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 smother you on late spring evenings or stagnate in swamps in August like the air 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.

ICELAND IS A GO!

Image result for happy dance
A unicorn happy-dancing in a field of sunflowers best represents how I feel right now

Good news:

  • A new job within my current company is 99% a done deal
  • My soon-to-be hiring manager has already approved my Iceland time off this summer because she rules

Still good news but is stressing me out:

  • This means I am currently working two full time demanding jobs for the next two weeks

I’ll take it!

I will update when it’s offer-letter-signed official. That should be very soon, I think.

I was fully prepared to cancel everything (again) and be sad. Now I just hope COVID-19 isn’t still killing international travel in July.

Iceland update

Cabins, flights (domestic and international) and two hotel rooms are booked as of this morning. All the crucial stuff is squared away.

Exit to Iceland. Sign at the Keflavik airport.

Now I just have to hope that whatever job I get between now and this summer has a hiring manager who will be OK with my trip. And that the pandemic isn’t still shutting down travel. My trip is 4 months away. If we’re still on lock-down in 4 months then I think there will be way bigger problems to deal with than my vacation.

I mean honestly there are already much larger issues to deal with in my life than my summer vacation, but I’m focusing on this because it gives me something to look forward to and I have a bit of control over it, to an extent. This is my light at the end of the tunnel that has been 2020 so far.

Instead of trying to make same-day connections at the two airports, I have booked a hotel in Reykjavik for the night I land and then one near Keflavik for the night I am leaving. The international airport in Iceland is 45-50 mins away from Reykjavik in Keflavik, and the domestic airport servicing Iceland and also I think Greenland is located in Reykjavik. I’m landing early – 8:30AM – in Iceland from the US. Assuming (!!!) everything goes on schedule. (Spoiler: it won’t.) The point is I gave myself enough time between the two flights (one full day) in case/when something goes wrong and I get delayed. Altogether I have 12 nights in Iceland: 2 nights in hotels in the south and 10 nights in cabins in the north. Two weeks’ total travel. That is a reasonable vacation request.

I get to see Godafoss again. Maybe this time from the ground.

Godafoss, waterfall of the gods

I’m cautiously excited. A lot can go wrong in 4 months. A lot has already gone wrong, which caused me to drop my extensive Norway and Sweden plans. Trying not to dwell on that. I’m really disappointed not to see northern Norway and Sweden this summer. But to be back in Iceland! Feels like a homecoming. I rebooked two of the same places I stayed in last time, and one of the hosts messaged me to say he remembered me and was glad I was returning.

The view from one of the cabins outside Akureyri that I stayed in last year. I have it again for this summer. That’s Akureyri across Eyjafjordur. I took this photo around midnight. No filter. Blue hour.

The pilot from Circle Air remembered me from last year, too. We might go to Greenland on a day trip in his Cessna.

These are my people! I found them. I’m going to see them again.

I was just thinking yesterday I don’t have to buy any gear like I did last year – now I have everything I need. However, I might pick up a satnav. That’s the only thing I am missing, and especially if I go hiking up into the highlands I will need a satnav. And I know where everything is, too. It’s not as much of an adventure as going to a brand new place, but that’s ok. I will see parts of Iceland I’ve never seen yet. I will have a rental car the whole time in the north and so will be able to drive all around.

This time I hope to see puffins, do some mountain hiking and cross the Arctic circle. One of the cabins is located on a horse ranch so I will be taking riding lessons on Icelandic ponies.

Icelandic ponies. I took this last year in southern Iceland.

Sending a plea to whatever gods favor me that nothing else goes wrong. No more hindrances between me and the land of fire and ice. I can already smell the sulfur.