Big City hopping

Backpacking or roadtripping in Europe is something I haven´t done a lot, and started doing late in my travels, since the budget for a month in Europe can go a long way in Western Africa or Southeast Asia. Its also nice to visit Europe in the summer, which is prime work time, but early autumn or late spring is really the perfect time to visit. I got the excuse to go to Europe for 2 days of work, but extended it into a week long overland trip of big city hopping so I could try and justify my carbon emissions from Iceland and back.

Vor Frelsers Kirke

I started in Copenhagen, where I wanted to visit a dear horse-backriding friend Ditte, but that very same weekend she went to Iceland to ride so I borrowed her summer cabin for me and my favourite German riding friend. Michael had a bad knee so we didnt ride the Icelandic horses nearby in the town of Nykobing but we enjoyed the beaches of Sjaelland by bicycle and the weather was even good enough to barbeque dinner.

Copenhagen canals

We stopped in Copenhagen for a night to overlap with Ditte for one city bike ride and some touristic stops, and the next morning I flew to Hamburg, where I´d be meeting yet another horse friend Jana, for her birthday! We celebrated by scooting around town, day drinking and taking public transport ferries with roadbeers for a cheap booze cruise. We dined with some friends and sniffed some stuff that gave me a head rush, and the next morning we were finally off to ride. We rode Icelandic horses at a friends breeding farm called Bockholts-Hoff and rode thru a German forest on horses that had just arrived from Iceland. I wore my new yoga/riding/hiking pants that were a little too tropical for the rainy weather, but they must have been the reason the sun finally came out.

riding Icelandic horses in Germany

Next I was off to Rotterdam, via flight to Amsterdam and dinner with a Dutch horse friend, who rode those very Icelandic horses with Silke and I a few weeks earlier in Iceland. A short and sweet date before I checked into my Backroads hotel and was given a Backroads van to drive to Provence early the next morning.


My ´work´ roadtrip took me 1,099km thru Holland, Antwerp and Belgium, then Luxembourg and into France. I drive past Moselle, Metz, Nancy, a bit of Champagne region, Dijon and spent a night in Beaune. Then I drove the Bourgogne trail, past the gastronomic capital of Lyon, along the Rhone and into Provence. We ended in Carpentras, where we keep our vans, and I spent a day bike touring thru Aubignan and Sarrians.

good thing our bikes have built in wine racks

Another day was spent traveling by train back to Paris, eating some moules frites on the streets of Montmarte, and left feeling like I had taken in an overwhelming amount of sights, tastes and culture from so many different corners of Europe. I had also managed to get a tan and feel the sun, so returning to a chilly fall in Iceland was very welcomed, especially since it was one of the first times Iceland was really experiencing a truly autumn season.

The Wilderness Expedition, by Hestasport

Every year I make time for Hestasport to do at least one riding tour in the summer. The highland trip we like to do together is called the Wilderness Expedition, for good reason – it takes place in one of the most remote highland areas of Iceland, crossing north over Hofsjokull glacier, bridging the gap between Kjolur and Sprengisandur mountain passes. Our ride started and ended in the horse capital of Iceland, beautiful Skagafjordur.

leaving Skagafjordur, under Maelifell mountain*

The impression of an Icelandic wilderness is like nowhere else on earth. There aren´t any big wildlife (unless you´re in the east of Iceland with the reindeer), and the chances you´ll see an arctic fox are slim to none, so its just you and the wilderness. There aren´t trees, so on a clear day you´ll see to the horizon and 360° around you across an immense expanse of mountains, deserts, highland plateaus and glaciers.

the desert highlands north of Hofsjokull*

It takes so long for the snow to completely fade in the highlands that the mountain passes don´t even open until late June or early July, and it already starts snowing again in August, so the tiny gap of a few weeks you can ride it is brief. We took our trip at the end of August, with incredible weather, and some of the hottest days I´ve ever experienced in the highlands. We only got a few drops of rain, not even enough to get into our heavy duty rain gear, and the horses held their shoes and no horse or rider got injured. By the first week of September, the tops of the glaciers had already been freshly snowdusted again and the northern lights started coming out, so we made it home in the nick of time.

the loo with a view; Ingolfsskali cabin and our A-frame toilet under the glacier*

From our week long ride with perfect visibility, we saw all three of Iceland´s biggest glaciers, ran into a few goose hunters, and sold some of our herd to Germany. We crossed multiple glacier rivers, thankfully all low enough to get over without swimming, although the current on Jokulsa eystri (the east glacier river in Skagafjordur) pulled a few of our herd far enough downstream to force them to doggy paddle over.

running into herds of wild horses*

After our wonderful trip, the Icelandic and German guides, Australian, Dutch and Swiss guests all parted ways. Only a couple of weeks later, I visited some of our tour horses at Bockholts-hoff Icelandic breeding farm south of Hamburg, hosted by the owner and breeder Silke Kohler. We tolted through a German forest and I couldn´t stop smiling at the cornfields and big trees – they were more exotic to me than anything we saw on the wilderness expedition!

*(C) All photos by Dorien Kaandorp

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

Photo Highlights: A Summer of Riding in Iceland

the calm before the storm - an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

the calm before the storm – an empty sheep coral waits for the round up to arrive in Oxafjordur, Iceland

After 7 week-long tours and 2 sheep round up weekends, my summer of riding in Iceland has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet moment, since my butt and back are surely happy to not spend another hour in the saddle, but as soon as the last ride is over, I already start to miss the horses.

the lose herd is one of Iceland's signature horse tour characteristics

the lose herd is one of Iceland’s signature horse tour characteristics

Here are a few photos from a summer of riding Kjölur, Mývatn, The Golden Circle, Þveráhlíð and Melrakkasletta.

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

a rider poses over Jökulsá á fjöllum glacier river

If you´re looking to book a riding tour in Iceland next summer, check out Ishestar´s long list of short and long tours on offer (some are even available all year round!).

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Heading into Mývatnssveit

Other operators that I´d also highly recommend are Exploring Iceland, Riding Iceland, and Hestasport in Skagafjordur, North Iceland.

my second Kjölur group

my second Kjölur group under Langjökull glacier

Ishestar: Golden Circle

first riding tour of the year around the Golden Circle came a little earlier than summer

first riding tour of the year around the Golden Circle came a little earlier than summer

Well, they say Iceland only has two seasons: winter and summer. The first day of summer was officially way back in April, but its the second week of June and we´re still shivering from the rain and cold. Good thing we all love horses so much 🙂

Northern Exposure around Mývatn

There is a lake in Iceland affectionately called Mývatn, which literally translates to ´lake of the midges,´or a.k.a annoying-fly-lake. But, if its rainy and windy, the midges have a hard time flying, and we actually looked forward to cold and wet weather. It was storming like crazy all around the rest of Iceland, especially the south coast where the national horse competition Landsmót had been cancelled for 2 and a half days out of 6… But somehow, we managed to get the best weather in Iceland, with mostly sun and clear skies, and of course a few midges.

good weather over the desert highland

good weather over the desert highland

We were riding with Halldór and his horses from Bjarnastaðir, and most of the staff were related to him except me. It was his first time operating the tour and my first time guiding the tour, so we had a blast going back and forth trying to decide who had to decide what and when and where and how. We couldn´t have asked for a better group of guests, they were all great riders and super patient, so even though they were riding a herd of horses still kicking with spring fever, and we weren´t getting home until late every evening but waking up early every morning, they never stopped smiling and laughing.

Jarðböðin, the Mývatn nature baths

Jarðböðin, the Mývatn nature baths

The trip wasn´t just a riding trip, but also a sight-seeing trip of the area around Mývatn. We soaked in the luxurious Mývatn Nature baths, the blue lagoon of the north, and also some local swimming pools. We checked out the funny lava formations at Dimmuborgir and the caves at Grjotagja, the waterfalls Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss, the red cliffs at Hljodaklettar and the horse-shoe shaped Asbyrgi canyon.

Halldór infront of Hljóðklettar

Halldór infront of Hljóðklettar

We learned lots about birdlife and wanted to go whale watching, but our luck with good weather finally ran out on the last day as our whale-watching tour from Husavik got cancelled due to stormy seas. We opted to go to the Whale Museum instead, so atleast we got to see some pictures and bones of whales, but then our flight also got cancelled and we have to take an impromptu roadtrip to Akureyri to catch another flight out that afternoon.

the horses liked playing in the puddles

the horses liked playing in the puddles

In the end we all made it back to Reykjavik in one piece, except for one poor guest who had her collar bone in two pieces. We tried to expand our group by picking up the two captains, but they didnt fall for it so me and a couple girls capped the night off with a drink together before saying goodbye.

Thorsmork Riding Trips


rainbow over Þórsmörk

rainbow over Þórsmörk

Ishestar offers a 3 day riding trip into the famous nature reserve, Þórsmörk in Iceland. Its usually a popular hiking destination, but why walk when you can ride? I went as a guide for the first 2 trips with Kiddi from Eyvindarmuli farm, along with 12-15 riders, and I don´t think I´ll ever go back without a horse. We were able to ride where even the biggest jeeps had problems going, like the big glacial river Krossá. We also rode into the steep, narrow gorges hidden in the mountains around, and slept both nights at Volcano huts, complete with a barrel sauna and hot pool… well, actually more like a luke warm puddle.

river crossing

river crossing

I took two of my horses with me, one for me and one for the guests, and Þór ended up being a guest favourite twice. My Mjölnir had a bit of spring fever, but was wonderful to have along. The herd was about 50 horses strong, and they all had a bit of spring fever. I think we had 3 fall offs, one from the staff who ended up knocking herself unconscious. We knew she was ok when we ran up to her, lifeless, but snoring, so still breathing.



There´s an onsite masseuse and yoga teacher, who holds classes in a small circus tent outside that they heat up with stones. There´s also an onsite chef who cooks the most amazing food for hungry hikers and riders, which is always ready when you come in cold, wet and/or tired. But luckily we had pretty dry weather, although the deep river crossings got us wet anyway, but then the sun peeked out at all the right moments to warm us up and brighten all the green fields and forests.

There are a few 6 day trips that go past Thorsmork and into Landmanalaugar or Lákagigar with Kiddi, and going on this Thorsmork trip just makes you want more so I guess thats the next step. If you want to join me on a tour, come to the east to west Power of Creation tour in August.

horse change

horse change

Pearls of the East: Egilstadir riding tours

Eastern Iceland is an epic place to have horse trips. There is so much open space and unchartered territory to roam with a herd of nearly a hundred horses, and you only ever see a road or fence when we’re down in the valleys between highland passes. We’ve run into reindeer on all of our 3 tours so far, and the last week has been over 20 degrees and sunny every day. Our herd is nearly 100 strong and we´ve got all sorts of new and young horses to try out. Some are crazy, some are wonderful, and some we still haven´t dared to try.

letting the herd pass

The first tour we had was a 6 day tour from Fljotsdalur down to Stafafell near Lón. On the way back, we added a few extra days and had a 9 day tour to return the herd home. It was a very special tour, not only because it was longer, but also because we had our first guest from Greenland, our first guest from Singapore, and 6 male guests. We spent 2 days riding in and out of Getihellnadalur, sleeping in tents at the end of the valley. We had one day of rain, which we cut short and took a boat trip to Papey island. We got a little lost on our way over the highland because it was white-out fog, and after circling on ourselves once because of the snow and lakes in our way, we ended up changing the way down through another valley.

swimming with horses

The regular Egilstadir tour has also changed a little, for the better as well, and after trying out the new way and a couple new accommodation places, we ended with a swimming with horses day in Sudurdalur. The next tour leaves tomorrow, and the last one ends mid August, so I’m just keeping my fingers crossed for the weather like we’ve had to stay, and for our long days to go by quicker as the threatening sunset time keeps creeping earlier and earlier each day.

The Golden Circle on Horseback

The most popular tour Ishestar offers is the Golden Circle, running 13 times this summer. I guided two in June and finally got my ass into riding form. After riding very little since last summer, the aches and pains of muscles forgotten creep back into use and my hands turn into dirty, wrinkled working hands once again. Your level of hygiene and cleanliness lowers, as you and everything you own starts smelling like horse too, and eating anything but porridge for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch turns into luxury food.

a multi-coloured horse herd

Gestur and his sons run the tour from Kálfhóll farm, and there was where I began my summers with Ishestar four years ago. They have over 60 horses, and the herd we took was 30 or 40 strong. We rode from Kálfhóll along Þjórsá river, past the green farmlands and up to Gullfoss. We stay at Geysir two nights, and cross the highlands on our last days back.

We managed to lose one staff member in the highlands on the first tour, somewhere between the herd and the guests she or we followed a different track and missed eachother. She was still looking for us when we arrived to the farm but she eventually returned. A few guests fell off, as per usual, but noone got injured. There´s always one guest who comes and knows little or nothing about horses, or simply doesn´t really like riding, but gets dragged here by a significant other. There´s the token party guest(s) who always stays up later drinking with the staff. There´s usually a guy or two, if that, and a vegetarian or pescatarian. Every group has some or mostly German riders, and we randomly had two guests that lived in Afghanistan on the same tour, so being able to speak French and Spanish rarely comes in handy, unfortunately.

the view from Denni´s farm

It has been a perfect start to my summer, and I got just the right amount of practice and transition time before moving to Fljótsdalur in the east for the rest of the summer. Now begin the Egilstaðir highland tours, with our herd of 85+ horses, sleeping in tents and mountain huts, and exploring the southeast coast on a 9 day special tour. The summer weather is supposed to be the best in Iceland in the east, and living on Denni´s farm, the last farm in the valley, is a vacation in itself – there´s barely any cell phone reception, and all you hear is the glacier river running by, a few sheeps calling and a couple dogs chasing them every once in a while.

Hestasport Ævintýraferdir

I was somewhere between French Guyana and Brazil when my roomate in Reykjavik forwarded me a job advertisement for my dream job – get paid to ride horses. I exchanged some emails and then had an interview over the phone from a smeltering phone booth in Asuncion. The connection was staticky, with a half second lag, and my Icelandic kept creeping into spanish, but somehow I convinced Magnus to hire me.

the hestasport horses at Vindheimar

I arrived back in Reykjavik for maybe 8 hours before packing my bags and moving to Varmahlid. I stopped in Borgarnes overnight and then hitchiked the next 250kms. My first pick up, a young Icelandic couple, asked where I was going and when I answered “Varmahlid,” invited me to join. We drove about 30kms before the driver asked me where abouts this ‘farm’ Varmahlid was… he had no idea it was actually a town 2 hours away. So, I got kicked out at Bifrost 5 mins later where their journey ended, and finally made it all the way with my next pickup.

I moved into a house of women, (well, German girls) and acquainted myself with all the pretty ponies Hesasport has. There were, like in any herd, the safe old horses, the crazy young ones, the lazy trained ones, and the question mark horses you had to figure out for yourself. We spent the end of May taking short riding tours around the Vindheimar farm, and two long tours in the begining of June riding past Maelifell and into Kjolur. Its a desolate highland, covered in desert, and sandwiched between 2 glaciers. The first tour we took had more staff than guests, since the 3 German riders wanted to take the whole herd into the mountains to shoot pictures for an Icelandic landscape calendar. We often stopped in the middle of nowhere to do a mini photo shoot, that required us to act as stuntmen and chase 20 loose horses down steep soggy slopes or gallop the whole herd through a river.

beside Langjokull glacier

Later we took a 5 day trip with a whole bunch of borrowed horses, many of them question mark horses we had to try out for the first time and hope it worked out as the herd was released. Then the third long trip went pretty smoothly, except for this poor Canadian girl who fell off her horse 3 times on the first day. Thankfully she made it through the rest of the trip, since she was part of the staff. Our cook also joined us on one trip riding, and fell off his own horse twice, which thankfully turned out okay too since we certainly wanted to keep on eating.

My last long trip was a 3 day tenting trip with 2 Danish girls. We took 6 horses and enough food, bathed in the frigid rivers, and survived a wind storm in a mountain hut that at one point we thought would blow away in the middle of the night. The first night we crashed a party at the Arctic Adventures river rafting base, and ended our trip at Fosslaug natural hot pot, very deservedly.

Then my season at Hesasport ended early, with my Ishestar friends from the east irresistably inviting me on a few long tours – a 6-day pack tour and a 9 day special tour from Hofn to Egilstadir. Just when I had finally figured out all the horses at Hesasport, I hitchhiked east to a herd of 103 horses I now had to learn and love just as much.