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Arnarstapi, Backpacking, Dritvik, Gatklettur, Grundafjordur, Guesthouse Höff, Iceland, Kirkjufellfoss, Mount Kirkjufell, Olafsvik, Snæfellsnes, Travel, WOW Airlines

Iceland Take Two – No Sleep til Snæfellsnes

When I found a roundtrip ticket on WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik for $250, I didn’t hesitate. I grabbed my wallet, pulled out my Chase Sapphire Preferred card and quickly snagged the deal with little deliberation. I had been wanting to return to this stunningly beautiful country since my first trip in October, 2012, and the opportunity had just landed in my lap. I quickly texted my photographer friend Bill to let him know about the deal, as we had talked about the possibility of a trip together, and he booked the same flights that day. Fast forward two months, and we were on a boat leaving Nantucket, with a tentative plan to see southern and western Iceland in 5 days. The only thing reserved was a BUDGET rental car, which was waiting to be picked up upon our arrival in Reykjavik.

8:30 a.m. en route to Arnarstapi

We arrived this morning at 4am. After little sleep on the flight, you would think we would be hightailing it to a hotel for a power nap, but instead we grab a couple of coffees at Reykjavik’s Keflavik airport, change some money and make our way to pick up our rental car. We are given the keys to a gray Suzuki Swift and purchase an internet dongle for $13 a day. This will keep us connected and provide us with wifi for GPS. A good investment to make although I tell Bill that we are not allowed to be on our phones the entire time! By the time we take care of all this, it’s about 5:30 and we head out into a 4-degree early morning to look for our car. Only four hours left until sunrise.

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Gatklettur

We leave Keflavik and decided to make our way north of Reykjavik to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. I have never explored this area of Iceland before, but from what I’ve seen through photos, it looks gorgeous. We decide to catch sunrise in Arnarstapi and hope there will be one. The forecast for today is 100% precipitation. We drive for a solid two hours and stop for a gas station breakfast of sandwiches and pringles. When we get back on the road, it’s close to 8am and it’s still pitch black. There’s no sign on sunlight for hours! I start to fade a bit and Bill puts on some trance music. After about 30 minutes, I have been hypnotized by the music and the fatigue, but I start to see a sliver of light in the skies to the left of us. With the signs of daylight, we also see heavy clouds and we run into the occasional downpour of rain and snow. It doesn’t look promising.

We arrive in Arnarstapi for sunrise. A car of photographers pulls in ahead of us, an15078781_10154659788378168_2423780937552035329_nd two car loads of photographers pull in behind us… we must have found a good spot! As we walk down to the ocean, we take in the scene around us. Behind us are fjords not yet covered in snow, to the left of us is the popular and often-photographed white house that sits near the entrance to the harbor, and in front of us is a craggy, rocky coast where waves break below on a pebble beach and on a rock archway nearby, called Gatklettur. Dotted here and there are small cottages and homes with moss-covered roofs.14993356_10154659788238168_6516393847014661980_n

We spend some time photographing the rocky beach, trying to catch a little bit of the pink sky that’s slowly unveiling, but rain wins and eventually forces us back to the car, and the rest of the morning goes a bit like this. Luckily, the showers are short and we manage to wait them out at most of the sights along the peninsula. We take a small hike out to the black sand beach at Dritvik and photograph crazy rock formations that are the Lóndrangar cliffs and stop in at the Visitor’s Center to check out a map. We decide we have plenty of time to drive the full peninsula and end up at Kirksfellfoss for sunset.

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Dritvik

Our next stop is the little village of Olafsvik. Blink and you will miss it, but we pull over to get pictures of the modern Ólafsvíkurkirkja (church) which is set to a backdrop of fjords and waterfalls. We find a bakery and get a couple of hot chocolates and some baked goods and drive to the outskirts of town where we find a picnic table that overlooks another black sand beach. The wind is whipping, but we insist on sitting on the table soaking in the view of perfect waves breaking hundreds of yards out in front of us.

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The coastline near Olafsvik

The afternoon drive to Grundafjordur leads us around winding roads that hug steep fjords on our right. To the left is a sheer drop to the ocean below. Waterfalls dot the landscape, which is a golden, amber hue at this time of year, and wild horses roam near the waters’ edge.

We arrive in Grundafjordur around 3:00, but debate when to actually hike up to the falls. The weather is officially iffy and I want to spend as little time exposed to the elements as is necessary. Bill suggest we go immediately, seeing as we may not get a sunset at all, so we gather our gear and make the short hike up and around to the iconic, often photographed scene of Kirkjufellfoss in the foreground and Mount Kirkjufell in the background.

Fortunately, the weather has kept many people away, so we almost have this scene

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Bill photographing Kirkjufellfoss

to ourselves. Conditions maintain, and while we don’t get much color from sunset, we do get some shots that we’re both happy with. An hour passes quickly and we forget any feelings of cold, and by 4:30, we’re back in the car and making our way to Guesthouse Höff by way of a precarious, snow-covered fjord crossing.

We have been going non-stop for close to 30 hours now with gas station food breaks and no sleep, and we’re oficially cold and tired! We have no radio reception, so Bill scours through the very limited collection of music on my iPhone and finds Prince’s Greatest Hits… Little Red Corvette blasts from the speakers of our Suzuki Swift as we ascend and descend the fjord roads of Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Along with playing the role of DJ, Bill is navigating and continually updating me on how far we have left to go. When sleep is almost winning and I feel my eyes beginning to close, he says, “You’ve got this, 10K left, just over 6 minutes.” I want to pull over and ask him to drive the last 6 minutes…but moments later, we pull into the driveway of the Guesthouse. At the back of a gravel road is a bright yellow longhouse, with a grassy roof.

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Guesthouse Hoff

Laura meets us at reception and gives us our key to 4B, tells us where we can find dinner and asks if we’d like breakfast in the morning. She walks us over to our little apartment which consists of three bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and living room, and a loft area above with three extra beds. Our room is small and cozy and very simplistic – a bed, duvet, pillow and wall light. I immediately lie down and despite having had very little to eat today, I know sleep will win over seeking out food. We decide to opt in for the $13 breakfast and I bundle up and venture out to find Laura to let her know our plans. Instead, I find the owner’s children, a teenage girl and a young boy of about 5 years old. They seem to be immune to the cold in their sweatpants and tee shirts and chat with me for a bit while I wait for Laura. I think they take pity on me and tell me, “It’s cold. We’ll tell Laura so you can go home.” I thank them, and by 7:45pm, I’m warm and snug under my duvet…

Backpacking, Bucket List, Chile, Patagonia, South America, The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Travel

Patagonia – How This Journey Came To Be

The desire to see this part of the world started long ago, just before my nomadic life began in 2009, but I guess you could say that despite it taking me eight years to finally make it here, Patagonia was the impetus for me setting off on my travels.

Back in my Sunnyside, Queens apartment in December of 2008, I was celebrating finishing my master’s degree and looking to plan a little get away between Christmas and New Year. Patagonia was where I wanted to go. Something about the raw beauty at the opposite end of the world intrigued me. Just the pictures alone made me want to jump on a plane.

After checking with my other broke friends in NYC and looking at the points in my Delta frequent flyer account, we quickly decided Rio was more feasible and affordable, so Patagonia took a back seat and there it sat for the next eight years.

Over these years, my travels would take me to Southeast Asia, Australia, India, Eastern Europe, Central America, Canada and even North Africa. The large continent of South America was somewhere I knew I wanted to go, but somewhere I wanted to go with the right amount of time and the right budget.

Over the years, the intrigue and desire to see Patagonia would grow… almost to the point where the thought of this trip took on a larger than life persona. I treasured the place before I visited and it became a dream trip… one I became hesitant to take, simply for the fact that I wouldn’t have it to look forward to anymore. I told everyone for years that Patagonia was the number one place on my bucket list, yet I was in no hurry to get here.

However, in January, I found myself with 4 ½ months before I had to return to work, some extra cash stashed away from my seasonal work, and the desire for a longer adventure… the time was right for South America, and the main reason for the trip was to finally visit Patagonia.

 

Backpacking, long term travel

Have You Hit the Travel Wall?

It’s Monday morning, and people all over the world are dragging themselves out of bed for yet another week of work. I’m sure more than a few people will spend some of their day wishing they were somewhere other than at their desks. Some may even spend a few minutes looking for an idyllic beach screen shot to refresh their desktop background with… you get the point. We spend a lot of our time dreaming of getting away, but if you’ve ever traveled for an extended period of time, you may realize that the desire to return home can eventually be as strong as the initial desire was to get away.

Travel is, and should be, enjoyable. You’ve worked hard for that around-the-world ticket. You’ve left jobs to enable enough time away. You’ve said goodbye to family, friends, and significant others so you can realize this dream. But what happens when you’re in a place where cringe-worthy moments seem to outnumber the breathtaking ones?
 
Chances are you’ve hit the travel wall.
A number of odd things start to happen as you approach this wall. You may start to realize that things which initially intrigued you about a place start to annoy you and become just so… well, foreign.
Many little things begin to hit a nerve. The temple across the street that replays the same chanting music non-stop becomes the bane of your afternoon existence. The man who stands on the corner of Bogyoke Aung San and Sule Pagoda Roads, who asks you everyday if you need to change money, book a ticket, and then slyly and suggestively says, “you want massage?” has a knack of seeking you out in a crowd of hundreds.
You start to crave the comforts of home – you’d kill for a clean shower where you don’t have to wear your flip flops, you have washed your clothes in the sink so many times you forget what washing machine settings are. Street stall dinners of noodles and rice start to get repetitive, and you’d pretty much give anything for a piece of toast and a real cup of coffee (not a Nescafe). You opt out of the wake up call for sunrise at the temple or mountaintop because a lie-in sounds more appealing, and you jump for joy when you open the door to a bathroom and there’s a western toilet.
SO, What can you do to avoid said wall?
I’m sure the person who says they can travel forever is out there. I used to say this too, but I’ve learned through frequent long stints overseas that the perfect amount of time away for me is four months. This is four months of moving around. By this point in time, I am more than ready to rest, process, decompress and empty the contents of my pack and stay put for a bit.
But to avoid hitting the wall altogether, build in rest days. If you’re a planner, add these “days off” into your itinerary. I remember planning a six week backpacking trip with my best friend following high school graduation. I mapped out the itinerary and sent it to a few older and wiser travelers, most of who responded asking me if I wanted to enjoy any of that trip. Traveling everyday without any days off is setting yourself up for backpacker burnout.
And after burning out, you will wonder what you truly saw. Fully immerse yourself in a few places, instead of skimming the surface of the whole lot. Aside from rest days, planning a journey that enables you to see a few places in depth, instead of simply breezing through every city in ten countries will leave you with more energy and a deeper appreciation for what you have seen. If you’re spending a day or two in each place before catching your overnight bus to the next city and hitting repeat, you will no doubt wear out more quickly and look back with feelings of regret for not slowing down and savoring the journey. (This applies to any length of trip.)
Have a plan you can stray from. I love a rough plan or framework, but what’s the saying?… “Even the best laid plans…” Things will come up. You will fall in love with a place, or a person that you want to continue your journey with. You may really not like a place, or a person you have been traveling with… Be flexible and don’t put pressure on yourself to see and do absolutely everything Lonely Planet recommends. And if your priorities are different than those of your quickly forming backpacking posse, break away. It’s okay, and sometimes more rewarding, to go it alone.
Build in a few little luxuries for yourself. There’s nothing like a little bit of pampering on the road. Book yourself a massage, head out to the international restaurant and have a burger and fries, throw away the old traveling pants you’ve been wearing for four years and hit up the local market for a posh, new pair. If your budget will stretch, book yourself one or two nights at a real hotel- not a dorm or guest house, but somewhere you can take a bath and then lay in bed and watch TV.  (These are things I used to consider against the Backpacking Bible’s Code of Ethics, but I’ve hit the wall a couple of times now, and I think a few cheats are OK. Just NO MCDONALD’S…EVER!)
Plan your route strategically. On my first trip around the world, I started with India. My energy levels were high and my mind was open and I was so eager to hit the road. Culture shock was welcomed and I embraced every new experience and even welcomed the crazier, more adventurous ones. Overnight buses breaking down, homestays in remote tribal villages, stories of tummy bugs hitting at the most inopportune times- they were all just part of the ‘experience.’ But after five broken down buses in a row during your fourteenth week of travel, it can become a bit trying. So, if possible, plan travel to developing countries at the beginning of your trip, saving the beach bungalow in Bali for when you need some serious down time.
But if you’ve already hit the wall, here are some tips on how to recharge on the road and still savor the rest of your trip.
Take a break from your break. After I had seen all I wanted to in Burma, I returned to Yangon and holed up in a $10 a night guesthouse for over a week. And I didn’t do a whole lot. There was a day where I sat in a European cafe for 7 hours, editing photos and writing. I didn’t feel guilty about this. The coffee was excellent, the tunes were good and the AC brought me back to life within minutes. I interspersed my escape with cultural excursions too. But the three-hour tour on the Yangon Circular train was followed by a trip to Union Bar, for a nice glass of vino, or two.
Go somewhere easy. That’s right. Head to that idyllic Thai beach.
Stay there for a while. Find a cheap room and sit on that beach, drink from coconuts, read a book, and rest. Sign up for a yoga or meditation course, or don’t.

If all else fails, it’s alright to admit defeat and head home. No, you haven’t failed. I recently cut a trip short by two weeks and traveled home early to spend my first Thanksgiving in five years with my family. Alright, it’s not the same as eating Apple Pie at 3,500 meters up on the Annapurna Circuit, sampling Aquavit in Denmark while visiting an old travel companion, or cooking up a Thanksgiving feast “Down Under” with new dive buddies. But it is a perfect time to relax, rest and process the past five months… and most importantly began planning the next adventure.

I hope everyone had a Happy (and restful) Thanksgiving wherever in the world you spent it!

Around the world travel, Backpacking, Norway, Oslo

On the Road Again: First Stop Oslo

After seven months at home, I am itching to see the world again, but it’s a mad dash to get everything ready to go, especially when I’m leaving for an indefinite amount of time. I leave for the Atlanta airport feeling like I’ve forgotten something important. But at this point, all I need is my passport! I fly to Boston, grab a beer, switch off my phone service and begin the disconnection. I board the flight from Boston to Amsterdam, and when America is two hours behind me, I feel like I begin to settle in for the flight.

Less than a month ago, I was scheduled to head back to Nantucket to work a Summer season, but when everything unraveled at the eleventh hour, I took it as a sign. Here was my second chance to make the decision as to what I was going to do with the Summer. A European Summer adventure was calling my name.

Norway is a country that has been creeping up on my travel radar for quite some time now, and Summer seems to be the suitable time to visit, so the next 8 days will have me traveling through Oslo, Bergen, Alesund and Stavanger (with many small villages and fjordlands in between).

Norway’s Parliament building

First stop Oslo:
After almost 24 hours of travel, I finally arrive in Oslo. I venture to the city center by train and catch a bus to Mathallen. I need to track down Dimitri, a friend of a friend who has offered to put me up for a couple of nights while I’m in Oslo. Dimitri owns a couple of bars in the trendy area of Mathallen (Smelteverket and Dansens Hus Kafe- the first is home to the longest bar in Scandinavia). I find Dimitri, who gives me keys to his apartment and walking directions. I arrive knackered, wanting to sleep, but feeling like I should set out and see Oslo. I decide on a power nap, and after a quick shower, it’s already 6pm, but what I don’t realize is that I have almost six hours of sunlight left today- plenty of time to explore.

Oslo’s waterfront sculptures, near Aker brygge.

I venture out to see Oslo. I take a bus back to the city center and begin walking northwest towards the Royal Palace, passing Parliament, and the National Theatre. The streets are lined with tourists and locals alike, but the pace of this place makes me feel like I’m in a large village as opposed to a capital city.  I walk over to Aker Brygge a waterfront entertainment area, filled with shops, bars and restaurants, Everyone is outside enjoying an end of day beer. Time check: 8:30- and there’s no sign of a sunset anytime soon.

Holmenkollen Ski Jump

From Aker Brygge I loop back to the city center taking my time to get back to Grunnerlokka, where I’m staying. I get back to Dimitri’s apartment, and he and his wife Ingvild ask if I’m up for a drive to the Holmenkollen ski jump. It’s 10:30 p.m. but it doesn’t look, or feel like it, so we hop into Ingvild’s car. The ski jump is perched on a hill above Oslo, and I’m afforded views of the city below. In the distance are the many small harbor islands that surround Oslo and provide city residents with a Summer escape.

We drive back through the city, making a stop at Vigelandsparken sculpture park and garden. It’s 11:30pm now, but a few stragglers are left cleaning up after their evening picnics and barbecues. I can already tell that the Norwegians milk every minute of sunlight in the Summertime, and they highly value their parks and green space.

Ingvild, Dimitri and I roam around the empty sculpture park, taking in the oddly beautiful sculptures of Gustav Vigeland. I know I need to return in daylight for a better look.

We arrive back at the apartment close to midnight. Ingvild and Dimitri have to work tomorrow and I need to will myself to sleep. But I’m looking out the window at 12:30a.m. and the sun is just setting. I retrieve an eye mask from my backpack and realize that if there’s any hope of sleep in Norway over the next week, I’m going to be needing this!