Honors Abroad Travel Dispatches
(ordered alphabetically by last name)
The pace of Reykjavik moves like that of a slow yet joyful turtle, floating along paths made for all gentle souls. I find uptown to be particularly plentiful of traffic as I see persons biking through intersections with wheels propelled by an aura of confidence. They are unaware of how much moxie they have running through their guts. Those on foot follow the cut, holding their own in an environment that requires no defense. The unwritten cultural rules mandate for Icelanders both an unsaid selfishness and a lack of familiarity with the pleasure of sloth.
While my initial judgments are prone to be skewed, the behaviors of Icelanders seem to exist as a functioning paradox. The subjects that I have admired from the street are open yet private, friendly yet quiet, and determined yet relaxed. From this evidence, I have come to the conclusion that Icelandic people embody much of what American exceptionalists believe they have themselves, or secretly strive for with great insecurity. As the United States fights its way through maintaining a capitalistic system, Iceland succeeds in maintaining order amongst its people through an understanding of what goods and services are necessary for survival.
Head Chef Dennis holds his expectations high as he stands before his four underlings, who all wonder how they found themselves with such a challenge. He delivers his orders and commands with great confidence; the subordinates respond with reluctant acceptance. There is no time to dilly dally, for it is feeding time.
The vegetables are cut with exact precision. None of the sous have received the task of shaving asparagus with a blade sharper than a body razor, but today is that day. They succeed in doing so, removing stems and skin of green, but the tasks pile on. Cukes are chopped, dressing is dripped, and of course, the lettuce is massaged with such care, one might think the kitchen is an all-inclusive spa; but it’s not, for it is feeding time.
As the clock rides nearer to nine, the masses grow impatient, demanding, “where is my food?” The fish are cut and prepared under the duress of the impending anger of the crowd’s digestive systems, but the process goes no faster. The poor soul donned with fish duty bears little power to the stench of the wild, yet he and others surpass expectations, for it is feeding time.
Upon our return from Iceland, the group visited an exhibit on Native American History in Maine. It had what one would expect a space attempting to dissect a marginalized community has: physical materials, hung images, and descriptions written by the curators. The content of the work illustrated the pain of a people who were eradicated through a physical and cultural genocide, but such depictions of Native American traditions were full of pride, rather than pity.
I once spoke to one of my classmates about her interest in museum studies. Naive of the ethical issues that exist within the museum world, I was surprised to find out that while such institutions can help to preserve the historical importance of cultures, they can also quite easily leave a smudge of dirt that did not gleam before. Such blemishes can be anything from putting significant items in improper context to unlawfully taking artifacts from native communities.
While I did not receive this feeling from the visit, I believe that it is essential to take into consideration that when visiting an exhibit, you are viewing a constructive truth, meaning that there lies a subjective message in the arrangement.
Past, Present, Future, Present
Days pass, and I find myself at a modestly furnished playground on Munjoy Hill, overlooking the smokestacks of the baked bean factory. The youth play under the protection of their parents. Most of the parents appear to be young and enthused to be around their rambunctious spawn as they watch them, thrashing amongst the wood chips and metal constructions with no care of potential repercussions.
Looking at children playing without burden yet full of joy is like looking into an adjacent reflection of the past. It manages to pull the heartstrings and play into a yearning for a simpler time, a pride of progress, and a hope for the future that everything will be fine and dandy.
I observe a mother hold her daughter by the head and place a kiss upon her forehead as an award for completing a reasonably unexceptional task. My parents probably treated me in a similar way, praising me for just about anything I do, no matter how realistically minuscule the accomplishment may be. Often, I reject their admiration and render it inauthentic, but now that I spur on the verge of adulthood, I cannot imagine a life without their unconditional confidence for me.
Blue Seas and Cloudy Skies -- Adventures in Grindavik Iceland
Imagine 18 people sleep deprived on a medium sized white bus. An older man sitting up front holding a microphone telling students to constantly look left and right and left again out the windows on the bus. The bus then abruptly stops and the students, single file, leave the bus. What they see perks up their tired eyes and brings a smile to their faces. The wind blows cool air into our faces, brightening up our bodies as we feast your eyes on the views of the huge dark blue waters. The stones stick up so jagged but yet natural. We climb above on the steep, dry and stone filled mountain to uncover the view of the whole shore, the white crashing waves against the large moss filled rocks below. The sounds of camera shutters and crying seagulls. I peer over the edge to reveal more moss covered rocks and deep dark water. The sun peeks through the cloudy grey sky, we all squint in the group pictures. We were rejuvenated by the sun and saltwater, it wiped away our sleepy eyes.
Iceland -- Please Climb On The Rocks
To wander is to explore without the plans of doing something for a specific reason. Walking around and see what lays beyond the dark slightly organized rocks. Uncertain of what we will face. The uneven jagged rocks pose as an adventure, the fear of being yelled by those who pass, “don’t climb on the rocks!” But we don’t experience that, we are cheered on for doing what is not the beaten path. The sun has a power over us, its rays provide us with the warmth and push for our true happiness. When we stand on the rocking boat deep in the ocean, we have to embrace the sun. Its glorified feeling brings smiles to all of our faces, we squint to make out each other. We find ourselves in our best state, happy and cheerful. The chipper conversations spread to others and soon we are all talking about the same amazing trip we are on. Being present in the moments. So while in Iceland, please climb on the rocks and enjoy the sunshine.
“It’s only a 15-minute walk from the pool to the hostel”
Before heading back to America, the crew (Lea, Katherine, Stephen and myself) decided to go on one last excursion. While everyone else was in the hostel packing up and taking power naps, we went to the local geothermal pool. On arrival, we scoped the scene, 4 hot tubs and a larger pool, what caught our eyes was a green water slide. Our inner child came out when we realized that the slide was open. It was calling our names. The rush of adrenaline when we thrust ourselves down on our backs, picking up speed and the flying sensation of sliding off and into the warm water. We all come out of the water with huge smiles and loud laughs. Our American accents echoed in the Icelandic pool. We were the outsiders. But we had each other and we were able to share this moment. We all shared this trip together, hanging out, staying up late talking. Being around Lea, Katherine, and Stephen made me so happy, the contagious happiness that we all shared, we all got so close with this trip. We will forever be able to share stories that bring smiles to our faces and warmth to our hearts. And I will continuously be grateful for that.
The chronicles of the coffee drinking trio
“I’ll have an iced latte with soy milk and vanilla please” was stated three times in many coffee shops across Portland and around Iceland. Stopping once or twice a day to order and relish in our midday treat! Coffee and food are major ways to connect with those around you. Grabbing a coffee and chatting or catching up is a way to spend time with those special to you. In our case coffee was a way to have a small break in the day. Treating ourselves with the cool sweet taste of coffee. Food is a way to tie people together, bringing people together for moments of intimacy and conversation. Meals slow down people, to be present and to enjoy the food given and the people you are with. Coffee dates and planning when to get stop next. Being a college student who has to budget for coffee isn’t such a bad thing. Especially if there are two people behind me in line doing the same thing. “You will know if I haven’t had my coffee…”
Sweet and Salty
Interfering with the intense smell of sulfur, a small cafe situated near the Hallgrimskirkja church invades the noses of passersby, inviting them in for a sweet change to the saltiness of Iceland. The cafe’s walls are painted an astoundingly bright yellow, topped with a deep blue roof, and even a small rooftop patio for visitors to sit and enjoy their goods. Inside, there is a chaotic vibe; pictures and plants clutter the walls and floors, and the building itself is very narrow, leaving little walking space. People traveling in and out of the cafe must plan their routes accordingly. However, outside there seems to be an overwhelming calmness. Going to the top of the cafe onto the roof, the wind is light and the sun is out. Goods sold here include different types of coffee or hot chocolate to drink, cheesecake, chocolate cake, brownies, cookies, and, of course, Icelandic skyr cake. These items are all rich with flavor. Biting into a piece of cheesecake, there is an airiness combated by a heavier flavor of cheese and sugar. The coffee is strong and acidic so that only those who truly enjoy coffee can drink it.
“Don’t worry, they don’t sting,” the man says in an attempt to comfort the girl, although to no avail. Black and yellow striped balls of fur continuously whip through the air, creating a harsh buzzing noise in the ears of all they pass. It is a busy sound. They have an important role here at the greenhouse, and are very welcomed by most, while simultaneously serving as a figure of terror for others. Plump red tomatoes are produced as a result of their efforts, brining a whole new meaning to the term “fruits of labor.” Biting into their tomato, it is soft and somewhat chewy, and provides an intense experience, as a burst of juice immediately assaults the mouth. The whole affair is rather pleasant, even for the girl who would strive to avoid the bees’ touch. Although bees may evoke anxiety, they are also Earth’s critical helpers, making sure flowers and plants grow as they should, even in such extreme places as Iceland.
Outside, the rain harshly beats at the ground and umbrellas of the people walking by. The pitter-patter is even heard while inside the library, amplified by the silence of people reading and trying to get work done. A man dressed in old, tattered clothes comes in for shelter. “Oh come on, there are no more seats,” he says. Apparently many others seek respite from the rain here as well, for it seems to be a good place to sit and relax; art can be found all over, alongside countless stories. Essentially, the world is at the tips of everyone’s fingers residing inside. The statues specifically create a sense of intrigue, eliciting curiosity. A couple stops on their way into the shelter to gaze at one statue’s beauty and attempt to draw meaning. Hanging from the wall are dozens of people-like figures with wings, creating an aura of hope and security that people can look up to. Overall, the library serves as a place of charm, imagination, and refuge.
“You’ll find weird things here,” a woman warns those on the bottom. Up on the top, others smile and take in the smell of salt and the cool, moist breeze that blows back the girls’ hair, leaving their eyes to experience everything. They notice the astounding view of Portland, with its various buildings and houses visible at an unusual angle. It is similar in appearance to Reykjavík, Iceland, though different in many ways. They are less likely to pay mind to the “weird things,” and direct their attention to the views. The bottom level is much different, with a more industrial look. Rust covers the walls, dirt rests on the windows, and exposed wires hang from the ceiling. The view is more at eye level, giving less. While the view is not the same, it is a warm place to go for those who forgot their jackets. This warmth combined with the slight swaying rocks some to sleep. The third stop is when the woman’s warning comes into play. The passengers on the bottom watch with curious eyes as a golf cart is delivered to Diamond Cove.
The people that came here before us beheld quite a sight. The unspoiled land before them sprawled out beneath their feet, untouched and uninhabited. The power of their gods was right before their eyes. They witnessed them in the roar of Gullfoss, in the green of the flatlands, in the crags of mountains, and in the steam of the hot springs. They probably stood where we do now, at the edge of a cliff, looking out. The air is cold but comfortable, working in tandem with the atmosphere it surrounds. There are no smokestacks, but stacks of steam. The steam reaches skyward, a signal of warmth recognizable for generations. Miles upon miles of volcanic rock covers Iceland, the same Iceland that was discovered thousands of years ago. Iceland is growing in size and in popularity, finally accommodating the magnitude of its culture. Staring out from the cliff, one is forced to think. We admire the same land the Vikings did so long ago, revering it in the same ways Iceland has changed, but Iceland has stayed the same.
Blisters are probably forming on tired feet. Yet, the walking continues. Excitement in their eyes and curiosity in their hearts keeps them walking ever onward. The soft, pinkish and yellow glow of the sun sits stubbornly on the horizon, no matter the time it refuses to go down. The cold air of the night time is like a snap, the fog of warm breath sits heavily on the air. Walking west, a crew of four travels the road to a destination unknown, all that matters is the journey. They laugh at something someone says, and the joyous sound rings out across the flat, rocky landscape. Mountains loom in the distance, but they are not foreboding. More like they are protective, just like they were for the early Icelanders all those years ago. “Maybe if we run for it, we can make it there?” she said. “You’ll run for eleven miles?” he said. “I’m going to miss this place,” she said. They all laugh, nod, and agree. This place has changed them all, made them close. They turn around, the weight of reality hitting them. “We walked pretty far,” she said. They agreed again and turned towards home.
To take flight as a bird would be a wondrous thing. She soars through the sky on red woven wings. The cold wind high in the sky blows her feathers taut against her face. The cold would never faze her though, for she has freedom. She has the freedom of a journey, one of the purest kinds. She can fly anywhere in the world. She can observe the art and the history of a people displayed in any museum from all over the world, from the Vikings of Iceland to Indigenous tribes of Maine. She can compare the art of cultures. Icelandic art and Penobscot art show the importance of fishing to their respective cultures. She can compare religion and spirituality of nations. Both Iceland and Maine were changed forever when white Christians came to their lands, spreading the word of their god as the one true religion. To travel is to see, and to see is to learn. To take flight as a bird would be a wondrous thing.
The salty air wraps everything on the coast in a cool embrace. The white and gray granite rocks that make up the Atlantic beach are so familiar. The sun is finally peeking out of the clouds after a drizzly morning. The Atlantic coastline is one that could be found in Maine or in Iceland, but the fir trees that frame the ocean reminds us of our stateside residence. Sometimes, similarities strike me, like today. How the cold breeze tousles hair, how the houses here are colorfully aligned, and how friendly conversations between us always stay the same. Maine and Iceland are not the same, but on days like these, I see the geological overlap. Iceland might lack the naturally growing forests, but it is a place that, as a traveler, I will never forget. Maine might lack the neverending sun and the geothermal geysers, but it always will be home.
A city like Portland, designed and rebuilt to capture the eye of any tourist. While not too far in the distance lies the country similar to Dayton. The birds chirping and the ocean side brings home back into the heart yet the rocky rigid land is a reminder of some type of alien planet. The remains of possible ancestors lurk close behind, demanding to be seen. Yet the waterfalls, Blue Lagoon, and overall landscape keep the mind of the tourist busy. One minute feet and calves lost in a sea of grass. The next, toes touching sand while surrounded by tectonic plates. It is usually quiet here except when you go to certain places, like Grindavíkurbær where the ocean storms and whistles. A land of fire and ice, battling to override the other. There are many places that are great to see while being a tourist yet it is only when one starts to look closely and travel the opposite way that they will start to see the true beauty of this land we call Iceland.
No matter where you travel in the world, residents will always have their own unique beliefs. “For lads, there will be beautiful female elves. For ladies, there will be handsome male elves. It is important that one does not follow or else they will not return.” Also, four guardian spirits rule and protect the land of Reykjanes peninsula, these are Bergrisinn, Berglind, Brimir, and Reykjanes-Skotta. Bergrisinn is almost as old as the land itself and the protector. Even though he is very large, he knows how to hide and can easily disappear into the landscape. He is known to sleep for long periods at a time but has recently woken up. Berglind is most interested in living aspects such as plant life and animals. She feels for all things and knows the importance of taking care of the small things in order to keep the whole beautiful. Brimir is the guard of the sea, sea life, and the beaches. Lastly, Skotta is the guard of Geocamp. She wants to be like the other guardians but finds it hard because of her temper. One day after an earthquake erupted, she jumped through it onto land and has been here ever since.
Wabanaki people have lived in Maine for a good amount of time and continue to live here. A belief of theirs is that there is a figure, called Glooscap (other ways it is spelled is Gluskabe, Glooskap, Gluskabi, Kluscap, Kloskomba, or Gluskab.) He name means “man who came from nothing” and there are many different folktales between the tribes on how he came to be. Overall he taught the people ho to make tools, how to live, and how to understand/respect the land, water, and all living things. He helped a lot of people and was a protector of all things nature related. He was also known to be a warrior against evil and Abenaki people believed that his twin brother was Malsumis, who was the opposite of his brother and sought out to create evil every day. Glooscap is even thought to have brought fire, tobacco, fishing nets, and canoes which were all very high priced and valuable items. In a lot of ways, Wabanaki people and Icelandic people would find similar qualities in their protectors of the land and the ways they helped guide others.
A fire growing within myself, eyes rolling from side to side. Yet Casco Bay seems to force serenity, a comforting stillness. The smell of the ocean climbs both nostrils, sending me back to the time my toes were sinking in sand. A map shows us our destination but my heart begs for more. A bird flies around, lost in the man-made structure while a stranger tries to help it out. As time draws nearer people rush in and out of the automatic doors. Sitting on the boat, skin screams with happiness soaking in the breeze that passes. A building that appears modern but is covered in history. The chill down my spine brings me back to the moment, a freeing feeling. Though the ocean appears scary, there is something about it that is soothing. “I wish I would have stayed home” speaks the fear, “and miss this opportunity to experience?” strikes the courage.
Fly Fly Away
Standing in the middle of the tourist section of town, I stop and pause to smell the air. The scent of salt water filled the air and a hint of the gravel scent sneaks its way into my nose. Families pass by on bikes and the working class pushes their way through in their coats. Then it hits me, I am in Iceland. The people are running around me speaking a language I do not know and rushing to places I have never seen. It is as if I am a fish completely out of water and looking for a way to safety. However, as I stand here and reflect I realize that I am not scared and not that fish. Rather I am a bird with wings that is ready to fly to new heights to see the world. My mind wanders back from the clouds and my feet regain their consciousness of the sidewalk. And then I looked up. At that moment, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
“Wow,” said the man in the big German tour group that strolled by. Wow is a universal word for something that is so breathtakingly beautiful that the rest of your lexicon escapes you. Standing with one's feet in the lava-rock gravel, the hum of tourists and their snapping cameras is the most audible thing one can hear. However, when looking deeper, the quiet swoosh of the water can be heard. While faint, the sound is the most powerful of them all. It connects every visitor there and every aspect of the environment. The noise is complemented by the soaked rocks and the smell of fresh rain. The beauty is instantly apparent to the eye, but with closer inspection, the true purpose of the nature can be revealed. People connecting to the place is its purpose, and with all of its touches, it does it perfectly. The water falling on the rocks draws the humans eyes first, then their ears, then their hearts. All while showing the beauty of what needs to be protected.
A four-letter word with the most profound meaning. Home can be a safe haven or one’s worst nightmare. Homes can be big or homes can be small. The lakes region in Southern Maine is a home. It is home to people, businesses, animals, forests, and so much more. In these summer months, it becomes a getaway for people from all over, but it is still home to those who live there. Those who reside around the east side of the lake can be seen getting angrier as the traffic increases or as the lines in the grocery store get longer and longer. However, it is their home and they love it even when it is filled with those from away. The smell of the freshwater and wet grass still fills the air and the clouds still frame the blue sky perfectly. The sand and dirt still get stuck in between children's toes as they run up and down the treacherous beachline at the state park. The people of the Sebago area fall more and more in love with their home even with the tourists aimlessly wandering through. Their connection to this place will never be matched and can never be taken away.
The constant hum of the engine rattles the eardrums and the seat below. Boats all operating at different speeds pass by and the slightest nod by their captains gives affirmation of the boat’s presence. People are in a constant flow in and out of the boat. Some people are older couples holding hands and staring off into the blue and gray distance. Some people are young, traveling with only a dog and a backpack. Each person on the ferry is drastically different from the next. The constant on the ferry is the beauty of the surrounding nature. Every island’s coastline is rocky with the trees appearing to shoot up out of their crevasses. The houses stand at a distance from the coast, but the occasional house stands directly over the water on thick wooden stilts. The smell of the salt air lingers no matter what level of the boat the passenger stands on. The boat rocks back and forth like a mother rocking her child to sleep. All is calm and all is right on this boat. It is as if there is a sliver of peace in this chaotic world.
It's altogether breathtaking and humbling to stand between two tectonic plates. Jagged stone cliffs rise above, coarse black sand and volcanic stone filling the space. Small scatterings of sharp beach grass do their best to grow in what feels like a battleground between two sides of the earth. Our guide Oli, a wonderful man, talks about the age of the stone around us while pointing out interesting features. He mentions that the plates move about 1 centimeter per year. That sure feels like a lot of movement for something the size of continents. The breeze has a beautiful salty freshness that you can only get from vast stretches of untouched land near the ocean. It feels cold as it bites my exposed skin, but the sheer power I feel from my surroundings makes it barely noticeable. Like I’m standing between the ribs of a giant. We walk over a footbridge between the two sides of the plates, watching the scar of black sand stretch out between them. It feels timeless, as if hundreds of years from now someone would see and feel the same sense of personal insignificance looking across this rugged landscape.
“Skyr cake is a sort of Icelandic yogurt cake, but it’s not yogurt.” While the barista in this hole in the wall coffee shop isn’t a convincing salesman, I need to know the taste. It's almost eggshell colored, with a cheesecake-like texture about it, but smoother. A deep red sauce coats the top, with nothing identifying it to a specific berry. The flavor is certainly yogurt-like, but sweeter, with a nice ripe strawberry hint to finish. Reykjavik keeps surprising with its odd mix of antiquity and progression with old buildings, Viking statues, and ice-capped mountains right next to trendy coffee shops, almost constant Wi-Fi, and comfortable weather. You can see where the influx of tourism has paid off, but the city hasn’t lost its soul in the process. The people all seem warm and inviting, always patient with mispronunciations, almost glad you at least tried. There is an unbreakable optimism, proof that even though Iceland has a beautiful but harsh landscape, the people will always strive to make the best of it. The visit ends at a concert hall with an amazing shape, the sides looking like fish scales, translucent and radiant. It’s all truly art in its own way.
“Is this what they used to cut people's limbs off?” What a thing to overhear while looking at old medical tools, but the facts point to yes. The medical equipment shared space with an old women’s rights movement exhibit and a Native American exhibit, an eclectic assortment to be sure. The Native American exhibit was especially interesting, as it had a heavy focus on basket weaving. On one display its noted that the selling of the baskets helped keep the tribe going financially, and it's immediately obvious why this worked. The detail and craftsmanship are amazing, with braided twists and flips weaving in and out an immaculately intricate design. The amount of time this must have taken boggles the mind. So much culture and depth, shown in these works of art, is frankly vivid. A strong sense of reclaiming what was almost lost. The rain is immediately noticeable after stepping outside of the historical museum, just persistent enough to remind you that the weather is unpredictable here. While I'm walking, all that passes my mind is the different designs and patterns rich with history.
The mailboat rocks gently across the waves as it takes its morning trip. A crisp breeze and a grim sky stretch out, but all I can feel is excitement. The sea is a powerful primal thing that gets the blood going, even if it's just the mild rocking on a mail run. Some islands skip by while others are visited, assorted packages exchanging hands. Soda and pressed work uniforms, an anxious dog and its owner. It’s a quick visit, a shuffling of things by crane, and off we go. All the while the ship captain is giving background information on the individual places, whether its historical or moment to moment. “Off the port bow you can notice some bald eagles at the top of one of the tall pine trees, although I suppose they’re all tall.” It’s all delivered in a way that sounds like he’s smiling while he talks, holding my interest as we chug along. Here and there rocks jut out from the sea, some larger than others, some big enough to have grass and dirt on them. No rhyme or reason, but every one interesting in its own way.
Get Off My Turf
Walking around Arbaer. The old houses have grass growing on top of them, how did water not seep through the roofs? Placed at the right angle though, these roofs kept them warm during the cold winter months. Big families lived in these long turf houses. There is a big house and this is where the kitchen would be, the cows would be in here and then the bedroom would be upstairs but they called it the bathroom, not the bedroom. They don’t have houses with grass on top much anymore, but this is an engineering marvel that Icelanders take pride in from the olden days. It's fascinating to think that they were just going to tear down all of these houses but now they are a spot where a lot of tourists go to visit and it is fascinating to think that people use to live like this. Today houses are made of wood and concrete but a house could never be built of brick here because of how many earthquakes there are. So much has changed in such little time.
Friends Make All The Difference
Walking around this beautiful city of Reykjavik today, starting to think about how leaving tomorrow is going to be so hard. This experience has been one of a kind and it will truly be heartbreaking to leave. Although, thinking about the next adventure is amazing. There were so many amazing things found throughout the journey here. Some things such as a cafe which served delicious desserts and coffee which had a rooftop to sit on. One thing that was phenomenal about this trip though was this friend group displayed in the picture, we all laughed together and overall just had a fantastic time. It doesn't matter the place you go, but it does matter the people you travel with and it really matters when you are in a new place to travel with people who want to do the same things as you. There is always room to compromise and this group was all about that. Some advice for anyone as this trip comes to a close is, travel all over the world but make sure you do it with enjoyable people who want to do it with you.
Is It That Time Already?
Time goes by so fast, tick, tock, tick. Last week we were all in Iceland having the time of our lives although we were learning there was a different tone, you heard the constant laughter of college students, who were creating new friendships while still learning. Although you saw the happy college student you also saw the exhausted college student who put a smile on their face every day and kept going and kept adventuring, no minute was wasted. When vacationing you never stop you keep walking until you can no longer feel your feet, but when you’re home you don't do that. This class has been an adventure for many but we are all ready to be home and just have some time to relax. Many of us are incredibly thankful for this time abroad and wouldn't change it for the world. This clock is a reflection of the spirit of traveling and exploring new places, but it also reveals something new about yourself. It’s also an incredible reflection because the lighthouse is a reminder of home, but to be honest with you Iceland felt like home.
This boat is void of many passengers, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. It serves another purpose: to deliver mail and packages to the surrounding islands. The mail boat tour today it was very interesting. Going to a total of around 8 islands, this is incredible to think that this boat is one of the only accesses to all of these Islands and one of their only sources of food and drinks. So many people rely on this boat and if it doesn’t come everyday then they don’t have everything they need. Today there were so many different things being delivered but the strangest one was a golf cart and the way the picked it up on a crane and put it down was just simply fascinating. There was a constant noise of metal moving but it wasn’t irritating it was quite peaceful. Writing down all the thoughts in my head on paper as this class wraps up the boat is roaming back and forth now as we start our descent into shore.
This picture was taken in the Reykjavik Settlement Museum, looking up into the city. I was standing in a subterranean exhibit detailing one of the first buildings constructed in Reykjavik. This particular position captured my eye because of its distinctness compared to low, artificial lighting six feet under the pavement. The brighter outside world stood out with a dark red house looming over the glass skylight. The black text on the glass seemed to float in the air due to the clearness of the glass, next to some hovering raindrops. Also on the glass are the numbers “871 ± 2”, referring to the year the first settlers arrived in Iceland. The contrast between the dark grey clouds, the darker ceiling, and the house makes the photo have distinct sections, drawing attention inwards. It’s a viewpoint of Reykjavik that is not commonly photographed but allows any viewer to gain a unique perspective on this harshly beautiful environment.
On the way out to fish for cod, the boat stopped for a moment near the shore. On the side of a cliff face, birds were nesting on the sheer rocky wall. The sound of the waves crashing into the rock was drowned out by the roar of the engine. The rocking motion of the boat made standing more difficult, even though the boat was close to shore. The different colors of rock marked the ascent of the tides, above which the white stain of seagulls stood out. The knowledge that one could gaze at millions of years of geological history was simply amazing. Floating just below the cliff were eiders, the only type of bird people aren’t allowed to hunt in Iceland. The other birds seemed to know this as they perched high above the reach of humans. All around the boat, the brighter blue water contrasted with Maine’s oceans, another reminder that we were on the other side of a vast ocean.
In the midst of a block of old mills, a colorful fish hung in front of an equally distinctive storefront. This particular store contrasted sharply from the worn brick of the other buildings. If the fish and the blue store had been removed from the scene, the picture would have been almost entirely unremarkable. The monotony of passing cars and construction mixed with the cry of seagulls overhead. Further back down the street, a row of planted trees provided some much needed green to the dull city. Even though it’s spring, the wind is a constant reminder that winter has not been gone for long. The smell of fish carried by the wind overpowers all other scents. Rows upon rows of parked cars shortly before the fish convey a very cramped atmosphere to Portland, helped by the tourists further down the road. Drab white warehouses sitting next to the ocean bear the signs of the changing Maine seasons and weather.
At the very end of Congress Street lay two bronze plaques embedded in a boulder. On the top plaque seven names are listed, honoring Jewish soldiers from Portland who paid the ultimate price in World War Two. The bottom plaque tells the story of Jacob Cousins, the first Jewish soldier from Portland to die in The Great War. This boulder lies in an unsuspecting place at the eastern end of the city in front of a commanding view of the waterfront. No sign calls attention to it, no map lists it as a spot to stop to take a look. The rock bearing two plaques merely sits there, waiting patiently for passersby to take a look. It felt very appropriate to stumble upon this monument so soon after Memorial Day. The only thing that would complete the scene would be a distant trumpet playing the somber notes of Taps. Ultimately, this very plain marker is a solemn reminder of the price some have paid for this country. Lest we forget.
The Lesson From The Flower
So far Iceland is a beautiful place with luscious green plants along the coast. However, once you head inland those plants begin to disappear, being replaced by rocks and black sand, called basalt. Where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pulling away from each other, slowly expanding Iceland inch by inch each year, there is plenty of lava rocks and basalt on the surface. However, if you look closely at the ground you may see something beginning to bloom. This strong and resilient flower is called Túnsmár (Alsike Clover). If this flower is to survive here it needs to prove it's worth. It needs to prove that it can survive the strong winds that try and rip it up by its roots, the constant rain that tries to drown it, and the footsteps of the people who walk there that try and diminish its purpose. It survives these conditions because it must be an example to other flowers that even though the place is barren, something beautiful can come from it. Just like sometimes a tough situation can turn into something beautiful.
The One That Got Away
The breeze is cool and the sun is shining, feeling just like a warm spring sun in Maine. Today is a great day to go out on the ocean in a boat to fish for cod. The beautiful coast of Iceland with a yellow lighthouse on a cliff, white and black birds scaling the cliff side. There is a glacier in the distance, not looking as scary as yesterday when we saw it behind the tall mountains. The water turned from teal to a dark blue showing the depth of the ocean. 32 miles later we stop to fish. The fish hook on quickly. The white rod with a blue line feels a tug from the bottom, indicating that a fish has been hooked. After what feels like a long time the fish begins to come into view in the water. Then the beady eyes break the surface. It's heavy, the rod feels as if it's about to snap in half. The giant fish hangs from the rod waiting to be hooked in the other check in order to be brought upon the boat. With a flail, the hook rips open the cheek, sending the fish back into the ocean.
Many people in America believe that English is the native language and that anybody who lives here is required to speak English. However, America does not have an official language. The truth is that for many people English is a foreign language. When colonization happened, the first language was one spoken by native tribes. There were many tribes living in America and they all had their own dialect but the Maine tribes were able to communicate with each other. America has never really been a monolingual place and it is terrible that many people believe that it is and are trying to make it one. Colonization brought many different languages. The Spaniards brought over their culture and language to many different parts of the United States, just like the English did in the northern part of America, then eventually spread out to the west. However when they were spreading they pushed the natives into reservations and made them lose their native language. In between the Spanish and English coming over, Irish, Germans, and French all brought their own language to America as well. They all spoke different languages, so why is it most people want America to be a monolingual country?
Above the Tide
The humming roar of the engine drives us further into the ocean, littered with small islands. Behind the mailboat, the water turns white, leaving evidence of being disturbed. Above, the sun is hiding behind the clouds, not lighting the way. However, this doesn’t stop the Bald Eagle from soaring high in the sky to its nest that can’t be seen from the boat. The eagle flies into the forest on the cliff. But, what lies beyond the great shear wall? Other than a Bald Eagle’s nest, huge expensive houses, boats, and an old military training camp. Beyond the store, seen from the pier, there is a fence that divides Great Diamond Island in half. For the past 100 years, this fence has stood in the center, creating two separate mail stops here. On one side, many odd items get delivered, including a golf cart and slabs of granite. On the other side, supplies for a store get delivered. Paint cans and plywood make their way to their owners, continuing their journey to the final destination.
Capacity of Conversation
Tracing in solitary but piece together illustrating a joint light tone complexion. Among their similar appearance, firework-like humor balances out their admired element of tranquility. Being one of the more delayed groups to properly settle on a native homeland, their adaption toward contemporary growth is undoubtedly a bottomless bloom. Patched blankets of thought worthy artistry hug countless buildings as they stretch alongside overwhelmed alleyways. Habitually, an urgent sense of anxiety overrides the imaginative mind when entering an unknown slit between prominent buildings. Not here. The only intense feeling in this specific environment is located in frigid fingertips fighting a jacket pocket for a slight bit of warmth. Not all touristy photos are worth be deprived of each opportunity to remain at a desirable duration. By choice, savor the sugary scents of maple crepes and uncapturable mountainous landscapes. Admitting your constant need to capture another culture will place you miles away from understanding it. In those miles away, both figuratively and literally, doorways an alternative route of learning. Advice from a native extends a long way to unearth small knowledge like how Vikings utilized turf as insulation in their homes. Once the basics are grasped, everything else is encompassed with more ease.
Fellows for Fish
Lightly baked breezes flee the sky above only to delicately flush fair skin into a crimson shade. Eager to challenge any decent luck, seven lingering rods sleep at the rear of the boat anticipating a secure catch. Traveling all the way to the oceans floor and fast three reals once it touches, frequents a desired sweet spot of schools of hopeless cod. The sight of birds plummeting far below the salty surface line can be questionable. If they emerge above with a delirious scaled creature clamped in their orange beak, it is an appropriate warning to kill the motor. A feather tug turns into what feels like yanking an elephant. A sacred matter of the stronger species as good as always leaves the human with an abundance of confidence along with a palatable meal to appreciate with chosen friends. Once returned to the tennis ball green meadows coated with man placed rocks, stomachs growl for a pan seared fillet and roasted potatoes. A classic Icelandic dish that may turn fish disliking Americans into fish favoring fanatics.
Malleable metal, durable wood, and mighty rocks. Rivers, dams, and local lakes. Penobscot, Saco, and Kennebec. Initially owned by the vulnerable Wabanaki people, boundless opportunities vanish from their hardworking arms. Fewer freshwater fish to seize and little moose to utilize. The terrible sadness of the concerned tribe still wanders from shimmering lakes to flowing rivers as the English and French invade with their new colonies. They selfishly strip branches off native trees and shave them down to formulate carefully woven baskets and vibrant beaded necklaces. Both components used for profit. Darker complexion bellies starve as fair ones shoot deer and capture wild gray toned salmon. Maine should be unknown as the whitest state in America. Many citizens would not be standing on these grounds today if their ancestors didn’t search for freedom. Infrastructures and factories give the illusion of freedom, although it was just skinned off strangers. The vast Caucasian population was built on an unforgettable choice forced by men mightier by weapon supply and sacrificed by men lacking modernized strategies.
Chilled hints of sea vapor twinkle through bare lashes making it hard for tears to stay sealed in both eyes. Hassling to keep both of them peeled, a faint green line in the distance suggest a horizon of pine trees. A line that represents not only a forest located in water but also of summer homes and glorious memories. If the journey ends after the long rope wraps around a wooden dock about three times precisely, you may go. If not, take in essence of easy-going islanders waving their 354737th hello and goodbye. Peaks, Long, Cow, Diamond, or Cliff. They all share a patience that city people cannot grasp in their center city apartments. Towering piles of cardboard boxes filled with booze convey an attractive tourist destination. But also, tiny one person boats know these year-round havens. Stern plastic seats on an extensive ferry allow access to both kinds of motivation. Sitting calm contemplating what the day will bring while staring down the boats rusty chains.
Exploring the Reykjanes peninsula, I found myself unable to recognize my surroundings, unable to accurately relate them to anything else I had seen. With volcanic ash and a mountainous landscape in the distance, Iceland forces one to question the constraints of the word worldliness. Gazing around, not many people could be seen and the wind made my hair wild and my eyes teary. This peninsula also happens to be the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, where the earth in this part of Iceland is ripping apart and creating fissures in the land. In the nearly three-mile stretch where the break is occurring, the stretch mark-like fissures consist of black volcanic sand lined by rocky cliffs. The entire landscape itself appears otherworldly, almost moonlike. The charcoal-colored sand sunk in with each step, and I struggled to strike a balance between focusing on the scenery, and not falling over.
The speed of the boat on the water reduced the calmness that the ocean often provides on stunning days such as this. My stomach struggled at times to remain calm with the constant varying motion; slowing down to see the cliffs, then speeding off to reach the optimal location for fishing. Everything about the experience was both rapid and fleeting. The water, the catch, and the varying mountains and glaciers in the distance came and went before I could fully experience and remember every detail. The boat we went out on appeared to take a lot of tourists out to fish for small tours. This offers a vastly different view of fishing to outsiders than it does those on the inside. Those who rely on fishing as a livelihood, is just a small excursion to another. It’s something that they can say they’ve done, and brag about experiencing to others, instead of experiencing and relying on an industry that is so deeply rooted in a culture, that was essential.
Traveling Tourist or Touring Traveler
Too much of this country feels otherworldly. In a way, it seems like the rest of the world, or the parts I’ve seen at least, don’t seem as exciting after coming home. Although Portland and Maine itself are beautiful, it’s a different kind of beauty that feels both comforting yet also extremely predictable. Parts of Iceland’s landscape are so unique that they can’t be found anywhere else, and that’s probably what makes it such an enticing place to visit. But is something still as beautiful when it’s over commercialized and over visited? Does the added luxury and foot traffic of a place erode the authenticity in nature? Is it possible to toe the line between traveler and tourist successfully, or are they mutually exclusive? I hope that they aren’t. Both the blue lagoon and the local pools were equally as enjoyable, and I feel like it’s impossible to define yourself as just one thing or the other.
A Working Ride
So far, the mailboat ride is turning out to be a much smoother ride than our fishing tour in Iceland. Touring Casco Bay is much different than Keflavik bay, although the weather in Iceland was actually nicer. Bringing everything from bananas to vodka to a suit, the mailboat cruised along, with a few extra passengers. Growing up sailing around to various Islands around the coast of Maine, I noticed how different the islanders acted. There was this sense of community, and a certain level of friendliness, and caring for strangers, that isn’t as common on the mainland. Waving, making eye contact, and saying hello to everyone who passes doesn’t always occur in larger “community” settings. Neighbors don’t talk, or even know each other’s names. People walk by each other on the streets, with no contact. Sometimes you can get a rare smile and nod, but usually nothing more. Islanders seem to lead a different way of life. It’s been interesting watching people get on and off the boat, and spending the morning touring, and remembering
Today we ventured into Reykjavik. Óli, our tour guide, led us to the heart of the political district and shared the history of the Republic of Iceland. To put the country into perspective, Iceland is geographically the same size as Kentucky. In 2017, the population of the entire country of Iceland was only 338,349 people, a population smaller than that of the US State with the smallest population, Wyoming. One of the major differences I found was that Iceland’s “Washington DC” was not flooded with tourists or guarded with security cameras and weapons. As Óli was describing the break down of power in the parliamentary, he began describing a woman in her 40s as the Prime Minister. Katrín Jakobsdóttir was the elected leader of Iceland in November 2017. She works politically and also occasionally teaches courses at the free, public universities in Iceland. While there are several different political parties in Iceland, they set their differences aside to focus on what they do agree on and because of this, Iceland's politics are peaceful and progressive. “The furthest right-wing conservative in Iceland has similar ideas to that of a moderate liberal in the states”, Óli mentioned, “It is all about compromise.”
Be Back On The Bus In 20
Racing each other past the tourists on either side of us, we climbed every other stair to get up to get to the top of the cliff. I looked over my shoulder wearing a big grin on my face like a little kid. We needed to be back on the bus in 20 minutes, but we also couldn’t leave the Gullfoss Waterfall without seeing the view from the top. At that moment, we were running to get a better picture than the tourists at the bottom of the cliff were capturing on their selfie sticks. But in reality, we have been racing throughout the entire trip. We knew from the beginning we would only have six days in Iceland, but that just doesn’t feel like enough time. The minerals from the blue lagoon have soaked into my skin and the Icelandic landscapes have stained my memory like ink on a napkin. The beauty of the entire country and its unique culture, however, takes time to grasp. I don't think that every adventure has really soaked in yet. Maybe it will take 20 hours 20 days, or 20 months. Maybe it will require a few more trips to Iceland!
Plamu/ Polam/ Skwámek/ Salmon
“You can have political sovereignty, but you cannot have cultural sovereignty without the language.”
This quote is posted on the wall of the Maine Historical Society display. In the Wabanaki Tribe there are three different languages and when the settlers from Europe came to their land, they allowed the tribe to continue self-governance while still being considered US citizens. The current exhibit features Maine’s Native American history and one of the plaques on the wall put an emphasis on the importance of the fishing industry. Fish are sacred animals to the Wabanaki Tribe and they were hunted to support the livelihood and wellbeing of the tribe. The salmon was first discovered by tribe members off the coast of Brunswick Maine.
Fishing is also a crucial element in Icelandic culture. While Iceland cannot compete with countries who sell mass quantities of cheap, poor quality fish, they take pride in the abundance of high-quality fish that is readily available to them. On the fishing boat, the class collectively caught over 100 pounds of cod in about an hour. The fish off of the Keflavík coast was fresh and did not smell or taste “fishy” in the slightest.
Same Ocean, Different Experience
When we were in Iceland, going out on the fishing boat was an incredible and exciting experience. The sun was shining and everyone was overjoyed with happiness and laughter. It felt like we were really off of the beaten path and participating in something the locals do regularly.
On the mailboat in Casco Bay Maine we had a different task at hand. The drivers of the boat came on the radio every once in a while and the crew did not speak to us much. They were busy moving packages and delivering an assortment of things: bananas, towels, vodka, dress shirts, golf carts and more.
This boat experience was quite different from fishing in Iceland. I think a big reason for this was that the group was more spread out and there wasn’t as much to do. In Iceland, we learned how to fish and how to prepare the food after. On the Mailboat run, I felt like I was just along for the ride. It would be fun to get off at one of these islands to explore but that will have to be an adventure for another day.
Crappin’ in Crags
The surrounding landscape of Iceland is far different from Maine or any place I have ever been before. Iceland is primarily composed of volcanic rock, and it contains many wide open spaces of green where no trees reside, alongside wide spaces of volcanic rock with trace amounts of plants forming on it. Iceland is situated on the border between two tectonic plates drifting apart, and as such, there is a lot of volcanic and earthquake activity on the island. We were given a chance to explore the rocky canyon situated in between the two tectonic plates. It was a very interesting landscape, full of uneven and jagged rock formations, Black sand, and red patches of iron dust. It was such a beautiful, interesting, and unique experience that I've never been able to have before... And then our group looked over and saw a women defecating in a bush. Our tour guide was appalled. He said, "They're relieving themselves in my laboratory". It was so bizarre how someone would disrespect such an important formation of land like that, but I suppose leaving trash everywhere is just as bad. I never thought I'd see someone crapping between two tectonic plates before Iceland.
Freaky Fishing Frenzy for Filet
On Wednesday, we headed out on a fishing boat to enjoy the scenery and catch fish. It was a wide expanse of sea, on a boat that many became seasick of. Everyone who wasn't barfing got to use a fishing rod to try and hook some cod. I managed to catch three fish while the tide was changing, but I had no similar luck later in the day. By the end of the trip, several dozen fish were stewing in a pool of their own blood with their throats sliced open. Their mouths were torn by fishhooks, and their guts were spilling out of their groins. The fish butcher on deck sliced the fishes heads off and cut filet off the fish before tossing it into the ocean. One fish got tossed without cutting because it was too skinny. That fish met a gruesome end for nothing. The butcher handed the fishes intestines and stomach for another class member to hold. Watching this made me ponder just how much we are willing to throw away animal life. A somewhat gruesome thought. We then made a tasty meal out of the fish we watched the brutal executions of!
Final day of History
The final day of the Iceland Honors trip had us travel to a museum dedicated to the Vikings of old. We walked over a suspended replica of a Viking ship, listened to stories of Viking travelers, and had the opportunity to watch a movie about Leif Erikson. After all was said and done, we left the museum for a short walk to an old Icelandic house. Our travel guide Oli told us stories of Icelandic folklore about elves, trolls, and ghost stories. Including a story about a troll woman chasing a man only to be stopped by his magic cow. Learning about Icelandic history throughout the trip has been a very interesting experience, as we have had the experience to learn many new and unique stories during our stay. Such memories have only been possible thanks to the unique country of Iceland, as well as our fantastic travel guide, Oli.
Ferry of Fatigue
After getting back from Iceland, the city of Portland seemed far more mundane than before. The "city air" that tends to make me feel bad was far more noticeable than in Reykjavik, and the city seemed to be a lot dirtier than Iceland. It didn't help that post-Iceland fatigue had firmly set in by the point class started up again. Some of the museums we visited on our way back were interesting, and there were certainly beautiful locations around Maine, but it just didn't compare to the memories we had in Iceland. Our final event for the class was a boat tour around various Maine islands. It was a fairly low-key but entertaining experience. We never left the boat to explore the islands themselves, but it gave us a good opportunity to do some schoolwork to a backdrop of the waves of Maine. Despite Maine's atmosphere paling in comparison to Iceland, it still managed to hold up well despite our fatigue.
The Ocean-Clad Wall
Pale buildings, scattered trees, and artistic benches line the streets of Reykjavik. The cars are scarce for a city of this size, and for a place recognized as such a “tourist trap” there don’t seem to be many flocks of tourists at all. It feels like its own tranquil and quiet bubble of society, just happening to take the form of a city. A gentle, crisp sea breeze rolls in, carrying the faint smell of fish as I walk by a gap between buildings. Something from the other side of this gap catches my eye: an intricate blue mural covering the side of a building, depicting several giant fish, a mermaid, and a darker, more gloomy creature vaguely resembling an octopus. This is one of many murals in Reykjavik. Further along, I see a wall covered in artfully distorted animals, a shop decorated with giant leaves painted onto the wall, and a mural of a bird with a pastel trail flowing behind it. Were these murals commissioned? Were they made before anyone bought the buildings? Were the buildings designed with them? These questions linger in the back of my mind as I take in the beauty of each mural.
From the Beginning
"I caught one!"
Students swarm to the edge of the boat to see the first catch being pulled from the water - a large cod, wide-eyed and flailing. Moments later, there’s another one. Then another one, and so on until there were at least fifteen in the bucket.
Before long, the chaos moves to the hostel kitchen. A handful of people run around frantically, scrambling to prepare dinner. Several hours pass and many hungry visitors poke their heads into the kitchen to check in, but the end result makes every second worth double that. Beautifully decorated plates covered in cooked cod, lemons, and artistically placed greens make their way from the kitchen to the dining room, finally meeting everyone’s eyes.
A History Forgotten
From a shockingly young age, a belief is ingrained in our minds that American history began with the coming of European settlers. Our country’s so-called origin story is the censored version of colonization and the revolutionary war, when in reality its history dates back thousands of years before the European immigrants came to America, or even knew what it is. History refuses to acknowledge the days when English was a foreign language in America, or when the state of Massachusetts put bounties on natives’ head, making it legal and encouraged to hunt them down. Lost are many ancient names of places given by the natives, and instead, they’ve been replaced by those given by the European immigrants. It’s museums like the Maine Historical Society that protect this vital part of our country’s history from society’s push to erase it entirely. Contrary to showing us our civilization with new eyes, the best of these museums simply open our eyes to what we should have been seeing all along.
Beyond the Harbor
The streets of Portland are all too familiar with its bustling tourists, beggars, quick-strided businessmen with their airpods and briefcases, and all the other characters we’ve come to know. From the harbor is a stunning view of the sea, but between the docks and the open waters is a vast network of islands, each with a little society of its own. Aboard a mailboat, the water becomes a highway between the communities within each island, each one boasting its own unique dynamic. The hilly, forested fields of Little Diamond Island are speckled with houses with no roads or paths between them. Peaks Island is lined with narrow, sandy beaches surrounding its neighborhood spotted with vacation homes. Further out, still, Great Diamond Island could be mistaken for a summer campsite on a lake if it wasn’t for the ocean vessels just offshore from it. The privately owned Hope Island is a sight to behold, with its singular mansion and carefully placed pink trees. Each island is different than the last, serving as a reminder that the vastness and diversity of Portland doesn’t end at the harbor.