Ouch! Brrrrr!

Got into an ATV accident yesterday. I was following Brian who was following our guide, Thor of Eskimos (http://www.eskimos.is). We were quading around some roads that were covered with gravel and at times snow and/or ice, going up and down small mountains, crossing running rivers and frozen ponds that broke underneath the weight of our ATV’s. It was fun! I deliberately hung back so I could gas it all the way at times (NOT where there was snow or ice, just on gravel). Unfortunately, these were tuned down to be street legal so the acceleration and top speed were less than what I’m used to.

Anyway, so there was one part that literally had a foot of solid ice covering most parts of the road. Brian said that even Thor had to slow down to maneuver the road. So from what I gathered afterwards (from what I remember and Brian seeing it happen in his rear view), I hit a foot-deep rut, it yanked my handlebar all the way to the right, I yanked it forward but by then it was too late. I hit the left side of my head (yes we had helmets) first before getting more banged up and my left foot pinned underneath the ATV. The ATV was somehow completely upside down and perpendicular to the direction I was traveling. I laid there dazed for a bit but managed to wiggle out. By the time we got back to the apartment, my head was pounding and I could already feel whiplash settling into the left side of my neck, plus several spots where bruises would probably form.

Probably against better judgement, I still went on our 4×4 offroading tour this morning, which probably aggravated my neck. Then to top it all off, our vehicle, which was pretty much a Mormon Mobile that was equipped with enough gear to make it close to impossible to get stuck, got stuck. On a six foot snow drift. And we had to get out and push. Unsuccessfully. For a full freaking hour in sub zero temperatures. Not cool. Luckily, some guys on snowmobiles saw us, grabbed their own 4×4 and towed us out. Well, at least the surrounding snowscape was beautiful!

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Golden Circle

Well, the Northern Lights tour was moderately successful. Several factors come into play, beyond just being north enough: the brightness of the moon, solar activity during the previous 24 hours, light pollution and how cloudy or clear the sky is. We drove around and stopped several times and saw them faintly. Actually the brightest viewing was a flare of it while people were boarding the bus! I didn’t catch it but Brian did.

Another popular day tour here is the Golden Circle route, which we went on the day before yesterday. Reykjavik Excursions offers it for 8900ISK including hotel transfer. The three main stops are Gulfoss (Golden Falls), Geysir and Pingvellir, all located fairly close to each other once you get a little inland outside of Reykjavik.

Gulfoss is called the Golden Falls for a reason. The sheer size of it is stunning! The area was covered in snow and ice; some parts of the falls had actually frozen over (the wind chill is shocking!).

We stopped for lunch at the tourist stop just outside of Geysir, the geyser that gives its name to all other geysers (or so the guide repeatedly said). Geysir itself erupts with boiling water every 5-10 minutes, sometimes it’s impressive and other times it’s not. Surrounding Geysir are other geysers and boiling mud pots, though those weren’t visible from the trail. There is a multimedia center at the tourist stop– one of the displays is this thing you can stand on and it mimics the earthquake caused by a major volcanic eruption a couple decades ago (5.1 on the Richter scale).

Last main stop for the day was Pingvellir, the place where you can actually see the crack between the Eurasian and North American Plates. There was so much snow there though, that I couldn’t see where I was walking! At one point my foot fell into a smaller crack up to the top of my boot between the two plates! You can hike down a bit between the plates in some areas. Up top, there is a spectacular view of the adjacent lake. This is where political gatherings used to take place back in the 900’s, due to its accessibility.

I’d have to say that my favorite of the three was Pingvellir. The landscape around it is beautiful (as is the other landscape during the drive), the view is amazing, and seeing the meeting place of these gargantuan pieces of the moving Earth blows my mind!

We’re going 4×4’ing around some volcanoes in a bit!

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Hello Reykjavik!

Not too long ago, my boyfriend Brian and I booked some cheap non-stop flights to Reykjavik via IcelandAir. Well, we finally made it here yesterday morning!

Our quaint, clean, beautiful studio apartment is located within a 5 minute walk from the main street, Laugavegur. Kalli’s Apartments has several units to rent, all with free access to a washer/dryer, free wifi, and an awesome welcome by the cheerful landlord, Systa! We bussed into town from the airport, getting off at the BSI bus stop (tickets were bought at the flyBus kiosk right outside baggage claim, 7000 kronur for 2 roundtrips, 45 minutes). Systa picked us up from BSI, took us to our apartment and came up with us to get us all oriented on the map, patiently answered every question we had, and collected rent for the 8 nights (99000 kronur).

It’s been snowing, as you may have already guessed for Iceland in February. During the daytime, it doesn’t get too bad. Once the sun starts to set however, the temperature drops noticeably fast. Leftover slush rapidly freezes, the wind chill gets painful, and the city seems to get muted as it settles in for the night. Then at that point you can turn up the heat in your room, fueled by geothermally heated water! (and yes, there is a trace of sulfur in the water here)

We haven’t done much so far, besides go grocery shopping and wander around a little (prices are similar to Seattle, maybe a little bit more). Brian’s cooking dinner now, before heading out on a tour to see the Northern Lights in a couple hours.

There’s a surprising amount of awesome street art here. Check it out!

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A laudation…

My family recently visited the grave of my oldest aunt who passed away from cancer in February 2007, a couple days after I got back from Rwanda. We were close– she helped raise me, along with my grandmother (her mother), who had also passed away from cancer. I just happened to be digging through old computer files when I came upon what I’m reposting here:

30-June-2006: A Laudation

The story of my aunt begins much like the story of any other immigrant worker. I’m afraid it will end like the story of any other cancer patient. Not two years after the death of her mother, my grandmother, to cancer nonetheless, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She never smoked a cigarette in her life. Like many immigrants, she went to work in a factory with several of my other aunts and worked day in and day out for an hourly wage that I’ve managed to surpass in my hourly earnings as a twenty-one year old college graduate.

She left her home in south China decades ago, to be with the rest of my family that had migrated here. She got a job, the same job she’s been at up until her semi-early retirement. She saved up some money, and spent the rest on groceries, toys for me when I was a child, and lucky money in red envelopes to give to me whenever it was my birthday, Christmas or Chinese New Year. She spoke little English, but spoke three dialects of Chinese. I hated it when she had to take the bus to her doctor’s appointments, back when she was well enough to go on her own, when they didn’t realize how bad the situation was. I’d offer to stay home from class, or to come home early, to take her there but she would insist that I had to go to class to get my education. I would insist, since it would be 40F out at the time, and she would be alone on the bus, with an umbrella in one hand, and the other hand stuffed in her coat pocket, a scarf wrapped around her neck, cancerous growths in her lungs.

I saw her lose all her hair from the first round of chemotherapy, and I could tell she was ashamed of it. She always wore hats, even in the house, just so no one could see. When her hair grew back, and when it seemed like everything would be ok, I saw that she smiled more. And then the cancer came back, and the doctors couldn’t do anything. And then little by little, I saw her starting to give up. They advised hospice care. We looked into it.

They brought over a hospital bed and an oxygen machine in her room. There were boxes of nitrile and latex gloves everywhere. She had cotton drapes that she laid on when she was in bed, and always several pairs of clean pants for whenever she soiled herself. Her nightstand was full of pill bottles. I’d hide in my room whenever my mom and dad would run over there, after hearing moans from my aunt’s room. I’d hear them putting the gloves on and I’d cry. The weight of all this ultimately proved to be too much, so she was sent to a nursing home.

I visited her yesterday, and I sat there facing her. It was warm, sunny, breezy and beautiful outside, but her room was soft, stuffy and pale. A nurse brought her dinner in, pathetic bowls of overcooked food, watery mashed potatoes, overdone broccoli, orange jello. She drank the soup, had some of the mashed potatoes, and then laid back in bed. She sighed and told me to take care of my health, that when she was younger, she didn’t take care of herself enough, and now she’s where she is now. She told me to not get sick, because it really is a miserable, painful thing. She told me to work hard at my job, and maybe go back to school. She told me to take my dad out for dinner for his birthday in several weeks, that he works hard at his job, full of hard labor. That he has to wake up at 4:30am and that his boss always asks him to do overtime, and even though he’s tired, he stays until 4pm. She told me that my parents worked hard for me to get to where I am now, that I should be proud of them and that I should work hard and get lots of raises and promotions to make them proud.

How do I reply? “Yes.” She’s completely right. I can’t help but feel ashamed because I feel like a spoiled brat. I say yes to her, and she nods her head. I watch her though, how skinny she is, how grey her hair is now. What was… is… her life? It’s her family. I realized something yesterday, sitting in that room, that holding cell. Inevitably, what we were fades away and the only thing that remains is what we did. What will remain of our own legacies? Surely not so much the trivial things like which hand the pen was held in, whether showers were taken at night or in the morning, or how many odd-jobs were taken up during the summers of high school years. My aunt worked a lot. She saved a lot of money. She only opened a cell phone when it was a shared plan, in order to reduce the costs. But she’d give me $100 on my birthdays, would buy snacks and little trinkets for me. Maybe I won’t remember these things in thirty years. But these are the telltale signs, signature characteristics of who we were. Who she is. It is these things that others should try to appreciate in a life, although they may not remain in memory for long. But what remains though, is what we stood for, what we believed in. What we fought for just by living each day, doing the things we did, exactly the way we did them. My aunt fought for her family. Me.

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Ibiza loves you

Every other inanimate object on Ibiza reminds you that the island loves you. Is that cheesy or cute? Anyway, for some reason, the jet lag has been hitting us big time. As soon as we landed in Ibiza from Madrid, we knocked out for the rest of the day!

When we woke up, we made our way to Amnesia, one of the clubs that Ibiza is known for. Tuesday nights are ‘Release Yourself’, co-hosted by Roger Sanchez, a house DJ/producer and Armin van Buuren, a trance guy that has been repeatedly voted the world’s best DJ. We stayed in the AvB room most of the time– I’ve seen him before, and I’ve been to big parties back home so I have to admit, it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had fun! One great thing was that whenever he dropped a song with vocals, the original singer was usually there to perform. He also had a tribute to the people that died in LoveParade Berlin, which was touching.

We stayed at Sol Bahia Apartments located in the quieter town of San Antonio, for 80EUR a night. San Antonio is home to the famous sunset bars (a 10 minute walk from Sol Bahia) where DJs spin live chillout music and the champagne flows endlessly.

We also checked out several sunset bars (as it turns out, we enjoyed these way more than the club experience)– Golden Buddha was part of a hotel, separated from the rest of the ‘sunset strip’, and Mint where we got free champagne and I befriended someone dressed up as the Joker who gave me a balloon daisy. However, what I was REALLY excited about was watching the sun set at Cafe del Mar for our last night on Ibiza. I still remember that I had their logo set as my desktop wallpaper ten years ago! It was everything I was hoping it’d be. The mojito was tasty, we were able to get a table, the crowd wasn’t too rowdy.. when the sun began to set, the loungey music turned off and a slow, haunting melody came on. I literally got chills watching it and Wilson compared it to a religious moment. Everyone started to clap and cheer just as the sun dipped below the horizon. Spectacular!

Oh and did I mention we went to a nude, openly gay beach?

We arrived in Barcelona this morning and spent the day shopping and wandering Las Ramblas, full of shops, touts and street performers. I’ve finally had a great meal, four plates of tapas in some random plaza we happened to wander into!

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Madrid

Sorry for the dryness of this post but I’m still pretty exhausted from the jet lag!

Madrid is a big, beautiful, bustling city. We only managed to cram in two of the larger museums, the Prado (the highlight being Goya’s Black Paintings) and the Reina Sofia, famous for its Picasso and Dali pieces. However, at this point, I’m kind of museum’ed out! Apparently, the Prado has free admission after 6pm (nice little surprise).

We also got onto one of those hop-on-hop-off tour buses, which cost 17EUR for a one-day pass. It was a nice way to see the city, as super-touristy as that sounds!

Our hotel is in the Centro neighborhood, pretty much in the center of everything. Just to the north of this street, Gran Via, is the gay district, Chueca, popular for its shopping and prostitute/druggie undertones (for you Seattleites– it’s the Capitol Hill area of Madrid). The museums are within walking distance from here, as well as Puerto del Sol.

One thing that definitely took some getting used to was the typical lunch and dinner times. Everything is shifted down by a couple of hours, so finding a place that serves a full menu between 4-8pm is somewhat difficult. I unfortunately haven’t been to any restaurants here worth talking about.

Hotel de las Letras is such a neat little boutique hotel! I have no complaints about this place whatsoever. We even decided to splurge a little extra and get our own rooftop terrace. Every evening, we finish the night by hanging out on our deck overlooking the surrounding streets, drinking beer that we picked up at a nearby market, looking over the pictures we took earlier in the day. Check out this pic that Wilson took! It’s the view from our terrace.

Tomorrow morning, we go off to Ibiza!!

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Spain, at last!

It was shortly after I attended my first rave at 14 that I first learned of Ibiza. It’s referred to as the musical Mecca of anyone that follows the electronic music/raver lifestyle– this is the one place that I’ve wanted to visit even before I got into travel as a hobby. The clubs there are LEGENDARY. International DJ/producers go there to debut their new tracks each summer to judge how it’ll do in the rest of the world for the rest of the year, the major clubs there have spawned satellite locations in numerous countries after scoring top marks on global nightclub lists.. it’s amazing that all this goes on in a small, sleepy-for-the-rest-of-the-year island in the western Mediterranean!

We’ll also be spending some time in Madrid and Barcelona but as of right now, I’m most excited about Ibiza (if you couldn’t already tell). This’ll be a total whirlwind of a trip, but I already know it’ll be worth it. So tomorrow afternoon, my friend Wilson and I will be heading off to Spain for a week! YAY!

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