89. The End of the World, Trip!

(Written: 29th July 2011)
Iceland has always been one of the countries of the world that I’ve wanted to visit but I don’t really know why. I think the main reason could be because of its name, the “land of ice” but other than that it has to be said that I do harbour a little animosity over the country due to the “cod wars” which as we know wasn’t actually a war! Having said that I do completely agree with what the Icelanders said they wanted to achieve and completely support their principles. However, the way in which they did it and the hypocrisy of their stance to me leaves the place morally vacant. Yes cod was overfished by British trawlers, but you don’t randomly claim 200 nautical miles of sea from your coast without international agreement. And to get your own way you do not, during the height of the cold war, take sides with the Soviet Union and threaten to close the NATO base on the island thus removing the cold war buffer zone. You do not then go on to order a large number of Soviet made war ships. To me this was blackmail of the worst kind, a blackmail which could have lead to disaster on a massive scale and one the British had no choice but to give in to. Although the British agreed not to fish in the 200 nautical mile radius, they still did not recognise it as official territorial waters.

Then there’s the point of taking the moral high ground of not fishing a species that were becoming endangered. I could not agree more with this but here is one problem with Iceland. They still hunt endangered whales and did at the time. So they are either morally challenged or in actual fact they really wanted exclusive fishing rights in the area and were prepared to get it by threatening the start of a really cold war. So thinking about it why the hell did I come here!

Well that was clear. I did it as I wanted to see if I could get back to the UK from New Zealand on flights taking less than 5 hours and the answer to that is yes. The flight from Boston had taken a relatively short 04h33m37s. But I had four days here so I thought I’d see about hiring a car. Ahhh, they wanted £70 a day for a tiny car, I think not. What’s quite amazing is that they double the car hire for June and July as it’s the only time the weather is relatively nice but no one can afford them so hundreds of them sit idle outside the hire buildings.

So for one guy travelling alone it was far cheaper to do a couple of day trips and although I barely saw a quarter of the island it gave me a good idea of what the place looked like. There is some amazing scenery, with ancient volcanoes, remnants of massive lava flows, boiling hot geysers and thundering waterfalls. You also get the opportunity to stand on the North American tectonic plate and look across at the Eurasian plate pulling away in the opposite direction, a metaphor for North American and European relations if there ever was one. You could technically stand on the European side and throw stones at the American side if you wanted but no one did as there were no French guys in our group to do it. Although I only had a small tasted of the place it has to be said that for those of an outdoor persuasion it is a must visit kind of place but bring a coat as even it midsummer it barely gets above 15 degrees in the daytime. Although it has to be said that I do not know what constitutes daytime as during mid June to Mid July it doesn’t actually get dark! As St Petersburg confused me at the start of this trip I was out walking and it was only by looking at my watch did I realise it was 11pm.

Having talked about its beauty, it has to be said that if you can afford it go to New Zealand as it has Iceland plus a whole lot more, but for somewhere just a 2.5hour flight away from London it’s a pretty place. And the morally vacant people? Well, the world did look badly upon Iceland when they voted not to pay the rest of the world back after the financial collapse of the country. The companies here all but stole overseas peoples’ hard earned savings and gave it to people here who could not afford to pay it back, but looking back what would you have done in a vote if one of the choices was making you kids pay for it with 40 years worth of payments? I think it would have been the same result. Most Icelanders I met were amazingly apologetic about it but also amazingly defensive but all said that they do hope to pay the money back and when a more achievable way is found, they will do it.

So visiting did change my opinion of Iceland somewhat. I still think the brinkmanship of the past was dangerous but I think the people on the streets here more than make up for those problems. All they have to do in my eyes now is to stop needlessly hunting for whales. But it was time to go. It has to be said my heart wasn’t really in it as I was thinking about “real life” which I would arrive back into in just one more day. After 379 days it was going to be a little weird and a little depressing. So much so that I couldn’t actually sleep on my last night and it wasn’t because it didn’t get dark!

I used to think that coming home after a holiday overseas was a bit like returning to a well used and well loved comfort blanket. But now I’ve come to realise that it’s more a straightjacket with padding. Back to the 9 to 5, back to the yes boss no boss, back to being an irrelevant cog in a massive machine which probably never even noticed that I was gone. I guess that’s why I like going to places and particularly those less well travelled. There I’m different, people are interested in me and not just because they want to steal from me! But because I’m a stranger in their midst. For a brief time, for one year, I had a story and even though I say so myself it was quite a good one. The backpackers\’ I met were interested in the places I’d been and they had never been before and the locals could never understand why I never wanted to fly when to them this was the best and easiest way to travel! So after a year in the limelight, I now have to get used to being just another commuter on the way to a dreary office in central London…. …. Although that being said, I’ll still be rollerblading so I may stand out a bit! I mean once you have an audience….. But in the mean time it was back to Sheffield to end the trip where it started. And amazingly, if I include this final stop as my final night of the trip, this was to be exactly the 200th place I’ve slept in on my little adventure!

So after a year, in summary, Overland challenge FAILED! Thanks to a 58 minute flight caused by a very unhelpful Aussie Immigration and an Aussie shipping company. The 5 hour flight challenge on the way back, FAILED, thanks to having to backtrack to New Caledonia and the volcano in Chile stopping all flights from New Zealand. But the flight that broke the challenge was just one minute and two seconds over. The challenge to have an average flight time of less than 2 hours 43 mins…… Achieved! My average flight time was 2 hours 26 minutes. So the trip wasn’t a complete failure then….. but it has to be said, I’m still gutted about not being able to complete the prime objective of my year out. Thanks for your help Australia….

Thanks to all those who chose to follow my blog and I hope you get to visit some of the places I visited soon….. signing off, Darren