2017: Without Comment

Presented without comment: My favourite photographs from 2017. I’m working on a post about the year, but this is a good start. 2017 was packed with great stuff, and had opportunities for some of the best photographs I’ve ever taken. I’m ready to explore some more in 2018.

For reference:

  • January-April 12 = Busan and Seoul, South Korea
  • April 13th-23rd = Vietnam
  • April 23-June 13th = USA (Colorado and North Carolina)
  • June 13th – September 9th = Iceland
  • September 15th – Present = Vietnam

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

 

Hitch Hiking Adventure in Iceland: Snaefellsness

We are on a tighter budget this year in Iceland, compared with last summer. Although we were by no means rich in 2016, we had the funds to rent cars and stay indoors from time to time.

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This year, we hitch hike.

It feels utterly like cheating to me, having always paid my way around the world up to this point (with the exception of taking a train in India on the wrong day to Saway Madhopur). We set out on a Monday, and told ourselves we’d see if we could make it to Borgarnes. That was about halfway to where we wanted to be.

We made it more than 230km in a few hours. Things just clicked into place, and suddenly we were in a car with a Polish couple who live in London, a local who was escaping his office in a country house, a Frenchwoman who moved here 20 years ago, and a Singaporean man who drove approximately 130km/hr (I forced myself to stop looking at some point, for the sake of my dry underwear). An Icelandic woman delivering fresh salad took us the final 17km, filling our ears with stories from the region from the time of the Icelandic Sagas.

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Arnastapi is a village with only one place to stay on the very end on the Snaefellsness peninsula, right next to the glacier that bears the same name. Snæfellsjökull is famous for being the entry point in Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, and is a huge volcanic glacier that rises precipitously 1400m from sea level.

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The area around Arnastapi is full of lava fields, Basalt columns formed by lava and the seawater, holes in the ground, and birds. The first night was gorgeous weather, the kind of Icelandic sunshine that is so strong it can actually sunburn. The water was an impossible blue.

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I spotted the dorsal fin of a wild Orca in the distance. We sat and watched it for about ten minutes, while it was just offshore. We turned and made our way back into ‘town’ (there are like, four permanent residences or something), and the Orca suddenly burst fully out of the water in a breach. It was crazy!

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The next day, the weather turned. Strong winds buffeted the little orange tent we have. Pouring rain soaked us so badly on the 200m walk to the refuge of the local Cafe that we dripped all over the floor. We sat down for a few hours, hoping that it would pass.

It didn’t. It just got worse. We periodically checked our tent, which sat alone in a field of broken, flooded, abandoned brethren. After resigning to be soaked through, we walked the 3km to Hellnar along the coast. Here we found an amazing coffeehouse at the end of the world, with cozy decor and free refills. I drank my fourth, fifth, and sixth cups of the day, mixed with raw rock sugar.

Having hitch hiked so far, we resolved to hike to the Singing Caves. Near Snæfellsjökull are these caves, formed out of lava flows buffeted by the strong winds of the area over thousands of years. The igneous rock is a bit like glass in structure, and it rings with amazing acoustics.

 

First we had to get there. The wind had really picked up, and the sky had darkened even a little more. It was 6C out, and the rain was flying sideways. At least on the way up the wind was at our backs most of the way, but the 4 km out there felt pretty long. It was creepy up on the hill above the town, with nobody around at all and just flying fog everywhere. An abandoned mining operation added to the atmosphere.

We came around a corner, and suddenly we could both feel the glacier.

We couldn’t see it, because of the fog and low clouds. But it had a definitive presence, almost like a light turning on in a room or a breeze coming around the corner of a building. Except that up there the wind had almost totally stopped. Russell says it felt like a reverse radiator to him. Some Icelanders say that Snæfellsjökull has strange energy. I think it’s clear that there are no UFOs landing on glaciers , energetic vortexes, or a ‘heart chakra’ for the Earth, but I sensed the glacier.

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When we arrived at the caves, I sang a little. The reverberations could be felt, standing in the caves. We looked around at the walls and saw the carvings of many people who’d stayed inside for shelter over the years. The oldest date I saw was from 1711.

The return walk was fairly brutal. 4km with the wind right in our faces, stinging rain, and not being able to hear one another very well. It was as good a field test as our rain wear could ever get, and overall my Goretex did its job. My water-resistant trousers, however, were drenched.

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We hid in the cafe once more, wrapped up in blankets and stuffing our faces with expensive french fries. My body craved calories from trying to keep warm all day. I even ate all the coleslaw, which normally I don’t like at all. I drank my eighth(?) coffee of the day and bought an ice cream. We changed into warm clothes and went back to our miraculously-dry tent. We zipped our sleeping bags together and settled in. I was wired from all the coffee and read my Kindle until about 3AM, finishing the very crappy space novel I had bought for a dollar on Amazon.

The tent held all night, and we didn’t get wet. The next day we brought everything to the toilet house (the only indoor structure at the campsite), and packed up for the public bus. Just as we were leaving Arnastapi, the weather changed. It was just in time for the Summer Solstice, and we were ready to head to Stykkisholmur.

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Continued…

2016: May All Years Be This Good

It’s been a long and crazy year. Let’s start with some basic statistics.

  • Countries lived in: China, USA, Iceland, and Korea
  • Jobs Held: Senior Teacher, full-time volunteer on a Scout Camp, cleaning lady, Teacher
  • Toilets Scrubbed: More than 300 (conservative estimate)
  • Pairs of Shoes Worn Through by Work/Walking: At least four (RIP leathers with the holes)
  • Uniforms Worn: Two (EF and Ulfjotsvatn)
  • Weeks Spent Back ‘Home’: Seven

The year began in a crappy bar in the Koreatown of Shanghai, out far from the Bund where we lived in Minhang. No one else seemed to mark the passing of midnight, when 2015 became 2016. We made a toast and attempted to order a single round of tequila shots. We were served sweet Vermouth in its place, the bartender either not knowing what tequila is or deliberately serving us laowai something weaker.

This year, we got the tequila! For free! With a community of other waygooks from around the world, with Chinese lanterns and fireworks on Gwangalli Beach outside. It was a great New Year’s Eve.

This post will pull the best photos from our year of nomadery, from each month. I started out saying it would only be one photo per month, but we did a really good job packing in amazing experiences. I simply couldn’t do it.

January

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We started out the year by taking a high-speed train to Nanjing, the site of one of the worst massacres in history during the second World War. It was a sobering experience to be in the place it happened exactly 70 years ago, in the freezing cold grayness of winter.

Nanjing itself is a great city and fun to visit. We also did some hiking on Purple Mountain, which would be a theme for the year.

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Shanghai was the coldest it had been in nearly 30 years early in January, and a lot of pipes froze. We could see our breath in our apartment every day.

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February

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Chinese New Year came on February 8, and we actually got some time off from the English Mines. We used the time to relax in Minhang and to finally visit the theme park right near our apartment. It was a great time, and one of the very (VERY) few clear days in Shanghai.

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Massive Shanghai Everbright Convention Centre

March

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Five words: The Great Wall of China. Norovirus notwithstanding, it was one of the best hikes of the year. Up the backside of the wall, onto the Wild Wall, and down.

April

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Handmade Xiao Long Bao

April gets three pictures and a video, because it’s the month when we were finally free of the bonds in Shanghai and went out to explore China. I took the HSK 2 on the 16th to test my Mandarin (I passed!) and I learned how to make Xiao Long Bao, a traditional Shanghainese food.

After our contracts at EF ended on the 23rd, we moved out of our apartment and went on the road. Terra Cotta Warriors and Huashan Mountain were absolutely the coolest.IMG_1943

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They also leave messages, which are beautiful in contrast to the natural colors.

Here’s a video from the crazy gondolas at the mountain.

May

We started May on a beach in Sanya, China and ended it in Iceland! In the meantime, I spent some times in Colorado and established “Boulder Day” to celebrate the town of my birth. Patchouli required.

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June

We travelled to the Westfjords of Iceland and worked on a Scout Camp as volunteers. It wasn’t always warm, but the midnight sun was absolutely incredible. We spent our days working hard in the kitchen and on camp, but the scenery was incredible.

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We also swam in the Greenland sea.

On June 23, two months to the day after we left our Shanghai jobs, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was a harbringer of things to come in November, and I felt an abiding sense of dread after that day.

July

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Our trusty tent

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Like an alien world

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þórsmörk and the Westman Islands to begin with, and a big fat Scout meetup in the middle. It was so wonderful to be a part of that time at the Úlfljótsvatn | Útilífsmiðstöð skáta Camp, where we danced with an open-air concert and cleaned so many toilets that I lost count.

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Camping in the Westman Islands

It actually started to get dark at night for a little bit around the time of the moot. We played archery and swam in the lake most days, and had a tightknit ‘village’ of volunteers and coworkers around us. I was apparently too busy during the moot to take many photos!

These were days filled with beauty and wonder every single moment. Life-fulfilling and values-affirming days. I felt a renewed commitment to this nomadic life that we continue to choose each day. Validation.

August

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With our staffmates after going through a lava tube

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Whale Watching in Akureyri

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In August, the road that leads to the Icelandic Highlands finally opens up. Ryan and Emma came to visit us in Iceland and we went to the top of the island. We also jumped off a bridge for the second time of three into the lake. jumping

You could feel autumn coming quickly at that time, and our wonderful Icelandic adventure came to a close with a big staff dinner at Ulfjotsvatn. It was like graduation and Christmas at once, and when we walked out after saying, “See you later” to everyone we’d spent the last three months with, it was very dark for the first time in months.

We must go back. 13920483_10153857799300878_7446863482708074595_o14206140_10104278171207503_8732950961375828333_o

September

img_4901img_5059I don’t have many pictures from September, because I was biding time waiting for a Korean visa to come through and mostly doing odd jobs around town. I made a macrame wall hanging with my excess time and did a mini-travel in Colorado on the Peak-to-Peak highway.

On 23 September, exactly five months after we left our jobs in Shanghai, we arrived in Korea to begin living in Busan.

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October

Our daily grind at school is tough tough tough. We have a rough time staying healthy and it’s hard to see the weekends as the light at the end of the workweek tunnel. Wednesdays are particularly dark for me these days.

Luckily, Busan kicks arse! We have so much to do when we are not working. We hike almost every weekend, go to the beach at least once a week, and have a baseball stadium less than a block from our place. In October we got settled, set up our tiny 200 sq. ft. apartment, and began exploring. We saw old friends, and I went in the sea on my 29th birthday.

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I also voted in the 2016 Election, and sent my ballot back to the USA.

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November

On 5th November, we had our own Fireworks Night here in Busan. I burned Donald J. Trump in effigy on the beach, in place of The Guy.

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Then the election came and I could be found with my face against the floor in the locked teacher’s closet, frantically listening to NPR’s livestream with my heart thudding out of my chest. Trump was elected, and I wept on our rooftop in Busan. In response to the world seeming to go insane, we started hiking more and more.

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We started climbing a mountain almost every weekend, and loving it!

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December

The grind was really getting to us at this point. Miraculously, we received the greatest gifts that ESL teachers in Asia could ever have: nine days off work for Christmas. It’s been a wonderful Staycation here in Busan, and we spent the time off reveling in the amazing city we managed to come live in.

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We went to Taejongdae and Iggidae, and led our first hike after being trained in Iceland to guide groups on outdoors activities. We climbed Jangsan Mountain in spite of the landmines!

On the 31st, we hiked across a mountain to the beach. We ended 2016 in Beached Bar on Gwangalli Beach, surrounded by a group of other migrant ESL teachers who were mostly strangers and yet seemed so very familiar, dancing and singing. It was so much fun, and felt just perfect as a New Year’s Eve. More importantly, it finally felt like we are a part of the community here.


At the end of a year like 2016, many have been tempted to say that it is a great thing it’s over. They are saying that it was a terrible year, and that we should be happy it is gone. With the deaths of so many celebrities (which should have been overshadowed by the terrible turns of events in the six-year-long war of attrition in Syria) Brexit, Donald Trump as President-elect, violent attacks in the US and Europe, and two very hard jobs sandwiching the amazing middle of 2016…I understand that feeling.

But 2016 was so incredible for us, and it brought equal parts joy to the pain for me personally. It made my different life choices, hard for many to understand at times, valid. There were many times I found myself saying to my husband, “THIS is why we do what we do!”

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The hardest moment being going from a close, warm community in Iceland overnight to being back in Louisville and separated by the Atlantic from my husband. At the airport in Reykjavik, we stood on a lawn in the sun and wind. We didn’t have a set date for when we would see each other again. One job in Korea had already fallen through. We had to let go of each other and take the next step blindly. There were so many stomach-lurching global events, but that moment of having to watch my husband walk up the terminal stairs was hardest on me.

We live in interesting times, but I don’t see it as the ‘curse’ that people always say is a Chinese proverb. 2017 brings new things to us all.

2016 was true adventure. I dare to hope that every year may be this good.

The Adventures of Raisins, the Icelandic Sheep in Korea

We helped to hand-raise a sheep in Iceland this summer called Raisins. She is a runty sheep, with a funky face and an easily-upset tummy that made us fairly convinced she wouldn’t survive. Despite a run-in with some dumb French Scouts who gave her an unwanted haircut, she made it through the summer and should still be munching grass near camp even as we speak.

Russ found Raisins’ doppleganger in the airport when we were leaving on 27 August. We’ve decided to have a series of posts with Raisins going on adventures in Korea. Tonight, our trip to Haeundae Beach.

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Here’s the real Raisins for reference:

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She’s the small, runty one.