Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s guest is the inspirational Tom Hough, aka the Chronic Adventurer. I’ll let him introduce himself because he’s put it much better than I could… “I call myself the Chronic Adventurer as I have a chronic illness – Crohn’s Disease which is a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease – and I go on adventures BECAUSE I have it as I need to make the most of my healthier years. I’ve always loved to go travelling however in 2011 my wanderlust was put on hold after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. The diagnosis hit me pretty hard especially as I had to have surgery to reduce the symptoms. Learning about my chronic illness made me think that everything I wanted to do before being diagnosed was no longer possible. However I couldn’t accept this so after acclimatising to my new way life I decided to make 2013 the year of adventure.”
Welcome, Tom! So, where did you go first?
It was a week’s tour of southern Iceland with Exodus. The tour was all about exploring the southern coastal region of Iceland with its amazing scenery, going as far east as Vatnajokull National Park, stopping at the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Gullfoss along the way.
Amazing, I’m jealous already! Was it very cold?
With it being late March I was expecting the weather to be very changeable and possibly even snowing however I was amazed at how lucky we were. Every other day it was clear blue skies although the clouds would come in at night reducing our opportunities to see the Northern Lights.
Iceland sounds so exciting! What did you get up to?
The active part of the trip involved us hiking on a glacier which was very surreal as we had mountains to the left and right, an ice field in front of us and a beach less than a mile away from where we came from. That’s the incredible thing about Iceland there are so many different types of landscapes crammed into a relatively small island. We also went hiking in snowshoes up some extinct volcanoes which was also a very unique experience and a bit daunting when you get told not to stand in certain areas otherwise you’ll fall 120 metres through the snow to the volcano floor! Oh and we also spent some time at an iceberg lagoon and stood in-between the rift between the Eurasian and North American plate in Þingvellir.
Do you have a highlight?
Seeing the Northern lights! It was our last night in Iceland and most of the group hadn’t seen them yet so after an early dinner we headed out away from the lights of Reykjavik. Amazingly as soon as we found a secluded enough spot a green haze magically appeared on the horizon. For the next two hours we were treated to a great display that covered half of the sky. As the night went on the cold began to bite but I didn’t care as I had caught the aura bug which is when you don’t care how cold your hands or feet get you just want to stay out that bit longer. We were rewarded for ignoring the cold as the light eventually drifted over the lake creating a tremendous mirror of stars and northern lights. Suddenly I didn’t feel that cold anymore as I rushed around taking numerous pictures trying to capture what my eyes were seeing. After a while though I turned my camera off and just stopped and took the time to appreciate the moment. You see exactly a year ago I had been in hospital having a flare up with my Crohn’s Disease and I thought I could never go travelling again. Yet here I was standing out in the freezing cold in Iceland at 2am looking up at one the natural wonders of the world. Once I got home I developed a picture from that night and use it as inspiration for when my illness gets me down as it reminds me to always keep my head up.
What an incredible experience – and very inspirational. I’m very jealous. So, how did you find the food in Iceland?
Eating out in Reykjavik costs the same as eating out in London which was a bit of a surprise but then being such a remote island it’s kind of makes sense. There were plenty of restaurants offering international dishes as well as local flavours of mink whale, fermented shark, and puffin. I had my best meal in the restaurant Gamla Vinhusid in Reykjavik where I had horse steak which tasted better than any beef steak I’ve had!
Did you have any embarrassing moments?
I’m into my photography so after everyone else had gone to bed I stayed out to take some night shots of the Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik. After I was content with what I had taken I started to head back in but then I saw this green light in the sky. At first I didn’t realise what it was so carried on walking back to the hotel until thankfully someone shouted out to me that it was the northern lights!! I guess I must have got so engrossed in taking pictures I had forgotten that I was in Iceland and night skies aren’t the same as London ones! I tried to capture the light on camera to show the others in the morning but due to the street lights I failed. But at least I could say I saw them even if for most of the time I didn’t know what they were!
Oh dear, so you nearly missed them! Were there any disasters on your trip?
Whilst taking pictures of the icebergs on the beach in Jokulsarlon at sunset I was in my element. So much so I got distracted running from iceberg to iceberg trying to capture as much as I could that I misplaced a glove, meaning my right hand was rather numb by the time I got back to the minibus! But the pain was worth it. I also purchased a specific lens to improve my low light photography however every time I went out at night to take pictures I forgot to take it with me….oops!
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone heading to Iceland (other than “remember to look at the sky at night!”)?
Seeing the northern lights is an incredible experience however there is so much more to see in Iceland so don’t just limit your visit there to Reykjavik and going on Northern lights tours because if you do and don’t see the lights you will come home very disappointed. Whereas I would still have had a great holiday in Iceland even if I hadn’t seen the Northern lights as I also went glacier hiking, snow shoeing and explored the incredible landscape. So basically go and explore Iceland and hope to see the lights as well!
And finally, did you learn any useful Icelandic phrases on your trip?
Not so much an Icelandic phrase just an expression that our guide kept saying due to the scenery and amazing weather we had. He simply kept saying B-E-A-U-T-I-FULL!
NB – all images are owned by Tom Hough