Near the Old Man of Storr, Scotland I took this in 2004

Monday, July 28, 2008

A few photos from my Icelandic Saga...

The following 2 photos are of my wee village, near the west fjords, that I made it to, after a lot of schlepping! In the first photo, you can see the large mountains called Hel's range, after the Norse goddess Hel--the Goddess of " the underworld". In the second of these 2 photos you can see a very famous monument/mountain, called Kirkufell, it's the one without the peak.

The second 2 are of the trip down to Reykjavik! I drove down by car with Johanna. An amazing way to see the country!

The country really is that beautiful!



"How cozy!"
"After a storm"
"Larking about on the way to the capital"


"The view from the car"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The end of the Saga

The part where we froze, again..

So, after seeing those amazing deep pink Northern Lights, there was really nothing that could've topped that. And nothing did. At the end of the party, some of the guests said that they would be heading down the road to the bar..and we, Helena and I decided after a while, to join them.
It was nearing 3, and there was a little table filled with familiar faces, so we sat down, Helena ordered a beer, and I wondered when the bar was shutting. A bar shutting in Iceland, yeah right?!

It was a strange event. The company at the table was very mixed. The Ghanaian woman and her 2 Icelandic male friends, and 1 Icelandic woman. One of the men was the website designer for the hostel. I said that's how I found the hostel. He was so excited. He asked me loads of questions about the site and other computery things, none of which I had any good answers for. What I tried to tell him though, was in truth I didn't come to Grundafjodur because of his fancy website, it was cuz it was THE only site for a place that sounded like what I wanted. He was deflated. The love was gone. Oh well, I helped Helena finish her beer so we could get out of there. The equivalent of a depressing Russian novel, only it was in Iceland, and it was real.

When we got out into the night air, it felt fresh, and pretty good, at first. So, we decided to meander for a while. The thing about Grundafjordur is you can't ever get lost. The church is always the directional marker. Except this time it wasn't. We had been walking along for a while when we heard someone behind us, not too far away. We both freaked out, and started devising plans...and lots of what ifs...in the end, he was more then likely a drunk guy just walking. to clear his head, well this is what we told each ourselves..but by the time we realized he was gone, we also realized that nothing looked familiar! How was this possible?

There was no church steeple to be seen, no Kirkjufell, either. We were both starting to get really cold, and not too calm. After maybe a half an hour of retracing, and trying to stay calm, we found our way back to our hostel...where we nestled in to hot chocolates and cards.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sagas continue...The Northern Lights, not once but Twice!

Arriving!

After 4 long hours I finally arrived in my wee fishing village near the west Fjords, in Grundafjordur.

Ok, well there was just one slight problem. Just one really. And that would be the fact that it was a full-on windstorm when the bus pulled in to the local Esso station. The wind was so severe that the driver went in to the Esso store, to tell the clerk I had arrived, and to ask her to call Johanna, the woman who ran the hostel. The clerk called Johanna, while the driver waited. Then the clerk and the driver chatted a bit. After which point, the little girl and the driver said bye to me and left.

I waited in the Esso store and tried to chat with the clerk who was anything but friendly to me.

Finally Johanna arrived. Though it was only a few minutes, it truly felt like hours.

It was such a strange experience to be in such northern reaches of Scandinavia, Viking land. In a wee village. Definitely not a tourist trap, by any means. And to that end, to be an attraction by virtue of being a foreigner, who spoke English. And why, people kept asking, did I want to visit such an out of the way village? As I waited in that Esso shop, a local boy came in, probably just to have a look at that foreigner. Pretty bizzaro. And not for nothing Esso is a huge whaler. That is they are responsible for killing- murdering a lot of the whales . It's pretty horrific. For more horrors, here is a link to my website, http://protestanimaltesting.wetpaint.com

Anyway, Johanna's English seemed really good, but did she have an accent? I couldn't tell?
She seemed just as unfriendly, as the bus loads I had met earlier in the day, plus the clerk I had just met, brisk, is this the word?Apart from the bus driver and his daughter, I hadn't met any friendly Icelanders.
Well, as it turned out, Johanna was from South Africa, not Iceland, but same shit really. The Dutch/Boers, Apartheid. She greeted me first ff by saying: " You would normally be making your way to the hostel by yourself." Well, I'm fine, thanks for asking! Geesus.

As we approached the hostel which was no more than 5 minutes by car from the Esso, the wind had pulled down a side of the fence surrounding the property. And this, Johanna told me was typical Icelandic weather.

But it wasn't all icy. The land is amazing! I had a whole dorm, with heat and a snugly duvet, to myself. The view out the large window faced the mountains in the background, and directly across the street was a small house with little witches and elves hanging in the window. And that was so normal that no one even mentioned it.

The following day, the weather had cleared and it was bright and sunny, and yes, still cold.
But I climbed a mountain and painted for a few hours. Within my 5 days in that village, I saw the Northern lights not once, but twice. And each time I saw them I was in complete awe.

The next night 3 other people arrived. One was a single traveler, like myself, and also female, she was from Germany, and had been in Iceland to sheer sheep. Apparently, it;s a big thing for Germans. The other were 2 Aussies, female also, who were pretty shitty.

That evening after everyone had settled, we all went for a stroll to find the elusive Northern Lights. Nothing...at all, but we did see some cool boats, or at least me and the German woman, whose name I have forgotten, thought so.

Early the next morning, the 2 Aussies were off, and made sure to be as loud as possible. The usual hostel garbage. And later that day, the German woman was off too. I was happy to have to have the room to myself again though.

On my second or third day, I was introduced to a woman named Helena who had just arrived from St. Petersburg, Russia. She was also living in the hostel, but as her home. She had come to teach music. We became friends. We decided to go and search for the Lights, and went and bought alcohol...at the liquor store that opened for 2 hours twice per week..I bought Chilean wine, I know, but it was the cheapest thing. So first we started drinking, and then headed out for a walk to see if we could have any luck seeing the Lights. We found a bench by the water, well it's an island so that wasn't hard.. and sat down to listen to it, and we could see
the local monument, a mountain without the peak called Kirkufel. This sounds all very nice but it was Iceland, and it was night, and as I said, we were by the water, so, It was damn cold!

Helena, my Russian friend, was, unbelievably colder than me!
Dang, and I thought Russians were equipped for Siberian winters. I don't think she was dressed warmly though. So we smoked, and wondered if we would be able to see anything cool in the sky
We stayed there for a while smoking and talking, just hanging out, and every now and again we would look up hopefully at the sky..nothing.

If anything the sky seemed to be getting darker. Then suddenly, through the pure blackness, the sky stared getting lighter, and lighter and all of a sudden it was this amazing blue. It lasted so briefly, but that was ok cuz I was cold and Helena, who had left her warm clothes with her mom at the airport, in St. Petersburg becuz they were too bulky for her luggage limit, was freezing.

We went back to the hostel, had hot chocolate, and finished our wine.

The next night, Johanna was throwing a "European languages" party at the hostel.
She, by the way, spoke fluent Icelandic. There was a Ghanaian woman, who's mother had moved there to marry an Icelander, and so she could speak Icelandic. It was fun. Cozy, warm. There were at least 10 people. All women.

After a while, Helena and I nipped out for a smoke. We were standing outside, just
chit -chatting, trying to smoke quickly, cuz after all, it was cold, and it happened again.


We looked up at the sky out of habit, and there it was..super dark. But that sky gets so dark that you feel mesmerized and keep staring, which we did. And sure enough, it started gradually lightening, until suddenly the sky was filled with this insane, incredible deep, and dancing pink!! Everyone at the party was disappointed they hadn't seen it...it was so amazing.

That alone made my trip, that and it was a desire quenched, finally. As I said I had always needed to go there.



The Sagas continue: The last bus there


My Icelandic Lesson
So,
there I am, on the bus, as the last other passenger leaves... and we gently careen into a little village.
I was panicking the whole way, but as the bus pulled in, I figured, "we must be here", plus it was pretty, so I hoped so, and we weren't just on the highway anymore. So, I asked the driver if we had arrived. But no no, the driver was just delivering something to a friend! The village was c
alled Stykkisholmur, that didn't sound like Grundafjordur!
He got out, and so did a little girl, who I hadn't really noticed having been on the bus. I figured he must have been delivering her to her house, because she was small. This wasn't the case at all. After a few minutes both driver and the little girl hopped back on, and she was nibbling sweets.

I realized it must be the driver's little daughter, and how adorable, she was getting a ride with Dad. She sat right up with him, but then maybe she sensed my worry as I tried to ask her dad how much further, and he kept trying to reassure me all was fine. After a few minutes, the little girl, started, very casually at first, to seat hop!

She hopped her way to the row across from her dad, and peered over at me. I was writing.

Then she leaped over to the seats directly in front of me, and and stuck her face between the slats of the chairs to see what I was up to. I at this point I was also nibbling sweets..mine beat hers, I had chocolate..I offered her some. She happily accepted, and then offered me some of her candy..I think I tried one, and then politely declined anymore. It was some kind of black licorice, which I hate. But even the little girl was no fool. She knew good sweets when she offered them. She hardly nibbled anymore of her licorice, and soon my chocolate was gone:)

After a few minutes of us getting to know each other through the slats of the chair, she finally saw I was alright, and decided to sit next to me. I tried asking her stuff, and she me..Yes, one little problem, I don't speak any Icelandic, and she being just a wee child, naturally spoke no English.

So, she did what all logically minded people would do. She took my notebook, found an empty page, and proceeded to give me an Icelandic lesson via pictographs, or more precisely, drawings. We started with the basics. The weather as it was occurring at that moment, she pointed out the window, it was snowing, so she drew a little picture of snowflakes and then the Icelandic word for me. Then she decided on some animals that I should learn, naturally accompanied by her lovely drawings, sheep, cow, horse and snake. And just as quickly as it had begun, the lesson was done. And now it was time to confuse me completely. It was time for a game. I guess I know how my ESL students feel now, when the language has no relationship to their own. I felt pretty lost. She started drawing some kind of maze, or spiral, I'm not sure But what I was supposed to do, I really couldn't understand. For all I know, she was making the "rules" up right then and there. She just kept giggling. And finally I had to use an internationally recognized form of communication: ( another one being Esperanto, but yeah right!) and I sadly, I gestured, a shrug, meaning: " I don't understand, I'm sorry."
I wanted to play. It looked great. She was my first Icelandic friend!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Check this out..!!!

This is an old blog of mine called Liminality
I lost the password, but it's worth the read.

And, while you're at it, here's another now elderly blog also of mine, and to which I have no password, yet again, called Art for who's sake, but, it's more like a diary, so...there you go, kimono!


The Sagas continue


So to remind ourselves, I was now on my second bus supposedly heading toward my wee small fishing village near the west fjords, called Grundafjordur. Well, things didn't go as smoothly as planned, but I think you could've guessed that.


The getting there...

Now, I'm on this second bus for a good hour, I'd suppose, when it starts to pull in somewhere. Wow, could we be there so soon?

No, we couldn't be. This was Iceland, after all. The driver had pulled into an ESSO station, for a break. In Iceland, Essos are like 7-11s. I decided, since everyone else was nipping off, I would too. So, nip off I did, and just as quickly I was back on the bus, tearing in to my backpack for all my warm clothes. It was freezing, and I know cold, I'm Canadian..and I was only planning on standing outside for no more than 5 minutes to smoke..yes, I was a smoker.

I threw on warm socks, my hiking boots, added the lining to the jacket I had on, and put on a sweater and scarf. Now I was ready for my 5 minutes.

Well, after that pit stop another bus had pulled up and most pf the passengers started filing on to that bus...I asked what was happening, and was getting very confused because no one was able to tell me clearly which bus I should take. In the end , the driver of the bus I had been on told me to switch and so I began the next leg of my journey on bus #3.

The most nerve racking thing for me was watching the weather change right before my eyes.
One moment it was windy but bright, then it started to cloud over and rain, and then snow quite heavily, then, a quite severe wind storm...more about that later.

I was the only non-Icelandic passenger on board. When I got onto the third bus at the Esso, a lady took the liberty of yelling at me for sitting, in what was apparently, her seat. I was startled and went to sit at the back where I was flanked by 2 men; 1 young and the other older. Both of them had something to occupy their time, a paper and music..therefore, there would be zero conversation. Fun for me.

After a few hours aboard that bus, I believe I changed buses again. And after having sat with those 2 people for a few hours who had not said one god damned word to me the whole time, as i got up to go they wished me a pleasant trip, as did others aboard.

Icelandic people are very reserved and cold.They are not known for their warmth. They are not a smiling culture, nor, as I was told by a woman who ran the hostel in the wee village, who was from South Africa, do they like making jokes; so when I was talking with a teacher who was a friend of the woman who ran the hostel, she taught English, he music, and had been a drummer in the Sugar Cubes(?) a band that Bjork was in in her early days , I saw most definitely how making pleasant 'small talk' isn't their style, at all. Ok it's not mine either, but geez, would a "hello" kill anyone? Maybe,



So, I made it on to the last bus. I watched as the weather careened into a full-on snow-storm. I was a bit nervous as I watched people begin ringing the bell and the back doors would open and off they would step; into the vast unknown..to me at least. I could see anything. No houses, no road signs, no bus stop even..literally nothing. Just highway and snow.



I was getting worried that perhaps this was how I was supposed to get to my hostel..by traversing a lonely, snow-filled Icelandic highway. I was definitely beyond a little nervous now. The driver could see this as the passengers began to thin out.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Icelandic Sagas, Part 2


Scene 3, Part 3: The journey

So, I got on the bus from the airport to the capital, after all. How hard could it be now? A bus ride to a wee village? No sweat. Or so I thought.
The ride went something like this...the bus up filled at the station . I and all the other Icelandic passengers climbed aboard. This was going to take me in to Reykjavik, where i would then catch another bus. No problemo!

The journey was a bizarre one. We rode in near darkness for most of the way. I had no idea what I was looking at as I stared out the window. I thought that maybe I was looking at some unfinished construction, but what, i wondered?

Scene 4, part 1: As it turned out, it was not construction at all. But, as the sun started to rise, it began to reveal what it was i had been puzzling over for a good part of an hour. I had been staring at volcanic crators! It was amazing and beautiful, and funny to think that I had truly no clue what i had been staring at. I love it when that stuff happens.


Scene 4, Part 2: The second bus...

So, with the rising sun our airport shuttle arrived about an hour later at a bus depot in Reykjavik. Now the fun part. I left the bus and walked in to the very large and very empty bus depot. It was all of 7:30 in the morning, early. I was surprised to see no one anywhere...though thankfully there was a young woman at the ticket booth.

I told her where I needed to get to, the wee village, and could I buy a ticket.. Mind you, this was no easy feat, seeing as she could barely speak English. I bought a return, and she told me to wait for the bus for about a half hour or so. So I began to wait.

After about 15 minutes, I noticed a bus in the bus bay. Something told me to go find out if that was my bus, and perhaps the young woman was wrong.
I walked over to the bus, and the bus driver appeared and I told him the name of the village I was heading to. He said , yes, he was heading that way, and was actually about to leave! What? This trip was already off to a very strange beginning.






Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Icelandic Sagas, Part 1

I remember when I finally made up my mind to head off to Iceland. I had wanted to go for years. It was such a burning desire, but I had neatly tucked it away in the recesses of
"It'll never happen".

Part 1, Scene 1: The buying of the ticket and such like.

So, when I finally bought my ticket, I thought I must be mad.
Mad or not, I was going, and I had a ticket to prove it! I spent time looking on-line for a hostel. I found one which seemed perfect, way out in a remote wee fishing village, near the west fjords.
Part 1, Scene 2: Getting there is half the fun?

I'm at the airport..where the very efficient check-in person asked me if I was going to the hot springs. Hot springs? Huh? I had no clue what he meant...well, whatever, it was insignificant. But, boy did he seem excited slash jealous. "But Why?", I thought.

Part 1, Scene 3: All about the Americans!

I'm now on plane number 2, heading for Iceland. I'm surrounded by American retirees...from Georgia. Good times! It's a little hazy, but it goes something like this: the Americans start asking me questions, where was I going, how long..the usual...I mention the village I was headed to, and they promptly whip out a map. And then it hits me, I start to mildly panic, which went something like " Dear lord," well more than likely, " Dear Green Tara," I quickly think,
" I am not a map-carrying or map taking type of traveller, but please assure me that this trip will be ok." I start to show the Americans my destination, well sort of, it's not really on a map, it's a wee village after all, for this I was actually pretty grateful. I think I was really selling this village. I'm not even in sales. But the next thing I know, they started mentioning that they wanted to try to get out there..to my wee fishing village during their trip. Lucky me. Next up, the steward started chatting with the Americans, and asked them, and I was semi-included in this, if any of them knew any Icelandic. I hardly held my breath for their answers. The answer came from the American lady in the row in front of me, or us, who happily chimed in that no, of course she didn't speak Icelandic, she was from Georgia, so they spoke American. Fun!

Part 2, Scene 2 : And the fun continues.

I will remember this particular scene fondly, if we can use such a loving word here. I often times order a Kosher meal when in the air. It's not really for the food, as much as it is for the prayer. I like the prayer. I feel safe, looked after. Ok, I'll admit, I don't speak or read Hebrew, but for me it's calming all the same. To be given food that has been not only blessed but presented with it's own prayer , sometimes in English, more often only in Hebrew, and 4 layers of hard-core saran wrap. All specialty meals are served first. This is just common practice. My Kosher meal was served to me first, while my American seat-mates tried to politely avoid me, giving me a chance to eat.
It's always awkward when you are the only person eating a special meal and all the people around you aren't and so they stare while trying to make it seem as if they were looking out the window at a super fascinating cloud. Yeah right, after having been in the air even for 10 minutes, there are no truly super fascinating clouds, they're all just big and fluffy. But I digress. My American seat mates were absolutely no exception. I knew I seemed too bizarre for them to resist..and then I heard it, whispered just loud enough for my ears to not have had to strain, but quiet enough to still be a whisper:
"She's a vegetarian!" The word vegetarian was emphasized with both disgust and a sort of self-congratulatory air, as if the speaker had found the cure for cancer. Ok, maybe not that much, but more like....mmm, like she'd just solved a very puzzling mystery. The speaker was none other than one of my female American seat mates, just off to my left. She made her announcement cum discovery to the group, as it were.

I tried really hard to not laugh out loud. I thought, " if they only knew, that I'm not vegetarian, but, (gasp!) Jewish, eating Kosher..well, let's just say they probably wouldn't have been all that interested in my goings on....





Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The meet and greet!


Hello, and welcome to my site!!! Here I will introduce myself a bit.

A few facts about me:

 Fact 1: I am a traveller, hence the title of my blog, but...
 
About my teaching:
 I have a lot of experience teaching. I have taught here, in Toronto, and in Colombia, South America. Also, I have been tutoring for at least 8 years, if not longer. If you or someone you know is looking for an excellent, RSA CELTA qualified  ESL Tutor, please contact me, at: Fantastic.Instructor@gmail.com.
Any questions? 


In the following pages I will be writing about my travel adventures!!!!

Stayed Tuned...







All about Colombia


















I think I'm addicted to travel...so much so that I took a job in Colombia..which stank, but I would have never gone to that part of South America, paid for, no less, otherwise. Basically , going to Colombia, gave me the chance to increase my number of visited countries.

Of course there was the interview at the visa office, which consisted lots of different ways to ask me if I truly knew just how unsafe the country was, and therefore how many people , namely family knew where I was going?
Not exactly giving me a warm fuzzy feeling.

Not for nothing, it is the kidnap capital of the world. But still, I went.

I would never go back to Colombia...I even had to pay to leave the country, at the airport..something I certainly was never told. And it wasn't as if I could have asked anyone, cuz I know no one who had or has been. And even on travel sites with forums on Colombia, not one person who had visited mentioned anything about the exit tax. Funny.
I lived in Bogota, the filthy capital. It's astounding to see such gaps in super wealthy and over-the-top poverty.
The children whom I taught were the super wealthy.
Every morning, a bus from the school came to get me. I was the first person on because I lived at the beginning of that particular bus route. It also picked up many students who lived on that route to the school, as well as a few other teachers. It was never an uncommon site to see the children who lived in houses, big, sprawling, gated numbers (versus apartments), have their mothers waiting just outside the door, to usher them out, and then, at the the garden gate, leading to the street, would be their maid, standing, holding their backpacks. The child might take it, but more times than not, our bus monitor would dash off the bus, quickly grab it, and anything else the maid might have , such as any instruments, gym equipment..and usher the child to her/ his assigned seat, and then securely tuck their belongings away for them.

These things always shocked and disgusted me. But only me. For everyone else it was, literally business as usual.
I liked our bus monitor. She was a sharp, no nonsense woman. I also liked our driver, he like me at the time, was also a smoker.
My bus would arrive every morning at 5:15. I got up at around 4. This way I didn't have to rush and could more or less take my time. Some of tbhat time was spent leaving my apartment some 10 or 15 minutes early to head down and have a smoke. I would usualy be down in front of my apartment by 4:45, or 5 .

The bus driver never rushed me, like he would the children who couldn't carry their own bags. He
would sometimes get so fed up, that if they weren't at the curb, or whatever assigned waiting spot, he'd leave. End of story. But to me, he would tell me kindly, to take my time, because I was always very punctual, and once in a while he would join me in a smoke.
It may (or may not, depending on what experience you've had with developing nations) go without saying that both our bus monitor, and the driver were not from the wealthy classes.

Bogota is a city divided into 6 sections. 1 being the lowest. I lived in the 5th. So, pretty good, you'd think. Well, I suppose so. I mean a barrio it was not, but it was very difficult to have so much and see the brutal effects Third World market economics.
The apartment I stayed in was old, and unkempt.We had doormen, but they seemed? or were, I wasn't sure, unarmed. How unfair was that, when only 2 streets over they had security and doormen patrolling with bazookas.
2 streets over the apartments were modern and flashy and had fancy native flowers in big, beautiful vases in the foyers. They were the kinds of flowers that the rich anywhere buy and discard very readily,
not caring at all how long it takes a flower to grow, and how hard someone had to work to go to the mountains and jungles to get them..these are big, heavy stemmed flowers.

My apartment didn't have a foyer. So, naturally it had no flowers. What it did have though were 2 doormen, who worked in shifts, so someone was always there. One older, who was shocked to see the hot running water in my apartment, and a younger one, who was always trying to sleep, but seem efficient, which he really was! It also had a rickety, old-style elevator: the kind where you have to close the door before it can start to ascend, or descend, depending on which way you're heading. But, there was a gap between the door and the floor, and through this gap I once lost my apartment keys. All I can say is thank the deities for doormen!
The door to my unit had 3 locks. The unit was huge, and even had,though this shouldn't shock me, but still does.. a maid's bathroom. You know, just in case the neighbours get the wrong idea.

On the main intersection of my neighbourhood, children would often be sitting at the cross walk, begging. But, in Colombia, children don't beg in the normal "here's my hand, give me money," kind of way. Instead, they perform acrobatics, more times than not in their bare feet, on broken glass, that just happens to be there on the road, while visibly high. I saw a child, who couldn't have been more than 7 doing some serious back flips, while a littler girl, and a young teenager holding a baby looked on. It was very hard to see.

I once saw, I think 7 or 8 young men, not in my neighbourhood, somewhere "nicer"standing on each other's shoulders', and form a triangle, right in the middle of the road. It was incredible! I wanted to take a picture! Even give them change..but I knew that would be hard, because I was trying to cross, not get hit
(which was a feat in itself!) and watch them. Not only were they poor, they were black, meaning they had 2 strikes against them. I thought they were incredible, but the people I was with thought differently, and admonished me strongly about even stopping to look.

Bogota has a train that runs through it. The train tracks were near my place.
Those tracks were home to many a homeless man, who used that grassy refuge as his bedroom and bathroom. I remember using the tracks to cross instead of through the street, and watched as a man undid his pants and squatted to empty hs bowels. It was not easy to watch or not watch.
Bogota and the surrounding area that I saw are true slices of Third world Economics, therefore everyone really needs to do more than just give lip service to the politics of "eco-friendly SUVs"

Here are some images from Bogota, Usaquen, which is an old village, town and the mountains. It looks pretty nice...but it truly is a world apart from Canada.