Iceland and France, 2015
Okay, so admittedly, I am really far behind on this blog. I have been putting it off because the entire trip was a comedy of errors and I wanted to figure out a way to write it without naming names or making anyone feel badly. At the same time there is a lot to be learned from what happened; and in retrospect, some of it was pretty funny…Only in retrospect! This blog is a little on the long side. My apologies for that. I promise my African blogs will be shorter. I put off writing about this trip because I like to think that I am busy. Well I am sitting in the airport in Istanbul right now and our flight to Nairobi doesn't leave for 5 more hours, so I have no more excuses.
Our Iceland/France trip really was made up of many near disasters so I really had to write about them. You may want to read on because the stuff that happened was almost unbelievable. It was like one of those corny movies where three friends go on holidays and everything goes wrong, but they manage to come home in one piece. They learn some lessons and in the end their adventure ends on a happy note.
Now, I am the first to admit that stuff happens. Anyone who knows me or has read my blogs knows I have done a ton of really dumb things and have had a ton of things happen to me on my travels. I’m one to talk. In 2011 in India, I offered beef jerky to a Hindu (that was before I became a vegan of course). In 2012 a frozen toilet on a plane kind of exploded and covered me in my own urine…Not my fault, but certainly not my best moment either. In 2005 a friend and I got locked in a room in an airport in Russia. They thought we were trying to illegally stay in the country when really we were desperate to get out of Russia. In 2010 I got food poisoning in Africa and lost my cookies on a bush plane. That wasn’t pretty. I missed a flight due to a blizzard in the Arctic, I could go on. Stuff happens all the time, but not this trip. So many things happened and kept happening and so much of it was avoidable that it just turned our trip into one that went from one disaster to another.
Our intention was to fly to Iceland, spend a few days photographing puffins, then fly to Paris where we would take the fast train to Avignon. From there we would rent a van and drive to Saintes Maries de la Mer to photograph the Camargue horses. Four days of photographing horses, then we drop off the van and take the train back to Paris where we would stay another couple days.
What actually happened was close, but was really just a trip filled with near-disasters that we kept on escaping from.
My mom wanted to go with us to Iceland so she, a colleague of mine and I were going to fly to Iceland and meet up with a third photographer; my colleagues brother-in-law from the States. Mom, brave soul that she is would go on her excursions on her own and we would head up north 8 hours to photograph the puffins for three days. Three days later she would fly back to Edmonton. That same morning we would return to Reykjavik and fly to Paris.
Arriving in Reykjavik…
I realize many people have traveled to further ends of the earth than I have or likely ever will. That being said, I have traveled internationally a fair bit and like to think I know what to expect when arriving in a foreign country. What happened here wasn’t a huge thing. Just strange. Upon arriving in Iceland they had everyone go through security so they could leave the airport. I asked them why and what they were looking for; for education sake. They told me they are just looking for the same things that they look for in Edmonton in security. Fire arms, knives, drugs, etc. You would think if we had any of that, they would have found it in security in Edmonton. Strange. Stranger, I think they were confiscating people’s duty-free alcohol. Very strange. I still don’t understand the strategy there.
Day One: Travel Day And Golden Circle:
As we were getting ready to catch our 6:30p.m. flight to Iceland we got word that the third photographer didn’t book his flights properly and missed a flight which in turn would make him miss his flight to Iceland. He would have to stay over night in Detroit. Unfortunate, but we decided we would roll with the punches, pick up our car, tour around Reykjavik and return to the airport the following day and pick him up so he wouldn’t have to drive up to the cliffs alone.
Upon landing in Iceland, we couldn’t find our car rental company. There were only three car rental places in the airport. We asked them where our rental company was and they were quite rude telling us that there are 65 car rental companies in Reykjavik and they couldn’t possibly know where our rental company was located. In a fake attempt at compassion they reassured us that if we wanted to rent one of their vehicles they had some available. Long story short, there were regular shuttles leaving the airport and the car rental company is located about 100 yards away from the airport. They knew both of these tidbits of information, but weren’t about to help us. That would have been too much effort. That "Icelandic welcoming committee" had to drive by our car rental company every day to get to the airport. So congratulations Avis, Budget and Hertz at the Iceland airport you are all officially assholes and I will tell everyone I know who is going to Iceland not to use your services.
It is a 45-minute drive from the airport to Reykjavik. We dropped mom off at her hotel, then began touring the golden circle and doing “the tourist thing”. I don’t typically do touristy things, but we were rolling with the punches. We photographed some Icelandic ponies along the way and made the best of it. It was a long day because we left at 6:30p.m. from Edmonton and landed in Iceland at 6:30a.m. from there we toured around until 9p.m. We bought some groceries for supper and for the next day, booked into a hotel and called it a night.
Day Two- Picking up our American friend and our drive to the Latrabjarg Cliffs:
By the time our American friend’s flight came in and we were able to pick him up and get on our way it was already noonish. After a long day of driving and making a little time to stop along the way to photograph some Icelandic ponies, we finally arrived at our hotel near the Latrabjarg cliffs at about 9p.m. There was some light left so we went to the cliffs to photograph the puffins. It was pretty cool. There were hundreds of puffins. It was too dark to get the best of photos so we stayed out for a couple hours then retired back to the hotel looking forward to one full day of puffin photography the following day.
Day Three- The windy Latrabjarg Cliffs:
The next morning we got up early to go to the cliffs. We walked for a couple hours along the world famous Latrabjarg puffin cliffs and only saw one puffin! The winds were so strong we had to lean into the wind to walk. I’ve never felt winds like that before. We came back and they told us that the puffins only come out in the evening. We spent the day in our room (nothing to do in the middle of no-where). We went back out at 5 pm ready for some great puffin photography. Unfortunately the winds were so strong that we didn’t see so much as a puffin.
Lesson Number One:
When you are travelling with other people don’t assume that they will just arrive when they are supposed to. Ask for their flight numbers and travel plans. If they are booking flights individually and don’t leave a few hours between connection times they can cost you valuable days of waiting around instead of enjoying your photo safari. In this case the connection mishap cost us two days of puffin photography plus we missed an expensive night in a hotel and insult to injury had to book an additional night elsewhere. Their flights are your business. If they screw up their flights, it costs you money and days of valuable photography time.
Day Four- The Drive back to Reykjavik/ Flight to Paris/ Train to Avignon/ Drive to Saintes Maries de la Mer…One Long Day!:
The next morning we left the hotel and started driving back to the airport so we could catch our flight to Paris. We saw one really pretty location overlooking the ocean and got out for a few snapshots. Our American friend who missed his flight slipped and had a fall on the lava rocks. He is tough though and didn’t really focus on it. He just said the rocks were slippery and he scraped his shin. I didn’t realize it was anything to be concerned about as he didn’t make a big deal of it.
Late that afternoon we arrived at the airport. We were a few hours early as were about a hundred other people. Strangely there are no chairs in the waiting area so we all lined the walls sitting on the floor.
Arriving in Paris…
Arriving in Paris we had to wait a few hours for our train. Long story, but my colleague and I and our American friend got split up while boarding the train. We were all on the train though so all was good. A couple hours later when the train was stopping in Avignon, I was hoping he would know to get off the train. We had to check the GPS on a phone to know when to get off, as the train doesn’t announce the name of the stops. Strange to me, but it is what it is. We must have been missing something. Or maybe the locals just know where to get off? I have no idea.
We get off the train in Avignon and what a relief as there standing on the train deck is our American friend. The first thing I notice is he has his suitcase, but that’s it. I ask where his camera gear is. You can’t hide 25 grand in camera gear. It takes up space and as a photographer, that is the first thing I notice. All the colour drains from his face and he says “I forgot it on the train!” Next thing you know he is doing what any sane person would do. He is running down the train deck yelling at the French people “Stop the train! Stop the train!”. Alright so 25 grand in camera gear is now going to Marseille. He doesn’t speak a word of French and is yelling at everyone he sees. Like that is going to go over well in the countryside in Southern France. They were just ignoring him. So we wait as he talks to every train station official he can find until he finds someone who speaks a little English and is willing to help. Apparently someone is taking his bag off the train at Marseille and he will be able to pick up his bag there.
Lesson Number Two:
Don’t let your colleagues split from the group. My theory is that when I travel I get over-tired and my intelligence drops to that of the average house plant. I make mistakes that I never would make at home. And clearly I’m not the only one. Stay together so you can watch each other’s back. Traveling in a group is safer so you may as well take advantage of it. And your friends can watch out for you if you are feeling sick or are forgetting something important like; I don’t know 25 grand in camera gear maybe?!
$25 Grand in lost Camera Gear before our main photo shoot starts? Ouch?!
|Iclenadic Horse and Foal. Too much reading and|
not enough pictures, so I will have to throw some
in here and there
My colleague and I rent the van and head to Saintes Maries de la Mer so we can find the charming farmhouse that we are staying at. In the meantime, our American colleague gets on the next train to Marseiile to see if he can catch up with his camera gear.
Well, we get to Saintes Maries de la Mer, but we can’t find our accommodations. It is some vague random rural address. Our hosts aren’t answering their phone and our gps shows the address in the middle of a swamp. We try desperately to find our rental. We stop at every farm house we can find, but between our broken French and their broken English we really aren’t getting anywhere. It is getting late and we are supposed to drive back to Avignon to meet up with our American friend. Our meeting time is in 45 minutes so my colleague decides to do a U-turn so we can head back. He accidentally backs into the ditch and gets us stuck. Now we are hungry, can’t find our accommodations, we’re high-sided on the bank of the ditch and are officially late picking up our American friend. We empty our gear out of the van and I try pushing. We don’t have much room for error as the van is just a few feet away from a fence. Unfortunately for me the forward gear is right beside reverse so when I go to push the van backs into me and throws me into the fence. Okay, I’m not injured so we’re still good, but we’re still stuck. It takes another 15 minutes before I think about using my head a bit. Growing up on the farm has taught me a thing or two. Instead of trying to drive straight up on to the road, because we are high-sided, we drive through the ditch at an angle until we are back on the road again. And it works!
Stuck and Late…
Okay, so that worked. Now we are going to be a couple hours late in picking up our friend and we’re starving. We haven’t eaten since having a small $10 sandwich in the Paris airport early in the morning and it’s now supper time so we stop off at a fruit stand, pick up some delicious fresh fruit and head north to Avignon. No problem, we should just call our friend and let him know we’re going to be late right? Problem. He didn’t bring a phone and I didn’t know he didn’t have a phone. Who doesn’t travel with a phone? Well, he doesn’t. He wanted his holiday to be a stress-free holiday without a phone and out of contact from work. Fair enough, but that isn’t helping lower our stress levels now. By the time we get to the Avignon train station we are 2.5 hours late and worried that he… well we had no idea what he would do.
Lesson Number Three:
Don’t travel with people who don’t bring cell phones. That is just a recipe for disaster! It is always safer while in a strange country to at the very least be able to text people in case you split up and can’t find one another.
It turns out that our American friend caught up to his camera gear. He gave the gentleman a healthy tip for helping him out then got back on the train to Avignon. Unfortunately he got off the train at the wrong station. That can happen when you don’t speak the language, don’t have a phone with GPS or any phone at all and because they don’t announce the train stops. The train just stops, people get off, people get on and I never even saw any signs so I can’t say that I blame him. So he had to hire a cab and 100 more Euros later and 2.5 hours late he got to the train station…about ten minutes before we got there, so all is good.
So, one day lost due to a missed flight. Another half day lost due to the late flight coming in and another half day lost due to camera gear left on a train. My Edmonton colleague and I are still in good spirits though. I figured it is like a bad day of fishing on a nice day. It’s still nice out and it is still fishing, so how bad could it be? I had nothing to be down about. We were in Southern France, the weather was beautiful, the scenery was amazing, the Camargue horses were beautiful and we’re having an adventure. It is what it is and we are rolling with the punches. The three of us drive to Saintes Maries de la Mer and now it is getting dark.
Short Tempers, 10 p.m. and No Accommodations…
We are now driving to Saintes Maries de la Mer and looking for our accommodations. Our American colleague is furious that we weren’t able to find our accommodations. We start asking everyone we see if they know of where our farmhouse is. No one knows. It is 10p.m. finally we find a lady who tells us to go to le hotel de la plage. They are big partiers and know everyone. Pretty easy task right? Saintes Maries de la Mer is a small town. How hard could it possibly be to find Le Plage hotel?
Well, it’s fricken harder than you might think. The town is on the ocean and le plage means the beach so every second restaurant or business seemed to be called le plage.
We drove around the town about three times to no avail and our American colleague was getting madder and madder and was yelling at us. In turn I was getting really pissed off. In all fairness, we lost a day and a half photographing puffins because he had trouble with his flights. My Edmonton colleague and I lost the reservation at the puffin place that we paid for at $350 per night and in addition had to book a hotel in Reykjavik. Then we lost half a day in Saintes Maries de la Mer because our American friend left his camera gear on the train. Had he been sitting with us we could have been watching his back, but nope. He had to separate from us and leave his gear on the train which cost us another half day. One person has now cost us two full photography days and a couple hundred bucks as we had to book another hotel room and he is mad at us??!! I was starting to lose my cool. We weren’t even half way through the trip though so I was trying to bite my lip.
On the second drive through town I had noticed in faded print high up on a building something that I thought said “Hotel de la Plage”. I kept on telling the guys about it and they kept disagreeing with what I thought I saw so I finally just got out. The van was still rollling, but I couldn’t be in that car one more second. I told my Edmonton friend that I would text him if I found something and jumped out of the van.
Walking around the corner I could see on the business awning that I was actually in the right spot. The sign was just hidden from view and it was about 10:30p.m. at this point so it was hard to see. I walked into the bar and started asking about our accommodations. Oddly enough a patron there knew exactly what I was talking about. In fact he used to work on that small farm. He agreed to get in the van and would direct us to the farm house. It was only about a ten minute drive. I didn’t want them to think we were some kind of crazy axe murders from North America, so I suggested that I would stay behind and order some drinks while they found the farm house. I figured he would feel safer if one of us stayed behind with their friends.
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t drink. Not a drop. I don’t like what drinking does, I think it is a waste of money and a waste of alertness, judgement and more often than not; health. But when in Rome…The intoxicated people in the bar were wondering about the North American stranger so I had a few tequila drinks and tried to fit in…And actually they weren’t half bad. And neither were the drinks. Half an hour later, the boys came back in great spirits. We bought our new friend some drinks and some dinner at midnight and all was good again.
On our first day at the beach town we thought we would buy some postcards for our ladies back home. We stop at a souvenir shop and pick up some postcards and go home for lunch. My Edmonton friend discovers that his wallet is missing. Flustered he and I drive back into town. No wallet at the souvenir shop and no word of it. Maybe it is at home somewhere? Nope. Can’t find it anywhere but we have a photoshoot to get to so we will have to take care of it later. That evening he calls his credit card company and cancels his bank and credit cards.
In case I am boring you too much and you can't tolerate any more of my drivel, but would like to see more images you can go straight to my Iceland horse images, puffin images or Camargue horse images.
Lesson Number Four:
Don’t carry all of your credit cards, debit cards and money in the same place. I was a little careful about that sort of thing before with my hard drives. I tend to carry one in a pocket and the other in a camera bag. This was a good lesson for me. I carry a picture of my passport on my phone, extra passport pictures and I split up my credit cards and debit cards and money so they aren’t in the same place. The best part is my camera bags are locked up so they double as portable safes.
Try the police Station…
All we know to say is la portefeuille…(wallet in French). Sure enough a really nice lady handed in his wallet and didn’t take so much as a Euro. My Edmonton friend asks for her phone number so he can give her a nice tip for her troubles and his appreciation.
The photo shoots were good. We had some communication issues and experienced some dissapointments, but all in all for our first time, we all considered it a success…I think.
Last Evening and the Last disaster…
On the last evening we were sad that our time in France was quickly wrapping up. We went out for dinner as a group and had a nice meal. Brigitte; our new friend from Belgium was going to drive home that evening and had a 7 hour drive after a long 4 days of full photography. She didn’t have another night in her hotel and we were worried about her so we invited her to sleep on the couch at the farm house. My Edmonton friend and his American brother-in-law were going to drive one of the guardians home and I went with Brigitte so she knew how to get to the farm house. It really is tricky to find, especially late at night.
We get back to the farm house and my Edmonton friend is upset. The streets in Saintes Maries de la Mer were designed for horses and buggys many years ago so they are really narrow. Unfortunately for him he cut a corner to short and scraped two panels of the van. That is crappy, but he has insurance with his credit card so no problem right???
Now do you remember when his wallet got stolen and he canceled his cards? Well his insurance was on that credit card that he cancelled. Now he will have to work with the credit card company to get their insurance on a cancelled card to pay for an accident that he had after his card was cancelled. Needless to say he spent several hours on the phone that night. It was a long process and a couple weeks later he was reimbursed for the $2700.00 in damage to the van. Yes, credit card insurance can be pretty impressive!
Did I say one last disaster? Are we out of the woods yet?
On the fast train back to Paris we are looking at pictures. I am anal about my images. I’m not the greatest photographer, but when I travel half way around the world I do not leave my images to chance. I really want to come home with them so I make sure to download after every shoot and back up on a second hard drive in case the first one gets damaged, lost or stolen. So our American friend opens up his laptop, plugs in his hard drive and nothing is on it. He asks me to look at it. Nothing I can do. “No problem, I tell him, that’s what back up’s are for. Just check your second hard drive.” Well, he didn’t back up. An entire trip worth of images possibly lost because someone couldn’t be bothered to pay an extra $89 for a second hard drive. That never makes any sense to me.
Lesson Number 5:
Always back up after every shoot. I can never understand photographers who don’t do this. For those people it isn’t if, but when something like this happens to them.
So, we are back on the fast train and paying close attention to our stop in Paris and we tell him that we are getting close. He decides that he needs to use the bathroom a few minutes before our stop. I used the bathroom 30 minutes before our stop to be safe. Not him. Nope, had to wait. Unfortunately there was a line up for the bathroom. Where is our American friend? In the bathroom I guess. So we pack up his laptop and grab all of his gear. We are getting off this train and we can’t just leave his gear out in the open. We get off the train with his gear and hope that he gets off in time. Sure enough he gets off the train in a panic wondering where all his gear is.
Lesson Number 6:
Oh forget it, some people just don’t learn their lessons. I shouldn’t be too harsh though because while over tired and traveling I have done some pretty dumb things myself.
Paris and Our last Scare…
So we are to spend a couple days in Paris before flying home. Our American friend says his leg is burning up. I ask if I can see it. Do you remember when he fell and scraped his leg in Iceland? Well his leg now looks like he is wearing a red sock that goes almost up to his knee. I guess four days of standing in swamps was a great breeding ground for infection. It is about 6p.m. and I am scared for him. That will travel to your heart and when it gets there you are dead. This is very serious! Well, he called home and his wife found an emergency phone number. He called a doctor who makes house calls. For about $80 a doctor came to our apartment at 2a.m., diagnosed his infection and prescribed antibiotics. The next morning at 10a.m. he was at the pharmacy with his prescription. He bought these antibiotics that dissolve in water like iced tea crystals. After the first three doses his infection was already subsiding. By the following day the redness had almost completely disappeared.
Lesson Number 7:
If you travel a lot it may not a bad idea to go to the pharmacist and acquire some general antibiotics in case you fall on the rocks in Iceland, cut your leg up, then spend four days in muddy swamps in Southern France…
So what about his hard drive? The company is based in California. He shipped his hard drive off to California and hoped for the best. $1500.00 US later the hard drive was shipped back with all of his images in tact.
|A black Icelandic Beauty!|
If I have managed to keep your attention this long, congratulations you are either really patient or you are stuck under something heavy and your screen froze. :) Our American friend really is a great guy.. He just hasn't done much international travel. The more I travel, the more I realize it is kind of an art. You need to be safe, prepared, aware and polite. And you need to learn to learn from your mistakes. Much of this blog was to remind me what can go wrong when you are travelling internationally. These things could have just as easily have happened to me and I don't want them to, so I'm certainly going to remind myself of these lessons in the future.
I liked this series of shots of a guardian picking up his friends hat out of the water while at full gallop. I was impressed by his athleticism.
We also went to a bull fight. It is different and great in that the bull fighters are the ones in the most danger. The bulls often have a long career of ten years or so while the bull fighters are the most in danger. One slip and they are dead. The object is to pull a ribbon off the bulls head without getting gored. It is still mean teasing an animal, but at least they are levelling the playing field. Check out the gif. This guy got more than he bargained for and was really lucky that he only got a sharp poke.