Fire and Ice (en)

I like to travel and I have to admit that I’m away a lot. With this journey it was obvious beforehand that it would be my most adventurous in cold waters, where I would be able to experience the best of Iceland and Greenland , above and below water.

The idea did not originate from a whim, but was born two years before during my trip to Iceland. Then I was exploring the south and the southeast in my extremely functionally equipped rental car from Hertz. An appetite for more followed. The icebergs really impressed me, how they – partly shimmering blue in the sunlight – created absolutely perfect photo subjects. The country had undoubtedly cast its spell on me.

Then as now, I was travelling with Iceland Dive Expeditions for three days. This enterprise, together with Northern -Explorers, allows me my dream journeys.

Obviously, one doesn’t travel to Iceland every day, so I invested a great deal beforehand in my fitness to be able to stand up to the challenge. I was quite excited when it started. How would I endure water temperatures of between +2 and -1 degrees? Sven Gust, the Greenland tour leader, assured me that there would be no snow where we were. So I left my spikes at home.

We started on the evening of 8th August 2017. Sitting in my wheelchair, trapped in by my crutches and a heavy rucksack and wearing my “cosily” warm quilted winter jacket in the +27 degrees – I pushed the, limited to 23 kilo in weight, suitcase from the car park to the check in counter.

The Air Berlin machine soon took off. The plane landed in Keflavik (Iceland) at about 11p.m. A taxi took about an hour to bring me to my hotel in Reykjavik where I could prepare everything for my first day of diving and the drive afterwards to the northern islands. I met my six fellow travelers the next morning. Our minibus was packed daily anew with my wheelchair, aqua lung, equipment and other luggage (in Tetris world champion fashion) by our guides Jammy and Vicky. Iceland has excellent places for scuba diving, one of which is the Silfra Crevice. This canyon is between the American and Eurasian continental shelf, with views of up to 100 metres, with a water temperature of +2 degrees.

Another such place is the Strýtan in the Eyjafjördur Fjord, a chimney, which rises empor from a depth of 70 metres in the form of a cliff and releases hot, fresh water rich in minerals into the cold fjord. During this process the minerals harden and thus the cliff continues to grow. It took at least ten thousand years until the 55 metre high chimney reached its present height 15 metres below sea level. Not to be forgotten is the animal world: catfish, slugs, anemones, sea cucumbers, skeleton shrimps and many other invertebrates, to be discovered.

The places to dive were not always easy to reach, especially with the heavy diving equipment and big amounts of lead. However, Silfra had wide steps to enter by, owing to the large number of visitors, which made the scuba dive a lot easier. Unfortunately, at the end of the dive – quite chilled through – you had to get back to the car park over at least 300 metres of gravel. That is very tiring.

Silfra is so spectacular that it’s worth all the effort. Due to the best possible service, I didn’t have deal with the transportation of my equipment. As a reward, the team got a souvenir photo in front of an extremely funny traffic sign.

Not only the spectacular scuba diving locations thrilled me, however. While we were travelling through Iceland and were driving for hours towards the north, you had the feeling you were watching a nature film. The landscape was so beautiful. Sometimes we were offered a moon landscape of lava, sometimes waterfalls, spilling from deep green slopes, then uncountable numbers of sheep and Iceland ponies enjoying the summer and then again bizarre rock formations or a view of the sea.

During our excursions through the northern islands there was enough time to visit places, for instance Godafoss Waterfall – known as the Gods’ Waterfall – and all the highlights of the Myvatn area with the ochre brown moon landscape of Hverir, where volcano activity shows itself in unbelievably many ways.

In pouring rain – the one and only time on this trip- we visited the imposing Dettifoss Waterfall, which is only to be reached by a rocky path. With Jammy’s support, I managed to get to all the vantage points, over the wet rocks which didn’t help this hike.

A natural road, with many puddles, took us further to Litlaá, a 17 degrees warm geothermal river. While snorkeling you are offered dancing lava sand and different coloured sediments. Hot water streams out and produces interesting patterns and wavy lines on the ground. Another special experience.

After scuba diving we took the opportunity to go on a private whale watching excursion with Erlendur, the owner of the diving base Stytan. Wrapped up warmly, we experienced the whales at close quarters. At the end of our visit to Iceland we marvelled at the typical attractions in the Þingvellir National Park, in the so called Golden Circle, with the Geysirfeld, where Europe’s biggest geyser and the Gullfoss Waterfalls are to be found. I was even allowed to watch a 15 minute horse riding show, where the peculiarities of the Iceland ponies, such as the Tölt are shown.

The scuba dive in Silfra which followed was the crowning finish to the first part of our journey. Now we were all well prepared for the big adventure “Greenland”.

Greenland- the world’s biggest island

The propeller machine brought us from Reykjavik to the east of Greenland. A multitude of icebergs greeted us during our almost one flight to Kulusuk. From there we flew by helicopter to Tasiilaq: the capital of Greenland which has about 2, 000 inhabitants, 6 kilometres of roads, around 80 cars and a few hundred sledge dogs. The few roads are difficult to manage because of the steep slopes. Downhill you would reach top speed with your wheelchair. However, my wheelchair is hard to control when going zigzag. Luckily I was always taken, with my equipment, by car to the landing stage.

There were already to be scuba dives at the icebergs the next day. The sun was shining when we left and we were – it has to be admitted – a bit nervous. We had been intensively prepared to dive at the icebergs but when the time came and we saw “our” first iceberg our hearts beat faster. Sven and the captain found a safe iceberg with ground contact, which couldn’t easily tilt and didn’t have many projections or likely breaking points. Nothing would be more disastrous than diving under a piece of ice which when breaking could easily weigh 200-300 kilograms.

We jumped into the -1 degree “warm” water using a backward flip. Even above water “our” first iceberg had impressed us with its beauty – and so we scuba dived under water to explore the gigantic ice sculpture. 90% of ice is, as we know, under water. It’s a privilege to be among the few divers who have been able to explore an iceberg under water. We circled round this giant while diving and used its especially beautiful forms for a photo shooting. We surfaced after 40 minutes, overwhelmed by what the water had offered us. The water temperature made demands. We were undoubtedly now justified to call ourselves “cold water divers.”

We left our home bay with its icebergs to scuba dive in the Sermilik Fjord. This fjord possibility produces 10% of all the icebergs in Greenland. We sped past the most beautiful ice formations in our little boat in dazzling sunshine. How quickly the weather changes here! Within minutes fog covered the bay and our return journey right through the middle of the icebergs in thick fog was really exciting.

The days in Greenland went far too quickly. Because of this we tried to take in as much as possible: the local inhabitants, the sledge dogs, the northern lights. We sucked up the picture postcard landscape before going, via boat, quad, propeller machine, back to Reykjavik where I was expected. I drove by taxi directly to the Blue Lagoon, to warm myself up in the 40 degrees warm water before I flew home around midnight.

For me, it’s unbelievable that people in this part of the world can live with the short summer months, the endless winter with little daylight, snow of up to 5 metres high and without provisions coming in by ship between October and June. It deserves the highest respect.

In our little group, we were able to experience this part of east Greenland without snow, with colourful flowers and a nice chef who lovingly created our evening meals in the kitchen. For me, it was an unbelievably good journey with many unforgettable moments. Thanks go to my tour guides: Vicky, Jammy and Sven from the Iceland Dive Explorers/Northern-Explorers, as well as my trusted medical and healthcare suppliers’ orthopedic team and to my Icelandic ” Hardware Knee Provider” Össur (I wear two Mauch knees). They all played an important role in making this unforgettable journey successful.

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