June 10, 2006
I suppose paradise is a bit subjective… and perhaps hiking up a mountainside, across wet rocks and scree, trying to write in the sideways rain on a notebook that had turned to pulp, and feeling the water squish with every step is not my idea of paradise, but to someone it would be wonderful. Someone in a straightjacket? In all honesty though, our site visit was very useful because we were studying the paths for drainage problems, and when the “drainage problem” is icy cold and rushing around your ankles every step of the way, it does make it a bit easier to spot. That was our research for the day, which actually was rather rough going but truly Icelandic (I’m not kidding about the sideways rain).
What better place to learn rock climbing than an island that is really no more than one big volcano? I gave it a go and while I didn’t make it to the top pin in the time limit, I still enjoyed it and put up a decent show for the American contingent (which is me). Later on, our guide, Einar, who is brilliant and very generous with his time, took us on a walk in the sand flats below Skaftafell National Park. In one of the photos below, Einar is on the left side, talking to our group of volunteer leaders, and surrounded by equally attentive Icelandic horses.
The story of Icelandic horses is actually one of my favorite bits of information about Iceland- when the Viking settlers arrived hundreds of years ago, they decided to keep the bloodline pure by not allowing any new horses onto the island. Any horse that leaves is never allowed to return. These laws have been strictly enforced (an impressive show of forethought) and Icelandic horses have retained a fifth gait, called the tölt, which has been lost among all other horses in the world. They are some of the most sure-footed horses anywhere, and are amazingly inquisitive. Because the only indigenous land mammal in Iceland is the arctic fox, the horses have led a very protected life here… they are not prey animals, as horses in other countries often are. They came right up to us as we walked, sniffed our backpacks, pranced around and played around us as we walked the edge of the old sea wall and the sand flats, weaving in and out of our group as if we were just friends who had stopped by for a frolic. And when Einar would stop and begin sharing the history of the area with us, they would fill in behind and wait patiently. It was beautiful!
But today I picked up my first batch of green volunteers who will be working on several areas of the river/path to put in stone drains that will divert the deluge and also be sympathetic to the immediate environment. So we hope!