updates (such as they can be)

Here is a handy list of where Americans can currently travel. The page may take a while to load and also freeze up; give it a second. That page is current as of 17 hours ago. Notable on the list: Belize, French Polynesia, Barbados, Maldives, Dominica, Mexico — and a slew of others that aren’t Botswana. Nothing against Botswana, it’s just not high on my list of places to see in the next few years.

Now, the ethics of traveling right now, especially as an American, are another matter, as is the very real possibility of being stuck overseas or quarantined upon your return/at a foreign airport or city. As the article states, we’re under a Level 4 – avoid all nonessential travel travel warning from the State department, but no one is stopping you if you want to go to the Bahamas on a vacation. Airports have cleaning procedures in place, as well as airlines, so if you do decide to go, factor that in to your arrival and departure times.

I completely sympathize with the lure of getting away: away from your house, from this fucked up country right now, from life as we know it in Covid-19 America. Because this sucks. It has sucked for over 100 days now with no end in sight, sucking more every day, as the rest of the world is nearly or already back to normal and Europeans are traveling freely pretty much wherever they want to go while Americans, thanks to our moronic, narcissistic, game show host, fascist, sex-offending, disgusting lecherous woman-hating racist xenophobic lying garbage piece of shit sorry excuse for a president, are dying more by the day. THANKS A LOT MAN.

See this other link for airports that are allowing Americans to transit through, because that’s another concern. Can you even switch planes in Europe? Most of the airports are letting us through, but not all.

As far as personal updates, I’m waiting on some news. When/if it becomes official, then I’ll announce. IF the thing I am hoping for comes true, then I know where I am going next. Not sure when exactly because the place I have in mind is currently having their monsoon season (hint hint) and obviously because of Covid travel concerns, but I think by the end of this year, gods and election results willing, I’ll be there. At least for a week, most likely longer. My target is 9 nights, two days of travel on either end, so about 2 weeks total away.

It’s been high on my list since I learned of its existence, a dream really, this impossibly gorgeous tiny part of the world. Somewhere I never thought I’d be able to experience. But if this thing comes through, I am going. And it will be my first live update situation while on travel! Plenty of Wi-Fi there. So, stay tuned.

P.S.: Did some unrelated digging out of curiosity, thinking Hawaii may be a possibility, and it’s actually easier to go to Barbados right now than Hawaii. Hawaii is requiring a 14-day quarantine for US Citizens, or else a negative Covid-19 test result obtained no more than 72 hours before landing. Also, Barbados has opened applications up for their Welcome Stamp Visa. If accepted, you can work remotely from Barbados for up to 12 months from entry. !!! Something to think about.

a tiny silver lining

Hey remember  Hotel Duus in Keflavik? They finally refunded me my money 4 months later.

Monday was my original fly date for Oslo. To commemorate/mourn, I wore the red and white knit snow cap I bought for my trip for a few minutes at night, right around the time my plane was scheduled to take off.

We’ve been under excessive heat warnings the past three days, with heat indexes in the 110-120 range. 90s in the evening, and very high humidity. You can’t hardly breathe outside. Couple that with the covid mask mandate, and I almost passed out at the grocery store the other day. I was hyperventilating and my ears were ringing, I felt dizzy and lightheaded and was having a hard time putting thoughts together. Had to lie down and drink water when I got home. I was built for colder climes. Every summer I swear I’m going to move north.

general update & what’s what

No travel plans in sight. I looked into flying to the Yucatan for the 4th of July weekend, but I probably won’t. Several considerations: 1) the pandemic is ongoing 2) if the Mexican border opens for American travel in June as planned, then airports, hotels and sites will be beyond crowded; 3) due to various ongoing issues, I’m considering saving all my extra $ this year for a down payment on a house to escape apartment living.

There is simply no consistent privacy or quiet enjoyment to be had where I am, and given that I’m working from home indefinitely and therefore on calls and in meetings every day, my current living situation is not sustainable for the long haul. I can’t keep getting disrupted by the floor-shaking techno music next door or the neighbor’s boyfriend randomly appearing outside my office window in the shared alleyway. Or the impromptu gatherings on the shared porch with loud conversation that goes on for hours, day and night. I’ve had multiple conversations with the neighbors about noise. The landlord is useless. I won’t call the cops for what I hope are now obvious reasons. I know I sound like a grump. Maybe I am.

In the meantime, I wear headphones and dream of Kungsleden, and I wait out my lease. Last night I dreamed of Iceland, of a roaring fire in a fireplace, piles of fluffy blankets, hot mead and snow outside the window. It was a good dream.

I went to a protest last week. I’m writing a piece about it. Maybe I’ll publish it here.

I hope everyone is doing as well as they can. I’m taking a news break today to mentally recover from last week and from the stress of the first hurricane scare. Between work obligations, I’m doing some writing and other tasks unrelated to social media or the news.

I encourage anyone reading this to take time to care for yourself. The news will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.

Atlas of Remote Islands: Rapa Iti, French Polynesia

Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky is a curious, imaginative work on the world’s most remote islands, one I am in love with as a kindred writer, atlas-studier and seeker of wild remote places, specifically islands.

Easter Island is on my list. Also Hawaii, soon. French Polynesia? Definitely in the queue, along with Fiji and Micronesia.

The impossibly beautiful Bora Bora, French Polynesia

I have a recurring dream of island-hopping in Micronesia in old fishing boats with Vietnamese fishermen, flotillas strung together with rough rope to drift when we rest, fish scales, vinegar and saltwater smells permeating the long days, black velvet blankets of stars above. Fishing boats strung with brightly colored lanterns swaying on their lines in tandem with wave action. Swimming in tidal pools, learning to spear fish, sailing through the night to the next lively stop. You know how fish scales smell? They smell like they look; flaky, iridescent, dangerous. Like almost-blood. Like fishy barnacles.

From Micronesia to French Polynesia, by way of Samoa and Fiji

In my dream, I’m fishing for months on end. Danger is a mercurial top-note flavor, and we dance often, the fishermen and danger and me.

One day I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, here is the story about Rapa Iti, French Polynesia, as imagined into life by Judith Schalansky. Thank you, Judith. This book is a continuous source of joy. Readers: buy it here. You will not regret it.

Rapa Iti

the future

In the future, I will be back in Iceland.

In the meantime, though, I have canceled all reservations. Only one place is refusing me a refund. Hotel Duus, in Keflavik. They refuse to budge, so I am out 172.00 USD. As far as I am concerned, that is theft. I can’t physically get into the country due to no fault of my own – Iceland has closed its borders to non-EU and non-Schengen Area tourists indefinitely. It is sickening that some hotels are making money off of a pandemic, hiding behind their No Refund policies. I have requested a voucher and will update here if/when I hear back from them. Happily, they are the exception.

  • United refunded my entire plane ticket cost this morning. It only took two days. I didn’t expect to see that money until May.
  • AirBnB issued refunds to my credit cards same-day and sent me receipts. My hosts were totally understanding of the situation. My refunds should show up as credit in a day or two.
  • Apparently my domestic flight to Akureyri was never paid for. Chase put a stop on the charge because it was an international charge that had to be re-confirmed. I thought I did, but I checked my statements and the charge never cleared. Whoops.
  • Rental car reservations were held with a card to be charged at the counter, so no money out.
  • A Circle Air pilot wrote me back this morning/last night and was very sweet. He canceled my reservation with no issues. I can’ t recommend them enough – those guys are amazing, fun pilots and solid people of integrity overall. Can’t wait to go adventuring with them again 🙂

With this post, I am done complaining like a privileged brat about my canceled European vacation. There is much to be thankful for, and this too shall pass.

Happy [fertility celebration], my flight got canceled

UPDATE: I went ahead and called United to make sure 1) this wasn’t a mistake, given how far away my trip is (last week of July) and 2) if it was true, to see about a refund. It was not a mistake. Canceled due to market restrictions. I am happy to report that I had zero wait time, a very courteous, knowledgeable and efficient rep and he suggested a refund before I even asked. I did buy travel insurance for this trip (first time ever) on the chance this would happen, so that may have helped things along. I booked through Travelocity, so they will ultimately be the ones issuing my refund since they hang onto the money until travel starts. I learned a lot today on that call with United. Estimated refund time is 2-4 weeks from United, possibly longer because I went through Travelocity and that adds an extra step. Just in case anyone else is in the same boat – this is what to expect. I will cancel the rest of my reservations today or early this week. That interaction was painless aside from the disappointment – I am glad I was wrong in the post below, and I take back what I said about United sucking in this respect. Oh, and they did not leave my Newark flight on the books; the cancellation email details were badly-worded/misleading.

*****

Last night around midnight I received an email from Travelocity stating that United Airlines has canceled my flight to Iceland and I have “airline credits” available. They left me the domestic roundtrip to Newark, though, because everyone wants to vacation in Newark, NJ for two weeks.

My safety and peace of mind are important to them as they cancel my dream trip I’ve been looking forward to since last year

“No need to call us.”

I have not taken any action yet. I’m still thinking on what to do. I have been reading up on how to get actual refunds back instead of credit, and it seems United in particular is making it exceedingly difficult to get your money back “because they need it.” Well so do I and it’s my money. Reason #5 why I hate United Airlines. I’ll talk about the other 4 in another post sometime.

The DOT had to issue an enforcement letter stating the law about refunds when a flight is canceled or significantly changed because so many people are filing complaints against airlines for refusing to do so in the middle of a pandemic.

So far I’ve only gotten the email from Travelocity. United has not contacted me directly. I fear this will entail spending half a day on hold trying to get a human customer service rep to then argue with and get transferred around until hopefully someone will press the right button to issue a refund.

This is so disappointing. It means so many cancellations now – my stays, my flights within Iceland, my tour to Grimsey Island. My rental cars. Everything. Fuck.

I have a backup plan like I mentioned, but it doesn’t involve going to Iceland this year – it involves going somewhere closer with a drastically different climate. I am not decided on this plan, still entertaining other options, but it looks like a likely alternative.

I had a great Iceland trip planned, I really did. It was going to be amazing. Staying on an Icelandic pony ranch outside Akureyri, kayaking at the mouth of the North Atlantic to look for whales, flights to Greenland, Highlands hiking, camping in the Westfjords, roaming the craters, lakes, hot springs and waterfalls scattered across the north. Getting to see the Circle Air pilots again and hang out with them at 10,000 feet. Visiting my favorite bookstore in Akureyri. I was excited about finally seeing some puffins and arctic foxes, and crossing the Arctic circle. Getting to see all of the places & things I missed last time because I only had two days in the north. I was so looking forward to this. It was my light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the main thing keeping me calm and hopeful (“this is difficult but at least I have Iceland in July “) COVID 19 has snuffed it.

This is a major bummer.

Will post another update when I know something re: United. In the meantime, I’m researching alternate trips and postponing my other Iceland cancellations because then it will be real.

first the roaches, then the termites…

There’s a mosquito buzzing around my office as I sit here typing at 9AM.

It is almost summer here in the southern US, and the annual plagues have begun.

A wasp set up shop in my laundry room. I’m allergic to wasp venom. Can’t find the wasp nest.

Last night about a dozen huge cockroaches rained down into my backyard from an oak tree onto my head. One flew into my face. I smashed it on the steps before running inside.

Anyway. Iceland.

I’m coming.

I can’t wait to get away from July’s thick humidity and bugs and punishing heat. To be in the mountains with cool temps and low humidity and nary a mosquito in sight.

The air smells different in northern Iceland. It smells like blue steel and detachment. It doesn’t envelop you on late spring evenings like or stagnate in swamps in August like here. Iceland air comforts no one and keeps moving.

If I concentrate, I can conjure the smell.

And if I cannot go, if I have to cancel my trip, if this pandemic is still swinging through July, then I have a back-up plan.

More on that later.

Everyone stay safe. I’m done being anxious and scared. What happens will happen.

Westfjords and Little Foxes

This is Hornstrandir National Reserve in the Westfjord region of Iceland.

Hornstrandir

It’s only accessible by boat. Most people take the boat from Ísafjörður. You can take a plane to Ísafjörður from various places in Iceland including Reykjavik and Akureyri. My home bases in July are right outside Akureyri. Here’s a better idea of where it is situated in relation to the rest of the country.

Left arrow is Hornstrandir, middle-top arrow is Akureyri. All the little green spots are places of interest I’ve saved. The hearts are a few places I’ve been.

Next time I go to Iceland I’ll have to explore the eastern region. Not this time, though.

It’s about a 5 1/2 hour drive to Ísafjörður from Akureyri, or else a 40 minute flight on Air Iceland Connect for about … oh damn 500 dollars!? Yikes. Maybe I’ll drive. Would be cool to take my time and make a day of it driving there. It’s not like I have to race sunset. The sun won’t set.

that way lies Greenland

You can camp there. It’s called the most remote and wild part of Iceland.

There are no bad photos of this place.

I think I want to camp there. For a night or two.

i mean

Now I’m trying to figure out how to make that happen.

Arctic foxes live there. They’re the largest mammals on Iceland but still they are pretty small.

Arctic fox eyeballin you
O shit

They’re not scared of people and they are curious and like to play. They also like to steal your food so you have to keep it out of reach/packed away any time you leave your site.

Their fur changes with the season for camouflage, if you’re wondering why they are both black/brown and white in the photos.

I rented an SUV yesterday for the last week I’ll be in Iceland, so I can take rented camping gear with me if I drive (and if the weather turns bad, car camp). Assuming I can find rentable camping gear in or near Akureyri or somewhere along the way. I have my own gear here but getting that on a plane from the states and back is ehhhh… I don’t know about that. Maybe, though. All I really need is a tent, a sleeping bag and stuff to make a fire. I can bring water in, and food. If there’s a place in Ísafjörður to rent camping gear, may just do that.

UPDATE: there is.

Here is some great info on how to get to the preserve and what to expect. This is my go-to guide for Westfjord research right now. Thank you, Ju Ker! 🙂

Here’s the Arctic Fox Center site where I got those photos. I like how it doesn’t even list an address, just GPS points.

Imagine waking up in a place like this.

Waterfalls EVERYWHERE

Source.

There are a handful of things keeping me going through this pandemic right now. This trip, the epic parties and shows that are going to happen once we can see each other again, my new job (signed my offer letter Monday!), all my new seeds that are sprouting, and a few others too personal to mention. Sometimes when I start feeling hopeless and angry, I look at my photos from last year’s trip and remember. I just found out my work from home arrangement has been extended til the beginning of May. Kinda going stir crazy in my house right now. It may sound silly but Iceland is helping me get through it.