Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ain't No Sunshine

Last Tuesday, when coming out of the school building, I glanced at the sky. It was a clear, cloudless day and was about 1 pm. And the sun was not there. Without even realizing it, I had forgotten to say goodbye to the sun. It has gone behind the mountains and will hibernate until late January. We still have hours of daylight and will so through December, yet the sun itself has gone bye bye. If you forget what time it is and look up at the sky and it is only dimly lit, you can't tell if you are looking at the sunrise or the sunset. Does it matter? Also, I have noticed that it is quite important to look at your watch before you go to bed and right when you get up. With such darkness, you have no idea how many hours you slept unless you make an effort to keep track.

Sunrise or Sunset?

It’s also pretty cold right about now. I know what you are thinking: “Isn’t Iceland the warm, green one, and isn’t Greenland the cold, icy one?” No. They are both very cold.

manage to get in some kayaking every Sunday and Friday with the local sea kayaking club. We paddle around the fjord Sunday mornings and practice rolling in a pool in the nearby village of Flateyri on Friday evenings. Icelanders practice a style of kayaking known as Greenland style, which was perfected by the native Eskimos over thousands of years. Greenland-style rolling uses a lot less energy than the typical North American whitewater style and is more dependent on body form – so its sometimes used as an art form and there are many different rolling competitions here that judge purely on style. So I’m learning a new technique, but until I master it I will continue the roll I’m accustomed to when I accidentally flip in the 40 degree ocean.

Kayaking in Skutulsfjordur

An 8-year old Icelandic girl practices her roll

My buddy Gordo visited me for five days at the beginning of the month. The shitty wet weather didn’t stop us from biking to Bolangarvik village where the swimming pool boasts a water slide. Yet we arrived during “kid’s time” and couldn’t swim so we drank coffee and watched the kids spend their time splashing in the hot tube while we air-dried ourselves. That weekend we drove to Heydalur with a couple classmates with the plan to camp next to some hot springs. While hiking to the hot spring we had to cross a river. I fell on a rock, busted my lower lip, scraped the skin off my fingertips, and bruised my knee pretty badly. I nursed it in the hot spring which we eventually reached, and numbed it with whiskey. But my wounds and the weather led us to the decision not to camp, so we rented a summer house for the night. Not a bad weekend! Gordo and I had our share of traditional Icelandic food (which I typically can’t afford) which included lamb heads, puffin, and rotten shark meat (which Anthony Bourdain described as "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten.)

Gordo, biking back from Bolungarvik

Clasina, Gordo, Lisa and I at Heydalur

Sheep head and rice - like an edible Leatherface

An Arctic Fox, Iceland's only native mammal (in winter its fur turns white)

I just finished a course on research methodology and currently studying Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) – basically setting aside portions of the sea for improving biodiversity, scientific research, and fishery stocks. It’s really interesting. It’s a growing concept and practice and has lots of uses globally. I have nothing else to say about school.

To the stateside: I hope everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving and let’s hope the Dawgs win the SEC!

Hiking to a reservoir

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Trip to the Southern Westfjords

Me, sitting in a garbage dump

A few days ago I opened my front door and realized that the yard was flooded in pink water. The pink water came up to the doorstep and was about a foot deep. When I looked closer at the water I noticed little shrimp body parts – little legs, little tails, and little heads – bobbing in the pink water. About 20 yards away I saw a busted pipe spewing the shrimp waste. The shrimp factory next door had a busted pipe and shrimp stew was flooding the yard. It found its way into the laundry room, which still smells shrimpy, before the pipe got fixed and the fire department came and sprayed our yard down with a hose.

Shrimp Juice at my doorstep

In our last class, Iceland Environment Natural Resources, we took a bus trip to Bolungarvik, an old fishing village, to look at antiquated fishing techniques, and then to Skalavik, a beautiful beach at the bottom of a fjord.

Having an internationally-focused approach to natural resource management, students in my program come from all over. We have a lot of Americans and Canadians, some Germans and Icelanders, and others coming from Holland, Spain, England, Finland, China, Israel, Australia, et al. Having an eclectic, multi-national mix brings a various viewpoints and experiences to approaches to natural resource management. And it allows us to make fun of each other when we let shine our respective stereotypes.

I’m still exploring the area on foot and bike – finding new things to do when not studying. Right now the weather is cooperative enough to hike where I want and camp, but that time is coming to an end. Fortunately the views are good enough to make a hobby out of sitting on a bench in town with a pair of binoculars.

Last weekend a group of students and me went to a lady’s farm an hour and a half away from Isafjordur to help her herd her sheep. She has around 300 sheep that she butchers and sells for meat once a year to feed her small family. The sheep are free range and graze throughout her very large valley. This requires lots of man labor to round them up. We camped there on Friday night. It was nice to test the durability of my sleeping bag in Iceland for the first time, although the weather was quite nice and wasn’t completely representative of a typical September night in the Westfjords. Anyways, we had fun sipping beer and whiskey around a campfire (a rare occasion in a treeless land), playing guitars and harmonicas. The next day we spent divided up into herding teams and spent the next six hours finding and moving sheep. My team was assigned a very steep mountain/valley where a few sheep had wandered to. I made a video of the day, which you at It was fascinating, interesting hard work that I really enjoyed but felt all through my muscles the next two days.

Sarah, Scott, and Clasina, during sheep herding campout

Following my final exam in Oceanography – my first exam in seven years – our class took a field trip to the Southern Westfjords. We went for practical reasons; visits to a salmon farm, a calcareous seaweed business, a museum, and a meeting with a municipality mayor. But we got some good exposure to Icelandic natural phenomena as well; a visit to Dynjandi (one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen), hiking in L├ítrabarg which is a future national park with 100 meter cliffs and a seasonal breeding ground for puffins, gulls, and other seabirds (this is currently not that season), and a walk among a vast coastal delta/beach called Rau├░isandur.


Traditional Icelandic Fishing Gettup

Latrabarg - cliffs and bird nesting

Raudisandur Beach Survey

We stayed the night in a nice but lonely hotel. We partied pretty hard that night and then at 2:00am we jogged twenty minutes down to the shore and jumped into the numbingly cold North Atlantic breakers. I decided not to shower and woke up salty and sandy.

Now its Monday and I’m in my third course – Integrated Coastal Zone Management – taught by a professor from British Columbia and I find it quite stimulating.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Isafjordur

Welcome to my new blog. I previously blogged about my two-year stint in Fiji as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am now living on a different island – the island of Iceland. This new island is probably as opposite as you can get from the island of Fiji. It is on opposite hemispheres. The weather is consistently 18 degrees (as opposed to Fiji’s 81). People’s hair colors are opposite. Everything is different. Everything here is expensive and everyone is rich. (Everyone in Fiji is rich too, but a different kind of rich).

View of Reykjavik, from the plane

I will be pursuing a Masters in Natural Resource Management (MNR) at the University Centre of the Westfjords for the next year and a half. (The program is one year of course studies followed by however long it takes to complete a research project, or thesis.) The University is located in Isafjordur, Iceland. Lonely Planet describes the town as “the most isolated town in Iceland” and if you look at a map you will concur. The town has approximately 3,000 people living literally on a spit of sand in the middle of a fjord in the northwest corner of the country. We are only a few hundred miles to the Arctic Circle. So it is always windy and cold.

Some buildings in my town of Isafjordur

A coastline in the Westfjords

I live in a little yellow house made of corrugated iron. The house is next door to a shrimp factory. On weekdays, when the fishing industry going full steam, the entire town smells of fish. For some reason I find it quite pleasant. It makes me think of hard work, tradition, and culture.
So anyways I will update this blog as long as I have something interesting to say, which, considering I will be doing little else than reading text books in a cold, dark, isolated corner of the world, may not be often.

My House