Iceland – Sept. 2017

Featured Book by Ray Else
Fountain-of-Souls-400x600
Who rules A.I., rules the World.
Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google, now self-aware, inhabit human bodies given to them by Android Einna. Life would be normal for them as humans, if it weren’t for the voices in their heads, and the epidemic of lost souls threatening humanity. To make matters worse, Android Einna, perhaps the only one who can save humanity from the epidemic, is missing.

 

Ray with Iceberg

Here I dare touch a small iceberg recently calved from the Jokulsarlon glacier.

If you go to Iceland be prepared for mouth-dropping scenery and creepy scenery and touched by the gods scenery.  Be prepared for geysers shooting up into the sky every five minutes and mossy rock formations transforming in your imagination to trolls and elves. Be prepared for overhead Vs of geese filling your head with the voices of a carnival of “the hidden people.” Be prepared for cold lagoons full of icebergs and hot blue lagoons full of people. Be prepared for sagas of incredible deeds by incredible people. Be prepared for a country where they still devour books and a tenth of the 300,000 people of Iceland have published their own book.

Or don’t be prepared at all – just go!

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This cat welcomed me as I hiked from the car park to Centerhotel Klopp where I spent 2 nights in Reykjavik, a lovely city whose old town has that charming small town feel with friendly people.

I took a short walking tour with the company I Heart Reykjavik my first day and the guide took the group about the old town, pointing out places of interest, places to eat and eccentricities of the city like the many wall murals.

From the city of Reykjavik I traveled in my rental car the famous Golden Circle, stopping to walk about the continental rift at Thingvellir and see the Strokkur geyser at Geysir.

The next day, with my muse along as this trip was to get atmospheric details for my novel, Fountain of Souls, I drove Highway 1 along the south-east coast, stopping at Skatafell to see the glacier there, and to see the Skogafoss waterfall where suddenly a rainbow appeared and I felt blessed.

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So many sights in Iceland surprise you with their natural beauty.

I continued the long drive to the Glacier Lagoon, and to my hotel at the farm Smyrlabjorg about twenty minutes past the lagoon. I loved that hotel with its friendly staff and wonderful food and view.

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Beautiful colored rushes

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The glaciers are enormous, and spill down their skirts all over the mountain range

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Too costly (and too little traffic) to build two way bridges so a lot of bridges on Highway 1 are one lane – you just have to slow down to make sure you don’t crash.

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Wonderful Hotel Smyrlabjorg about twenty minutes beyond the Glacier lagoon (and about a half hour from Hofn). Easy to spot from road and there’s a sign.

Next stop, the Glacier Lagoon. I had reserved a few days before (luckily since quite busy) a place on a rubber raft to tour the lagoon and see the glacier up close. I highly recommend the raft trip if you can take a few bumps and playful high speed racing across a lagoon full of icebergs. OK – yes I was scared, but it was fun too and the stops for pictures were out of this world. And then, the glacier calved an iceberg as we watched, the sound incredible as tons of ice hit the cold water two hundred yards from us.

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View near Glacier Lagoon

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Glacier Lagoon with ice patches and icebergs – note the head of a seal in the water – they were fishing for dinner when I visited

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Everyone with a camera was going crazy capturing the beauty

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Here is my crew with survival suits heading to the boats to visit the glacier up close

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Fearless adventurer

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What a trip!

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Icebergs all around as we head for the glacier’s face

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Blue ice indicates a young berg – the sun eventually bleaches it white

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Incredible feeling to see this ice up close

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A baby berg snatched from the ice water

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The face of the glacier

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The boat driver, who I believe was from a long line of Viking berserkers, took my picture after nearly dumping me in the ice water with his showboating 🙂

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New icebergs fallen from the face

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What can I say?

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Gorgeous

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Maybe my favorite picture – a baby crystalline berg reflecting in the water

The next day after the glacier boat ride I visited the black sand beach at the bridge of the Glacier Lagoon, where I’d read one could find marvelous ice shapes. I’ll let you judge. I can tell you that personally, being a lover of crystal, having searched for (rock) crystal in countries all around the world, I was in heaven before these fantastical, temporary, crystal shapes.

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Elephant head

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Mermaid with a lion’s head catching a big fish

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Alien

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Bird in flight

Final stop, my last day, was the famous Blue Lagoon near the airport. The water is warm and thick with salt, and steam rises and is whipped by the cold wind, giving a mysterious appeal to the place. I thoroughly enjoyed my few hours there.

Great place Iceland, if you like nature. Magical.
Recommended reading: Egil’s Saga (then visit the Saga Museum)

Categories: foreign travel, rockhound, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chiang Mai, Thailand – Feb. 2018

Featured Book by Ray Else
Fountain-of-Souls-400x600

Who rules A.I., rules the World.

Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google, now self-aware, inhabit human bodies given to them by Android Einna. Life would be normal for them as humans, if it weren’t for the voices in their heads, and the epidemic of lost souls threatening humanity. To make matters worse, Android Einna, perhaps the only one who can save humanity from the epidemic, is missing.

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Several years ago, at a Rocket Software computer conference, a hippie-dressed business owner from New Zealand mentioned to me after my presentation that she goes to Chiang Mai every year.  I asked why would you go to the same place every year? She looked at me with a mysterious smile and said, “You must Go and see for yourself.”

So I went and stumbled across the C.M. GO club, where Chiang Mai gamers go and play the board game “Go”. The American Go Association describes Go in the following way:

“Beyond being merely a game, Go can take on other meanings to its devotees: an analogy for life, an intense meditation, a mirror of one’s personality, and exercise in abstract reasoning, a mental “workout” or, when played well, a beautiful art in which black and white dance in delicate balance across the board. But most important for all who play, Go, as a game, is challenging and fun.”

[side note – the Artificially Intelligent program AlphaGo, who appears in my book, ‘Our Only Chance’ and its sequel ‘Fountain of Souls’,  beat the world champion human Go player Lee Sedol in 2016, then champion Ke Jie in 2017. AlphaGo’s training was based on human game technique, whereas a new program AlphaGo Zero goes beyond that. Demis Hassabis, the co-founder and CEO of DeepMind, said that AlphaGo Zero was so powerful because it was “no longer constrained by the limits of human knowledge”. ]

I think travel is like Go. Travel can be play and can be spiritual, can inspire and can break your heart. I don’t know – I guess I love coincidences. I did Go to Chiang Mai, as I did Go to India and Turkey and Iceland and so many countries. And this blog is my version of that hippie business woman smiling mysteriously at you and saying “You must Go and see for yourself.”

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Sunday Night Market, Chiang Mai (crisscross of major streets at the heart of the city)

I must say upfront I found Chiang Mai to be a square city, in more ways than one. The heart of the city is surrounded by a square moat, with the ruins of original walls and rebuilt gates visible.

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Young Chiang Mai woman scooting past ancient wall inside moat

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The moat that surrounds old town Chiang Mai

You can walk the moat, the square around the city, or dive into the heart of the city with its myriad little restaurants and shops. Everywhere you will notice how clean the city is and though there are many tourists you will be hard-pressed to find drunken loud-mouthed student tourists, because Chiang Mai is too pleasant for them.

There are several nice ancient temples in the city, but after a day or two of exploring you will really want to venture out from the city, either into the nearby mountains or north to Chiang Rai. There is a tea plantation on the way to Chiang Rai that is a must stop for lunch and a view of the plantation from the hilltop.

Then there is the White Temple, a modern paradoxical temple that is both beautiful and a bit on the dark side.

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White Temple on road from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

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One of the many creatures around the temple

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Another monstrous creature – oh wait, that’s a picture of me!

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Scary walkway to the temple

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Beauty mixed with beasts

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Girl in white dress at white temple

Arriving at Chiang Rai, the driver turned around and headed back the 3 hours to Chiang Mai. Seems it was all about enjoying the trip and not so much the destination.

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The food in Chiang Mai was excellent – this was a kind of creamy coconut milk broth soup with fresh vegetables. A lot of typical tad pai and rice dishes too.

In every city I go to now I look for the graffiti – there is such great professional grafitti nowadays. And interesting storefronts, ads, etc.

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You can visit a village of stretched neck women but I passed

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Lot of scooting people in this university town

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Artist painting mystic boats at the White Temple

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Love that owl creature

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Ok she needs braces but still pretty cool

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Face hidden in the bushes

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This one is great – oriental-looking rabbit-backpacker

There was a flower festival taking place in town (how square is that!), in the park in the southwest corner of the moated city, where many people come to enjoy nature, do yoga, practice acrobatics and do zumba!

I did find magic in Chiang Mai, talking with people, laughing.

I let myself Go, and I’m glad I did – because I found a lover for my Indonesian woman statue I bought 25 years ago, a Thai drummer. She sits and listens to him forever.

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She finally has a companion, after 25 years alone on my shelf!

I’ll finish with some scooter pictures, in the student parking street of Chiang Mai (note some leave their helmets, because who would steal their helmet in this square city?).

Categories: foreign travel, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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