Its nice to be home

Beautiful Dalvik, in Eyjafjordur

I´m back in Iceland, as it turns out, year after year, this at least stays the same. Iceland is wonderful for Christmas and New Years, but otherwise, May to September, what some could call spring, summer and fall, (or rather, ´not-winter´), are wonderful months, where I always feel like I’m at home. The smell of fresh, clean air and drinking ice cold water out of the tap that tastes like nothing are always two of my favourite things to do the moment I land. Within a few hours after that, I’ve found some natural hot pot or public swimming pool with steaming water to soak my tired bones.

Grettislaug, in Skagafjordur

No return home would be complete without a drunken party with my old Norse friends, a roadtrip to some remote, northern part of Iceland, visiting my horses, and pretending to be young and hip down Laugavegur downtown. In two weeks, Ive checked all of those boxes (some twice), but the horse situation is getting complicated and being ´home´, which is now my dad´s house, has been a little lonely.

Into the Glacier!

But, staying in the same place for more than 2 nights in a row is quite the anomaly anyway, so I’ve already spent half my time traveling around Iceland with friends. A friend of New York was in town and we went north to Skagafjordur. My best friend wanted to celebrate his birthday in one of Icelands boutique countryside hotels in Husafell so we did that, just after visiting Langjokull glacier with a Venezuelan photographer friend. I had a crazy horse in the north I had to ´deal´with (don´t worry, he´s still alive), and two horses I tried to ride home from Borgafjordur. We got more than half way, but then it started to get cold again and dad had to go to the hospital.

my Icelandic father, brother, and nephew

Now my horses are home, but not dad, but both my sisters will be visiting soon. Its weird to feel so much at home and be the only one at home (dads house is kind of out in the countryside of Reykjavik), and even weirder to have all this free time where I’m not traveling or moving or planning anything.

my horses at home

Needless to say, Ive gotten some rest and expanded my livelihood beyond the limits of my backpack, but of course theres already another trip in the works. Before my horse riding guiding season in Iceland starts, I figure I´ll have to get get my butt in saddle shape somewhere before. Anyone else want to come to Kyrgyzstan in June?

fun with Steve in Haugsnes


Mayotte and the Comoros

I´m still so confused as to how I got to France in the middle of the Indian Ocean, somewhere between Madagascar and Mozambique, but not quite the Comoros. Because of some referendum, Mayotte became a part of France in 2011, and thus a part of the EU, but remains the poorest part of France and the outermost region of the EU. There is a large influx of ex-patriots and metropolitans from France, but the local people identify as Maore, speak a language similar to other Comorian dialects, and are almost 100% Muslim. There is a history of Arab invasion and Malagasy pillaging, and the mix of African and Asian features under their colourful clothes takes you worlds away from anywhere European.

The sight of homeless orphans was a painful reminder about what Europe means to the surrounding, third-world, independent islands – it´s better to take your chances as an illegal refugee in Mayotte to give birth so that at least your child will get a European passport and thus, better healthcare, education and opportunities. But the truth is, when their mothers get sent away, they become parent-less and often homeless, and even contribute to crime and other illegal activities. Being Europe in the middle of the Comoros also affects shopping opportunities – French cheese, wine and even vegetables are imported and sold at Parisian prices, and the local produce of tomatoes for example, though much much cheaper per kilo, is grown with an abundance of non-EU approved pesticides, so the ones who are educated enough to know about the harms caused and wealthy enough to have the choice, don´t buy local produce.

Moya beach

I couchsurfed in Mayotte and two of the Comorian islands – Anjouan and Grand Comore. There were only one or two active couchsurfers in each place, and somehow my dates were perfect, but little travel information or tourism appeal made me totally underbudget my time on these islands. I thought 3 days would be enough, on islands only a few hundred square kilometers. But, despite having small populations, centered mostly on villages around the coast, there was endless ecotourism possibilities – volcano and crater lake hikes, beaches only reachable by pirogue, mountain peaks to summit thru the jungle, and wildlife viewing on the way to boot. Mayotte has an endemic type of fruit bat that fills the skies every evening, and their specific breed of lemur is affectionately called a ´maki.´

on the top of Mont Choungui

In Mayotte, I visited the Dziani Crater lake, walked around it, and dropped down to the Moya beaches (theres Moya beach 1, 2 and 3 I think) on Petite Terre. In flipflops I summited the second largest peak in Mayotte, Mont Choungui, 594m. The French guy who I was hiking with did the same, but one of his flipflops broke on the way down, which actually proved its easiest to do it barefoot, slowly. The beaches aren´t that beautiful around Mayotte, but Sakouli beach is a black-sand beach with an inviting beach bar under a huge baobab tree.

Mutamudu from the citadel

In Anjouan, the capital city Mutsamudu has a quaint bazaar/central market and an old medina with a few salvaged mosques and old hand-carved, wooden doors. The citadel, who´s walls overlooking the city double as some sort of public toilet, has a beautiful view over the city and port, and consequently the garbage dump that piles up beside it, always in a steady, smoky, burn. The most private, peaceful spots to take in the view had, to your dismay, also been used as toilets, so the smell of human faeces and piss took away from the serenity. Trying to walk past the piles of diarrohea wasn´t as hard as avoiding one of the buzzing flies from it landing on you, so it was more enjoyable to get as far away from the city as possible to find unspoiled nature views. I spent one day hiking to a sacred lake near Dindri, which lay somewhere on the edge between mountains and valleys, and earth and sky.

wooden hand-carving, especially doors, is one of the Comoros´ oldest trades

Domoni was slightly smaller and cleaner, with a medina winding around beside the sea, between 4 mosque towers. Anjouan also has its own Moya beach, with one hotel and restaurant on the cliffs behind the yellow-sand beach where you can pre-order a lobster lunch or dinner overlooking the sea. Just be prepared to be the only one there, unless you brought some friends. For wildlife sighting, the endemic Linvingstone bat, the largest and rarest of all Comorian bats, is also called the Comoro Flying fox, and usually be spotted at dusk. Sadly, this was also a time many burn their garbage, and the coast was a popular place to pile heaps of trash so large, a smoking bank of garbage becomes the divider between the road and the beach. Some rivers naturally become waste dumps because people assume it will take it down to the beach where the rest of it is, and free-ranging goats and rats the size of cats stick to these water ways for scrounging.

Anjouan was the least developed and most underkept island of the Comoroian archipelago. It was also the cheapest, and buses and taxi rides often cost less than a dollar. It had only a few hotels (only 2 on the island that I would recommend) or touristic sites of interest, and their one UNESCO world heritage sight was a large Baobab tree on the side of the road between Domoni and Moya. The other potential UNESCO sights were the ruins of old mosques and palaces that were hard to distinguish from construction sights, since both end up looking like grey, crumbling, half finished buildings fighting the decay and growth that a humid, tropic climate brings on any man-made construction.

In Grand Comore, I couchsurfed with and Indian guy, who was born in Madagascar, raised in the Comoros, educated in Paris, and then somehow spoke Swahili but I think he never lived in Tanzania… but I’m not sure. He thought French cheek to cheek kiss greetings were disgusting and probably had a mild case of germophobia, but he was one of the most hospitable couchsurf hosts I´ve ever had.

trying to rent a boat in Chindini

With a group of his friends, we piled on to the back of his flatbed truck and drove to the southern tip of the island. There, we rented a boat and a driver, put his engine on it, along with some fish and beer, and drove out to an isolated beach which we were promised to have all to ourselves. When two other people showed up from nowhere (landside), we just laughed and carried on acting as if we were castaways in an episode of Survivor.

the man and his zebu

On Grand Comore, there were beautiful beaches, and a lot of hiking that I missed out on. I did visit one crater and hiked around the brim, but only made it half way when I met a crazy farmer who must have been in love with his bull zebu. He kept stroking it and smiling at us when he spoke about him, and then showed us how to arouse a Zebu erection. I wished I had stayed the whole 10 days just in Grand Comore, especially since the supposed 3 hour ferries between islands actually take 12 with delays and waits (don’t trust a word the SGTM Ferry says and give yourself lots of time to travel with them!).

Ciao Nosy Be

I´ve seen direct flights advertised to Nosy Be from Europe and never known where it was. I assumed it was an Italian island. But actually, its a Malagasy island, just off the coast of Madagascar, full of Italian tourists. It was strange to leave the mainland, where I was always approached in French except for the occasional person who spoke English or mistook me for a local, and arrive to an island where all the locals greeted me with ´Ciao bella!´ The first hotel we stayed at, Sambatra Bed and Breakfast, was even run by an Italian woman who seemed surprised, even a little insulted, that we weren´t Italian guests. We only stayed there because it was across the strait from an even tinier island, Nosy Sakatia.

Sunset from Sakatia Lodge

At Nosy Sakatia, you can snorkel out at high tide, or walk out for a kilometer and then snorkel at low tide, and swim with turtles larger than you. I found two, three, even four at a time, and as I floated above them and waited for them to surface right beside me for water, I tried to measure their width and length with my outstretched arms, and sometimes, I couldn’t even reach as wide as their front legs. If you stay at Sakatia Lodge, there´s also unlimited use sea-kayaks and a dive shop with a couple of dive masters who can take you out for night dives with black lights – you´ve never seen the corals and fishes glow so colourfully.

the first guests at TanaLahy bungalow

Nosy Be is famous for the production of Ylang Ylang, a flower made famous by Chanel no. 5. Even the tree smells beautifully, and a few milliliters of ylang ylang oil can set you back €50. I thought the island would be overrun by tourists, but the beautiful beaches, just like the hotels, were everywhere, but nicely spread out. If you want total peace and isolation, go to the north, and look for a place called TanaLahy lodge in North Amporaha/Belamandy bay. Its just a single bungalow, where all the walls open as shutter windows and the whole front of the bungalow is a glass sliding door, on your own private piece of beach. Two beach loungers, two beach chairs, a picnic table and a separate kitchen and bathroom are all yours… one could easily live there for a month just to get away from it all. The road is only a dozen kilometers way from the main ring road, but its more of a dirt road track where you never know if or when the next pick up comes for public transport. But a bld rickshaw driver will get you there and back, for just a few euros.