Monday, September 1, 2014

The Place Where Dreams Come True: Charleston, SC

So no, I never actually finished chronicling my Iceland adventures, on the internet anyway. And no, I am not in Disney World. I currently reside, and have been residing in, Charleston, SC for the past three weeks. Here is the low down of how wonderfully amazing my life has been since I arrived.

August 10th: Move-in Day: snuck in (I wasn't really supposed to move in early but gave it a shot anyway- it worked out!) and successfully moved in all of my five bags of belongings without much trouble. I have to say it was strange to comprehend that most all of the things I needed to live away from home fit into a total of five tightly packed bags. After a good amount of nesting, my mom and I were able to relax and spend the next couple of days exploring or running errands together. I think this was the perfect way for me to get a last taste of family because, though I don't always admit it, my mother and I are similar in the way that functioning in a perpetual state of motion and business helps us to cope with potentially emotional situations. I love my family but I am glad that it was her that got me settled in while also just being a friend. Thank you.

August 11-18th: Srat Rush: {AKA the most exhausting week of your life}: I never really thought that I would be the "sorority girl" type. I just think I have always had this misconception that any girl in a sorority had to be perfect. Perfect hair, perfect friends, perfect resume, perfect socializing skills, perfect makeup, perfect reputation, perfect everything. Where exactly I was taught this, I know not. What I do know is that when arriving to the city of my dreams I just wanted to nest. (I'm a big nester). This meant that I needed to nestle into a group of friends with whom I could dependably count on. A family away from home. Going through the recruitment process, however foreign the strange rules or etiquette were, I realized that I love people. Yes, people can suck and they will be mean or weird or distant but then there are so many freaking cool people that chose to go to school in Charleston. The girls I met and the instant friendships I made will be so fun to figure out where they go.
Anyway, my ah-mazing Pi Chi leader, Molly, asked me a very important and crucial question when I was deciding between three incredible sororities... "If you were to pee yourself in a room full of the girls from one of these srats, who would you feel most comfortable doing that in front of?"... Zeta Tau Alpha was my answer. I am now a srat girl and I love love love wearing my five point crown to let anyone and everyone know who I am proud to be a part of. These women are WELCOMING, POWERFUL, LOVING, PASSIONATE, and absolutely CRAZY. I cannot get enough.

August 19th: Back To School Special: Classes started and I am now officially in college. The overwhelming feeling of being a part of the traffic on the collegiate sidewalks really enveloped me and, in a strange way, was a huge comfort. Going to school out of state is a gamble, I know that, but I still think that the perfect ratio of being anonymous in a crowd of people but then running into a friend absolutely exists here at the College of Charleston. I wouldn't get the same amount of new friends if I had opted (more like tried in vain for) to attend the University of Texas. It is a top notch school and I am forever proud of the ridiculous amount of smarty pants friends I have that go there but I would have felt like just a number. My largest class here is maybe 50 students. The face-to-face interaction between every professor and their students is so much more intimate here. I am taking  Communications, ENG110, FYE:City of Light, A Study of Paris, and an Intro to Sculpture class. I am not sure how I got so lucky but here I am.

***So although you are mostly up to speed with the reasons I love it here, you have not truly begun to understand how much I love my roommate.***

Everyday: Emma Emma Emma: Born in China (not actually Chinese), raised in Boston, this girl is everything I REALLY was afraid she wouldn't be. She is becoming my other half and my partner in crime. Emma says "wicked" like its no big deal and calls a water-fountain a "bubb-lah"(like no, sorry, you are incorrect). Though she is incapable of dealing with wheat, we have become incredibly creative as to finding rockin gluten-free pizza, investigative in knowing who is having half-off sushi, and architectural in building the wonderful pyramid of cereal in our room. She listens to Grouplove like its her religion, doesn't laugh too hard at me when I try to play guitar, and is completely comfortable in telling me when I need to get my life together. You would think that it just really couldn't get better than this... you would be so so wrong. My friend Emma loves Jesus. My friend Emma is genuine. My friend Emma goes to church with me and rocks out to some Bible-loving band with me. My friend Emma is my roommate and I am so blessed that she is not an axe murderer, an obsessive-cat-killing psycho, or really just anyone who is not her. Praise the Lord to high heaven for that.

So as you should have noticed it by now, this is truly the place where all of my wildest dreams are about to come true. (like no pressure or anything). But really though, when I'm here I don't feel like things are happening to me or that I am waiting for things to happen to me, I feel empowered to know that I am the one making my life in the image that I want it. One right decision at a time. I am not naive to think that sometimes it will suck to be so far away from home or that I won't have a fight with one of my friends or that I won't be consumed by the amount of studying I need to do at some point. All I'm saying is that I look forward to that. I look forward to the obstacles here because it only gives me a chance to overcome them in a place that I now consider home and a place that I consider  paradise.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ice Ice Baby and Pure Genius

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This morning, after taking down our tents, I had the heartiest bowl of breakfast I think anyone has ever seen. Anyone that has put granola in their yogurt knows that the true key to this is a perfect ratio. So this is where I had a big slip up. After I poured an average amount of cereal/granola into my bowl, I accidentally fumbled the yogurt carton (yes they put yogurt in milk-like cartons which was very confusing the first couple of days… think of how tasty yogurt must be in your morning coffee) and spilled too much yogurt onto my granola. UGGGG. But wait! There is a solution, just add more cereal! Long story short, I ate most of my huge bowl of perfectly proportioned breakfast with "no ragrets”.

It seems to be the fashion now to just begin our days involving ice. So by following the trend, we traveled a short distance to a glacial lagoon. For those of you not well versed in all things glacial: Many times leading up to the face of a glacier, there is something called a glacial lagoon. This glacial lagoon is made up of all of the run-off water melting from the glacier and some icebergs that have crumbled off the glacier. This creates something that looks like an arctic lake with a white obstacle course. While driving around this lake, these people made us wear extremely oversized dry suits that had us looking super fly. 

A little walk down after our little boat ride, we found a black sand beach, which normally would have still been interesting to photograph, but no, this beach held iceberg “crumbs” that had maneuvered their way down to the beach from the lagoon. A long way from home, these chunks of ice contrasted so beautifully with the black volcanic sand. Here, we played around with Gianluca on his last day with us… very sad. But boy did we milk him for all he is worth (and he is worth a lot).

After our stop here, we mostly just spend the rest of the day driving to our next destination. HOFN! Our group likes to say this almost as of we are saying “hop” but somehow adding an F sound. The real trick here is to jump up and down every time you say it. And since we really want to fit in with the locals, every time someone says Hofn and jumps up, we sort of popcorn all over the place.. Picture the seagulls from Finding Nemo and instead of saying “mine” we say “Hofn”. Is it clear enough now? Thought so.

Once we did arrive in Hofn, which is a fishing town, we walked over to a great lobster restaurant. Now the lobster pasta was delicious but the real highlight of the meal was my analogy to explain why we watch movies like Twilight. 

If I have you curious, read on. If not… well, whatever.

So think of Whataburger. Great, dear, greasy, junky, Whataburger. Now think about how much people hate on fast food.. It’s not healthy for you, all of it will go to your butt/legs/stomach, its not real meat. We get it. We still eat it. Why? Because it so specifically hits a spot inside all of us that only Whataburger can. We know that there is a great burger joint just down the street with fair prices, excellent taste, well made meat , as-healthy-as-a-burger-can-get feel, but we choose fast food. I think my point has been made. Now bear with me and think of the Twilight series. Easy to make fun of with phrases like “That was so bad I could have been watching a Twilight movie”. I get it. But I own all five movies. Why? Because every once in a while, mostly us girls, just really crave a good cheesy, intense, borderline acting, vampire versus werewolf showdown. The forbidden love aspect along with the infuriatingly weak role of the leading lady (until the last movie where she turns into a vampire and becomes a badass) draw us into a fascinating fantasy that no other film has combined so well. This being said, sorry Amanda, I stand by my statement that having a healthy the Twilight Saga every once in a while is nothing to be ashamed of and in fact purges you of all things teenage or tween-like angst. 

 Chase laughing at my analogy.

Vikings Are For Real

Monday, June 16, 2014

How do you normally like to start your day? Coffee? Exercise? Maybe a bit of cereal? Me, I like to go climb a glacier.

Geared, bundled, and pumped up, all of us marched up a cavernous glacier face. Compared to the glacier experience I had in New Zealand three years ago, New Zealand was more of a leisurely walk around the glacier than our actual bracing-the-elements, I-could-be-Walter-Mitty, there-is-a-real-possibillity-I-might-perish glacier experience today. We also accomplished two very exciting things on the glacier. One: sat down and ate lunch on the glacier. I mean really.. who of you can say that you’ve done that? Two: meditation time on the glacier. The latter of the two consisted of finding a spot with an epic view and for 15 minutes and our only task was to absorb that we are in fact in Iceland and to reflect on what all we have learned about ourselves while on this trip.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to take you through a little of what was running through my mind during our 15 minutes of solitude. The first thing I did was close my eyes and consciously decide to shut off all my other senses as much as possible. Next, I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that I was sitting on a rock, in the middle of a glacial field, inside of Iceland, which sits in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just outside of the Arctic Circle. By placing myself geographically in my head, I started to get a glimpse of not only how incredibly tiny and insignificant I seem as just a small part in the world but also how many inches of this world I still have to explore. As our time started to run out, I just let it sink in how many eventful things I have lined up for myself just for this summer. I began to really allow myself to realize the reality that I am actually going to the college of my dreams, College of Charleston, which is something not everyone can say. When I opened my eyes for the first time in those set minutes, I was able to look upon the magnificent landscape and contrast in the glacier with fresh eyes that, just a moment before, forgot they were in Iceland… That was a super cool feeling.

On our way back into our camp site, we passed a huge looking man playing the accordion for his two kids and wife. Of course everyone commented on the fact that he looked and sounded like a real life viking. Even more predictably, as Peter passed them, he invited the lovely Icelandic family to come eat dinner with us at our campsite. Not only did this modern-day viking accept our offer, he one-upped us by bringing his accordion and guitar to provide a bit of entertainment with our pasta. So this viking named Magnus (totally a viking name) along with his German wife, Anni, his six year old daughter, Mia, and four year old son, Richard, accompanied us in our community big tent as we started to become more acquainted. Magnus told stories and sang songs varying from one titled “Oliver”, about his friend who was always late, to more recognizable melodies like “Rasputin”. Even though the father seemed to be the one hogging the spotlight, his children stole our hearts and our attention. I’d like to say that all Icelandic kids I have met, I have more or less fallen in love with. All of their bright and intense colored eyes, the fair features from their Nordic roots, and their simple lifestyle and values make for magical children all around. Anni and Magnus’s kids were no exception to this. Mia, being the older one, was the first to warm up to us and later encouraged her brother to let us take their portraits in between running around our tents. I could eat them they were so cute!

Another friend we made tonight was a boy, about in his early 20’s, named Tom. We still have no idea how he became introduced to our group but he really just kept popping up. This guy started to talk to Bora first, which is going to his head because he thinks he’s a big shot for making a German hip friend with a blue beanie, and he proceeded to make friends with Cathy and started calling her Ms. Bottoms which was hilarious.

Once we said our good nights (more like good twilight actually), we started getting packed up to travel the next day. I had the great idea to conquer knifes and try widdling when Peter walked by. Instead of leaving me to my own devices, he kindly offered to show me how to make a whistle out of a thick twig. Though it didn’t exactly work out and was mostly in theory, for the second night in a row, I felt very earthy and adventuresome!

My clothes smell. I really hope we get to wash them soon...

Thanks Dad

So here I am again playing catch up… apologies for the massive amount of information whoever dares to read this is about to receive. Instead of a trickle of pleasant and thoughtful recounts of what we have been up to, this will seem more like an ambush of awesome happenings. And so we go on.

Sunday, June 15, 2014 (Fathers Day)

black sand beaches from volcanic remains

In honor of Fathers Day I have an incident hidden in the chronicles of today that I really believe my dad would never let me live down but you will have to endure the context before we get to the good stuff.

Today we left our cozy cabin with colorful horses to trek up to our next stop where we will be camping for two nights. Though before this we had quite a full day set out so that we were able to witness the most that Iceland has to offer. This meant only spending a (very) set amount of time at each of our seven stops.

 The first of these stops included a tucked away waterfall in between mossy boulders for only fifteen minutes. However, this proved to be plenty of time given that we had to head out fairly early in the morning and most of us were still waking up and not so ready to go into full on photographer mode. Here we got a taste of the infamous Icelandic rain just before we took shelter back on the bus to the next stop. After this we visited the first big waterfall of the day and worked on long exposure. I didn’t really have much to say about this except that since there was so much light out it was impossible for me to create a long exposure picture that I liked without a polarizing lens. Mom, this is an investment for my future.. just something to think about. The next waterfall on our agenda was much more interesting to me in that there was a Frenchman standing IN the river fed by the waterfall which averaged about 40 degrees. That’s not all. This man, Max who now lives in Brussels, was shooting images inside of one of those old old old old timey film cameras that you see in 1920’s movies or old westerns. This thing was ancient.

Now comes the fun part.. As it came time for lunch, we had an assembly line of sorts set up so that everyone could make their own sandwich. Being that it was Father’s Day, I started getting all nostalgic and sentimental therefore prompting me to make a peanut butter/banana slices/chips sandwich like how my daddy taught me. Great idea right? ha. ha. no. So as I already have the peanut butter set on the bread, I go to cut the bananas into medium to thin slices. As I am going to cut the banana I notice that the knife must be incredibly dull or something because it’s not making one dent in this banana skin. There I am going for a second try at this delicious looking banana with such a defective knife when I realize that instead of slicing the banana, the knife that I am holding is turned to face my unsuspecting thumb where I proceed to press, with a good amount of force, the blade into my poor little thumb. Of course I respond in my usual response to pain which is nervously trying to make jokes about how much blood must be in my one finger while at the same time proving to be completely useless and spaced out.

My thumb is still attached and fully equipped with a Dora bandaid (compliments of Paige). There you go Daddy. If it wasn’t Father’s Day I probably would have saved myself the embarrassment. I would have kept this little tale to myself but I knew you would get a real kick out of the fact that I not only cut myself once but twice all the while thinking to myself, “What the heck is wrong with this stupid knife?!”

The rest of the day was a little less eventful other than spotting puffins, who I would like to believe I could somehow hold in my hands one day. Other than a pit stop at a gas station with hot dogs and wool sweaters, we arrived at our campsite safe and sound. Once at the campsite though, we were really put to the test by setting up our own tents. I must say that I proved to be quite a cavewoman by putting the stakes into the ground with a rock (once the hammers ran out) Dora bandaid and all.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I Am Freezing. Nice to Meet You.

Beginning to end, today has been a day of landscape difficult to put into words. The scenery is UNREAL here. First, was the park full of river-like structures from cutting glaciers in a park we passed through. Then was the roaring geysers with extremely comical reactions from funky tourists. And lastly, we stopped at a gigantic waterfall that drenched Erika.

We won't be having internet connection for probably the next couple of days because we are camping!!!!! Literally so excited!

I apologize for making this post so short but in all seriousness, I have to get up in six hours and, like I said in my title... I am freezing. It is called ICEland anyway.

Bike Rides and Smile Lines

I told myself that I wasn't going to do this, to leave blogging until the last minute, but here I am, tail between my legs, the morning after I should have blogged. So here is what I should have written last night...

I have smile lines.

For those of you who know me and know me well, you know that I have been uncharacteristically serious and sullen for the past couple of months. Now for those of you who really know me, you know that I get smile lines. I have good news. They are back!

Today we started the day with a formal introduction from Gianluca and also introductions from us. He showed us some of his work chronicling some of the oldest and healthiest people in the world but he also posed a question for us. Gianluca asked us “why”. Why do we love photography? Why do we take pictures? Why should we MAKE pictures? All of these questions catalyzed a kind of self-analyzation that I’ve never done regarding photography before. I found that most of my pictures have been of things that have little meaning to me or I think just look cool.. but that isn’t what I love about photography.. so why should I be taking pictures instead of making a moment. Gianluca says we are the eyes and ears of those who aren’t with us. We CREATE pictures so that others can feel what we felt in that moment, or what our subject is feeling. Emotion. Pretty pictures are all fine and dandy, and sure there is a method to taking a decent headshot, but that isn’t what photography should be about. It should be about “writing with light” (the actual broken down definition of photography), and what we should be writing is the story of who we are and what the world around us is.

Enough of the heavy. Back to smile lines.

After we spent some time in the town and grabbed some Indian food for lunch, we headed over to the bike rental place and signed up for a bike tour of Reykjavik for all 21 of us goons. This was a disaster waiting to happen. Of course the one day we think it will be nice out, the sun decided to hide beneath the clouds and send down a windy forecast. No one got hurt except for my stomach from uncontrollable laughter. I don't think I have laughed so hard or felt so carefree in a very long time. It wasn’t real one thing that set me off, but just that first, everyone looked so ridiculous (including me) in our high visibility neon vest and bike helmet, second, that everyone was struggling so very hard to not run into people, and third, that Icelandic people kept seeming generally confused when we waved and smiled a big “HALLO!”. On the tour we learned about many of the quirks around Reykjavik including complicated relationships with elves, unique mayors that are actually just comedians, and the natural selection philosophy here. Mom, I think you would agree with their “stupidity trap” of not having rails by waterfalls so that those who are actually stupid enough to peer over too far.. well.. “If you’re going to be stupid, you’ve gotta be tough”.

Speaking of my family, I had a moment while walking around the city with my small group where I cannot remember what we were talking about but it had something to do with our opinions and, out of habit, I was laughing and raised my right hand and said “honest!” like my sister does. It made me miss her for a second, and although I know if she reads this it will go to her head, I wanted her to know that I was thinking about her, even just for a bit.

After a bit of rest and a snack to gain back our strength, we took the city bus to the annual Viking Festival! For those of you who cannot imagine what this would look like, think of the Renaissance Festival in Houston about a sixth of the size and with Nordic folk instead of Mediaeval ones. I brought only my macro lens in order to challenge myself towards being physically, and so emotionally, close to my subject. If any place was going to be our best chance to work on people photography, this was it.

I came back with some really great portraits of the Icelandic kids, dogs, and workers there at the festival. Since I had been having some trouble trying to figure out what my On Assignment should be, I think I’m playing around with the idea of faces. I like this because I hope this will challenge me to work on not only people photography but also will help to inspire me to better capture emotions while on this trip.

Ok. So I think I have written enough about that day and I’m still a little disappointed with myself that I didn’t do this on the right day but at least I’m being honest about it.

Oh, also, to be even more honest, we had to depart from the hotel a little sooner than I would have liked so most of this was actually written on the bus ride to our next adventure!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Official Business and Good Company

After colorful dreams from the ZzzQuil I took and a full breakfast without waffles, all 16 of us expeditioners were faced with a challenge by Erika to treat the day as if we were on assignment for National Geographic to cover Reykjavik. This task, though at first daunting, really encouraged us to focus on not being the obnoxious American tourists we hear so much about (but sometimes act like).

A short taxi ride over, we visited the famous Lutheran cathedral, Hallgrimskikja which I don’t expect anyone to pronounce. This was were we split up into our small groups to get more one on one work done with a specific leader. Today, my group got to work with Erika! At the cathedral we tried out shooting in HDR and different challenges with capturing big monuments such as deciding whether you want the monument lit up but avoiding overexposure or shooting from a different angle to get more of a silhouette effect.

Up on the top floor of the cathedral we played around with the AWESOME view all around Reykjavik. I have to say, I was pretty jealous of those with wide angle lenses and being able to include a huge span of the colorful roofs throughout the city. Also, I was kicking myself in the butt a little for forgetting my fisheye lens back at the hostel.

Enough of the geeky photo talk. I could do it all day but I won’t.

So we walked around the city, official business in mind, and really just started wandering. Since we had already meandered through most of Reykjavik yesterday, today we were pushed to really pick, choose and seek out minor moments or things that could be easily overlooked. In this, I was surprised by how diverse my images became when I wasn’t careless or "shutter-happy”.

At a local fish restaurant we stopped at for lunch, some of us were bold and tried a whale kebab. Though most of us came to feel guilty about this after talking of a documentary on the torture of whales called Blackfish, lunch was filled with laughter, good conversation, macro food photography, and DELICIOUS bread and butter. I would say a break well spent.

I really love these people. Even the loud ones.

Not only did I improve in my choosing of shots but I also became scary good at changing lenses. Whether crossing the street, walking up stairs, or scouting out good subjects, I’m pretty sure I changed my lens at least 20+ times. These are true life skills we learn here with National Geographic. Thank you parents!

Later in the day we visited a photography exhibit by Ragnar Axelsson with none other than Ragnar Axelsson. He was incredible to talk to and hear his stories on the unheard-of dedication he put into getting just one shot. His monochrome work with film and capturing the ways of the arctic wild was truly inspiring. I was especially drawn to his photojournalistic section of works covering from rebellions to volcanic eruptions.

On and on I could go but I will refrain in the prospect of a lukewarm sulfur shower and the search of my beloved eye-mask.

By the way… there is no such thing as darkness here.