Iceland’s Highlands: Thórsmörk

Thórsmörk (Þórsmörk) is an area in the highlands of Iceland, in the Southeast of the country. It is the end point of a long trek that is very popular in summer months, the Laugavegur. It’s a long trek that takes several days, and after arriving at the valley where we stayed it is possible to continue on a trek that climbs 1000m over the mountains between two glaciers. Up to 80km walking is possible.

We only had a week and were pretty beat after working for a couple weeks without a full day off, so we opted to stay in the valley at Langidalur’s campground.

It was a little slice of paradise.

A very happy Leen, there.


Happy Travel Face


We spent our first full day in Thorsmok attempting a trail that turned out to be a little too hard for us. Here’s a preview!


Iceland’s Westfjords: The 1300Km Week

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Our route

Last week, we had a bit of time off from volunteering and ended up renting a car to drive to the Westfjords in Iceland. We didn’t have much time to plan, since we arrived on the 31st of May in Iceland and almost immediately had one of our monthly weeks off. We work quite a lot at our volunteering gig for the summer, but there is a ton to learn.

Just yesterday we learned to lead rock wall climbing and abseiling for the kids. I learned how to tie a few hitches and knots, and less than 20 minutes later I climbed out of a 10-metre tower relying on my own handiwork to hold me up. Here I am, writing…so it worked!

But I digress.

The Westfjords are some of the most empty parts of the vast emptiness that is Iceland. In fact, when I just looked at the Wikipedia page to get some background information, I saw that the population has declined in the region in recent years. It was once a frontier-like fishing industrial region, but much of that is gone now.

It was indescribably beautiful. Empty. Quiet. Gorgeous. Perpetually twilight. Arctic. It is clear why the Icelandic Sagas often used these fjords as their backdrop. It is a breathtaking blend of dizzying heights of the mountains and the flat, gunmetal gray of the mercurial seas below.

On our first day, we hitched a ride with one of the folks who lives at our camp to Reykjavik, and picked up our car from Lagoon Cars (recommend!), and headed out of the city. We stopped periodically to catch the waterfalls and the clean air, but made great time anyway. Our goal was Súðavík, a small town of 150ish people on one of the fjords. The water outside was insanely clear and hurt my eyes with the blue it held.


We pulled in around 19:00. The sun just never sets at the moment in Iceland, leading to some sort of time vertigo in me at least. I never have a clue what time it is. The next day we ended up stumbling upon a perfect view of the midnight sun, but that’s to come tomorrow.

Iceland is everything that I could have hoped for in the depths of my struggles in Shanghai this year, he sheer manifestation of the deepest wishes I swore to at least attempt to make true with my headphones in, blasting music at my desk in the office, with five minutes until my next class. The Westfjords in particular are wild and built like a perfect, supportive playground for the rare Nomadic Coleens of the world. Cold water, hot water pools to soak in, waterfalls to play near, hiking and nature and sheep and delicious foods.

Things that should be so natural and easy, like fresh water and air, were so far removed in our year in China. It is a personal miracle every time I can drink directly from a stream here, with the cold water filling my hands, crouched by the banks of the fast water in a gesture that would be familiar to my most ancient ancestors…which is always in my minds as some whiff of forgotten instinct when I’m hiking. Never enacted, never dared. Until now.


Miraculous, after a year buying water in Shanghai

It is such a treat to be here, and even if the work is occasionally long or chaotic (No more sweet peppers to chop tonight, please! My arms are sore after the first ten!), it is so worth it to be here with my husband and live in this beautiful place. Shanghai seems a lifetime ago, even if I only stepped onto the plane 38 days ago. This week I should become certified in leading archery and taking kiddos on the lake in boats, and soon in First Aid. Boom, epic English Teachers who are super fun as well. Yes. I hope to be so.

It’s sunny out and 22:40, so I’m rambling a little. Time for the photos of the Westfjords that you came to see. Just click to make them bigger and inspect the beauty for yourselves.

Tomorrow: The Midnight Sun (!)

Short Survey Results: Passports, Travel, and Immigration

It’s always interesting to me to talk about travel.

As someone who makes travelling a lifestyle, I find it fascinating to hear the opinions of others on the subject and the impressions that they gather on the road. Sometimes the conversations go better, sometimes worse. The other day I had someone bring up the supposed ‘No-Go’ Zones in England for non-Muslims, the product of this divvy asshat’s Fox News tirade. I had to draw on all my powers of English reserve gathered in sixteen months to set the record straight (“With all due respect, no.”).

It was a good reminder that it’s difficult to approach common ground on travel and living abroad, especially when the perceptions here in Boulderiorfieldville, CO are influenced mostly by what happens to hit the news. For my part, living in a ‘highly Islamised’ area of East London was never once uncomfortable. In fact, I miss the Halal butcher desperately. Where else can I get frying steak for £1 a kg? Of course, if one never travels one never gets exposed to the realities than underpin the narrative shown on cable news.

I wanted to get some data about travel. The myth is that about 15% of Americans hold a valid passport at any given time. Americans are known worldwide for not travelling, and if they do take any time to do so at all, for not leaving the US. In fact, the percentage is much higher, approaching 50% (based on the numbers crunched here). There are still pockets of low passport use, like West Virginia (~19%) and Mississippi (~18%).

I devised a short survey to spot check the official numbers (discussion below) and added a question about emigrating/immigrating to another country. I put it up on Reddit’s Sample Size section, which allows surveys like this to get more exposure and participants. The answers were a little surprising!

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  • Respondents: 79
  • US Citizens: 59
Survey Participants' Nationality

Survey Participants’ Nationality

  • Total passport holders (valid): 64 (81%)
  • US passport Holders: 50 (84.7%)
Participants by number of trips abroad per year

Participants by number of trips abroad per year

  • Total planning to immigrate into a new country: 32 (40.5%)
  • US planning to immigrate elsewhere: 21 (35.5%) 
  • Non-US citizens, planning to immigrate: 9 (45%)
  • Most common income range of participants (mode): $75,000+
Destinations for travel, US Participants

Destinations for travel, Total Participants

  • Travel by continent (total continents marked = 112):
    • North America: 31 total, 24 USA
    • South America: 8 total, 8 USA
    • Africa: 4 total, 2 USA
    • Europe: 46 total, 32 USA
    • Asia: 16 total, 9 USA
    • Oceania: 4 total, 2 USA
    • Middle East: 3 total, 3 USA
Percentage destinations for trips abroad, US Participants

Percentage destinations for trips abroad, US Participants

  • Most common range of trips per year (mode): 0 times (29 total, 26 USA)
  • Percentage of total participants who take no trips abroad each year: 36.7%
  • Percentage of US participants who take no trips abroad each year: 44%
    • Of US citizens with valid passport: 20%

      Percentages for Trips Abroad

      Percentages for Trips Abroad (total)

Those are some shockingly high numbers for valid passports. The US State Department estimates that 46% of the US population has a valid passport. This cross-section (admittedly a particular one, being drawn from Reddit) has almost double that percentage. Higher than any one state in the US, and much higher than the Colorado average (47%).

I was surprised at the high number of participants planning on immigration! Especially for the US, in my experience I don’t believe I’ve met another person who wants to move abroad permanently. Good to know at least in this group of people, I’m not alone. 35.5% is a really high number for US citizens planning on emigrating, contradicting my personal experiences. But then, that’s precisely why one does a survey, right?

Things got more interesting when I asked for specific details on travelling abroad. It appears that most US participants with a valid passport take at least one trip abroad every year, but a high ratio of Americans surveyed take no trips abroad (44%). This could be contributing to the ‘American=No Passport’ myth.

This is obviously not a fully scientific study, and is probably flawed in several ways. One such way is the apparently high income average that was self-reported here. I have no way to know whether any of that is accurate. It’s the internet. Likely, people are making some of it up. Especially the six ‘students’ claiming $75,000+ a year. But then, maybe they were counting their whole family’s income. In addition, the sample size of those from outside the USA is tiny (20), so it’s not likely that the stats correlate in the general population.

This was a great little survey. What do you think of the results? Do they seem accurate, based on your experiences?

Click here if you’d like to add yourself to the survey. I’d love to get some more data to share!