Photo Trips to 'hey, you forgot le yogert,' aka Eyafjallajökull

I heard about the first volcanic eruption about 1 minute after the news report was released, late at night around 1 am, and almost drove out to it that night. Hearing rumours of road closures and safety risks, I waited until the next day, and then life just carried on as usual, busy days doing nothing, until all of a sudden, the volcano was over!

I was expecting a 2 month or even 2 year spectacle and assumed I would eventually get out to it so I could also get my  photo taken with bubbling lava behind me like everyone else, but the couple weeks I waited proved to be too long. It was also because there was no sign or evidence of a volcanic eruption here in Reykjavik, as no sounds, sights or smells of the eruption reached us.

But then, we all know what happened, the real show began! The most recent eruption started at around 20 times the strength, defeaning sounds echoing around southern Iceland, and ash starting its quick and lethal journey to mainland Europe. I decided I of course couldnt miss this opporunity again, and drove out to it within a day of it blowing its top. The road was actually closed, but I was driving with an Icelandic friend of mine who convinced the authorities we had to go into Úlfsey to help a friend move horses. It wasn´t 100% true, but there was a friend and there were horses, but we were just going to take photos all night from beneath the volcano with our zoom lenses and tripods.

The lightning in the plume cloud was one of the most amazing natural phenomenons I have ever witnessed, the most beautiful, bright sight you could imagine in an otherwise horribly dark, grim volcanic ash cloud. It was red sometimes, orange other times, and even a white lightning streak sometimes lit up the whole cloud. It was soundless lighting though, and the missing thunder just made the volcano seem more scary, like a silent monster. Northern lights speckled the sky half way into the night, and the view of a billion stars all added up to make the night one of the most unforgettable I’ve ever had.

The next day we took advantage of the day light and took photos of the plume cloud, rising 10 km´s above the crater, and the endless, drifting ash cloud supposedly spreading ash in Russia and leaving ash on people´s cars in Norway. Crazy to think about.

I went back to the Volcano 2 days later, Monday the 19th, to see a much smaller, lighter plume cloud, but an even murkier, spooky ash cloud blowing straight south, barely missing the Vestmann Islands off the southcoast of Iceland.

The road closure was slightly closer, right at the bridge over Markarfljót, with the rebuilt ringroad highway that was originally torn apart to allow for glacier melting and run off water to flow. As we arrived, the time was 19:27, and the road block was officially lifted 2 minutes later. So, with a sense of adventure, everyone in the car thought we should carry on and we drive straight into the ash cloud. It was a spooky, eerie feeling, extremely silent and lifeless, and the sun looked like a radioactive ray glowing far away through the thick ash. We didnt get out of the car but took photos from the safety of our sealed windows.

After all the excitement, we started our journey back to Reykjavik, and as we drove away and nightfall set, we saw the flickering red glow of the volcano light up a pitch black sky, which we later learned was the turning point of Eyafjallajökull into a roaring lava flow eruption.

My Thoughts on Cuba

the view of what looks like havan ruins, but is actually the neighborhood directly beside the old centerCuba is a crumbling colonial city – literally. The few buildings that comprise the center of Havana and also the small town of Trinidad are immaculately kept buildings, preserved in their same state since colonial rule, but the rest of Havana and all the more rural towns are filled with buildings that are literally falling apart. The stereotypical colour array of brightly painted houses  only applies to the lucky buildings, and the ones that are in the middle of being restored look quite different as colourless facades completely gutted and surrounded by scaffolding old enough that vines have overtaken them. The deteriorating state of homes may have something to do with the fact that they are all owned by the state; individuals are allocated housing and have no ownership to the property, and of course when something isn´t yours, its harder to motivate someone to take better care of it!

The women are as colourful as the houses, wearing a lot of bright, bold colours like red, yellow and white, that stick out beautifully against their dark tans. Some of the people are actually quite fair; green and blue eyed beauties represent the many that are actually of European decent. The antique cars that literally fill the city are also as colourful, immaculately restored to look like they’ve been newly made in the 60’s just yesterday. The rest of the 50 year old cars, mostly Russian Lada’s, are barely running, heavily pollutant, and definitely wouldn’t be street legal in any other country.

People in cuba really do smoke a lot of cigars, but not the Cohibas or Montecristos that are exported for foreigners; they smoke 1MD (moneda nacional peso – the equivalent of 5 cents) cigars that I think are just as tasty, so long as you don’t get one that is totally dried out. You can also buy ridiculously cheap churros and ice cream, but only if you are far away from tourist central, since they will charge foreigners the peso equivalent in CUC (aka pesos convertibles) which are actually worth 25 times more than one MD peso. This is an extremely confusing pricing system, since both are referred to as ´pesos´but one is pinned to the US dollar and actually converted at a rate slightly stronger than it, and the other is their ´old´peso currency, but both still circulate as legal tender. The most ludicrous business in Havana is getting on the internet; since it was just recently legalised to have computers and internet connection, expect to pay around 4 or 5 euro per hour!

I visited the tranquil Cementerio de Colón, which was extremely beautiful, but some aspect of reverence was lost when a man in flip flops walked up to the cemetery wall (from who knows where since there was just a highway beside it) and threw a dead chicken over it. Weird.

Traveling as a woman in Cuba isn’t easy if its your time of the month since they do not sell tampons, anywhere. Couchsurfing is also, for the most part, non existent since it is illegal for Cubans to host foreigners. And buses and trains operate with extreme infrequencies, with posted schedules a rarity, and even if they were accessible, tourists get different bus services and ticket prices – about 25 times more the cost for long distance buses that only run once or twice a day.

All in all it was a wonderful trip, but one of the more difficult latin american countries to backpack through since little tourism infrastructure exists outside of Havana or the resort hotels. People outside of tourism hot spots are not used to seeing tourists, and definitely not aware of how the industry works, and frankly, not interested in finding out since the laws on interacting, hosting or charging tourists are extremely strict; instead of looking like walking wallets, most tourists probably just look like a reason to get in trouble. The quietude I experienced from almost noone hassling me for my money was something that has never happened to me while traveling, and at times I enjoyed it, but other times, it made travel a little more difficult since people almost totally ignore you and are much less inclined to help you or spend their time talking to you if you have questions! Kind of bizarre, but I don´t blame them, and when I did get to interact with the locals, they were an extremely happy, friendly bunch.

Niagara Falls

I spent a few days in Toronto on my way from Cuba back to Iceland, and it was a cold, windy weekend. I was staying with a friend who lives a stones throw away from King and Queen street – the main shopping drags – as well as a few blocks from the CN tower, so I couldn’t justify taking any public transport and spent a few days just walking around in the blistering cold. I was wearing my Olympic gear jacket and hat since it was the only winter wear I packed with me and felt like that kid who was wearing clothes that were ´so yesterday.´ My friends lived in one of a set of 2 storey, 150 year old brick buildings that looked like they were straight out of the Mary Poppins movie set!

I wanted to go up the CN tower but it cost a cool $25 just to take the elevator up to the top and look through the glass floor apparently many people dont even have the stomach for. I instead observed it in all its glory from outiside, and was almost blown over by winds so strong that taking a photo of that was difficult.

The highlight of my visit to Toronto was a daytrip I took to Niagara falls, about an hour and a half drive away and directly on the border between Ontario, Canada and NY, USA. It was even more windy and cold there, with some of the water from the falls being blown back up instead of falling down, and coming right over the observation deck and soaking everyone and their cameras. It was soooo horribly cold, and you couldn’t even look directly at the falls since water was literally being thrown in your face, so Im not sure I got the best Niagara experience, but I did have my waterproof camera and managed to get a few shots. Even if you walked a few hundred meters away from the falls along the cliff edge, still with a good view of the falls, it was raining, and with the wind combined, raining horizontally, still going straight into your face. It was like battle of the elements as I struggled to walk forward and in a straight line with winds strong enough to blow you over. The American Falls, a set of falls on the American side of the river and half a km away from the main horseshoe falls, were more tame, and also far away enough not to soak me, so I took a couple photos of that too, but the sight of casinos, and other highrise buildings in the background in Buffalo took something away from this ´natural wonder´attraction.