Altiplano Bolivia by Jacek Oleksinski

The inside of your room windows are frosty and you're peeking out from the sleeping bag. Your body is numb and cold despite having slept under a layer of clothing and a blanket. Even breakfast is consumed fully clothed with steam coming out off your mouth. You ask yourself why would anyone like to put themselves through this ordeal? The answer is simply because of the incredible landscapes and animals you can experience in this beautiful part of Bolivia. 

The salt flats at Salar de Uyuni during sunset.

The salt flats at Salar de Uyuni during sunset.

You'll arrived early morning to the regional hub Uyumi by bus from La Paz. There are various bus companies to choose from, but I would recommend the company Todo Tourismo that by far have the most comfortable buses.  Tickets can be bought from their agent Kanoo Tours. You will get a warm meal and a warm blanket. Just make sure to bring extra layers of clothes as it gets cold during the night. 

Once you arrive to Uyumi the pre booked tour operator will be waiting for you. If you're not made any previous arrangements just visit the various offices to check availability and prices. Basically the whole town consists of tour operators, banks and hotels. Make sure to bring cash with you as the banks have limited money and you can run into problems trying to extract larger sums.

I would strongly urge you to try to check beforehand as much as possible about available tours. Many of them have questionable reputation and some have been involved in serious accidents. Although I did not witness any dangerous situations some of the drivers were going at a very high speed and some of the jeeps were overloaded. If possible try to meet the driver before you decide as you can quickly get an impression of his personality. 

The cheapest option is to sign up for a tour with 6-7 other people. Keep in mind that it gets very crowded and to be able to accommodate that many people the luggage department is substituted with an extra row of seats. The luggage in then stored in racks on the roof. Make sure that the driver does not put too much stuff( pack backs, suitcases, petrol, food) there as it increases the risk of the jeep tipping over when making sharp turns.

A more comfortable, although more expensive alternative, is to rent the whole vehicle meaning you will have much more space and will be able to stop whenever you want to take photos and experience the views.

You also have to decide on the length of you tour, which could range from 1-4 days. A longer trip will give you a deeper understanding of the vastness of the Altiplano. The chances of seeing wildlife like lamas, vicuñas, desert foxes and flamingos also greatly increases the longer you tour lasts. 

To help you make up your mind what tour to take I've written a general description of what to except to see each day. Hopefully this will make your decision easier. 

Day 1

After leaving Uyuni you will stop at 3 locations, the train cemetery, the salt hotel and cactus island. 

The train cemetery are the left overs from the time when the region was a transport hub for minerals being transported to the Pacific Ocean. Now it functions as an outdoor museum and this is generally the first stop on your tour

The train cemetary

The train cemetary

Your next stop will be the salt hotel. It's no longer in use due to environmental concerns. The water supply in the Salar de Uyuno is very limited and having a large hotel there is simply not an environmental wise option. That's the reason the hotels are located in Uyuni city. Instead the salt hotel is used as a stop for lunch breaks and all tour companies must bring their own food.

The salt hotel seen from a distance

The salt hotel seen from a distance

International flags outside the hotel

International flags outside the hotel

Cactus island, sometimes refereed to Inkawasi is pretty much self explanatory. Here you will pay a small entrance fee and you will walk on a small trail for approximately 30 minutes including plenty of time for photography.

The salt flats seen from the top of cactus island

The salt flats seen from the top of cactus island

Tourists taking selfies

Tourists taking selfies

Giant beautiful cactus

Giant beautiful cactus

The one day tour is what most tourists choose to see and it gives you a nice picture of the actual salt flats. However it can get very crowded as all tour operators run the same rout, sometimes even hurrying the tourists to move to the next location. You will also miss the sunset photos as the one day tour will conclude before the nice evening golden light. 

This is what you'll most probably miss if only going on a one day tour

This is what you'll most probably miss if only going on a one day tour

You don't need much more in life then this

You don't need much more in life then this

Day 2

You will now leave the salt desert. While the landscapes will not be as spectacular as during day 1 there is still a lot to be seen. Lamas, vicuñas, occasional desert foxes and stray dogs are available everywhere. You will also have the chance to see wide canyons.

Vicuñas making their way through the desert

Vicuñas making their way through the desert

Hey stop pointing that camera at me !!

Hey stop pointing that camera at me !!

Lamas are seen everywhere

Lamas are seen everywhere

However the main purpose of this day is to get deeper into the Altiplano to experience a lunar landscape that makes you forget that you are on planet earth. 

Day 3

This was the day that I had been looking forward to for some time. Finally a chance to see and hear the pink flamingos. Some of the lakes in the Altiplano are rich with plankton making it an ideal place for the flamingos. It was a feast for the eyes and I spend way too much time here although the driver never specifically said anything :-). Having rented your private driver and not going with a larger tour group makes it much easier making longer stops for photography. 

Flamingos in beautiful surrondings

Flamingos in beautiful surrondings

At some of the lakes the flamingos are used to people and allows you to get really close. Just make sure to follow the marked borders at the lakes as not to disturb the birds. At other locations the flamingos are more reserved but you can still watch them from a distance. 

The flamingos don't seem to mind as long as you don't get too close

The flamingos don't seem to mind as long as you don't get too close

Searching for plankton

Searching for plankton

Travelling even further south will expose an even harsher yet beautiful landscape with a feeling of a lunar environment. At 4000m above sea level it's harder to breed and you could experience a slight headache from time to time. There are far fewer tourist here compared to the Salt flats. Make sure to slow down, don't rush it and make time to take plenty of photos. It's in the area you'll find the Laguna Colorada, famous for it's plankton rich pink colored water and it's famous inhabitants, the flamingos.

Searching for food

Searching for food

Laguna Colorada with its pink water and flamingos

Laguna Colorada with its pink water and flamingos

Pink colour as far as the eye can see

Pink colour as far as the eye can see

Another spectacular sight to experience are the active geysers. While they are not as explosive as in other parts of the world like Iceland or in Yellowstone you can get much closer and literally look into the bubbling heat and feel the smell off rotten eggs. Be very careful though as it's very easy to take the wrong turn, especially when taking photos, and fall into the hot geyser. I was told that this is exactly what happened a french tourist in 2016. Despite being transported to Chile with an ambulance helicopter his life could not be saved. 

It's smelly, it's hot and very interesting

It's smelly, it's hot and very interesting

Bubling water

Bubling water

At the end of day 3 (it could also be beginning of day 4 depending of how many stops you make during the day) you will enter the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve of Andean Fauna where you have to pay an entrance fee to enter the nature reserve. The area is very close to Chile and it's considered the coldest place in the Altiplano. The desert landscape is incredible wide, with hot springs, lakes and sandy grassy plains with mountains in the backdrop. You will constantly want to make stops for taking pictures.

Sand, grass and mountains. Completetly deserted apart from the sporadic basic hostel.

Sand, grass and mountains. Completetly deserted apart from the sporadic basic hostel.

The Dali stones

The Dali stones

Sunset close to Laguna Verde

Sunset close to Laguna Verde

Laguna Verde early morning

Laguna Verde early morning

Day 4

By day 4 you have travelled several hundred kilometres and it time to slowly start the return trip back to Uyuni. There are several interesting rock formations that are well worth visiting during the way. Lamas will also become more frequent again as you decent to lower altitudes. The last day will act as a recap of the previous days. 

Tourists at the rock formation

Tourists at the rock formation

On the road through the Altiplano

On the road through the Altiplano

I hope this blog post has helped you to decide to visit this interesting region of the world and how many days you would like to stay there.

My favourite moments were the salt planes, the flamingos and the lunar landscapes combined with the close look at the geysers. I am convinced that although the costs for a 3-4 day trip is significantly higher compared to a 1 day trip it's absolutely worth it.

Let me know below your thoughts. Maybe you have been to the Altiplano and would like to share your story.

Would be great if you could also help spreading this blog post further.

 

Faroe Islands by Jacek Oleksinski

The Faroe Islands


Sunset in the Faroes. Not a bad way spending your vacation.

Sunset in the Faroes. Not a bad way spending your vacation.

Short introduction and why I went there

In the middle of the Atlantic, at the mercy of the ever changing weather, you'll find a place consisting of 18 islands called the Faroes. For centuries people have lived a hard life constantly fighting mother nature and many, especially the fishermen, have paid the ultimate price. The harsh life has over the years depopulated the islands where many people have sought a better life in the mayor settlements or moving either for studies or permanently abroad to Denmark, Norway or further away.

The Faroes have always been highly depended on the fishery sector where most people have found employment. The success of fish export has therefore greatly influenced the economy and factors like employment and migration. During the last couple of years there's been a desire to include tourism as a compliment to the fishing industry. 

My first encounter with this place was through the Internet. I was intrigued seeing all those beautiful landscapes on Instagram and Google+. Having previously visited Iceland made me curious to see if this was anything similar. For sure the landscapes are as beautiful although the Faroes lack the volcanic activity that is so specific for Iceland. On the other hand the infrastructure is much better making it a breeze visiting the main islands during a couple of days (although you should stay here much longer to really experience the nature). Almost all the roads are paved with asphalt and there are numerous bridges and tunnels for speedy movement around the mayor islands.

Excellent roads for traveling around the islands

Excellent roads for traveling around the islands

How to get there, where to stay and how to get around

There are 2 ways of reaching the Faroe Islands. You could take the ferry M/S Norröna that goes from Hirtshals in Denmark or you can fly from the Danish capital Copenhagen in just 2 hours.

Once on the Faroes there's a well established public transportation network at your disposal. Another alternative is renting a car, which will cost you more, but at the same time increase your flexibility. I choose the later alternative as this would give the greatest freedom allowing me to plan the photography to the fullest. I can highly recommend the car rental company Unicar.fo. They have good prices, respond very quickly to your emails and are most helpful. It was nice to be able to pick up the car from the airport parking lot and immediately be on the road.

Most of the hotels are located in the capital Tórshavn. The Faroe islands are very small, the distances are very short and the roads are very good, which means you could stay in Tórshavn all the time. But why limit yourself and miss out on the fantastic interaction with the warm and friendly local population. You'll hear all the great stories of local life and be treated to the local food. Therefore make sure you look up the many offers at Airbnb or at the local tourist office in the mayor villages around the islands. Make sure you book well in advance if you plan to visit during the summer as the places quickly fill up.

Places to visit

Vagar:

Gasadalur

Can you imagine people living in a place that required them to walk for a couple of hours to do their shopping or collecting the mail. Can you also imagine they did this each week, year around, during the winter storms and other times at highly unpredictable weather. This is what the people at Gasadalur village experienced through ages until they were connected by a tunnel to the main island Vagar in 2004. Nowadays it takes 5 minutes to each the village where you can see the houses located on top of a cliff with a majestic waterfall below. This is one of the most photographed spots on the Faroes and for a good reason if you ask me.

Sunset at Gasadalur.

Sunset at Gasadalur.

Streymoy:

Saksun and Tjörnuvik

Saksun village reminds you of a viking village with it's green grass roofs . The population has declined over the years and today consists of about 10 people. Here you can do a pleasant walk over the mountain to the other side where you'll find the Tjörnuvik village. Both places are well worth a visit. Make sure you take advantage of the excellent views above both villages. 

Saksun village as seen from the trail connecting the village with Tjörnuvik

Saksun village as seen from the trail connecting the village with Tjörnuvik

Beautiful views from the hike between Saksun and Tjörnuvik

Beautiful views from the hike between Saksun and Tjörnuvik

Tjörnuvik as seen from above

Tjörnuvik as seen from above

Tórshavn

The capital city with a population of 12000 people is by far the largest settlement. It's the administrative center with residential areas, a large harbor, a majority of the hotels and office buildings, Make sure you pay a visit to the old quarters behind the harbor to see how the people used to live in the old days.

The harbour area

The harbour area

Old parts of the city

Old parts of the city

Densly populatrd for beeing the Faroe Islands

Densly populatrd for beeing the Faroe Islands

Eysturoy:

Funningur

In my opinion the road between Funningur and Gjogv is the most picturesque on the Faroes. The serpentine road winds it's way up the countryside, where you're able to make multiple stops to photograph the surrounding area. Or you can climb the mountain towards Slættaratindur for even better views.

Funningur as seen from the road to Gjogv

Funningur as seen from the road to Gjogv

Gjogv

In Gjogv you'll find a large hotel with a nice restaurant serving dinners and desserts. The village itself is like most other villages on the Faroes located in a beautiful location. Make sure you secure a window seat at the restaurant that will allow you combine dinning with excellent sights.  

Gjogv village

Gjogv village

Elduvik

This is another beautifully located village that's located in the northern parts of Eysturoy. Once isolated, this village is now easily reached with a good quality paved road.

Elduvik

Elduvik

The northern islands:

Kalsoy

Kalsoy is a great example what defines the Faroe peoples desire to live at places where the forces of nature would make most people simply give up. At the northern point you'll find the Kallur lighthouse and Tröllanäs village. To reach this place you'll first take the ferry for 20 minutes, then drive through 4 separate tunnels before you reach your destination. Even though the island is very small it's best to bring your own car as the buss connection on Kalsoy are very limited. 

Tröllanäs is home to a couple of houses and a large farm. Walking up to the lighthouse is pretty straightforward once you pass the first steep hill right at the village.  Before reaching the Tröllanäs you should also pay a visit Kopakonan (The seal woman) in Mikadalur village. It tells the the story of what happens when you interfere with other subjects way of life. On the Internet you'll can find more information about this famous Faroe islands folk tale or you can pick up a book containing this fascinating story. It's available not only in English, but also in many other languages.

Great views 

Great views 

Make sure everything is secured or the wind will take it

Make sure everything is secured or the wind will take it

The seal woman at Mikadalur

The seal woman at Mikadalur

Kunoy

Kunoy is another of the northern islands that's easily reachable by a small bridge from the island Borðoy. By taking the tunnel you'll reach the small village with the same name. Here you'll have great views to the neighboring Kalsoy and you can also raise your pulse by climbing the steep cliffs that towers the village. It's also worth visiting the church with it's fascinating setting.

Kunoy village

Kunoy village

Borðoy

On Borðoy you'll find the second largest city (by Faroes standards) Klaksvik with a population of whopping 4000 people ;-). The Christianskirkjan attracts many worshipers on Sundays and daily tourists. It's a pleasant village where you can spend a couple of hours walking around, having a coffee and doing your shopping in the local supermarkets. It's also from the harbor where you'll take the 20 minute ferry to Kalsoy. They also have their own beer brewery Föroya Bjór.

Klaksvik from above. Foggy and rainy, still very beautiful

Klaksvik from above. Foggy and rainy, still very beautiful

Vidoy

The northern most island is Vidoy. People live in the two main settlements, Hvannasund and Vidareidi. This is an islands not to be missed during your stay in the Faroes. From Hvannasund you can take the boat to Fugloy as well as Svinoy. Vidareidi lays in the northern parts of Vidoy and offers excellent hiking options. If the weather permits you can even walk all the way up the the Einniberg bird cliffs where you'll have spectacular views across the Faroes.

The church in Vidareidi

The church in Vidareidi

Even the dead have great views

Even the dead have great views

Vidareidi village

Vidareidi village

Fugloy and Svinoy

Not only are the Faroe Islands extremely isolated at the middle of the Atlantic, these 2 islands are even isolated themselves from the main islands. The only way to reach these places is by boat. A pleasant trip during the summer, but it could be very challenging doing it daily for the rest of the year. Therefore it's no surprise that most islanders have sought a better life elsewhere. Today only a handful of people are left and rely on daily supplies by boat of petrol, food and other necessities. A truly hardcore way of life.

Petrol on the way to Fugloy and Svinoy

Petrol on the way to Fugloy and Svinoy

Unloading time

Unloading time

Finally the package has arrived

Finally the package has arrived

Places that I did not visit this time around

Nolsoy, Sandoy, Skuvoy and Suðuroy are the small islands located at the southern parts of the Faroes. Especially Suðuroy intrigues me as it's located 2 hours from Tórshavn, which makes it isolated even by local standards. Definitely a must visit next time around!! The same goes for Mykines, the most westerly island, famous for it's large puffin colony. Because I was visiting in April there was no ferry connection and besides the puffins arrives first in June. Mykines should be one of your main priorities if you visit during the summer.

Mykines in the background. See you puffins in 2018

Mykines in the background. See you puffins in 2018

Send me an email if you have any questions about the Faroe Islands or my photos. I highly recommend the Brandt guide for your travel preparations before visiting. If deciding to buy I would highly appreciate if you would use the links below as it would give me a small commision from Amazon and it will not costs you a cent more. Thanks.

More photos from the Faroe islands are availabe here;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning photography at Stenshuvud by Jacek Oleksinski

I have for a long time wanted to photograph the seascape landscape at Stenshuvud national park in Skåne in Sweden. There are some beautiful rocks right beneath the famous Stenshuvud mountain.

My previous visits have been during the afternoon and since the ocean faces the east the light has not been very good for sunsets. This time I went there early in the morning to take advantage of the light during sunrise and it did definitely not disappoint.

I arrived there just before 06:00 when it was still dark. Good thing that my head lamp Petzl Pixa was in my backpack. After a 20 minute fast hike (sweating as I brought way too much clothes) I reached the location. It was hard finding the right composition with only the light from my head torch as assistance. Eventually I found an interesting composition with the rocks leading the eye towards the horison

The sun just below the horizon

The sun just below the horizon

As it slowly started to get lighter it was becoming easier to find my way around. I started looking for a place to take a wider photo of the area. I had to work fast as the light was becoming brighter and brighter by the minute. Eventually I decided to make use of some large rocks that would make it possible to take photos from a higher viewpoint. I had to careful not to fall down as the space on top was very limited.

Standing on top of some large rocks made it possible taking a photo from a higher viewpoint.

Standing on top of some large rocks made it possible taking a photo from a higher viewpoint.

You can see on the photo above that the light was starting to create soft light patterns on the rocks. Therefore I decided to make my way down closer to the ocean to try to simplify my composition. My intention was to put more emphasis on the rocks and pink light from the first sun rays. In the end a low perspective was chosen to include as much as possible of the nicely lit rocks on the foreground.

I picked a low angle to incorporate as much of the rocks as possible.

I picked a low angle to incorporate as much of the rocks as possible.

When the light got stronger i decided to explore the rocky landscape a bit further. I have a tendency to only take horizontal images so I decided to try taking my next photo in vertical mode. Still my desire was to use as much of the rocks as foreground, effectively splitting the images into 2/3 with rocks in the foreground and 1/3 of the images should consist of sky. It was a dangerous operation trying to navigate between the sharp rocks with my camera mounted on the tripod. One wrong move and my camera could get smashed, not to mention the risk of breaking a leg or even worse. The things we put at risk in trying to create emotional images. I made sure to use an 0,9 soft grad Lee filter to darken the sky and avoiding overexposure as the sunlight was much stronger now.

Luckily no bones were broken or equipment damaged and I got away with a couple of vertical images that I am very happy with. Next time I'll for sure be more careful, or that's at least what I'm saying now. When you're out there and nature plays in your hands, it's easy to get caught up in the moment and wanting to share your expeirence with the world.

My first vertical photo of the day

My first vertical photo of the day

My second vertical image of the day

My second vertical image of the day

I hope you found this blog post inspiring and got the urge to explore the beautiful nature in your area. Feel free to make a comment below and send me a message if you have any questions. You can also learn more about landscape photography by downloading my free e-book where I share my experience gained during the last 10 years of landscape photography.

Thank you and good luck with your photography !!

Use the link below if you wish to learn more about this area of Sweden called Österlen and about Sweden as well .

Iceland - A landscape photographers dream location by Jacek Oleksinski

Do you want to travel to another planet, but you don’t quite qualify to be an astronaut? Don’t despair, there’s another solution called Iceland. You feel like Charlton Heston from the original Planet of the Apes movie who’s space ship has crash landed and believe you're on another planet.

Nowadays there’s a lot of images from Iceland as it has become very popular among travelers and photographers. Still, nothing can prepare you for what you will experience once you see it with your own eyes. Already the road from the airport into Reykjavik will give you the first glimpses into what to except. A barren landscape, with black volcanic ash spread out as far as the eye can see.

Reykjavik

Sun Voyager (Icelandic: Sólfar) by Jón Gunnar Árnason located in the harbour

Sun Voyager (Icelandic: Sólfar) by Jón Gunnar Árnason located in the harbour

The capital city is where the majority of the people live. Life in concentrated to the main shopping street Laugavegur, where you’ll find most of the souvenir shops, bars and small stores. It’s a very nice city with a relaxed atmosphere, which is also famous as a party destination during the short and intense summer months.

No cars allowed in the Laugavegur pedestrian zone

No cars allowed in the Laugavegur pedestrian zone

The opera house

The opera house

The city center with fast food restaurants

The city center with fast food restaurants

Hot dogs are very popular in Iceland. This one has had customers like Bill Clinton

Hot dogs are very popular in Iceland. This one has had customers like Bill Clinton

However, in my opinion visiting Reykjavik is not the reason you come to Iceland. Instead it's the unique nature and the rest of this blog will be dedicated to the places that I visitied.

Example of the nature in Iceland

Example of the nature in Iceland

Landmannalaugar

This was my favorite place during the trip. You truly feel like walking on another planet. To reach Landmannalaugar you take the Reykjavik excursion bus. It's specially build to enter the Icelandic inland where a normal car would have great difficulties reaching.

A special made bus will take you inland where most cars will not go

A special made bus will take you inland where most cars will not go

After 3 hours from Reykjavik you will reach the camp at Landmannalaugar.  Here you can stay in a hut or pitch your own tent in the designated area. If you're planning to sleep in the huts make sure to book you stay at least 4 months in advance as they fill up very quickly. Landmannalaugar is also the starting point of the Laugavegur trail where you can trek for 4-5 days all the way to Þórsmörk. 

Great hiking possibilities at Landmannalaugar

Great hiking possibilities at Landmannalaugar

Hard work going uphill. 

Hard work going uphill. 

Having brought way too much photographic and outdoor gear excluded me from walking the Laugavegur trail. Instead I choose to explore the Landmannalaugar area more in detail. The surroundings offer great shorter treks as well. By walking up the ridge to the north of the camping site you are greeted to vistas like these;

Spectacular views at Landmannalaugar

Spectacular views at Landmannalaugar

Everywhere you look there's a pitch black barren landscape with rocks, moss and volcanic craters. By going early in the season, which for Iceland's inland means beginning of June, you will still see patches of snow. The snow creates photogenic contrast and adds an extra layer of interest to the dramatic landscape.

Climbing over the lava rocks 

Climbing over the lava rocks 

Þórsmörk

Equally isolated as Landmannalaugar is the Þórsmörk area. It's closer to the coast, meaning it has a milder climate, with more vegetation and green forests mixed with volcanic rock. There's a strong river passing through the landscape and posing a clear danger to anyone wanting to cross it. Luckily there are mobile bridges on wheels that are moved to adjust to the rivers current.

Mobile bridges that are moved to adjust to the rivers current

Mobile bridges that are moved to adjust to the rivers current

Many driver make the mistake of underestimating the river and misjudging the currents resulting in vehicles getting stuck. Luckily the Icelanders are prepared and can quickly mobilize a tractor to assist

Driver stuck with his car in the river, but help is on the way

Driver stuck with his car in the river, but help is on the way

The Þórsmörk area is not short of great walking trails and you could spend days exploring the area. All trails are clearly marked and you just have to walk a couple of minutes outside the camp site to be completely alone with nature. There are multiple hills that offers fantastic panoramas and by waiting for the softer light you'll increase your chances of taking nice images.

Beautiful landcape in Þórsmörk

Beautiful landcape in Þórsmörk

Another beautiful viewpoint in Þórsmörk

Another beautiful viewpoint in Þórsmörk

Had to wait 1 hour before the sun broke through the clouds

Had to wait 1 hour before the sun broke through the clouds

The southern coastline

Driving on the Icelandic ring road that goes around the entire island you will reach some of the most famous places in Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss

Make sure you arrive here early in the day as the parking lot fills up quickly. Seljalandsfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, due to it's beauty and easy access from the Ring road. If you don't mind getting wet you can walk beneath the waterfall itself.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Notice the people walking behind it

Seljalandsfoss waterfall. Notice the people walking behind it

Skogafoss

This is the another popular waterfall located 30 km from Seljalandsfoss. It's very impressive with the water cascading down from the mountains. You can take photos from the base of the waterfall or walk up a bit closer to the waterfall itself by a prepared path. Make sure to arrive early to avoid the biggest crowds. 

Skogafoss, a very popular destination

Skogafoss, a very popular destination

Walking up close up to the Skogafoss waterfall.

Walking up close up to the Skogafoss waterfall.

Vik

A major hub on the Ring road connecting Reykjavik with the eastern parts. Life resolves around the gas station / bus stop where travels can change buses, fill up gas, get something to eat or buy snacks.

Church at Vik

Church at Vik

Jökulsárlón

In many ways the poster image of Iceland. The huge icebergs from the Vatnajökull glacier floating in the lagoon and slowly making its way to the ocean. I would highly recommend taking one of the many boat tours on offer. You'll have a very personal experience with the icebergs and can study their shape and form up close. Who knows, you might even meet one of the many seals that have made this place their home.

Tourists on the way with an amphibianboat

Tourists on the way with an amphibianboat

Entering the water

Entering the water

The smaller boats can get closer to the icebergs

The smaller boats can get closer to the icebergs

Seal resting on one of the many icebergs

Seal resting on one of the many icebergs

As you can see from the photos below people find many ways of enjoying the spectacular place. It really brings out the children in all of us

Chinese tourists posing for photos

Chinese tourists posing for photos

Having a beer

Having a beer

Hitting icebergs with small rocks

Hitting icebergs with small rocks

Impressive blue colours

Impressive blue colours

Floating icebergs, some larger some smaller

Floating icebergs, some larger some smaller

Heimaey

The latest volcanic eruption at Eyjafjallajökull is still fresh in peoples mind. While it had a direct effect on European air travel it did not disrupt the Icelanders way of life too much. However, the volcanic outburst in 1973 had a significant impact on the people of the small island Heimaey. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and you can clearly still see the effects when walking around the main city. The island is located to the south of Iceland and reached by a 40 minute ferry trip.

The main town. In the background lava that stopped just short of reaching the harbour

The main town. In the background lava that stopped just short of reaching the harbour

The road into town

The road into town

Icelandic horses interacting

Icelandic horses interacting

By visiting these places I feel like I've only scratched on the surface what to discover in Iceland. Next time I'll go even more inland and travel further to the north. But that's for another blog post...

Interested in more information about Iceland? Click the links below to buy your travel book from Amazon UK, DE or the US. I will earn a small commision from Amazon, but it will not cost you any extra. Thank you :-)

“Kyrgyzstan - The Pearl of Asia” by Jacek Oleksinski


"Kyrgyzstan, where is that and why would anyone like to go there? By the way, is that not a dangerous place?"
Yurts at the Song kol lake

Yurts at the Song kol lake

Central Asia has always fascinated me. The people have throughout their history endured a hard life, various wars, conquests and occupation by foreign powers . I decided to visit this region after having read some books about Marco Polo’s travels along the Silk road .

The decision to go to Kyrgyzstan was really due to two main points; beautiful nature when searching on the Internet and my laziness in obtaining a Visa. All other countries in this region required one, which is a time consuming process since none of them have any embassies in my country of residence. This means you have to send away your original passport and hopefully have it returned to you. It also includes high costs as these countries see the Visa process as a chance of generating much needed foreign currency.

Kyrgyzstan was a exception so air flight tickets were booked, guide books were read, clothes were packed and the camera sensor was cleaned. For my preparations I also used a site called Indy-Guide, where you can find tons of useful information for planning your travels; http://indy-guide.com/kyrgyzstan

After a 12 hour flight the plane touched down at the post Soviet Manas airport in Bishkek. The booked taxi arranged by the hostel where I was staying the first night was waiting as promised. While driving into the city you truly felt a long way from home . There was a great feeling that 2 weeks of adventure lay before you.

The next day I went to the bus terminal to arrange for further transport with the most popoluar means of commuting in central asia, the marshrutka.

Marshrutkas waiting for passengers in Bishkek

Marshrutkas waiting for passengers in Bishkek

Marshrutkas are basically minibuses that run on a fixed route from town town. Most of the time there's no fixed schedule, instead they depart as soon as they are full.

Karakol

The first destination was Karakol in the north eastern part of the country close to China. The city is a somewhat of a backpacker / mountaineering hub. Of course on a much smaller scale compared to for example Tibet. The area is famous for great trekking possibilities in the Tien Shen mountains. You could do treks there that last weeks, but I decided to do some shorter excursions in the Jeti-Ögüz area, famous for its red stone formations called the seven bulls.

The seven bulls

The seven bulls

A short walk up the valley at Jeti Ögüz

A short walk up the valley at Jeti Ögüz

Local yurts in the valley

Local yurts in the valley

Local yurts in the valley

Local yurts in the valley

During his travels Marco Polo visited many animal markets and they still exist today throughout Central Asia. The most famous one is in Kashgar China, but Kyrgyzstan has many as well, the most famous one being the Sunday market in Karakol. People from the area bring their livestock for some serious buying and selling during the morning hours. I spend the morning there, walking around taking photos of the traders and action going on. I was even offered a sheep for 50 €.

Hmmm, should we buy this one?

Hmmm, should we buy this one?

Busy time at the market

Busy time at the market

Another deal done. Time to transport my new possessions home

Another deal done. Time to transport my new possessions home

Father and son waiting for customers

Father and son waiting for customers

Waiting for customers

Waiting for customers

The main square at the animal market where most of the transcations take place

The main square at the animal market where most of the transcations take place

Song kol lake

The next stop was Song kol lake, by many claimed to be the most famous place in Kyrgyzstan. Each summer the people take their livestock from the villages below up to the lake where the animals can freely move around and the people can return to their historical way of life. It was a fascinating to experience their way of life, sleeping in a yurt, hearing the animals grace outside in the early morning, eating delicious home made food and even trying kumus “fermented horse milk”. The strong acid taste is for sure not everyone’s “cup of tea”, but definitely something you should taste if given the chance. My favorite dish was Oromo, which could be described as a lasagna cooked in a pot under a steam of boiling water. Delicious!. This is for sure a beautiful area, definitely a must for people coming to Kyrgyzstan. Hopefully my photos can at least do it some justice, but you really have to experience it in person to understand its greatness.

Freedom at Song kol lake

Freedom at Song kol lake

Together with it's mother at Song kol lake

Together with it's mother at Song kol lake

A great way of life at Song kol lake

A great way of life at Song kol lake

Paradise of earth at Song kol lake

Paradise of earth at Song kol lake

Sunset at Song kol lake

Sunset at Song kol lake

Waiting for its master

Waiting for its master

The weather can change quickly at the Song kol lake

The weather can change quickly at the Song kol lake

Arslanbob

Having visited the northern parts it was time to see what the south of the country had to offer. Compared to the north, the south has a clearly warmer climate. It’s also more mixed with a large Uzbek population in cities like Arslanbob, Jalala-bad and Osh. After the break up of the Soviet Union new borders were drawn and many cities close to the new borders have different ethnic mix compared to the rest of the country. The city Arslanbob was a perfect example of this with a mainly Uzbek population.

People coming back from the market in Arslanbob

People coming back from the market in Arslanbob

The local butcher shop in Arslanbob

The local butcher shop in Arslanbob

Fresh delivery of hay

Fresh delivery of hay

Melons and cabbage for sale

Melons and cabbage for sale

Beautiful nature in Arslanbob. Can you spot the waterfall?

Beautiful nature in Arslanbob. Can you spot the waterfall?

In Arslanbob I would say it was more conservative compared the the rest of Kyrgyzstan in the way people dressed and approached you . Nevertheless the people were as friendly as always. We had a good home stay with a local family in their large beautiful house. Unfortunately our room was just below the attic. Every night when the lights went off you could hear the rats running around upstairs fighting for the best spots. Luckily none of them payed us a visit, but you definitely slept with one eye open.

Osh

Next destination Osh is a well known silk road city. The central market is a reminder of the old trade that took place there for thousands of years. Of course today there’s no more trade in silk, but more in cheap Chinese clothes and household items that are imported to this area.

Imported Chinese clothes

Imported Chinese clothes

A lot of shoes on display throughout the market

A lot of shoes on display throughout the market

Local delivery within the market

Local delivery within the market

Dried yogurt balls. Used as snacks by the people of Central Asia.

Dried yogurt balls. Used as snacks by the people of Central Asia.

Discussing the price of watermelons

Discussing the price of watermelons

Not only consumer goods is sold at the market. People also meet to interact, here a tournament of chess

Not only consumer goods is sold at the market. People also meet to interact, here a tournament of chess

The market offers you the chance to buy all you daily needed products and the restaurants in and around the market had some of the best tasting food I experienced during my visit. The high turnaround in people means the food is always fresh and served quickly with great customer service. A delightful experience.

Fresh food and warm chai

Fresh food and warm chai

Still warm for the owen

Still warm for the owen

M41. This is the famous Pamir highway that starts (or ends) in Osh and goes all the way to Dushanbe in Tajikistan. It’s supposed to be an epic adventure. Unfortunately I did not have the possibility to travel all the way, instead opted for a shorter excursion to the Alay region in the very south of Kyrgyzstan. The marshrutka from Osh took 3 hours through a mountainous landscape and there was not a dull minute. Everywhere there were fantastic vistas with yurts, sheep and small villages scattered around the landscape.

Sary Mogul and the Alay region

The final destination of the day was the village Sary Mogul, about 70 km from the Kyrgyz / Tadzik border. Arrangements were quickly made for a night stay at a local family.

Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background

Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background

The main road in Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background

The main road in Sary mogul village with the Pamir mountains in the background

The next day the journey continued to a yurt camp near by. The old Opel that must have been at least 20 years old picked us up in front of the guest house. It was a bumpy ride considering that the suspension was non existent, but the driver was proud, smiling, showing “thumps up” while saying “good German car”. After 30 minutes we arrived at the yurt camp located at a small lake.

Yurt camp in the background. Home for the next 3 days

Yurt camp in the background. Home for the next 3 days

New tourists have just arrived at the yurt camp

New tourists have just arrived at the yurt camp

In the afternoon I made a trek closer to this areas main attraction, the 7134 m Lenin peak. It’s considered one of the “easiest” 7000 m mountains to climb, still it must be a considerable effort in making it to the top. The snow was still deep up on the mountain so no climbing expedition were planned at the moment. Most people try to reach the top in August when as much as possible of the snow has melted.

Peak Lenin

Peak Lenin

The marmots were also active this evening, raising alarm as soon as somebody approached them. As with the rest of Kyrgystan the nature was breathtaking, you could spend weeks here exploring and never have a dull moment.

On the look out

On the look out

Sunset in the Alay region

Sunset in the Alay region

Sunrise in the Alay region

Sunrise in the Alay region

Peak lenin in the background. Sunrise in the Alay region

Peak lenin in the background. Sunrise in the Alay region

To sum it up, after 2 weeks or travel all I experienced where friendly and helpful people, children or adults, that will go out of their way in assisting you. And if you love nature as much as I do you'll definitely have a great time in Kyrgyzstan. Don't believe all that's said on the news, use your common knowledge and you'll be fine. Trust me !!

Friendly people in Bishkek

Friendly people in Bishkek

Hope you enjoyed my story from Kyrgyzstan. For my travel preparations I used the excellent Brandt travel guide, which you'll find a link to below.