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…

Taejongdae and the newest window

Facebook reminded me of this post today, which shows the full cycle of the seasons the last time I was in Korea. I got inspired to take another picture out the window, adding it to the collection.

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Our neighbourhood is older, but it is rapidly being changed from large, family houses to concrete block apartments for single or double occupancy. I will document the walk to work this week and then follow it up every couple of months. My guess is that things will change a lot in that time.

Busan is amazing, even if our job is very (VERY) stressful.  I won’t bore you with a laundry list of the same issues that teachers face all over the world every single day, but it’s been a long-ass week. Let’s leave it at “Wow! My brain managed to invent a brand new form of insomnia! Now I can neither fall asleep at night nor stay asleep after 4:30AM!”

Every weekend, we simply must get outside. img_5870

Taejongdae is a natural area that sits a little to the south of Busan proper, on the island of Young-do. It’s a little teeny bit of a hilly walk, but nothing compared to even most streets here in the land of 45 degree angle hills. Yes, there is a land train of sorts that can ferry you with hoards of your closest friends the 2.5 km to the lighthouse. But seriously, you don’t want to take that monstrosity. It’s an easy walk.

The best part of living in Busan is how many amazing rocks there are to climb! They are just everywhere. Last weekend we climbed up the rocks on top of a mountain near our place, and this weekend we climbed lots of rocks next to the sea.

My personal favourite part of Taejongdae is the kitties. I’m a sucker for sweet cats, but the blind one at the observation deck is just the cutest. He spends all day lying in the sun, receiving food from humans, sitting politely, and getting lots and lots of pets. He seems very happy indeed. What a life, where all you know is that there are nice animals all around you all day who like to feed you and pet you? He is very fat and well-cared for, even out there on the island’s edge.

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There are some very healthy looking kittens as well.

The area has a lot of stairs to climb and some great views of the city from a different vantage point.

We both got to take some nice pictures of us in our travelling element.

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Definitely worth a visit. You could probably even get a minbak or a hotel around there and chill out overnight.

To get to Taejongdae: 

  • Go to Nampo Station on Line 1 
  • Take Exit 6 and walk up to the bus stop nearest Young-do Bridge 
  • Take the 8, 88, 101, or 30 to the very last stop. (They all go by the same route, so just take the first one of those that shows up)
  • Walk up to the gate and into the park!

Iceland: Doing the Super-Tourist thing in the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route in Iceland. For only about 90USD, you can get a day tour that fits perfectly into most people’s 24-48 hours in Iceland, from one of the many providers that send buses on the route.

Due to our style of traveling, we hadn’t yet been in our two months living in Iceland.

But now we’ve gone! (Disclaimer: to most of it!)

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Gulfoss

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The Golden Circle is highly promoted in Iceland. It’s accessible, and easy. The sights are impressive, especially Gulfoss. It’s definitely better to do this via hitchhiking (yes, it’s possible!) or with your own driving to have the most flexibility.

However, having spent a significant amount of time here at this point, I can’t honestly say that it’s the best Iceland has on offer. There are so many beautiful places to experience in Iceland that give the Golden Circle a run for its money, or surpass it. The Westman Islands. Thorsmok. The Westfjords. Lake Myvatn. Gulfoss is really cool, but so are the other major (and hidden) waterfalls in Iceland. 

We are lucky enough to have the time and ability to see places in Iceland beyond the Golden Circle, which is something most visitors to Iceland cannot say. The Golden Circle gives you a lot of what is best in Iceland, and you could also tack onto it a short hike to Reykjadalur (the Hot River) outside Hvergardi. I’ll be posting about that soon!

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The Famous Hot River

The best summary I could give is:

See the Golden Circle if you have no time to see anything else, and come back to Iceland to explore more than once! 

Contact me if you are interested in hearing about how we managed to live in Iceland over the summer.

 

Iceland’s Magic Waterfalls: Five of the Best

Iceland should really be called WaterfallLand. There are thousands of the beauties all over the island. The glaciers melt in the spring and summer and produce striking white stripes and countless rainbows that contrast with the landscapes and micro-climates. Sometimes, they genuinely seem infused with magic.

And because Iceland’s waters are some of the most unspoiled in the world, you can even drink directly from them!

In our two trips in Iceland we’ve managed to see all the major waterfalls that most guidebooks suggest, from the crowded and famous Seljalandsfoss in the South to Dettifoss in the North.

Seljalandsfoss

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One of the most famous of Iceland’s waterfalls, found on the South Coast between Thorsmok and the Westman Islands. It’s about 50 minutes outside of Selfoss, or 9ish from Reykjavik. It was featured in Where the Hell is Matt? videos, too!

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Skogarfoss Waterfall

Skogarfoss Waterfall is found in the South of Iceland. It can be reached by car or by foot on the famous Skogar Trail over the mountains from Thorsmok. We went in January 2015.

Gulfoss

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The Golden Circle takes its name from this waterfall, which translates as “Gold Falls.” The light in the afternoon makes the water look golden. We went in early August 2016, and it was the most impressive of the sights in the Golden Circle. It also happens to be the gateway to the Icelandic Highlands.

Dettifoss

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Europe’s most powerful waterfall lies in the North of Iceland, about 1.5 hours from Akureyri. It’s a huge, gray waterfall in the middle of a lava field. Massive and impressive!

Dyjandi

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My personal favourite. This waterfall is the hardest to access on this list, in the Westfjords of Iceland. The main fall is just the biggest of several in the area, and it’s a magical drive to the foot of the falls. I definitely drank from this one. Find more about the waterfalls of the Westfjords in my previous post.

There are still more beautiful waterfalls to see in Iceland. I guess we’ll just have to come back! Oh dear.