Saturday, December 6, 2008

Eg Heiti Ketkrókur!

First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my long absence from the blogging community, especially since this is a Christmas related post...but I guess a month isn't thaaat bad.

In Iceland, there is no Santa Claus. Instead, there are thirteen yule lads, descendants of trolls and the sons of Gryla, an old meanie who eats children, and of course, a Christmas cat. Read more about all the Icelandic Christmas traditions here.

On my move from Akureyri to Reykjavik at the end of November, I stopped in the small town of Skagastrond to pick up some things and say hello to some folks. As it turned out, that evening was the town's Christmas tree lighting celebration. Children danced around the tree as the town sung carols. The celebration always features a special visit from the yule lads who hand out candy to the children. This year's celebration included a yule lad that spoke no Icelandic...During my visit to the mayor's office, he asked me if I wanted to participate in the festivities. I left it up to the other yule lads who thought it would be a good idea, most likely for their amusement. Nonetheless, I ran around handing out candy and scaring little children, which is apparently quite normal, saying nothing but Ho Ho Ho, Gleðileg jól, and Eg Heiti Ketkrókur (my name is meat hook).

The Skagastrond yule lads

Before leaving Akureyri, we also witnessed the tree lighting there. Their celebration was a little bigger (it is after all the second largest city in Iceland).

Some aged Santas in Akureyri singing songs that I can only hope are Christmas related


Lastly, here is my Christmas card that many of you received via email. I know it's been a month, but I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!

Road Trip to Snaefellsnes

One weekend during my stay in Akureyri we took a weekend roadtrip to the beautiful Snaefellsnes peninsula, the inspiration for Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Our home base was a hostel in the beautiful town of Grundarfjordur. Unfortunately, I don't really know the names of the sites that we stopped at.

The town of Grundarfjordur

Some random awesome lookout

Our rides

Some random awesome beach with old crap strewn about (Definitely going to go back and make some stuff and take some pictures)

A beach loaded with the remains of an old ship that crashed here back in the day

Hot water = hot showers!

Water falling (the camera, or the cameraman, did a lousy job of capturing the crazy aqua blue color of the water)

November in Akureyri

For the month of November I lived in Akureyri "the capital of the North," Iceland's second largest city with a population of around 17,000. Reykjavik, the largest city, has a population of around 200,000, which makes up for almost two thirds of the entire population of Iceland.

My stay in Akureyri was a nice medium between Reykjavik and the small town of Skagastrond, where I lived in September and October respectively. I lived in a guesthouse with a group of students studying at the university, most of which were also foreigners. We went skiing a few times, played curling twice a week, played soccer twice a week, and went on a few exciting road trips. Good times.

Overlooking Akureyri from across the fjord

Hafnarstraeti, the main street in downtown Akureyri

The main church lit up on a cold night (apparently it's a tradition when in Akureyri to climb and count the steps of the church)

Skiing with a great group of folks at Hlidarfjall, overlooking Akureyri

Inside Kjarnaskogur woods, just south of the city, Iceland's most visited woods.

A little craziness on my solo trip to Myvatn lake to see what I missed the first time around

Dimmuborgir, a crazy lava field with amazing formations, including a pretty intense cave referred to as the church. I arrived late in the afternoon as the sun was setting, making everything super creepy and awesome, but also making it difficult to get good pictures.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

(Extremely) Amateur Snowdrift Diving in Skagastrond

Can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon...


Some people have expressed interest in seeing some of the random stuff that I inevitably draw when I'm off on an adventure. These have nothing to do with anything, but will hopefully entertain you for a good 5 seconds or so...

badass grandma and her old school motorbicycle...

octopus rain dance ritual?

yeah, i don't know either...


A Few Pieces and Thoughts (October)

One thought that has been present in my mind since arriving in Iceland, as shown by some of the rock pile concepts in an earlier post, is how everything that we produce ultimately comes from the earth. Of course, this isn't meant to imply that nothing we make is harmful, however. The idea is to simplify the concept of our interactions with our surroundings in an attempt to help recognize that we are animals living on this planet and not the creators of our own world.

Early in my stay in Skagastrond, I took a walk along the shoreline, which has a rock wall separating the ocean and the beaches from the higer ground. Where the rocks met the ocean, I often found old industrial objects that had been rusted to the point that they fit right in with the seaweed, plants, and rocks that also lined the shore. My favorite objects were chunks of concrete with twisted, rusted rebar running in and out of them. Juxtaposed with the natural rocks and scraggily seaweed, the man made objects appeared no different than them, a perfect example of the aforementioned thought.

So of course I grabbed some of the good pieces of junk and took them to the studio. Then i found some natural objects that fit with them nicely and created these three fusions of manmade and natural objects, where the end of one and the beginning of the other is indecipherable without closer inspection.

Recently, a new thought has been constantly in my mind, due in part, undoubtedly, to the trip of terror that went down just over a week ago.

As I discussed in my proposal to come to Iceland, Icelanders use their landscape efficiently to fuel their society, whether making the most of hydroelectric power or geothermal energy, which are available due to the intensity of the landscape. However, along with the benefits of such an intense environment, come difficulties. Somehow I manage to still be surprised when I realize that everything is balanced. Sure, Icelanders can use their environment to their advantage, but before they can do this, they must be able to survive it.

I have yet to think of good ways to show this balance. I have a few ideas but am not a huge fan of any of them. However, the following drawing is an idea for a piece that loosely relates to this concept, showing the necessity to overcome the environment in order to live comfortably and take part in daily activities. It is basically just a combination of two things that are commonly seen in Iceland... old school baby carriages and big snow tires. If nothing else, it'll look pretty funny.

Lastly, this is my little troll friend that I made when I was bored one day. He doesn't have a name yet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Trip Timeline (The night of Terror)

So here's how our trip went down...

Rent a car in Reykjavik and get a nice upgrade due to National's car availability.

Stop at Seljalandsfoss (The waterfall with the frozen wonderland around it).

Stop at Dyrholaey (the black sand beach surrounded by column-like rock formations).

Arrive at Skaftafell, a national park, and quickly hike to see Svartifoss (the waterfall with the crazy organ pipe looking rocks around it).

Arrive at Jokulsarlor (the glacier lake).


Drive across the road to see the glaciers that had made it out to sea. There is a flattened area that seems to be the parking lot. I, however, drive about 50 feet too far. Kate and I both notice that the ground seems to be getting a little rough so I immediately stop. Instead of reversing, I turn the car to park. And just like that, we are stuck in the sand. This might sound pretty stupid, but I assure you that it didn’t seem like a dangerous idea at the time. We get out and try to dig a little. Attempt backing out, but it’s a no go. The car just sinks deeper.

Start digging hardcore style for like 45 minutes. Both of us are lying under the car, trying to completely free it from the sand (we are in it pretty deep). Put the rubber car mats against the wheels with some rock wedges in an attempt to get some traction.

Try to back her out again but just dig ourselves deeper. The mats get sucked under the wheels and are torn up pretty bad. The car now looks like I drove it into a freaking hole in the ground and the sun is peacin’ out for the night. Head up to the road and pray that someone can save us. The praying was pretty necessary because we had only seen like three cars since we had arrived at the lake.

A nice man stops, basically because we jump in front of his car, which we later realize was probably pretty frightening. The man pulls us out in no time and we are on our way. It is now completely dark.

Stop in a small town to recover and eat some food. Then we hit the road again, hoping to arrive in a town called Egilsstadir around midnight. Kate takes over the driving, having nothing to do with the sand incident.

Driving in Iceland at night is scary. There are no lights around, just your car, the road, and the reflective things along the road. Despite the fact that we are driving on the main highway in Iceland, some parts of the road remain gravel, which is sort of refreshing in a way, but not in this context. An occasional glance to either side might find a gigantic creepy mountain, a cliff with a jagged bottom, or any number of other things, not all of which remain still.

It starts to snow a little and the wind begins to whip.


Startled by a random gust of sleet that mysteriously smacks into the windshield out of nowhere. Later described as being similar to a sneeze from an ice dragon. This simply increases the stress of driving at night.


SCREAM at the sight, through the falling snow, of yellow eyes in the middle of the road belonging to a large sheep that had wandered onto the road. Kate sees him just in time to avoid the collision by a generous two feet.

Hold back tears


Arrive safely in Egilsstadir and find a nice place to park and sleep. We both put on about six layers of clothes, fold the back seats down, and try to get some shut eye. This doesn’t work so well, partially because our nerves are still a little shaken, but mostly because it’s freaking freezing.

Decide to screw it all and try driving to Myvatn, a lake in the north surrounded by some cool sights. The plan is to get there, get some rest before the sun comes up, see the sights real early, return the car to Akureyri, and hitchhike back to Skagastrond in the afternoon, as opposed to staying an additional night.

** ~~

It starts to snow pretty good and the wind is a rockin’. Unfortunately, there are no towns between Egilsstadir and Myvatn. But the roads seem fine so slow and steady it is.

** ~~

Turn a corner while ascending a mountainside and drive into an 8-10 inch deep snowdrift that has accumulated on the road. By the time I can stop the car, we have plowed about 40 feet into it. It is too dark to see how much lies ahead. Spend about 20 minutes turning the wheels back and forth, going backward and forward, until the car eventually backs out of the drift. Frustratingly turn around and head back towards civilization.

** ~~

Stop at a gas station along the road and get some actual sleep by turning the car on and heating it up every time I wake up from being too cold.

Wake up and realize that there’s no one around and nothing to do but drive the rest of the way back to Egilsstadir, making the middle of the night drive worthless. Thankfully, however, the sun is up. The night is over.

Arrive in Egilsstadir and ask at the gas station about road conditions. We are told the road should be fine now and head back toward Myvatn. Kate takes over driving again.

Pass the place where the snowdrift was. There is snow on the road but it has been cleared enough for us to get through. We nervously giggle at the realization that a nice cliff was alongside of the road.

Arrive at Myvatn. Check out Haverarond (the purple bubbly mud pots).

Attempt to see some other stuff but decide the roads are too snowy. Drive around a little bit and take some pictures of stuff and decide to head toward Akureyri.

Stop to see Godafoss.

On the way to Akureyri
Notice that the car rental company has a place in Sauderkrokur, which is much closer to Skagastrond than Akureyri. I call them up and sure enough, we can return the car there. No hitchhiking from Akureyri for us. A friend calls us from Skagastrond and says she can pick us up there. Our luck has finally turned.

Arrive in Akureyri. Park and walk around a little while to unwind.

Leave Akureyri and head toward Sauderkrokur.

Arrive in Sauderkrokur. Pack up, clean the car, and wait for our friend to pick us up.

Get picked up by Olafia and head toward Skagastrond.

Arrive in Skagastrond. Attempt to relax but to be completely honest, I think my body goes into minor shock from having a 36 hour adrenaline rush. Eventually unwind and sleep for like 13 hours.

** DWT (Driving While Terrified). Imagine being in a horror flick and driving at night knowing there are zombies outside that want to eat you. This is sort of what it felt like.

~~ DWS (Driving Without Sleep). Simply increases the stress and fear of the situation.

Extreme Sightseeing

After Airwaves, Kate and I rented a car and drove around the east end of Iceland for two days to see all the sights on our way back to Skagastrond (Kate is my roommate in Skagastrond and is also here on a Fulbright grant). It was easily the craziest 36 hours I can remember. Not just because of the sights, but because of the travel problems we encountered when the sun went down. My next post will be a simple time line consisting of all the crazy events that went down. But for this post, I think these pics should be enough. To quote a wise man, Doug Herman, they are "gharlseton chew" or "gnarles in charge" and so on and so forth.

We saw all of this in about 30 hours (with a terrifying night in between)... hence extreme sightseeing.

Seljalandfoss (Absolutely crazy)

A cave/building on the road to Dyrholaey

Black sand beaches at Dyrholaey

Eldhraun (moss covered lave field as far as the eye can see)

Rivers running through Sandur out to sea

Svartifoss from a distance
Jokulsarlor (Also nuts. There were some seals swimming around as well)
Route 1 near Myvatn

Haverarond (purple mud bubble pots)

A crazy rock that screams and spits out steam!

Hverfjall crater near Myvatn