Thursday, October 11, 2007

Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland part 2

Duncan is currently in Iceland on an EVS project:

My second project was in Flateyri, deep in the Westfjords. The Westfjords are the remotest part of Iceland, and can often be cut off in extreme weather conditions. Flateyri has just 300 people, 1/3 of which are Polish immigrants working in the fish processing plant. The villagers depend heavily on the fishing industry, and are concerned with the potential loss of the fish factory and the associated jobs. There are very few services in the village, limited to one shop, swimming pool, school and café.

The project had in total 11 participants from Lithuania (my co-leader), France, Switzerland, Holland, Spain (Basque Country and Catalonian), Ireland, South Korea, UK and Norway. A few days into the camp, the participant from Norway left the group as she was sick, and was replaced mid way through the camp by a girl from Serbia. Volunteers who leave the camp early or arrive late can have a detrimental effect on the group, however in this case there was no problem.

Our work on the project consisted of mainly cleaning up the coastline, and planting trees in a memory garden. In 1995, the Flateyri suffered a catastrophic avalanche, killing 13 people. As a response to this, an avalanche barrier was constructed above the village. They local people also created a garden in memory of those who died. Our task was to plant trees and improve the garden. It was great to undertake useful work and create something the local people could be proud of. I hope the trees will last through the winter, and that the locals look after the garden.

We also cleaned up the coastline. The coast near Flateyri has a landfill site next to it. The rubbish is carried to the coast via small streams and the wind. Hence, the coast was very dirty. The people of Flateyri have been fighting against the landfill site for many years, without success. We found many large pieces of metal, fish boxes and fishing nets on the beach. Even though we spent three days cleaning, there was still a large amount of rubbish left. We attempted to take this away, with the help from the local search and rescue team. They tried to use their boat to tow the larger pieces of garbage back to the harbour, however it failed. We had an enjoyable and thrilling evening, in their speed boat though!

Our local contact was called Gu
đrun, and she provided us with many excursions in our free time. Her business is fishing, and more specifically, selling dried fish. Dried fish is an Icelandic specialty; the fish is hung out to dry after it has been caught, and is then filleted. The group was able to go fishing on her boat, and I managed to catch my first fish. We also went kayaking in the fjord and visited Guđrun's summerhouse, complete with outdoor hotpot.

The final weekend of the project was spent hiking with some locals. We went up the highest mountain in the Westfjords, which is approximately 1000m. It was here that tragedy struck. One of the guides, and elderly man from Flateyri, had a fatal heart attack half way up. The hike was delayed by 3 hours as a rescue helicopter arrived, however it was too late. This man, we found out later was a local M.P. for the Westfjords.

Overall, the project was a success. Everybody enjoyed the work, and it felt more useful than in Neskaupsta
đur. The people in Flateyri were happy with the camp, and hope to have another one next year. Although we had little contact with the locals, except when some volunteers 'gatecrashed' a wedding party, they were talking about us after we left and asking who we were. As a follow up the camp, I was able to write a press release to a North American newspaper, serving Icelanders in the US and Canada, mentioning the troubles we encountered cleaning up the coastline. It was also possible to design a poster explaining the work completed during the camp and explaining where the volunteers came from. Hopefully, this will be put up in Flateyri so the local people can see it.

Now that the camp is over, I have 14 days until my final one, in Eskifjordur. Toti gave me the challenge of leading a camp in Vogar, on the Reykaennes peninsular.

Click here for pictures of projects in Iceland

Click here for a country profile of Iceland

Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland

Duncan is currently in Iceland on a EVS project - this is his latest update:

My first project is over and I am now back in Reykjavik. My first task is to say goodbye to my participants. I found this very hard, due to the excellent group spirit in the camp. I will have many more good-byes to say before I leave Iceland.

The 17th June is Icelandic National Independence day, when Iceland was made independent from Denmark in 1944. It is a day of celebrations, and Reykjavik is always full of people. There was a battle reenactment, with the actors dressed as Vikings and fair maidens. What followed was a bloody battle, leaving only the shortest, and in my opinion, the fattest Viking still alive. The day ended with concerts on a main stage near the harbour, and the music varied from rock to heavy metal. By far the best band was Ampop, a local Icelandic group. Parties in Iceland generally happen after midnight, and at 3am, Reykjavik was full of excited, intoxicated people!

The next day, I begun work at the 41st International Children’s Games. The games are similar to the Olympic Games, but for children aged between 10 and 14. Every year the games are held in a different city, and this year is the turn of Reykjavik. Our job on the first day was to look after the VIPs at the opening ceremony. Afterwards, we had to assist in the schools where the children stayed.

This day was also the longest day, June 21st. I celebrated this with the other EVS by attending a concert by Amminar, the band who usually support Sigur Ros. They played many different types of instruments, including glasses and saws. In complete contrast to the UK, celebrities in Iceland don’t get any hassle from the media, and it has been known to bump into Bjork in downtown Reykjavik!

The beginning of June saw many more hours of daylight than before. At first, it seemed strange to have ‘white nights’, but after a while I got used to it. In some cases, it was an advantage having 24 hours of daylight.
In total, this summer, I am supposed to lead three workcamps, and have 14 days of free time between each one. During this time, I am allowed to help out in other camps and travel a little. I took advantage of a project in Hveragdi and joined the group for a few days. Hverargdi is where Icelanders grow their fruits and vegetables, and is famous for its greenhouses. Also, there are many hot springs in the area, as the town lies directly on the volcanic belt. We hiked into the interior and found a hot spring where you could take a dip. As well as hiking with the group, I joined them on their first days work, clearing dead wood and rubbish from a forest area. Immediately, I saw there was a great group spirit, as the participants formed a human chain to transport the larger pieces of wood down the hillside. A great example of teamwork indeed!

Icelandic swimming pools are a great way to relax. Most are outdoors and consist of a large pool for swimming, sauna and several hotpots (heiter pottur). The latter is a heated pool of water for bathing, typically geothermically heated. The temperatures vary from 36°C to 42°C – very hot indeed! During my stay in Iceland, I will be comparing the different hotpots I will visit, and will name the best in my final extract. Relaxing in the hotpots in Reykjavik allows me plenty of time to plan my second project, in Flateyri. Flateyri is in the Westfjords, and the camp begins on July 3rd. I am already looking forward to it!

Click here for pictures of projects in Iceland

Click here for a country profile of Iceland