Its time to relax, not so much physically, since we are about to cover some distance, but mentally as nothing could make you stressed out here. A few things could keep me worried but they are now bound to wait for another week. From now on, only things like mosquitoes could be a reason for a swear word or two. We are about to enter Pöyliöjärven Erämaa, the Wilderness of Pöyliö Lake. It is a vast plateau of flat upper fells 250 km north from arctic circle. Here, trees grow only 2-3m in their whole lifetime and temperature varies 70 decrees celsius through out the yearly cycle.
There is something in watching vast lands stretching further than the eye can possibly tell a difference and knowing if you picked a direction and started walking, there would be only a very slight possibility to run into another living human. Although this time we were about to stay on fairly common river Pöyrisjoki, and make it down stream steadily and with ease.
Even still in places like this, the cohesion of you, your surroundings and everything you can sense, and as a matter of fact all beyond that as well, can be recalled in the most simple ways. The popping sound when hundreds of knats are trying aimlessly penetrate your clothes, luckily without any progress and the serenade of tens of different birds that bursts out louder than anything close by every time you move more than two steps. These birds are almost impossible to see in their natural habitat. They are perfectly adapted and don’t want you to eat their eggs for dinner. In this emptiness unyielding in front of you you could feel lonely and alone, but if you tune yourself a bit and listen to nature, it will definitely remind you, we are never alone!
We are on a land that is yet to be claimed to be owned by anyone. These are my lands. So are they yours. There is still hope in us, as part of everything, not as owners of everything.
We made it trough the misty tops and glaciers to continue towards Þórsmörk. Weather was far more placid, but not quite hot yet. Easily bearable, even enjoyable. Still a descent few more kilometers to reach the bottom of the valley where we would set our tent and rest our feet. Path leading down was photography-wise truly a dream come true, as most of the Iceland sceneries. Definitely we could have done the route significantly faster if camera had stayed in the backpack. But as in life, it’s not all about the speed or the goal. More about the path.
Parts of the path motivated to keep your focus solely on your step, still no actual danger exists as long as eyes are kept open and steps placed with care. Other parts of the route allowed all the stress to vanish and become diluted to the stunningly beautiful spacious sceneries. Breathing becomes light as all the senses are filled with feeling of freedom. Somehow it appeared to exist and to blossom here…
Luigi and Lucas preferred to have few layers less as the sun began to shine on us in it’s full splendor. Fleeting clouds occasionally covered the light, but after hours spent in the harsh winds at the misty tops the warming beams of sun made us feel as if summer was about to return.
In a place where even trees can be exceptional attractions we were lucky enough to have a close encounter with a willow grouse. This little fellow was running around in a dwarf birch forests with his red eye browns. Actually he or she might have been a rock ptarmigan as well. Someone with more knowledge over the matter could perhaps enlighten us over the matter of which is which. When a place which doesn’t support large quantities of life offers the possibility to meet even just one individual, that moment, is a remarkable experience.
Yeehaw! It finally snowed here in Helsinki, and oh boy it snowed well! We woke up to white winter wonderland on last Sunday. I wish I had woken up earlier, since it was so nice to walk around the city. Peaceful and quiet. All the people outside were enjoying the white magic delivered during the night. I just walked around and took photos, which I haven’t done lately at all. Helsinki showed it best of winter and I was totally enjoying the new hoods of my. I went around and about in the city centre, mainly the older blocks with cool streets and old buildings. Especially Kruunuhaka -area is such an idyllic place, lots of cool side alleys and hills. The icing was the dog waiting calmly his/her owner outside the kiosk. After such an awesome day, I made my second New Year’s resolution: “take more photos than last year and carry camera around twice as much”. Shouldn’t be too difficult, since my photography journeys last year were almost non-existent. Let’s see how it goes!
The waterfall of Skógafoss greeted us with tremble and tumble as we ascended the very first meters towards Landmannalaugar. Between Greenland and Europe, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, or actually separate a centimeter per year, Iceland began to rise from the Atlantic ocean about 60 million years ago. Volcanic activity has been shaping and shocking the relatively young and evidently crude scenery over the years. The notorious Volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010 seizing a fair share of the global aviation activities, would be something we’ll be walking past. Knowing the before mentioned and having heard praising comments from fellow hikers was enough to wake up an authentic interest for what is laying in front. Upcoming 80km would hopefully allow us to witness and be impressed by beauty and roughness, tranquility and might of the natural processes.
“If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes..” is phrase heard both from locals and travelers. Only later I we learned that it would occasionally concern, not only the weather, but pretty much all of the scenery. Skógafoss was left behind and as we began to move north in the misty and moss covered landscapes.
Yet we did not know that crossing rivers and streams would become a daily routine. Some easily by skipping from a stone to another, some by fording knee-deep in the ice-cold meltwaters streaming down from the glaciers. Here is Lucas placing his step with care as the path kept rising higher.
Waterfalls appeared one after another and the edge of the glacier came nearer. Already at this point it was becoming clear that all the overwhelmingly stunning scenery would be impossible to capture on camera in its full and profound essence. A glimpse of 1/100 or 1/200 of a second frozen as a still imagine could not possibly explain all, not even a picture by picture. As altitude increased the temperature decreased to near zero celsius, wind blew stronger and mist grew thicker. Thats when the wave of gratefulness hits you for having a wind and waterproof clothing. In a way happiness is the moment when preparation meets the opportunity.
The post apocalyptic sceneries offered by mother nature consist of poor visibility and glaciers covered by volcanic ash. It was like another world, a bubble where you cannot really hear your friend unless he is shouting. A place where the rain falls sideways forcing your eyes to be halfway shut most of the time. The scenery is just the same no matter where you look. So sucky that the tipping point of comfort zone had been well exceeded, turning plain being into pure fun.
After enough steps had been taken we began to descend once again. Light grew brighter, sun grew stronger and the mist kept fading away, even the wind was giving up a bit. After the gray-black-brown-white passage the rich colors down in the valley implied of a brave new world. And it was waiting for us.
Last summer was a life changer and a eye opener. The amount of experiences sums up to be near overwhelming once observed in retro-perspective. Hitchhiking for 4500km allows a fair amount of change to enter your life. Continuos flow of an adventure was ensured as Luigi received a marker pen to draw us a sign “Skógafoss”.
In Porto we became friends during our exchange year with Lucas and Luigi. Incredible moments had been shared as we had already lived, travelled and surfed together. As an special ender for the very special exchange year we managed to book flights to Iceland. At this point of the journey we had ten days, the essential equipment and a plan of hiking the route of Skógafoss – Landmannalaugar.
Hitchhiking turned out to be rather graceful as Reykjavik was swiftly left behind and the 60m waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss were rumbling in front of us. Don’t plan and be stunned – technique had worked out for us when we were scratching the surface of the Azores, and once again, we did not plan and we were stunned by the beauty and roughness of nature.
Actually Lucas was not there to share the falls of Seljalandsfjoss since we had separated to ensure as fluent hitchhike as possible. As you can see in the first picture, he is the one in red in the background already asking people for a ride. Not too long after we left the falls we received text message from Lucas saying that his third ride will take him almost to Skogafoss, but not quite. He asked us if we should stop 7km before our destination and head to a hot pool in Seljavallalaug, we agreed.
Here we met up with Lucas where the road did not continue anymore. We were about 3km away from the main ring road that is actually circulating all of Iceland and I was not completely 100% certain whether it was such a great idea to end our hitchhike here. Lucas told us that a friend of his, Benjamin, the third ride he was picked up by was planning join us later. “The pool should be somewhere there..”
And there it was after a kilometer or two, an amazing nature surrounded hot pool powered by the geothermal heat and the imposing tranquility of the nature. Clouds of steam slowly emerge from the nearby mountains as we float around. Eventually Benjamin, an American geologist who had made his thesis on Iceland some years before, appeared as well. After bathing, he kindly offered us a ride to Skogafoss.
Sharing a walk with a person with a genuine interest on Iceland and fascinating insight on the geological aspects was more than welcome. Gladly this was not the only change we got the change to meet up as the adventure kept unfolding. Signs of incomprehensibly massive forces and proof of unceasing gentle erosion as surroundings allow the scenery to sink in and explain itself, momentarily with a little help from a friend.
Where is the beginning and where is the ending, or does such a thing really exist? Skógafoss for many is the ending of the Landmannalaugar – Skógafoss route since it seemed to be widely recommended to be hiked from north to south, not the other way, as we had planned. Maybe it’s only a question of perspective.
It was evening as we arrived to a scenery filled with tents. As we took a look around met up with tired looking Frenchman who just descended from the mountains and had his backpack almost sideways due to breakdown of some sort. He seemed not to care, almost as he had already had enough. Lucas was enthusiastic to ask the man questions of the route and how it had been. Frenchman told us that he had hiked 400km and this was it. He made it. It was the end. And so it evidently seemed to us also. A spare boiled egg was left of our lunch which Lucas kindly offered him accompanied with the words “Well done”. The genuine, simultaneously surprised, sceptical and amused, facial expression of a man who just finishes a long walk and receives an egg from a smiling stranger was unbelievable. There he went then, with the white egg in his and the backpack sideways. He reached the end, we the beginning. In a way.
This piece is inspired by the incomprehensible beauty of British Columbian Rocky Mountains.
In four days, I will fly to Helsinki, same route in reverse I took one and half months ago not knowing what I will encounter. A lot has happened since and even though it has only been 5 weeks, it feels like it has been a whole summer. Maybe that’s because summer back home only lasts about five weeks.
Home, such a relative concept. In stellar sense, anywhere you go on this planet, you are home. With national approach, you would call your country your home. Home might be a city, a suburb or apartment. Nevertheless, one could say every one of us consider something home. My home could be in Lapland today, but tomorrow it might be somewhere else. Canada and British Columbia as I hoped when I arrived, are starting to feel like a place I could call home. Like a sibling you never knew existed, this place appeared to my life as another euphoric entity replacing every little hole of doubt with its warm and welcoming ruggedness.
I’ve noticed, on the way (consisting everything, starting from acknowledging myself till this day) how fine is the line between fear and satisfaction. Sometimes there is no line, these two strong forces inside you merge like hot and cold air, with seemingly invisible but malevolent behaviour. Not only this, but on the way I’ve met a lot of passionate people and I’ve noticed how all of them seem to be driven by same fundamental inner motives. All of these feelings are bred and born on this constantly changing and stretching fine line. I guess this is where the saying “Rather live standing up than die on your knees” comes from.
We had an interesting discussion in the car with James, on the way back to Vancouver from the Rockies trip. “Are you ready to die?” I asked James as we were driving 110km/h on the freeway, which probably made his buttocks tense up against the motorised car seat as he replied “Does that mean you are about to push me out of the car now?” The point behind this was basically a thought; What are we waiting for? If there is no intention of being ready to lose everything, one is too reliant on the world around you, not ready to change, not ready to give away. Not that you would have to throw everything away right now, but its good to realise; it is going to happen, sooner or later, if one wants it or not and there is no guarantee when or how. Being passionate, living on the line, knowing that now is the only thing that matters will give you goose bumps, it will bring you happiness and peace. As corny as it sounds, today could be your last.
I’m not a preacher, no one has to listen to me, but to question me. For that, one has to understand, but not blindly agree with what I have to say. With my strong opinions, I’ve noticed very few people doing that. If one doesn’t get questioned, criticised or put against the wall, it’s very hard for one to learn. It doesn’t need a master in philosophy to come up with great ideas about existence, nor having to be a legend in physics to discover a new habitable planet, all it needs is pure curiosity.
In one hand, I hope no one reads this, as it’s more of a diary kind of writing than a photography blog post. On the other hand I hope someone, even one person will be inspired by it to give a thought for themselves, their own lives and what they can discover. Life is a continuous learning process, being interested in new things will bring something new to life, eventually.
All I can say is be curious, be passionate, be ready and the world is yours.