Environment protection - Europe North America Australia & Japan
In September 2007, I took part in an environmental project in east Iceland with other volunteers from France, Germany, Russia, Croatia, Lithuania and Japan. We met in the head office of the host organisation, Worldwide Friends, in the capital city of Reykjavik in the west of the country on a chilly Monday morning to set off for the project. The journey was to take about 10 hours by minibus along the main road which circumnavigates the island. The prospect of this journey seemed quite daunting to me at first, however, it wasn't long before we all got chatting and broke the ice.
Also, if you are familiar with Iceland, you will know that one of the best ways to see what it has to offer in terms of natural features is to take this trip along the ring road. At various points along the way, our driver, the host organisation leader, kindly stopped the bus so we could get out to have a look at some of the places of interest. We ended up seeing some spectacular sights such as glaciers, beautiful waterfalls and a lake full of icebergs inhabited by seals. I had taken almost a hundred pictures before I even reached the project! When we arrived at our destination in the East Fjords it was quite late at night. However, we were greeted by our camp host in the old kindergarten where we would stay for the duration of the camp.
The host had prepared a hot meal of traditional lamb soup for us which was much appreciated after our long journey. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of accommodation, but I was pleasantly surprised. The kindergarten was well heated and we had a fully equipped kitchen with dishwasher, washing machine and dryer! We then settled down to rest on surprisingly comfortable mattresses (!) as we had a hard day's work ahead of us the following day. The work on the camp mainly involved cleaning up in and around the small village of Faskruosfjorour. Every morning we would start work at 8 and we would be split into groups and given tasks to complete for the day, such as picking up rubbish from the streets and the coastline, digging the soil to prepare it for planting grass, making hiking paths, and pulling up weeds from the sides of the roads and the shoreline.
Sometimes the weather was harsh, which made working difficult, but after the first couple of days I had learned to dress for all eventualities and always wore lots of layers and my rain gear! The work itself was often physically tough as well but we managed to work together as a team and to help each other out to get the job done. I found the work was very challenging but rewarding to see the finished result and as it was tiring, I never had any trouble sleeping at night! Every day we had a coffee break in the toolhouse in the morning and then returned to our house for an hour in the afternoon for lunch and then at 4 or 5 after work. We drew up a cooking rota so that every day, a group of two people were in charge of cooking for that day.
For the first week, we had 'International Days' where the groups in charge of cooking made meals considered traditional in their home country. So when it was my turn, I made a somewhat traditional fry up for lunch followed by shepherd's pie for dinner. Luckily, I had packed a few essential ingredients in my suitcase before I left Ireland! Generally I found the food to be akin to what I was used to at home and there was plenty of it so we never went hungry! This was good news as I found that after a hard day's work, I had a huge appetite! Of course, we did have some free time on our hands and we managed to amuse ourselves even in a village as remote as Faskruosfjorour.
Every evening, most of us would go to the local pool and sauna and then come back to the house to have dinner followed by a few beers, a game of cards and a chat. On the weekends, we went to the local hotel where the owner kindly allowed us check our email, play pool and football and have a couple of drinks. The hotel owner also brought us out in groups on his fishing boat to catch our dinner for that night. One day, the host brought us to a local farm where we helped out with the local ritual of sheep herding in the mountains, followed by a traditional Icelandic meal in the farmhouse.
Even though the public transport in Iceland wasn't always available, our host managed to arrange a bus for us to take us to the nearest big town so we could do a bit of souvenir shopping! When the two weeks were up I must admit I was a little sad to be leaving the camp and the international group of fun and interesting people that I had the pleasure of getting to know and work with. I definitely consider my time on the project as a unique and worthwhile experience and I have many wonderful and lasting memories of Iceland.
Laura Duggan, September 2007