Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lokisaurus Rex Update

For a long time, Loki was in exile.  I decided to "start from scratch" with him, treating him as though he was a completely untame bird that wouldn't come out of his cage. I thought that maybe it would be an extra motivator for him to learn to trust me and step up.

It did not work.

I am completely ok with admitting that a lot of the time I don't k now what I'm doing when it comes to parronthood. Yes, I grew up in a house full of birds. But time away from that, education in bird behavior, and lots of research on my part have opened my eyes to the fact that guess what? My grandparents didn't really know what they were doing, either. And how would they? It's not like the internet existed back then. "Positive reinforcement" wasn't exactly a buzz term in the 1970's-1990's. Looking back, there are LOTS of things that my grandparents did wrong. But their hearts were in the right place and they took parrots out of really bad situations and gave them love the best way they knew how. Sure, their birds weren't always properly socialized, but they were always fed well, given vet care, and were kept clean.

I'm sad that Loki lost so much time that he could have been hanging out with me and having fun, but I tried something that I thought might work. I don't regret it. We can only move forward from here. He's still not stepping up, but he is getting closer to walking near my hands every day. He loves getting head scratches and will readily take treats from my hands. He's even ok with me touching his feet after a few minutes of warming up to it. But stepping on hands is still strictly forbidden in his birdie brain. And that's cool. We'll get there.

Here are some pics from today's training and play session. Yesterday he learned how to give beaky-kisses on command, and now he wants to kiss everything (because sunflower seeds). It's totez adorbz.


Post spray-bath floofy-crazies

Yes... when you rip chunks off of a toy and drop them, they end up down on the floor. You look shocked literally every time you do this.

Biiiiiig stretch.

Giving kisses and ripping toys to shreds is exhausting work.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Icelandic Adventure, Part 2: The Hike, Days 4-5

Day 4: Álftavatn to Emstrur

Woke up early again, with a raging sore throat and inflamed sinuses. Shit. I had a full-blown sinus infection. I could barely get out of bed. D ran around the kitchen asking people is they had any anti-histamines, vitamins, ancient herbal remedies, anything that could help me get through the next two days. The rude Americans from the previous night redeemed themselves and gave him three precious Benadryl tablets, which he delivered to my shaky, sweaty, clammy hands. I took a Claritin, a Bendaryl, an Advil, and had a cup of that horrible coffee, and that cocktail cleared me out and perked me up enough to function and hit the trail.

I should also mention that by this point I was having some issues with my right Achilles' tendon. Something had worn away on the inside of my boot and had rubbed it, leaving a kinda nasty bruise. It was pretty painful, but bearable.

We had our first actual take-your-shoes-off-and-wade river crossing that morning. It was a cute little sandy-bottom stream, mostly ankle-deep. My feet sure were chilly afterwards! Wool socks felt nice afterwards. Aww, how cute. Tee hee!

Aww. Ankle-deep.

Then we had our first REAL river crossing. Pants off, boots slung around neck, trekking poles holding us up, rushing knee-deep GLACIALLY COLD WATER. It was maybe 30 feet wide, and our feet and legs were 100% numb by the time we got across. For real. They basically skipped the "ouch! cold daggers!" feeling and went straight to totally numb. That's some cold shit.

Actual river crossing.


The rest of the hike that day was fairly flat as we were crossing through some dry lake beds. D and I were mostly alone because by that point I was feverish and my Achilles was bothering me a little more. We sang some 80's tunes, weathered some really intense mini dust storms that whipped up, and made several stops. Stopping a lot is not my style. I'm more of a truck along until I collapse from exhaustion kind of gal. That's just how I roll.

Flat like pancake.

Well, around two miles from the Emstrur hut, I was basically collapsing from exhaustion. It felt like all medications/caffeine wore off at once. I was in real pain. I was extremely feverish. I was exhausted. I was not being very nice to poor D. It really felt like we were not ever going to get to our destination. Rolling hill after rolling hill. Dust. Sand. I'm not going to lie, I had some waking fever dreams, something about magic flying carpets or something. I literally cried when we saw the huts.

It really was gorgeous. I just couldn't appreciate it at this particular moment because I was crying and flying on a magic carpet.

We checked in, and entered our assigned hut. Only tops bunks left. That was fine, because D and I made dinner, and I crawled into the bunk and didn't leave until the next morning. I barely slept.

The view from the bunk. I probably took this because I saw D's butt.

Day 5: Emstrur to Þórsmörk

When I woke up after about 3 hours of sleep, I no longer had a fever. Hurrah! I had my medicine-caffeine cocktail, and felt like a human being again. I actually chatted with some of the people in our hut, who all seemed so nice. I was so bummed that I hadn't been able to join in the conversations from the night before. I had really been looking forward to chatting with people on the trail, and then I got so sick that I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay away from people.

I was actually able to appreciate the beauty of the site: the huts sat nestled in a valley below a massive glacier. The glacier seemed like it had its own weather, with huge clouds hanging just above the glacier. Also, clean bathrooms again.

Hiking this day was varied. A lot of flat sections, but some substantial hills too. Within the first couple of miles we had descended a really steep, but very soft sand hill, crossed over a gorgeous bridge, and then lots of small rolling ascents. My head feels so much better at this point, but my Achilles tendon was really hurting me. I was limping pretty hard, no matter how I tied my boots. The vegetation started changing, too. As in, there was vegetation. Dwarf willows, lupine, vetch, and lots of other plants that D was very fascinated with.

I'm on a bridge!

We came to our final river crossing. This was the one I'd been worried about. I had seen pictures on the internet that showed people up to their thighs in raging river water. One blog I read said that no one could cross on foot, that the river was so high that they had to use a massive off-road vehicle to ferry people across. EEK. Well, we got there and it was only knee high. Yawn.

After the final river crossing, we were expecting about another kilometer of hiking and then we'd be at the final hut! Well. About two kilometers later, we arrived at a crossroads and a sign. We were in the middle of Þórsmörk (pronounced Thorsthmork, or something like that), which translated means Thor's Woods. For real. There were willows and birches and all kinds of plants that D just couldn't resist inspecting. So we're standing at this crossroads, and I come to a realization. Oh god. I think I bought us a bus ticket out of here at the wrong place. One placard points to left. It says Þórsmörk hut. One sign points to the right. It has several other huts listed, as well as a placard saying "Bus Pickup." Shit. Shit. SHIT. Not only do we need to hike almost three more kilometers, but tomorrow morning we may have to hike up to six more kilometers to catch our bus at 07:30. What time would we have to get up? I was hiking so slowly at this point because my foot was really painful... and then I got angry. I was really pissed. I basically stomp-hike-limped the final three kilometers to our hut. When we got to the hut I sat on the front stoop while D talked to the warden. I think by this point D was a little afraid of me.

Can't stop won't stop

GREAT NEWS. JUBILATION! The bus was scheduled to pick us up right outside our hut. I was already too tired to be mad anymore, I had already resigned myself to waking up at whatever ungodly hour the next morning and limping over to the other bus stop. But nay! No! Nei! So to celebrate, I took off my boots, took a hot shower, ate dinner, and went to bed. I slept like a rock.

View from our window

 Thus ends Part 2 of our Icelandic Adventure. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Icelandic Adventure, Part 1: The Hike, Days 1-3

It's hard to know even where to begin. I'll start by largely skipping over the flight to New York, then the flight to Keflavik, then the bus ride to Reykjavik, and the nap in the hostel lobby while waiting for check-in time, and the miles of wandering around Reykjavik in woefully inadequate footwear (seriously folks, don't bother bringing Toms to Iceland, even if they are orange and adorable), and the deep 11-hour sleep. We'll start with August 22, our second day in Iceland. The day we took a bus from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar, the starting point of our four-day trek south.

Pre-check in hostel lobby snooze.

Icelandic Kroner. This makes us look like ballers, but it's only about $80.

Day 1: Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar

First, we went to the wrong bus stop. We're waiting around, and I kept getting more and more nervous because we were the only ones there. We finally asked a guide that showed up if we were in the right place. We weren't. Thankfully, our bus stop was only two blocks away, so we hauled ass and got there with plenty of time to spare.

The actual bus ride was about four hours long. It was a fairly clear, sunny day, and everything looked so bright. Not that the bus ride was a colorful place in the rainbow sense, it's just that every color stood out so much. The black sand was BLACK SO HARD. The green moss was PUNCH YOU IN THE EYES GREEN. The sky was MAKE YOUR MOMMA CRY BLUE. And there were horses and sheep everywhere. It was really novel and fun at first, "Oooh ponies! More ponies! Little fluffy cottonball sheep whose heads are too small for their bodies! Ooooh ponies again!" (side note: I can probably compile a 15-minute long video comprised of 5 second clips of me screaming, "POOOONIIIIIESSSS" while driving by a herd of Icelandic horses [not ponies] at 90 kilometers an hour.)

The bus.


POOOONIIIIESSSSS!!! (Icelandic horses)

And then I fell asleep for the last two hours because we were jet lagged and that struggle is real.

When we arrived, we checked in with the hut warden, got our bunk room assignment, and headed over to the hut to drop off our stuff. Surprise! They didn't have individual bunks. Nope. They had one looooong lower bunk and one looooong upper bunk. Hello spooning with strangers on our second night in Iceland. Actually, we didn't have to spoon with anyone, the closest people were all the way at the other end.

Spooning? Anyone?

Totez adorbz.

We wandered around camp for a while, soaked in the hot spring for a while, visited the Magic Bus Mall (not the real name) for some dinner since we wanted to save our freeze-dried backpacking meals for the actual backpacking portion of the trip, took some goofy photos, met some dapper Icelandic horses, and went to bed.

Day 2: Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker

Woke up around 05:00 to a really beautiful sunrise, had some truly terrible coffee (seriously, I strongly recommend against Starbuck's instant coffee. barfbarfbarfbarfbarfbarf), and then it was shower decision time. Should I take a cold shower? Or should I just start the trip dirty already? I opted for the shower. I grabbed all my stuff and went to the shower room and discovered that for 500 kroner, comprised of five 100 kroner pieces, I could have 5 minutes of hot water. I literally ran back to the bunk house to grab my coins.... I had four 100 kroner pieces. I literally shook D awake, demanding one 100 kroner piece. He said to check his pockets. He didn't have it. I asked our awake bunk mates if any of them had a single 100 kroner piece. They only spoke Russian and apparently didn't understand my miming (or wanted to keep their money for their hot showers, I don't blame them). I ran to the hut warden to see if they had change. They weren't open. I slunk back to the shower house and took the most painfully cold shower of my life.

I should also mention that by this time I was starting to notice that I was maybe possibly allergic to something in the surrounding area. My eyes were itchy, I was sneezing a ton, slightly runny nose.... but I continued to take my Claritin faithfully. This aspect of the story will become important later.

We ate breakfast and got a somewhat late-ish start on the trail around 09:30. We fiddled around with the GoPro a bit, and only got about 3 hours of video before the battery died. 15 HOURS MY ASS. Also, we forgot the spare batteries, they were with our day-packs back at the hostel in Reykjavik. The hiking was insanely beautiful and perfect. It was sunny, in the low 60's, with small puffy clouds scattered around. The sun perfectly lit up and displayed the rhyolite mountains' colors. Tans, blues, greens, oranges, reds.... for real, I can see why they're called rainbow mountains. I kept exclaiming things about these rainbow mountains, until D gently reminded me that he's colorblind and can't see why they're called rainbow mountains, so maybe I should stop talking about it thank you very much. Oooops.

RAINB.... I mean... Rhyolite mountains.

We hiked through the rhyolite mountains, old lava fields, moss-covered rocks, steam vents, obsidian fields that looked like black glitter, and frozen river crossings. We kept calling the perennial snowpack "glaciers," which is not accurate. We saw our first glacier at the end of the day and it's not even comparable. We had one scary moment where we went through wrong way down an extremely steep, loose, crumbly hillside and basically would have slid underneath an ice shelf (to which I politely said HELL NO), but righted ourselves and we were back on the trail.

Stinky geothermal feature

Frozen River

Snowpack crossing

The first day was about 3,000 feet elevation gain overall, but despite some gnarly climbs it didn't seem that bad. It was approximately 7.3 miles, and it took us about 5 hours to complete. We could have done it much faster, but we kept stopping to take pictures, and stopped at one vista point to take a quick cat nap while basking in the sun.

Our view from the nap point.

We arrived at the Hrafntinnusker hut at 14:30, and checked in the with the very friendly warden and his wife. About ten minutes later, he approached us to inform us that Bárðarbunga, a volcano located about 70 miles north-northeast, had started erupting.

Oh right, there was a volcano, too. We actually knew that there was a chance that Bárðarbunga would erupt while we were on the trail. Bárðarbunga was a medium-sized volcano located under the glacier Vatnajökull. So sort of safely perched underneath half a mile of ice. We were not in an area that was evacuated, but the aviation warning in the area had been raised to level orange, the second-highest level, the morning we left San Diego. We asked the hut warden if we were going to be safe to finish the rest of the trek. His answer was, "Eeeeehhh, you'll probably be fine." Thank you, Mr. Hut Warden, that was very reassuring of you. The word probably always inspires confidence in me. Anyway, D and I looked at each other, shrugged, and decided we'd continue on the trek like nothing was going on. If we ran into lava, we'd just throw our packs down and surf the lava-wave all the way to the ocean (I watched Escape from L.A. recently, so I know it can be done).

GREAT ODIN'S RAVEN. ( I have now made that joke all over the internet.)

The view from our window.

Normally this would be the time when I'd write, "then we ate dinner and went to bed." But I have to stop and take a moment to discuss the bathroom situation at the Hrafntinnusker hut. Now I don't want to say anything bad about any part of this trip. Everyone was (mostly) friendly, and in general the huts were very very nice, or at the very least, very well kept. But the Hrafntinnusker bathrooms were by far the most disgusting bathrooms I've ever been in in my entire life. They even trumped that time I camped in Yosemite and all they had were overflowing port-a-potties that had vomit in every single urinal. These bathrooms smelled worse than that. It was like a combination of the strongest diarrhea smell mixed with the strongest cat-pee-ammonia smell in the entire universe. The smell hit you like a wall, if a wall reached out and pimp-slapped you in the face. Some people opted to pee outside, only entering the bathrooms out of sheer desperation to poop or wash their hands. Holding your breath was mandatory. If you couldn't poop in the amount of time that you could hold your breath, well, you were just going to have to die in there. I've dedicated an entire paragraph to this subject because I want you, my readers, to understand how bad it was.

And then we ate dinner and went to bed.

Day 3: Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn

Woke up around 06:00 and looked outside... OH NOOOO FOG! We knew that fog was always a possibility, and it was the reason why we rented a GPS unit with the trail loaded onto it. Thankfully for us, the fog cleared around 08:00 and then it was a mad dash for everybody to hit the trail. There weren't any big climbs, but there were a lot of frozen river crossings which involved short, steep descents, screaming/squealing while shuffling across frozen ice/snow, and then a short, steep ascent. It was very gray during this portion of the hike, low cloud cover, but no more fog. Then came the descent.


I literally screamed when crossing over this sketchy ass ice bridge.

I won't say this was the descent from hell. But I will say that it was descent from heck. It was very switchback-y and very loose, compacted sand/rocks. Pretty much every tenth step or so included a quick little rock surf, an adrenaline spike, and a swear word. And it took us over an hour to climb all the way down. Honestly, of everything we experienced in Iceland, there were only two times when I was actually not happy. This was one of those times. All I can say is thank god for trekking poles, I honestly don't know how we would have made it without them.

The view from the top of the Descent from Heck. Our hut is teeny tiny and to the left and just below the left tip of the lake.

We arrived at the Álftavatn hut around 14:00. It was just starting to drizzle, and I was ready to relax because my feet were pretty torn up from the descent from heck. We quickly found out that this hut had been completely refurbished and was absolutely lovely. Even better: D and I had our own room! Granted it didn't have a doorknob, so anybody walking by in the kitchen could pretty much look into our room because the door was never totally shut, but it was still a luxury that we really appreciated. Another luxury we really appreciated: FLUSHING TOILETS THAT SMELLED LIKE NOTHING. And hot showers that we could pay for with cash other than 100 kroner coins. I couldn't hand over my $10 for 10 minutes of hot water fast enough (D and I combined forces and took a duel shower/clothes washing session that turned out to be a very wise investment of time).

While we were waiting in line, a Dutch lady that we had become friendly with got on the phone with her son (yes, cell phone service in the middle of nowhere). Apparently her son informed her that Bárðarbunga had really erupted, broken through the glacier, and was spewing lava and ash, and air traffic was stopped, and women were wailing and gnashing their teeth. Again, D and I looked at each other and shrugged. We were almost halfway there in a super remote area. Not much we could do about it. Also, the Dutch lady's son was full of shit.

Then we ate dinner, and went to bed. I was experiencing what felt an awful lot like a sore throat, but no way... I mean, I was just having allergy issues, right? Also, there were some extremely rude Americans and Germans who stayed up until like 11:30 at night laughing and talking loudly. I mean, they were so close to all the bedrooms that they might as well have been sitting on our beds screaming at each other. D eventually got up and very politely told them to can it, which they did with apologies.

The view from our window

Álftavatn huts

Thus ends Part 1 of our Icelandic Adventure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Warning: Non-Birb Icelandic Adventure Photos Ahead


I'm still writing and working on processing photos and videos, but in the meantime, here's a photo of D being a weirdo creepmaster flex on the plane ride.