Sometimes on your trips, you meet people that just take care of you. They fix things for you, introduce you to fun activities, makes amazing stuff possible and over all contribute to radically improve your experience of a place.
I already introduced you to Gunnar, who invited me to motorised outdoor action with big tyres and water splashing in the "Monstertruck-episode", but Samuel Örn Erlingsson was no less of a door opener. He is into the other kind of horse power. The one that comes one by one, on four legs...
A classic pose. It is time to leave the high pasture.
The horse gathering is a social event.
Herd of Icelandic horses in Skagafjordur
Samuel Örn Erlingsson in his right element.
sun - snow - rain ... in one day
Samuel Örn Erlingsson
The days spent with Samuel were truly rewarding. Just by being himself he demonstrated the Icelandic culture of hospitality. It was an adventure from the first time we met, when Samuel was one of the drifters riding across Kjølur.
We had delicious, tender horse meat in his home with his wife Ásta (a famed athlete), we made traditional food - Slautur -with his mother and sisters and we travelled to the south and the north in order to ride and check out horses.
Wherever we came, Samuel had friends, and I slowly realised that he is some kind of a hotshot or celebrity on "The Rock", after serving many years as a sports commentator and "horse man" in Icelandic TV. It is said a book could be written about all his fun/erroneous statements when he was the "expert commentator" of all exercises in the winter Olympics, years ago, when they only could afford to send one reporter ...
They breed both for physical quality and looks, making a thousand shades of brown ...
Skagafjordur horse gathering
Going to Skagafjordur was special. You will see in the episode that the horses are driven down from the high mountains and gathered in the valley, before split between the farmers. There's singing og the great local tenors, drinking, competitions and an extremely social warmth. I was allowed to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and riding across Iceland some weeks before had made me rather comfortable on horseback, so this was pure fun.
Eating horse meat
Yes, I am a horse lover in double sense. The dinner in Samuels place was among the best. The cut is rough, but tells you a little story about the tradition of eating the horses:
Icelands first television sets were installed after the US base in Keflavik was established and they started broadcasting the kind of stuff the USAnians are served by their broadcasters. Iceland did not produce until much later, and this is probably an important factor shaping the Icelandic culture. They are much more "americanised" than the rest of the Nordic countries, and differs greatly from Norway when it comes to experiencing nature. Where we would walk, they drive.
rush our traffic jam in the mountains ... Click the images!
Gunnar Birgisson - my kind of guy!
Why walk when you may race?
ATV fun x 2
Paul Olai-Olssen dressed up.
Welcome to the Machine
Horse power is the magical word. Monster trucks. Big wheels. ATV's. Their complete fascination for these noisy machines is in total contrast to the love of the Icelandic horse, which is more up my alley. Conflicts between these two groups of "horselovers" are frequent, as far as i experienced, the situation is rather clear cut. You love the animal or the machine. In this episode, it is all about the machine.
Gunnar Birgisson is totally local!
Stripped of their engines and horse powers...
... are not men at all. I mean, they love to play. They are surprisingly childish and do not take themselves very seriously. At least none of the numerous guys I was lucky to get to know.
As always, men behave more relaxed and are generally more fun when women are not around, that is a universal fact, but the interesting thing about these fellows, is that they may look like a bunch of brutes at first glance, which they soon prove not to be at all. Just overgrown kids, basically. Great to be around. Helpful, caring and considerate. Experimenting, daring and drinking. Problem solving and self ironic.
Atop Tindfjöll the easy way.
Paul Olai-Olssen in a leaking outfit.
Gunnar Birgisson the cave man.
Gunnar as cave man
Gunnar Birgisson had more to show me. Let me explain that I first met him on the Faroes, where he and a bunch of guys arrived by zodiacs, after crossing from Iceland. A mad venture, obviously. He told me that he could fix and arrange whatever I wanted to in Iceland, if I wanted to come. I wanted to come. He fixed things. And we naturally became good friends. Gunnar is a one-of-a-kind kind of person.
"I have more to show you," he told me. "Come on, it is going to be fun!" I knew Gunnar by then, so I was naturally sceptical. My death wish is very, very weak, and the expression in his face made it clear that what he had in mind was more than a walk in the park. Have a look at the video below. I am not going to tell where it is, as people are not encouraged to go there. If you do, please bring rope, helmet and a non leaking dry suit!
And that was all for for now. Next episode next week. Here's the sunset over Vestmannaeyjar:
See the episode above, and click on the images for better viewing, as in all my blog posts. This time, I have visited Thingvellir, or rather Þingvellir, which has a special place in Icelands history. Since 1930 it has been a national park, and since 2004 it has been listed as a a World Heritage Site. This amazing place lies in a rift valley on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, literally in between the continental plates.
diving through the crack in Silfra
Diving in Silfra
There are many good dive spots in Iceland, most of them related to some kind of geothermal or seismic activity. I met Tobias Klose that is running dive.is, a great company providing the best of equipment and security. It is fun to get to know people that show true enthusiasm for their work, and Tobias seems to have found his place in the world. He sent Andri Ómarsson to guide me. Silfra is one of the most spectacular destinations for any diver looking for spectacular scenery. No live to see at all, but who needs fish when you can stretch your arms out and touch two continental shelves?! This is unlike any dive, any place - strongly recommended.
the crack on the bed of Thingvellir
Andri Ómarsson and Gunnar - great buddies
This lake is found only half an hours drive south of Reykjavik, in a desolate volcanic landscape. After an earthquake in 2000, the lake started draining by one centimetre per day, but it is still there, so I assume the crack has later been clogged up. What emerged in the southern end of the lake after the quake, was some holes from where gas and hot water stream out, followed by shivers and rumbles.
What Thingvellir is most known for, is that the "Althing" found place here from 930 until 1798, being the parliament of Iceland from the time when it took 17 days for the most remote chieftain to reach the supreme legislative and judicial authority of the country. Iceland was not easily travelled back in those days, so it took a while, even if this place was chosen partially because of its convenient location... The law speaker spoke from the Lögberg, the law rock, and was elected for periods of three years, in an amazingly open democracy.
Hellisheidi geothermal power station
Five major geothermal power plants provides about a quarter of the nation's energy. In addition to electricity, the geothermal water heat up and provide hot water for most buildings in Iceland. Hydro power makes up for the rest of the electricity need, making Iceland close to 100% nice on the environmental clean energy scale (read more in Scientific American). If they only could run those monster trucks on batteries, then I would be really satisfied with them (more about those monsters in a later episode...). Hellisheidi geothermal power plant is actually the biggest of its kind worldwide, quite a cool thing to visit, bot to see the drill holes all over the mountain (vulcano) and the station itself, with its visitors centre.
We were only in Dahab for three days, of which two were diving. The Bishbishi camp was recommended to us, and I will gladly pass on the recommendation, as Jimmy and his mates offer a safe and inexpensive place to sleep, with whatever advice and arrangements you would need.
Jimmy Dahab with hat, and Oula Dahab.
This is typically your first impression.
Jim was the best possible buddy.
After the first perfect days, the wind picked up, but Aqua Divers knew of a sheltered spot a short drive to the south. Visibility was reduced because of the agitated water, and the waves kept some of the sunlight out, but the experience was never the less very good.
Jim, my experienced buddy from yesterday (read Diving in Dahab I) took me on a drift dive along the corals, not much deeper than 25 meters, reducing air consumption. The first of two dives lasted just about one hour, which is more than I've done in one single dive before.
colourful one ...
funny wormlike thing
Even if nothing appears out of the big blue, there are so much to look at, and having a buddy you trust makes the pleasure even greater. One has to wonder why nature has created all these colours and shapes. The intricate systems of fish depending on certain corals for survival, the fine balance with water temperature and acidity of the seas. All these accurately tuned mechanisms that our generation of humans are putting at grave risk, in our selfish quest for "higher living standard". Our wonderful planet would for certain be much better off without homo sapiens.
Geometric Moray, the most common moray in the Red sea.
small scorpion fish, according to Jim
blue spotted puffer
Maybe the fight for the water world is already lost, or maybe it can still be saved. The word "maybe" is popping up far to often, when it comes to human interference in nature. There is so much we do not know, and science has a hard time keeping up with accelerating changes. We remain ignorants in so many fields, but still act as if we knew. Or actually ever more often do even worse than that, when we do have the knowledge, but ignore it for the sake of short term benefits.
Milad Sawires is diving instructor at Aqua Divers in Dahab - recommended!!
Go get your dive mask, be sure not to touch anything and try to understand what our pollution, plastic, CO2 and overfishing are exterminating. Then use your vote, your shopping habits and your voice - in order make a difference!
Most tourists spend far to little time on Iceland, barely allowing time to visit the "The Golden Triangle" of Gullfoss, Geysir and Thingvellir. These are all well worth seeing, but please show this island of sagas more respect, and venture further and stay longer. Let my series be an introduction, even if my three months there only allowed me to explore the western half of Iceland.
I chose the bike, with a trailer as main mean of transport. A Trek / Gary Fisher Genesis 29" was the perfect bike for the job, along with my Bike Bob trailer, with suspension on the wheel. They did a great job on the long stretches of rough gravel and wet dirt.
The powerful falls at Gullfoss.
Paul Olai-Olssen and a "teddy-horse".
A beautiful multitude of colours.
Riding an Icelandic horse is one of the most Icelandic experiences you can have. This cosy creature reminds of a crossing between a teddy bear and a camel. For hundreds of years, it has been bread towards reliability and sturdiness. It should "tölt" (the typical Icelandic gait) well and generally behave as a nice horse. If it fails in this, it will be eaten, as horse meat is among the best I have eaten. The result is a wonderful race of multicoloured, hard working horses that has been kept isolated from all other horses ever since the viking-era.
Samúel Örn Erlingsson became a good friend.
Crossing one of several rivers.
Àsa and her dog.
Arranging a ride in Iceland is very easy. I contacted Ishestar, but you can find several alternatives. What seemed a good alternative to me, was to join the trip from Kjóastaðir, situated near the southern end of the Kjölur trail. You should of course choose route according you your riding skill, in order to complete and enjoy the adventure. This I did not, but my background as a kayaker (balance) and long distance biker (endurance) did to some extent compensate for my total lack of horsemanship.
Hot pool and women - and cold bjór!
Undertaking a somewhat tough journey with 25 people you never knew before is a fascinating social experiment. The participants differed greatly in age and background, but ...
... a pleasant and surprising bonus for a single male traveller, was to realise that the majority of horse-tourists consist of charming women from all over Europe. This definitely boosted my spirit in times of hardship and pain... ;)
Àsa, Hjalti and their bunch.
Landscapes of Iceland are something else. From the plane it seems that the lava flows have just frozen, and on the ground you will many places se steam and hot springs, escape routes in case of volcanic eruptions or other signs of thermic activities. The Island (referred to as "The Rock" among locals) are alive, in multiple meanings of the word...
No place is like Iceland, go explore, and make sure to enjoy the following episodes that will be presented her on Pauls Planet Blog!