Category Archives: Travel

So Long Westfjords

After our successful trip to Isafjordur by hitch-hiking, we felt ready, to make to long trek to Iceland's second largest city, Akureyri. However, the hubris we felt about the ease of hitch-hiking on the main roads would come to haunt us. As we set out in the midmorning sun we were optimistic seeing a number of cars frequenting the well paved road… if only one would stop! Finally a kind man pulled over and let us in, bringing us to the small village of Sudavik, where we again trotted happily until it started getting late, miles from the nearest village or guesthouse. Figuring our luck would be better in the morning we pitched our tent on the side of the road and used my now-working stove to cook some dinner. The following morning, refreshed and optimistic, we again began our trek when after not long a small car full of luggage pulled over and let us cram in. Luck was truely with us as they were going to take us the 300 km to the ring road where there was sure to be plenty of traffic. After a while in the car and good coversation about life in Iceland with a young woman who is moving with her husband and two young kids to Norway to find more work, we were let out onto the main road and after a few more rides we made it into Akureyri where we stopped for a few days. In Akureyri we enjoyed the sun in the balmy hot-pots of the pools and explored the city (pop 17,000). Due to a national holiday, we decided to stay put before venturing on. Wednesday however the wanderlust overcame us once more and we headed north, first by bus then ferry to the small island of Grimsey, half of which is in the artic circle! Three sea-sick hours later we had made it to the artic and to an island inhabited with 1,000s of birds, including the famous Puffin. Many pictures later, we returned to the boat trying to regain circulation to our snow-hands (yes it snowed). The return trip was far smoother, so much so that I was able to peck away at this post with my newly thawed hands.

               Peace and chow,
                       Jacob

Posted via email from Ranok’s Ramblings

From Reykjavik to Isafjordur by the Skin of our Teeth

Hello from the Westfjords, the north-west area of Iceland, one that is very rarely visited because of its bad weather and remoteness. I am in the library at Isafjordur (the largest city in the Westfjords, pop. 5,000 people) writing about the journey from the capital that spanned two days and could have been weeks had it not been for good luck and friendly Icelanders. After our two nights in Reykjavik (the bay of smoke) we took the city bus as far north as it could go and then put our thumbs to work, walking backwards along the main highway in the country trying to convince someone with enough space for us to stop and let us hitch a ride. Perhaps it was karma, or just beginners luck, but after only two minutes a tractor-trailer truck pulled off to the side of the road and let us climb the three big steps to the roomy cabin. We were in luck it seemed, not only was he going through the town we had hoped to make it to that night (Borgarnes), he was going through that town and on to the west of Iceland a scant 22km from where the ferry to the westfjords departs from. As we settled into the comfy cabin of the truck with our backpacks laying on the bed in the back we were able to see the flat plains and rocky tundras of Iceland fly past. More interesting was the truck driver, a second generation owner of a small trucking company who was able to give Chelsea and I a glimpse into the life of an everyday Icelander, from the anger at the government for not doing enough to help the people after the economic collapse, to some of the details of how bad it is for so many people, forced to go bankrupt to escape paying their increasingly large loans. As we got nearer the ferry, he called a friend who was taking a truck full of fish over the ferry and arranged for him to continue our journey north. We took a brief stop in Grundarfjordur, where the first driver grew up, to see the small fishing village and the amazing views of the snow-capped peaks. From there we climbed up those three steep steps once more into a truck that was to bring us across the ferry to Patricksfjordur, a small (pop. 500) fishing village in the south-west of the westfjords.
 
Arriving late and unable to secure a room for the night, as most of the guesthouses are closed until the tourist season in June, we pitched our tent and I struggled to get our stove to work (I bought the wrong type of fuel). Eventually all the kinks got ironed out and we settled into the the tent for our first real night in Iceland, bundled up against the cold, damp wind and the pouring rain. The morning came (though 'morning' is just a number on a clock with the 22-hours of sunlight) and the rain had slowed to a trickle. We packed up our tent, got some food and tried to find a way out of this small, remote village. The bus did not start until June, and the traffic leaving the town was sparse, as we hitched up our packs, and began walking the 15 kilometers to the next town, a fisherman pulled over and gave us a lift. After he dropped us off, another pair of fishermen took pity on us with our heavy packs and the gray drizzle and took us yet another 15 km to the next town, warning us that to get to Isafjordur via hitch-hiking, we were going the wrong way and there would not be very much traffic. Figuring we had been lucky thus far, we continued along the nicely paved road on foot thinking that people must drive on this road if they would pave it. One kilometer into our hike a man pulled over and offered to take us another eight km to where he lives and we could walk from there, we readily hopped in and took off, thinking that this would be pretty easy.
 
After he dropped us off, the road turned to dirt and stretched for miles and wound around the impressively large fjords. We hiked probably 15 kilometers before we saw a black speck of a car coming up behind us, this was our break! We put out our thumbs but the car drove on, very full of luggage and unable to take anymore. Spirits sinking we continued our trek, this time a large semi came barreling along the dirt road, trying not to sink into the mud on one side, and avoid falling 1000s of feet into the sea on the other. He saw our plight and slowed down, letting us on for what would be the most terrifying drive of my life, racing along hairpin turns through thick fog with the sea on one side and rocky plains on the other in a truck packed to the gills with fish. Eventually he let us off where his journey and ours parted, but we were now on a more traveled route where there was sure to be cars to Isafjordur and sure enough after not more than 45 minutes, a small red car came out of the fog, alas motioning that he had only one seat. As we continued on, our feet and backs getting more and more sore, we saw headlights coming the other direction, it was the car once again, rolling down the window and shouting, "I have one seat, but someone can sit in the trunk". We happily obliged to pack into the small car as it was headed for our destination of choice. After a 100 km of switchbacks up and down the fjords, and breath-taking views of waterfalls and snowy peaks, we arrived at our destination, and happily rented a room at the local guesthouse were we enthusiastically made use of the shower and kitchen to warm and dry ourselves before a good night sleep on a real mattress.
 
Well, our hour on the computer is up, and the bright sun and blue sky beckon us outside to explore the city, so I will end this update and hope to be able to upload some pictures soon.
 
                                Peace and chow,
                                    Jacob

Posted via email from Ranok’s Ramblings

Touchdown in Iceland

Greetings from Iceland, I touched down about 24 hours ago and other than trying to get used to the time change and the almost 22 hours of sunlight, Chelsea and I have done some exploring of the capital. We are staying at the city hostel which is quite nice, having clean rooms and well equipped kitchens. We took a walk to the city center for a bit, but most everything was closed on Sunday. One place that was open was one of the slags or baths, a swimming complex where the water is heated by the local volcanic activity. In the hot tubs, the water is warm and nicely non-chlorinated. The pools were definitely where the locals go to socialize. Today I'm hoping to get out on a puffin or whale boat to see some more nature and perhaps a run along the trail between the city and the sea. Hopefully in the next few days Ill be able to upload some pictures of the city and surrounding area.

                       Peace and chow,
                            Jacob

Posted via email from Ranok’s Ramblings

Travel Report: Aruba

Many of you know that over this winter break from school, I traveled with my family to Aruba, a small island off the coast of Venezuela. I thought I’d write a brief report on my time there, and give some pointers for others who might head there at some point. Aruba is a nation part of the Dutch commonwealth, and thus the official language is Dutch, however most everyone speaks English (on top of Papimento and Spanish). The Aruban government has made it very enticing for Americans to travel there, everywhere I saw, the US dollar was accepted side-by-side with the Aruban Florens.
My trip was a bit on the short side (only five nights) so I mostly explored the area closest to our apartment at The Boardwalk, which is at the north-west end of the island. We booked our stay there, and as part of a package deal, windsurfing lessons and rental. The beach where the Vela windsurfing school was is just a short walk from the Boardwalk and along that beach are all sorts of other resorts and activities from sunset cruises to jet-ski rentals. Aruba is an excellent location for windsurfing due to its consistent winds of about 20 knots, year-round nice weather (mid 80s) and reefs extending out from the beach allow you to walk back if you’re a beginner. While most of my stay was dedicating to windsurfing, I did spend a half-day on a Landrover tour of the island, which brought us to a few areas off the beaten track which exhibit a far more rugged side of Aruba. The natural pool is very enjoyable, and the view is excellent. Additionally, the coral caves are a very different type of cave from the traditional, and are very neat to explore.

Recommended:

  • The Iguana Cantina – This Mexican cantina was very tasty, so good in fact that we returned a second time. I had the red snapper, which was an entire snapper fried, providing an excellent presentation. Between 5-7PM is happy hour, which means 50% off margaritas, sangrias and beers.
  • Gelato from Cafe Amici – There is a huge selection of flavors, and the gelato is very tasty, an excellent way to end the day.
  • Vela Sports windsurfing – The lessons and equipment I got from them was very helpful, and I was able to progress from the beginner lesson my first day to water starts and harnesses at the end of my stay.

Recommended with Reservations:

  • Moby Dick Seafood Restaurant – While the food here was very good, the service was terrible, and the portions left you looking for a second dinner, even though the prices were high.
  • ABC Island Tours – While the tour was a lot of fun, and I got to see parts of the island that were not very accessible, the tour did not go to all of the advertised locations, leaving much to be desired. I suggest verifying with the tour company prior to booking the stops.

I hope this provides some helpful information for those looking for an escape from the cold. If you have any further questions feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to reply.

Peace and chow,

Ranok

P.S. An obligatory photo of my windsurfing:

My windsurfing