7 x 37: Iceland Trip!


Who gets to wonder if a trip to Iceland is Plan A, or Plan B? That’s me! One day in March, I spontaneously booked a plane ticket with a friend, and on the same day, another friend also invited me to Uzbekistan (coincidentally for the same dates in June). When the Uzbekistan trip was rescheduled for next year, I returned to my original plan for Iceland, Plan A.

Coincidentally, I later realized that Plan A would bring me to Iceland in time for the Secret Solstice Festival, the summer solstice itself, Iceland’s National Day, and the 100th anniversary of women’s voting in Iceland. I didn’t plan this, it just happened.IMG_0621

There were plenty of other coincidences. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked off the plan in Kevlavik and received a message from my mentor that her nephew, Christopher from Louisiana, was in Reykjavik for the same dates. Of course, as coincidence would have it, his hostel was two blocks away from my Couchsurfer host, Edda’s, home. Also, I met my friend Megan from Montana on her birthday where we shared a homemade fajita meal in Edda’s home. If you’ve followed my journey, you may have guessed that she is the friend that I began this story with, starting in Costa Rica!

Finally, I just happened to connect with a family scientist friend who just happens to be the director for the Marine Research Institute who just happens to be married to the chief city planner for the historic city. Coincidences all around in Iceland.


While Iceland was indeed my Plan A, I very quickly learned to always have a Plan B, C, D… the whole alphabet soup of alternatives to the things we call plans. OK, let’s just not call them plans, maybe blueprints? Ideas? I continue to learn hard lessons in world travel, some of them costly. Misjudgments in distance or conversion mean energy, time, and money. I wondered if the tourism industry in Iceland relies on this to a large extent. It’s not like in Vegas where the alcohol flows freely for those who gamble, but it is similar. Give me access to incredible nature so close to this city of Reykjavik, and I could spend all of my money and energy to experience nature. Every last bit of it.

IMG_0155There was much exploring to do in Iceland, but Reykjavik was not a vacation for me. My homework and work kept me busy, usually in hostel living areas and Edda’s. I surprised myself with some creative scheduling, like making a walking/talking video on my science education reform articles report while volunteering on trash duty at the Secret Solstice Festival. Once, on my break, I ordered a Wu Tang burger from a food truck and studied the chronology of United States standards-based science assessment from my iPhone, still in my trash duty uniform. I answered work emails from my phone and the wi-fi connection of tour buses through the Golden Circle tour, rushing to put out tiny brushfires before they began, all while watching a geyser erupt.

My intention is to travel and still still tend to my professional life. I have a vision for these dreams coming together full circle. A fleet of dedicated staff and contractors like myself at STEMscopes help support my remote coordination role, and my graduate fellows are all traveling as well. Thanks to technology, wi-fi, and social media, I was successful, albeit a little tired.

I experienced several hostels, and I am completely sold on them by the way. In hostels, you never know when someone will awake you in the middle of the night ill or in need, or when you yourself will do the same. Even if we are perfect strangers, we are all truly in this together.


Iceland has everything. Geothermal pools and geysers, glaciers, the Mid Atlantic Ridge and the continental divide, waterfalls… surprisingly, much of the landscape reminded me of majestic Montana, but with a dark lava twist, much like the humor of most Icelandic women I met along the way. Unlike Montana, however, I experienced the creamiest Skyr yogurts, organic coconut yogurt and mushroom soup, a puffin tour on a boat in the sea (in lieu of whale watching, which was a very tough choice to make), chilly Atlantic sea-winds on the western coast of the island, and not to mention the flight from the island goes over icy Greenland. So there’s that…

IMG_0391Most remarkable for me was the summer solstice. Seeing the Sun set at midnight (12:03 am to be exact) and rise again, in nearly the exact same spot, three hours later (2:55 am to be exact) was astonishing to me. I still can’t get over it. Edda was with me, and as we watched the fish grow active in the brief twilight, she grew very excited and said she was like a traveler in her own land. I understand that the solstice itself was in the afternoon that day (14:39 to be exact), but the magic of watching a sunset at midnight kinda trumps all scientific fact. The Sun and I were the furthest north we would be for the whole year. Unreal. If you like, you can read more on my Solstice Safari.

In my excitement to attend my first music festival, I overlooked a crucial ingredient to concerts: Light. Lighting is to a stage as sunlight is to day. Without lighting setting the stage of the magic of the performance and music, the constant queue of musicians blur on stage if they don’t have anything remarkable identifying them. Am I being too picky? Are my college days as a lighting technician in theatre making me a snob? I hope not, I’m only observing with deep gratitude how much a midnight music festival, flooded with prolonged sunlight, struggles without the magical effects of purposeful light.

IMG_0302I mentioned the trash duty at the Secret Solstice Festival. I’m not sure if I made a mistake by volunteering for such a mis-managed event or not. Because of this commitment, I did not do other nature adventures outside of the city. I kept trying to remind myself that the constant walking and lifting was a) great exercise for my upcoming hiking in Montana, b) a reflection of my own professional event-planning and volunteer-coordination practices, c) a case study in the waste management practices in the near-Arctic circle, and d) a great opportunity to meet other kind-hearted fellow volunteers from around the world.  I mean, who else can say they picked up empty beer cans while watching The Wailers in the broad “day-night” of Iceland’s crazy solstice light? Well, it sucked, but I tried to make the best of it. At one point, I made friends with the Domino Pizza vendor, an 18-year old blonde Icelandic princess who swore that Iceland’s Domino pizza is the best in the world because of the ingredients. From her, I scored 10 pizzas and quickly ran to share them with my trash-duty Belgium, French, and German friends, starved just like myself from the endless work. Regardless of how bizarre the whole experience was, it kept me out of trouble, and who knows what it will open in the future?

Speaking of opportunities, touring the Marine Research Institute was an invaluable one for my graduate research in science and education. This little lab is responsible for the Icelandic government’s decisions on the sustainable harvesting of all stocks, including whales. The constant monitoring of all fisheries catches, and the science behind estimating populations of dozens of fish across multiple nations, is impressive. The haddock I shared with Dr. Johann Sigurjonsson over our lunch meeting was impressive, as well.

The constant light of day through every night completely threw my body off, even with dark curtains and sleep aids. I never realized how much I relied on the concept of night to moderate my system. I mean, who would know, until they had experienced the absence of night themselves? I truly missed night.
I will never take night for granted again.

The Puffin Express Tour

The Puffin Express Tour

Even the legendary group Wu Tang Clan, the highlight of the Secret Solstice Festival, got into how unique Iceland and her people are. They kept hollering about it in their rap. Even if I met just as many international folks as I did Icelandic (thank goodness there was little to no language barrier), the point is I met a ton of people in this small world.

Like Lizzy from the U.K., the old soul 25-year old who I joined for a walking tour of Reykjavik, and just completing five months of travel herself. I hope one day I can introduce her to Daniel, also from the U.K., who kept me thoroughly entertained in much of our travels. Oh! I almost forgot! I met a teacher from Houston on my Puffin Express tour that, of course, knew about STEMscopes… All I can say to Edda, Megan, Christopher, or those at the very safe and interesting Kex Hostel, and anyone else who helped me along the way, is takk!

Because Icelanders experience three months of light in the summer and at least three months of dark in the winter, I believe Icelanders experience one day over a year. They age differently.

Time is different there. It is a strange small place that feels huge, filled with mystery. But, my God, is she and her small world
big coincidences beautiful.

© 2015 Jess Rowell Full Circle J. Productions, LLC

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