Blues from the Rainforest (Guadeloupe part II)

Guadeloupe part II: Basse Terre

The remainder of the vacation was spent on the other island—Basse Terre. This island is covered with rainforest and contains an active volcano. In fact, the beaches on Basse Terre tend to have volcanic black sand.

Our first day on Basse Terre was spent snorkeling. We rented a kayak on Malendure beach and paddled out to the Pigeon islands—tiny islands about 1km off the coast. We left the kayak on shore, put on our snorkeling gear, and began our underwater exploration. Although Jack kept insisting that snorkeling in Hawaii is far more exciting, I really enjoyed myself. We even walked across the little island to snorkel on the other side. The waves were bigger there, and Jack got tossed into some sharp rocks when we were leaving the water. I got a couple cuts too, but his wounds were a pretty impressive red color, and his ankle was dripping blood. I guess he wasn’t too concerned about being shark-bait, because he went back in the water after we returned to the calmer side of the island. (The sharks didn’t take the hint though, so I didn’t get to see any really big fish.)

Drifting around the coral, it was like being in an aquarium. Schools of blue tang swam below us, a sea snake coiled itself under a rock, and kaleidoscopic parrotfish flashed their rainbow colors as they ate algae off the rocks. Jack even spotted a well-camouflaged flounder, while I was fooled by the eye-like spots some fish sported on their tails; we both made fun of the pyramid-shaped trunkfish. A trumpetfish with a comically long nose came close to the surface and I followed it; when my face was mere inches from its tail, it darted away. We also saw the black durgon, with its fluorescent yellow stripes, which was Jack’s favorite fish; I most liked the pale blue glow of angelfish, shimmering like opal. Satisfied, we kayaked back to the beach, shared some ice cream while watching the sunset, and finished the day with a very good dinner at La Touna.


View of the Pigeon Islands from Malendure beach



The next day was reserved for hiking up the volcano, La Soufrière. The climb was long and steep and muddy; much of it entailed scrambling over slippery rocks. The summit of the volcano was entirely engulfed in clouds and wind and sulfurous fumes: gusts of wind threatened to blow us off the mountain, and we could only see a few feet in front of us as we walked the circumference of the smoking crater. Finally, soaking wet and covered in mud, we began to climb back down.


Crevasse formed by lava flow from past eruption



View of crater from the summit of La Soufrière


The crater




Hummingbird that kept us company on the way down


Later that afternoon, we stopped by a beach in Trois-Rivières. Here, the magnitude of the waves and the strength of the current indicated that there was no protecting reef. Struggling against the tide, we splashed in the waves. Several times, I found myself being pushed underwater, thrown into the sand by the waves. I’m not sure how many liters of seawater I swallowed or inhaled, but it was well worth it. By the time we arrived at our final Airbnb—a wooden box in the rainforest—we were exhausted. Despite the deafening sounds of the rainforest, we slept soundly under our mosquito net.

For our last two days, we wanted to explore the rainforest some more, and our Airbnb host offered some suggestions for hot springs and waterfalls with swimming basins.

The biggest adventure was the first rainforest hike. After we took a morning dip in the river, our host gave us directions, which we vaguely remembered as we set off to find the waterfall. We had a few false starts, but quickly found the path. Unfortunately, soon after we followed it into the forest, we found our way blocked by fallen trees. Turning to the side, we again came across a path, and assumed that this was the right one, since it was unobstructed. It took us down to a river, which seemed promising, but when we crossed the river, we realized that the path ended there. So we sat on a rock facing a patch of giant bamboo and ate some cheese we brought with us, along with pastries and part of a baguette.


First river crossing attempt

Then we returned across the river and retraced our steps. This time, we fought through the plants and the vines until we made our way around the fallen trees and found the first path again. Shortly after, we ran into a group of swimsuit-clad people walking the other way, and congratulated ourselves on finally going in the right direction. We stuck to this path—up and down and up and down, through mud and over tree roots until we reached the river once more: this must be the right crossing, we thought, and forded the river, as we were instructed.


2nd river crossing

Now, we remembered, our host had told us, “after you cross the river, turn right. Not left. Go right. Remember, right, not left. Left no good. Go right.” Indeed we saw the fork in the path and turned right. In a minute though, the path seemed to briefly vanish, and when it reappeared, it took us in a loop right back to the fork. We looked around, and decided to try again. And again, we followed the path and found ourselves back at the fork. Looking down the left path, Jack said, “maybe we should go that way after all?” I refused: “No! He said go right. Let’s try one more time.” This time, we saw that where the path became less clear, there was an opening to go down to the river. We climbed down and walked upstream for a minute until the stone bank ended and the shore became a cliff. While I waited, cradling my expensive camera, Jack stumbled back across the river and turned around the bend. He returned in a minute, saying he didn’t see anything ahead. No waterfall, no trail. We were stumped. Maybe we do go left after all? Seems to be the only way.

We returned to the fork, and after a moment’s hesitation, turned up the left path. It took us up a steep hill until the slope became almost completely vertical, like a cliff but with mud instead of rock. There was a rope tied to poles going up this hill, which implied that this really was a path for humans. We grasped the rope and pulled ourselves up. At the top, we brushed off the spiders we picked up along the way examined our surroundings. Here was a field of sorts, with waist-high grasses and flowers. Not a waterfall, but certainly pretty. We pushed through this field, angering the spiders as we broke through their webs. Some of the grass was sharp, and there were thorny bushes in our way. Jack, in his jeans, took no notice; I, on the other hand, had gambled and worn rather skimpy shorts, thinking more of the heat than the terrain. Needless to say, by the time we found ourselves face-to-face with a horned cow blocking our way, my legs were more than a little scratched.


This was the field

Anyway, we looked at the cow. The cow looked at us. This staring contest lasted for a minute, until we were all thoroughly confused. Meanwhile, the little flying insects must have caught the scent of blood on my legs, and began to congregate around me.

The shadows were getting longer and we worried that we would soon have to admit defeat. We turned our back on the cow and pushed back through the grass and the thorns and the flowers, casting aside the webs that the spiders had begun to rebuild. We found our trusty rope, which now helped us slide down the muddy cliff, back to the river. At this point, we’d run out of ideas. Besides giving up, the only other option was to follow the river upstream.

There were obstacles to overcome: deep sections of river, fallen trees, slippery rocks. As we were navigating around some tree roots jutting out into the river, the branch Jack was holding for support snapped, and he sidestepped into the river. Nonetheless, we continued, zig-zagging up the river, searching for clues—is that a wet shoe-print on that rock? Is that just the wind we hear, or could it be the muffled roar of falling water?

We paused; we listened; I craned my neck and squinted through the leaves and vines and branches, until— “is that—? No… wait, yes! I see water. Vertical water!” I was certain: I could see “vertical water”. It was white and it was falling. All my worries about the setting sun, my stinging legs, a painful scratch on my shoulder—they all vanished. We found it.

After finally reaching the waterfall, we paused to finish our baguette, and then shuffled into the cold water. While it wasn’t the perfect swimming hole (it was relatively shallow), the pool at the base of the waterfall was certainly refreshing. This waterfall had two sections, one above the other: the taller top section falls into a small basin, from which the water is carried to the lower segment. We climbed the rocks next to the bottom portion of the waterfall, and slid into the smaller pool at the base of the top waterfall. The current was strong, but the falling water had dug such a deep well that we were able rest our backs against the wall and avoid being carried down the lower portion of the waterfall directly beneath us. We sat like this for a minute, with the current rushing past us; then I reached over and pulled myself closer to the falling water. Jack followed, and we washed our hair in one of the smaller offshoots next to the main column of water. Then we climbed back down.


The hike back was much easier; by the time we emerged from the forest, our boots were filled with water and covered in mud, but it was still light. Here are some other photos we took on the hike:


Rainforest trees


Bamboo next to the river



River directly downstream of waterfall


That night, when we returned to the Airbnb property, we were greeted with music—the monthly jam session organized by our host. We sat down to listen, while our host cooked us dinner: the food was delicious, the music was great, and the rum our host poured us was strong. Exhausted, we left to get ready for bed shortly after midnight; the music played on, but I was too tired for it to keep me awake.

When we awoke, we realized that we had only one day left of our trip. The first stop of the day was one of the Carbet Falls. I had wanted to visit all three waterfalls of the series, but we were running out of time, so we settled on seeing just the middle one. The walk was short but pleasant, and the waterfall was indeed beautiful.



Next, we scrambled down a steep and muddy hill to another waterfall with a swimming hole. I was surprised how popular this spot seemed to be, given the difficulty of the hike. It wasn’t far, but several times I found myself wondering how many people have fallen to their deaths. What if this vine I’m holding breaks or my foot slips off that tree-root?

When we reached the waterfall, I felt that I had stepped into a postcard. The stream we had been walking beside dropped into a deep green pool, sheltered by overhanging rock ledges and rainforest plants.


After swimming in the cold water, we were ready for our final stop: a hot spring. With some difficulty, we found the path and followed it to a small river. I dipped my foot in the water: still cold. In this river, it seemed, cold surface water was commingling with hot groundwater. We found a hot segment of the river and relaxed into the warm water. Savoring the end of the vacation, we lingered in the stream until the sky began to darken.

Finally, our vacation had reached its end. One last night under the mosquito net, then an early morning flight back to New York: real life was about to resume.

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You’re Wondering Now (Guadeloupe part I)

Guadeloupe part I: Grande Terre

Some months ago, I went on the Kayak website, and selected “anywhere” as my destination. Scanning the globe, I noticed particularly inexpensive plane tickets to the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. I casually read about the island, fantasized about traveling there, joked that “we could totally go there if we wanted to”, until one night, after a bottle of wine and a bout of spontaneity, I bought the tickets.

The next stages of vacation-planning were less haphazard–we compared rental car prices, messaged potential Airbnb hosts (one of whom never replied and just cancelled our booking), scrolled through Amazon’s selection of snorkeling gear, and unsuccessfully tried to learn a bit of French. Looking at the travel documents I was emailed, I noticed that I had, in my excitement, booked my ticket under my everyday preferred name, rather than my legal name. Meanwhile, my companion (hereafter referred to as Jack, because that is, in fact, his name) remembered that his passport was soon to expire. While he scrambled to renew his passport, I deliberated whether it was cheaper to pay for the booking name-change or just change my actual legal name. In the end, Jack’s new passport arrived in time; as for my booking mistake, my (magical) mom fixed it the same (magical) way she solves all problems–contacting just the right people and saying just the right things. I don’t know how she does it, but I definitely didn’t inherit those powers. In any case, just as I braced myself for the seemingly-inevitable ticket name-change payment, I received an email with new travel documents, this time with my legal name.

Finally, we had everything sorted–valid passports, correct plane tickets, snorkels and flippers, an extra suitcase borrowed from friends, and an assortment of insect repellents. We stuffed our bags full, and set off on our adventure.

And an adventure it was! We both preferred the idea of hiking and exploring to merely sitting on beaches, yet we both expected some time to relax: we each packed two books, and I brought some sketching supplies. In the end, the books remained unopened and the pens untouched.

Guadeloupe has two main islands (and several smaller ones). Our first stop was on Grande Terre—the slightly more touristy island, with beautiful white beaches and graceful palm trees. We stayed at what seemed like a dilapidated resort near the town of Saint Francois. The Airbnb host there didn’t speak English, so our entire online communication depended on Google translate, and when she met us at the airport, she brought a translator. (Had I known about the translator, I could have simply called her mobile when we couldn’t find each other. Instead, I had to sheepishly beg the car rental receptionist to call her for us.) Everything worked out though—we made friends with some small lizards, changed into shorts, and went outside to stargaze on the private beach. After several years of New York City light pollution and smog, the night sky was stunning. As it turned out, the Geminid meteor shower was near its peak, so we got a pretty spectacular show.

In the morning, after stopping at a bakery for some breakfast pastries, we drove west in the direction of Saint Anne, which is where the Internet had assured me we would find the best beaches. We first found a beach called Bois Jolan. It was probably the most picturesque of all the beaches we encountered, but it wasn’t a good place to swim: seaweed-covered coral extended close to shore, and I immediately cut my foot as I attempted to swim over it. We decided to drive on and find a better swimming-beach.

Upon reaching the town of Sainte Anne, we first stopped at the market; I was hoping to buy some cheese and fruit, but this market turned out to be far too touristy. Most of the stands were selling the same things: spices and bottles of fruity rum. Others had souvenirs—T-shirts, shells, jewelry. I did buy a hat, but only because I didn’t pack a sunhat and I was already starting to melt in the heat.

Leaving the market, we bought some lunch and a rum drink from a beach-side truck and sat on the sand in the shade of a palm tree. After the late lunch, we finally got to swim: this beach had deep water and no corals.


By the time we got out of the water, the sun was starting to set. That night, we had a lovely dinner at Ti Maki in the town of Le Gosier and then headed back to the beach by our room for a little more stargazing before sleep.

The next day, after a quick dip in the ocean, we handed over the keys to our room and headed to the Pointe des Châteaux, the east-most point of the island. Here, huge waves crashed against impressive rock formations. The rocky ledge on which we were standing was pockmarked with little tide-pools; initially, they looked barren, but as we approached them, we saw that they were teeming with life—fish and snails, and even a small sea anemone. In the dried up pools—now just indents in the rock—the edges were lined with snail shells: you could see where the little animals had huddled before they died, in the last drops of water in the deepest parts of the pool. Looking up, we saw crabs of all sizes scuttling on the rocks, escaping the waves.


After a thorough inspection of the tidepools, Jack wanted to climb a hill for a better view. For my part, I hadn’t been counting on much hiking that day and was unprepared: the sun was hot and relentless and I wasn’t wearing sunblock; I hadn’t bandaged my hurt foot and the strap of my shoe was rubbing sand into the cut; I was already melting in the heat but had left the water bottle in the car. Besides, from below, that hill didn’t look too exciting—all I could see at the top was a big cross monument, and that didn’t interest me. So I sent Jack to hike it alone while I hid in the shade. The longer he was gone, the more I regretted my decision, and when he returned with descriptions of the sheer cliffs on the other side of the hill, I definitely wished I had gone with him. Here are the pictures he took from the top:


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Can it still be Halloween?

It’s still Halloween at my house: blood spatters remain on the bathroom mirror, the skeleton still hangs above the cat’s scratching post, red light emanates from the lamps. I suppose I’ll take down the decorations soon, but in the meantime, I’ll belatedly share some photos from our Halloween masquerade party.


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Traveling to see the solar eclipse (aka: flying sucks)


I remember going to MIT Splash in high school: a classmate and I were traveling together from Cleveland; at the airport, I remember how excited she was to be travel by airplane. That flight was uneventful, which is to say, pretty much as good as a flight can be.

Nowadays, flying has become almost unbearable (which is perhaps that’s good news for the environment, but not to an avid traveler), as exemplified by my most recent trip.

We were traveling to Tennessee to meet my parents for the solar eclipse. As we were approaching Newark airport, I got a notification from United Airlines that our flight was cancelled, due to “the weather”. It’s always “the weather”, isn’t it? In my email notification, I clicked to see my alternative travel options, and was taken to a blank page. We continued to the airport, stood in an endless line, and finally tried to negotiate an alternative flight. They suggested we fly out Monday afternoon. I almost laughed at them. We were flying to Tennessee for three days, obviously to see the eclipse–why would we fly out just in time to miss the eclipse, only to return the very next morning? In the end, we were put as standby on a flight the next morning. We were assured that it was a big flight and there were only two pairs of passengers in front of us, so we were likely to get seats. I turned back to the airtran to go home, but my companion didn’t want to return to New York. It felt too much like giving up. He suggested we stay at a nearby friend’s house in New Jersey. That way, we’d have pleasant end to an unpleasant evening, as well as a place to sleep. He was right–a good time and much scotch was had by all.

The next morning, we awoke before dawn, after 2 or 3 hours of sleep. I was feeling somewhat off. The previous day, I’d already had some digestive discomfort, and the scotch and lack of sleep probably didn’t help. We returned to the airport, where it turned out that our flight was overbooked. They were asking passengers to give up seats in exchange for vouchers. Needless to say, no one from the standby list was able to board the plane. We trudged to customer service, and asked to be put on a flight to a nearby destination–not ideal, but it would take us in the right direction. We were put first on the standby list.

This next flight was in a different terminal, so we had to go through security again. I threw away what was left of my smoothie, and my companion had to discard all of the coffee he had just bought. While standing in line for the second time that day, I started to feel really sick. Still, it looked like we had a chance to make our next flight, so I tried to overcome the waves of nausea and pain, and waited for the next flight. While this flight was not overbooked, it was a small airplane, so we were out of luck again. By now, however, I felt sick enough that I was almost relieved that I didn’t have to fly. We went back to customer service, and tried to get another flight now for the following day. We refused to fly standby this time, because we knew that meant we wouldn’t fly. Finally, we were booked on a flight to Atlanta—three or four hours from our planned destination. This time, we went home; I closed my eyes in the car. There was nothing in my stomach, but I clutched a plastic bag, just in case. I was really thirsty at this point, but afraid to drink. We got home, and I collapsed on the bed. The next morning, we went back to the airport, and this time got on the plane. I still felt a bit unwell, but infinitely better than the previous day. In Atlanta, we picked up a rental car (all the affordable cars were booked weeks ago, by drivers eager to see the eclipse, so we had to overpay, but got a Prius for our money). Four hours later, we arrived in Knoxville, two days late. Fortunately, we were able to push back our return flight by one day, so we still got at least two days of vacation.

In the end, as hard as United tried to ruin our trip, they didn’t succeed: we still got to see the total solar eclipse, and it was amazing.

DSC_0014 (2)DSC_0022 (2)


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Through manic eyes

The world looks like a photograph. I can’t concentrate. I’m out of breath with excitement; I’m itching to paint, to write, to think. About a week and a half ago, I felt my months-long dull mood begin to lift. Maybe I smelled some cut grass, or maybe I tasted a mulberry, or maybe the breeze cut through the hot sun just so–I don’t know what caused the shift, but it was tangible. Stunned, I leaned against the stone half-wall surrounding the park, and stared wide-eyed at the scene before me. Fluorescent (pink! green! yellow!) children armed with water-guns squealed and raced around parents lounging in lawn chairs next to their picnic blankets in the gold-flecked shade of the ginkgo biloba. Each blade of grass stood out, quivering in the breeze that hugged the tree branches and ruffled the leaves. And oh gods, the leaves! Layers and layers of leaves on branches that pierce the electric sky. I’m sure I can almost touch them, if only I stretch a little.

The moment was brief, and as I continued to walk, I couldn’t remember what it was that I had felt, that I had seen. I dug around my head, peering around corners, probing my mind–the depression seemed far away, but so was that beautiful moment when I saw the world transformed. I tried to see it again, but the trees just looked like trees again. The colors weren’t muted as through the veil of depression, but they weren’t glowing either.

Since then, that sensation, and the elation that comes with it, has returned. It comes in waves; it’s not constant. Nor do I want it to be–I want this feeling to last (despite the potential disadvantages), to prolong it as much as possible, so I’m going to savor it if I can, sip it slowly like fine wine, not gulp it down. I want the comfort of a warm buzz, not uncontrolled drunkenness, and I definitely want to avoid the hangover that follows a crash.

When I first got prescription glasses, I thought the world looked like a photograph: I had gotten used to my blurred vision, and relied on degrees of blurriness as a means to judge depth. Since a camera is not myopic, and captures distant objects as clearly as nearby ones, my corrected vision felt like a camera. When I finally got contacts, the doctor told me to look up at the leaves. She explained, “I know you’ve worn glasses already, but this is different. With contacts, you can see everything.” So she told me to look at the leaves; that I would be able to see all of them, not just a green clump atop a tree.

I’ve worn contacts for years now, and have grown used to clear vision; my depth perception caught up and the world began to look like the real world again, not like a high-definition photograph.

But it suddenly struck me–that’s what it’s like to look through manic eyes–like putting on contact lenses for the first time.

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Iceland Adventures: waterfalls, glaciers, sheep, and rainbows

It’s been two weeks since I’ve come back from my trip to Iceland, a fantastic (if tiring) vacation during which I hiked on a glacier, kayaked with seals, saw the northern lights, and had a lifetime’s worth of driving experience.

Seriously: look at these roads! To be fair, most weren’t quite this bad, but they still had their fair share of potholes and stray boulders.


Although driving was occasionally nerve-wracking, the views were incredible, and the destinations well worth it. Also, at many of the stops throughout the trip, there were fields of wild blueberries (and the less-tasty crowberries). This was very exciting. I ate a lot of blueberries.

We started with the obligatory Golden Circle: I could see why the destinations attracted the most tourists, but I was happy to get away and explore the more remote places.

One of the first places we were alone was a lake we encountered while driving on an unpaved road. We left our shoes behind and walked barefoot through the black volcanic sand, tiptoeing into the cold water.

Afterwards, we continued to a geothermal area, where the ground steamed and bubbled. In Reykjavik, the hot water is geothermal, and actually smells like sulfur! Apparently the locals are used to it, but I can’t say I enjoyed smelling like rotten eggs after a shower.

On a long and solitary hike to the majestic Krysuvikurberg cliffs, we stumbled over the lumpy soil (probably an old lava field covered with moss and grass), had a picnic overlooking the ocean, and made friends with some sheep. (There were so many sheep. Throughout the trip, we encountered more sheep than people.)


Afterwards, we stopped to investigate Leidarendi cave, a lava tube (thanks Reddit for the coordinates). I didn’t get any pictures of this cave, but did snap a few in another much smaller cave on the Snaelfellsnes peninsula. This was Songhellir–the “singing cave”, aptly named given the echoes that followed any sound we made.


Before going to Snaelfellsnes, we drove all day up to the Westfjords. This was the most exhausting day in terms of driving, but luckily we made lots of stops along the way. First, we turned off onto a random side-road and stumbled on this beautiful lake:


Afterwards, we drove to Akranes, where we got a private tour of a lighthouse. (All our tours were private, actually. There just weren’t enough tourists, I guess, for group tours in the more remote locations.) I was pretty tired by this point, but some lunch and emergency Adderall brought me back to life. Before we continued our drive, we stopped to explore a shipwreck. Our attempts at climbing inside were unsuccessful, but we did get on board another ship–a much more industrial one, but one that still looked pretty unused.


The next day, we started out Westfjords adventure with a kayaking trip (also just us and the guide), where got surprisingly close to a group of seals. Even our guide was taking photos, explaining that it was unusual to get so close. I didn’t bring my fancy camera on the boat, so I didn’t get any photos.

After kayaking, we had the chance to relax in a natural hot spring.

That afternoon we drove up to Isafjordur, took a walking tour (which didn’t end up being worth the money), and had ice cream for dinner (since everything was closed on a Saturday evening).


The next morning, we drove up to Skalavik, a beach on the Arctic ocean. We had grandiose plans of swimming, but the water was far too cold. We did wade in though. Going into the Arctic? Check!

Driving back south, we stopped at Dynjandi, one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the trip, and saw one of the most spectacular sunsets of my life.


Before leaving the Westfjords, we tried another hot spring, but this one was too hot to do more than dip one foot at a time. We also climbed behind a waterfall, where we encountered a real mystery: on the pebbles by the river was a dead flounder, with two bloody pocket-knives beside it. Where did they get the flounder? Why did they leave it? And why leave behind the knives? We’ll never know.

As we drove, we passed a number of abandoned farms, and made sure to stop and explore some of them (especially the ones where we could meet some Icelandic horses).

After taking a ferry (during which there was ample time for pictionary), we found ourselves on Snaelfellsnes. After spending the night, we drove on to further adventures. On the way, we passed Budir church; in the nearby hotel, a grumpy man at the front desk wouldn’t let us use the toilets.


We didn’t stay there long, but hurried on to Arnarstapi to find a bathroom. In this tiny village, there was a white house. I think it was just someone’s house, but it’s featured in a lot of postcards and photos. It was certainly picturesque, but I wonder how the inhabitants feel about being the subject of countless photos. Anyway, here it is:


From here, we walked part-way along a coastal path. In the excitement of the cliffs and rock structures jutting out of the water, my phone went down a cliff and was swallowed by a wave. It’s part of the feature now. (Fortunately, it was old and cracked, but it was the one that had an Icelandic sim card.)


After this, (and before that singing cave I mentioned earlier) we investigated a gorge (in which some more daring than us (and with better shoes and no expensive cameras) did some impressive rock-climing).


We also checked out a beach that didn’t seem particularly unique among all the other beaches we visited, but it was pretty nonetheless.


Our last day before heading back to Reykjavik, we stopped by Kirkjufell mountain, and hiked up to Eldborg crater (no pictures for the latter, as I decided against bringing my camera on the hike.)


We had more plans that day, but were tired by this point, and looked forward to a quiet drink and an early night. Unfortunately, that night’s airbnb room was, well, not really a room. I should’ve taken a picture of our tiny attic. (We stayed in an attic earlier, but compared to this, that attic was a luxury suite.) With no door, a ceiling so low that one couldn’t even sit up straight, a skylight right above my face, and a much-too-small blanket we were expected to share, it wasn’t the most relaxing of nights.

In the morning, after stopping by a bakery, I hugged my friend goodbye, and prepared for my final few days in Iceland. The next morning, I got on a small bus to take an overnight South Coast tour, since we hadn’t had time to explore it earlier. The first day, we stopped at a couple waterfalls and walked along a black sand beach with hexagonal basalt columns.

The next day we took a boat tour of Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon, and walked on another beach, among “stranded” icebergs. I knew the ice would be blue, but was still stunned to see it in real life.


Finally, we strapped on crampons for a hike on an outlet glacier (Svinajokull, off the main glacier Vatnajokull). They made us wear helmets and harnesses and carry ice-axes, but it was all completely unnecessary: the hike wasn’t quite a stroll, but it certainly wasn’t difficult. It made me really want to go back and try ice-climbing though!


On the drive back West, we momentarily paused by some bent metal sheets, which had apparently once been part of a bridge that was destroyed by a glacial flood. I climbed up one of the sheets from behind, and, encouraged by the guide and other tourists, slid down it to the ground–right into a mud puddle. I got mud all over my clothes and hair and face. Everyone laughed.

Finally, for my last evening in Reykjavik (after a much-needed shower to clean off the mud), I went to Tapas Barinn for a fancy dinner: I chose the “Icelandic Feast” set menu, and got to try puffin and minke whale, along with the Icelandic drink brennevin, nicknamed the “black death”. (I don’t quite understand why it’s so infamous. It was strong, sure, but not more so than any other liquor).

The entire trip was absolutely amazing, and I would absolutely love to go back!

In the meantime (just because rainbows are awesome and since I’m writing this at 3.30am), here are some rainbows I photographed along the way. (We were very lucky with the weather; it was almost always sunny, and if it ever rained, we’d immediately get a rainbow!)


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Grammar, online

Almost everyone makes typos from time to time. It happens, even if we remember to reread before clicking “post”, “send”, or “publish”. In the age of informal Internet communication, the occasional misspelled or omitted word can be expected, and therefore overlooked. Additionally, in certain contexts, capitalization can be forgotten, apostrophes can be omitted, and “unorthodox” abbreviations are accepted. However, I argue that despite the increasingly lax expectations of modern writing, grammar is as important as ever.

In the past few years, I’ve heard on multiple occasions that “grammar is dead”, perhaps a casualty of the evolution of spoken and written English. I do accept the fluidity and increasing flexibility of language, and I realize that this flexibility includes grammar. For a long time, I resisted the use of “they” as a singular gender-neutral pronoun; recently, I’ve finally been convinced to accept it. (Personally, I continue to avoid it, and still often use the (perhaps archaic) “he” to refer to an unknown person of any gender, since I find “he or she” problematic for a number of reasons—but that’s a whole separate issue, beyond the scope of the simple point I hope to make here.) Nonetheless, I maintain that we cannot discard everything we learned in grade-school English classes.

Perhaps in the most informal of forums, grammar may be nearly irrelevant: the writer’s correspondents may simply not care. Other situations require much greater attention to grammar: in particular, these include articles expressing controversial ideas, arguments with which an average reader might be expected to disagree, and even those heated Facebook debates that (let’s be honest) never get resolved.

One may contest that the writer’s grasp of grammar has little to do with his understanding of the subject in question. I agree—in many cases, a poorly-phrased point may still be an excellent point. Unfortunately, grammatical errors may undermine an important point in a debate, or even an entire idea or argument, for several reasons.

First, the mistake may simply be distracting. I often find that I stumble on even innocuous errors (including typos) in an otherwise fluent and well-written piece. A reader will most likely overlook the mistake, but it remains an unnecessary distraction.

Second, and more important, the mistake might reduce the quality of the argument. Even if the writer is well-versed in the subject, grammatical errors (especially if they are frequent) could render the writer unqualified in the eyes of the reader. The reader might get the impression that the writer simply doesn’t care enough to write well and proof-read his work or, worse, that the writer is intellectually inferior: if someone can’t grasp the basic rules of English (assuming he’s a native English speaker), he might also be unable to understand the subtleties of a complex subject.

(One might accuse the reader of arrogance—yet even a non-judgmental person who wouldn’t explicitly reject an argument on the basis of a grammar mistake might be subconsciously reluctant to deeply engage with poorly-written arguments. But whether or not the reader really is at fault for “missing the point”, if you’re trying to make a controversial point, you shouldn’t give someone the ammunition to dismiss you as a writer.)

In general, a well-written, grammatically-correct argument will almost always be more effective than a poorly written one. When I read a poorly-written argument, I may give up long before I reach the end; if I do continue reading, I am instinctively more critical–even if the writer’s views already agree with my own. On the other hand, when I read an article espousing an idea with which I disagree or which is novel to me, if the style is eloquent from the start, I’m much more likely to read with an open mind: I assume that the writer is intelligent; I assume he has spent time considering the topic before coming to his conclusion; I assume he has reasons to support his views, and consequently, I read with the intent of genuinely understanding those reasons. Whether or not he is able to convince me by the time I finish reading, I will have gained a deeper understanding of the subject and a level of respect for the writer.


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