why people like taking photos of cars now. Would I get a Suzuki Swift? Yeah if I had loads of money, it’d be one of the cars I’d buy. Mostly cause I’d try and drift with it for kicks.

Day 8

It is around days eight and nine that things begin to become a bit more relaxed. The 11-6 schedule I had been following had been taking its toll. Generally I was more tired and lacked the energy to really do anything. The private hotel room, despite the extra cost, was a refreshing break from the hostel dorms I had been staying at. It occurred to me that while having a budget was good, it was also stressful. Knowing I could break the budget without any major consequences (such as not having enough in the bank) made things all the less stressful; more on the finance side of things in a future post.

Simply put, on day eight we visited Seljalandsfoss (for me a second time) and it was from there we parted ways. They drove to their next destination just before Vik and I drove back to Selfoss. The reason for the separation was mostly the weather. The wind picked up that day along the south coast and it was something like 70-80km/h winds. What I found amusing was the difference of driving style between my new friends and myself. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being safe let me just say that. I just found it amusing that I had no problem driving at the regular speed in that wind vs. their slightly slower speed. Safety first of course and I’ll admit something bad could have happened to me. Maybe I’m more of a risk taker than I previously thought?

Anyway, in Selfoss I just chill around and make some dinner. Basically pasta and some god awful frozen fruit I picked up that probably wasn’t meant to be eaten on its own. Oh and a banana. What I didn’t expect to end up doing there is practice my French with two lovely ladies from France. Backstory, they came to travel in Iceland but with no rental car. To be frank they weren’t having as great of a time as they could have had, but they weren’t having a super bad trip either. It just could have been better as Iceland is a place where a car is pretty much necessary. Back to the French practice, one of the ladies spoke English quite well whereas the other lady understood English, but never tried practicing. So as a result, fluent in English French lady often translated for her friend. It was amusing for myself and fluent in English lady for non-fluent in English lady to try and converse in English, not so much for the non-fluent friend!

Day 9

After sleeping in a drafty and dark room I set off again to somewhere. I had done some research the night prior and decided to check out Haifoss (literally high falls). It was recommended during the winter, but I thought “screw it, let’s try”. So I end up driving there and the roads end up being covered in snow, I keep plowing forward and at some point I tell myself to stop and just go back. I end up visiting Hjalparfoss, which wasn’t all that special (maybe better in the summer). But it was interesting seeing two small waterfalls almost face each other. The upside is I got to drive around in very random winter conditions. I also got to experience the car slipping and sliding around and was able to control it (surprisingly).

After all this I end up getting KFC back in Selfoss (it was ok…) and drive back to Reykjavik to stay a night at this other hostel in the city. This hostel was much bigger and I found it to be much more relaxing to sit around in the common area. Later in the night I had a great conversation with a lady from Denmark. One of the conclusions we came to was that there is a lot of pressure when it comes to traveling. Everyone back home expects you to have an amazing time and that the trip should be amazing balls. See some amazing sights and everything should work out fine and dandy. Of course, I’d like to imagine that anyone who’s traveled on numerous occasions know that this isn’t the case. At least, that’s what I got from everyone I had talked to and observed.

The parts of trips we won’t tell you (some of the time) are the awful bits. The lonely moments (if applicable), the shitty weather, the moments where things don’t work out, and the moments where we’re doing absolutely nothing at all. There are moments during the trip, at least I had them at least, where we’ll wonder “why am I even here?” Though, sometimes we might spin the situations in a funny manner. That’s when we make it back home after all. We survived. I’d have to say that the first time one travels, there is indeed that bit of pressure to have an amazing experience. Once you get past that though, you end up having a good time. Maybe this will be a few days after you get to your destination or during your second or third trip. At some point, you stop caring and just have a good time. Truth is, there isn’t really any pressure to have an amazing trip! It only seems that way when you hear all those stories about others having fantastic trips. Or maybe those photos of them in some far off place. It’s all in the mind. As long as you found the trip worthwhile, others will think so too. Hope this helps if you had or might have that initial problem.

I shall leave you with an awfully long video of just the drive around if you’re interested. Most of the snowy conditions were on day 9 and it is a bit boring, but I think I’ll be doing more timelapse in the future. With a motorcycle.

Iceland, Day 7

The day started off with a mixture of disappointment and acceptance that my new friend and I were going to be parting ways. Despite growing somewhat accustomed to traveling alone, company is always nice. We grab breakfast and then head our separate ways after dropping him off at the BSI Bus Terminal; another day on my own. It was surprisingly difficult to adjust back to being on my own again, which sucked. Immensely. Next stop: Thingvellir National Park. I had skipped this spot to drive to Snæfellsnes and it was more or less the last thing on my list to see.

SONY DSC

 

Along the way I stopped to check out a couple of views. It’s not often I get to see a clear road surrounded on both sides by snow. At this point I was really looking for ways to kill time as I had been told you could do the park in more or less a day. I thought I could go up to Snæfellsnes again, but the budget side of me told me not to. Looking back, I wish I had gone up to Snæfellsnes a second time. Enough with regrets. It was around this time I found myself offering to take pictures for people. A lot. It never occurred to me how many people don’t ask others to help them take a picture. In a lot of those travel shots you’ll often see someone missing from the photo (the person who took it). Anways, off to the national park. The most shocking thing I found about the park? Washrooms cost 200ISK to use (about $2 Canadian). Say what? I really had to go, but it took me about 10 minutes of wandering back and forth thinking about whether or not I should. Of course, $2 is a small price to pay for an intact bladder and dry pants. I can’t say I found the park all that great. At this point I realized that I have some sort of aversion to tourist traps. Walking into one just shuts down my brain and makes it refuse to do anything creative. Chances are someone else has done it before…I guess that’s the hipster side of me?

In the park I end up chatting with a pair of people who also happened to be from Canada and ended up asking if I could tag along their trip. What ends up happening is that I visit Gullfoss and Geysir again. What was surprising to me was that I was ok with that. One would think that going to the same place again while on a trip like this would be a waste of time, but it didn’t feel that way. The look of the place did chance as a lot of the ice melted and you could see all the big blocks of ice being thrown around like they weighed nothing. That was pretty awe-inspiring. It made me feel small yet again. It also reminded me that after I’m long gone, places like Gullfoss will look much different than they do now. It’s pretty hard for our minds to grasp things like the future, especially when they don’t involve ourselves.

Geysir was interesting. My two new friends decided to hike up this rather large hill that I didn’t really notice the last time I was here. Over a little ladder and up to the top we go. They crack open some peanut butter and a bag of bread, hello PB&J minus the J. It was by far the driest peanut butter and bread I had ever had but it was absolutely hilarious. I might have to do the same next time I go travel; hike up a hill with some peanut butter and bread. An interesting I discovered was what ends up making a good “adventure”. It was anything that involved at least a bit of effort to do or get to. Hiking up the little hill took some effort, and that bit made it fun.

I rather liked this shot, probably has something to do with things in tandem

Next up was a volcanic crater we went to. I totally skipped that before and it was pretty great walking around that. Afterwards, I ended up following them to their hotel and decided “screw it, I’m just going to splurge on a place to stay tonight”. I couldn’t be bothered to drive all the way to Selfoss just to get a cheaper place to stay. As a spoiler, I’m quite glad I did splurge.

Iceland , Day 6

Day six will probably remain in the top of my highlight list of Iceland. The day started off rather boring. Visiting Gullfoss and Geysir were underwhelming and after that I popped over to a gas station (petrol station?) to fill up and I noticed a guy standing beside the road at the gas station. I thought that was interesting, but proceeded to fill up. Once that was done, I decided to go over and talk to him. Two nights previously I had a nice chat with two folks from Austria who were hitchhiking their way across Iceland. Pretty ballsy on their part and they told me that a couple of Canadians had picked them up and taken them to some sights, the glacier lagoons for starters. When that experience came to mind, I knew I would regret not talking to him. So I did. Turns out he was headed towards Geysir and Gullfoss, the place I just came from. At first I thought, damn that’s a bummer. Then I thought to myself “screw it, traveling alone sucks so I’m gonna help this guy out”. I told him I’d give him a ride to those two places and that was the start of one random adventure.

He also found Gullfoss and Geysir a bit underwhelming. I learned that originally he had more time planned in Iceland, but a mixture of unfortunate circumstances meant that he had to resort to hitchhiking. That and he was leaving the next day. He didn’t even get to see the good parts! He mentioned that he had wanted to head up to Snæfellsnes, but obviously couldn’t since he was unable to get a rental car. I told him that I was thinking of going up there at some point too, so today we were both going to head up together. He couldn’t believe his luck and I couldn’t believe I was doing this. Long story short, the drive is about 3-4 hours and when we get there we start doing some hiking. We ended up digging some snow out from the entrance of one of the caves there and went inside. The cave was quite something, I found it fascinating seeing all the markings people from years past made. Old script from god knows how long ago and things as recent as the 1960s. It made me wonder about what sorts of stories these people had. Now for some obligatory selfie sort of pictures. Because my mom would want them.

After the cave, we hiked up some more and watched the sun set (and took pictures of each other). All in all that was pretty good, so off to Reykjavik we go. Halfway there, I decided to pull over to check out the stars. Seeing a full starlit sky with at least limited light pollution was something of a dream of mine and boy was the sky full of stars. It was mesmerizing and just to add some luck in there, the northern lights showed up too! They didn’t fill up the whole sky or anything, but I could see them with the naked eye and they were snaking around. Quite frankly, I didn’t care. The stars were the highlight and the lights were just an added bonus. Both of us were extremely giddy and excited, we pretty much wouldn’t shut up about it all.  After all this, we continue driving and end up in Reykjavik at about 11 or 12 at night. We found a room and passed out. What a day.

Just an FYI that is not a sunrise, but light pollution from the next city. Some people have thought it to be a sunrise and it does look like one. One day I’ll try and get one with the sunrise.  

Feeling quite addicted to astrophotography now.

 

Iceland, Day 5

Day 5…was different. After leaving the hostel, I went to check out the glacier again. Jökulsárlón Lagoon was the name. This time it was to get a few shots of the little glacier blocks that littered the beach. It started off with some bad news. Apparently the aurora borealis was out in full the night before, right when I went to bed. Damnit. This particular day wasn’t all that interesting. I’ll just let you know right here and now that I ended up catching a stomach ache for the afternoon. Despite that, I did end up doing a few things.

After catching the sunrise at Jökulsárlón, I drove back to Skaftafell National Park. I was there to check out Svartifoss (black falls), but ended up doing a bit of hiking instead. To be honest I didn’t find Svartifoss to be all that great, but it was still pretty cool seeing the formation. Rather than going back to the car, I decided to do more hiking. I hadn’t done any hiking for years up until that point and then felt like a good time. So with about 10-12 pounds of camera gear, further up the mountain I go. The whole time I’m thinking, what on earth am I doing? I hike up to part of the top and boy, I feel great when I get there. I didn’t really do THAT much hiking, but I felt happy. Exercise ladies and gents. Exercise is indeed important for happiness.

After that, a 3 or 4 hour drive to the town of Laugarvatn to stay at the hostel there so that I can visit the places around the so-called Golden Circle the following day. These locations being: Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir National Park. The hostel I stay at is pretty empty, and not many people to talk to. I end up getting a stomachache and cannot finish the dinner I made for myself. I’ll have to try cooking for myself another time. For now, it is time to live off of sandwiches. I have a feeling I’ll have lost a fair bit of weight when I check back home.

Stopped by a random cave by the road. I liked this shot

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