June 20 to July 6, 2012

Many of you have been asking about my trip to Iceland, and rather than trying to write individual emails bogged down with many large images, I thought I'd post a trip report on my website for all to see. Feel free to share with anyone. Many of the photos are not the final version, but a quick version of camera-produced jpegs for expediency.

"Solfar" (Sun Voyager) Sculpture, Reykjavik harbor
Iceland is so Alaskan, and so not. At the same latitude as Alaska, the weather is very similar, probably more like the Aleutians. Luckily the weather was nicer than Alaska's for the 17 days I was there--important when you're car camping. You can camp almost anywhere, and each town has at least one campsite (with showers!). The topography reflects the relatively young (and continuing) volcanic origins--a narrow band of habitable lowlands along the sea coast, backed by steep, rounded mountains. To cross the spine of the country, you drive over mountain passes with 10-16% grades (very steep). Many roads, even main roads, are well maintained gravel.
Lots of low green vegetation (moss and lichens), but very few trees, and the flowers are very Alaskan (lupines, moss campion). Same with the birds (ptarmigan, arctic terns, loons), plus the addition of millions of maritime birds nesting along cliffs (seemed to be more European species like fulmars and skuas).
Latrabjarg Cliffs, West Fjords
Puffin, Latrabjarg Cliffs
The people are very Nordic, and proud that they still use the same unique Viking language as their ancestors (to the point that they can still read centuries old books). Fortunately, they all learn English in school, so travel is easy--traffic signs are in English, but stores and streets have unpronounceable names. Didn't see a phone book, but I've read that all the listings are organized under their first names, followed by the family surname, which must be fun trying to find your friend Gunnar! Reykjavik is a modern city with half of the population, but most of the country is small/colorful towns and villages. And remote farms of varying sizes are everywhere--all have sheep, most have horses, and everyone grows/harvests hay to feed the animals during the winter (so the countryside is littered with round, white plastic-wrapped bales).
Iceland Horses
Unlike Africa, where photography consumes all of your time, in Iceland I was able to just be a sightseeing tourist and photograph when I came across something interesting. Or mentally file the location, to return later under better weather or lighting. I did spend an extra day or two around the features I wanted to photograph under varying lighting conditions. For the first week the number of tourists was tolerable, but then the Europeans hit in force by July 1--tour buses everywhere, rental cars galore, crowds at every waterfall. (Memo to self: Next time, go in late May)
Over the next year I'll be featuring "Roadside Distractions" in the Image Of The Month section of my website--everywhere you go, you see some unnamed waterfalls, Icelandic horses, a picturesque village, or a remote church that just beg to be photographed. And many things you can't stop to photograph, since the roads are usually so narrow that you can't safely park on the shoulder. But all these 'distractions' do slow down your travel…
The Islandic horses (mistakenly called ponies) seem to like the human attention, since they tend to congregate at fences, next to the road. Probably because the tourists feed them junk food...
Stykkisholmur Harbor
My main photographic goals were 'artistic' waterfalls (using slow shutter speeds, turning the water silky) and the icebergs floating on the Jokulsarlon Lagoon. Naturally, what images you end up with depends a lot on the weather/lighting conditions when you happen to be there. I think I did fairly well, but still missed some shots I wanted (plus I didn't get to some areas I wanted to see). Sounding like an excuse to go again next year? :)
Seljalandfoss (Evening)
Seljalandfoss (Sunset)
Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon
Icebergs flushed from the Lagoon meet the Atlantic Ocean
Even after Iceland's bank crisis in 2008 and the resulting economic downturn that devalued their kronar, Iceland is still fairly expensive. And the 20% VAT doesn't help either. Rental vehciles are quite expensive, motorhomes double that, the cost of gasoline double that of the USA, and hotels charging Alaskan-like high season rates. But after watching so many tour groups being herded on buses to/from each attraction, I was very happy to have my own vehicle--the freedom to go when and where I pleased. The extra cost was worth it…