Iceland: 2011 Skaftafell – The rest of the week… continued

“This one almost got away, but we tracked it down. We like to leave one (dead on the ground) as an example to the other lupin.” – Chas.

I thought I might give you some info about the context and the organisation, which was established 30 years ago. Here is a short description from the Facebook page

Environment Agency Volunteers (Sjálfboðaliðar Umhverfisstofnunar) assist in the practical management of national parks, nature reserves and other areas of outstanding natural beauty throughout Iceland.

So, basically every year there are approximately 200 volunteers who work for the Environment Agency of Iceland, and who spend from a week to six months in Iceland, going around the country maintaining trails and helping park rangers with things such as washed out bridges or eroding paths. Local, natural materials are used when possible and concrete is unheard of. The volunteers are expected to react quickly to challenges, those could be projects that have more or less appeared over night. Problems that can affect the trails include frost lifting, geothermal activity, short growing season and the high level of tourists.  There is a lot of step construction, using stones or reclaimed timber,  building of cross drains, boardwalks to provide access over impassable geothermal terrain. (There are some areas where you can’t put anything on the ground because the acid in the soil will burn through it) and the removal of lupin, an invasive plant which is absolutely everywhere. The volunteers help is crucial for top tourist attractions where thousands of people go, as well as for the lesser trodden paths. It’s a fact that you can’t buy the tours that you get on the volunteer programme. I felt so, so privileged to be involved, and 100% open to experiences.

“I met the Dali Lama.” – Moran

On our first proper day off, we hitch hiked to Ingólfshöfði, an isolated headland between black sands and the Atlantic ocean. Home to thousands of sea birds, including perhaps the most adorable bird in the world…ever…the puffin. The strange place is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingólfur Arnarson, who spent his first winter there. Before I talk more about birds and stuff though, I want to mention to lovely French couple who picked up Tom and I in their campervan. (They were, as it happens, going to exactly the same place as us!) They were so sweet, and kept on stopping so we could take pictures.

They kept on asking us to speak slower, which was, I have to say it, utterly adorable. They even offered us lunch, pulling out a table for us to sit at. Tom eagerly took up their offer of salmon, butter and bread. I passed on the salmon but scoffed a banana.

We were all herded onto a hay cart that was pulled by a tractor, and started to make our way across vast swathes of inky black sand.



I was so tired, I kept falling asleep, despite the wind battering my head and the horrendous bumps and the excitement of being on a hay cart, in Iceland, being pulled through perhaps the most surreal scenery I had ever seen. After a steep climb, we started our guided 2-3 km tour. The enthusiastic guide pointed out ravens and guillemots, great skuas, razorbills and the adorable dumpy, yet fast puffins.




Check out this link to see some of the things we saw:

On the way home, we were lucky and after walking a few kilometres, managed to get picked up by a bus load of American students. They were travelling around Scandinavia, studying architecture. Why they were in Iceland is beyond me. The architecture, well, from my point of view, it isn’t anything to really sing home about. Anyway, these yanks loved our English accents, which was entertaning to say the least.

At 11pm, Tom packed beer and I packed chocolate and tea and we headed up onto the heath, where we hoped we’d catch sight of an Arctic Fox. We had the landscape to ourselves, and it was the most relaxed I had felt since arriving in Iceland. We went back to our tent at 3am. It was still light. There was a light covering of frost over everything. We didn’t see an Arctic Fox, but it really didn’t matter. We had heard them barking.

3 things I want to do when I get back to England:     

  1. 1.      Knit an Icelandic jumper.
  2. 2.      Have tea in a proper cup.
  3. 3.      Have a shower for 6 minutes instead of 5.