Fire and Ice-Land 3 (Dancing Lights)


Day 3 in Iceland and the weather was still occasionally sunny but mostly snow stormy.  Any hope of catching a glimpse of the fabled northern lights seemed to be all but lost as all northern light tours had been cancelled for 7 consecutive days on account of poor visibility and driving snow.

We consoled ourselves by hiring a Superjeep  tour up to Langjökull glacier to do snowmobiling and to visit a man made ice cave.  Along the way, there were stops to look at some of Iceland’s thermal pools, a rather pretty though small waterfall and a pit stop for lunch.

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Mrs. Squirrel obscuring the view of the pretty Hraunfossar waterfall.

Along the way, there were a few cars that had got stuck in the snow and we stopped to render some assistance.  We were very glad to be in a Superjeep with huge tyres and retractable spikes which carried us steadily through the worst of the snow and weather.

And when we reached on top of the glacier, it was time to switch to the snowmobile.

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Our two snow conquering chariots!
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We had to bundle up in special snow suits, wear helmet, visors and get instructions.

Well, getting dressed up for the snowmobile ride was a thorough workout in itself and we were sweating from the exertion and glad to be out in the cold so that we could cool down.  There were 14 of us and we paired up to drive 7 snowmobiles.  Of the 7 drivers, only one had driven a snowmobile before.

Let me just say that it was not easy to drive.  I certainly found it hard to control, requiring a lot more strength and throwing around the body weight to get the machine to turn.  And when I managed to turn it, it would over extend in that direction and I would have to compensate in the other direction.  We were told to follow behind the guide in the lead snowmobile but we were all struggling to do that.

We were also facing driving snow and bitter cold, poor visibility and fresh loosely packed snow which made it easy to capsize the machine if we strayed too much to the edge of the packed trail.  The journey was supposed to take about 15 minutes to the cave entrance but it took us more than 30 minutes.  During that time, one snowmobile sunk about 2 feet into the soft snow and had to be dug out.  Except for two snowmobiles, the rest all had exciting moments when the machine tipped over trapping driver and passenger underneath.

It happened to me and Mrs. Squirrel.  I wandered too much to the side and the machine toppled over and slid down a small slope.  Both my wife and I were pinned down by the 350 kg machine.  From our prone position, we could see nothing at all and could only hope that the guides would notice we were missing and could here our feeble cries for help.  Eventually, they showed up and got us out of there.

Finally, we made it to the ice cave and I took out my camera from my backpack only to find that it had not fared well from the snowmobile ride.   The cold had completely caused my camera battery to be drained out.  So all the photos in this post is courtesy of my traveling companions.

We were joined by another group that had come up by monster wheeled buses.  “You mean we could have done the trip in comfort?”  One of my group tried to trade our return snowmobile ride for a spot  on the bus but there were no takers.

During the tour of the cave, we were shown the “chapel”.  The guide explained that the acoustics were particularly good here and asked for a volunteer to test it out.  The rest of the cowards nominated me to do it.  And so I found myself giving a rendition of “Amazing Grace” inside a glacier.

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Singing “Amazing Grace” in the ice cave chapel.

When we got back to the base camp on the glacier to put away the snowmobiles and to get out of the snow suits, I asked my driver how I could get a refund for the northern light tour that I had previously booked with Superjeep for my first night in Iceland.  Now Superjeep and some other tours allow clients to go on a second tour at no extra charge if the first trip was cancelled or the northern lights were not seen.  However, the weather had been so bad and the forecast was for more of the same, that I had given up hope.

To my surprise, our driver, Loji, thought there was a chance that the tour would go ahead that night.  He called his office, consulted with them and then proposed to take us out that same night.  I really was skeptical given the weather conditions but decided I would regret not trying and so our whole group agreed to go northern light hunting.

Loji said that despite the snow and blustery wind, we just needed to look for breaks in the cloud cover where we can see the stars and we would have a good chance to see the northern lights.

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This is not the Millennium Falcon jumping to light speed but the view of the driving snow from the windscreen of the jeep and the reason why I did remained skeptical of our chances of seeing any northern lights.

And so we left Reykjavik at about 8.00 pm and we drove and drove and we drove.  Around and around,  Chasing perceived clearer skies.  We made a few stops when it was not snowing as bad and strained to see stars but most of the time, the sightings were brief before the clouds and snow returned.

To warm us up and to dull the sense of disappointment, Loji gave out generous servings of hot chocolate fortified with vodka.  That certainly made us more cheerful and a little sleepy too – it had been a long day.  Then at about 12.30 in the morning, Loji delivered!

We managed to see the lights!  It appeared like a light green ribbon across the sky. It wasn’t the brightest but we enjoyed it, taking pictures and just taking in the sight.  But after maybe 10 minutes the clouds came in and the show was over.

We were reasonably satisfied and we settled down in the jeep for the long drive back to Reykjavik.  But Iceland had not finished giving us a show.  30 minutes later, we saw an even better display as we were driving back.  We pulled over and enjoyed this spectacle for about 20 minutes, thanking God for blessing us with this experience.

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Hallelujah!

Next post:- Around Reykjavik.

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Fire and Ice-Land 2 (Vik & South Coast)


We arrived after dark on the first day in Iceland and had taken the Flybus from the airport to downtown Reykjavik.  For future travelers, this is a lot cheaper than taking a taxi but there is the inconvenience of having to change from the airport bus to a smaller shuttle bus which then takes you to a bus stop near your hotel.  In our case, the bus stop was about 200 m from the hotel which would not be a problem if it weren’t for the driving snow and the slush on the roads making it unpleasant to be dragging luggage in the streets.

But bad weather is part of the nature of Iceland which one must accept. Still, it immediately spoiled our plans as the tour I had booked to go out that night to seek out the northern lights was cancelled on account of the weather.  Although disappointed by that, I immediately activated plan B which was to get a good night sleep and take off early the next morning on a long bus ride out along the southern coast as far as the small town of Vik.

Here are some highlights from Day 2;

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Icelandic Horses – these tough guys spend the winter out in the elements.  Descended from ponies brought over by Vikings in the 12th century, they are used in sheep herding and more recently for “tourist herding”.
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A short stop at the LAVA Centre and there was this interactive model of Iceland showing all the earthquakes and tremors that occurred in the last 24 hours.
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The impressive Skógafoss waterfall
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The black volcanic sand beach at Vik
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It was a wild and windy day!
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You could actually lean backwards into the wind and the wind would be able to hold you up.
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But the wind was also pelting us with tiny bits of hail which was quite painful.  The round ice spheres can be seen clearly in contrast to the black sand.
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These are the basalt columns at the famous Reynisfjara beach near Vik.  Oh, and the sun came out briefly.
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They told me that seabirds nest on these rock stacks but all I saw were @#!$%#* tourists!
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The beach can be dangerous as the waves are violent and rogue waves are known to occur which can drag you into the cold North Atlantic.  The last fatality was in 2017.  We were told not to go too near the waves and also not to turn your back to the waves.
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But, it could also be very romantic!
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The ends of the basalt columns in the cave.
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Another view.  Notice the icicle at the top?
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A good place to roost after a long day on a tour bus.
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We also visited part of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
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These guys were returning from hiking on the glacier.
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Another beautiful waterfall – Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  In warmer times, it is possible to walk behind the falling water.
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Wait a while and you might get the place to yourself.
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This little excursion along the south coast gets my thumbs up!

Next installment will be about snowmobiling and an ice cave in a glacier.  See you then.

(All photos by LGS; please ask permission before using).

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Picture and T-shirt by idontspeakicelandic.com

Hi there honorable readers!

The squirrel just got back from one of his bucket list destinations!  I am sure that  the photo above of a T-shirt I saw while there will have tipped you as to where that is …….. Iceland!   So what part of Eyjafjallajökull didn’t you understand?  Will the smart alecks among you please enlighten us all to its meaning in the comments?  In this era of alternate truths, your explanation doesn’t have to be factually accurate but by Odin, make it interesting.

Yes, my missus and I went to Iceland, otherwise also known as the Land of Fire and Ice, the Land of the Vikings and more recently as part of Westeros and beyond The Wall (Game of Thrones).  Oh yes we did, and we did it in the midst of winter too!

And how was Iceland, you ask?  I quote my wife; “It’s Crazy Beautiful!”  The people were fascinating and friendly and the food fantastic – there are lots of delicious options so you don’t really need to eat the famous rotting shark meat or the boiled sheep’s head if you don’t want to.

Before I carry on, I must thank Terry for inspiring me to make the trip and also her practical advice.  Even though this is not primarily a travel blog, please bear with me as I will share about my experiences over the next few posts.

And, if you were wondering ……….. I did see the Northern Lights!

For now, I leave you with Asterix and Dogmatix as they show us that it isn’t so difficult to learn the Viking language.

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Alternate Reality is Real


Do you believe in all this mumbo-jumbo about alternative universes, where things are just a little bit different from our own reality?  Well, Steven Hawking believes they exist so that MUST make it true.

Anyway, for all you skeptics, the Lone Grey Squirrel would like to share some observations that prove that not only do these alternate universes exist, sometimes they spill over into our world.

(Cue Twilight Zone theme music and Rod Serling’s voice:  “Ladies and Gentlemen, sometimes the best intentions can be twisted.  I present for your consideration……one lone grey squirrel and his love advice given a technical makeover in …..the Twilight Zone!”

Back in February 10th, 2008, this very blog introduced Dr. Love, a famous witch doctor from Namibia who is his renowned for his advice on love (Advice from Dr. Love).   Remember you heard all that good advice here first.  Then, recently, the esteemed BBC did a report on Dr. Love………only he wasn’t the same guy and he was from Congo and not Namibia!  Instead of dispensing love potions and traditional wisdom, he was giving out scientific advice and using mobile apps! What is going on?  Alternate reality surely!

In the Realm of the Lone Grey Squirrel, this is the charming and mystical Dr. Love (or Aikenvoodoo-U Cassanova Lovelace the Great).

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And this is the guy from the BBC alternative reality report, the rather normal and scientific Dr. Love (or Dr. Aimé Lokulutu).  If you want to see the original unbelievable BBC Report, follow this link.

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And that’s not the only strange thing that’s been going on.  I love Oprah.  In my world, Oprah is a well respected, successful, media celebrity and all round good person.  But suddenly, this alternative Oprah appears on the news and it seems this version is a political Oprah who might run for President of the USA.  But the really strange thing is that  this Oprah has three hands………..surely….only…in the Twilight Zone.

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Picture from the cover of Vanity Fair’s 24th Annual Oscar Issue:-  Oprah’s hands:- Number 1 is on her hip, Number 2 is on her thigh and Number 3 is on Reese Witherspoon’s waist.

Traveling Cheaply


Dear friends,

By the time you read this, I will actually be on the road, traveling with my wife. Of late, I have become somewhat of a frequent traveler and so I decided to share with you some of the wisdom that I have gleaned from my experiences.  Consider it a preview of my up and coming self help bestseller entitled “Tips on how to travel cheaply with your spouse”.

In my younger, foolish days, I used to believe that “two can live as cheaply as one” and that that applies to traveling too.  For example, with accommodation, the cost per person drops when you share a room.  Similar savings for hiring a car or joining a tour.  Occasionally, you even stumble on “two for the price of one” offers for restaurants, museums and even airfares.

But don’t be fooled! Unless you plan your trip well, costs can easily escalate.  Here are just a few tips to help lower your travel costs……….

Tip 1 : Choose your destination well

Generally speaking, countryside is cheaper than cities.  Not just because the price of things are generally more in cities but there just aren’t anywhere as many shops for your spouse to be tempted by in the rural boondocks.  Las Vegas, for example, have wonderful, cheap or even sometimes free, all you can eat buffets but it is still to be avoided if you or your spouse are likely to throw good money away at the slot machines or on Elvis impersonators.

Tip 2 : Choose your time well

Congratulations if you managed to plan a holiday in the countryside and away from all the shops.  Still, occasionally, you may have to touch base with an urban area or worse a centre with shopping.  When this happens, try to time the visit on a Sunday when many of the shops are closed.   I did this when we visited pricey Switzerland.  A visit to Bern and the wonderful, UNESCO World Heritage Old Town and its charming,  medieval covered arcades was achieved without too much damage by visiting on a Sunday.

Tip 3 : Choose the right option.

When you plan your itinerary for any given day, you have many options to consider.  Choose wisely.  For example, if you only had time to visit either a diamond centre or a chocolate factory , which one should you choose? (Hint:- one measly, micro diamond is worth the same as many, many crates of chocolates).

Try another one guys; a Swarovski Crystal tour or a beer brewery tour?  A no-brainer, right?

The Post Where I am Befuddled


I am sure you will know by now that I am an amazingly handsome, incredibly sexy, phenomenally intelligent, immensely gifted individual.  And it goes without saying, tremendously humble to boot!  But I will grudgingly admit that I have no business sense.

I often come across businesses and business models that seem to me, doomed for disaster.  Yet to my surprise, they turn out to be mega successes.

For example, I wondered what silly company chooses a logo of a partly eaten apple to represent it!  And how could some Mickey Mouse outfit make it big in the cut throat world of movie making?  And Hello Kitty, what is that weird merchandising blockbuster – is it a cat, is it a girl, why are people buying that thing?  Why are shops like “Hush Puppies” and “Nose” selling shoes and not puppies or nose-thingeys?

Yup, I just don’t have a mind for business.  And here is another example that confounds me……

I recently went to a store and since they refused to pay me anything for writing about them, I will just call them “Brand X”.  I wanted a particular shirt but they did not have it in my size.  I asked if any of their other outlets had the item in my size and they checked.

Apparently, none of the local outlets had the item but the helpful sales clerk pointed out that it was available from Brand X’s online shop.  Great! He even helped me put in the online order.  So far, exemplary service.  Then it starts to get weird.

He asked for my address so that it could be delivered to my home.  However, as I am usually not at home when such deliveries are made, and I had bad experiences in the past when packages ended up not being delivered.  So I asked him if the item could be delivered to the shop and I could pick it up.

He said that regrettably, the shop only gets delivery of items monthly and if I chose for that arrangement, my item will only be included in next month’s delivery.

“Well, that won’t do” I said.

He then offered me an alternative.  He told me that “Brand X” has an arrangement with a local pharmacy chain where items can be sent by “Brand X”  to any of their pharmacies, as selected by the buyer, for pick up within 24 hours.

And so, I selected the pharmacy and less than 24 hours later, I picked up my item from the pharmacy………….WHICH HAPPENS TO BE NEXT DOOR TO THE BRAND X STORE!

As I said, I just don’t have the mind to wrap around modern business practices.

The Ending


I recently attended a wake for an 89 year old woman from my neighborhood.  I did not really know her but once I happened to be on hand when she had a blackout in the street and I had accompanied her to hospital.  She spoke no English and my very poor Mandarin meant our communication was very limited.

She was often seen walking around the neighborhood, going to the shops for her meals.  She had no children, her husband passed on quite some time ago and she had long outlived the rest of her immediate family.  Some of her distant family had taken care of her out of family obligation but it was an uneasy arrangement and something of a burden to them.  It is said that she was  difficult, cranky and hard to like but I wouldn’t really know.

Then her health failed and she spent her last two years at a facility for the elderly where she had few visitors.

At her wake, there was no one who had a memory or a story to share.  No one wanted to give an eulogy.  Those that attended seem to be just going through the motions.  The minister leading the service had a real difficult time.

On the coffin was a picture of her in her youth.  She was a beauty.  I reflected on how it must have seen to her when her picture was taken that the adventure of life still lay before her.  What dreams she must have had, what hopes. I sat there at the wake feeling really sad at how at the end, she was being sent off, not by loved ones but by those who hardly knew her or those that did not particularly care.  But the worse was yet to come.

The wake service was being held in a building adjacent to the crematorium.  Actually it was more like a shelter with a roof but open on three sides.  As the minister led us to sing a final hymn, a stray dog came in and before our unbelieving eyes, peed on the pedestal on which the coffin lay.

We were all stunned.  It was like the world gave a final insult.

Like the minister shared, our hope is that she is  in a better place now where she is enjoying the love and care of her Creator.

I found the whole thing quite unsettling.  I realise that the reality is that for many, the final years may be ones stripped of dignity.  It is sobering to know that “there but the grace of God go I”.  But it also reminds us to be thankful for every loved one and friend that we have and to treasure them like jewels.

Viewing the World Through the Observation of Squirrels