We Made It!
We finally took our first, highly anticipated, steps in country and have officially begun our Icelandic journey. Our travels were long and tiring, but our first day was still full of activities and experiences! We first arrived at the agricultural university, where we would be staying for the greater part of the week, and quickly knocked out an important “to-do” item—the first O-H-I-O of this 2017 Iceland study abroad!
Figure 1a: O-H-I-O
Following our brief free-time, we began our scheduled activities, which included a tour of the agricultural museum—located next to our accommodations—and a visit with a local woman who naturally dyes wool using distinct types of vegetation and insects.
Figure 1b: naturally dyed wool
At the agricultural museum, we explored the history of Icelandic agricultural practices, and observed the many ways in which the techniques have developed and evolved to improve efficiency over the years. One important feature to note is that although these techniques have become more technologically and mechanically advanced, these practices still evoke a unique sense of companionship with nature. Though more tools and machines are used, Icelandic agricultural practices still maintain a partnership with nature, with men and women working with nature as opposed to forcefully dominating it. Iceland only has roughly 330,000 inhabitants, so they hold a lot of pride in maintaining and sharing their rich and vibrant culture.
With today being our first day, and with such a poignant, overarching theme about culture and cultural identity, for my discussion/ reflection leadership role (with my helpful assistant, Sasha) that night I chose to center it around such. I wanted the group to reflect on any “culture shock” they felt. I posed questions such as, “What are some things you were expecting to see, and why did you expect to see this?” and “How do these differences between Icelandic culture and that of our own make you feel?” I wanted the group to explore deep within themselves to really think about what culture means and why the concept of culture is so important. As a fun activity, I had the group design their own Icelandic sweaters—a beautiful example of Icelandic culture—and had them base their design on something we learned on our first day. Some of the designs were…original to say the least, but it was wonderful to see the group employ such creativity and hear their thoughts on a topic as vital as culture.
Figure 1c: Me and my reflection assistant, Sasha.
A Museum, a Cave, and Goats!
On our second day in Iceland, we were all slightly better rested and ready for whatever was in store for us. The day’s activities consisted of visits to the Snorri Sturluson Museum, Iceland’s largest goat farm, Víðgelmir cave, Barnafoss, and some hot springs. We certainly stayed busy.
The Snorri museum was located in a church in Reykholt. We wandered first into the gift shop then were led downstairs where a lovely Icelandic woman gave a facsinating presentation. Snorri Sturluson, we learned, was a famous writer, historian, politician, and poet, alive during the 1200s. He spent much of his life in Reykholt, and parts of his home are still preserved there, including his tub (with functioning plumbing that is over eight hundred years old) and the passgeway from his home that led there. He wrote many texts, including the Edda and some of the Sagas, which have continued to inspire storytellers to this day, including such authors as George R. R. Martin and J.R. Tolkien. It was no easy task to be a writer during those times. Snorri was very wealthy, which allowed him the privilege of both education and, even more difficult to acquire, the materials required to write. He had one of the biggest cattle farms of his day, not for meat or dairy, but for parchment. It would commonly take the skin of about 70 calves to write a 200 page manuscript. The process of making ink involved the fermentation of bearberries or crowberries, and minerals could be used to add pigment for illustrations. This process, while difficult and expensive, was beneficial in that it was longlasting, so Snorri’s original manuscripts, weighing as much as 30 lbs, have endured.
Figure 2a: passageway to Snorri Sturluson's ancient bath house
Next we piled into the bus to go see Barnafoss, which in English means “Children’s Waterfall.” It gets its name from a folk tale which claims that two boys once decided to cross the waterfall via a natural stone bridge to join their parents at the church on the other side, though they were supposed to stay at home. The boys did not make it across, and in her grief, their mother had the bridge destroyed. Though this tale was dark, the waterfall was astoundingly beautiful, with water bluer than seemed natural.
FIgure 2b: Children's Waterfall
From there, we went to Háafell, a goat farm in Borgarfjörður. The goat population in Iceland has struggled over the past few decades because the animals are considered less profitable than sheep, and this farm was a large part of the population’s recovery and rise to over 800. It is also the home to a couple famous goats who were featured briefly in scenes of Game of Thrones. While some of the goats wanted little to do with us, others leapt into our laps seeking attention. After our meet and greets with the goats themselves, we went inside to see the products made from them: milk, cheese, soap, sausage, pelts, and more. While understandably it is costly to care for so many animals, and cannot be done easily without making money to put back into their care, I found it distressing to go from playing with to consuming such a sweet animal in a matter of minutes. My ethical stance as a vegan and animal rights activist in many ways impacted my views on this trip in unique ways, both good and bad.
FIgure 2c: Me with one of the goats
We got to tour a cave called Víðgelmir, which in English loosely translates to “wide and worm-like.” Our tour guide was friendly and entertaining, and taught us briefly how the cave was formed. When we were at the end of our tour, we all turned our headlights off and experienced a minute of true darkness, which is rarer than I think most people realize. The experience was exciting, and I would love to return someday to do the full tour of the cave (which lasts about 4 hours and goes all the way to the end).
Figure 2d: outside of Víðgelmir
We went back to the guest house in the evening, had dinner at the school building, then the group bonded over a spontaneous game of soccer. In reflection, we played a trivia-esque game to test our knowledge of what we had learned so far, then discussed the books we read and/or films we watched prior to the trip and how they related to what we had seen. It was a good way to wrap up another amazing day in Iceland.
Figure 2e: soccer game
On our third day in Iceland, we hiked the 2nd tallest waterfall in the country. Glymur is 198 meters high, and is only surpassed in height by Morsárfoss in Vatnajökull glacier, which reaches just above 200 meters. The views from the bottom of the waterfall are absolutely stunning, matched only by the views from it’s peak.
Figure 3a: Glymur waterfall
To reach these views, you climb rocks, cross rivers, and brave amazing heights- but don’t even consider stopping your trek to the top. Glymur brings you to another world. Between the mist of the fall, the gulls flying through the canyons, it’s unlike anything else in the world.
FIgure 3b: hike to Glymur Figure 3c: view from top of Glymur
The hike took about 4-5 hours, and when we had all finished our journey, we drove to our next stop: a sheep farm in the western countryside. We held goats, lambs, and pigs, and had a very interesting discussion about the vital importance that livestock play in the well-being of Iceland. With little growing season, and little fertile soil, animals are the providers here. It was incredible to see the differences between agriculture in the US, and that of Iceland, because it really is very different.
Everyday here in Iceland is an adventure, and one that you simply can not get anywhere else in the world. I am incredibly excited to see what adventure we will take next!
Figure 12: me and fellow Iceland Education Abroad classmate, Jennifer
The day started in Hvanneyri at the beautiful Agriculture University located between the stunning snow capped mountains and the gorgeous fjord in the backyard. Similar to every morning at the university we started off with some delicious porridge accompanied by some bread, fresh fruit and as always Icelandic coffee. Today on our agenda we were embarking toward the Northern part of the peninsula of Iceland. On the drive we had several pit stops planned to break up the long drive we had ahead of us.
Our first stop took place at the magnificent Gönguleitir, where we were able to check out an awesome waterfall that was just a short walk away from the road. From a dirt path and through some bushes this multiple waterfall view was absolutely stunning. Apparently the river that was in front of us was very common for salmon, but I didn't get a chance to spot one.
Figure 4a: waterfall at Gönguleitir
he next stop on our journey was a crater that was right off of the main road. We were able to walk up stairs to get to the top of the crater and man was that a view! Not only could we see right into the naturally made crater, we could see far out into the valley because we were fairly high off the ground. This crater was a scoria cone and it was formed due to magma blasting from the ground and eventually piling up on itself aa it cooled.
Figure 4b: crater close to main road
After exploring the crater we took a trip over to a dairy farm where we were able to roam around and play with a bunch of different animals as well as learn about some sustainable farming practices and other tasks that are vital for the farming industry.
Figure 4c: dairy farm
After the tour of the farm we ate lunch at the farm and enjoyed some fresh skúr. The last stop that was on the agenda for the day was to Eirik the Red’s replica Viking home that was in the valley adjacent to a large fjord. Here we got to observe what the layout of a Viking home most likely looked like and listen about sages that included Eirik the Red.
Figure 4d: Viking home replica
The day was officially coming to an end and we made our way to our new home for the night. We had an amazing dinner that consisted of Icelandic red fish and of course more delicious skúr for dessert. Following dinner I lead a reflection with my partner Rachel and we used jeopardy to review the different information that we went over for the day. It was a great reflection and I used the discussion questions to remind myself what everyone was studying and what connections they could make with the trip so far. Directly after the reflection a group of us set out for a night hike on the mountain behind our new hotel. The hike was pretty strenuous, but extremely rewarding once we made it to the top. We had a 360-degree view of the whole valley and could even catch a decent amount of the sunset. This day shaped out to be a great one and each stop on our journey to the northern part of the peninsula was fun and stimulating.
Figure 4e: evening hike with classmates and a great view
My day of reflection was packed with culture, geology, and scenery. This was the longest day in the whole program and I’m excited to do the blog for this day.
Day five was spent exploring Snaefellsness peninsula. Tobba encouraged us into having a bird-watching competition. We started early on at a fishing village. This village’s primary income comes from the fishing industry. The harbor is filled with vessels of many sizes. We got to take a short hike to the top of a hill overlooking the village. At the top, we got to enjoy views of a lighthouse overlooking the sea.
Figure 5a: overlook of fishing village
We stopped for lunch near the Church Mountain- Kirkjufell. This is a beautiful mountain that looks like it was built like a layered cake. There was a wonderful waterfall nearby where we all witnessed our first bit of tourism. Kyle found several pieces of trash and for much of us, the increase in crowds took away from the experience. Despite the crowds, Tobba had to pull us away from relaxing on the roadside with amazing views.
Figure 5b: Kirkjufell
We continued around Snaefellsness peninsula to a lava field. Here we saw the lava huts. These huts, literally made of lava, were used by early Icelandic people to dry fish. About 10 of us climbed in one hut and I felt a bit claustrophobic. We then all sat beside a lava hut and Tobba told us the story of her involvement with the orca from Free Willy. Tobba was responsible for helping Keiko, the orca, return to the wild. I found her story inspiring for me with my own career aspirations. I cannot express enough how unique and knowledgeable Tobba is as a person.
We ended the day with a hike to our hotel along the coastline. This coastline was lined with sharp black cliffs. I really enjoyed this time, because I got to do the hike at my own pace. I spent my time photographing the vegetation and sea birds. The whole time the volcano, Snaefellsness, loomed in the horizon. A glacier sits at the top of this volcano that is responsible for creating the whole peninsula.
Throughout the whole day, I was surprised by the geology. Everywhere we stopped had a whole new feel to it. The unique geological formations around every corner continued to take my breath away. In reflection, the geology of Iceland made me appreciate my surroundings more, now that I know how our Earth is formed.
The geographic focus of Day 6 was the southern portion of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. We started off with a quick breakfast at 8:00 and were soon off to a black pebble beach. This was my personal favorite of the day because of the way the water sounded when it rolled off of the rocks; furthermore, Dr. Slater informed us that those rocks are actually called shingles. The beach also had remnants from the wreck of a trawler Epine GY 7 as well as four rocks with varying weights (23, 54, 100, and 154 kg) that were used to determine whether or not a man was fit to work on a ship.
Next, we went to a cave where half the group used a rope to climb up a small waterfall to get further into the cave. We came out soaked, but it was totally worth it. Johnny, Gabe, and Jen also saved a baby fulmar bird that had fallen into the cave and would have died if it was not brought out.
After the cave we went to a sand beach with a beautiful view of Snæfellsjokull. The sand was made up mostly of minute basaltic pieces and something called olivine that looks like green crystals. This stop had a more classic beach feel than the first black pebble beach we stopped at because it had sand, the sky had cleared a little, and the waves were not as harsh.
Figure 6a: basaltic and olivine sand
Our last beach of the day was one for seal watching. There are two kinds of seals in Iceland: the Harbor and Gray seal. We saw the former sunbathing on the rocks in the distance. A couple seals emerged from the water and flopped onto the rocks to join the others. The beach had sand and a lot of oddly and seemingly arbitrarily scarlet and grey colored rocks.
On our way to the Hvanneyri guesthouse we stopped at a mineral spring. This spring produced water heavy with iron and carbonate, so it tasted like blood and club soda. Fe2+ oxidizes to Fe3+ which is what gives the red color.
Figure 6b: mineral spring
We also made a quick stop at a basaltic columnar formation, which takes years to form after an eruption occurs. I was surprised when Dr. Slater told me that it takes a few months after an eruption for lava to cool enough to be touched!
Just before we arrived at the guesthouse we stopped at the pool for about an hour to relax in the hotpots. The have tubs of varying warm temperatures and the actual pool is always warm. In Iceland you have to get completely undressed and shower before you put on your swimsuit and head to the pool. The same routine of showering is followed on the way back.
For dinner we had a traditional three meat stew, which I believe consists of beef, lamb, and goat. It was delicious and finished quickly by everyone! We then headed back to the guesthouse for a reflection session lead by myself and Kyle.
Figure 6c: me and Kyle
We started off with a fun game of hangman (with Icelandic words) to get everyone in a talking mood. We then posed this question: Since this is the halfway point of the trip can everyone share and explain their highs and lows? It was interesting to see how people in the group responded and felt about the various experiences we have all shared. We all experience things differently, and I think it's important to share our thoughts and give people the opportunity to view an experience from a different angle. We concluded the session with a couple fun questions about the day that anyone who reads this blog should be able to answer! They are: what are the weights of the four rocks on the beach, what is the green crystal looking substance from the sand beach, and what form of iron oxidizes to produce the characteristic rust color?
After reflection some people hung out in the wifi room and others got ready for bed. All and all it was a good day full of wonderful scenery and ended with excitement for the next day!
Today we explored the town of Borgarnes! Borgarnes is a small town with less than 2000 residents. They still have an awesome pool with a waterslide though! Our Icelandic guide, Tobba, took us around the town. She showed us the school and a really neat playground made mostly of wood. Unfortunately, we were told the builder has since passed away and it’s in need of repair, so hopefully someone will step forward to take care of it. Tobba also showed us some old huts that early Icelanders used to live in. Also, today was the first time it really rained. Our stroke of good weather has come to an end.
In the morning, we went to the Settlement Centre, where we learned about how Iceland was settled. We also head the story of Egil’s Saga, which was interesting, albeit gruesome. Egil Skallagrímsson was a Viking-age poet. Fun fact: he first killed someone at the age of 7! We had lunch at a park in Borgarnes before most of us went back to the guesthouse to get ready for horseback riding. Magnús, our trusty bus driver, dropped the rest of the group off for a hike
Figures 7a: hike to Hafnarfjall
Back at the guesthouse, I did some laundry and prepared to lead reflection for the day. At around 4:30pm, we headed out to go horseback riding. I’d never been before so I was super excited. When we got there, I expected them to give us a little introduction, or at least a few pointers, but all they did for the first timers was help us get on our horses. It was a little scary jumping right into it, but I think we all got the hang of it quickly. My horse was really quite majestic. He was all black with one white spot and his name was Blettur, which means “Spot” in English. He was very relaxed so we were a good match. We rode around Hvanneyri and across some black sand beaches. Seeing the landscape away from the roads was a treat.
Figure 7b: Blettur and me
Tonight for reflection, I asked everyone to pick one of their favorite pictures they’d taken so far and reflect back on the moment they took it. I think it went well and the group had some great pictures to show. Even though we have all been travelling together and seeing the same things, I really enjoyed hearing and seeing everyone’s different perspectives on our journey.
Figures 7c: one of my favorite pictures from the trip
The Golden Circle
Today was a day that I know a lot of us had been looking forward to. Not only was it Iceland’s National day, we were finally going to do the famous Golden Circle. Not to say that all of the things we have been doing were not incredible, because they were. This is just what Iceland is renowned for and that made it all the more exciting. The three major sites that comprise the Golden Circle are Þingvellir, Strokkur and Gullfoss. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal today and it rained nearly the entire time we were outside but it added a different beauty to that we had yet to see.
We started at Þingvellir, which is the historic site where the Icelandic democracy and government was conducted beginning in the 900s. This rift valley was quite interesting with tall basalt ledges coming up on both sides of you as we walked through. There was also a small river that was flowing through and made the whole experience both historic and beautiful.
From there, we went on to Strokkur geyser. I had never personally seen a geyser before so getting to watch Strokkur erupt several times was quite fascinating. It is the second largest geyser in the world and was truly remarkable.
Lastly we went to the Gullfoss waterfall which was probably my favorite stop of the day. The tiered falls were massive and though there was not the straight drop that other falls boast, the sheer volume of water that was running and the power of it was incredible.
As we made our way on the bus to our destination for the night in Hella, we also got to get a glimpse of the massive stratovolcano Hekla. From class we had learned that if Hekla were to erupt there would be catastrophic consequences and seeing the size of the volcano in person definitely supported that. As we continued, the group also got talking about how there was so much tourism throughout the day in the Golden Circle. We had been off and secluded from groups for the last week or so and going to these destinations with tourists everywhere was almost overwhelming. I do not think that it took away from the experience or the beauty that we saw, but at the same time it was different to enjoy it around numerous people. Today was quite the day and if anyone is headed to Iceland, the Golden Circle is definitely worth seeing!
The world puts us in our place and makes us feel small: each of us is one in seven billion people and the universe is far bigger than we could ever imagine. Despite our smallness and the vastness of the world, we were made for adventure, made for exploring the unknown. On this day, the unknown was another experience in the foreign country of Iceland as we traveled to Þórsmörk.
In the morning after we packed our bags and hopped in the Green Thunder, the first stop was at Seljalandsfoss, a massive waterfall that we could walk behind. This natural wonder was absolutely breath-taking. I’ve seen a handful of waterfalls before, both in pictures and in person, but never have I been able to walk behind one. I’ll admit that it wasn’t fun being soaked by the mist and splash of the waterfall, but with something that incredible, it almost didn’t matter.
As our journey continued, we made our next stop at the Gígjökull glacier. When I was growing up, probably around elementary school age, I remember learning a thing or two about the glaciers. I remember hearing that they were slowly melting, but I always had a hard time imagining what they actually looked like. In my young mind, I figured them to be massive walls of snow and ice that went on for miles and miles. Once we arrived and actually saw the Gígjökull glacier, it was nothing like what I imagined from my elementary school days. The glacier was a solid block of dirty ice that was cold to the touch and much smaller than I envisioned. It was unfortunate that in the near future the glacier would be completely gone, but I’m glad to have experienced and appreciated it while it existed.
While at OSU, I am pursuing a dance minor. In my dance classes, we emphasize that one dances their most passionately when inspired by what they love. I have no greater love than the great outdoors and the intrinsic beauty of nature. During my time in Iceland, I felt completely awestruck and inspired by my surroundings. Several times, I remark saying that I just wanted to dance, despite how tired I was usually.
I felt a certain rush of inspiration when we had entered Thórsmörk, and I was eager to explore and move. On Monday, June 19th, a group of us embarked on an eight-hour hike. I was lost in the beauty, and kept feeling the urge to move and dance. Certain movements just pulled at me for no reason; I could just feel them. I knew that for the reflection session I was leading that night, I wanted for us to move and create based on what we had seen so far on the trip. I knew this would be out of a lot of peoples’ comfort zones, but that was the perfect reason to pursue this activity. For me, pushing your boundaries is where growth occurs. We stay stagnant within our comfort zones. I knew that for myself, the eight-hour hike was out of my comfort zone. I had never felt fear on a hike before, but at one point near the peak, I was genuinely scared of falling. This fear did not stop me though, and I soon reached the peak.
I know that if I had not left my comfort zone, I would have regretted not reaching the summit and seeing the incredible view. That is why I wanted to discuss comfort zones with the group and how we have pushed ourselves, and why I chose dancing to accompany the discussion. In the end, everyone enjoyed the movement (I hope/ think they did) and the stretches were beneficial after our long hike. It was awesome to hear how other people had pushed their comfort zones, whether it be physically or mentally or both, and how they felt impacted by this change. All in all, these past two weeks have been some of the best in my life, even when it was rainy or cold, I wouldn’t trade one bit of it.
Free Day in Reykjavik
Today we woke up early and shipped off on the bus to the National Museum which was full of artifacts and displays regarding the history of Iceland. One of the most memorable facts I read was that the copper pots in Iceland cost more than long ships because the metals weren’t available in Iceland and had to be imported.
Next we were all dropped off in the center of Reykjavik for some free exploration time to see the city. We walked the streets and took in the sights, stopping in the occasional shop to purchase souvenirs. We also stopped by the Cultural House in the city center to view art from years past. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the city which was calm despite housing over half of Iceland’s population. There was art on display in the streets, graffiti on the walls, and we even walked past an acapella group singing Icelandic tunes.
The best part of the day however, was the cinnamon bun that I bought at a small bakery in the city. It was warm, gooey, and delicious. We ate our baked goods on a walk down to the famous viking boat statue and enjoyed the breeze.
Last Day in Iceland
Today marked the final day for all of us in Iceland. It was a rather easy day with an ending that was fitting to the entire trip. We began the final tour of Iceland by going to Krýsuvík: a geothermal spot. This was the group’s first real look at an almost untouched, natural geothermal location. Upon arrival everyone instantly noted the smell of sulfur. After a walk around and some photos, we were off to our next stop.
Next we stopped alongside a lake called Kleifarvatn for a brief photo op.
Next was another stop alongside water. But this time it was the ocean. The waves today were harsh and unruly, which made for an amazing view that was only interrupted by a wave that soaked half of the group.
After reflection program time was over and the trip was coming to an end. We spent our last hours in Iceland at the famous Blue Lagoon where we relaxed and chatted with each other as new friends. There was not a more fit ending to the trip as something so mesmerizing and beautiful as the Iceland's Blue Lagoon with all those that we had befriended along the way.