How I packed my bags in 14 days and moved to Iceland for six months as a European Solidarity Corps volunteer.
I never in my life imagined that I would pack my bags in 14 days at the age of 22, and cross the Atlantic Ocean to move to an island in the north Atlantic, located between Greenland and the British Isles, alone. To top it all off, it all happened during the coronavirus pandemic, with all the restrictions and changes that occurred on a daily basis. But that was exactly what I did. I followed my soul’s calling. I went on an adventure that would help me better understand the whole life journey, both the professional and personal part of it. I opened the mail from Hostelling International Slovenia in mid-April (frankly, I was subscribed to their notifications, but hadn’t opened a single mail until then). A photo of Iceland. An opportunity to become a volunteer in the area of sustainable tourism and the promotion of awareness of sustainable way of life. I felt goose pimples all over my body. That moment, when you know you’ve got an opportunity you mustn’t miss. The one that makes you connect with and really feel your soul, so that you say to yourself: “This is it, this is my top choice!” All the pieces fall into place.
I’m finishing my ecotechnology and environmental protection studies. I’ve also been active in the field for seven years. In early May, I signed a volunteer agreement with the global organisation that is Arctic Angels and became the Slovenian representative. Together with 28 young women from all over the world and with the support of world-famous experts, I work in the field of promoting awareness of climate change, the importance of protecting the common good, the sustainable way of life and the importance of protecting the ice in the Arctic and Antarctica for the benefit of the whole planet.
Fast forward two months and I’m offered the opportunity to actively contribute in the field as an HI (Hostelling International) ECO promotor in Iceland! In one of the arctic countries! I’m also finishing my studies with a graduate thesis research, in which I’m writing a strategy of the implementation of the project in Slovenia. You can find more information about the project on Instagram and Facebook profiles.
A few days after I had sent my CV, I received an invitation to an interview, and a message the very next day, which said I was invited to the programme as an HI ECO ambassador. I immediately accepted the invitation. And so, everything unfolded. The coronavirus? Of course, some questions popped up and there were doubts and all the messages on official websites that said travelling was discouraged... Tests, permits, changing of flights? I’ve researched everything, did a PCR test the day before the flight and, with a mask on my face and a pile of certificates in my hand, embarked on an adventure. Alone. Just before the coronavirus measures started to relax. I was confident everything will run smoothly. And it did!
Before my departure, I registered my arrival to Iceland at covid.is and received a number for the PCR test that I had to take when I got to the airport in Keflavík. I checked the airport rules in Amsterdam, where I had to change flights, filled out all the necessary forms and made copies of them. I also checked the rules that were in effect for crossing the border in Croatia, since my journey started at the airport in Zagreb. Using a group transfer (I was the only passenger in the van), I, interestingly, crossed the border without a PCR-test and arrived in Zagreb. The airport was empty and reminded me of a ghost town. After six hours of waiting and sleeping on the cosy chairs of the café, I sat on the plane. I was relieved. I did it!
The first part was therefore a success. Well, but what about changing the flight in Amsterdam? How will I find the right gate at such a huge airport? Will two hours be enough? As soon as we got off the plane, we had to show our PCR-tests. But the documents that I had to fill out, as the website stated, weren’t even looked at. Oh, I was lucky because the flight for Iceland was at the same part of the airport – at the terminal D, so somewhere close by! Close by? Really? I was walking for 15 minutes until I found the right gate. But I did find it! I spend the rest of the time enjoying on the airports terrace, getting some fresh air, and then also enjoying the two hours or so that it took us to get to Iceland.
When I landed at the airport in Keflavík (on 11 May), I first had to show my negative PCR test, which had to be less than 72 hours old. All of us who landed with that plane had to get in a queue (respecting the 2-metre distance, of course) wearing masks and carrying our luggage. The customs officers checked out documents and PCR tests and then handed us vials for the new PCR test. They took samples from our noses and throats. We were handed a paper and the one I got said which quarantine hotel I was going to spend time in. The bus was waiting for us at the exit doors and we were directed to the right one. After a 30-minute ride, the bus stopped in front of a hotel in Reykjavik.
We were greeted by a very cheerful Red Cross representative who explained the quarantine rules to us and amused us with a few jokes. We left the bus in groups and we each got our own rooms.
I believe you can turn every situation into an interesting one. That’s what I did with my quarantine adventure. I spend a lot of my time outdoors each day. I prepped myself mentally for the fact that I’ll be deprived of that for five days and I took that as a challenge. I decided to relax and get some good night’s sleep, to spend time meditating and reflecting on the period behind me, and to write my bachelor’s thesis. I was allowed to go on a one-hour walk in the city twice. My first contact with Reykjavik was a “pandemic” one – I was wearing a mask and was trying to avoid the tourist attractions and areas with large groups of people, but I quickly felt and noticed how interesting the city was and that it was full of art.
The Red Cross staff at the hotel, the room and the meals – I can describe all that with one word and that is awesome! Each time the staff knocked on the door, I got excited because the quality of the meals was really great, even though I’m very demanding when it comes to food. I got wholesome vegan and gluten-free food (just as we agreed), and it was always delivered with a smile on the person’s face (even though hidden beneath the mask), followed by questions, such as “How are you feeling today? Is there anything you need?” and a short conversation that always left me smiling.
So, how was it? Interesting and fun. Fun??? Yes, because that was the choice I made – the choice to not complain, but rather find ways to feel good. I organised my own private party in my very own little quarantine room each day, listening to music and dancing. It really helps when you’re feeling trapped and a bit stiff. I had to get tested again after five days. The staff phoned me to my room to let me know that time the testing would take place at the hotel. I got the results in six hours in an app that I had to download (on 15 May).
Do you want to travel to Iceland? What are the options for travelling today?
All the latest info is available at www.covid.is/english
The most important information:
But since there’s a chance of you booking a flight to Iceland from neighbouring countries and you’ll most likely be changing flights, you should check the entry requirements for those countries and the airports where you’ll need to change your flight.
For accommodation, trips and car rental with the most environmentally conscious company (with ISO 140001 standard) you should definitely check HI Iceland’s website because the hostel network is spread over all of Iceland! The owners are locals and you can learn a lot from them, from culture and hostel stories to the life of the Icelanders. That way you’ll also take care of one aspect of sustainable travel, since you’ll be supporting local entrepreneurs! And when you’re at the HI Dalur hostel in Reykjavik, ask for the ECO ambassador, Veronika. I’ll happily share a piece of advice with you concerning travelling, or listen to you talk about your adventures.
TO THE ACTIVE VOLCANO, OF COURSE! It’s the most popular attraction in Iceland right now! The locals compete in how many times they’ve been there. Well, now I can also brag about it, since I’ve been there three times already.
I happened to run into a local and we exchanged a few words. I mentioned that I wanted to see the volcano up close, that I just came out of quarantine and that I needed some excerciiise, some natural environment and some fresh air. Already in three hours after my quarantine ended, I was on my way there. And the lesson? Don’t bite your tongue!
Never in my life had I thought that I’d see and experience the power of an active volcano. The walk took about an hour and a half. I now know that I was lucky to have been up close and witnessed an eruption every few minutes from a nearby mountain (the path is inaccessible now, as the mountain is surrounded by lava).
What power, the power of our Mother Earth! I was sitting up there in the mountain and I could feel the heat from the volcano that escalated with each eruption. And how mighty the sound was when the mountain prepared to spit more lava. And the sound of lava falling back on the ground. The red, shining colour of fresh lava that flows from the crater like a river. The smell of sulphur.
The grandeur of each eruption filled my heart with joy and endless gratefulness for the priceless experience!
And a few tips for the safety once you’re there: The poisonous gases are monitored each day. When the maximum levels are reached, the area is closed down. The same goes for bad weather. There are rescue teams there during the day, and if there’s anyone who doesn’t feel well, they can call any of the teams for help. Since the gas sticks to the ground level, dogs and children aren’t allowed to enter the area, and people with respiratory problems and pregnant women are also advised to keep away from the volcano. You should follow the marked path.
And a few facts about the volcano: Fagradalsfjall is a mountain that had been active during the last ice age and last erupted somewhere around 800 years ago. The whole area is part of a volcanic chain or a volcanic system. The volcano is located in an uninhabited area about 30km from Reykjavik. Seismic activities started in February 2021. More than 50,000 earthquakes and igneous material accumulation below the ground were recorded. The Icelanders were prepared for the eruption. The volcano erupted on 19 March.
According to the Institute of Earth Sciences in Iceland, the area that is now covered in lava measures about 4km2, and the volcano erupted almost 80 million cubic metres of lava (you could build a fence around the whole planet measuring two metres in height and one meter in width). Currently, no one can say how long the volcano will still be active.
Source: University of Iceland's Institute of Earth Sciences.