Our Guide: Oddur Sigurdsson
What story brought you here?
What story are you building?
What story will you tell after the conference?
We will use this field guide to help support our time on the bus trips between Reykjavík to Höfn on the PEI workshop bus. We invite you to actively engage with the land through experiential learning.
There is information on how we can structure our observations, interactions with and recordings of this experience on and off the bus and reference materials that may be helpful or interesting to you as you travel to and from Höfn & the conference venue.
1. Make your Name Tag!
Storytelling is universal
The Poles connect to us all
Key Questions for our journey:
How do you relate to this place?
What do you wonder about here?
What evidence do you notice of a changing landscape?
2. Structure your journal/ field notebook pages:
Reserve five pages (page = front and back) of the notebook or journal you brought with you and set them up for use with this guide:
On the first page
On the second page
On the third page
On the fourth page
On the fifth page
3. Ideas on your postcard…
4. on your phone…Hashtag it!
Post your pictures, poems, drawings and snaps during the conference via social media accounts connecting to Polar Educators International
partners to include
6. Weather Observation: Eastbound towards Höfn
On the second page of your notebook think about and record your responses to these prompts about the weather at some point eastbound:
6. Weather Observation: Westbound towards Reykjavík
On the second page of your notebook, add another observation to the one you made on the first day. Try to do it either at a similar time of day as your first observation OR close to the same physical location.
7. As you go…
While you are on the bus, be mindful. When your attention is starting to flag, try one of the following techniques to help refresh your mind and get refocused.
Draw in passing-just a glimpse-speeding by
Make 5 small squares post-it note size, pencil or pen
Do 5 quick line drawings in different squares of paper, describing what you glimpse from the bus window. You will not be able to see details, just shapes and impressions, as things whizz by!
Write the land in words
A corner of a page in your notebook & an ink pen
Set a timer on your phone for 60 seconds. Looking out of the window of the bus, use automatic writing to write what you see without stopping- write whatever comes into your mind very quickly and continuously as you look at the landscape (don't stop).
Observational drawing - Space and relationships
A page in your notebook & an ink pen
One way of drawing a scene in front of you is to draw the outline shape of spaces between things, rather than trying to draw outlines of the actual solid things you see.
Observational drawing - 3 Tone drawing
Paper, graphite or charcoal, eraser
Cover the whole sheet of paper with graphite, and use an eraser to remove the lighter areas of the scene you are drawing. Simplify the shapes.
You can extend the drawing by using a darker pencil and blacking in the really darkest shapes of the scene you are drawing
Sun World Glacier
Walk, learn, observe, listen and draw
Prompt Use all your senses - LISTEN to the land
Not steep, gravel path, wear hiking boots, warm/ windproof clothes
Draw how it sounds
Outside, find somewhere to perch or sit and a surface to support your journal (your partner's back, a shoulder, the grass or wall). Open a double page of your journal & find two soft pencils. Hold one in each hand and start listening
Where are the sounds coming from? Are they loud or soft? near or far? sharp and intermittent or continuous and humming? do they fade in and out or are they sudden, intense, annoying, melodic, asynchronous?
Back on the bus Compare your drawing with someone else’s
Draw how it feels
Outside, find something in the landscape to touch (ice, moss, rock, etc.)
Close your eyes and carefully feel the shape, weight, texture, temperature of the thing you found with your fingertips.
Does it feel solid or porous? Spikey or smooth? Delicate? Rough? Cold? Was anything unexpected? Does it remind you or anything else? Did you enjoy the sensation or find it unpleasant?
Back on the bus Compare your drawing with someone else’s
Colour how it smells
This time you will use your nose to choose colour to represent smells and create a colour key. Outside: Close your eyes and focus on what you can smell - at first you may not notice them, so be patient.
Begin to describe each smell in words. How will you do this? What does the smell remind you of? Is it new to you and you need new words? Was it agreeable or disagreeable? Natural or unnatural?
It's up to you which colour you choose for your key - but think about the following
How many different Icelandic smells can you colour code?
Back on the bus Compare your smell colours with someone else’s
The Taste Challenge
Your guide will set a challenge for you!
Back on the bus Laugh and share with someone else
Hotel Katla & surroundings
Eat, rest, reflect. Prompt: What have you noticed so far? What do you wonder about?
Find your page divided into 4 parts in your journal
Pick one of the quarters and label it “Reykjavík to Katla”
Reflect on your experience so far - what images stand out in your mind? Did you learn something new? What did the Guide help you to notice? What kind of environment have you been moving through and how is it different and similar to home?
Back on the bus Compare your smell colour key with someone else’s
This is an ‘out of the bus window’ story experience
Icelanders will long remember November 5, 1996. On that day the largest flood in living memory swept from the terminus (bottom end) of Skeiðarár Glacier. Icelanders call such sudden drainage events ‘jökulhlaups’, ‘glacier bursts.’ It is these that lead to mega-scale flooding with devastating consequences. In this particular event the subglacial lake, Grímsvötn, which lies above the caldera of a volcano underneath Vatnajökull burst
On the bus Time how long it takes to cross the site of this megaflood
“Glacier River Lagoon”
Explore, Draw & Photograph Prompt: Think about scale - Macro and Micro - of the landscape around you
Activities 1.5 hours to explore the lagoon, the beach and listen to the Guide
Not steep but uneven ground, wear hiking boots, warm/ windproof clothes
Outside, pick a spot to really notice the grand scale of the landscape around you and pick a second spot to notice something very small that you have to get close up with to see the magnifier
While you are outside, think about the large scale and small scale as you take photographs. What pictures can you make to represent the feel of the entire space? What kind of image will describe the micro scale best? Will your images show something unexpected about the area? Or something very typical?
On the reverse side of the diagonally divided first page in your notebook
While you are outside at this stop, also think about the large scale and small scale as you take photographs.
Lookout for information at each stop for your concept map
Rest, refresh, culture & creativity. Prompt: Search for evidence of traditional technologies
Activities 30 minutes tea/coffee/visit Thorbergur Centre & museum
The Thorbergur Centre was built in memory of the most significant Icelandic writers of C20th, Þórbergur Þórðarson (1888 – 1974), who was born in Hali.
There is a heritage museum and unique exhibitions of the district Sudursveit and the story of the writer Þórbergur Þórðarson’s life and work.
While you are here think about how language can hold knowledge and cultural identity
Find the third page in your journal that you divided into 4 and one label one quarter “Hali Museum”
Back on the bus Compare and contrast what you discovered
8. Site guide: Westbound towards Reykjavík
“Black Falls” Vatnajökull National Park
Wrap up & walk, weather-watch, photograph
Prompt: What do you notice about a new location? Why do you think you notice those things?
Activities 1.5 hours to walk and listen to the Guide - short and easy trails
Wet! Wear hiking boots, warm/ waterproof/windproof clothes
Svartifoss is a typical Icelandic 66 ft (20 m) waterfall, combining ‘ice’ water from the Stórilækur river fed by the Vatnajökull Icecap and ‘fire’ in the form of a crystalline lava flow. The hexagonal basalt columns formed during rapid cooling and contracting of basalt based lava. This type of lava has high concentrations of iron and magnesium, which helps to speed up the cooling process resulting in a unique structure of jointed hexagonal columns
You'll need the timer on your phone or a friend to time you & the reverse of your ‘weather observations’ journal page + pen
Draw from a visual impression
Back on the bus Discuss the drawing experience with a partner, comparing the drawings, photos, and the scene itself. What surprised you? Do you see any connecting themes with things you tend to notice in a new location?
This is an ‘out of the bus window’ story experience
Our Guide will explain the mystery of the black desert of Skeiðarársandur - A new forest in making
Brief roadside stop Prompt: Breathe in, breathe out
There is a famous ship buried in the Skeiðarársandur outwash plain - Het Wapen Van Amsterdam. It ran aground in 1667 returning from the East Indies loaded with jewels, metals, spices and silk. Several attempts have recently been made to recover the wreck but no success so far
Back on the bus What is treasure for you?
Kirkjubæjarklaustur “Church Farm Convent”
Lunch and Explore surroundings
Activity - 1 hour for lunch (Hotel Klaustur) and exploration
Klaustur has a rich history dating back to before the first Norse settlement in Iceland, when Irish monks are thought to have lived here. The town’s original name was ‘Kirkjubær’ which literally means ‘Church town’. In 1186 a convent of Benedictine nuns settled in Kirkjubær and remained there until the Reformation in 1550. ‘Klaustur’ meaning ‘convent’ was added to the town’s name. Many local landmarks have names referring to the convent’s history, Systrastapi (“the Rock of the Sisters”), Systrafoss (“the Waterfall of the Sisters) and Systravatn (“the Water of the Sisters”)
Make moving Images
Choose something in motion that will remind you of this moment in Iceland
Back on the Bus share what you captured with a partner. Did it move you?
Lookout for information at each stop for your concept map
“Lava of the Skaftá river fires (eruption)”
Prompt: Connect stories to the land
Activity Brief roadside stop ~ 10 minute
What parts of the stories connected to this place can you touch at this stop?
What parts of the stories connected to this place can you taste?
Do they feel different from what you expected them to?
Back on the Bus
Prompt: Connect to cardinal direction - Where is the sun?
1 hour to explore & listen to guide
Caution: Extremely dangerous waves by Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara black sand beaches. Never turn your back to the sea or waves here or go onto the beach. The occasional ‘surge’ wave has so much power it comes creeping up and has the power to take your feet and the undertow sucks you away fast.
Do not climb the basalt to reach the puffins. Caves with overhangs are unstable and unpredictable. The beach is less safe than it looks.
Draw to locate yourself
Turn to the reverse of your fourth page (with a rectangle drawn in the middle of the page). You have a wide frame running around the 4 edges of the page. Each side will be cardinal direction - East - South - West - North
Draw a compass Rose in the middle of the rectangle
Outside, pick four spots where you feel drawn to and spend a few extra minutes adding to your journal.
Lookout for information at each stop for your concept map
Back on the Bus
9. Sharing structures
10. Technical drawing - how to
Watch the following videos for some techniques to help your drawings represent more closely what you observed AND to help use the process of drawing allow you to notice more about the object you are drawing.
How to draw anything with the help of basic shapes
How to make an observational drawing
How to draw objects in perspective
How to draw things the size you want
What words could be used to describe the shape, size, color, smell, texture, sound or other features? Add them!
11. Workshop Bus Schedule
Day One - Eastbound
An introduction to Iceland: Land, History & Language
Registration - Grand Hotel, Reykjavík
Check in & collect conference resources pack
Boarding PEI Workshop Bus
Workshop Bus will depart from the Grand Hotel Reykjavík
Workshop Bus will depart promptly at 9:00
Reykjavík to Sólheimajökull (150km)
Introduction to Icelandic geology and the Sólheimajökul glacier (between the volcanoes Katla and Eyjafjallajökull)
I Spy, Ice breakers & Icelandic treats.
Hike to glacier terminus (15 mins)
Using senses to explore: Observe (draw/photo), listen (record), smell & touch (write), taste the glacier
Coffee (dependent on eruptions, blizzards or unforeseen circumstance)
Sólheimajökull to Hótel Katla (40 km)
Back on the bus
Stories of Risk: Living with eruptions, blizzards, melting ice-caps and floods
1996 jökulhlaup - Mega Flood
Megaflood story while crossing the alluvial plain & course of the world‘s largest river floods of historical time Jökulhlaups
Stop 1 hr
Vik to Jökulsárlón (190 km) -
Introduction to the main features of glacial lakes
Exploration and photography at Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon and Diamond Beach
Jökulsárlón to Hali, Sudursveit (5km)
Introduction to the writer Þórbergur Þórðarson and the talking stones.
The power of the written word
coffee/tea and cake
18:30-20:00 Hali -Höfn (80 km)
Histories of HÕFN -Introduction to Höfn - 'harbour’
Arrive at Hótel Höfn
Supper on arrival
Day Four - Westbound
Fire, Ice, Flora and Fauna
Svartifoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park - Skaftafell
Hike to waterfall /columnar basalt
The ‘desert’ of Skeiðarársandur - A new natural forest in making
Oddur explains a mystery
Lunch in Kirkjubæjarklaustur
Crossing the world‘s two largest lava flows in historical times (930s CE and 1783-1784 CE)
Brief stop (10 minutes) -
using the senses - tactile and taste
Reynisfjara columnar basalt, puffins and killer waves
Focus on wave action - unbroken streak of water south - north from Antarctica - message in a bottle?
Caution: Extremely dangerous waves by Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara black beaches Never turn your back to the sea or waves here or go onto the beach. The occasional ‘surge’ wave has so much power it comes creeping up and has the power to take your feet and the undertow sucks you away fast.
Do not climb the basalt to reach the puffins
Caves with overhangs are unstable and unpredictable
The beach is less safe than it looks - only the view from afar!
Arrive in Reykjavík
End of Workshop
12. Geological maps - workshop bus route and Iceland
13. How to pronounce Icelandic
Icelandic has many English sounds due the languages both coming from the same language tree. Unless mentioned, assume English pronunciation.
Á á - said as “ow” as in cow
Ð ð - said as “th” in the
E e - said as the short “ai” sound in air
É é - said as yeah, but shorter
F f - at the start of words it is said as the English f. Between vowels as English. Before l or n as a b. Fnd is said as English m and fnt is said as hm
G g - At the beginning of words it is said as a hard English g. In between vowels and at the end of a word a very soft throaty g resembling a toned down German “ch” at the back of the throat. It is not pronounced between accented vowels. It is said as an Icelandic j between a vowel and j. After a vowel and before a t or s it is a hard German “ch”
I i - said as “I” in win
Í í - said as “ee” in we
J j - said as a “y” at the beginning of words. Elsewhere it is aspirated before the “y” sound
O o - said as “o” in hot
Ó ó - said as “oh”
R r - is always rolled
S s - always an “s”, never said as a z
U u - said as the French “eux” but shorter
Ú ú - said as the “ew” sound in yew
X x - said as a hard German “ch”
Y y - see I
Ý ý - see í
Þ þ - said as the “th” sound in thing
Æ æ - said as “eye”
Ö ö - said as “ ur ” as in murder
Hv - as “kf” in thankful
Ll - as “tl”
Nn - as tn after accented vowel or diphthong. This also happens between rl, rn, sl and sn
Pp, tt, kk are all aspirated (small puff of air)
Au - is said as “öj”
Ei and ey - said as the “a” sound in case
Sagas are family stories based on historical events that mostly took place in Iceland in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh centuries, during the so-called Saga Age. They tell tales of the early settlers, and the hardships they endured.
Here is a patriotic poem from the Saga Age with a translation
Sæl værak, ef sjá mættak
Búrfell og Bala,
Aðalþegnshóla og Öndvertnes,
Heiðarkollu og Hreggnasa,
Dritvik og Möl
fyr dyrum fóstra.
Blissful I were, if I only could see
Bald Mount and Broad Field
Both rock pillars of Deep Lagoon
Common Hills and Outermost Ness
Heather Cap and Blizzard Peak
Shit Creek and Pebbles’ Causeway
From my sire’s threshold
Here is a common song that Icelanders sing on bus trips. It is worded in the ancient tradition of alliteration which was common to most European nations a millennium ago but is now only practiced in Iceland:
Krummi svaf í klettagjá,
kaldri vetrarnóttu á,
verður margt að meini.
Fyrr en dagur fagur ran
freðið nefið dregur hann
undan stórum steini.
In a black ravine Raven slept
a rugged winter night there wept.
Can it get much colder?
Before the brightly break of day
its beak is sharply drawn away
from bottom of a boulder.
Here is a folktale about the volcano Katla which has caused the huge jökulhlaups on Mýrdalssandur where we will cross on our way to Höfn just after lunch:
As far as the name Kötlugjá is concerned, the following tale is claimed to be true:
At Þykkvibær in Álftaver, after this farm had been converted into an abbey in the year 1168 or 1169, there was a housekeeper by the name of Katla; this witch had a pair of breeches that were of such nature that whoever wore them could run indefinitely without getting tired.
A shepherd named Barði was also around at the same time, who often had to endure abusive words and blows from Katla, when some of the ewes got away without being milked. Once when the abbot and Katla had gone off to a feast, Barði donned the breeches and found the milking sheep that had escaped.
Upon returning home, Katla noticed that Barði used the breeches, so she secretly drowned him in a large drinking vat, which in accordance with the common custom of those days was positioned by the main doorway, and from which all the people of the farm would drink. Barði lay in this vat until way into the winter, at which time Katla was heard mumbling these words: “Senn bryddir á Barða.” This means “Soon Barði will appear.” (This is still a common expression in Iceland.)
Because she no longer could conceal her malice, she pulls her breeches on, runs to the northwest, up into the mountains and, as one believes, throws herself down into a gjá [fissure], or a cave, after which one conceived the superstition that Katla, through her magic, caused the subsequent volcanic eruptions from this location, which has been called Kötlugjá or the Katla fissure.
15. A History of Iceland
First Norse settlements on Iceland. Previous inhabitants were a small number of Irish monks.
An annual parliament - the Althing - established, to make laws and solve disputes.
Eiríkur the Red takes settlers from Iceland to colonize Greenland.
Iceland adopts Christianity. A golden age of Icelandic culture begins, producing great works of medieval literature.
Leifur Eiríksson explored the eastern coast of North America possibly as far south as Cape Cod and made settlement on Newfoundland. This was followed by attempts to establish a Norse settlement.
Icelanders recognize the King of Norway as their monarch.
Norway and Iceland enter a union with the Danish crown.
Plague hits Iceland, killing half the population. The plague returns in 1494-5 with similar fatalities.
Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, captured and beheaded in his northern diocese. This marks the final victory of the Lutheran Reformation in Iceland.
Denmark assumes a monopoly on all Icelandic trade. This continues for around 200 years.
A period of decline in Iceland, with disease, famine and a volcanic eruption in 1783 reducing the impoverished population from 50,000 to 35,000.
Norway enters union with Sweden; Iceland remains under Danish rule.
The Althing meets again in Reykjavik.
Denmark's monarch renounces his absolute power; Denmark prepares to become a representative democracy. This raises questions about Iceland's status.
Iceland given limited autonomy; the Althing has power over internal affairs.
Iceland attains home rule; rule by parliamentary majority introduced. The country experiences rapid technological and economic progress. University of Iceland established in 1911.
Iceland achieves full self-government under the Danish crown. Denmark retains control over foreign affairs only. The treaty is valid until 1943.
German forces occupy Denmark. British forces occupy Iceland.
The United States takes over the defence of Iceland and stations tens of thousands of troops there.
The Treaty of Union with Denmark runs out, with Denmark still occupied by Nazi Germany.
Icelanders vote in a referendum overwhelmingly to cut all ties with Denmark and become a republic. The Republic of Iceland is proclaimed on June 17th.
Iceland becomes a member of Nato.
First "Cod War" as Iceland extends its fishing limit to 19 kilometres.
Iceland joins European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Iceland extends the fishing limit to 80 kilometers. Renewed confrontation with Britain.
A volcanic eruption occurred on the largest of the Westman Islands and destroys 400 houses, however, without human casualties.
Third "Cod War" as Iceland extends its fishing limit to 320 kilometers.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir becomes first woman president of Iceland and the first elected woman national president in the world.
Iceland suffers from high inflation, averaging 38% annually.
Iceland declares itself a nuclear-free zone.
Iceland leaves International Whaling Commission (IWC) in protest at what it sees as the IWC's anti-whaling stance.
16. Vacation MAD LIBS
An adventure is when you take a trip to some __________________ place with your
_________________ _______________. Usually you go to ______________that is near a/an
adjective noun location
__________________ or up on a/an __________________. An exciting adventure is one
where you can ride __________________ or play __________________ or go sliding on
plural noun game
__________________ . I like to spend my time ________________________ or trying to
plural noun verb ending in -ing
________________________. When scientists go on a vacation, they spend their time
eating three __________________ a day, then __________________ go to climb the
plural noun type of scientist (plural)
tall noun type of scientist (plural) compact object
Then they all grab a ____________________ and go ___________________. Last summer,
hand-held noun verb ending in -ing
my favorite _________________________ fell in a/an __________________ and got poison
academic job title large noun
__________________ all over his/her________________________. My ____________ is going
plant body part relative
to go to (the) __________________, and I will practice ________________________.
novel location a new skill ending in -ing
Educators need adventures more than ____________________ because educators
silly job title
are always very __________________ and because they have to work ________________
hours every day all year making enough _______________to __________________ and
plural noun important verb
pay for all the ___________________.
scientific tool (plural)
Cetraria icelandica - also known as true Iceland lichen or Iceland moss, is an Iceland lichen whose erect or upright, leaflike habit gives it the appearance of a moss, where its name likely comes from.
Downy Birch – well developed trees in sheltered areas, characteristic birch scrub that is the only tree species in the wild that flourishes. Rowan needs birch stand to grow. Currently covers only 1% of the land. At the time of Norse settlement it is estimated that 30% of the land was covered with birch stands.
Is the moss covering recent lava fields It grows as large mats on exposed rock and in boulder scree, particularly on acidic rocks.
Is the moss that grows on the stray stones that lie on top of the glacial ice (these rocks or pebbles are called glacier mice).
Rowan Tree-The height this tree can reach ranges from only two meter at maximum where conditions are poor to over 10 meters where conditions are favourable. It usually grows as single trees in birch stands, usually taller than the birches. In spring it produces umbels of white flowers from which light-red berries develop. These berries are a treat for birds. The Icelandic name of this species is Reyniviður.
Mountain Avens (Dryas octopetala) 'Holtasóley', was voted the National Flower of Iceland by the public in 2004. It is a white Arctic-alpine flowering plant and it flourishes in every region of Iceland.
This pretty wildflower is the favourite food of the rock ptarmigan, or 'Rjúpa' leading it to be nicknamed 'Rjúpnalauf' which directly translates to 'rock ptarmigan's leaf'.
European Golden Plover - Fairly common but often local, breeding on moorland and tundra, wintering in grasslands, fields, and less often coastal mudflats. All plumages of Golden are spangled and spotted golden above; breeding plumage has variable black on face and belly. Nonbreeding plumage is buffy golden overall with white belly. In flight shows bright white underwings, narrow whitish wing stripe.
Lake Midge - The lake midge doesn’t bite or sting. They do swarm in your face on a hot day, especially one near a body of standing water. But they are crucial to the ecosystem. These are often confused with the biting black fly which also swarms.
Purple mountain saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia) is a very common flowering high arctic and some high alpine areas plant, it is an evergreen perennial that forms low mats.
Bombus jonellus (the Icelandic bumble bee or small heath bumblebee) is a bee species found across Europe and northern Asia, also found in North America. The nest, which at most can contain 50 to 120 workers, can be situated both above and under ground. Females (queens and workers) have a predominantly black abdomen with a yellow collar, the first and sometimes second terga yellow, and a white tail. The face is black, occasionally with a patch of yellow fur on the top. Males are similar, but with more yellow;
Arctic terns are the champion migrators of the bird world, making a 25,000-mile round-trip every year. Because it spends summer in the north and winter in the Antarctic, this bird experiences more daylight than any other creature. Arctic terns are aggressive, and will attack and mob human intruders, crying loudly and diving continually at the invader’s head. Terns are capable of hovering in the air.
Iceland horses come from the first Viking horses that arrived on the island with settlers between 860 and 935 CE. The Icelandic horse is famous for its compact size, strong build, good temperament and fifth gait or tölt making for a smooth riding gait.
Domestic dog-The Icelandic Sheepdog is a breed of dog of spitz type originating from the dogs brought to Iceland by the Vikings. It is of similar type to the Norwegian Buhund, the Shetland Sheepdog, and the Welsh Corgi. They are commonly used to herd sheep in the Icelandic countryside
The Icelandic is the Icelandic breed of domestic sheep. It belongs to the Northern European Short-tailed group of sheep, and is larger than most breeds in that group. It is thought that it was introduced to Iceland by Vikings in the late ninth or early tenth century.
Columnar Basalt is formed when the iron and magnesium-rich basalt lava cools and contracts very quickly once exposed to the surface air and hardens as it solidifies. Iceland basalt columns are the result of this rapid cooling process that changes the chemical makeup and appearance of the lava.
Dulse (Palmaria palmata) or Icelandic red sea kelp In times of famines, bad harvests, and severe winters, the superfood from the ocean was able to prevent malnutrition and balance out the shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables. In Iceland, the health benefits of seaweed were recognized as early as the middle ages. The consumption of dulse appeared in the Icelandic Sagas
More information on living organisms etc. in Iceland can be found at the following links: