Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Loathing Big Banks and Big Corporations

In the Spring of 2004 there was a special day in which I had a spring in my step.  It was the day that I paid off the mortgage on my little mountain sanctuary in Silverthorne, Colorado.  It was the first piece of property that I had managed to pay off the mortgage.  Just being able to pay off the mortgage that day gave me special sense of freedom that I really owned something in this world.

In the eight years that have passed since that day, my condo has remained a private refuge that allows me to retreat from the world and forget the stress and strain of my daily life.  I have held this place sacred and have sought to keep it free of the intrusions of daily life.  One of the things that I never have considered doing with my condo is using it as an investment or financial instrument.  The mere thought of taking a line of credit against it or using it as leverage for a loan is beyond anything I would consider.

So you can imagine the horror I felt when I found a foreclosure notice nailed to the front door when we arrived for Father's Day weekend back in June.  My anger and frustration was incalculable as I read the notice and realized that it was meant for another unit in my condo complex.  I resolved to handle the issue first thing Monday morning so that this mistake would be resolved.

The Monday following Father's Day I immediately placed a call to the lawyer listed on the notice.  We talked for all of 3 minutes and he admitted that it was a mistake.  His explanation was that the team that worked foreclosures and evictions for his firm had simply placed the notice on the wrong door.  I was satisfied with his response and I thought the issue was totally resolved.

Determined to figure out how this mistake occurred I poured over the foreclosure document that had been nailed to my door.  The foreclosure was listed against 409 Salt Lick Gulch Building 4, Unit 5.  My address according to my deed is listed as 409 Salt Lick Gulch Building 4, Unit 3.  Given that mail is not delivered to any of the homes in Silverthorne there are no definitive street addresses in use.  (If you want to receive mail in Silverthorne you need to have a post office box.)  As a result, when my building was constructed in 1978,  numbers for the individual units were assigned in whatever manner the developer wanted.  As luck would have it my unit is numbered 409 according to the numbering system assigned by the developer back in 1978.  What I figured was the people placing the eviction notice saw the number 409 on my condo and instead of verifying with the Summit County Assessor what was the foreclosed unit, they just stuck the foreclosure notice on my door.

Unfortunately for me I assumed when I talked to the lawyer for the bank all my issues were resolved.  That was a very stupid assumption on my part.

Fast forward a month and a half to this past Saturday morning.  Given my very early work hours and that I was up late on Friday night I was still in bed when my phone rang at 10AM.  It was a number I didn't recognize and I was tempted to let it ring over to voice mail.  Luckily I decided to answer it.  On the other end of the phone was my upstairs neighbor with very unsettling news.  The Summit County Sheriff's Department had come with an eviction team to serve an eviction notice upon my unit.  Not only had they come to serve an eviction notice they had bored out both the deadbolt and handset lock so that I would no longer have access to my unit.

Thankfully my neighbor was aware of the situation and after the eviction team had left spent a bunch of time talking to the sheriff's deputy who accompanied the team.  He was able to prove to the deputy that they had the wrong unit and had the officer place the eviction notice on the proper unit.  But the damage was already done to my unit.  As anyone can imagine I was furious.  For several hours on Saturday I was on the phone calling anyone and everyone involved in this cluster fuck.  I called the Summit County Sheriff.  I called the bank's lawyer.  I called the management company for my condo association.  I pretty much called everyone.

Nothing happened on Saturday as no one returned my phone calls.  Things started to happen in quick order on Sunday afternoon around 2:00PM when I received the first call from my condo's management company.  They promised quick action to get my access to my condo restored.  Then it was the turn of the bank's lawyer to call.  He was very apologetic and sent off an e-mail to his foreclosure team.  After a flurry of other calls, I was assured that things had been resolved and there were keys waiting for me at the management company's office.

Thankfully I am a very laid back person and I didn't get too utterly upset about the situation.  Regardless of this fact, I am seriously considering legal action against the bank.  All of this pain and suffering on my part and those involved in the situation could have been avoided if the bank's team worked with the Summit County Assessor's office to verify the actual property that was under foreclosure.  Given that the bank didn't take this step a lot of hassle and problems were caused for many people.  It is unconscionable that steps weren't taken to verify the proper unit under foreclosure.  Had I not been notified by my upstairs neighbor I won't have found out about this issue until we went to the condo this coming weekend.  By that point my furniture may well have been carted out of my unit and been sitting in the parking lot.

This situation is a great example of the "foreclosure" crisis that is talked about in the American press.  Had a well meaning neighbor not gotten involved this whole situation could have turned out much worse for me.  It is just mind boggling that when you don't even have a mortgage a bank can still intervene and try and take away your property.  It truly seems to violate all my rights as a law-abiding, tax-paying citizen of this country.  The absolute hubris displayed by the bank in this actions is truly incomprehensible.  And to add further injury to the situation - the fact that our local government aids and abets these corporations in their evil, vile work is pretty unbelievable.

There is a lesson to be learned from all of this.  The lesson is that the power of corporations combined with the quiet acquiescence of government have essentially robbed us, the citizens of our fundamental rights.  The Constitution of the United States established the rights of all citizens but our rights are steadily but surely being eroded by corporations.  It is an amazing and unbelievable situation as there is no mention of corporations having rights in our constitution.  Yet the rights of corporations now seem to outweigh the rights of individual citizens.  Why is this?  Because the notion of democracy has been overridden by the power of the wealthy, famous and well connected.

I truly hate to sound so pessimistic, however it seems as though corporations are gaining ascendency over individuals throughout the entire world.  Not only is this the situation here in the United States, but you see it in just about every country.  It is a horrible fact of the world that we live in today and it does not bode well for the future of our children.

Well - that was my exasperating event for the past week.  Thankfully, I think everything is now resolved but only time will tell.  Zack and I will be heading to the mountains this weekend to spend some time there and do some hiking.  This will most likely be our last big activity of the summer as work is having a distinct say in my life right now.  Besides working pretty crazy hours I will be making a trip to India starting on August 10th.  It will be a relatively short trip in the grand scheme of things as I will only be gone for a week.  However I will be seeing a lot more of India than normal as I will be visiting Gurgaon, a city outside of Delhi and Pune which is a city to the south of Mumbai.  It will be a busy whirlwind of a trip but it must be done to fulfill my expanded work responsibilities.  (Yet again a corporation is having a say over my life.  However at least in this case I am being compensated for it!)

That's about it for a Monday.  I hope everyone had a great weekend!  Have a great week and remember to get out side and enjoy the summer because school for the kids is rapidly approaching!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Living With Dogs

I have a saying that I like to repeat fairly frequently.  It is "no house is a home without a dog".  My thoughts have frequently turned to that saying this week as Zack and I have been fortunate enough to have 4 dogs this week.  My brother and his family have been on vacation since last Saturday and we have been caring for their 2 dogs - Ray and Lulu.

To say that our house has been full of activity this week has been a distinct understatement.  With four dogs around the house our home has been filled with lots and lots of activity and puppy craziness.  Each dog has added their unique personality to the puppy pack and it has made for some interesting adventures.

Ray, a yellow Labrador Retriever is the most needy of the dogs.  When he is away from my brother he becomes a sad mopy dog.  For much of the last week he has spent the vast majority of his time curled up in a ball in my office.  During all of my working hours he has either been curled up right behind my office chair or sprawled out like a rug between my desk and my reading chair.  He was the most happy when he came across Finnegan's tennis ball and we played fetch for a long time.  Whenever Ray has stayed with us in the past he has been very sad but I will admit this time he wasn't as sad.  Whenever there was a puppy scrum taking place with the other dogs he did actually join in.  There were even a few times in which he initiated the puppy play - which was surprising given his past history.

As for Lulu, she was her normal happy go-lucky self.  Finnegan and Lulu seem to be best friends as they are play companions.  Rarely do those two stop messing with each other.  If it isn't Finn starting the play, Lulu will come to him and essentially taunt him until he starts to play with her.  Lulu was markedly more laid back then in previous times she has stayed with us.  She is very defensive about her food and will take on which ever other dog comes near her food.  This time that did not happen as she seemed much more calm and relax.

As for our two pups, they were both in hog heaven.  Finnegan absolutely loves the constant company of the other dogs.  He is eager to play at any moment and is normally in the thick of all puppy antics that take place.  Lex - given his age tends to be a bit more reserved.  It's hard to believe but Lex will turn 9 years old on August 20th!  He does involve himself in the puppy play but there are times in which he goes off and does his own gig as he sometimes wants peace and quiet from the other dogs.

Ray and Lulu will go home later today and our home will become much more quiet again.  But we know that they will come and visit again and we will look forward to all the fun that they bring with them.

Speaking of our home, work on the kitchen is continuing.  As we have reached the end of the job there are several snags that have been hit that are driving the completion date out.  In particular, the hood I ordered for the stove is not going to work.  As a result the installation of the stove has been delayed as they won't install the stove without a hood that vents to the outdoors.  Though the appliance design centered confirmed that the hood would work in the place selected for the stove the reality has proven to be different.  This hood will need to be returned and I will need to purchase a new one.  I am hoping that whatever I end up getting is in stock so that I don't have a 2 - 3 week wait to get the stove installed!

As of today the only things we are waiting on to complete in the kitchen are: installation of the tile for the back splash, installation of pendant light over the eating space, finishing carpentry and the installation of the refrigerator and stove.  If my general contractor can get the sub-contractors scheduled, most of this work with the exception of the stove could be completed in 3 or 4 days.  We'll see if that happens or not.  Right now I am guessing not.

It will be very nice to fully have our kitchen back.  It will still take us a little while to put everything back in order.  We are getting all new furniture for the family room as it just won't make send to put my 14 year old, beat up couches back into that new beautiful space.  I look forward to sharing pictures of the new kitchen and family room when the work is done.

I hope everyone has a great weekend ahead.  We will be very active as it is the weekend before Zack's 14th birthday so we will be out and about getting up to things.  There will be lots of fun to be had!

Thanks and peace to all!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hope is Lost

At 10:35 AM on July 22, 2012 at the age of 46 years six months and eight days I lost hope in our country and American society.  It was at that moment that I read an article on the Internet in which a Republican senator in the United States Senate made a claim that large capacity magazines for guns were a constitutional right.

With that statement I realized the politicians of this country and hence our society at large are incapable of solving large complex problems. If we cannot take a small step to ban gun clips that contain 30 or more bullets how will we ever tackle larger problems like our national debt, healthcare and global warming.

When there is no sense of compromise whatsoever on critical issues how can we ever advance and achieve any goals? In light of the current massacre here in Colorado no one is calling for outlawing guns or preventing people from buying guns. For whatever reason our country has accepted what so many other countries have not that guns are an integral part of our society. No one is arguing this point. However in light of this current shooting voices have been raised to stop the sale of gun components that make it easier for criminals to shoot guns for long periods of time without having to reload. Why is this such a drastic issue? Large capacity magazines or clips are made for one purpose – to kill people.

These gun components have no purpose in hunting or sport shooting. They exist for one purpose and one purpose only, to kill large numbers of people. And yet it is impossible to raise the possibility of banning these gun components without being seen as trying to take guns away from the masses.

What I cannot understand is that so many people support keeping these magazines legal. When has a law abiding citizen used these magazines to stop a massacre, to stop a theft or protect their home?  I really can't answer that question. However we know these clips have been used in three mass shootings in the last five years.  These large capacity clips were used in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 2011 Norway massacre and in the most recent shooting at the Aurora movie theater.  And yet it is impossible to ban them.

Why? Why are some people so dedicated to maintaining the existence of such dangerous components in society at large. Furthermore if we can't solve a simple problem like this what hope do we ever have to solve extremely complex issues like global warming, our national debt and the health care crisis.

American society has become so torn by by groups that are willing to use inflammatory rhetoric to get their way. No one seems to be willing to look at things through an objective lens.  Politicians are more concerned with pandering to those small groups who were vocal in their election such as gun owners, radical religious groups, those who shout for political correctness and those who seek to deny science.

Literally there is no hope for us. Our society shall decay the same way many other societies have decayed in the past. Have we as the mightiest empire ever to exist in this world learned no lessons from the fall of Rome, the destruction of Byzantium and the decay of the Ottoman Empire?  Eventually we shall fall apart because we fail to see the destruction we are driving from within ourselves. We have failed to see reality, we have failed to understand the basic operation of our society and so our future is quite bleak.

Those are my thoughts this Sunday morning.  I will look for hope in other places. I will come to rely upon myself and only those who I know I can trust. I will not look forward to American society and our government ever to have my long term interests or goals in their agenda.

I hope everyone had had a good weekend.

Thanks and peace to all!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Mass Murder in Colorado Again

I woke this morning at 4:30AM for an early conference call.  One of the first things that I do when I log on in the morning is check the former MSNBC.Com (now NBCNews.Com) to get a picture of the latest happenings in the world.  In a horrifying manner, Colorado was once again at the top of the news.  This time for yet another bloody, disgusting mass murder.  This time instead of the confines of a high school, the mass murder occurred at a movie theater.  As of 5:20AM the news is that 15 people were murdered and dozens wounded during a screening of the newest Batman movie.  (The number killed has thankfully been revised down to 12 as of 6:30AM - I don't think they have an accurate count yet.)

Granted the United States is not the only country in which these kinds of ridiculous mass murders occur, but we seem to be one of the few countries in which these happen for reasons other than political, religious or terrorism.  Why does this country excel at producing mass murders for what is essentially the thrill of it all?  What is it about our society that drives people to kill for no reason?

In the coming hours, days and weeks there will be a large amount of speculation why all this happened.  There will be the statements that if we didn't have large numbers of guns in American society this won't happen.  There will be the statements that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  We'll hear the same things that we heard 13 years ago after the Columbine High School shootings.

There won't be any definitive answers of course.  There will be some symbolic steps taken to prevent this from happening again, but in the end run it will be just one mass murder out of many.  It's pathetically sad and doesn't speak well for Colorado and the entire American society.

I don't have any answers or any opinions except sadness, sorrow for those killed and frustration that this has happened yet again.  Each time this happens the hope that I always have for the future takes a hit.

How absolutely sad.  How absolutely sorrowful for all the families that are getting those horrible phone calls or knocks on their front doors.  Nothing that anyone says is going to make this better or take away the pain.

My thoughts and prayer to all those who affected by this horrible situation!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Healthcare – A Political Post

Normally I avoid politically oriented posts on this blog. And I know some of my readers will strongly disagree with the content of this post.  However I really wanted to write a post about the current health care debate in the United States. As I mentioned in yesterday's post Saturday was the four-year anniversary of Patty's death. During Patty's illness we were blessed to have some of the best health insurance available. The costs of Patty's treatment were exceedingly high. In fact over $6 million was spent on her chemo, bone marrow transplant, fight against GVHD, physical therapy and lengthy hospital stays. We were exceedingly lucky that my employer offered such a wonderful health plan.

Unfortunately many people do not have this kind of health plan available to them. There are over 40 million people in the United States who have no health insurance whatsoever. Therefore I have a very hard time understanding why so many people are so virulently opposed to the government's affordable health care act commonly known as Obamacare. Through the affordable health care act most of the people who currently have no health insurance will be able to purchase health insurance. Without the implementation of this act the likelihood is that greater and greater numbers of people will eventually lose their health insurance.  Let's face facts more employers are passing healthcare costs totally on to the employees as opposed to providing them as real benefits.  Over time this trend will continue until employers eventually stop offering health insurance.  (This will occur with or without Obamacare.)

Besides reducing the number of uninsured people in the United States there are many other benefits that will result from the affordable care act. For example one provision that even the most diehard "reappealers" want to keep, is the provision that young adults may remain on their parents insurance plans until they turn 26. Another benefit of the act is that pre-existing conditions will no longer be held against people seeking insurance. Furthermore through the establishment of insurance exchanges everyone will be able to purchase affordable insurance.

What is the problem with all this? It seems as though special interests, particularly the healthcare insurance providers have shaped the argument. By calling the affordable health care act socialism, special interest groups have managed to strike a raw nerve with the American public. The term socialism and socialized medicine have been repeatedly used to scare every day people and ignite the passions of a vocal conservative minority.

Other arguments that have been thrown around have been the cost of the program and the potential for a further increase in government debt.The bottom line is that our government's debt ratio versus GDP is high.  However, it is far from the highest in the world and until we can re-build and economy based upon building things, our government is going to have to increase debt to keep the economy afloat.  We need to get over the fact that the debt is growing and focus on what the debt is delivering back to the economy.

In general I believe the arguments against the affordable care act are driven by people who believe that only the rich should have good health care. Because if the affordable care act is repealed, that's what it will mean. Only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford good health coverage. We can see this through the fact that the number of uninsured continues to increase every year. There has been a slowing of that number with the first phase of the implementation of the affordable care act, but it will just continue to go up if the affordable health care act is repealed.

I have a personal reason why want the affordable care act stay in place. For the last 24 years I have slaved and I have worked very hard to meet the demands of my job. I have traveled millions of miles and at times not seen my family for a month or more. You add to that the loss of my wife and I have reached a point in my life where I no longer want to work in this crazy rat race that I do. Instead I would prefer to leave this crazy fast track of a job for something slower paced that is closer to my heart. I realize I can't do this for several years until Zack is through high school. However with healthcare prior to the affordable care act, I never would have been able to leave my present job due to pre-existing conditions that I have. Not not only would it have been significantly expensive, but in fact I would have never qualified for any healthcare given the pre-existing conditions I have. Yes I am healthy but no one would've insured me in the case that I wouldn't have remained healthy in the future. With the implementation of the affordable care act I can now leave my present job and feel confident that I will be able to find health insurance. To me this is precious as it now gives me freedom that I haven't had since I was diagnosed with the "pre-existing" condition back in 2001.  (For those of you wondering - I have high blood pressure. It is a genetic trait that runs in my family that no one appears to be able to do anything about it other than take medication.)

So I am asking those of you who read this blog and are filled with anger against the affordable care act to step back and look at your life. Realize you are only one pink slip away from losing your health insurance. And if you are like me and have a pre-existing condition and become unemployed you may never to be able to get insurance back under the present system. The affordable care act will give you that ability to always have insurance.

I really felt that I needed to write this because of all that Patty went through.  Had she lived the affordable care act would've made a difference in Patty's life in the fact that she would've been able to feel secure that she would always be able to get insurance.  I remember Patty worrying that once she'd been diagnosed with leukemia what we would do if I lost the ability to get health insurance due to being laid off.

Think about it folks. I understand we all have political persuasions. However healthcare is not a commodity. When you are ill and face death you don't care how much costs, you just want to be healthy again. So until everyone can have the absolute best health insurance that provides every reasonable and unreasonable alternative to save a person's life, the affordable care act will least move us to a better place.

I know there'll be many disagreements with what I've written. However that's the great thing about this country, I can express this opinion and you can express yours. I never intentionally censor comments to this blog so fire away and I will make sure they are properly posted.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back to Hiking

Today marked the first day that I've returned to my passion of hiking in almost 10 months.  after suffering a broken leg running a half marathon in March of 2011 and then undergoing three back surgeries in early 2012, my body is finally healing to the point that I can once again hike.

October 16th of 2011 marked the last time that I was able to undertake a major walk or hike. On the day Zack and I departed for Iceland, I received the go-ahead from my neurosurgeon to to resume normal activities. Throughout our trip to Iceland I was able to walk normally and walk longer and longer distances. Given the recently decreasing amounts of pain in my back I felt today was the day I could finally begin hiking again.

At 8:45AM this morning Zack and I departed the house to undertake this first hike in so long. We picked up Lisa as she was joining us for this adventure.  The objective for today's hike was to climb the Devils Head trail to the Devils Head fire lookout in the Pikes national forest.

This fire lookout has been designated as a national historic landmark and is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary.  It is very popular with hikers from the Denver metropolitan area and offers tremendous views in all directions.

To reach Devils Head we traveled to the small town of Sedalia, Colorado.  From Sedalia the route followed Colorado Highway 67 to Rampart Range Road which is a dirt road that runs along the ridge line of the Rampart Range mountain chain. The journey along Rampart Range Road is bumpy and bone shattering. The washboard condition of the road has a tendency to bounce vehicles right off the edge if the driver is not careful. Thankfully the journey along Rampart Range Road was only about 10 miles. However these ten miles seemed more like one hundred.

When we arrived at the trail head the parking lot was already full to capacity. It looked like Devils Head was going to be busy this day!  The first part of the hike went through cool glades of aspen and pine. The grade of the trail was steep and for much of the first half-mile we felt as we were gasping for breath.  Given this was my first hike in so long the backs of my calves ached with each step upward. However once we cleared the thick forest at the bottom of the trail things became less steep and we were able to catch our breath more easily.  Moving between giant outcroppings of rock the views we encountered became more and more majestic as we continued. 

After 45 minutes of hiking we reached a clearing at the top of the mountain in which was located a cabin that serves as home for the forest rangers who man the Devils Head fire lookout.  Grateful to be at the end of our climb we plopped down in the shade to enjoy the breeze blowing upon us. The final climb was yet in front of us as there are approximately one hundred and forty stairs that you must climb to reach the unbelievable views of the fire lookout station. At this point I was uncertain whether Zack would be willing to climb the stairs or not. The stairs are very steep and intimidating. I was pleasantly surprised when Zack said "those stairs look very wussy - I can handle them without a problem".  I wouldn't have to coax or prod him to climb to the top.  For more information on Devils Head please see the following Wikipedia link.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_Head_Lookout.

 (This boy is growing up fast!  He is definitely looking like a teenager these days!)

(One of the rock formations that makes up Devil's Head.)

(Another amazing view from the lookout.)

 (Lisa snapping some pics.)

 (The fire lookout.  Not sure if the wires on the top are to prevent it from being hit by lightening or an antenna.)

 (Zack negotiating the rock paths along the top of the formation that is home to the lookout.)

 (Zack going down, down, down the steps.)

(Hike accomplished.)

After a short rest we began the climb to the fire lookout. Halfway up we passed the forest ranger coming down the steps to fetch his lunch from the cabin. Given he was not going to be in the lookout station he presented us with the cards he presents every visitor who climbs to the top of the fire lookout. The cards are a small reminder of your accomplishment but more importantly they carry an important message about trying to limit forest fires.  I first met this forest ranger back in 1996 when I climb Devils head for the first time. It's absolutely amazing as this gentleman has been working at Devils Head every summer for the last 28 years.

We continued our climb and quickly reach the top of the fire lookout. At this point we had reached the highest point along the Rampart Range mountain chain.  For Colorado it's not that high, it's only 9600 feet above sea level.  For me it was still a great accomplishment as this was the first time in many months that I had attempted to climb like this. With this climb under my belt I am certain it won't be too long before I am once again conquering 14,000 foot peaks.  It was great to have Zack and Lisa along with me for this first hike of 2012.

We stayed at the fire lookout for quite a long time admiring the views before we decided to head back down. The journey back down to the trail head parking lot was much easier and quicker than the journey up. Arriving at the car we began the bone shattering drive back to Colorado Highway 67. Given we were going through Sedalia we just had to stop for some lunch at Bud's Bar.  Bud's is famous for having the best burgers in Colorado according to the Westword newspaper. Year after year Bud's has won the best burger award for the entire state of Colorado in Westword's "Best of Colorado" competition. Every time I go there I have to laugh at the fact that they have no menu. They serve hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers and potato chips, that's all. They don't accept credit cards and they keep it simple – it really doesn't get any better!

After chowing down on our cheeseburgers we went next door to a small little ice cream shop and got some homemade ice cream. I had a flavor I had never had before – Mexican chocolate. This is normal chocolate ice cream with cinnamon mixed in.  It was fantastic!  I hope to find a recipe to make some of this delicious ice cream for an upcoming barbecue or party.

After that it was time to head home. We had a full day of fun, adventure and beautiful scenery. For the first hike in 10 months this experience couldn't have been better. Most importantly it was great to have wonderful company with whom to share it.

We have arrived at the end of another weekend.  In a matter of a few hours I will be waking to begin another week filled with work.  I cherish these weekends and all that I do with those people who are closest to me. This coming week will bring much work for me but also much progress towards the completion of our kitchen. The completion of the kitchen is starting to come into focus. There is much anticipation for the end of this reconstruction as we have many dinners, barbecues and parties planned for this new space.

All I can do is be so very thankful for the good fortune that has allowed me to recover from my injuries and be on the cusp of having such a wonderful new space in my house. I look over the road that I have traveled in the last four years since Patty's death and there have been many ups and downs but at last the trajectory of life has been corrected. (Yesterday, July 14 was the fourth anniversary of Patty's passing. It is remarkable that almost half a decade has passed since she left us. We will always miss her and mourn her but life has become good again.)

I hope you've all had a great weekend!

Thanks and peace to all. ~ J.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

So Much To Do, So Little Time!

There never seems to be enough time in life to accomplish all the things that we want to accomplish.  Whether they are big or small it forever seems that there are goals on our to-do's lists that seem to be difficult to complete.  When a vacation is added to the mix the ability to stay on top of things seems to get even worse.  So much so that often we feel more stress returning from a vacation than when we left.  There is no thought in my mind that I would have ever traded our vacation to Iceland for anything.  But there are a lot of things to catch upon given we were gone for 10 days.   Today's blog post is about all those things that have occurred and have been added to my to-do list.  In most cases all of these have been very good, so in fact there isn't a bit of complaint from me.  I just hope I can get caught up on everything sooner than later.

The biggest thing I have to do is of a personal sort.  The day that we left for Iceland I got final clearance from my surgeon to resume all my normal activities.  There is a full course of physical therapy that I need to go through over the next 2 months.  However I am allowed to start getting back to my normal activities like hiking, biking and going to the gym.  A slow start to all these things is very important as my back is still definitely healing.  On a day-to-day basis the level of pain I am experiencing is still pretty significant.   It takes a good part of the morning for the pain to finally subside after I have taken 4 Advil pills.  The week before we left on vacation I purchased an inversion table and also seems to be helping the pain.  Regardless of the pain, I am going to go full-steam into my physical therapy and resume my full active life!

Work on our kitchen has continued while we were gone.  It is definitely taking longer than expected as we are now into the 3rd month of the reconstruction.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel as all the structural work is done, the cabinets and granite have been installed and final carpentry is taking place now.  With any luck all the work will be wrapped up within the next 1.5 to 2 weeks.  It is starting to look awesome!  Can’t wait to share the pictures of the completed kitchen as I am really in awe at what has been created.  I know I have spent too much on it, but every time I had to choose a kind of material or make some kind of stylistic decision I just went with what looked the best.  Unfortunately, this also usually meant it cost a lot.  We will have all the options in the world if we want to stay or if we decide to sell some point in the near future after this work is done.

Lastly I have major changes in my work that have impacted me substantially.  As the unemployment figures show, companies are not hiring new workers.  Instead they are just giving the existing workers more to do.  I recently received a set of new responsibilities in addition to the responsibilities I already have.  For the next 1 – 2 months at least I will be working 2 full time positions.  I am not exactly sure how it is all going to work out, but I will give it my best shot to do all the work I need to do.  The biggest change with this new set of responsibilities is that I have now inherited a standing operations delivery team in India.  In terms of their working hours as related to Mountain Daylight Time they work from 12:30AM to 10:30AM.  To match the team’s hours more, my working hours now run from 4:00AM to 2:00PM.  In that way, I can have a much larger overlap in working hours with them as opposed to my normal working hours of 8:00AM to 5:00PM.  Though my work hours are supposed to end at 2:00PM they usually end at the normal time of 5:00PM which just means I am working a much longer day. All of this is making for one tired existence!

The other aspect of my new responsibilities is that they will herald my return to India for the first time in 6.5 years.  Timing wise this is coming at a particularly bad time as there is so much going on for the rest of the summer, but there isn’t anything I can do about it.  I am trying to postpone the trip until mid-August, but I don’t know if I can put it off that long.

Speaking of travel, there are a number of things that are yet to be published regarding the trip to Iceland.  I have been working through all the approximately one thousand pictures that I took while we were there, selecting the best for posting to Facebook and Picasa.  Hopefully these pictures will give all my friends a more comprehensive idea about Iceland.  Also, work is about 75% complete on an article I am writing for potential publication in a travel magazine or a major travel blog.  If I am successful in my placement of the article, you had better believe there will be a link to it on the blog.

With the change in status from my surgeon this weekend might involve a hike and bike ride!  It has been so long since I have done either of these activities, I can’t wait to get back to them!  Hidden Mesa or Devil’s Head look like good possibilities for this first hike.  As for biking riding, whatever ride I take will be kept less than 10 miles.  Though there is still a good bit of strength in my legs despite the 8 month lay-off from activity, it will be beneficial to take things slowly.

I hope everyone is looking forward to the weekend ahead!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Iceland – Day 10: Reykjavik to Denver

The day of our departure back to Denver had arrived.  Though both Zack and I were feeling some what depressed that our holiday was finally over it really was time to get back to Denver.  There were family, friends and puppies to see.  And of course there was that insidious thing called work that I needed to return to so that we could continue to take vacations like this. 

Waking up early I spent about an hour organizing our stuff so that it was well packed and important stuff was in the 3 pieces of carry on luggage that we were taking on the flight.  Thankfully Icelandair doesn’t charge for checked bags!

(Snob warning:  The next three paragraphs I am going to write sound like am a snob.  So if you would rather not experience my significantly stuck up attitude, please skip these paragraphs.  If you do choose to read them, please just realize that I AM an ASS!)

We left the hotel around 9:30AM and headed to a little bakery that we knew of 2 streets over as we wanted a greater choice of food than what was offered at the “hotel” breakfast.  Ordering our food we then picked out a seat in the main section of the café.  As we ate our breakfast I sat there listening to the conversation that was taking place between the next two tables.  At the table next to us were two American women in their late 30’s to early 40’s.  The table next to them was occupied by a young American male in his mid to late 20’s.  The more I listened to the conversation the more I cringed.

The guy two tables over was doing his damnedest to try and pick these women up and they were not interested.  To be honest, I felt sorry for the guy because he couldn’t pick up on the cues that the women were sending that the conversation should end.  Then my ears really pricked up when he started taking about touring around Iceland.  I wanted to hear what he had to say.  And then that was truly when my travel snob attitude kicked in.  This guy had been in Iceland for about 3 weeks and was talking about seeing Iceland and then he dropped the thing that made me laugh.  He had spent all of his time in Reykjavik and had just taken tourist day tours to “catch the highlights”.  Dear god, I thought you haven’t seen crap of this country then!

My thoughts are if you really want to see and experience a foreign country you really have to get off the tourist beaten track and see the things that the locals see on a day-to-day basis.  That is the only way you are ever going to get to truly experience a country or a foreign destination.  I am not going to sit here and make all kinds of judgments about this guy or tourists who just go on tourist excursions and think they are seeing the country, but the bottom line is that you don’t really see it or experience it.  I think to really see a place you at one point or another have to get utterly lost or if you don’t get lost, just pick a road or a bus, or a train and go somewhere that you never expected to end up.  Go someplace where the common people of that country spend their days.  Don’t just seek out the tourist sites.  I know I sound like an utter snob by saying these things but unfortunately it is the way I feel.  To me it is part of my attitude of travel that the journey begins where the road ends and that the journey itself is the destination of the trip as opposed to one specific location.  Ok – I am off my snobbish traveler high horse and please know without a second thought that I know I sound like an utter ass.  But those who are part of my personal life know how much of an ass I can be – seriously!

So after I sat there scoffing to myself at this guy and the two women we finished eating and headed out.  There were a couple of destinations around Reykjavik that I wanted to get photos of and so we took care of that before heading out on the road toward Keflavik, which is the location of Iceland’s major international airport and about 50 kilometers outside of Reykjavik.  Along the way we planned to stop and visit the Blue Lagoon – the internationally known “hot springs” and spa.  I put hot springs in quotes because the blue lagoon is actually the cooling pond for a geothermal power plant.  Extremely hot water is pumped up from below ground and is used to generate electricity.  Once the water cools to the point it is no longer usable for electricity generation, it is pumped into a series of man-made lagoons to cool before being pumped into the ocean.  One of these lagoons is just the right temperature for hot spring bathing.  The Icelanders have turned this lagoon into an internationally recognized spa.  The waters are filled with minerals that supposedly rejuvenate the skin and body. 

 (Iconic Viking ship sculpture that is a symbol of the city on the waterfront in Reykjavik.)

You can tell that you are approaching the Blue Lagoon from many kilometers away as you can see the rising steam.  The lagoon is located in the midst of what appears to be a very young lava flow.  The landscape around the facility looks like the broken landscape of some extremely hostile exo-planet.  To reach the welcome center you walk through a path that has been carved through the broken lava.  The path provides some spectacular imagines for pictures as you can see below.

Since we didn’t have time to take a spa treatment we just wanted to get a glimpse of the lagoon itself.  Given the high profile of the location, there is a specially built viewing platform at the top of the facility so that you can see it all.  Zack and I climbed up to the top of that and were reward with a wonderful view of the entire place.  What was so remarkable about it all was the fact that the water is as blue as blue can be.  It is because of all the different minerals that are in the water.  For whatever reason, these minerals then turn the rocks that line the lagoon white.  It presents a very powerful image that remains in your minds eye for a long time!

(The Blue Lagoon - how beautiful is that?)

(Path to the  Blue Lagoon that is cut through the lava follow.)

Leaving the Blue Lagoon we headed towards a small town called Grindavik on the coast.  Instead of returning to the main road to Keflavik, we were taking the long way to the airport, winding around the coast.  There wasn’t anything very special at Grindavik so we just stopped there to fill the rental car up with gas and then got back on the road.  Driving along the coast we saw many wonderful views of the ocean, but then eventually we turn back inland.

Traveling through the broken lava flows that dominated the landscape we saw a roadside attraction sign.  We didn’t know exactly what was there as we were out in the middle of no where and no one else was around, but we decided to stop.  It turned out the attraction was a small little walking bridge that had been built across a very steep gully in the earth.  The gully was the intersection between the North American continental (tectonic) plate and the EurAsian continental plate. The bridge was a bridge that spanned two continents!  If you stood right in the middle of the bridge you could have one foot on one continental plate and your other foot on a second continental plate.  Of course Zack utterly loved this!

Getting back on the road after this experience, we realized that would be the last highlight of our trip.  For much of the rest of the drive we passed the former American military base of Keflavik on our left.  I never in my wildest imagination thought that the US had such a large presence in Iceland!  This base had been huge!  Thinking about it, I can see the reason for it as the former Soviet Union had just been across the North Pole from Iceland.  The base was used mainly as a Naval Air Station that supported anti-submarine activities in the North Atlantic.  However there were a variety of other commands located at this base and hence the reason for its size.  After being scaled back at the end of the Cold War, the base was formally decommissioned in 2006 and has been turned over to the government of Iceland.

Everything from that point on was the normal airport check-in stuff.  We dropped off the rental car and then walked to the terminal with our luggage.  Check-in was relatively quick, but we came to realize how busy Keflavik International Airport is.  There were Icelandair and other airline flights leaving for all over Europe and North American from the airport.  The amount of passengers connecting through this airport for flights to or from North America or Europe was very large.  I had never really known that the airport supported this much traffic and we hadn’t seen evidence of this on the inbound flight.

Our flight back to the US was routine.  Zack and I spent a lot of time watching movies as Icelandair has an excellent onboard entertainment system on its airplanes.  One point I did want to call out was a documentary that I watched by an Icelandic photographer by the name of Magnus Vidar Sigurdsson.  The documentary was called “Last Days of the Arctic” and it was an amazing movie.  It tells the story of the photographs that Magnus has taken over the years and how things have changed since he started taking photos in the 1970’s.  It is a powerful and moving film.  I am not sure if they have it on Netflix, Hulu or Vudu, but if they do I highly recommend watching it.

We arrived in Denver about 10 minutes late due to headwinds that we faced in flight.  Lisa was in Orlando for the week so my brother Tim came and picked us up.  And that was it.  Our trip to Iceland was finished.

Despite the fact that our trip was done, I have come to feel a very strong connection with this small, remote part of the world.  I intend to follow up on all the contacts that I made while I was there and continue to learn more about this wonderful piece of the world.  Both Zack and I are of the strong opinion that we want to go back to Iceland in the near future. 

I intend to pen one more entry about Iceland.  It will be something of a summary of all the things that I learned and observed while I was there.  But I also intend to keep up on all the happenings in Iceland and will report on them in the blog every once in a while.

My greatest hope is that all of you my readers have found this story to be interesting and enjoyable.  Hopefully it has provided you all with some insights to this wonderful country.  I have appreciated hearing from those of you who have e-mailed me with thoughts and comments about what I have written.  Thanks so much for all of your feedback.  Please always continue the dialog with me.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Iceland – Day 9: Reykjavik

Our last full day in Iceland had arrived.  As we reached this day there was a bittersweet feeling in our hearts as we have so loved this vacation and would love to have the opportunity to stay for a much longer period of time, but reality dawns at the end of every vacation and the time to go home is now approaching.  More importantly there are people in Colorado who are important to us that we want to get home to see.  Regardless of these feelings we still had one adventure yet to complete.  Besides sheep and birds the most common animal we have seen in Iceland has been the Icelandic horse.  Up to this point we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to get up close and personal with these wonderful creatures.

The Icelandic horse is different than the typical horse that we are used to in the United States in several ways.  Not being a detailed horse person, I thought I would quote the following two paragraphs from Wikipedia about the Icelandic horse.

“The Icelandic horse is a breed of horse developed in Iceland. Although the horses are small, at times pony-sized, most registries for the Icelandic refer to it as a horse. Icelandic horses are long-lived and hardy. In their native country they have few diseases; Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return. The Icelandic displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The only breed of horse in Iceland, they are also popular internationally, and sizable populations exist in Europe and North America. The breed is still used for traditional farm work in its native country, as well as for leisure, showing, and racing.

Developed from ponies taken to Iceland by Scandinavian settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries, the breed is mentioned in literature and historical records throughout Icelandic history; the first reference to a named horse appears in the 12th century. Horses were venerated in Norse mythology, a custom brought to Iceland by the country's earliest settlers. Selective breeding over the centuries has developed the breed into its current form. Natural selection has also played a role, as the harsh Icelandic climate eliminated many horses through cold and starvation. In the 1780s, much of the breed was wiped out in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. The first breed society for the Icelandic horse was created in Iceland in 1904, and today the breed is represented by organizations in 19 different nations, organized under a parent association, the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations.”

The Icelandic horse’s blood line has been pure for over 1000 years!  In 982 AD, the Icelandic Parliament outlawed the importation of any horses into Iceland.  The population of horses in Iceland is totally derived from those horses that were in Iceland in 982AD.  Any Icelandic horse that leaves the country may never come back.  This keeps the entire breed healthy and free of diseases.  With these kinds of rules you can tell how highly the Icelandic people think of their special breed of horses.

Our horse riding adventure with the Icelandic horse was taking place at Ishestar Riding Center outside of Reykjavik.  One of their buses came to our hotel and picked us up around 8:30AM.  After us, the bus made several other stops throughout the city before heading out of town.  By the time we left Reykjavik there were about 10 of us on board the bus.

Arriving at the riding center after 30 minutes of travel we had to do all the necessary paperwork to release them from liability if we got hurt.  We watched a short video about all the things you should and shouldn’t do around horses and then it was on to get our riding equipment.  Thankfully the day was nice so the only riding equipment we required was riding helmets.

After that it was on to the corral to select our horses.  The riding instructors gave us a few choices concerning the types of horses we wanted to ride.  People who were more advanced riders were able to have the more lively horses.  I was impressed by Zack because he stepped up and acknowledged his riding experience and was given one of the more lively horses.  For me on the other hand, though I am comfortable around horses it has been 20 years since I was last on a horse, so I definitely went with one of the more low-key, reliable horses.

The horses were already saddled so all we had to do was make sure the stirrups were the proper length and run the reins over the horses’ heads.  Once that was done, it was saddle up and giddy up time!  Given the smaller size of these horses it was a pretty easy feat to get on them and get a good feel for what was a comfortable sitting position.

 (I am sure you can't tell Zack is so very happy in all of these pictures.  He just loves anything to do with animals!)
 (My horse!)

When everyone was saddled up we formed our horses up into a line and started the ride.  Given the nature of my horse I ended up at the very end of the line.  Zack was about 6 horses in front of me which he didn’t necessarily like.  

Our ride proceeded through an area that had been covered in lava flows only several hundred years ago.  The land was broken and fragmented but the country was beautiful as we were riding to the north and east and got some great views of the mountains.  This part of the ride was uneventful and rather slow as the riding instructors wanted to make sure we were all comfortable with our mounts.

My horse seemed to distrust me to some degree as we really didn’t seem to connect very well.  He had his own mind about what we were doing and didn’t want to follow my commands.  I suppose it could be I was just really bad at giving the commands!  The riding technique felt weird to me as there was no horn to the saddle and the manner in which your butt would move up and down seemed different.

We rode onward for 50 minutes or so until we reached a place in the lava field where the ground was soft and there was plenty of grass around.  We stopped there and dismounted and left the horses graze for a while.  Zack and I got our horses together and spent the time together.

It was here that I did connect a lot better with my horse.  I spent a lot of time rubbing him and putting my face up to his.  From that point forward he seemed to feel a lot more comfortable with me and me with him.  He was very interested in grazing and from what I can tell just wasn’t into the whole slow walking thing.

Forming up for the return ride back to the center, the instructors asked us how comfortable we were and split us into three groups.  The first group was a fast group that would gallop, the second was a medium speed group that would trot and the last was a slow group that would walk.  Zack chose to go with the slow group and I chose to go with the medium group.  The instructors wanted us to arrive back at different times so we left at different points.  My group left last.

Trotting the whole way back to the riding center was a joy.  My horse did much better responding to what I wanted him to do and we worked well together.  We only had one miscue in which we were trotting along and he was startled by a large rock in the path.  One of the instructors saw what the horse did and said that he was “startled by a scary rock”.  Apparently these horses do these rides enough that they get into a rhythm of just following the horse in front of them and not exactly paying attention to the ground.  If they are presented with a large rock on the trail it can startle them can cause them to abruptly halt.  I was no worse for the wear – I was just as startled as the horse!

Getting back to the riding center we tied the horses up and got to take their saddles off.  We were the second group back to the corral, so I had to wait for Zack to come back.  He did a good job unsaddling and tying up his horse.

Leaving the horse center they had a huge tub full of old horse shoes that you could take home with you.  Zack picked one out for us to take home with us and put in some special place as a memory of our trip.  Taking their tour bus back into town we were lucky as we got dropped off second.  

We quickly showered after our return to the hotel and then headed out for some lunch as we were starving.  Given it was so close to the hotel we decided to eat at a restaurant called The American Roadhouse.  We were surprised to find the place decked out with red, white and blue balloons and it was only then that we realized it was July the Fourth.  Celebrating July the Fourth in another country is weird as there weren’t going to be any fireworks for us!

The rest of the day was pretty unremarkable as we spent it exploring the parts of Reykjavik that we hadn’t yet seen.  I finished my souvenir shopping for everyone and got a few things for Zack and me.

The only other notable point to the day was that we ate dinner at a Reykjavik institution called the Sea Baron restaurant.  This restaurant is a must experience in Iceland.  They make a famous lobster soup and serve just about any kind of seafood that is caught in the waters of Iceland.  They even serve Minke Whale meat.  Once again I struggled with the idea of getting a whale steak kabob but in the end run my sense of adventure was overwhelm by a sense of morality.  Minke whales are only believed to number about 650,000 – 700,000 in the entire world.  They are actively hunted by Iceland, Norway and Japan.  South Korea just introduced a plan before the International Whaling Commission to start hunting whales again.  I can’t condemn those people in aboriginal areas of the world like Greenland who hunt these whales, but I really wonder why developed countries need to do this when it has been proven that whales are intelligent, social creatures.  Certainly the amount of meat gathered from whales in countries like Japan, Norway and Iceland could be made up through beef, pork or sheep that are specifically raised for slaughter.  Oh well…  I shouldn’t get politically at this point.  In the end I had the lobster soup and Zack had a vegetable kabob.  The food was great - but Zack's wasn't happy with the selection as they had no "American" food at all.  My response was - "Zack you just need to expand the selection of what you eat!"

And so that ended our last full day in Iceland.  It was another great day that we enjoyed very much.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Iceland – Day 8: Lambastadir to Rejkjavik and Points in Between

As a native of the more southern environments, light is a significant cue for me in determining the time of day.  In Iceland, light becomes irrelevant in this quest.  Instead it is more important to note things like the behavior of the animals or the height of the tide.  On this our eighth day in Iceland, the animals provided me with my wake up call.  Inside the guest house at Lambastadir, I was awoken to the bleating of sheep directly outside our window.  We had left the window slightly open the night before and several sheep decided that the grass outside our window was a perfect place to start their grazing for the morning!

It is an unusual way to wake in the morning for those of us who spend our lives in the midst of American suburbia.  Yet it is the way that most of the world still wakes and people throughout history have awoken.  For this simple little experience I will be forever grateful as it felt like I come to know Iceland in a very in-depth and close way.

Staying in bed for a while, I lay there for a considerable time listening to the sheep and other animals – primarily a rooster who was making clear he was king of the roost.  Slowly the sounds of the human part of the world began to creep into the picture.  The sounds of cars passing on the road in the distance became more frequent and then the noise of other guests at Lambastadir started to fill the air.  At that point I decided it was time to rise and get about the day.

Given the small size of the guesthouse, the morning “hotel breakfast” was an intimate affair with only 6 other people in attendance.  The “mom” and “pop” that ran the guest house did a good job providing a relatively complete breakfast.  We had home made waffles and fruit to get use started for the day.  Our schedule and plan for the day were relatively incomplete so I didn’t know when or where we would be stopping for our next meal.

After packing up and getting everything in the car, Zack and I took a walking tour of the farm.  We saw lots and lots of sheep, plenty of chickens, several ducks, a flock of geese, a bunch of horses and the one very big rabbit.  As has been the norm in Iceland we did not see any cows.  Throughout our entire trip so far we have only seen a small number of farms that have had cows.  I don’t believe that the land in many places will support the raising of cows and hence the infrequent number of farms of cows.

After spending about 20 minutes wandering around the farm we were off in the car to points as of then unknown.  Our next hotel was back in Reykjavik and that was only 1 hour away, so we had plenty of time to explore the countryside before we headed to Reykjavik.

 (The noisy rooster at Lambastadir)

Looking at where we were in relationship to other major points of interest we decided to visit the two attractions on the Icelandic “Golden Circle” that we had not yet seen.  The Icelandic “Golden Circle” are three of Iceland’s top attractions as they are all within a short distance of Reykjavik and are considered significant attractions.  These three attractions are Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss.  The first – Thingvellir we had visited on our very first day in Iceland.  This is a national park in which Iceland’s chieftains used to meet to decided Icelandic law.  Additionally, the unique geology of the area is caused by the juncture point between the two continental plates – the North American tectonic plate and the EurAsian tectonic plate.  The second attraction - Geysir was one of the first geysers discovered in the world.  All other geysers take their name from this particular geyser.  Unfortunately for this the original geyser it is now an inactive hot spring.  This geyser’s inactivity is believed to have been caused by a series of volcanic eruptions that took place years ago.  The last major attraction of the three – Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls.  This waterfall is not as dramatic as Dettifoss that we saw when we were in Husavik, but it is nonetheless a very impressive waterfall.

On our way to Geysir we stumbled across Skálholt – an area of great historical importance to Iceland.  This place was where the first bishopric was established in Iceland almost a millennium ago in 1056 AD.  Today a fabulous cathedral stands on the spot next to the excavated ruins of a much older religious community that once flourished there.  Though Iceland is a small country and we as American’s don’t know a lot about Icelandic history, there is an extensive amount of historical background to this country. One really interesting aspect of Iceland’s history is how and when the country converted from paganism to Christianity and then from the Roman Catholic faith to the Lutheran faith.  I personally don’t know much about it myself, but my interest has been piqued and I hope to do some significant reading on the subject of Icelandic history.

 (The Cathedral at Skálholt.)

 We only spent about 20 minutes at Skálholt and then we were back in the car on our way to Geyser.  Long before we arrived at Geysir we could tell we were getting close as we could see the signs of the geothermal activity from far away.  There were clouds of steam rising above the earth to highlight the presence of geysers and hot springs.  As we got closer it became apparent this was a major tourist destination as there were loads and loads of excursion buses in the parking lot.  Having pretty much circumnavigated the entire island of Iceland at this point, we had seen a lot of Icelandic attractions and this was by far the most crowded and busiest place we had seen. 

 (The geyser Strokker erupting near the site of Geyser.)

Find a parking spot was actually hard!  We had never before experienced this kind of crowding during our journey.  Once we parked we walked across the road to the area of geothermal activity.  There were about 7 different places of significant steam that we could see.  We walked around them all admiring this special unique beauty that occurs so rarely in the world.  The namesake of all geysers, Geysir was its normal quiet self.  To the disappointment of just about everyone Geysir has been in this dominate state since the early 1900’s.  Occasionally earthquakes in the area will revive activity in Geysir for a period of time.  The last time that Geysir erupted was in 2003.  There is still one geyser – Strokker, at this site that is eruptive, but from what we could read it pales in comparison to the original Geyser.  (Based upon what we read on the signage at the site, Geyser was the 3rd tallest geyser when it erupted.  This was only behind Steamboat and Old Faithful at Yellowstone.  In several circumstances other geysers have erupted to greater heights but they have been unusual eruptions.)

We grabbed some lunch in the café located there and also did some souvenir shopping.  Up to this point with the exception of the small souvenirs we purchased in Djupivogur, we had really done no shopping.  I figured we needed to do some for the folks back home!

Leaving Geyser we continued on the same road towards Gullfoss.  The distance between Geyser and Gullfoss was relatively minor – only about 10 kilometers I believe and we were there before you knew it.  Like Geyser Golfoss was teeming with buses and glacier jeeps.

The falls at Gullfoss were very impressive.  The consisted of two different falls, the first being a set of smaller falls and then the second being a higher, more dramatic fall.  There were numerous vantage points by which you could see the falls.  The one further away from the parking lot was right at the edge of the upper falls.  To get there you needed to walk through the water vapor that is continually churned into the air by the lower, steeper falls.  Walking through this vapor cloud was like walking through an intense rain shower and we were mostly soaked by the time we completed our journey through it.

(Zack at Gullfoss.  The volume of mist kicked up by these falls was immense!)

The name Gullfoss basically means golden falls in Icelandic.  From what we read about these falls the name derives from one of two sources.  The first source is that at times in the year the light of the sunset turns the falls and their spray a golden color.  That is a perfectly reasonable but oh so boring explanation.  Given this is Iceland there is a myth about how the name came to be.  The myth states that there was a rich farmer (similar to the story about the gold under the church on Papey Island) who so loved his gold that the thought some one else would have it when he died bothered him greatly.  As he aged he thought long and hard about what to do since he wasn’t getting any younger.  When he reached a point where he thought his day of passing wouldn’t be too far in the future, he took all his gold and put it in a box.  Not wanting anyone find it after he was dead, he took the box and threw it over the falls.  Since that day, the falls have been known as the Golden Falls or Gullfoss.

I suppose the adventurous road for us could have ended at Gullfoss as it made sense to turn around and start the 100 kilometer journey back to Reykjavik.  However we weren’t quite finished with adventure.  Instead of turning around, we continued heading in the same direction on the road as far off in the distance we could see an ice cap clinging to the mountains to the east.  Driving to the east and north it became apparent that we were off the “Golden Circle” as traffic diminished to nothing.  Within 5 kilometers of leaving Gullfoss, the road once again became dirt and we began to climb high into the hills.  We kept going for miles just soaking up the Icelandic landscape.  At one point I stopped and attached my GoPro camera to the car mount I have and mounted it to the hood of the car.  We managed to record a bit of the journey but somehow the camera’s battery had become uncharged and we only got a little footage before the battery died.  Oh well – I haven’t looked at it yet but I am sure it is fabulous footage.

Our stopping point for this journey into the Icelandic wild was a beautiful glacial lake.  We stopped here for several minutes and took some pictures but we were soon forced upon our way by the swarms of flies that were attacking us.  Swarming flies have been a part of our journey since day one, but this was the worst swarm we had experienced on the entire trip.

 (Glacial lake at the end of our drive.  In the distance you can see the ice cap/glacier.)

Turning around we programmed the GPS for our hotel in Reykjavik and began the final long drive of our trip.

We arrived in Reykjavik around 5:30PM on Tuesday evening.  Wednesday morning was going to come awfully early for us as we needed to be awake by 7:30AM to catch our bus to the horse riding center.  Therefore we didn’t plan anything too radical for the evening.  Driving around the city for a while we found a British Antarctica Research Survey Ship – The James Ross Clark was in port.  It was an impressive, amazingly huge ship. By the looks of her she was definitely equipped to be ride out very heavy seas.  We tried to get as close to her as possible but we were stopped due to the fact that she was in a restricted area under guard by Icelandic Coast Guard personnel.

Dinner that evening was an adventure as I was determined that we would eat as much Icelandic food while we were still there.  To accomplish this we found a small little eatery on the main street of Reykjavik that offered traditional Icelandic fare.  Being as inquisitive as I am about things I was very tempted to try the minke whale that was on the menu.  However as I thought about it, I just could not bring myself to eat a part of one of these intelligent animals.  Instead I went for the fish stew.  Ordering the stew I firmly expected to receive a bowl with a soup-like dish.  Instead when my meal was served I was presented with a plate of something that looked like mashed potatoes.  Telling the waiter, “Oh no that can’t be mine I ordered the fish stew”, he looked at me like I was a dumb-assed tourist (which I was) and said “No sir, that IS the fish stew”.  Talk about feeling stupid!  Once I got over the appearance of the fish stew I dug in and found a very tasty dish.  Essentially the fish stew is all kinds of fish cooked and boiled together with potatoes.  As the water boils out of the ingredients the stew becomes like this mashed fished mess.  It was great and I was very sorry they hadn’t offered this kind of fish stew in other restaurants in which we had eaten! 

By the time we were done eating and shopping for a few more souvenirs it was past 9:30PM and we headed back to the hotel.  As has been the case for all of our time in Iceland, if I hadn’t looked at my cell phone I would have never known it was that late in the day.

I am down to only 2 more days about which to write.  These posts will most likely be written on Friday or Saturday.  After that there is a lot that I want to write about concerning general impressions of Iceland and the journey that we have embarked upon when we started this vacation. 

Hopefully these blog posts have been interesting and you all have found them enjoyable to read.  Perhaps some of this writing and the pictures posted on the blog are inspiring some of you to consider a trip to Iceland.

For my friends on Facebook, I will be adding many more pictures to my photo albums once I go through the many hundreds of photos that we took and clean them up.  I’d rather only post good stuff as opposed to crud.

Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us!

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.