Every day, people dream of accomplishing amazing feats of physical strength or endurance: Climbing a mountain, winning Olympic gold, swimming across large bodies of water. Below is a list of the first people to accomplish some of those feats, all which require a lot of mental strength, determination, and courage as well.
Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay: First People to Climb Mount Everest
Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Hilary was only 34-years-old when he reached the summit with Norgay, who was celebrating his 39th birthday . Hillary had numerous honors conferred on him and was given a state funeral in New Zealand when he died in 2008. In 1998, Time named both men as among the 100 Most Influential People of the Century.
Eleanor Lynette Lemaire: First Female Ironman Triathlete
In 1979, Eleanor Lynette Lemaire became the first woman to complete the Hawaii Ironman triathlon, becoming the world’s first female “Ironman.” It was the second annual Hawaii Ironman race and the was the only female competitor. Nevertheless, she finished in fifth place overall with a time of 12:55:38.
David Kirke and Simon Keeling: First Bungee Jump
David Kirke and Simon Keeling, members of the Oxford University Dangerous Sports Club, came up with the idea for the first bungee jump after discussing “vine jumping,” a ritual carried about by certain natives of Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation. Geoff Tabin, a professional climber, tied the ropes for the jump. The first jump was done on the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, England. The jumpers were arrested shortly after the jump, but they continued their bungee leaps from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Royal Gorge Bridge.
Neroli Fairhall: First Paraplegic Competitor in the Olympic Games
Fairhall was a New Zealand athlete, who became the first paraplegic competitor in the Olympic Games in 1982. She finished in 35th place. She originally took up archery in 1944, following an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She won gold in the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, after archery was first introduced to that competition in 1982.
Matthew Webb: First Person to Swim the English Channel
Webb was the first recorded person to swim the English Channel without the use of artificial aids. He swam from Dover to Calais in less than 22 hours on August 25, 1875. He was serving as captain of the steamship Emerald when he read the account of a failed attempt and became inspired to try himself.
Danica Patrick: First Female Winner of IndyCar
Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel racing. In 2008, she won the Indy Japan 300, making her the only female winner in an IndyCar series race.
André-Jacques Garnerin: First Parachute Jump
Garnerin invented the parachute and decided to test it out. He leaped out of a hydrogen balloon 3,200 feet above Paris on Oct. 22, 1797. He survived that jump and more than 200 others. Two years later, his wife, In 1799, Jeanne-Genevieve, made the first successful parachute jump by a woman. Garnering died in a balloon accident in 1823, while preparing to test a new parachute..
Wanda Rutkiewicz: First Woman to Summit K2
Polish mountain climber Wanda Rutkiewicz was the first woman to climb K2, the second-highest peak in the world. She reached the summit in 1986 and did so without supplemental oxygen. She was also set marks as the third woman, the first Polish woman and the first European woman, to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1978.
Richard Bass: First to Climb All Seven Summits
Bass was the first man to climb all Seven Summits (the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents). He completed six peaks in just one year: Aconcagua (South America), Denali (North America), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt. Elbrus (Europe), Mt. Vinson (Antarctica) and Mt. Kosciusko (Australia). He climbed those peaks in 1985 with his companion Frank Wells. On April 30, 1985, Bass completed his quest by reaching the summit of Mount Everest in a party without Wells.
Annie Taylor: First Person to Survive a Trip Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel
Taylor decided she would be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. She chose this incredibly risky task for very practical reasons—to achieve financial security of the rest of her life. She used a custom-made barrel for her trip that was padded with a mattress. Two days before her attempt, she sent a cat over the Canadian side’s Horseshoe Falls in the same barrel she planned to use to test the strength. The cat lived and was found 17 minutes later, though it was injured. Taylor got in the barrel on October 24, 1901, on her 63rd birthday. Her trip over the falls took less than 20 minutes and, afterward, she was discovered to be alive and relatively uninjured.
As crime continues to evolve, so do the methods used to fight it. Tapping everything from luxury timepieces to lasers, take a look at a growing list of luxury and high-tech items used by law enforcement to find key evidence and put criminals behind bars.
Rolex Helps Pin Down Identity-Stealing Murderer
As RealClearLife has written about before, Rolex’s immaculate record of purchases and service dates helped identify the body—and killer—of a man wearing a waterproof Oyster Perpetual after his body was caught in a fisherman’s netting in the English Channel in 1997. The victim was Ronald Platt, and thanks in part to the Oyster’s multiple-day power reserve, authorities were able to narrow down the exact date that Platt was murdered. Albert Johnson Walker, a man who had assumed Platt’s identity after embezzling millions of his clients’ money, is still in prison for the killing.
California Manslaughter Case Solved by NASA Tech
NASA’s Payload Directed Flight research group helped convict Bernardo Bass of murdering his girlfriend, Dawn Sanchez, after she went missing from a motel in Los Altos, California, in 1991. Though no body, weapon or sign of a car were found, Insider reports that the NASA team was enlisted to help after investigators received a tip that evidence related to the slaying was buried in a vacant lot. It was too expensive to excavate the entire area, so magnetic and ground-penetrating radar sensors from NASA identified “interest areas.” The car parts unearthed in these spots were found to be Bass’s, and helped convict him of the slaying.
Beloved Archbishop Outed as Nazi War Criminal By FBI Lasers
Archbishop Valerian Trifa, who was the head of the Romanian Orthodox church in the U.S., was officially deported in 1984 after being charged by the Justice Department with inciting riots that left as many as 4,000 Jewish people dead during World War II, according to theWashington Post.
What makes Trifa’s case unique is the way the FBI connected the once-revered religious leader to the killings. According to the second edition of Fingerprint Detection with Lasers, the FBI became suspicious of Trifa’s connections with Nazi Germany after a postcard from 1942 was given to the bureau. Allegedly written by Trifia to German Gestapo chief Henrich Himmler, the FBI used lasers to positively identify Trifa’s left thumb print, which at that point was more than 40 years old. Trifa was subsequently outed as a leading member of the anti-Semitic organization infamously known as the Romanian Iron Guard, according to the New York Times. He died of a heart attack at 72 just a few years after leaving the country.
FitBit Busts Fake Rape Claim
A Pennsylvania woman who told police that she was pulled from her bed and sexually assaulted by an assailant was actually awake and walking during the time the attack supposedly happened, proving that she’d filed a false report, TODAY reported in 2016.
“It sealed the deal for us,” Craig Stedman, the district attorney in the case, told the network. “The FitBit made all the difference.”
There have been other high-profile cases that have involved police pulling data from home tech devices to nail down exactly what happened during a crime, raising questions about user privacy and how well tech companies can protect your information. According to TODAY, if police have questions about where you were and what you were doing, you don’t have to hand over your phone, FitBit or Amazon Echo—but they can get a warrant to take a peek at your data all the same.
Interpol Deciphers Photoshopped Pedophile
After a child predator tried to disguise himself in photoshopped images of him abusing boys online, Interpol unscrambled the images and quickly arrested Christopher Neil, a Canadian man who ultimately ended up behind bars in a Thai prison for his crimes. Known as “Mr. Swirl,” After his eventual release, Neil has since relocated to Vancouver, where police warned the public about him in early 2017.
All around the world, historical artifacts teach us about our past. But sometimes, on purpose or by accident, those relics are destroyed. We take a look at some of the most important treasures that were cut, toppled or hammered.
The Star-Spangled Banner Flag
One of the most treasured possessions of the Smithsonian Museum is the Star-Spangled Banner, which was one of the very first American flags to be made during the Revolutionary War. It was made with 15 stars, but now you will only find 14. After the war, Lt. Col. George Armistead took the huge 30-foot-by-42-foot flag home as a keepsake. When he and his wife died, it was passed down to their daughter, Georgiana Armistead. People asked her for fragments of the flag, so she cut it up with scissors and mailed it to whoever she thought was worthy. More than 200 square feet of the flag was removed before Smithsonian conservationists got to it in 1907.
For centuries, soldiers have helped themselves to the riches of their foes. In World War II, three U.S. Army officers pulled off one of the most lucrative wartime thefts in history. In October 1944, princes Wolfgang and Richard of Germany’s illustrious House of Hesse buried about $2.5 million (about $31 million today) worth of treasure. But then Frankfurt fell to U.S. forces and the Hesse family was moved into cottages outside the Kronberg Castle. Three officers found the stash and pried out all the precious stones and kept the gold and silver mountings as scrap. They mailed the loot back to the U.S. and then pawned some of the smaller pieces in Switzerland and the United Kingdom. They were caught, and court-martialed on charges of larceny, dereliction of duty, and “conduct unbecoming U.S. military officers.” All three served time in federal prison. More than half the jewels they stole are still lost.
8,000-Year-Old Aboriginal Artworks
In Tasmania’s Nirmena Nala rock shelter, you will find a preserved set of stenciled handprints made by the ancestors of Australia’s Aboriginal people. The handprints withstood the test of time, but vandals destroyed them in mere minutes. Someone went into the shelters and scratched away the images with a rock to try and deface them.
Ancient Pyramid in Belize
Belize has extensive Maya ruins, but a construction company destroyed one of the largest. The company was scooping stone out of the major pyramid at the site of Nohmul, one of only 15 ancient Maya sites important enough to be noted on the National Geographic World Atlas. Almost the entire pyramid, once over 60 feet tall, was destroyed by road building crews.
Looters Destroy Mummies
On Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011, looters entered the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt with the hope of finding gold. The nine men broke into ten cases to take figurines. But none of them contained gold, so the looters dropped them and broke the items. They then took two skulls fo the 2,000-year-old mummies and fled. Several of the looters were detained but many irreplaceable artifacts were destroyed.
ISIS in Mosul
Islamic State militants completely ransacked Mosul’s central museum and destroyed priceless artifacts, some which dated back thousands of years. Some of the statues and artifacts dated back to the Assyrian and Akkadian empires. The terrorist group published a video of the destruction. In the video, an Isis representative condemns Assyrians and Akkadians as polytheists. The militants smashed the statues in the museum with hammers and pushed the remains to the ground so they shattered even more. ISIS has not just destroyed the museum, however, they have caused irreparable damage across Syria and Iraq since 2010.
The Amber Room
The Amber Room was built for Peter the Great in 1717 and was literally a room made out of amber. It was considered to be the eighth wonder of the world. It was dismantled by Nazis in 1941, shipped to Germany and reinstalled in the Konigsberg Castle. But when the war was over, it was dismantled and never seen again. Recently, documents revealed that it was in the Knights’ Hall at Konigsberg Castle when it was burned down by Soviet soldiers.
It’s no secret that fried food has long been the specialty of every state fair, and at one point or another, most of us have splurged on one of these modestly priced, calorie-rich confections like fried Oreos or Twinkies. Now, Americans may be ready to splurge on fried food of a different sort called “kushiage.” Coming to us by way of Japan — because, what other country knows how to perfect something like the Japanese do? — this cuisine reimagines everything we know about frying up various edible items and elevates it to new, luxurious heights.
The recently opened Yamada Chikara, located at 249 East 49th Street, is currently the only restaurant in Manhattan that offers a deluxe take on kushiage cuisine. Like most five-star sushi eateries like Nobu or Sushi Nakazawa, the restaurant’s interior is full of slate and oak, and is anchored by a 20-seat bar built specifically for an omakase dining experience in which each small course is presented to diners by the chef himself. The similarities stop there.
“Simply because I love New York. I visited so many places, while I lived in Japan and in Spain, and New York always leaves a strong impression,” Chef Chikara Yamada told RealClearLife. “This place has a special magic and energy, which I am so attracted to. It was my dream to to open up my restaurant in such a place, a city where all different cultures meet.”
With a fryer in full view, guests are treated to a show of sorts where delicate skewered ingredients like soft-boiled quail egg painstakingly hand peeled individually and salmon with pickled vegetables are dipped in a secret panko breadcrumb mixture that ensures each course is ever-so-lightly fried, allowing the qualities of the ingredient to shine through. Some are topped with luxe garnishes like caviar and shaved truffle, and paired with thoughtfully selected drinks like sparkling sake.
It all comes from the mind of Yamada, who cut his teeth at Star El Bulli, the now-shuttered three Michelin Star restaurant located on the shore of Catalonia’s Costa Brava where he was taught the ins and outs of molecular gastronomy.
His new eatery, a play on his own name reversed, marries his experience in Spain with his Japanese heritage. This is made visible in other, distinctly less Japanese dishes like a skewer of tomato, mozzarella, and basil, and drink pairings like a full-bodied glass of Pinot Noir.
“I worked in a Spanish restaurant in Barcelona first when I moved to Spain. My version of kushiage is Japanese, but is inspired by the pinchos that I enjoyed during my time in Spain,” Yamada said.
The 18-course tasting menu balances out with far lighter accompaniments like a small box of fresh sashimi and a Spanish omelette. Spanning just over two hours and ringing in at $180 per person, it all comes to a close on the eatery’s back patio where a selection of desserts are paired with tea from Chef Yamada’s own family tea farm.
One moonlit night in 1959, a Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino drove to a scenic overlook and had a little fun in the parking lot — without using a seatbelt for protection.
Nine months later, the first El Catalina was born. Sadly, the ‘59 prototype was also the last.
Actually created by Pontiac as opposed to a romantic rendezvous, the El Catalina was a hybrid concept vehicle that was designed to capitalize on the notoriety of the Ranchero and Camino.
A half-car-half-truck by design, the El Catalina was birthed by mating the cabin shell and pickup bed of an El Camino to the architecture of a station-wagon chassis from a Pontiac Catalina Safari. The windows and doors were then modified by hand to fit under the Chevy’s roof.
With a red, white and silver interior pulled right from a Catalina Safari, the hand-built El Catalina was blessed with a four-speed Hydra-Matic transmission mated to a 300-HP V8 engine.
Despite its beauty and brawn, when the El Catalina was shown to Pontiac general manager Bunkie Knudsen, he decided to end the project and scrapped an in-construction second model.
Thankfully, instead of sending the original hybrid to the great junkyard in the sky, Knudsen sent it down to the basement of the Pontiac Retail Store Parts Department which it occasionally exited to serve as a delivery vehicle.
After a later stint serving as the college car for the retail store’s son where it took on significant wear and tear, the one-and-only El Catalina was purchased by Darrel Lotridge, who then set about restoring it.
Due to the lack of blueprints and appropriate parts, putting the rusted-out El Catalina back together again proved to be a difficult undertaking and Lotridge went through a number of restorers over the course of multiple decades, never finishing the rebuild, he told Hemmings.
The lack of success eventually led to Lotridge selling the vehicle to another restorer who, by remaking the interior from scratch and sourcing parts from a Bonneville, was able to bring the El Catalina back to its unique glory in time for the 2011 Pontiac Oakland Club International meet.
At the meet, the one-off Pontiac scored 400 out of 400 points and claimed Best of Show, a result that, at least partially, justified all the blood, sweat and elbow grease that went into its revival.
The automotive unicorn went on to capture a number of other awards and honors, including the Concours of the Americas Spirit of the Automobilist Otto Rosenbusch Memorial Award in 2014.
When Katelyn Sheehan, an Air Force veteran, pitched the idea of an all-women climb up Mount Denali to an organization that she was volunteering for—and who had already sent an all-male team go up—she was basically told that it was a “cute” idea, but no thanks. But Sheehan didn’t let that stop her. She did her research, cobbled together funding, and next month, Sheehan and Kirstie Ennis, a retired Marine Corps sergeant, will start their all-female, all-veteran ascent of North America’s tallest mountain.
“There is something about being at a peak and looking back at your own footprints and seeing where you came from and knowing that you can go back,” Sheehan told RealClearLife. “And I think that it really translates into life.”
Sheehan and Ennis have both been through trauma in their lives, Sheehan explained, but that hasn’t stopped them from reaching peaks of all varieties, then returning to the ground, grabbing someone else and “show[ing] them the way, because we know the trail now and we can help them dodge some things.”
Sheehan was only 17-years-old when she joined the Air Force in 2007, because they “got the coolest toys.” Hoping to become a linguist, Sheehan appreciated how much the service let her travel, and that she was able to get her college education debt-free. But during her first year of service, she was attacked, beaten and sexually assaulted by another service member.
“I definitely believed that I was on my own and that justice was not accessible to me,” she told RCL. “Looking at the other people who had been through similar circumstances in and around that time, a lot of them were involuntarily discharged and I didn’t want that to happen.”
Sheehan continued her service without divulging what had happened to her. Then she found solace as a victim’s advocate. She said that, for her, helping others just made sense.
“This happened to me because I was resilient enough to be able to help other people through it,” she said. “That was the narrative I had to tell myself in order for the world not to fall apart. That worked. And I had amazing opportunities to support people going through a trauma that I didn’t have support through, so that was awesome.”
That drive to help others has stayed with Sheehan.
“I didn’t let myself believe the now-I-am-broken narrative,” she said. “I think it is really important that that be part of the way we speak about trauma. Is that it is something that develops us, not something that demeans us, or diminishes us.”
The other half of the team, Ennis, also joined the service at 17-years-old and did two combat deployments with the Marine Corps as a helicopter air gunner and airframe mechanic. During her last deployment, she survived a devastating helicopter crash in June 2012, in Afghanistan. Since then, she had her left leg amputated above the knee, and has endured more than forty surgeries, according to ESPN.
But all that hasn’t broken her spirit of adventure. Ennis has already climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, becoming the first female, above-the-knee amputee to summit Africa’s highest peak. She would be the first in that category to summit Denali as well. She plans to hike all Seven Summits (Denali is the third highest at 20,320 feet), ending with Mount Everest in May 2019.
“I made it home, broken, but I made it. I am one of the lucky ones—I’m living, breathing, moving for the ones who never made it back,” Ennis said to RCL in an interview.
Their mission will not be an easy one. According to the National Park Service, only 495 of the 1,189 climbers that attempted to summit Denali in 2017 reached the top. Women comprised 15 percent of the total climbers last year, which NPS says is the highest annual percentage in history.
Sheehan and Ennis met through mutual friends and have been climbing together for about a year and a half. Ennis said that the two provide each other with an interesting balance.
“[Katelyn is] not as comfortable with risk as I am,” Ennis said. “She provides a different perspective and different skill set. She’s willing to be a work horse to let me succeed.”
Sheehan, meanwhile, calls Ennis and her the “perfect odd couple.”
“We both develop each other and somehow when it comes to sticky situations we are on the same page, 100 percent,” she said.
With their trek fully funded by Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit that gives mortgage-free homes to veterans, the duo plans to make their Denali summit attempt in June. You can follow along through Service to Summit. Their climb is also raising money for Building Homes for Heroes.
Sheehan, who is a glacier guide and also leads treks for a company that does backcountry trips for veterans with disabilities, said she sees nature as a kind of medicine. She said the wild terrain offers her a healing aspect that she had never been exposed to before.
“It is medicine and it needs to be treated as such and it needs to be prescribed and regimentally administered,” she said. “Once I realized that this was what did the trick the most for me, it was just obvious that it was something that I had to share. When you find something that works so well you can’t help but become a disciple of the outdoors, you just can’t.”
Sheehan believes that the wilderness can help with “military deprogramming and community re-programming” that she feels needs to take place when U.S. veterans leave the service. She explained to RCL that veterans often feel rudderless when they leave service: they are longer in the active military, but they aren’t really civilians either. She believes in offering more ways to get veterans back into their communities and help them find identities that still have purpose and still involve service to a cause bigger than themselves.
Women veterans, in particular, tend to face greater obstacles when it comes to re-assimilating into the civilian world. “Women veterans struggle more readapting back into society and I think it is because that message ‘You’re alone, other women aren’t on your team,’ is really strong, especially in the military,” Sheehan said. She went on to say that finding sisterhood in Ennis has been “the greatest gift,” and she wants to share that with others, both veterans and civilians.
“Everyone has experienced vulnerability, pain, loss, uncertainty; those are all very heavy in the military experience but also very heavy in the world,” Sheehan said. “People will get it, you just have to give them the opportunity.”
As for the Denali climb, Ennis is hoping that there are young women out in the world who are hoping to be inspired, and that this climb can provide that inspiration.
“Anything is possible,” she said to RCL. “We control our circumstances, they do not control us.”
Sheehan believes that Ennis has already inspired others.
“Kirstie is an incredible woman, but she speaks to a resilience that is possible for every single person,” Sheehan said. “She’s not a superhero, she is just a person who decided, ‘Yes that happened, now what?’ And that’s an incredible thing to be a part of and to be able to perpetuate that message.”
And if they don’t make it to the top of Denali this time?
“We’ll try again. There’s no way we wouldn’t do it,” Sheehan said.
While we keep an eye on the must-watch movies coming out of this year’s 2018 Cannes Film Festival, correspondents from Harper’s Bazaar brought to our attention that this year’s red carpet looks are equally as jaw-dropping. Take a look below at the models and actresses.
There are plenty of luxury Airbnbs out there, but if you’re looking for more cultural cachet with your stay, these hotels have incredible histories to offer alongside superior amenities. Among them, these properties have been the host to literary geniuses, Hollywood affairs and presidency-topping scandals. Take a look.
It’s impossible to decide which component of the Monteleone’s past is most interesting. Situated in New Orleans’ French Quarter—and still family owned—the hotel is steeped in elite literary history, as it has been frequented by the likes of Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.
For one of America’s most famous scribes, the Monteleone meant a great deal to him personally. Whilst perched inside at The Carousel Bar, or when talking to the press, Truman Capote often would boast that he was born in the hotel, although the Monteleone insists that isn’t true (Capote’s mother did live there while pregnant with him, but the staff helped get her to the hospital to deliver). Guests today can actually stay in the suite that bears Capote’s name, complete with furniture and an arrangement to complement his personality.
The Hotel Hershey
The Hotel Hershey opened its doors on May 26, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. Rather than merely give people in the town welfare, Milton S. Hershey decided to build the 23,500 square-foot hotel to give the residents of Hershey, Pennsylvania actual jobs.
The four-star hotel is now a historical landmark and is the perfect place to stay for any sweet tooth eager to explore Hershey Park or the gardens nearby.
The Arizona Biltmore
This exquisite hotel—now part of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel family—was one of Phoenix’s first resorts, and opened its doors in 1929. Designed by the iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright and later owned by the Wrigley family, every president from Herbert Hoover to George W. Bush has vacationed at this spot. Ronald and Nancy Reagan even spent their honeymoon at the Biltmore following their 1952 wedding.
The pet-friendly hotel offers guest rooms, suites, villas and the Ocatilla suite, marketed to redefine the luxury hotel experience. Take a look inside here.
The Watergate Hotel
As we’ve covered before at RealClearLife, the Watergate Hotel was the pinnacle of luxury living for the Washington D.C.’s elite before it was toppled by its namesake scandal. Located just a few blocks from the White House, the infamous hotel has undergone significant reconstruction and reopened to the public in 2016. Rooms start in the low hundreds, but to truly experience the property’s incredible history, we recommend staying for at least one night in the Scandal Suite, which formerly housed the DNC headquarters that were the break-in target of Nixon’s infamous “plumbers.”
The Beverly Hills Hotel
This historic spot is the beacon of glamour and has been the site of dozens of infamous moments since it opened its doors to Sunset Boulevard in 1912. Howard Hughes called the hotel home on and off for more than thirty years; John F. Kennedy kept a bungalow there to entertain young starlets while campaigning. Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand had affairs in Bungalows 20 and 21, according to Vanity Fair, and her favorite—Bungalow 7—is named Norma Jean.
The list goes on and on, and the five-star hotel still offers a variety of incredible suites that range from the junior to the presidential. Prices begin in the mid-hundreds.
What would a Real-LifeLaraCroftseries be without a well … real-life Lara Croft. An archeologist whose mission it is to enlighten the world about the marvels of history, protect priceless relics and fluidly transition between administrative paperwork and field research that makes the average job look like a walk in the park.
Marine archeologist Delia Ni Chiobhain Enqvist has spent her career studying human history and creating a time machine of information for the rest of us to use as a guide to better understand our predecessors. Her goals are to make archeology digestible to a wide audience and create imagery and dialogue around the past that benefits the collective conscience of those curious about life on this planet before our day.
The term “Lara Croft” is a touchy one in the scientific circles. We, of course, use it tongue in cheek in this series but there is quite reasonably a backlash to the idea of an oversexed femme fatale parading her way across the historic landscape of relics and priceless artifacts.
On the other hand, one can hardly fault the comparison when you marvel at the experiences Delia and her team have had in the field, utilizing cutting-edge technology and hard-earned expertise diving in near zero visibly to bring forth from the depths knowledge and visual cues about civilizations forgotten by time.
Not only is Delia’s work fascinating, but it also challenges typical gender roles in the field. For every Lara Croft, there are two dozen Indiana Jones figures. Although, women in marine archeology have been contributing to the field since the turn of the last century and before.
Names like Joan du Plat Taylor, a driving force in Mediterranean archeology; Honor Frost, whose work from Lebanon to Turkey to Italy shaped much of modern marine archeology; and Margaret Rule who was instrumental in the excavation and raising of Henry the VIII’s flagship Mary Rose.
An insight from Delia’s interview really hammered home the question of how different are we really from our predecessors, even with all our modern advancements … particularly when it comes to water.
“To cross over a body of water in a safe way is not ever guaranteed, even today with modern navigational equipment and safety procedures for shipbuilding. Have human emotions evolved over time or does the fear that accompanies a storm at sea really differ today to that of centuries ago? In the same way, we rely so much on water for our existence just as people in the past did, and likely those in the future will too. The importance of having access to fresh, clean drinking water is as relevant today as it ever was.”
For anyone who has spent time at sea, particularly in rough weather, this sentiment rings as true now as it must have for any civilization across time. The emotion of fear and our reliance on water transcends the passage of centuries and seemingly negates all of our advances in safety, navigation and technology. It essentially levels the playing field of time.
And this very core of human emotions, the primal nature of our fight for survival and our drive to explore our planet is at the heart of Delia’s research and what she hopes to present to her audience in a way that connects them to the past.
Passion is a powerful driving force for people. How did yours develop and mold who you are and what you do?
Delia Ni Chiobhain Enqvist: People are usually surprised to hear that I learned to swim when I was a teenager, whereas often people who work with the sea have a long relationship with it. While I had been to swim classes as a child, I’d never really felt that confident in the water until I was lucky to meet a fantastic instructor at my local pool who helped me to overcome my insecurities. Later I took up diving at university purely so that I could work with archaeology underwater and of course I made many diving friends who helped to inspire my love of everything underwater but in particular my first PADI instructor Jacquie Cozens truly encouraged and fostered my love and understanding of marine life and ecosystems, rather than just focusing on the old rotting ship timbers! I grew up on the Dingle Peninsula of Ireland and no doubt the living Gaelic language and hundreds of archaeological sites spread out over the landscape had some effect on my career pursuit, not to mention the museums that my parents took me to when traveling. So, even if deep down there was some passion or driving force, for me it has really been fostered by positive people who I’ve been fortunate to learn from along the way. Jacquie also encouraged me to apply for the Our World Underwater diving scholarship and throughout my year I was fortunate to meet inspiring individuals not only for my career, but also friends who share the same love for the sea (such as professional mermaid Linden Wolbert….also featured in this series!) and also as it happened my husband Johan, a cave diver who also works in the diving industry. It took about 10 years from when I decided to work with maritime archaeology to getting my first paid job in the industry so sticking to the plan and keeping that passion alive really requires conviction in one’s goals, but also being surrounded by positive and happy people. I realize I might sound like a positive internet meme, but for me it’s worked!
What does being a maritime archaeologist entail?
DCE: Far more administration than one would imagine! Like most academic subjects, it’s possible to work within research or commercial areas and this differs from country to country. I work in Sweden and as a contract archaeologist, which does not involve being hired to take anybody out, but is carrying out archaeological surveys and excavations in response to development.
Let’s imagine that there’s a new bridge being built in a city, first, the developers will require planning permits and the regional authorities first need to consider a range of potential impacts, archaeology included. Archaeological companies, such as the museum where I work, Bohusläns museum, are contracted to either survey for new archaeological sites or to excavate those already known. This involves much administration but what is great about this kind of work is that one week one can be working in the middle of a city, whereas the next one could be in a small fishing village where a new marina pontoon is going to be installed. We work with both large companies or individuals and we also encounter archaeological sites from the stone age to more modern eras. In my company, we are four maritime archaeologists and we all share the administration roles of planning projects budgets, research plans and practical aspects, and we are all involved in the diving operations. Diving legislation varies across Europe, but in Sweden, the diving we do underwater is guided by rules laid out by the Work Environment Authority which involves more administration but also nice safe diving equipment and routines.
On typical diving projects there is one diver in the water, tethered to the surface with a constant supply of air from the surface and voice communications, one diver on stand-by in the event of an emergency and a dive leader who is responsible for the safety of the diver and who is in constant communication with the whole team. It’s also useful to communicate observations or archaeological data to the surface, rather than having to write underwater … and if we use a scanning sonar in connection dives it’s possible to accurately direct the diver to the object being investigated. This is particularly useful, and also safer when we work in conditions with poor visibility. In city rivers and areas with lots of trash, the main issue is the divers umbilical (what the diver’s air and the communication line is called) becoming snagged or entangled with objects on the bottom. All of our planned diving projects involve carrying out a risk assessment of potential hazards such as this, cold water, boat traffic, zero visibility, for example, … and a series of actions are put in place. Of course, if the risk possibilities are too high to mitigate, we simply do not dive. Archaeology is cool but it’s not worth risking anybody’s safety.
I’ve just explained my work role, but in fact, my daily routine has changed since 2015 when I enrolled as a grad student on behalf of the museum where I work. Instead, I’m researching the work that my colleagues do and my focus is on the use of digital documentation tools, such as photogrammetry and the creation of 3-D models of archaeological sites for communicating maritime and underwater archaeology.
What are some of the more fascinating field projects you have worked on?
DCE: As we mostly work on the west coast of Sweden sites like shipwrecks are not often found completely intact like in the Baltic Sea on the east coast, due largely to the absence in brackish water of a marine mollusk that eats wood (usually called shipworms), so I’m afraid I’ve not got the expected “this many meters” long warship with “so many” guns stories to recount. What fascinates me about maritime archaeology is how people’s interaction and dependence on water and oceans have changed little over centuries and it’s within understanding these experiences that a connection can be (or at least attempted) made with people, transcending time.
To cross over a body of water in a safe way is not ever guaranteed, even today with modern navigational equipment and safety procedures for shipbuilding. Have human emotions evolved over time or does the fear that accompanies a storm at sea really differ today to that of centuries ago? In the same way, we rely so much on water for our existence just as people in the past did, and likely those in the future will too. The importance of having access to fresh, clean drinking water is as relevant today as it ever was. These on the surface (pun somewhat intended) seem like mundane, everyday events, yet they are crucial to survival.
We worked once on a project along a river coming from Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern. Our colleagues excavating on the foreshore had been for a number of years working on a settlement site between 9000 and 6000 years old and uncovered the remnants of their everyday lives like tools for fishing and food preparation, burials and ritual items. We were diving on an area in Motala ström that contained many stubby remains of poles that had been placed into the riverbed to form fishing traps. The majority of the poles were dated from the early Medieval period to the mid-1600s but analysis of the timber showed that one of the poles was dated to the same time as the Mesolithic (Stone Age) site on shore. We’re not sure if the site had been in continual use in all of this time, but the everyday actions that we take for granted are often the most exciting for me.
You mentioned that your research right now is looking at ways to digitally visualize underwater heritage for non-divers and trying to change the narrative from the usual “cool warship with guns” image to understanding social aspects of the past and putting people back into the archaeology…can you expand on this for anyone wanting to understand the specifics of the work you do?
DCE: So, the basis of our research within the grad school GRASCA – the Graduate School in Contract Archaeology – is to research new ways that contract archaeology can increase its impact on society. Many large projects are funded by taxpayers money and therefore it is expected that the results of archaeological work and research is not only made available but is also beneficial. My research is looking at how the maritime work archaeologists do, the sites we find and the resulting narratives are communicated to society, in particular through digital visualizations. The typical and somewhat stereotyped idea of an underwater archaeologist is typically male, can handle tough situations (influenced by characters like Indiana Jones and movies such as Men of Honor) and invariably involves some form of valuable treasure (thanks, Mel Fisher). This narrative might be interesting to some and in some cases might not be so far from the truth. However, it is not the only one, and I am interested in learning how perceptions and associated narratives can be expanded to not only include other marginalized histories, and to appeal to wider groups and audiences beyond those with an interest in maritime military history. (As a side note, Indiana Jones and Lara Croft are contentious popularizations of archaeologists, either loved or loathed by professionals and so I giggled when I imagined the responses by colleagues of being included in your Real-Life Lara Croft series. The director of GRASCA Professor Cornelius Holtorf wrote about this in a paper if you’re interested.)
How this can translate into digital visualizations is through those who in Sweden, maritime archaeologists. As the main task of our work is to document sites underwater archaeologically, our priorities might be much different to those of a wreck diver or a photographer. Just one search of a famous landmark on Instagram shows how the same object can be visualized in any number of ways depending on what individuals feel is interesting. The messages, priorities, and narratives encoded in images and visualizations that are taken for granted by one group of users may often render them illegible to others. The goal of my research is to provide workflows and systems that help archaeologists create digital visualizations that can be of use to many audiences. This way the data can be of use for research and also open up largely inaccessible places to those who may not even have known they exist.
How important is the story element to you and getting the message across that each artifact had real people with real lives attached to it?
DCE: If I’m being completely honest this aspect was not always a large part of my work, even if it was an interest of mine. Working with contract archaeology, it can often happen that one is busy with planning projects (there’s the administration again!) and being concerned with project management timelines and budgets to ensure work gets done on time. Since changing roles and spending most of my time involved with research, I now see how important the connection with people can be. For example, archaeological results have the potential for being far more than simply sensational finds but can instead contribute meaningfully to ongoing social debates, from climate change to our perceptions on “how things always were” when discussing immigration, for example. However, this is not to say that visitors to a museum or an archaeological site can only appreciate the archaeology by knowing dates, rulers, and all the other information that research can offer. It is important that those narratives exist and are available, and that they can appeal to contemporary citizens.
What’s it like to be a successful woman in a relatively male-dominated space?
DCE: I think early on in my career when I was working my way towards “becoming” a maritime archaeologist I was more concerned with getting the relevant experience, the correct education, the important dive certificates – basically all of the things that would make me employable, that I didn’t give too much thought to gender within the field. Of course it was obvious that there were far more many men working with maritime archaeology and at times my being on projects was somewhat of a novelty, but I really tried to avoid thinking about it and did my best to fit in, be one of the guys, not in just how I act but also going along with the way the discipline is “done”.
So it really is since researching that I have had the time to read more on gender studies and heritage in general and reflect on working as a woman in a male-dominated field. I have been fortunate to have not had negative experiences or harassment directed at me based on my gender, but at times it has been difficult to introduce alternative or new ideas to a fairly traditional field. Even though new technologies are being used underwater that can resemble scenes from a sci-fi movie, there are many underlying structures in the discipline that are rooted in traditions that developed since the 1960s. There are some really fantastic researchers that are turning the trend from only focusing on technological aspects of shipwreck sites to include more human and emotional understandings of life onboard historical vessels. So I do see a change gradually happening and these developments have helped me as an individual to have the confidence to not only point out weaknesses in the status quo, but also propose the means by which we can change for the better. I think at the start of my career from having read textbooks for maritime archaeology 101, that are pretty much all written by men, that I took some kind of subliminal cue that the only way to work was to follow their wisdom, whereas now the climate has changed and that questioning “the way things are” is acceptable, which is a far healthier environment for the next generation of maritime archaeologists to come into.
Most people would be terrified to do what you do. So what terrifies you … if anything?
DCE: Like all jobs, they involve starting small and taking things step by step. I’ve been diving since 2003 so over time it’s all been a gradual building up of experience and education, so if I were placed in front of a bunch of school kids all of a sudden as their teacher I would also be terrified!
I have been uncomfortable in some situations underwater, for example, an unexpectedly strong current or not really knowing what lies on the bottom of waters in heavily populated areas. However, we are never placed in dangerous situations and the constant communication to the surface and a continuous flow of air also alleviate the sense of danger that open water divers might have. It’s also the case that sometimes if we don’t feel comfortable or up for a dive that we are not expected or pressured to. It’s not the hardcore diving that is depicted in movies where one is expected to “man up,” plus I’m quite happy to listen to my instincts when they kick in.
The scariest thing that we should all be terrified of is trash. I’ve had to clean archaeological sites of tampons just in order to photograph the site in a city river once. Another time when diving in a river I swam into a shopping cart that had flipped onto its side. I wasn’t in any danger of getting stuck and I just backed out, but seeing the stuff that people dump into water is incredible, as I’m sure most divers can attest to.
And finally, as a grad student, it’s mostly approaching deadlines that have the potential to give me a fright when they appear!
Everyone has a message they put out into the world through their words, actions and lifestyle. What is yours?
DCE: I was trying to come up with a deep and meaningful message that emphasized being kind to others, but I think Moïra Fowley-Doyle said it best with her line: “Do no harm, but take no sh-t.” The doing no harm also includes recycling!
What future life goals do you have for the next 5 years? Any big bucket list items, travels, career goals, etc.
DCE: I have a really detailed Individual study plan but that’s not really super exciting for anyone besides my supervisor and I! Over the next 5 years I look forward to completing my grad school education, not just for the title or a piece of paper, but for all of the new things I am going to learn, from there I’m happy to see what happens. I’m also excited to getting back to diving for fun rather than just for work, and in locations where things are visible. It’s taken me the best part of 10 years to master the Swedish language so it might be time to finally take up Italian as I visit quite often but can only really point at things and show my money. If you publish this goal, then I’ll really have to take classes!
Are there any questions you wish people would ask you or any message you would like to put out there?
DCE: I would like to think that if there are any young archaeologists, regardless of gender, who are considering a career underwater that they could see my journey as one possible way to achieve this. I have noticed through my university education and work experience that it’s far more common to see mentoring among males (this might also be due to more men working in maritime archaeology). I would like to see mentoring for everyone as it’s a really great way to pass on knowledge and to build confidence when starting a new career. Since the #MeToo movement there have been whole new communities established in Sweden not just among female archaeologists but within all professions, where women are coming together to point out systematic inequalities, to share experiences and to support one another. Moving on from this in the future I would like to see this kind of support transcending gender, so that inequalities are addressed and erased by everyone, and not just seen as being the responsibility of women.
Mother’s Day gives us an excuse to admire the leading ladies and incredible entrepreneurs who constantly juggle between doting mom and Hollywood starlet. Take a look below at some of the most stunning mothers in the business, and see what they’re up to lately.
Angelina Jolie has been busy lately. Not only as a mother of Shiloh, Vivienne, Maddox, Zahara, Pax and Knox, but as a humanitarian, actor and director. Jolie recently premiered her film about the Cambodian genocide — First They Killed My Father — nabbing BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations with it, all while finding a new place for her family to live amid her split from actor Brad Pitt. The latest reports say she’s currently producing a biopic on Native American athlete two-time Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe.
Halle Berry has two children, one with Gabriel Aubry and the other with Olivier Martinez. She stars alongside Daniel Craig in her latest movie, Kings, which follows a single mother of eight and her neighbor as they endure the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The 51-year-old Oscar-winner is as incredible as she is age-defying.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z are parents to Blue Ivy, Rumi and Sir Carter, the latter of whom are twins born in the summer of 2017. Though it’s unclear when her next album will drop — she did no formal press for 2013’s Beyoncé or 2016’s Lemonade, which was both a visual and audio album — but rumors have swirled as the recording artist has cropped up as a featured singer on various singles throughout the last several months.
Kate Beckinsale is the mother of 19-year-old Lily Mo Sheen, and at age 44, could pass as her sister. Beckinsale, who in 2017 shared her uncomfortable experiences with disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, has since praised the women who came forward about Weinstein’s alleged abuse and “pledged support for a new paradigm.” A great place to keep an eye on what Beckinsale’s up to is on her Instagram, which you can find here.
Mother to twins Max and Emme, Lopez told Ellen DeGeneres in 2015 that if she could, she’d have “four or five more.” Between dating Alex Rodriguez, starring on Shades of Blue and dropping new music, we have no doubt she’d somehow find the time.
Heidi Klum stays busy. While raising her four children —two girls and two boys — her latest business venture is in a new line of intimates that she has no problem modeling herself, as you can see.
Mother to three — Hayes, Honor and Haven — Jessica Alba is slated to star alongside Gabrielle Union in Union’s new television series, L.A.’s Finest, based on the Bad Boys movies.
At 18, Jack Brabham joined the Royal Australian Air Force because he wanted to learn to fly.
Unfortunately for “Black Jack,” the RAAF thought it’d be better if he trained as a flight mechanic, so Brabham didn’t get to do his flying until years later—when he started racing cars in 1948.
The first person to be knighted for services to motorsport, Brabham raced in 126 Grand Prix events and racked up 14 wins and three championships (1959, 1960, 1966) over the course of a 15-year Formula One driving career, including a win in ‘66 at the French Grand Prix at Reims that saw him become the first, and only, driver to win a race and a racing title in a car of his own construction.
The car he was driving, a V8-powered BT19, was built by his marque, Brabham Automotive…and so was this one.
To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Brabham’s first race and mark his company’s return to manufacturing, Brabham Automotive is releasing the 700-horsepower, track-only BT62.
Featuring a lightweight body constructed from carbon fiber, the BT62 has a naturally aspirated, 5.4-liter V8 under the hood that’s paired with a six-speed, sequential-shift racing transmission.
Riding on 18-inch wheels covered in a quartet of Michelin slicks, the 2,143-pound monster takes care of stopping via a set of powerful carbon brakes fitted with six-piston calipers.
Although Brabham has yet to divulge speed specs for the performance-optimized model, the aggressively aerodynamic BT62 can deliver 2,646 pounds of downforce courtesy of its giant rear wing and also boasts a power-to-weight ratio of 653 HP per ton.
“Created from a blank sheet of paper, our first car takes Brabham into an exciting new era, whilst honoring and upholding the marque’s glorious past,” said Brabham director of technology and engineering Paul Birch. “Using contemporary materials, processes and technologies, and following a rigorous two-year engineering and development program, the resulting BT62 is a car that demands total engagement and commitment from its driver, delivering immense reward and satisfaction.”
Limited to 70 cars to mark the seventy years since Sir Jack’s first career race, the first 35 BT62s will be decked out in green-and-white to honor Brabham’s French Grand Prix win in ‘66.
Priced at about $1.4 million—plus tax—owners of the BT62 will receive personalized driver development and coaching classes to help them make the most of their car on the track.
We’d wager that the homework from those classes won’t suck.
Most stories start at the beginning. This one starts at the end with a brief overview of Iceland as a stupendous destination and experience. On our last day of travel, we coined the term “over-awed”… meaning that after a while, the adorable towns and scenic vistas all blur together and no longer elicit the response of proper awe that they should. The fact is that if unicorns and elves danced in your front yard every morning, after a bit of time, you wouldn’t pay much attention. Similarly, on our last days, the magnificence of the Icelandic countryside, any bit of it that would have set us off on a photo taking frenzy a mere 6 days ago, no longer registered as extraordinary…but as the common situation of everyday beauty in a country that feels like a fairytale come to life.
I should tell you up front that we didn’t go to the Blue Lagoon … which has been hashtagged one million times. It’s the place most frequently mentioned on the Icelandic itinerary and there is certainly no shortage of Instagram posts from its opaque blue waters. But we intended to experience the country as off the beaten path as possible. Our tally for seven days boots on the ground was over 1700 miles driven, over 40 miles walked, seven remote hot springs soaked in … alone every time. We drove the entire Ring Road … the coastal route that circumnavigates the entire country … and has been hash-tagged less than 100,000 times.
So now back to the beginning. My sister and I wanted a girl’s trip that challenged the stereotype of the pampered L.A. Instagram blogger sipping cocktails from a rooftop bar … nothing wrong with that perspective but it’s just not how we roll. Instead, we wanted remote locations and no crowds. Time of year to visit plays a big part of this trip. We went in late April, right before the May to September tourist season booms. It was cold. Some roads were closed. On the flip side, we saw spectacular waterfalls, icebergs crashing together and had the country basically to ourselves. In hindsight, I would love to see it all in summer and fall…but thrilled that we did it when we did.
To accomplish our goals of crowd avoidance, locating remote hot springs with only GPS coordinates from blogs, being as nimble as possible and pre-planning as little as we were humanly able… always leaving time to make spur of the moment decisions of our next locale based on tips from locals and other travelers … we decided that our perfect option was a camper van.
Our home on wheels from Kuku Campers became such a big part of our journey that we teared up returning it. The van offered benefits that make traveling Iceland in this fashion absolutely fantastic. First off…it’s comfortable and provides everything you need for two people who are OK being very well acquainted with each other, a diesel engine that was quite gas efficient; a comfortable mattress in back; a heater that you can run all night long … which is life-saving magnificence in the cold climate; dishes; sleeping bags (you rent those extra); a little stove for cooking; a table and any number of extra add-ons you want to purchase from camping chairs to a bbq grill. Our van was a two-wheel drive model suitable for two. Bigger and more rugged options are also available. The Kuku team is cooler than a glacier, friendly and helpful. Plus you get unlimited miles and you can either take on their insurance or, if you have a good travel credit card that offers it, they’re fine if you use that too. Basically, they’re just laid back, hip, efficient and offer a good product. Boom.
Side notes on renting cars in Iceland: Diesel pumps in Iceland are black, not green. Important to remember. Also, you’ll need your credit card pin to pump gas. Our van cost approximately $100 to fill up. Gas is definitely more expensive than in the states, but won’t break the bank.
If camping isn’t your cup of tea, Iceland is packed with great guest houses, Airbnb options and a variety of hotels … most of them brand new as the country is still coming to terms with its popularity.
The most expensive thing in Iceland is eating and drinking at restaurants. The food is delicious but astoundingly pricy. A meal of fish and chips with a glass of wine and appetizer for two people will run you about $120…and that’s in a little pub. Prepare to hand over your first born at nicer restaurants. Makes L.A. and New York City look like a deal.
We were tipped off to buy alcohol … and even snacks … at duty-free when we landed. Even the locals make the stop on their way out of the airport. From there, having a mobile kitchen and buying groceries along the way (Bonus and Kronan are the two big grocery stores and available at most bigger towns) was not only good for the pocketbook but also saved us an infinite amount of time avoiding sit down dining. Of course, a few good meals that define a region should not be missed. Yes, the local lamb hot dogs with fried onions readily available at gas stations are as good as everyone says and we managed to power through an embarrassing quantity that I’m not willing to publicly admit. Lamb stews, fish and chips and a variety of seafood are all good bets and worth investing in.
The Ring Road tour: Behind the wheel of our trusty camper van, we set out into the great wild open. We decided to do the entire Ring Road that circles the Island with several offshoots to points of interest that peaked our curiosity. We went south to north. I would recommend the reverse. Simply because the south is so mind-blowingly spectacular that the north … fantastic in its own right … pales in comparison. Obviously, check the weather to determine the best course of action, but the north is less spectacular and empty, with long stretches of monotonous yet beautiful countryside. It eases you into the touristy areas and the magnificence rather than seeing all the best up front.
The southern route takes you through the Golden Circle, which is the most visited part of Iceland. The highlights there are the Kerid volcanic crater, Gullfoss waterfall, the geyser…second largest after Old Faithful in Yellowstone. The gem of the area is Thingvellir National Park with the famous Silfra fissure that allows divers and snorkelers to experience the glacially cold underwater conditions of the divide between the North American and European tectonic plates. Visibility is an unheard of 300 feet in the clearest water in the world. The water takes cold to another level … it’s regularly 30 degrees … meaning that either a drysuit or a thick freediving suit is suitable to not just keep you comfortable but to keep you alive. Steve at Dive.is is funny, professional and could be the Icelandic version of Steve Zissou. He will take great care of you down to making sure you have a belt around your neck to keep the water out … not as bad … or as sexy … as it sounds … and you’ll be grateful for lack of seepage.
The fissure is breathtaking … both literally in its cold, and more so in its dramatic walls and glacially blue color.
The park is also home to … per our experience … at least one arctic fox who is bold, curious and will have a good old-fashioned staring contest with you if you are lucky enough to see it.
After completing the Golden Circle, we headed south along the 1 toward Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall famous not only for its sensational cascading misty veil but because you can walk behind it for an other-worldly perspective. Equally fantastic was the neighboring moss covered crevice, a short walk away, that leads to another smaller waterfall. You squeeze through the narrow canyon like you’re entering some hidden world where gnomes might bring you tea and homemade cheese.
From there we made it to another waterfall … Skogafoss. Also spectacular. In the beginning, you will pull over for every scenic waterfall … every one … until you realize that the road trip would take the rest of your life … because Iceland has over 10,000 waterfalls. The thing about the amazing wonders of Iceland is that anywhere else in the world every one of these attractions…from the ubiquitous waterfalls and moss-covered rocks to astounding canyons and lava fields … would certainly be the star attraction and welcome thousands of visitors with shoulder to shoulder standing room only….and here they quickly become a dime a dozen.
Next, we made it to Solheimajokull Glacier. Glaciers are some of the coolest natural spectacles on the planet and visiting one when you’re nearby is always a good idea. Here you can take a tour of the outside and inside of the glacier or just walk around and marvel at the natural wonders on your own….carefully. In Iceland, you’re expected to have common sense. There are rules and there are suggestions for safety but overall it’s your responsibility. Your best judgment is imperative to prevent you from falling into glacial crevices, boiling to death in geothermal mud pots, expiring from hypothermia, falling from scenic yet deadly ledges, taking an unwanted trip over a waterfall, being crushed by moving ice or any other number of ways of becoming a statistic. In the United States, we call it a lawsuit waiting to happen … in Iceland they call it natural selection. On the other hand, violent crime and even theft are almost nonexistent so you can take that off your list of concerns and just focus on not perishing by natural wonder.
The next noteworthy stop on the southern route is the Sólheimasandur plane crash, a fuselage of a DC-3 that crash-landed on a vast black sand beach on a foggy night in 1973. Everyone survived and the eerie, twisted wreckage is now a popular photo opportunity. The round trip hike is a non-strenuous five miles.
Here we learned a crucial lesson on Icelandic weather and appropriate gear. Weather changes quickly and hiking five miles when you’re wet and cold will not be a highlight of your trip. This is where gear actually matters in the most functional and necessary way. Having fast dry clothing, wool, thermal layers, waterproof and windproof outer layers makes a real difference in how happy and safe you will be. Soaked to the bone and shaking uncontrollably, our camper van with its industrial strength heating system, came to the rescue. Some people call it a dashboard with vents, we called it a luxury dryer, and it did the job of making our wet socks warm and toasty in minutes.
Our first camping spot was in the town of Vik, a scenic, tiny town with rugged coastline, black sand beaches and dramatic coastal mountains with, you guessed it, spectacular waterfalls.
Camping in Iceland is interesting. With the recent influx of visitors, it is now illegal to camp anywhere but in designated camping areas. Those are found all over the country and are generally open during tourist season. In the off-season, many are closed but you can still camp there and use the facilities…often for free or for a discounted rate. Facilities consist of bathrooms, paid showers (pretty much the only thing in Iceland that doesn’t take credit cards), sometimes a general area where you can hang out, cook and do dishes and the best ones might even offer laundry. A night’s stay will run you about $15 per person. What was most surprising is that the campsites resemble nothing of what I’m used to in the states. No picnic tables, no fire pits….usually just a grass or gravel parking area to pull up and sleep.
We cooked dinner on our gas stove … which held its own against the howling wind … poured some of that duty-free wine, crawled into our sleeping bags and cranked the heater up as high as it would go. An hour later we woke up to turn it down as we were now in a sauna despite the rainy, 30-degree weather outside.
Being new to the game, Iceland is still developing infrastructure for tourism, as evidenced by limited standard services like readily available public restrooms or trash cans at picnic areas, attractions…or really anywhere. The best bets are campsites, some gas stations and restaurants … although “for customers only” requests are already popping up. All over Iceland, you will see signs discouraging people from doing their business in nature or even in neighborhoods. Clearly, the locals are rightfully frustrated with tourists for this reason but it’s a bit of a double-edged sword of blame when there is a lack of adequate facilities. It is still pristinely clean despite these problems, although symptoms of tourism influx are starting to creep in. We made it a point to pick up cigarette butts and any trash we found and then kept it in our car for days, not always having a trash can to throw it in. What the future holds will be interesting to see, but I have plenty of faith that the country that tops the World Economic Forum’s survey for gender equality will figure out the next steps quickly and efficiently.
Leaving Vik, we ate breakfast at a spectacular waterfall that we had all to ourselves, explored some more windswept black sand beaches and hit the road toward Hjorleifshofoi, a hilly hike worth the climb for the history, view and stretching your legs. Unable to properly pronounce any Icelandic names we dubbed it Morla, the ancient turtle from The Neverending Story.
As you continue on the 1 the scenery changes so dramatically that you start to wonder how this terrain all fits into one country. It seems unfair to all other nations. You drive through miles upon endless miles of spongy moss covered lava stones and regularly find yourself uttering phrases like “what the…” and “holy moly.” One cannot imagine how surreal this land of fire and ice truly is until you’ve experienced it for yourself.
An absolute must stop is Fjadrargljufur Canyon. A deep, green canyon with waterfalls and rivers cascading through it from various angles that left us awestruck that this isn’t considered a proper world wonder. It should be. At this point on your journey, you start to wonder if Iceland isn’t just a manufactured Hollywood soundstage built for mind-blowing film locations that have been left up in between blockbusters. Hollywood may not have created it but it sure takes advantage. Iceland has been featured in everything from Game of Thrones, Tomb Raider, Star Wars, Batman and James Bond … to a Justin Bieber video.
Still reeling from the canyon, you can swing by Skaftafell National Park to visit more glaciers, waterfalls and scenic volcanic wonders.
Fjallsarlón Iceberg Lagoon blows your mind all over again as you witness ice-bergs sailing silently in a still body of water. You can take a boat tour around the bergs and up to the Vatnajökull glacier for a more intimate view of the ice.
Minutes down the road you are awestruck yet again as you pull up to the famous Jokulsarlon Lagoon. In April, at an inflowing tide, we watched icebergs float back into the lagoon and collide, giving you a first-hand understanding of why the Titanic never stood a chance. If you don’t utter the phrase “Iceberg dead ahead,”then you’re really missing out on a rare opportunity. This was a standout highlight of our trip. Even though we experienced it through thick fog, the grandiose nature of the spectacle wasn’t one bit diminished. Blue, black and snow white icebergs emerged out of the mist like ghost ships and collided with the jarring cacophony of buildings collapsing, flipping and submerging, creating waves that washed up on shore and lapped at our feet.
Across the street is the famous diamond beach were huge chunks of ice wash up on shore tossed up like gemstones by the pounding surf. Again, a Hollywood special effects artist would be hard pressed to create something of this caliber, and if they did the backlash would be that it’s just too over the top to be believable.
Be aware that after Iceland your bar for the mind-boggling spectacular will be set so high that very little will ever come close again
Most tourists make it as far as Jokulsarlon Lagoon. After that you’re no longer a tourist, you’re an explorer.
On the next stretch of road, keep your eyes peeled for reindeer. We scanned the countryside tirelessly and then urgently slammed on the breaks when one appeared directly in front of our van. It gave us a bit of a dirty look and wandered off to join its herd. Undoubtedly Santa would have brought us lumps of coal in our stalkings had we hit one and I’m not sure that even our trusty van could have recovered from such a collision. Reindeer are surprisingly big in person.
More sweeping vistas and cliffs reminiscent of California’s Big Sur bring you to the town of Djúpivogur, a cute fishing town with a pretty port.
Our favorite nearby attraction was a semi-secret hot pot. Hot pot is the term for off-the-beaten-path geothermal pools for soaking. They quickly became the highlight of our trip and the quest to find them through word of mouth and GPS coordinates became a wonderful scavenger hunt. This one is off a small road just outside of town and consists of a good sized tub with a gorgeous view of the water. It was one of our favorites. We were the only ones there and soaked in the warmth and surrounding beauty for a literal hot minute before continuing our journey.
And then we head north. Following along a fjord, we decided to cut through on the 938, a road that is most likely closed in winter. It took us over the mountains, past waterfalls and through snowbanks that towered over our car. In Iceland, many of the main roads are gravel but incredibly well maintained…if sometimes harrowing cliffhangers… and we never had a problem with our camper van. With that said, the website Safetravel.is is a real-time life and time saver. It gives you up to date info on everything from weather conditions and advisories to road closures … saving us hours of time in backtracking by letting us know in advance what roads were accessible. As a side note, following the speed limit is highly advised as there are speed cameras across the country. This rule seemingly doesn’t apply to the locals who blaze past you at lightning speeds in the fog on mountain roads. I’m not quite sure what driving course they’ve all taken but I’d like to sign up.
Egilsstaoir is another cute town with Hallormsstadur Forestry Reserve, the largest forest in Iceland, nearby. This area must be spectacular in summer and fall when the trees are green and changing colors.
The northern treks are long and can be arduous. Long stretches of road through lava fields blanketed in snow and nothingness that looks like scenes from north of the wall in Game of Thrones were our companions for hours.
The geothermal activity of the Myatvan region is something to write home about and bathhouses rivaling the Blue Lagoon abound. If you need a bit of relaxation, this is a good stop.
Dietfoss is the most powerful waterfall in Europe, although I can’t say from personal experience because the roads to it were all closed, and try as we might, we had to resign to the fact that when Icelanders say roads are impossible .. .they actually are. Roads wash away, turn into gaping fissures and the chances of your car being swallowed are actually real. We circled on various routes trying to access the waterfall in such thick fog that we dubbed that area the Swamps of Sadness from the Neverending Story, decided to call it a loss and moved on. In summer I’m sure the area is stunning and infinitely less tragically depressing.
Veering off the 1 we shot north to the whale watching capital of Iceland. Húsavík had our favorite campground on the trip and of course the opportunity to see whales. The three-hour tour with Gentle Giants…not to be confused with Gilligan’s tropical version…which this most certainly didn’t resemble in any way judging by the full body exposure jumpsuits…landed us several Minke whales and a colony of puffins. Obviously different seasons offer different species but we were quite pleased.
A word about whales and Iceland…the whaling company Hvalur has just resumed hunting Fin Whales, which seems unfortunate as the meat is not really a local delicacy but mostly served to tourists. The best way to counter that is to not ever order it but invest tourism dollars in whale watching instead. As the scale tips, it will make more economic sense to keep them alive rather than butcher them for the curiosity of tourist’s palates.
Húsavík also has a community geothermal hot tub situated right outside of town. It’s made from an old cheese making vessel and popular with psoriasis patients for its healing qualities.
Godafoss is yet another waterfall that’s totally worth the stop even though you’ve seen roughly 700 by this point.
Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest city beautifully set on a fjord and full of art galleries, museums and good eats.
Our next adventure was finding a secret hot pot next to a waterfall that turned out to be beautifully situated on a river, Fosslaug hot spring. The access point was through a field full of Icelandic ponies… all of which have thick bangs that make you wonder how they can see anything at all. Be cautious of electrical fences in Iceland. They’re the real deal. This one blasted me back like the kid on the T-Rex fence in Jurassic Park.
The seal colony town of Hvammstangi was an interesting episode for us. We pulled in at night to stay at the local campground and found it next to a church and cemetery. When our headlights illuminated the graves, we both got such a chest-tightening uncomfortable feeling that we stepped on the gas and booked it out of there. That night, from the cozy supernatural barrier of our van, I looked up the history of the town to see if our sixth sense was pinging correctly. It turns out the location was the place of the last execution in Iceland. A couple who murdered two men and were sentenced to death. The condemned woman then spoke from beyond the grave beseeching a local resident to reunite her head with her body and give her a proper burial. Yep, our gut was spot on. Not only that but it turns out Jennifer Lawrence is slated to play the lead role in a retelling of the story.
Wanting a change of scenery from open fields and idyllic mountains we veered north toward the western fjords. The topography changed again and renewed our road trip spirit with a beautiful coastal drive and driftwood littered beaches.
Finding it strange that a country with limited timber would have so much drift-wood we hopped on Google to figure out the mystery. Driftwood comes from Siberia, gets trapped in polar ice caps and then makes its way down to Iceland via ocean currents. The oldest piece found was over 500 years old. Historically it was of immense value to the local people in a relatively treeless country. Farmers would mark the wood that washed up on their land to claim it as theirs. These days it’s mainly utilized for fence posts.
The ocean has delivered much good fortune to the Icelandic people.
“Hvalreki” is the Icelandic word for “beached whale” and also means “something good that is unexpectedly yours or at your disposal.”
This country isn’t forced. There are no forced attractions. You won’t find the biggest ball of twine in Iceland. What you will find instead is the oldest steel ship in the country, set postcard perfect on a beach where it was brought aground in 1981. You’ll also discover unexpected highlights like the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Holmavik, complete with pants made of human skin. The museum does a fantastic job of explaining local lore and legends and has some pieces that are fascinating. Absolutely worth the stop if mythology and folklore interest you.
The gentleman running the museum could not have been more lovely and, since this area is full of Icelandic folklore, we deemed him a sorcerer and believed that indeed he might have been for all his good suggestions.
He guided us to our favorite community hot pool of them all. A big hot spring fed swimming pool next to the Hotel Laugarholl set on a beautiful hillside overlooking the valley. The facility, like most, is community run and operates on donations given on the honor system. This one has a heated changing area with showers and a bonus archeological site on premises you can visit. Even more interesting, it also offers a second rock pool that is renowned in the area for its healing properties. We certainly felt better post dip.
A mere 30 minutes away we rejoined the coast and stopped by the Drangsnes hot pools, modified hot tubs on the water’s edge, for another dip.
Turning west we followed the road around the lower half of the western fjords. I’ve never gripped a steering wheel tighter weaving in and out of cliffhanger gravel roads with some of the most dramatic scenery we had seen. I’d be OK never driving those roads again but it was worth every harrowing turn.
Our third hot pot of the day was at sunset in the small stop of Flokalundur. Once again it was idyllically set, a perfect temperature, natural rock setting and right next to the water with the sound of seabirds drifting over.
Our camp nearby was on a hill scenically overlooking the area and offered us the first clear night skies of the trip. As if on cue the magnificent aurora borealis showed up and danced across the sky as we, in turn, danced in the grass with joy. The Northern Lights are everything you’ve ever heard about and more! Dancing swirls of magic space dust across a night sky that change directions and hues as if some masterful hand was painting the witching hours with neon glow in the dark paints.
Other than the appearance of the aurora the highlight of the lower western fjords is the spectacularly dramatic Latrabjarg cliffs. They are the westernmost point in Iceland and therefore in all of Europe and will make any Princess Bride fan think of the cliffs of insanity.
Since winding back through the fjords to access the lower Snæfellsnes Peninsula seemed daunting, we hopped the Brjanslaekur to Stykkisholmur ferry for the 2.5-hour trip. For $150 for two people and a car, it was worth every penny. The ferry was the nicest I’ve ever been on complete with a snack bar, play area for kids, multiple decks and even a living room style area with a big screen TV. Like our entire trip, we had the ferry mostly to ourselves and the captain even came down for a chat giving us plentiful insights into local culture and attractions.
The points of interest on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula are worth a visit and, with the proximity to Reykjavík, it’s pretty easy to add to your itinerary.
Cute towns like Hellnar and Arnarstapi dot the coast and you can visit the Snæfellsjökull Glacier … noteworthy as the place of entry in Journey to the Center or the Earth, several Hollywood productions and its own natural beauty.
The Rauðfeldsgjá gorge is striking, if not a bit inaccessible even in the spring. Unusual basalt formations abound along the coast. Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland, a handful of hot springs and several volcanos are all worth a stop.
From there you can wind down back toward Reykjavík and reenter civilization by exploring this bustling, artistic town where you could spend several days galavanting, relaxing and dining.
Like all my off the beaten path locations Iceland’s Ring Road won’t stay remote for long. Many times on our trip we worried for the pristine and isolated locations and what will become of them as more and more tourists make their way to this magical island. The good news is that the Icelandic people are one step ahead of the game in most areas and I have full confidence in their ability to handle the influx of sightseers to their beautiful land.
Travel tips for Iceland:
1. Buy alcohol and snacks at duty free when you arrive.
2. Credit cards accepted everywhere but make sure you accept credit card charges in Icelandic or you’ll pay a conversion fee.
3. Flybus will take you from the airport to Reykjavik and vice versa for about $29. Grab tickets in the baggage claim area or online.
4. You will need your credit card pin for the gas station. Diesel is the BLACK pump not the green.
5. Wow airlines offers incredible deals.
6. Most cell phones offer open world plans. I upgraded my Sprint PCS plan to high-speed internet… which cost me an additional $25 for a week… and offers free texting to the states and unlimited data. My coverage was better in the remote fjords than it is in my bedroom back in Malibu. A useful upgrade for safety and the ability to run maps … as well as looking up any questions you may have along the way.
7. Time of year makes a real difference with hours of daylight so plan accordingly.
8. Don’t speed. Speed cameras are located all over the country.
9. Fill up on gas at half a tank as gas stations can be few and far between.
10. Bring your own towel for the hot springs or you will have to rent one for an exorbitant fee.