Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Day 30: Difficult Goodbyes

Today is the day that I leave Iceland. I write this while sitting in the airport awaiting my flight. I am sick to my stomach trying to hold back tears after saying goodbye. I was honored last night to assist in the last lambing of the season. As you can imagine this ewe wouldn't let me leave without giving me a hard time. Her cervix was closed even though her water broke, so with lots of dilating lubricant, I opened it so her ram lambs could come out. Of course, they both tried to come out at the same time and three legs, two front and one back were being pushed out. After some adjustment, the first healthy ram lamb came out. Knowing that the 2nd lamb was backward I immediately pulled him out with my hand covering his horn buds. Both lively and hungry, it was a good ending to an amazing lambing season. 
Mom ended up eating all of the hay bed by the morning

It was about 1 am when she was finished and the lambs successfully nursed, so I left to head to the house to let the new family get acquainted.

In the morning, I packed and headed down to the barn to say my goodbyes to the orphans and my other favorites. Before heading to the barn I said goodbye to the dogs Lukka and Myla. Lots of slobbery kisses ensued and I repaid them with belly rubs. I then went to say my goodbyes to the orphans. I could not hold back a few tears petting those chunky little fluffy lambs. With the amazing growth, I have seen in this short amount of time I know they do great over the summer. With that, I had to say goodbye to the wonderful people that housed me, fed me, and taught me so much over this past month. Helgi and Snædis have been such amazing hosts that I now consider family. This experience has been unreal, so much I feel I need to be pinched. Some lambings were difficult and there were deaths that felt like a stab to your heart but there was also those wonderful times, seeing a sick lamb recover when you thought they weren't going to pull through after all of your efforts, having a ewe lamb out all by herself, having those exceptionally sweet ewes that you feel appreciate you and your help, and most of all Delicate Steve. My body was broken down but it built back up, stronger than before. This country makes you feel like you are stepping into another world, the green fields, rocky mountains, waterfalls, lava fields, etc. I could go on and on. Of course, I would not be here without the sheep. They are unlike other sheep in having a wild streak, are stubborn, independent, and feisty, which is why I love them and want to continue to work with them. 
I am happy to be reunited with my family, my puppy Suzie and my friends. And... here come the waterworks, in front of strangers in the airport. Good thing I packed tissues. 
I am having difficulty trying to fully describe how I feel about this experience and I am not sure if they have a word for it, while I search for the words I will conclude with this: thank you Helgi and Snædis for your kindness and good humor, even with 1 hour of sleep, I will see you again whether it be in Maine or back in Iceland, this isn't goodbye forever, this is only a goodbye for now. 
Now back to Maine!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Day 29: Fencing is an Art and Art

Today I woke up with mixed feelings. I will be leaving tomorrow making this my last day at Hestur. I am excited to see my family and friends but I am sad to leave this place. Snædis and Helgi have made it feel like home here. I've got my chores routine, my orphans to tend to and much more of Iceland to see. With that being said I still had my morning chores and headed to the barn. Our little spotted mouflon orphan has a new mom! The ewe expecting a single lamb lambed out in the night and has made a little orphan very happy and very full.

This means we are down to one more pregnant ewe. Her due date is tomorrow. It would be nice if she decided to lamb out before I left.

The rest of our orphans are preparing for my departure by getting used to a bucket as opposed to being bottle fed. It took a lot of time letting each one drink while the others jumped, head-butted and kicked to get to the bottle. At points, it would become a brawl and no one could drink the bottle. The bucket is not much different, the only difference is the nipple is different and it has not been a good transition. To be honest they have been getting a little lazy lately...

I filled the bucket with milk and set it up. The ewe lamb and the lamb that tries to nurse from anything (he has picked up the habit again) took right to it. 
Our two ram lambs are frustrated and cry, flare their nostrils and attack the bucket. While I was tending to a ewe I heard a crash and the barn went silent. I walked over to the orphans to see the two ram lambs knocked the bucket over and spilled the contents all over the pen and themselves. They were scared and hid from the bucket. I ended up feeding them a bottle to their delight.

"Nope, we didn't see anything"

Our little brown lamb is still struggling to stand with her abscess so she gets her bottle while being held above the trampling of the other orphans. She has been in the orphan pen the shortest amount of time and yet has made friends fast. 

It was my last time walking out to grain the ewes and lambs in the fields, so I took my time. However, the ewes were growing impatient by my slow walking and tried to take it upon themselves to try and knock the grain bucket out of my hands. They grew frustrated, stormed by me bumping my legs and waited by the feeders. 
Fairweather friends while holding the grain bucket 

I stood and took in the scenery while the ewes had their grain and took a slow walk back. When I arrived back, Helgi had a job for me to do, help with fencing. Most of the fencing was put up yesterday to surround the field that was seeded for a research project. The ewes have enjoyed walking through it and resting in it for some time now. We were to secure the metal netting and barbed wire with staples put in with the old-fashioned hammer. It was a bit windy, but a beautiful sunny day while we made our way down the fence posts. The only issue is, we have had a lot of rain and the newly seeded field was very soft in some parts.

I didn't need my feet anyway

We had to walk with caution because you weren't sure when you were going to sink in and how deep. Once done, I checked over the old fencing and put staples in where needed.
My view most of the day

Next, we tackled a very old fence that is in dire need of repair. It consists of five lines of rusty barbed wire, that becomes three at some point, that are nailed to shards of what were posts. We were just to make a temporary fix until it became a higher priority on Helgi's To-Do list. After putting in some posts over the post shards and trying to make a semi-put together line of wire we got to the end and looked at what we created. Barbed wire crisscrossed between some posts and the different shapes and sizes of the posts were entertaining. It was giving descriptors like rustic, minimalist, repurposed, antique, etc. We agreed it is more of an art piece than a working fence. Near the end of the day, my hammering was getting sloppy and some fingers were crunched in the process, my hand-eye coordination was seriously lacking. After holding nails for Helgi to hammer in, we never switched jobs because he cares dearly for his fingers (I don't blame him). At that point, it was time to call it a day and rest my arms. We hitched a ride with Snædis to help move a few groups into the fields. One of the groups moved included Stevonnie who continues to thrive with her new mom. 
Both looking through the feeder

After that, I made sure to see my orphans again before calling it a night. I am going to miss caring for them every day, seeing them grow, their personalities develop, and most of all the lap naps.

Until tomorrow!

Day 28: Expect sheep.... everywhere!

Before heading to Snæfellsjökull National Park, I had to do the morning chores, which includes feeding the orphans. We have a visitor in the orphan group, it is a little moorit lamb that has an abscess on her hind fetlock (equivalent to our ankle). Snædis has been tending to her out in the field for the past week because we have not been able to capture her mother and get her to the barn. Her mother has been enjoying out attempts to catch her and at the sight of Helgi she would jump and get all excited for the run she is about to have. The little lamb progressed to where she was no longer standing and crawling around the field, so Snædis made the executive decision to just bring her inside and leave mom outside. It was not hard for the lamb to acclimate and she already enjoys human attention, so it worked well for her. The younger two orphans have been forcing themselves on the older ones and they have begrudgingly started to allow it. The lost orphan has stopped trying to nurse off of the others but continues to be the outsider. 

The little spotted mouflon has made his way into the orphan clique and is seen within the group... sometimes, other times he has disappeared into their bellies and fluff.

Here he is before he disappears into the fluff

An update on the little lamb that I brought in, along with his mother and sibling (not without a chase). We have given him a big shot of vitamins (including Selenium) and I supplement his nursing with a bottle and he is doing much better. He still needs to build up his hind legs muscles (they had atrophied from him not having the energy to get up), but that will come with more time.

Our little Stevonnie has moved into the middle barn, which is a bit more open so she makes it a point to visit each group in their pens in the morning by running up and down the feeder.
"Good morning, just checking on the neighbors."
I finished up with the morning feeding, packed my bags and started the drive to Snæfellsjökull National Park. The main attraction is Snæfellsjökull, which is the center mountain that has the large glacier on top of it (the translation of Snæfellsjökull, is "the glacier". My goal was to get up there and touch that glacier. 
The glacier is seen during the drive.
Before I actually got to the park, I had to stop and get some food. Because it was a holiday here the grocery stores were closed so I had to stock up at a gas station. I stopped in a little town outside of the park that was on the ocean. I noticed a land mass off the coast, that land mass was Greenland! 
I edited the photo a bit so that you can see the outline of Greenland just below the cloud line.
Once stocked with plenty of water and snacks, I headed to get a trail map and head to my first trail. This park is absolutely stunning, looking up at the mountains, waterfalls, and lava fields make all of your problems seem insignificant. It is no wonder this place was the inspiration for the book "Journey to the Center of the Earth", and called one of the most magical and a powerful energy source for many people.

 I definitely felt that energy as I started my first hike. One of the things noticed on the trail map was a lot of trails are not marked, and some trails were described as "indistinct". It is a good thing this place has no trees so I am able to orient myself as I walk on what I think is a trail. There were many passing rain clouds, so it was a day of fleeting sun and random rain showers, but that did not stop me. My first hike was to a volcano across lava fields. These lava fields were covered in a thick carpet of moss, making them difficult to move through. What made me nervous was that the lava field was not solid ground. The lava rocks are very porous and there are many holes and spaces where the rock underneath was swept away. 
The stacked lava field

The lava field I had to get through to reach my destination

I was about an hour in and noticed just how disorienting these fields can be. The trail was barely there and as you look for the path, everything just blends in. I could at least see my destination and look back and see the parking lot sign where I left the Lancer, so I forged my own path. It makes the carins that were put in place for Iceland's first travelers make so much sense.
Do you see the trail? (and this was a particularly defined part of the trail)

I finally made it to the base of the volcano and started my ascent, about half way up I noticed a clump of wool dangling from a shrub. Some sheep also wanted to hike up a volcano just like me apparently. After some rather scary walking around the lip of the volcano, I reached the peak! 
Yes, you walk along that ridge

The center of the volcano from the peak. What was weird (and maybe this is my basic knowledge of geology) but there was a round rock in the dead center of the crater. 
I wonder if there is a prize inside?

I made a circle around the top and circle around the base of Búðaklettur crater before heading back to have a late lunch on the beach. The beach is still part of the lava field and the rocks and rock formations are black. This beach is called Rávik beach.
Helgi's "Going out" boots are holding up nicely

Lunch with a view

I was prepared to take on Snæfellsjökull. The trailhead was a bit far so the majestic Lancer and I headed to the mountain. Again, we were bombarded with threatening signs.

 I assured Lancer we would only be going to the trailhead and parking there.
The beginning of the road looked innocent, so we started our drive.

Innocent looking road

As we turned a corner on the road, it became steep, very steep. It was so steep the Lancer's wheels started to spin on the loose gravel and I could feel the car's descent. One of the many scary parts of this road, is there are no guardrails, so if a car starts to slip off the edge, too bad. It got its traction and somehow we kept moving forward. This steep incline was paired with an equally as steep decline. It felt like a roller coaster as the front of the Lancer tipped forward so I could see the road going straight down. As I white knuckled the steering wheel, all I could think was "brakes don't fail me now!". It only took one more sharp incline and their was the trailhead. I was already profusely sweating from the short drive there, so I was warmed up and ready to go. Because I had arrived late to the park, I chose a trail that would take me straight to the glacier. I could not climb up the glacier because that requires a very well trained guide given the chances of a crevasse. My goal was to get to the edge of the glacier. Throughout this whole day, I have not passed another hiker until about halfway up the trail I was passed by a group that looked like they stepped out of a North Face catalog, decked head to toe with hiking gear. I, on the other hand, have jeans on, boots that are a bit too big and at that point a rain jacket tied around my waist and a 2L water bottle in my arms. It made me feel a bit inferior but more motivated to meet them at the top. After a grueling hike, I had made it! 

Right next to the glacier

Touching a glacier!

After a long break on the top to take in the view, I made my way back down the mountain to Lancer. I checked my phone to see how how many miles I had hiked and the two trails together were about 14 miles! (Of course, there was a lot of hiking trying to rejoin the trail, or make my own trail). I still had some energy left to go to see Rauðfeldar Canyon. (This place seriously is an energy source!).

 As I was walking up to the canyon I noticed something in my periphery. 
What I noticed is on the upper left hand side (Do you see it?)

Let's zoom in
See them now? Those are sheep! 
I am so amazed at the athleticism of these animals. They were up there being shaded by the ledge of rock. This was a steep incline, those breaks in the grass are rock slides it is that steep. I showed Snædis and she shrugged because this is normal Icelandic sheep behavior, to see just how far they can go. After having a good laugh about the rock slide climbing sheep, I made my way into the canyon. This thing is so tall I could not get it in one picture. A really nice Swedish woman saw me struggling to get a photo of myself in the canyon and offered to take a photo. She looked very professional leaning, squatting, even putting one leg on the wall while she took photos. I thanked her immensely and when I looked at the photos later, she took 25 pictures of me with a weird out of focus glow on my body. I look like a ghost haunting the canyon. Nevertheless I have a picture, now double the height of the photo below and you have the height of the canyon. In order to go farther in you have to do a bit of rock climbing to avoid the running water. I was able to get a few meters into the canyon before I reached my maximum at rock climbing and made my way back to Lancer.

As I made my way out of the park, I was blocked by more sheep.

My instinct was to return them to their flock, who were dozing on the side of a mountain. I got both of them back and drove away thinking I did a good thing. As I look back in my rear view mirror, I see they went back into the road. 
I was tempted to drive another loop around the park to just look at it one more time but my body was starting to feel the total 17 miles of hiking and it was getting really late.

I was really sad to leave the park having more trails and mountains I wanted to see. This park is huge and I think it would take multiple summers to see what this park has to offer. 
I arrived home to take a much needed shower, some advil, and get some sleep.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Day 27: A rainbow and dead man's path

I was given most of the day off today to be a tourist, but first I had to do the morning chores. Helgi continues to bring orphans home from other farms (I think he may have a problem) and this beautiful little spotted mouflon lamb fell into my lap. It is only 2 days old and was a triplet. Helgi said the other two siblings were a lot larger pushing this little guy out of the way so he couldn't nurse. He has been moved up to first on the list to be adopted out so he will be the only one adopted out because we only have two more pregnant ewes left! Yes, you read that right, the final two and one is expected to have a single lamb making her a perfect candidate for our little orphan. It was a good thing I was leaving the barn because I would not have stopped holding this little one, he is just so sweet and tiny and rests his head on your shoulder.

New orphan from different farm

The lost lamb from yesterday found his mom with the help of Snædis, but it had been too long and the mother did not want him back. He is also not making many friends in the orphan pen because he continues to try to nurse from the other orphans. It is an invasion of their privacy and they never turn their backs on him because he does not hesitate to get underneath them. Hopefully he will start to figure out that not everything that moves is his mother. Once done, I packed up for my trip to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. My sneakers were still soaked from helping Snædis fix fencing yesterday, and I am taking a break from the clogs (for obvious reasons) so Helgi graciously loaned me his "going out" boots, which were a little big but were perfect for a day of hiking. 

"Going Out" Boots

I was also equipped with Snædis's Lancer. It is just about the age to qualify as a legal adult in the US, has over 220,000 miles on it, has some large dents from accidents in the past and the brakes make a loud honking when breaking in reverse. It is a unique car and it was equipped with 2 spare tires instead of the normal 1.... just in case.  

In other circumstances this car is fantastic, the only issue is, the way to get to my destination was on roads that had signs like these:
Snædis scoffed at the sign and asserted they need to put her Lancer on the sign as an acceptable car because it is that good, maybe even better than SUVs. As I made my way past the fields of sheep, the view started to get very gray and flat. I am not sure why this stretch of land looks like this. It had some moss but other than that is was a lot of rocks. I asked Snædis and Helgi this evening why this looked the way it does and they were not quite sure, it was possibly older lava fields.

I passed over a bridge which brought me back to the green fields and flowing water, and a waterfall! During the drive, I lost count of the waterfalls I saw, they are everywhere! They are smaller than big tourist attractions like Gullfoss but I think just as beautiful. 

Another common thing to see in the landscape were cairns (see picture below), they are manmade stone piles that date back centuries (9th and 10th century) and were trail markers for those on foot trying to make it safely across the country. It helped especially in bad weather when the fog or snow was too thick to see your way so you would stop at a cairn. I tried to line up the picture so you can see on in the forefront and then there was on (on the left) in the background.
My first stop was Þingvellir National Park. This park was created to protect the country's first place of parliament. It was established in 930 and used into the 18th century. The most interesting part is they placed it in the center of a fault between two tectonic plates. So, you are in between two very large walls of rock. This rift in the plates just never seemed to end, even when the path ended, the rift continued. One of the things the park had many signs and educational material on was the executions done by parilment. There was a different execution for different crimes. I walked the "Dead man's path" that leads to Gallow's Rock where these men would see their end. There is also a beautiful waterfall, and marshland where you guessed it, men and women would see their end. 

 Photographic evidence I am still okay (this is for you mom)

Of course, they did other things then executions at their parliament building, they did things like open markets and having discussions but the park really lacked information on that stuff. In the marshes, they did not have swans but geese and these geese had little goslings. They made it very difficult for any tourist to walk on the path because the geese would bring the whole family on the path and then get upset if people approached them. One momma goose didn't see us as much of a threat so she walked her family away from the tourists (to everyone's relief). 
There is also a serious problem with people throwing money into any body of water that they see. I agree that Iceland is magical and it is like stepping into another world but Iceland is trying to maintain that "wild look". They have a multitude of signs lining any form of water telling tourist not to throw money in and yet they continue to do it.
If you look close to the bottom of the above picture you will see a rock in the water coated with coins. 
I hiked all of the paths until I got to a dead end (pictured above). It was possible for you to walk on top of the rocks (picture below) but if you have any fear of heights this is not for you. There are large spaces in between rocks that appear to be bottomless pits. As I tried to step over the bottomless pit, the rock supporting me moved and I saw my future and it was ending up being the Icelandic equivalent of the 127 hours guy (man that fell in a rock formation like this and was trapped forcing himself to chop off his own limb), so once I regained clarity, and I swiftly left the path. 

One of the other things I love about this place is every visitor center has a place to get a good cup of coffee (or kaffi). I stopped to get a map and a cup of caffeinated wonderment and headed on my way to the Geysir and Gullfoss. The next stop was Geysir, here is a geothermal field of hot springs and geysers. These geysers were the first ones to be documented and known to Europeans, which is why our English word is derived from the Icelandic one ( Geysir --> Geyser).  The water is very sulfury, so it smells strongly of rotten eggs but I have gotten used to the smell because that is what the hot water in the house smells like (because everything is geothermal water). There are many signs telling people the water is really hot, but that didn't stop one tourist from dipping his fingers into the hot spring. I presumed he was American given 100°F is warm but 100°C is boiling water. What throws you off is there are grasses and flowers growing alongside these hot springs, right on the water's edge (I thought this was very cool). The Great Geysir itself has not erupted since the 1930s, so it does not get much attention anymore, the geyser that everyone was circled around was Strokkur, a smaller geyser but erupts frequently. I did not have the patience to wait, while holding my phone up to capture the exact time of the eruption, so here is a calm picture instead. All of the geysers are puffing out plumes of steam, great for the skin... but the rotten egg smell does not leave you. 
Follow the signs! 
Really tough grass and flowers

Strokkur (the Churn)

This is a really popular attraction and has all the accommodations you could need, including coffee, so I got myself a refill and made my way to Gullfoss. 
Gullfoss is a multi-tiered, gigantic waterfall. By this time it had started to rain, and my Ewe-Maine sweatshirt was not as warm and waterproof as it needed to be, so I braved the cold and rain to see this waterfall. It was totally worth it. The waterfall was magnificent! I went to pull my phone out and it was not cooperating and turning on, so I could not take any pictures. I stood awkwardly with my back to the rain trying to get the phone to work without success. It took a lot of restraint not to throw the phone into Gulfoss and get it over with. So, I recommend taking a look at pictures of Gullfoss at another source. It is a sight to see. I stood for probably longer then I should have to take the sight in. I was sufficiently drenched and cold and made my way back to the majestic Lancer to head back to the farm. 
Without fail, I arrived home again to a rainbow near the house. Snædis repeated that Hestur was just really happy I was back. I am not sure if rainbows are common occurrences here, but this is starting to get a little freaky. 
Today, I will be headed to Snæfellsjökull National Park, the first park established in Iceland, and home to a volcano and glacier. One of my goals was to touch a glacier, so I hope I can accomplish that today! 
Now off to take care of morning chores and pack.