Iceland in March: Environment, Photography & Aurora Hunting

Iceland in March: Environment, Photography & Aurora Hunting

By Ava Kabouchy – Photography & Travel Website

There are some ways to journey and discover a distinct nation. To fulfil a childhood dream of experiencing the northern lights, the aurora borealis, Ava Kabouchy visited Iceland as a volunteer and took part in environmental initiatives. Between whale recognizing, trash assortment, pictures classes and snow mountaineering, she discovered extra about Iceland than on a standard vacation. Here’s her inspirational account:

It all began with Sister Adelaide

When Sister Adelaide informed us eight-year-old third graders in regards to the aurora borealis in geography class at St. Brigid’s School in North Bergen, New Jersey so a few years in the past, I used to be enthralled on the concept of the night time sky lighting up in inexperienced. In my class picture that 12 months, I used to be sporting a glass pendant reduce like prism to point out all the colors of the sunshine. I referred to as it my ‘aurora borealis’ necklace, and puzzled if sometime I’d see the aurora for actual.

A special form of journey to Iceland

But my journey to Iceland wasn’t solely about seeing the aurora; it was additionally about becoming a member of a workcamp organized by SEEDS, an NGO primarily based in Reykjavik, which organizes workcamps for worldwide volunteers to dwell and work collectively on a challenge that has been recognized by a local people. Projects primarily concentrate on nature, comparable to constructing mountaineering trails or strolling paths, and collaborating in reforestation, or are targeted on the surroundings as my workcamp was. Impossible to spend prolonged quantities of time outdoors in mid-March in Iceland, we workcamp members within the Environmentally Aware and Trash Hunting Project, did two clean-up initiatives in Reykjavik.

(SEEDS is affiliated with SORPA, a community-based group is answerable for waste assortment and administration within the Reykjavík space with different native stakeholders. Organic kitchen waste, blended family waste, paper and cardboard, and plastic packaging are all fastidiously managed because of citizen concern)

We volunteers had been amazed to find what number of bits of plastic particularly we collected on and underneath the melting snow alongside streets in Reykjavik. Two volunteers had been wanted to hold the heavy burlap bag into which we had all put our discovered items, together with a really giant variety of cigarette butts. The clean-up reminded all of us how shortly and simply small items of plastic and different trash accumulate and what hurt is being achieved to the surroundings, along with the unsightliness of all of it. A cigarette butt can take from eighteen months to 10 years to decompose and we had picked up many.

Plans to take part in a meals distribution program, sadly, needed to be cancelled as a result of dangerous climate prevented meals from being delivered to its vacation spot. A robust fishing business exists in Iceland and solely 2.5% of the inhabitants faces starvation, a exceptional statistic that has not elevated since 2000. However, single moms and people unemployed due to the covid pandemic stay probably the most weak populations, for whom the meals was meant.

Ég tala ekki íslensku

One afternoon after our second assortment of trash and disposing of it, we had been invited to an Icelandic language course for a big group of immigrants and refugees confronted with studying a language that should be exceedingly troublesome to be taught. The instructor supplied learners with many alternative instructing modalities – a brief video of a household at dinner, a tune in regards to the days of the week and months of the 12 months, and instructor to scholar questions. People within the course got here from many elements of the world, and as I checked out two Muslim girls, presumably refugees from Iraq, I puzzled how that they had managed to get to Iceland, however much more so, how they had been adjusting to such an excessive change of tradition and local weather. Most of the scholars stored their winter coats and hats on regardless that the room was very heat whereas outdoors frequent snow squalls had been nonetheless taking place in March.

We volunteers had been handled to a one-hour language class simply to be taught easy phrases, none of which might I bear in mind because the instructor practiced with our small group: Where do you reside? Hvar býrðu? I don‘t converse Icelandic: Ég tala ekki íslensku. Fortunately for the group, our widespread language was English.

Purposeful initiatives

All of our days with SEEDS had been stuffed with actions, which included after-dinner workshops on {photograph} composition, lighting, and modifying. Each of the volunteer instructors gave us assignments comparable to composition after which we frolicked taking pictures, sending them to the teacher, and having them critiqued throughout the group. After our last dinner collectively, every participant confirmed ten of her finest pictures, and lots of of them had been actually wonderful.

Another exercise was a go to to the Whales of Iceland exhibition with life-size creations of whales and information about every one. A movie was proven of the various completely different species of whales, which included whale tune to which we listened whereas sitting comfortably on giant pillows on the ground. The exhibition is academic, reminding folks of the affect people have on the existence of whales. At the residence we seen a video about dying coral reefs in Australia, the Florida Keys, and different locations the place the 1.1⁰C diploma rise in temperature of the water, brought on by international warming, has all however put an finish to the reefs within the Keys, now bleached white due to the shortage of life inside them.

Geothermal energy

If you aren‘t an engineer or a scientist, you may not discover a go to to a geothermal plant fascinating, however this was Iceland, which makes use of imported oil just for transportation and fishing, certainly one of its most important pure sources. We discovered on the Hellisheiði Power Plant that in 1940 to 1975, Iceland started utilizing geothermal, a renewable vitality supply.

Amazingly, 73% of Iceland‘s electrical energy is produced by hydropower vegetation and virtually 27% is produced by geothermal vitality. When a drill is put into the bottom close to certainly one of Iceland‘s almost 600 sizzling springs, the steam is used to run the generators which distribute the new water to cities and cities. The temperature of the steam is 180C/356F. Electricity is produced by hydro-power, and 70% of the nation‘s vitality consumption is from renewable sources, a exceptional statistic.

The fantastic thing about Iceland. It actually is all it’s cracked as much as be

After visiting the plant, our younger driver and information from Portugal, Luis, a useful long-term volunteer, drove us to the Geysir Geothermal Area to see a few of the geysers which give the nation‘s sizzling water for heating houses and different areas. We noticed steaming fumaroles brought on by the boiling water which runs just some toes beneath the earth‘s floor and the geyser, which usually shoots steam and boiling water excessive into the air. (Geysir is definitely an Icelandic phrase, which has turn out to be a phrase used internationally.) Nearby was the Gullfoss Waterfall, giving us an concept of the facility of hydropower, a spectacular sight underneath a blue sky the place every part else was pure white. We hiked alongside the rim of the Burfell Crater and regarded down on the frozen lake within the crater beneath us, robust winds howling round us.

On our manner again to Reykjavik, we noticed a small herd of Icelandic horses – small however robust animals with a double coat to maintain them heat within the very lengthy and harsh winter. Brought to Iceland by the Vikings within the eighth century, the horses by legislation can’t be imported with the intention to hold the breed pure and illness free. If an Icelandic horse is exported, it’s not allowed to return again. And they’re very pleasant to guests.

Volcanic cliffs, howling winds, whale recognizing and snow mountaineering

Our second tour took us to Snaefellsnes National Park, situated on a peninsula in west Iceland the place March winds blowing over the cliffs made us tread fastidiously as we watched excessive surf crashing in opposition to the volcanic cliffs. And as we watched, we noticed the again of a whale emerge, a tremendous web site, which was like a present from nature to us. Earlier we had walked to a seashore the place we noticed quite a few seals sunning themselves on lava rocks within the ocean. On the seashore was the skeleton of the backbone of a whale.

And as if these sights hadn‘t been sufficient, we then hiked within the snow to a cave within the blue and white panorama to see a river flowing inside it. From there we hiked right down to a black sand seashore bordered by black volcanic monoliths protruding out of the white snow and others standing within the sea, being battered by excessive winds and excessive seas. The solar got here out and went away, a snow squall got here and went away. The day continued with a go to to an 18th century church seemingly in the midst of nowhere, with no homes to be seen, and solely a small cemetery subsequent to the church . We had been pushed onward the place blue was the dominant color, a chilly blue, no different autos in sight as gentle snow continued to fall.

As our van approached Kirkjufell Mountain, its iconic magnificence might be seen even from a distance. High and looking out very like a peaked hat, some snow nonetheless coated it and beneath it two waterfalls cascaded.

Reflections on a distinct form of go to to Iceland

Of course you’ll be able to go to the Blue Lagoon and Skogafoss Waterfall and Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, behind which you’ll be able to stroll, and sleep within the bubble lodge ready for the aurora to look at any second within the night time sky. But this was a distinct form of Icelandic expertise.

I left feeling admiration for the younger program members, all younger girls by probability from Italy, Greece, France, Mexico, Germany, Portugal, and the U.S. ranging in age from 17 to 23 (for those who don’t depend the participant from the U.S. who was considerably older.) Some had simply completed highschool and had been doing a niche 12 months to journey not solely as vacationers, however as younger girls taken with organizations comparable to SEEDS and the environmental work it’s doing. Some had been already enrolled in college, or had completed college, and had been taking a niche 12 months for a similar purpose.

Their pursuits had been in developmental economics and humanitarian work, artwork, enterprise start-ups, drugs, and medical analysis. Not admiring their enthusiasm for his or her time in Iceland together with their future plans and targets was inconceivable. During meal prep or simply sitting within the widespread space, I talked with a few of these younger girls and admired their independence, their plans for his or her futures, and their considerations in regards to the surroundings and what might be achieved to maintain it clear and produce it again to well being.

Concern exists amongst Icelanders and its authorities that over-tourism is harming the nation’s fragile surroundings. Justin Bieber, who produced a video within the valley the place the Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls are situated, introduced a lot tourism to that space that the federal government needed to shut it for some time. Bieber‘s antics, comparable to skateboarding atop a crashed aircraft and rolling down a moss-covered hill had been being imitated by vacationers, inflicting not solely hazard to themselves however to the surroundings – moss can take as much as 70 years to develop and it was being destroyed.

Swimming outdoors whereas it was snowing

We spent our final full day speaking and stress-free within the widespread lounge. I had heard in regards to the outside thermal swimming pools close by and determined that will be an effective way to spend my final afternoon in Reykjavik. A brief distance to stroll within the snow, I went into one of many swimming pools the place folks sat in water, geothermically heated in fact at a temperature of 44C/110F.

When it felt it was time for a swim, I walked within the chilly to the big lap pool the place the water was comfortably and naturally heated, did some laps, then returned to the sitting pool. The air temperature was 2C/33F, and it was snowing. I regarded up on the snow and marvelled at what I used to be experiencing – being outdoors in Iceland within the snow and in naturally heated swimming pools. Back for some laps, again to heat up within the pool, extra laps…

As I walked again to the home, refreshed and relaxed, it was snowing, a delicate snow this time, not a squall.

Back to Sister Adelaide

I did see the aurora borealis. Getting out of the van with seven different folks on a really chilly and really windy March night time in Kleifarvatin, the dream of an enthralled eight-year-old got here to life. I put my gloved palms over my face and simply stared upwards. Green lights within the sky simply as I had imagined them, completely different styles and sizes, shades of sunshine inexperienced and darker inexperienced. They would disappear. They would return. Fourth of July fireworks might by no means have in contrast. This was pure, this was nature at her most interesting.

I bear in mind Sister Adelaide’s lengthy Dominican behavior and wimple, which coated her face. When we third graders turned fifth graders, we heard a hearsay that Sister Adelaide had left the convent, which didn’t shock any of us as a result of we might simply how fairly she was. Today I ponder if all these years in the past if Sister Adelaide was enthralled by the imaginative and prescient of the aurora borealis and that she, too, noticed it as I did and skilled the surprise of inexperienced lights dancing within the northern skies.

Interesting information about Iceland

Beer was unlawful till 1989. Iceland has no navy – no air drive, no military, no marines.

Getting there

Well-priced tickets on Icelandic Air, very quick and environment friendly examine in. Flybus on the airport makes many stops. Just inform the driving force the title of your lodge.

Where to remain

Nupan Deluxe close to Keflavik Airport; good place to relaxation earlier than your journey dwelling, €59 an evening, about $64.

Where to eat

You have many selections within the centre of Reykjavik.

SEEDS Volunteer program

If you have an interest in volunteering with SEEDS in Iceland, right here is the web site: 

I discovered SEEDS via, which gives quite a few volunteer alternatives all over the world. There isn’t any higher age restrict.

About Ava Kabouchy

As a baby, Ava was fascinated by world maps, which later become travels to many elements of the world. She has labored in a number of African international locations, created a microcredit group for ladies in Honduras, and did a volunteer pictures gig for a clinic for a Mayan group in a distant mountainous area of Guatemala. Recently, she hiked alongside the Camino de Santiago in Spain and in France, travelled in Morocco, fulfilling a childhood dream of strolling barefoot within the Sahara and one other of seeing the aurora borealis in Iceland.

Ava is the writer of the not too long ago revealed “Where in the World is Grammie Now?”, a ebook for younger readers to show them about Saudi Arabia, a rustic not usually studied in center college curricula. She has additionally authored a ebook on her 4 years in Saudi Arabia:  “Wanderlust, A New Lease on Life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”.

Ava makes her dwelling in southwest France and on a distant island off the coast of Maine, USA.

Find out extra about Ava Kabouchy on her web site.

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