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Trip Report Horses, Kayaking and Adventure in Iceland

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On Thursday, July 16 I head for Reykjavik to spend a bit more than four weeks in this fascinating country. I began planning the horseback riding trips two years ago based on the recommendations of a fellow riding enthusiast who loved Icelandic horses she bought and imported two of them to her home in Mallorca. Now I get to find out why they are universally loved.

I'm booked with Eldhestar for three different trips, then ten days on the Ring Road by car. Along the way, plenty of time to adventure, which includes tours, kayaking, and whale watching. Will be sharing insights, stories and whatever may come.

One thing I did prepare for was the food, and the cost of things like snack food. A good fifteen pounds of my luggage consists of everything from KIND bars to pineapple pieces. The good news: it'll be a lot lighter coming home, with plenty of room for intriguing souvenirs (or a hitchhiking penguin). I hope to be able to provide laughter and lots of good reason for others to make the trip as well.

My Ring Road journey will take me as far north as Ayureki and then back, with some nice jags out onto the peninsulas. As an adventurer, I'm hoping to find things that push me body mind and spirit. I'll post where I have wifi.

Input and commentary along the way are most welcomed. Thanks.

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    No, not yet, Babelic. But I did spent much of last April riding Pasos in Peru, whose paso lleno gait is very similar, although it's a larger animal. I do love a good gallop, but what I enjoy about uniquely gaited horses is that you are challenged to learn a different seat, different commands and a delicate hand on the mouth.

    I rode the breeding stallion at one of the stables outside Pacasmayo where much of the primary Paso breeding gets done. That was beyond the beyond, the animal was so extraordinary. I was allowed fifteen minutes, and believe me, that was quite enough. You know when you're on an animal well over your paygrade!

    The entire reason I'm on this trip is because of a group of "neighbors" of yours- a collection of Swedish riders with whom I was on safari ride in Tanzania. One rode in Iceland and bought two horses. Her stories convinced me to make this trip.

    As long as I have access to wi fi I'll be writing- hope to have plenty of fun stories!

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    My first impression upon landing was the lack of houses and the lovely lupine like purple flowers that marked the landscape as the bus drove me into town. The people I met up to the Capital Inn were quite lovely, although I was very surprised that Iceland air offered no dinner or breakfast on their flight, but you could buy some. That was a surprise. Glad I packed fruit and a couple of KIND bars.

    When a couple of smaller buses left me standing at the bus station because they were full, the folks at Flybus put me on one of their huge boys all by myself and a very kind driver took me over to Capital Inn where a rather brusque owner informed my very tired self in unfriendly terms that he had a full house, and I'd have to wait. He finally got around to telling me that yes, I could buy breakfast, but it was clear that he had his hospitality degree on the wall but that apparently hadn't seeped into his personality. Other staff were far more friendly. The good news was that breakfast was more than adequate and by an hour later someone had vacated a dorm bed and I was allowed to collapse and sleep.

    It was a lovely, sunny, gorgeous day, up to about 14 Celcius. I attempted to take a shower, facing off against mystery controls which were opposing knobs on the end of a central rod. I got the water going, and warm water commenced. Then hot, then bloody boiling. Two women housekeeping staff were nearby and I yelled for help, and all I heard was "turn the controls!!" which of course, I had been, rather desperately, on both ends. The water got hot enough to turn the metal fittings too hot to handle so I turned it all off and ended up washing out of the sink.

    The girl finally came in and attempted to work with the shower, but everything was far too hot to the touch. Now mind you, the far more typical problem in hotels and hostels is cold showers, so part of me isn't complaining, but I now have a sterilized and bright red patootie to begin my trip, and I'm afraid I don't trust the plumbing.

    I was able to write and rest and read to get rid of jet lag. There's a huge Japanese tour group here, and a smattering of Dutch, German and other tourists. As I sit here, the owner is pushing the last of the Japanese tourists to move - he is downright rude. Well, some of us write reviews.

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    The good news: it'll be a lot lighter coming home, with plenty of room for intriguing souvenirs (or a hitchhiking penguin).>>

    that WILL make headlines.

    I hope that your injury won't stop you sitting on a horse.

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    A warm tush never stopped me from riding, as the last seven plus days testified to, Ann.

    Right now I'm sitting in the warm and busy kitchen of the Bus Hostel near Reykjavik, where folks are fixing breakfast and I am hiding out for a bit. Recovering as it were from the first and most challenging of my three rides- called Desert to Desert with Eldhestar, this was, of my three, the toughest, which is a great way to begin. There's so much to report that the challenge is going to be editing down what's worth reporting.

    First of all an overview. Eldhestar's been around for a while and they run a very smooth operation. You're picked up and brought to their facility, which is a nice hotel. My luck of the draw was to be the only English speaker (American) with a group of some 22 German horsewomen of that 20is to 30ish variety, and I am going to stop there and let you use your vivid imagination to do the rest, except to add that many of them are dressaged trained, and if that isn't enough I'll tell you a couple of stories to give you the lay of the land.

    I walked into my room which had three German women already in it and the icicles were felt immediately, like oh crap, we got the American. Thanks but no thanks, guys. Nobody spoke English, or I should say, chose to speak English for most of this trip. The first and only attempt I made at an outreach was to a twenty something blond gal when I asked if she had ridden in Argentina. To which she responded with an almost comically arch tone: YES, AND Ecuador, AND Peru, AND Chile, AND.... Which was intended to be a very rude put down. No matter that I have also ridden in these countries as well as a great many more, but that's not the point. What was attempted as a friendly conversation starter was slapped away with extreme arrogance. At that, I said fine, I got the lay of the land here. I'm nearly three times this girl's age and I refuse to enage myself in kindergarten done upsmanship antics.

    As a result, I had my own ride, and these women had theirs, and where it was required that I pitch in, I did so with pleasure and enthusiasm, but when it came to social interaction, I bowed out. In any case there was no room at the table, none was offered, the conversation was in German, and I had lost interest in participating but for one young girl who had moved to Sweden and didn't seem to need to bear airs. As I'm a journalist who likes to write in the early mornings, I found my own rhythm.

    It wasn't at all what I expected, but it was what I got from a community, so you deal with the hand you have. Now, to the ride, which was spectacular.

    Some visions: We are moving 55 horses from points A to B each day, with stops variously at cottages with no plumbing or electricity or spots where we do, and we all plough in and grab the best place to sleep in dorm facilities. Cook, who is my age or close, is fabulous, and she and I make instant friends (very smart move). She gets to know my early to bed, early to rise habits which are the opposite of everyone else's and as a result we get to talk, eat and have fun together which more than makes up for the lack of conversation elsewhere. The guides, who are from all over, are simply fantastic and I cannnot say enough, a particular story follows of one named Sara, but they were supremely professional, competent and a joy.

    We stopped at one point early on just after my camera battery ran out. Imagine a field of knee high purple lupine, 55 horses and all of us in a circle around them, the horses up to their eyelashes grazing among the flowers. The skies a cerulean blue with wisps of clouds moving overhead. In the background, shoulders of mountains iced with snowcaps. Me with a dead camera, but this image is seared in my memory as one of the most breathtaking I have ever seen. We would often stop to graze in many conditions, but this was by far the most lovely.

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    The tolt itself is another whole story. The first day of the tour you are asked to ride around the arena, and the guides make sure you aren't going to fall off. The horses, tolt or trot, and if you're a rank beginner, you're not entirely sure which is which, although you do get a sense of it. However as the trip begins you learn a couple of key things: The horses will always test you to see if you know how to ask for the tolt, and if not, will trot first. If you want to learn where your pelvis begins, ends and how badly it can hurt, try this for nine hours, discover how your spine can compress, and the impact of having your shoulders turn into earrings. You think this is funny. I had a helluva migraine and used half my liniment on the first night. Then you get up and do it all over again Day 2.

    If you are REALLY smart and not some overblown tender ego you ask the guides for feedback. Remember: it doesn't matter how good you are at home. First time here means new country, new gait, new horses. You are a beginner and you can put your high flying ego aside and learn how to ride all over again. The basics are the basics. But if you're too proud to say please teach me how, you are going to suffer.
    The guides took an enormous amount of time off my learning curve and they were gracious enough to hear me when I said I wanted feedback. I may be an so called advanced rider but the only thing that makes me an advanced rider everywhere in the world is the willingness to admit I don't have a clue. This was a perfect example. My feet kept flying out of my stirrups for three days until I finally figured out what I was doing wrong. I'd be tolting along fat dumb and happy and pow, both feet out and there'd be the stirrups walloping the poor animal's sides.

    The riding position here is legs nearly straight down as though you are standing in the stirrups. My trainers at home beat on me for years to get me to bend my legs back a certain way and they finally cured me of my too-straight leg. My bent leg was causing me to lose my stirrups constantly- which is why beginner's mind is so important here. It helps to have a healthy sense of humor, because my trainers are going to have a job beating it back out of me again this summer.

    The Open-Soft-Curious approach which is what I teach in my seminars works very well here- in both dealing with these delightful animals, which are so affectionate and willing, and can also be headstrong. At my request I was given spicer and more challenging horses after the second day, and ended up with Knott, who wouldn't tolt for anyone. I love to massage my animals, and she got a belly rub, halter rub, head rub, ear rub and butt rub. She tolted, not without being a banshee for ten minutes, but she tolted, and as a gift, I got her back the final day when we got our choice to ride. The moral of this is that any well trained, perfect horse makes us look like experts but in many ways we are just sitting on them, and they make us look perfect. This in no way denigrates the quality of work that any good horsewoman puts in to learn the subtle hand, leg and other signals we all have to learn when it comes to horesemastership. Whether in the arena or the field, however, it's when we're given a real challenge that we find out who we are. Put us on a ruffian, an outlaw, and you will find out if you deserve the term horseback rider. Then you have to use your skills, you love of the animal, your desire to respect and work with it, and you earn its cooperation. I love tough horses for that very reason. Knott wasn't difficult. She loved loving riders. The last day I rode her she tolted the whole time and was an angel. You just have to ask nicely.

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    I'm impressed, after half a day of having my a£££ beaten into merinque by a hot sofa I gave up. Mrs Bilbo still laughs at the memory of my gait as I walked up the road to the town spa.

    Hot water, they have so much they don't know what to do with it. :-)

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    Each of us rides three to four different horses each day. This is simply fabulous for so many reasons. Each animal of course is unique in its gait, which forces you to learn, adapt, made different demands of your skills and of the animal. You develop favorites. You get tested and fall in love and watch others ride your "baby." You hope against hope you get to ride him or her again.

    We stop every so often for grass and/or water, and sporadically we change out our horses. This also means that we form a circle including a plastic twine to create a makeshift corral which works remarkably well as long as the Holders of the Twine stay focused. On the fifth day one person let go of her horse's reins and it plunged into the midst of the herd, setting them off at the run, breaking the discipline. In a matter of seconds this horse, reins flying (which is very dangerous for the animal had it or another horse gotten tangled in them) was hurtling up a hill in the midst of the herd, but so were the guides. To their credit, the runaways were back under control in seconds, and calm was enforced.

    The conditions changed sometimes minute to minute it seemed, although it took longer than that. We crossed streams and headed out over what looked to be solid rock and ground, and in seconds the horses were mired to their knees in mud. The melting snows had so softened the earth it was nearly like quicksand. These powerful animals found their way out back to more solid ground- even the snows were more safe to walk upon in many cases.

    And walk on snow we did, and it's a lovely sight to see a line of 55 horses walk or run across a snow field. We all got the chance to ride in front or back depending on the personality or nature of our animals. Being in front, we could turn around and witness this sight, these gorgeous creatures with the wind blowing their luxurious manes from their intelligent faces as they danced across the snowfields to catch up with their mates on the other side.

    As we got into the highlands, another factor of the melting snow was the water soaked tundra. What I first thought was rocks were loam lumps, and the high grasses hid pools of water so deep that we had to dismount in order to walk our horses through to higher ground. This variety was not only a challenge but it was an education in a changing environment and part of the constant fascination of each day, each passing hour.

    For example, for a period of time we passed over particularly dry areas given to deep dust, during a period where the winds were significant. I had brought a buff with me, which for those of you who are not familiar is a lightweight, tubular item that you pull over your head, wear in a multitude of ways, can breathe through, and is hugely useful for keep your head and face warm. And in this instance- especially for those of us who like to hike in dusty places like Nepal, it is an essential item to keep out particulates. I had one on under my riding helmet and used it to filter out most, but not all, of what the herd was hoofing up behind us as we rode. No matter were you were in the order of things, at some point it was going to be your turn in the dust bomb. It would get so bad you couldn't see hide nor hair of the person in front of or next to you, then it would clear, and moments later here it would come again. When I finally had the chance to wash my buff out back here in Reykjavik it took something like eleven washings to get out the filth, such was the level of dirt it had accumulated, and had protected my lungs from breathing in.

    I saw others using great heavy scarves to achieve the same purpose, but this tiny buff, which can be purchased at any outdoor store, weighs nothing, dries in a heartbeat, and is a lifesaver. If you're considering any of these rides, don't go without one. It fits under your helmet without any bulk and you can pull it up over your mouth and nose as needed while riding. Absolutely priceless.

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    As I am fond of large animals (being farm raised) I love to work with them up close and personal. Being a VERY early riser- as in four am, and since it's nearly light as noon at that time of day anyway, our second day on the road gave me an opportunity to do what I absolutely love to do: dive into the herd first thing in the morning. I couldn't do this every day as it depended entirely on how close the animals were to our sleeping quarters. However on several occasions they were right there and I could slip out while the snoring was at its loudest, grab an apple or orange and head to where the hay lay.

    As the horses assumed that a human usually meant one of two things: either a treat (goodie) or work (well, not so goodie, depending on the horse) you could be greeted with enthusiasm or avoided entirely. What I do is work the animal's hides with my nails, front to back, top to bottom. This nothing like a curry comb or brush.This is a full on massage. This means getting under the belly, between the legs, front and back, behind and inside the ears. What happens, when you are given permission, is that the animals- and believe me they love it when you get going- contort themselves and stick out their necks and their lower lips quiver and they twist themselves all over the place. The sensations are brand new as it's highly unlikely anyone has done this before. Some will approach and plant their heads in your hands, and beg a head scrub. Often this means, get your fingers in my ears and I mean WAY down in there. One horse I did this for nodded his head in huge enthusiasm so much so that I lost hold several times and had to reposition myself. This horse followed me around while I worked on other animals and constantly poked his nose into my business, demanding more, while I was patiently trying to work on somebody else.

    Others walked briskly in the other direction, or you could do little more than stroke their sides. Like every creature in the Universe every animal was either receptive or not, curious or not, and those who were curious and receptive were well rewarded. I'd no sooner get to work on one animal than a big fat nose would poke into my face saying "Scuse me, kin I have summa that puhleeze???" or I'd feel a head bump from behind. In a big herd like that news got around fast, and it didn't take long before I had a few taker uppers on the massage line.

    One big paint named Flickr had a particularly sweet personality. He was a pleasure to work on, if for no other reason than he expressed his obvious delight in being rubbed down and kept reaching round to touch my hand. When I work on large animals I often get licked in response, depending on the animal, and with horses it sometimes means getting nibbled or mouthed. Flickr stood motionless and arched his back when I worked his spine, scrubbed his pelvic bones and muscles and gave his butt a healthy scrub. There is an area on the horse where the legs touch in the back, if you embrace this hindquarter and put your hands together and scratch with your nails, this is tantamount to catnip for them. Sometimes they turn and look at you with surprise, like "whaaaaaaat????" but it is invariably a source of deep pleasure.They will stop everything they're doing, including eating, to feel that scratch. If you take your time, and explore with curious hands, it takes about fifteen minutes to find a particular horse's favorite spot. One some it's right behind where the girth hits. On others it's that sweet spot between the legs. Others still its the ears, others, it's the middle of the neck or on many, it's that bump right behind the ears that you seem them scratching on any available post. It's one of the most fun things to do, to find that spot, and send a huge animal into paroxysms. I have done this with elephants and tigers and camels and oxen and wild does, not kidding, and it is one of the greatest joys of my life. Hey, even my BF lucks out once in a while. He has to get in line.

    Possibly the single most important aspect of this is to have absolutely no fear. Fear is read as a threat, and horses are flight animals. Your intent is read before you even walk up to the animal so if you're fearful, that's felt first. These sweet natured Icelandic horses have lived many centuries without natural predators like big cats or bears, and the advantage is that their relationship with humans has evolved into something else again. That has made them exceptionally affectionate and receptive. They are willing, and while some of my fellow riders and even a guide or two claimed a horse here or there to be stubborn, I found that label to be unfair. There was nothing that a good pre-ride belly rub wouldn't cure. I honestly believe that when a horse has a true sense of how you're going to treat it, and it senses that you're going to be kind, respectful, reward it for good work and effort, speak to it kindly, not saw on its delicate mouth, and understand the hard work that it offers to carry your bulk around up and down this tough terrain, it won't be stubborn. Quite the opposite. I've never seen a more willing and happy breed.

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    One of the characteristics of riding in the highlands is the wind. The weather changed constantly. One simply magnificent lesson one learns on this trip if you are primarily an arena rider and you prefer your weather constant is that you can and will be able to ride in any and all conditions. You have no choice. The horses have to be fed and moved, and you with them. Your carcass has to get out of your sleeping bag. 

    A note on sleeping bags, by the way. Again, as an observer and as an adventure traveler it occasionally intrigues me to see what people bring on trips such as this. I made the mistake once of renting the offered sleeping back for the Macchu Picchu trip in Peru. I own, and will now ALWAYS bring, my less than one pound zero F rated bag that weighs less than the bag liner I bought to go with it. That bag weighed well more than five pounds, and ended up costing me an extra $150 and an extra porter. Lesson learned. Good gear is worth the expense. My bag punches down to the size of a bread basket. Nobody believes it can be so warm but it's 900 fill down and I sweat it in it in sub zero weather. Based on the number of days you're traveling you can get by with minimal toiletries as you're not going to have access to a shower for a few days anyway. What are essential are face wipes- you cannot live without them. While it's disgusting to see what comes off your face at the end of the day, there is this sense of satisfaction that it is indeed coming off, and it's better than trying to fight Cook for the sink, using ice cold water. Besides, you can get the bigger wipes for your whole body, they smell delicious, are soaked with moisturizer. It's not easy to find a private corner with that many people to remove your duds and scrub down but it's worth it. I don't travel without them, and on showerless days, and after all that dust, trust me. You will thank yourself a thousand times over for bringing them.

    Another funny note about privacy. When you are riding, and bouncing, and drinking lots of coffee and tea, well, okay, the inevitable happens. I don't know if those of you reading have been here, are here, have seen photos. But where I rode, and the photos I took to make this point, for miles and miles and miles in every single direction there wasn't a tree, bush, rock, or berm in sight to go squat behind. So okay, sometimes when we stopped we could walk a good long way to find a slight rise and go hide behind that. But for the most part, and our guides were excellent examples of this, it was a "stand and deliver" kind of process.

    Let me explain with a story.

    This past February I was riding a camel for seven days in Tanzania through Masai territory, where white people simply don't go. I was with five simply wonderful Masai men, one named Raymond, with whom I'd ridden before. The Masai live in large bomas where their extended families and animals all cohabit. We had three camels. I rode, they walked. There were maybe seven or eight large bomas, and we were right in the middle.

    It had been four hours since breakfast and I had to PEE. 

    Unfortunately, when a white person shows up in this area, word gets around fast, and people come running. Hundreds were doing just that. Straight for our party. Raymond told me to get down, Dominique my camel kneeled and I dismounted and started walking in all directions, casting about in some desperation for a bush, any bush, or tree or ravine or any damned place where I could take care of my increasingly insistent burden. As Robin Williams used to say, gravity works.

    By this point, people were hurtling towards me, women carrying children, screaming mzunga, mzunga (white person, white person!!) and I was speed walking towards a shaded tree. Nope, three people sleeping. Swiftly I changed directions and moved towards a part of the ravine that looked shady. There stood a silent Masaii warrior, with his herd, one leg planted inside his knee, staring at me implacably. Nope. I whirled around and headed in another direction. The crowd came on, Ray yelled at me and I looked at him. He made one motion with his hand and I understood immediately.

    I pulled my hat down over my eyes, dropped my pants and peed right there in the middle of all those people. That was his motion. That was the only choice I had. Giggling to myself, I reseated my hat, strode with the utmost dignity back to my kneeling camel, and got back on. Dominique rose to his full seven foot plus height, scattering the crowd in all directions, Ray grinned at me ear to ear, I grinned back, and we rode triumphantly out of the bomas. They talked about it for days. I am famous now (oh for god's sake at least I love to add that).

    This is what you do here.

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    Deserts to Deserts takes you well into the very high country where you see everything from volcanic rock fields to rushing streams lined with green moss, fields of loam that look like rocks, nearby peaks and always, always the glaciers, two huges ones, sometimes near, sometimes far, on the horizon. One thing I loved about this tour was the feeling of being in the real wild, so far out in the open, so far away from anything that smacked of everyday life.

    Bilboburgler, I relate to your tale. What's funny about having committed to a trip like this is when you go to bed and your various bits and pieces are shrieking with righteous indignation and threatening to sabotage you in the morning, you know full well what you're in for the next day. (Butt to head: "I'm sorry. You wanna do WHAT again??) It took three days for my body to adjust. I've always been an endurance athlete and at 62 it's no different now. My 35 yo cycling girlfriend and I have laughs about how the first half hour of cycling we wheeze, gripe, moan, beg, wheedle, complain, make excuses, spit, curse and generally annoy anyone close by. Five hours later we're going full speed and having a ball while all the early speedsters are dropping like flies. I suspect it's that slow vs fast twitch thing, I'm not an expert.

    What I do know is if we place a demand on ourselves the body will adapt, especially if we ask consistently and somewhat reasonably, and that applies no matter our age. Alena, a young Hawaiian girl here on travel with 21 other American students, told me of her 60ish mother who teaches hula dancing on one of the outlying islands to about 200 oldsters- into their 80s and more- with every positive side effect you can possibly imagine especially since the classes are outside. I figure if we make excuses we will get an excuse for a body, if we make demands we will get a body that lives up to them. We pay along the way (hence, bring liniment, I strongly recommend EFAC cream, ebay, $24) but it is worth it, I reckon. I face limitations but it's remarkable how much can still get done (no plans for summitting Everest, thankuyouverymuch). It's a delight to run into so very many people past fifty, sixty doing the most extraordinary things just about everywhere. With one exception, the outfit that runs glacier walks on Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia has decided outright that if you're over fifty you're too old to walk on the glacier. Oh well. But hey, if I were you, I'd try the ride again, and come loaded for bear with that liniment, and stick it out a few days and see if your body doesn't adapt, and surprise you. It will, mark my words, and delight you with its resilience. The body never stops its ability to learn something new, we're the ones who lose our faith in it.

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    For those of you wondering about the food fare on the trip, I am not the best person to ask. I'll try to provide some insight, based on what I saw Cook putting together. I'm one of those no gluten, mostly fruit and vegge, no meat types who suck up yogurt by the gallon, and threaten to turn into a garbanzo bean by the age of eighty from all the hummus. That gave the crew pause, so lunch for me was often a few gulps of water and three handfuls of peanuts and raisins (good think I had packets of almond butter) while most folks got two sandwiches and cookies, biscuits, other snacks. They provided dried fruit and nuts but lots of bready things.

    I snuck breakfast in long before anyone got up and it consisted of two huge bowls of yogurt and honey.Cook always had an assortment of sliced meats, vegetables like tomatoes and cukes, red pepper slices, boiled eggs and other cold offerings that you could make into impromptu sandwiches. Porridge often made an appearance. Always coffee and tea and other drinks available (by "other" I'm not including boubon so don't get your hopes up).

    I saw steaks and potatoes one night for supper, but as I was in bed with yogurt in the belly or nothing at all by 7 pm I usually had no clue what was served. One night it was a baked chicken of some kind, with salads, another night it was breaded thick fried cod. I can attest that it all smelled heavenly. Cook has spent time in Uganda and other parts of Africa and the world on all kinds of assignments, she knows what she's doing and she is a real pro. You could get skyr, for those who don't know what that is it's an Icelandic national dish similar to but not yogurt. Made of skim milk it is thick, sweetish, spoons up like dense cream, and is often mixed with berries. Very very nice any time of day, often is a dessert.

    A good 10 kg of my luggage came over as imported snacks, ranging from KIND bars to dried fruits and Justin's Almond butter and big bags of mixed fruit and nuts. I found this incredibly useful on the trail. I wore a hip backpack which carried extra glasses, chapstick, a handkerchief, snacks and painkillers. They recommend you bring one and I second that heartily. My camera lived in that backpack, and was well protected there. It sat on my stomach during the rides for easy access. You don't want a big one, a medium sized one will do fine. Too big and it gets in your way especially when you're trying to pull on one of those big bulky overcoats when it starts pelting rain. And it will. 

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    Another priceless piece of equipment that you can pick up for a few bucks on ebay or for about twelve bucks at REI is a flynet that goes over your helmet. They sell them here, and you do NOT want to be out there on a less than windy day, or an overcast day without one. There are masses of small black flies that like nothing better than exploring orifices- it's bad enough that the horses are tortured by them, but climbing into your nose, ears, eye ducts, mouth, please. Get one. But I did learn something from Confucius on this trip. Heed me well.

    Confucius say,

    "When clearing nostrils, first remove flynet."

    I am a born and raised farm girl, and as a runner, athlete whatever, I am totally unashamed about clearing my nostrils (farmering is what it's called) to make sure I can breathe especially when I'm in the middle of some major exercise and there is just no time for the niceties of Kleenex. Nor are any nearby.

    That said, I've already spoken about the dust. Combine this with about six women who "came down," as they say in the South where I am from, the sniffles, which I got, and here we are.

    So we're riding along at speed. I have gloves on. It's cold. Windy. Blustery. I can't breathe. I've had my flynet on for hours and am accustomed to the slightly darker world. I totally space that I have one on.

    I assume the position and BLATTTTT. A massive loogey has suddenly attached itself nearly at eye level on the inside of my flynet and is now threatening to attach itself to my left cheek.

    Do you have any idea how difficulty it is to appear heroic when you are riding along with a massive loogie hanging on the inside of your flynet? There is nothing Wagnmerish, no Ride of the Valkeryies going on here.

    Can you imagine what Robin Williams would do with this material?

    So, problem is- how do you get rid of it while moving at speed, wind and bounce, gloves on?


    Time for an Executive Decision.

    I take a huge breath, wind up my left hand (the one with the Goretex glove on it) take aim and mash the booger (pun intended) on my left cheek.


    I had to ride like that for more than an hour.

    At the next stop I pointed my horse away from the group and did my best impromptu clean up job which held until cottage time.

    I swear, mashing that thing into my cheek took more gumption that jumping out of an airplane, which at least has an element of FUN to it.

    So forewarned is forearmed, ladies and germs, you must and should wear a flynet, you will likely forget you're wearing one, and you now know the dangers thereof, and if any of you chew tobacco, well then. 'Snuff said.

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    The above is one reason why I strongly believe that it is simply impossible to take ones self too seriously - in much of anything, really, except perhaps brain surgery- and it reminds me of how important joy is in all things. If this stuff didn't happen I wouldn't be sitting here in this kitchen rewriting these stories all day and LMAO, which is hugely fun, and pure delight. Because this stuff is funny. And the real reason John Elway won The Drive against The Browns was because in the huddle way back near the end zone he said to the team, "OK boys, we've got them where we want them," and they all cracked up, and that little piece of mastery was what did it. Humor and joy and a sense of the insanity of life give us our stories, which, in sum, are all we are, and if this stuff didn't happen to us, we'd go home and this would happen:

    How was your trip?
    Anything happen?
    Have fun?
    Guess so.
    Nothing exciting?
    Not really.
    Okay. See ya........

    I say, bring on the loogeys!

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    In terms of gear or staying warm, based on where we were up in the high country I found that a layering system worked best. I had bought a light down jacket for the trip but it was a miserable choice for multiple reasons. First it didn't have a two way zipper so that I couldn't loosen it for riding (riding jackets for winter tend to have peplums or split backs) so it rode up and it wasn't as wind proof as was needed for the brisk (oh no, really?) winds we encountered. Icebreaker layers tend to be superb and Sierra Traders always has some on sale for men and women, often with hoods, which came in handy for days that it got nasty. The hoodie styles tended to be very form fitting so a helmet fit over them. A fleece was helpful as an air catching layer and good for the cottage at night.

    A very good investment for any adventure trip is a pair of Feathered Friends down booties. They're not cheap, because they're good, and they're good because they have the kind of bottom you can walk outside in which many down booties do not. They are layered inside and have slide closures, are incredibly light. Mine go with me everywhere and if your feet get cold easily, these are very helpful. Feathered Friends also made the small, packable down pillow that made this trip and made my nights right comfy. Their stuff is worth the price, it's all very well made. I use stuff sacks used for kayaking which are waterproof to stuff my gear in which protects everything from a sudden downpour. It adds a touch of weight but your gear will NEVER get wet and for my money that's worth the added ounces. Most stores that have water sports sections have waterproof bags of all kinds and sizes. The other advantage is that if your boots get fragrant you can pack your pair into a big bag and not send the TSA people to the hospital (maybe you want to?) or on the brighter side, keep all your other stuff from getting grimed by the soles. Long practice taught me to use black markers, tags and put the contents on everything because you will NOT remember what's in each of the blue bags, the green bag, the red bag. You just won't.

    Another surprising bit, at a couple of cottages we had electricity, but there was a bum rush for the outlets. I had my iPad for writing on (with notepad and pencil, not pen, for backup, another lesson learned the hard way). So I was able to stay charged and able to write the entire time which wasn't expected but much appreciated. Why people bring their phones on such trips is beyond my understand but I'm a Boomer and therefore that probably answers that question. On multiple occasions I would see one of these young women in that Stance, clearly talking to someone, when she was facing one of the most breathtaking panoramas one could possibly imagine. She wasn't even in the same time zone. Hey, but that's me. If I invest treasure to be here, I'd like to BE here. My writing instrument is there to capture magic before the details depart, at night long after the day is done. It's no great loss if the battery dies. I have hundreds of handwritten pages, which is a lost art anyway.

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    Two days before we were to head back we were back at a cottage where the horses were paddocked close to the house. One of the fun aspects of the night was feeding them, and this entailed rolling out a simply enormous bale of hay. These are massive circular bales covered in white plastic. A few of us maneuver one of these hefty boys to the gate, then get it rolling about the same way you'd want to send a big snowball downhill. Once it's inside, a guide knifes a circle in each side to reveal the green, slightly damp sweet hay. The horses have all gathered to watch The Big Unrolling, so they're ready for us. A few nip bites while we remove all the plastic covering. We push the beast around for the right angle, get underneath it and shove. The whole thing unrolls until we need to send it in a new direction, we shove it to the left or right and continue until it's flat.

    By this time all the horses are up to their nostrils in the hay munching away, and our job now is to get huge armfuls of it and move it out to other parts of the paddock to make it easier for all the horses to get a shot at a full meal. With all the running they do, they've earned it. So we all make multiple trips until there are small hay piles with horses happily working on them all over the corral. Most folks went inside that night but for a few who had to work on a shoe or two, and one of the girls and me.

    One of my favorite rides, Ophelia, had laid down in the hay and was burying her nose in it, making wells that she was working around. I sat down next to her head and quietly watched her. She inspected me to make sure I wasn't there to remove anything. When that was clear she went back to work, and I just sat with her for a while. A few other horses staked their claim by lying on more of the hay, and a while later another of my favorites settled down to enjoy a good rest. I lay on her tummy, and we stayed there for a while as I listened to her breathing. Over my head, a few other horses hung their noses, just in case I was open for business. By this time all the horses I'd ridden had gotten The Treatment, and were thoroughly, utterly, deliciously spoiled, and of course expected lots more every time I showed up. They are so mellow, so quiet, and of course, very tired. But any opportunity for a good rub...

    That particular night was, I knew, my last chance to hang out with the herd, so I stayed with them until about 7:30. I walked through the paddock, scrubbing a butt here, rubbing a nose there, digging into a set of ears here. By this point many of the horses had become familiar and I had a good idea of who liked what, and which of the animals had a tendency to scratch their heads against fence posts. When you went after their heads, the bone right behind their ears, they would drop their heads all the way to the ground in pleasure, eyes closed, so happy.

    In particular after taking off the saddles, one of the things that horses love best is a solid nail scrub where the saddle has sat. They love to roll, and that's why. The hair has been matted and sweaty and it itches. So going after that area, and really scrubbing it, is sometimes just wonderful for them. The other place they love right after you take the saddle off is all around the belly where the girth has been tight on their skin. On the head, where the bridle has rubbed agains the side of the head. You riders all know this. Those who don't ride, this makes sense if you just consider everywhere they've been rubbed by equipment, where gear has squeezed them, and why they roll. More than a few do their best to use you as a rubbing post which is bad horse manners and you shouldn't let them do this. It's not funny and they can knock you over. You can rub that area for them, but control their heads. Sometimes a horse tosses its head- again, bad manners- and that head weighs a whole lot. You don't want to be on the receiving end of it. It should not be interpreted as affection- it's not- it's a bad habit.

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    Sara, one of the guides, is from Germany, and had come over to work with the horses for a short while before heading home in August. On about the fourth or fifth day of riding, we were beset by some particularly strong winds, the skies were quite clear, and we had just spent time walking our horses through very watery marshes.

    I was riding in the rear of the herd, and we were approaching a swath of river. Not deep but broad and fast running current. I set up my camera to video our crossing. I was about four horses from the rear, and had an excellent view of the whole crossing as we came up to a short rise and began heading down towards the water.

    Sara was on a white horse, and she was close to the middle of the river. As I watched her, she reached the middle and headed to the left. Suddenly her horse lurched and went down in the water, throwing Sara into the icy current on her right side. The horse struggled to get up but was nearly submerged, Sara was completely submerged. A second later the horse was up. The animal stood rock still, bracing against the current. Sara, wearing leather chaps, and a massive amount of layering along with a heavy plastic jacket, was caught up in the current and hanging onto the reins.

    The horses didn't move a muscle while Sara got her feet underneath her in the near freezing water. She stood quickly, immediately mounted her horse and set to work to ensure that all of us were good to go, the horses were calm and we were continuing to move safely across. I taped all this until she cross over to the other side.

    She remained in this wet clothing in this bitter wind without much of a word to anyone until about half an hour later. I was two horses away from her and watched her as she worked to detach the rain gear which would protect her from the wind. Her face was pinched and white, her hands shaking. She was soaking wet. Not a word.

    Finally she was covered but still wet, only protected from the wind, and she finished the ride in this condition without a word of complaint. I cannot imagine the pain her hands must have been in trying to work the straps to unroll the protective clothing.

    Later on Sara sought me out and found me just as I downloaded the video onto my iPad. She only wished to understand what had happened. We watched over and over, looking at her horse's movement, as she did her best to see what had looked to me like a horse stepping into a hole.

    What was so remarkable to me were Sara's consummate professionalism and bravery. She first needed to ensure her horse was all right, then after mounting that everyone else was all right. She bore the very dangerous (and for some it would be deadly) cold and wind chill until she felt it was time to get more protection without complaint. She was calm and quiet about it, joked about it, and simply dried her chaps and got into warm clothing. Little more was said.

    What else there is to know about Sara is that she is finishing her PhD in physics, is not only a simply magnificently beautiful woman, and has a way of giving people feedback about their riding which is so gentle and gracious that it is simply impossible to take offence.

    In other words, this is one terrific gal. I had a couple of chances to speak with her privately, which was great fun, to learn more about her background outside the riding. I wanted to share this story to give you an idea of the quality of the guides- they were all terrific. This story simply gives you an idea of how terrific. I'd trust any of them with my life- and it just reinforces my faith that Eldhestar knows how to attract excellent talent.

    It would be fair to say that a good part of the quality of any trip like this is decided by the staff. Having been on some shoddily run programs in various countries, I can speak to the effect that poor quality staff can have on group morale and the enjoyment of the ride. It was a pleasure to ride with such top notch people, and yes, I did say so to each of them individually.

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    I have now been at this the entire day and it's time to go do some yoga to take the kinks out. Tomorrow morning at 10 sharp Eddi is going to pick me up for The Great Camera Adventure Continues Saga Part I, The Ending, or hopefully, I find one that fits my batteries. We'll see. By day's end I will be back at Eldhestar and in another new room, with new riders. With great luck, and I am putting it out there right now, Universe, with people possessed of a wicked and delightful sense of humor and fun, play and joy, and who are interested in meeting new people. Whatever country they are from.

    I do recommend Bus Hostel by the way, for those of you who are hostellers. Great place.

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    It's Monday, and the tale of the smushed camera is at its end. Eddi the Savior showed up today ten minutes before 10 and I leapt into his taxi. For the next two hours he swept me through a series of repair shops (it has to go to the Czech Republic, ya well I have to have back by 4 today) then we went on to try to buy a camera. We found the perfect camera, problem solved. NO, can't find batteries. Does no one in Reykjavik carry extra batteries for a Panasonic camera? Answer: NO. Four stores and a hundred dollar cab fare later (much laughter, many stories and a lot of fun) Eddi has a brain explosion. He says he has one more friend- now mind you these are his professional photojournalism network, not retail stores-so we land at a Canon store where his friend has three kinds of cameras including our favorite Panasonic, but no batteries. He does, however, have a Nikon, which does have back up battteries. SAVED! No. It isn't waterproof. He grabs a bright blue version out of the counter which is, like the one I had, and then finds six extra batteries (only $35 bucks apiece mind you), and an extra charger, because how I have to charge them before I go on the trip and I am nearly out of enough hours to do so. And I will not be able to get all of them charged but at least some. The total, to replace a $350 camera, including the cab fare: nearly US $1000. Eddi dropped me off here with a big hug and I've been here charging my batteries and eating real food (yogurt and fruit) since, taking power naps and readying myself for the next adventure.

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    "Why people bring their phones on such trips?"

    basically what you can do on an ipad they can do on their phones (plus make a call), those thumbs just flash away and it's done

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    I'd love to try to write an entire book with my thumbs. But then, that's what I use my iPad for.

    This trip was a completely different, and absolutely wonderful experience, made up as it was of 11 Germans, one Swiss, one Brit, three Canadians and one American. For whatever reason the group gelled very differently, it is the fluid nature of group dynamics that things happen this way. The first night (and I found this very funny) my roommate showed up very late. When she landed at the dinner table at Eldhestar her cigarette smoke arrived first. Oh boy. Smoke gives me migraines, and I wondered how this was going to play out. So at the guesthouse she has one on the way over, and when she comes in the door of our tiny room the smoke comes in with her again. She puts her luggage down, and immediately excuses herself for another smoke. Okay. At this, I get my pillow and comforter and move to the common room sofa. When she comes back in I explain to her why, which she truly understands, and we laugh about it, and she's fine. So a short night on the sofa. The next morning I had to rescue my coat and fleece and hang them outside for several hours to get the smoke out. When I was in my early twenties, I smoked like that too, I remember. This woman is in her fifties, and interestingly she has not ridden for 15 years since a bad car accident. She has bravely decided to do this trip, for which I heartily applaud her, and she's going to give this a go. All the others are experienced riders.

    The next morning I'm given the morning off since I'd already done the introduction and I get to help saddle horses for other trips, which gives me lots of time to play with the animals while tightening cinches and putting on nosebands. It's a busy, busy day, the sun is brilliant again and many of our same guides are taking out day riders. Horses are jammed together so tightly that I can hardly get my hand between them, much less a saddle and myself. It's a fun several hours, sending out saddled horses, many of which I recognize from the first trip. One of the three owners is constantly walking around, fully engaged, helping with horses, tack, talking to clients. This is something I like about Eldhestar. You see them around, they're not in an office, they are out working you personally, and answering questions or being involved in one way or another.

    By midday we were all tacked up and on our way to the farm where we'd pick up our horses and head out. This group got Sam, an irrepressible man in his late fifties or so who had a great bass of a voice and a great, grand good humor. We had two younger female guides, with a good bit less experience but quite competent. In minutes we were up and on our way, and pointed towards the distant range where the great volcano which had filled the skies with ash just a few years back dominated the landscape, draped in snow and rain.

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    The first day was a sunny breezy one which quickly slipped into cold rain by early afternoon. The showers didn't move, but held over our area as we tolted towards our evening destination. The land was flat and green, that eye-hurting green that reminds me so much of New Zealand, the mark of rich volcanic soil and dense nutrients. The ranges were snow covered the breezes made the dampness icy. We crossed pastures and long lines of trees, past guesthouses along the main road. As we made our way, Sam eased us into the tolt slowly making sure that no one was left behind, and that people were able to keep up.

    By late afternoon we had reached a large pasture that was dotted with the huge white hay bales mentioned earlier. Here we would dismount, leave our saddles for pickup by the truck, and make our way by foot over some nice hills and into a valley where the guesthouse lay. Sam who is a natural athlete, has this long, loping stride what makes him fun to walk with. You eat up the ground while walking with him and his quick mind has something to say on everything. On the first of these pleasant long walks I learned that Sam had been a National Champion volleyball player many times, over, and a number of those championships were won well into his fifites with a team in their twenties- and he was a player as well as their coach. He had also been a radio and TV personality and quite the singing voice. Back to that later.

    Our guesthouses, and there were several, were nestled in this sweet valley whose land stretched out in all directions. There were horses nearby, a greenhouse next door, and two to a room. A kitchen faced the ranges, and we had full great windows that allowed us to enjoy at 75% view of the land as our art all day and night. And we did. Cook had arrived before us and the table was set with snackables and drinks, and we set to shower and set up our rooms.

    As I'd asked for alternative rooming arrangements, I landed with Cook, with whom I made fast friends. Cook who had a crown of wonderful curly red hair, is from Germany and she works on an organic farm. Makes her own cheese and yogurt and generally has a lovely way with food. She plied me with yogurt as well, and a great supply of blueberry jam to sweeten it with, and fried eggs.

    That night, having had a short night prior, I went to bed at 7:30 to get a good night's sleep. However I was awakened a short time later by a rousing version of "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," which Sam was leading with that booming voice of his, through the paper thin walls of the guesthouse.

    Sam was working through a few songs per country to make sure we all felt at home, and this lasted until 10 pm. When I got up at four, I found to my dismay that Cook had relocated to the couch. Since I'm not a smoker, and I'd been consuming any beans lately I wondered what might have precipitated this move. Later, she laughed and explained that I snored "not loudly, but still, I'm a light sleeper." There you have it. Who knew. Hell's bells. That's funny.

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    The next morning dawned bright and gorgeous, the sun making long shadows beside the horses. We gathered our jackets and set forth for the pasture, and I took up stride with Sam as we headed over the hill into the teeth of the wind that greeted us when we faced out over the landscape. The gentle hills fell away and the pastures unfolded, the guides had our horses ready to go. In minutes Sam has us aboard and off we went.

    Our smoker was taking a day off, the first day being a little rough on her back and neck and we lost one other person as well. So they were being driven while we picked up our herd to move towards Thorsmark and the lovely waterfalls ahead of us. The pace was quick and easy, and everyone settled in.

    What was most notable the second day was the pasture where we had lunch. It was a large pasture, sloping and lovely, surrounded on nearly all sides by rock outcroppings, the pastures liberally sprinkled with yellow and purple summer flowers and a bubbling stream. You could not take a bad photograph in this pasture. So when we arrived and dismounted, letting our horses toss their unbridled heads and lift their heels to gallop to the far side, most went to the food truck, and I followed the herd. The reward for that was that every frame I shot was nearly a calendar shot. Horses grazing or grooming, rolling or sleeping against a backdrop of snowcovered ranges, cobalt skies and summer flowers. Simply lovely. Many of the horses wanted their massage time, too, some following around like a household dog insisting on attention by pushing you with a nose again and again like a four year old.

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    By the end of our riding day, and remember these rides are half the riding time of Desert to Desert so they are perhaps four to six hours or so, we are at a corral near our dorms for the night. Again we have a bit of a walk, and we let our horses free in a corral, and the saddles nearby for nighttime pickup. From there we walk to a grouping of buildings, including one which features bunk beds with two large tables taking up most of the room in the middle. Here is where we sleep and have dinner. I am hoping no singing tonight, as my bunk is going to be right next to the bench.

    Bathroom facilities are a walk- a substantial one- from the dorm, which I eye with mild concern. The mind does an automatic calculation. For those of us who are prone to getting up at the wee hours for a dash to the loo, this is not a dash, it's more like a marathon. I automatically start ratcheting back liquids and liquid containing foods.....The good news is that the facilities are both clean and pristine. The other news is that the water out of the tap is cold enough to get your full attention, the kind of ice cream headache water that you get when you put mostly ice in a glass and then cold water and let it sit. This is what you brush your teeth with. Wash your hands with. After which you spend about fifteen minutes unbending the fingers that have become frozen claws.

    But the kitchen was big, no electricity (solar only, no recharging) and each time you walked to the loo, you were accompanied by some terrific views. Walk, stroll or sprint on that nice wooden walkway, there was a gorgeous green mountain to watch over you, and the bushes and brush were dotted with wildflowers.

    There were also a lot of other people here, whether to hike or bike or otherwise, this place was booked out entirely. Our gear took up all available space in our building and we spilled out over onto the walkway when it came time to gear up in the morning. As did everyone else, it seemed.

    That night, I went to bed at about 7 pm. I faced the wall, everyone sat down to eat, and I have no memory of anyone's arias or "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine" which seems to be a universal favorite. Nothing until about 3 am, which roused me for a trip to the ladies' in the bright never ending light, peak at my side.

    Cook had gone overboard that night, with Sam's help, grilling wild salmon in foil with spices, and we ate like kings and queens.

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    Early the next morning once the luggage was all done, I copped a ride with Sam and the guides down to the corral (about a twenty minute walk) and we started rounding up the day's rides for the group. The horses know the drill, and there's also just enough room for them to squeeze away from those of us approaching with a bridle. The ones who REALLY don't want to work find a way to insert themselves into a tight three or foresome, like a scrum, and when we approach, bolt out like a cannon and escape to the other end of the corral.

    One mare was so good at doing this that we had exhausted our bag of tricks, and so Ana, one of the guides, resorted to sweet trickery. I'm not sure exactly what she did, but the next thing I know the mare had a bridle on and was headed my way. Once we had her, I went to work on her flanks, and found her sweet spot. Because of her propensity to bolt I'd never had a chance to work on her and here it was. Her special spot was right between her front legs on the lower chest, not far from where the cinch is tightened. As soon as I rubbed it with my nails her head extended, she closed her eyes, and stood shock still, her lower lip quivering. I tell you it is a wonderful thing to do this.

    The group joined us a few minutes later and off we went.

    Today Sam took us into a valley which was characterized by tall walls, covered with green moss, beautiful green foliage, a stream running through it and heavy rocks on the ground. The horses at times would nose the ground, stepping carefully and surefootedly through the path, never once tripping. The valley was stunning and cool, the breezes flowing into our faces. We reached a point where we crossed a stream and let our animals drink, then dismounted to let part of our group visit the waterfall. Here the horses ate off the walls tangling their hair with the mosses and greenery, looking for all the world like something from The Shire.

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    Lunch found us back at our picture perfect pasture, so I had one more chance to wander among the horses for photos. The guides had taken the herd there before us so a number of the horses had been grazing. This was a brilliant sunny day, and several had been napping. I found a brown mare fast asleep, she eventually got her massage and she was the one I ended up riding later that afternoon.

    Here we changed out our horses again, and by this time, many in our group had begun to form favorites. It was our chance to identify who we wanted to ride on our last day. A real fan favorite was Daniel, a beloved horse of many. Mine was Flickr, whom I'd ridden before and dearly loved. A particular personality trait or gait would endear a horse to a rider, or both, and to watch a horse stay a moment with a rider at day's end rather than tear off to join its compatriots would explain why one of these riders would have a special love for a particular horse.

    This happened on our third night in fact. We had a German family traveling with us. The daughter, who is in her early twenties, has an interesting appearance. She has shaved the sides of her head, formed her long blonde hair into dreadlocks and had piercings in her lips. This is an investment in a look, and people respond any way they like. It's a look, and I'm sure folks draw conclusions. She also smokes, and she can speak fairly aggressively as well. However, at the end of the day, hers was the very last horse to be let go after all the rest of the herd and the riders' horses were long gone, gathered at the far end of the pasture. Her black mare, freed of saddle and bridle, stood quiety at her side, in some kind of private communion with this young woman. I stood nearby watching this take place. When the horse finally decided it was time to go, she left quietly and with no great rush. Clearly she was calmed and happy and in go great hurry to leave the girl.

    So appearances may be what they are, but the fact is that we know nothing. The horse clearly knew something, and I trust the horse. It's one of the reasons they are such great teachers, they are true.

    That afternoon we also took a side trip to a crater glacier where there had once been a lagoon. Boom, no lagoon, but now there is a great deal of black soil and rock reforming the landscape. The glacier itself, melting quickly into the merry river that it is sending out in the hinterlands, sports that lovely turquoise that is characteristic of glacial lakes, and if you like you can get rained on by going inside it.

    This was the day I began to notice a bit of a challenge. Background here- I'm a bonafide bleeder. Not common for a woman, but I am one, and hence I bruise easily. When I first began riding some two weeks ago I noticed that the saddles weren't kind to my inner knees, but the sheepskin that I bring to ride upon usually handles that. Well, over time, it hasn't. I don't ride saddles at home, at least those that have kneepads, and over the last few weeks I'd been forming a good sized bruise. Especially on my left knee, from the constant impact of knee on hard leather.

    By the time we got back to our guesthouse in the valley I had a bruise the size of a California navel orange, and it wasn't very happy. Cook and I conspired to find arnica oil and tablets, and I did what I could to get the swelling down. The problem was I had another day of riding, and the hundreds if not thousands of times the knee hits the saddle during the tolt just bruises it more. I should have changed saddles at the start of this trip but didn't realize.

    That night, I snuck into the almost never open shower at 6:30 pm, and was just getting my trousers to half mast when Sam hollered my name. "You've got five minutes to get ready," he yelled, "we're going to the waterfall!" Classic Sam, the rest were already in the car, but I got there in five minutes and off we went. The falls were tall and lovely, a great excuse to do a side trip, and the little gift shop offered us 15% off for us Eldhestar riders.

    I was able to get that shower, slather the knee, and slip into blissful sleep. Cook took the couch, I got my own room again.

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    The final day I was met with a bruise that had spread from mid thigh to just over the calf and had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. Well then. Hi there. This is going to be interesting. I'm not one to take the truck home (say what you will, I just don't). I popped two super pain pills at 4 am, and began dressing. Well, good news bad news, I could get the breeches on, but being skin tight, it hurt to move because they put pressure on the bruise.Well then. Okay. I got packed, and sat.

    Sam and I did the long walk together to the pasture and I got my horse. Stormir- a feisty, chippy, I"llshowyou little guy that my friends around me rolled their eyes and pointed at and said, "he's tough. Good luck. " Right. Well, I asked for a tough horse. Problem is that I can't change, we're ready to go, and everyone is on his favorite. We're leaving.

    I won't bother you with what it was like getting up or on. Nor will I tell you what it was like tolting for two and half hours. But morphine in copious amounts did come to mind. I did see the humor in it, did think it was funny. The problem was that by the time we'd started riding, my pain pills had largely run their course and I was on my own, baby. And swelling up bigger.

    So we made it to mid morning, stopped and new horses arrived. I turned Stormir in and got Flickr back and in the meantime copping two more pain pills, both of which saved my day. In the meantime Sam, is waxing poetic about the view of the three glaciers. I'm not paying much attention to this, I'm making my way across the road to take care of business. I just about get my breeches down around my ankles when a very long line of riders, cameras in hand, show up right above me at the edge of the road to photograph the view of the three glaciers. Busted!

    They laugh, I laugh, they back up three steps and allow me my moment and they all get their shots for posterity.

    On the way to lunch at yet another waterfall, the pain meds do me the kindness of kicking in at the same time that Flickr, who has a lovely tolt, allows me to find a position that takes the pain from a 9.5 to a manageable 6. We make jokes, we tease each other on the trail, we throw up dust, and the horses are very clear they are on the way home. We are moving at quite the clip.

    At one point we stop for water, and a construction grader shows up right behind us. For some reason the man insists on coming up the road right to us, and we make way. Then the driver and Sam hail each other and have a chat, and we tease Sam (as this has happened repeatedly) about whether there is anyone in this country he doesn't know? This is his neighbor's son, whom he grew up with, he says, one more story.

    Our final day of riding, which dawned almost balmy, stayed warm and lovely all day. By the time we reached our farm to put the horses away, it was still sunny and perfect. The horses wander off to roll and graze and I join them for one last ear scrub. Our group collects and we head back.

    On the way, Sam stops off at the largest (by water volume) waterfall in Iceland. On the way he has us listen to a CD by his daughter, which is quite excellent, and he offers to sell us one if we want. The waterfall is impressive and cold, and I'm sure someone got a CD.

    By about 4:30 we were all reunited with our luggage and delivered to our hotel in Reykjavik. Danielle, one of our German riders, asked me to join their group for dinner- which led us on a lovely walk by the lake and to a perfectly charming French bistro. I'd been on yogurt for five days, and fried eggs and nuts. So real French onion soup, French vegetables in a pot, and true mousse au chocolat were unbelievable. Le Bistro is right downtown and on the mark.

    The Gardur Hotel where we spent the night was even nicer than the previous hostel after Desert to Desert, and the staff got me set up with a taxi to get me around the next day. Given that this is the big Icelandic holiday weekend, everything is closed til Tuesday, which means that I've just stayed in and rested. That has given this knee a chance to heal up.

    Apparently Eldhestar has other kinds of saddles available, and I will have time tomorrow to investigate. There are seven more days to ride, and I'd be happier with a bareback saddle pad or just bareback. I'm sure they have options.

    Meanwhile we've had lovely weather and temps in the 60s, which is balmy indeed. But no guarantee for tomorrow or next week.

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    Back here on a cloudy Sunday morning at Hostel Village, my laundry had festooned the room until I picked off the pieces one by one to repack. I had bid goodbye to all our riding friends from our last group yesterday at the end of the Snaellfellnes tour, and it was a beauty. In all honesty not what I expected but it had some of the greatest beauty and best riding days of the entire trip.

    We began in Bogarnes and took a bus out to the end of the peninsula not far from the glaciar which was a view for much of our riding. This group was made up of Swedes, French, Germans, Austrians and two Americans. There was a Swedish doctor who was 61 named Tina who became a good friend and a nice variety of people along. We had a female senior guide named Uli who spent part of the trip working in Reykjavik, and we had two other female guides with us. At one point we used a hotel owner who had guide horses who took us on a particularly challenging piece of riding, which turned out to be two of our best days.

    This trip was somewhat disjointed as each day required that we be bused back to our hotel. We weren't close the horses, and the drives were sometimes quite long. The hotel arrangements were perfectly fine, it was the nature of the logistics and the fact that we were driven entirely by the times of the tides each day that did it. Some days we didn't leave until three pm and didn't get back until 8 pm. That there was nothing at all planned or offered during the day surprised me, as one would think that Eldhestar might offer or think of something to do. But they didn't, so we ended up sitting around doing nothing.

    For my part I'd picked up a foul cold from one of the German girls on the bus and ended up sleeping thirteen hours one of those days so was quite happy we had it. But other days dragged on, and the nights were late. Still, the riding on the beaches, the river crossings, including a very fun swim, were worth it. We had such a variety on the beaches including seeing seals, the sand dunes, the black mud flats, and riding over such a broad variety of land that each day was a series of surprises.

    Oli, the hotel owner at one of our stays, took us out for two days. His horses were so swift at the tolt that many of ours had to canter to keep up. While not all riders like that quick a pace, I do, and that proved to be the most fun days. The first day it rained, so in our protective gear the wind and rain pelted our faces as we swept over the flats, horses spraying additional water up at us. Oli's joyful brown lab kept the pace, swimming the river and barking at errant horses which overran the herd. We had a medium sized herd with us as well, which allowed us to change out horses two to three times a day.

    On some mornings we got warm enough to keep our jackets open but late in the day it was overcast, and cool enough to keep snugged in. Nina the cook kept us fed with porridge and apples for breakfast, and her young daughter also rode with us a few days.

    Near to the end of our time on the beach we took the horses swimming, if we wished, and the last beach day we swam a river to get to our hotel. All of us got water in our boots but it was great fun, the horses loved it and all were safe and sound. If there was a complaint about this trip, it was more that there seemed to be a lot of standing around doing nothing, where in the previous trips it was crisp and moving all the time. Logistically, it's challenging due to the locations for the horses at night and where we stay, which is the reason for the busing. But the lack of planning for potential, optional activities was surprising given the cost of the trips.

    This trip also had a mild annoyance in that the main guide, Uli, works with kids at her main job, and it shows in her management of adults. People develop habits and they can bleed over, such as micromanagement and overcontrolling that might work with a kindergartener but which will grate when someone is in their forth, fifth or sixth decade. These things can detract from the quality of a trip when they happen constantly, you have to remind yourself of where this is coming from and not take it personally. Other guides didn't do this. Simply a different style.

    The last two days of our trip we moved the herd through the mountains while staying at our hotel on the beach. The meadows and hills were picturesque against huge buttresses of stone, the fields full of deep grass and wildflowers and lupine. The most weather we got was a tiny sprinkling, and probably the only real annoyance was the dust kicked up by the herd. As we rode towards Bogarnes yesterday we crossed more rivers and enjoyed additional stops in parks and horse trails on our way back to the stables where Nina the cook met us with quiche and drinks. Many of us stood to pet and rub our favorite horses before being bussed back here to Hostel Village where we showered off all the dirt.

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    The biggest challenge on this trip was two fold-getting clean and getting your gear dry. Riding on the beach means getting splashed, and riding the rivers guarantees that your boots get soaked. Swimming, well. Enough said. So the radiators in the hotel rarely gave off enough heat to both heat the building as well as warm up our gear. All the available surfaces were covered with drying breeches, jackets, boots of course and socks.

    I found a novel way to clean stuff, given that we didn't have a laundry. I've long used the shower as a source of washing clothing, although not quite like this. I had bought a brand new riding jacket, and by the fifth riding day it was a walking mud bath. I simply donned it and walked into the shower, and scrubbed it down with it on. I found out to my delight that it was quite waterproof, which I didn't realize, and it dried very quickly, so that it was nicely clean for the morning. Whereupon I got it filthy once more. Last night I got dressed in absolutely everything I'd worn, stepped into the tiny standing shower and washed and scrubbed until I got to skin. I went through six towels to take up the extra moisture and slept in a room full of drying laundry. All was done by morning, only a pair of well loved breeches to do, and they take forever to dry, and they stain other things as well. They get their own wash.

    The other challenge was simply getting a shower. Sometimes we'd come in and given the shortage of showers there'd be a line. I'd often just go to bed very early and get up early to slip in at 5 am well before the house woke up. That way the water was very warm.

    One particularly long day of riding we all came back sore and ready to take the mud off. We were at Hotel Eldborg, where Oli the guide had his brown lab and horses. Only one shower per floor, and a huge dorm of us on the wing. I wandered the floor repeatedly for several hours as the evening wore on, always a line. By about 8 pm the last girl walked out and gave me this look. You don't want to do that, she said, The hot water's all gone. It's freezing in there.


    I went to bed dirty that night, got up at 5, and snuck into the shower at 5 am. I put the hot water on SCALD and enjoyed turning my skin bright red, and getting all the soreness out of the muscles. Since they'd left a squeegee in the room, I was able to clean up as well, and leave the place spotless.

    When we got here last night, there were plans for a group dinner around 6:30 or so. I didn't even get to the shower until 6:30, as the lines were long, and people were naturally luxuriating in the hot water and getting the sweat and dirt of their hair after seven days of riding. I skipped dinner, which I was sad to miss, but not the shower. I wouldn't insult Hostel Village's very nice white linens with this kind of dirt.

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    I had mentioned earlier in this trip report about people and their phones. Here's an excellent example of what I mean. We had one girl, I think she was German. Pretty, young. Constantly on her social media. Phace in the Phone all the time. Here's the problem. She doesn't want to participate, that's fine. However, when we're riding, we have responsibilities to each other, to the herd, to the guide. To wit: in the morning and multiple times a day we stop and form a circle around the herd with plastic twine. We all have to hold the twine tightly as well as keep an eye on the horses to keep them from escaping, which causes all kinds of other headaches (these are the ones the guide is trying to catch, we're near a busy road, whatever). So Miss Social Media, who is holding the line down by me one the night we're getting ready to go swimming, has the responsiblity to hold this line taught and tight. Right? Wrong. I have my part up. She has her Phace in the Phone. Line is on the ground. Constantly. The guide speaks to her. A minute later, the line is on the ground. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Horses are looking to escape, which means extra work and trouble for all of us. Like a heroin addiction. The guide took her off the line. This is what I'm talking about. Girl was utterly and totally useless and irresponsible. She also was never available for all the other things that needed doing: helping with kitchen work ranging from setting up the table, cutting fruit, washing dishes, a myriad of chores that all of us were expected to help out on. Social media kept some of the girls so preoccupied that guess who did most of the extra grunt work? With some exception, the older women. That's what I mean by having social media get in the way. By taking part in everything we all got to know each other better, became better friends, and had more fun. Phones get in the way. Technology was her master. I never got her name, found out a thing about her. She wasn't available to anyone but whoever was on the phone. But that's her choice. By my measure, and mine alone, she wasn't a participant.

    Years ago in the 1980s Australia ran a wonderful campaign called LIfe: Be In It. I loved that campaign, I was there for it, did programs for it, and loved the theme. We need another like it. Right now in America one phone company is actually running ads suggesting that you do something NEW and DIFFERENT like leave your damn phone aside during dinner and actually talk to each other. Tag line? You never know what you might learn. Are you kidding me? Really? This is where we are with phones.

    There's a place for technology. But when it gets in the way of your being able to see the vista, be where you are, communicate with those you love, participate in an adventure, then the technology owns you, not the other way around. That was my point. I use technology all the time. My phone stays home. My iPad is used for writing on off hours. The rest of the time is for life. It's already limited enough. The Aussies had it right. Let's be in it.

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    Bogarnes was lovely, and a very nice break. I found a hotel called Guesthouse Hvita last year and booked it, and turns out the people who run it were lovely and charming. Their place was some 26 km out of town, which is nothing, and it took nothing to find it even with out a map. I had a day to myself in the sunlight warmed room which was utterly and completely still. Quite the contrast to three weeks of nonstop activity, close quarters and chatter. I didn't move for hours. Watched clouds. wrote. Soaked up the silence and healed my knee and my brain.

    Of course they got home at six and turned the TV on full blast which sent me running upstairs but that's life.

    The top of Snaefellskojull glacier is a fine thing to go explore by snow cat in the summer. It's only about thirty degrees F, about zero C, and except for the considerable wind (yep, those lenticular clouds kinda give it away) it's right comfy up there. I wouldn't dress for spring skiing, however, as the bitter wind hurls sharp ice crystals at you like a pellet gun and they are right painful. But the trip was fun, and the crowd lively. The "bar" which was a big box with two beers in it was laid out in the snow, and apparently either our group had emptied it or the previous one did. By the time I shot a photo there were just those two lonely soldiers left, and no takers. But they were cold all right. The glacier trip was about 10500 ISK and worth it, the views were spectacular. I don't know about coming down feeling twenty years younger as some New Agers like to claim. It's a nifty place and fun to do.

    Today was a long five hour drive to the West Fjords, across and around lovely long sloping hills touched lightly by mists, and riding the roads that encircle the long fjords that mark the landscape of this region. They are quite the sight. I was accompanied only rarely by other cars. More often by sheep, in fact. The road was long and quiet, the land has its own stillness, the stillness is tethered to the beauty of the land, and it's breathtaking. Considering the cacophany most of us live with, such quiet is initially stunning, and taken in long daughts it's a wellspring of relief. I remembered bird calls from the back yard of my Florida home that I'd not thought about in decades. Amazing what comes up in the midst of quiet.

    Hotel Edda is a nondescript spot with adequate (warm clean) rooms, close to town. I'm here for the kayaking and riding. It's been raining hard for hours, looks almost like snow but it's not. Oh, well, I hope not. I have a lovely view of the metal roof but tomorrow am kayaking the two fjords for five hours, and hoping to see the big shouldered mountains which have disappeared behind the mists. Too calm for funny stories lately.

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    Well. Some things have happened. A bit to fill in here. I took a ride after doing the kayaking. Which was lovely.

    Unfortunately the next night as I was getting my baggage down the stairs at Hotel Edda, my baggage decided to take off with me attached. I ended up in the Isafjorjur hospital with a fractured pelvis, broken arm, broken wrist, and an egg on my head the size of fist.

    The good new is that I was two minutes from the EMTs, who thought it was about as funny as I did.Because it was funny. Good news is that Icelandic health care is excellent. Their hospital food was so good I was sending photos of it home on Facebook. Travel insurance got me home safely.

    The funniest bit as that my sports chiro just opened up the CD that was supposed to have all my xrays and cat scan on it. I don't know whose stuff as on there, but it sure wasn't me. I'm still giggling about it.

    My new friend Eddi Ben, the man who helped me find the camera, did yeoman's work helping me around town, picking me up at the airport, and getting me everywhere after I got back to Reykjavik. He and his partner took me to dinner, it was simply fantastic, and went a long way towards helping me start the healing process.

    I got home last Friday night, and am slowly but surely starting to move around, albeit not very well nor very fast. I loved the Westfjords, but missed out on a lot of things with my aerial maneuvers. It happens. I'm very lucky I didn't break my neck, and also fortunate that it happened seconds from a hospital. All told, it worked out great. Just another adventure.

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    good grief. all that riding and you end up injuring yourself falling downstairs.

    good that you had travel insurance to get you home and a hospital minutes away!

    hope you make a full recovery soon.

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    Thanks ever so much annhig. It's a full recovery indeed. I put my walking pole aside at three weeks after I went back to yoga, started pool workouts and at about six weeks or so was pretty much walking without a limp. Last week I was back riding, including trotting and cantering. I give all credit to the Icelandic hospital for leaving me alone to rest and recuperate, feed me excellent food, and get me well under way to a healthy recovery in those first critical five days. I am planning, and hoping to go back to Iceland next year to do one more ride. Love this country.

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    Jhubbel, just saw your report and spent my lunch hour reading it. I feel like I just finished reading a fantastic novel! The Iceland Horses are beautiful and I loved reading about them. Glad to hear you are doing better.

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    Hey Powhatangal,

    Just saw this, so sorry it took so long to respond. Today is one year to the day that I took that butt over teakettle down the stairs and munched my pelvis. In fact I'm not just fine, I'm better than I was with one caveat- I HAVE to keep moving or my body stiffens into a two by four. Which for an athlete is not a bad thing. Since that accident I've been thrown twice, kicked three times, been in a car wreck and ridden 75 hours in Peru- and doing just great.I do get lots of care by a sport chiro and of course I work out two to three hours a day, and yoga six times a week.

    Returning to Iceland is on the menu but others have cropped up first, so hard to choose, Mongolia is high on the list. Always horses.

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