30 September 2009


If my work is boring nobody would want to read about it. If my work is interesting I wouldn't want anybody to read about it. Except for my co-authors, the editor of the journal of choice, and the reviewers. Roughly speaking.

But quite unlike what the blog so far suggests, a lot of my time is actually spent working. So I decided to shortly write about it anyway. In shrouded terms!

In order to reconstruct the Icelandic sea level, which is one of the objectives of this project, we study the downcore distribution of specific foram species, which have each their own preference regarding elevation above mean tide level. However, Roland was not entirely satisfied with the precision by which we know these. So right now I'm tracing a few species in our surface samples, of which we have very precisely measured elevation. And it's fun, if you're a nerd! So only weeks into the job I already have material, a question, and expectations, which is where science is fascinating. If you first have to spend months and months on preparation before the first results come in that can be a tad tedious. So I am quite happy cutting bits out of our surface samples, sieving them to goo, staining them, splitting them and then ogling them under the microscope. And finding out how high my bugs want to be!

Another find-the-foram pic... this one was lying there so decoratively. And on popular demand (see comments): with an outliny thing!

28 September 2009

Trying a walk

When I biked around last weekend, I noticed that the nicest bits of the landscape are inaccessible for bikes. So I wanted to give it a try, and venture out without my black companion. It was awkward to leave him behind! But I did. At the quay where the watertaxi goes to Mount Batten peninsula.

Now there's an organized country

Mount Batten has a watersports centre. And I want to take up kayakking again! I had waited with taking initiatives as the students' kayak club would take in new members late september. But it turned out to really be a students' club sensu stricto. No staf allowed! So I went to Mount Batten.

One thing England does have: lots of evident bellogenic heritage

Perhaps a relic from Brunel's time?

Sunsets make everything pretty!

No luck still. The centre is not responsible for the clubs residing there. So I'll phone them. See if that helps. Anyway, now I was at Mount Batten, and I took the opportunity to glue some of the South West Coastal Path that runs alongside it, and the Plym-Erme trail, together for a sunday walk. Not too bad. But still it hurts to walk through such landscape. What a sorry excuse of a landscape after Norway! But alas. There seems to be diving and caving going on here as well. Then you can't tell how civilized the surroundings are! Maybe I should do that.

Turning into a responsible citizen

When the movers arrive with all your belongings, it is tempting to configure them such that they form a kind of home. Immediately. I felt that temptation. And ignored it.
We had a guest! And a new PhD student. You don't let a guest go out for dinner alone. So the day the movers came I, as soon as the movers left, went to Roland for the welcoming dinner, and then back to the house of the lovely PhD ladies. This time I could sleep in a bed! One of the ladies had left. And in the morning I gathered whatever I had taken to that place and left.

The day after we went into town. We being Tasha the guest, Rob the new PhD student, and me. When I got home I dug out my bedding and slept on a mattress on the floor. But the friday would be different! In the afternoon I would have my first probation talk with Roland. That was done quickly. He's

happy! And after that we went to the pub. Of course. And asked Rob along. And after the beer he would come help me with my house. So sweet!

He's a practical guy, so he assembled my book cupboard in no time. And then the bed. While I was fidgeting ramdom things. So it started to look (and sound: I connected the radio and CD-player) like a house... we had deserved dinner.

The whole of the saturday I continued the work. So after less than 1.5 days the house was well inhabitable! I'm glad.

Every time I walk through it, though, I feel like a grown-up. It's a real house! With separate rooms for sleeping, sitting and cooking! Windows on two sides! Room to manouevre! It's a bit scary, but it's nice too.

And sunday I got a text message from Roland. If I wanted to buy his car. I tend to embrace such opportunities. But his car is less than 10 years old! There's nothing dodgy or ridiculous about it! It works! I will most likely do it (a car gives you much more freedom in exploring the surroundings, and I need to keep driving in order not to lose the skill), but then I'm REALLY a grown-up... what would be next?

24 September 2009


The last prognosis had been: movers coming wednesday evening or thursday late morning. But I hadn't heard anything by wednesday morning, so I did not expect anything. The driver did not answer my requests for information.

In a way, that was good: wednesday we would get our new PhD student Rob. And there would be a welcome-dinner. By chance the Durham postdoc on this project, the sort of mirror position to mine, would come the very same day to sub-sample our Iceland treasures. So that would nicely fit.

And then I got email. Prognosis: 7 PM arrival of the moving lorry! Horrible timing, that. Too early to first go to the dinner, which would take place at Roland's, and too late to first do the moving and then come afterwards. At least I could pick up Tasha, the Durham postdoc, from the railway station.

And then the driver did answer the phone. New ETA: half past six! And when I phoned again to verify he came with a helper he casually mentioned he meant half past six Norwegian time! That changed things. I was going to meet up with Tasha in the Kirkby Place pub, take her to Roland's and then abscond, but instead we now all went to the pub, had a beer, and then I left in the directon of home.

The drivers were punctual. And nice blokes! I had been somewhat confused when I addressed the driver by phone in Norwegian, and his response had been "we kunnen ook gewoon Nederlands praten, toch?". So then I assumed they had rented a Dutch company. But no. The guy coincidentally was Dutch while living in Norway (the lucky bastard!) and his companion was a real Norwegian citizen. So we did the communication in Norwegian!

They came with a huge truck, that consequently was almost empty. Here my couch and cupboard can be seen, ready for being carried in.

And then the actual moving. Not even that much work! I directed almost everything into the bedroom, enabling a potentially rapid transformation of the living room into an acceptably nice, tidy and cosy place. With the result that the bedroom was rather full.

But that was not a major concern. In 1.5 hours all was in place. I shook hands with the movers and took off. Rolandward ho! In the garden I changed into a not-too-sweaty shirt and rung the bell. It was good to have a nice meal and several liters of water after running up and down the stairs with boxes in your hands for a while! And the new (whether temporary or not) people turned out to be lovely.

So I got to celebrate my stuff with my near colleagues, and Roland's female relatives. His mother, who was in town in the honour of Maria's graduation, was glad to have someone to talk Dutch to, and his daughter unexpectedly sat on my lap for ages without panicking over my non-identicality with Maria, but happily pulling my very suitable hair. It was good!

And at the end of the evening I for the last time went to the house of the PhD ladies, intending to sleep a last night, and then empty the house of my scant belongings. The night after should be my debut at my own place!

20 September 2009


I had figured it all out! I would bring a bicycle bag with me from Norway, to facilitate transport of all my stuff to England, and for immediate use in reconnaisance trips in the surroundings. However, one should not load these too heavily. It got no further than Amsterdam in acceptable shape.

Not finding a Vaude dealer in Plymouth I contacted the manufacturer, who redirected me to a UK dealer. Who immediately after receiving the broken component sent an intact one back, at no cost! Lovely folks. Too bad it did not include the necessary bolts.

The open-on-sundays toolshop solved that problem. Almost. The bolts were too long! And I don't have my iron saw yet. But soon!

Another shop that was open on sunday was the bookshop, which also sold maps. Excellent! I had forgotten that I only had a map of Plymouth, and that's not the best place for sunday bikerides. So after my exploits in the hideous city centre I headed out, heavily armed with ordnance maps. Not yet with the bicycle bag, though. To Cornwall, was the idea. Close to my place there's a ferry. Unfortunately it was very low tide...

Quite low tide

There was another ferry on the map, in deeper water, and that took me to Cornwall after all. And then a bikeride as expected followed. Charming villages, ancient churches, undulating fields. And enough hills to make me feel active. And a cream tea on the way, with a good book beside it, for the English cultural touch. And on the way back the water was high enough for taking the originally intended ferry back.

On the way I saw that the landscape is teeming with footpaths. I think the coastal path will beckon me soon!


Thursday late afternoon I had the letting agency on the phone... they had received my deposit, and wanted me to come receive the key! Excellent! Friday I got them: four specimens, three of which I have found the purpose of as I write this. The friday itself was used on a staff meeting and a girls' night out, but saturday was the day of renewed acquaintance of me and the house. Roland drove me there to deliver my stuff. I already had mail there!

As quick as he had driven me there he drove me away as well; his car has no bike rack so he had to take me back to my beloved means of transport. And I made my entrance yet again. This time through the back door, as this one opens to the place behind the house which to my eye is excellent bicycle storage. The house is situated at the rather sharp, but meandering border between a rather good and a slighly less soigne neighbourhood. Approaching the house from behind makes you feel the breath of the not so classy areas...

The alleyway behind the house

Notice the beautiful bicycle

Yet once inside the atmosphere changes

There's not very much there yet!

The view from the window

The next door neighbour in the middle of the square

Behind the square are classy pedestrian areas

With the cathedral of Plymouth, as if that other church wasn't enough yet!
When one walks in the other direction one sees decayed glory

I have been finding some things out about the house and its surroundings. The shower and the boiler are working. The toilet door has no lock. There is a bathtub. There are two big in-built cupboards that are excellent for containing stuff, of which I have lots. There is a whole bunch of second hand shops very nearby (in the direction of the not-so-good neighbourhood of course). And in the other direction there's a tool shop that's open on sundays. Yay!

16 September 2009

A taste of married life

When I came home from Iceland I did not come home to an empty house. Or rather, I did, because Maria had been elsewhere and came home later than me, but I did not come back into a house solely inhabited by me. Which was nice! The house is a conspicuously cosy one, and especially after the dump I had lived in so far the effect of that was not lost.

I have lived there now for over a week. It's a girls' world. Me, Maria and Rosa. And it's good! I notice how unaccustomed I am to living with other people. I tend to just workaholic away into the evening. And greet any social opportunity that pops up. And now there's suddenly someone at home to have breakfast with (even though mostly I'm gone before the other ladies wake up), someone who cooks for me or that I cook for, and to chat up about the adventures of the day. It's great! I might very well have a hard time getting used to living on my own again. But it's strange to have to check with the homefront if people unexpectedly invite me for a beer. I feel like a husband! I already jokingly refer to Maria as my wife, something that has caused its share of confusion.

Tonight things change: Roland will return. Good! And then I will most likely have the rest of the working week at their welcoming household, and then I'll turn into a student again... I'll report! It has been an educative yet lovely time. Maybe one day I'll get the hang of real married life...

15 September 2009

Swamp forams

Bits of dirt. Decaying grass roots. A small dead worm. Lots and lots of indeterminable bits. And then: a foram! A real one! Not a big one, not pretty, but unmistakably a foram. My heart jumped. And then I knew my nerdness was confirmed again.

Spot the foram! The very first!

The first day after coming back from Iceland was too hectic with all sorts of things that needed to be dealt with. The second day after coming back from Iceland was the big laboratory cleaning day. No access! The third day I made my debut. And sub-sampled a few samples. Take five cc, sieve it, and stain it. And then you need to give the dye some time for the staining. Monday I could split a sample and have a first look! And these salt marsh samples are a mess. But there they were. Forams.

I get dirtier and dirtier with time… I started my foram career with tropical, planktonic forams from the deep sea, from a sediment core that spanned 240.000 years. If you then have a sample of, say, 100.000 years old from 2.5 km depth you hardly have more than virginally white, empty foram tests. Some clay perhaps. A lost diatom. All clean and neat and tidy.

In the Barents Sea I dealt with surface samples. All sorts of squirmy things that were still alive when the sample was taken. A lot of poo from unidentified marine animals. Dead invertebrate blobs. Mats of sponge needles that catch each other and get terribly in the way.

But now I have to wring my forams from the roots of salt marsh grasses. Sieving that is quite some work. And after sieving you’re left with lots and lots of decaying grass bits. And from in between that you need to find your foram way. Yet I will prevail. Would there be any messier forams?

14 September 2009

Message from the north

Like a thief in the night I took residence in Kirkby Place. Most people were on holiday, my boss had to look after the kid the entire morning, my room did not have my name on the door, my face was absent on the picture board at the entrance, my name was missing on the in/out board beside it... and I did not expect to have a mailbox. After a few days I checked. But lo and behold, my name was on a pidgeon hole! Together with the names of at least three other elusive types. No mail for me.

Today I looked again. And suddenly realised that the names refer to the pidgeonhole below. Not above! And I had mail! A postcard from Sanja! A voice coming through the mists. A beckoning from the north! My first forams were waiting in the lab but I was so touched I decided to share this first.

Not that messages delivered by other means are not appreciated, by the way, but there is something about hand written messages that characters on s screen just don't have. And soon I'll have a real address, and I can receive mail there. Even better! And beside that: I already have my name on the door and on the in/out board. Soon I'll even have my picture in the hallway! I really come into existence!

Some exercise

Two years in Norway makes you a veritable sports addict. And after only a few days of being back from Iceland, and not moving much (except for the lifting of a glass of beer to the mouth) I got restless. I decided to go for a bikeride, and spoke of that intention at the barbecue at Veit's place, or rather at his supervisor's place. It seems to be normal here to move in with your boss*. Veit did such awaiting his repatriation.

Anyway, my announcement caught he attention of another griller, Big John; an epithet meant as an aid to to distinguish him from the aforementioned host: Little Jon. In spite of the somewhat incongruent-looking combination of my warning that I was mainly interested in getting my muscles moving, his 20 years seniority, and his deserved nom de plume, he wanted to join.

So sunday morning we took off! John does not lead a miss Marple lifestyle, so the whole expedition got somewhat delayed, but within limits. We decided to bike where once the Great Western Railway had run. It turned out to be a beautiful path, ending near a village called Clearbrook. A good turning point. And an opportunity for a profoundly British couple of pints of cider before we accepted the road back. It was a good ride!

And I did not get half the exercise I had initially planned, while John got much more than bargained for, but in this way it was a nice combination of movement and a social gathering. And the map showed that if we would not have biked straight north, as we did, but northeast, we would have ended up on the Moors. If I go alone I can bike there in a whiffy and then explore Dartmoor! It's even closer than I thought. I see possibilities!

The approach of Clearbrook

ps Jon is not Veit's supervisor! I just erroneously thought that. All these human geographers seem the same...

12 September 2009

Girls' day out

Another beautiful saturday! And of course on friday I had ended up in the pub with the usual suspects, but this time in a more modest, responsible way; probably the result of my improvised family life, about which I'll report more later. A remarkable thing, by the way, about that friday in the pub was that I had been more or less promised the presence of a Norwegian girl. On arrival she turned out to be Swedish, but that hardly spoiled the fun; she was eager to speak Scandinavian with someone, and so was I. She thought I actually was Norwegian! I was chuffed. If I keep this up I'll still speak Norwegian next year, when the sea level people have a fieldwork there...
Anyway. Saturday I was awake early. The sun was shining! Maria was also eager to enjoy such rare circumstance. So she proposed going to Dartmoor and having a stroll. Splendid! We phoned Shabnam, an Iranian PhD student of which I knew she was also considering such activities, grabbed the baby, and went. I was still missing Norway, but I had to admit that Dartmoor is not bad. I don't think Shabnam really noticed the landscape because she was completely absorbed by Rosa, but to each their own. It was a good afternoon! After a stroll we got ourselves a pasty in the sun, and did some more sightseeing.
Shabnam, Rosa and Maria
It was a day that completely confirmed my new English status of the responsible, calm, sensible woman. This time more family girl than scholar, but well, something with a calm stroll in pleasing weather, kindly smiling to all other venerable citizens going for a jolly walk. I should go buy a miss Marple dress. And we had crumpets for breakfast! The nordic hero in me is withering away.
After the stroll things got more familiar, though: Veit invited me for a barbecue. That is an activity miss Marple would not quickly get engaged in I gather. But I was in for a bikeride, even though he turned out to live almost disappointingly close. And it was a good barbecue. Unfortunately characterised by what most of my social life so far is characterised by: people on the ominous brink of leaving. But nothwithstanding that blemish, and the unaccustomed homeliness of the earlier part of the day, it had been a good day.

Dave (Rolands PhD student), Veit, me, and Lauren (who is about to leave us for Exeter)

10 September 2009

House updates

I was a bit restless on the way back from Iceland. I expected news from the movers! Theoretically they could already be approaching the metaphoric city gates. And I would have had no idea. And in the meantime the letting agency was phoning me and kicking my butt in order to get the rental agreement finalised. Which, by the way, will take a while: I can't get the key before they have received my deposit, which came from my Norwegian bank account, so that can take a while. So in that sense it's good the movers are not near yet: I couldn't let them in... but I expect they key somewhere next week. Getting the key, and a contract, will by the way allow me to acquire a bank account. Could come in handy!

Freshly back in Plymouth, around the storing of the samples, I checked my email. And the most recent update was: week 39. Bummer. But what can you do. It's still before the next field trip. If it stays week 39 and is not delayed again.

Maria was very reassuring and said I could stay for as long as I wanted. That's sweet! but if I indeed have to stay weeks I might feel I am overstaying my welcome anyway. And if it really takes long I would not have my stuff before Roland and Maria get several visitors. And then I should be off; these visitors, I assume, deserve all the free space there is. I can just do the same trick as I did in Norway: just beg around for a mattress, a sleeping bag, some camping pots, pans and other dishware, and a chair, and then I can wait for my own stuff in the new house. It's a bit basic but it's not too bad. But we'll see. I look forward to hearing the long-awaited call from the movers that the lorry has left Oslo... or even better: that they have passed London. Then I finally will have a real indication of when they come!

Swamping in Iceland

Monday the 31st, at five, the first episode of my Plymouth life came to an end: Roland came to rescue me from the smelly house. I thought he would take me home for dinner, but he didn’t: there was going to be yet another Veit-Roland goodbye beer session. And even this one most likely won’t be the last. We ended up at Roland’s for dinner after all. It’s a place one easily feels at home in. And we went to bed early, for the next morning at six we would be picked up by Wil, the third man of the field trip. So in the cold dark of early morning I for the first time met the man I would be spending a week with. And we took off, heading for Heathrow, and all went well so before we knew it we were at Snorrastadir, where we would spend the week. The comfortable chalets, surrounded by sceptical sheep, were greeting us in the low sun. We made dinner and had a nice glass of whisky. Let the fieldtrip begin.

The gang! Me, Wil and Roland, looking characteristically cool

The chalets as we found them

The weather forecast had suggested that the next day would be beautiful, and after that things would deteriorate, so we wanted to make the most of this promising field day. Thus we loaded the surveying equipment, the sampling paraphernalia and our personal stuff into the car at an early hour, and set off. Smoothly. Until we came to where we had to park the car and continue on foot. Between us and our destination were mudflats (and it was high tide), lava flows, and salt marshes. The mud flats were no option at this time of day and the lava flows are difficult to negotiate, so we chose the salt marshes, which were intersected only by paths made by and for sheep. But these provided the most comfortable passage.

I quickly lost my sense of direction, but Roland seemed to know exactly where he was going. And he did. After one and a half hour, at a spot in the marsh that to me looked like any other spot in the marsh, Roland and Wil walked to a channel that had cut through the marsh surface, and looked very pleased. And indeed, in a curve of the channel an old cut-out could be discerned. Years before they had taken samples there, and it could still be seen! And they had found it. In order for the surface measurements to be calibrated we also needed to find a benchmark they had made in the nearby lava flow. A benchmark in the shape of a stainless steel nail, marked with bright paint. Years ago, that is. When we set out to look for it Roland let himself be guided by his GPS, and at some point announced it should be there somewhere. I just looked around and saw an unmarked, very rusty nail sticking out of a crack in the rock. It was the benchmark! After years of destructive work by the sea and the wind.

A general impression of the marsh

Roland above the old cut

The not very conspicuous anymore benchmark

Lunch in the sun

Evidently we had a good vibe. We enjoyed a sandwich in the sun, and rolled up our sleeves. We wanted to gather surface samples around the old section to ground truth it. Initially we wanted to do two transects in the vicinity. Roland marked them out. And then another one because he couldn’t resist. Using a tape measures, land surveying equipment and marker flags we measured the elevation along the transect, chose and marked sample points, and got out our brand new cutters. Wil knows a blacksmith who had made special salt marsh surface samplers. Excellent! Like a well-oiled war machine we sampled away. One transect. And another one. And the third! And then, why not, we marked out a fourth one, along an extra low part of the marsh. Who knows what we would find. And then we had 58 samples, tired bodies and empty stomachs. Time to go back to the chalets. I was the only one with a reasonably sized backpack, so the honour befell to me to carry not only the EDM (the surveying object) but also all the samples back. After the winter hike in Iceland I am not so easily impressed with heavy backpacks anymore. I should mention, though, that if I would have been, these men would have been more than willing to take over. But this time unnecessarily.

Wil looking menacing beside the EDM

A transect laid out

A full action picture

We came back to the chalet at about eight, and I set out to cook curry, while Roland fell asleep on the couch, and Wil actively avoided couch-like surfaces in order to escape a similar fate. And after the curry, a glass of whisky and feeling quite pleased with ourselves we went to bed.

Another impression of the surroundings

Decorative sheep in the evening light on the way back

We had done two days of fieldwork in one, so we allowed ourselves a day of relative rest. In the morning we set out to visit a nearby mini-volcano. If it would have featured a Hollywood film we would have criticised it for hardly being realistic. But there it was. The dog belonging to the chalet owners saw an opportunity and joined us. It was not only a stroll for fun: the students were always in the back of the men’s mind, and this would be a perfect excursion point for some volcanologic education. Even being pint-sized it managed to impress with its view into the crater. I could not resist and walked (and clambered) all around it, accompanied by the ever-enthusiastic dog.

Cute dog on a background with a cute volcano

It was too big to be captured in one picture…the gentlemen for scale

The afternoon was spent on a reconnaissance mission in the surroundings. Were there more suitable salt marshes? Were the other interesting features? This time I got to drive. First time in an automatic! You get used to it quickly. And the narrow gravel roads felt familiar.

We came across yet another dog eager to get some company. Two men happy with the configuration

The homely routine had by that time also settled in. I thought we made a good makeshift household. I had to step up a bit in prompt hygiene but I think I managed. And Roland and Wil have shown before to be a good team, and I had no difficulty at all feeling blended in almost immediately. And I think we found a good balance between working hard and focussed, and letting off some steam by being silly in between. It was good!

The surface samples were the main goal, but we also wanted to resample the vertical section since the original one was running out of material. So after this day of recovering ourselves we had to go recover more sediment. We left the EDM in the chalet, and set off with large steel liners that would hold 60 cm of sediment. This time it already seemed much quicker to get to the site. At which Wil magically conjured up two liners more! He had been here in 2003, and had gathered so much sediment it was hardly possible to carry it back, and in order to not make things worse he had left two empty liners behind. And he retrieved them. Six years of tides had not even rendered the labels unreadable.

Some bird we came across
We hammered three tins (steel tins? Well why not) into the wall, got them out, cleaned, packed and labelled them, and then we were basically done for the fieldtrip. This time we walked back over the mud flats, as we had timed our quest well this time. It meant a lot of sloshing through mud that just wasn’t deep enough to drool into your shoes, a lot of splashing through low water, and jumping (or trying to jump) over numerous streams, but we could more or less walk as the crow flies and in an hour we were near the car. There we explored terrain for potential sites for the students’ excursion, and went home. After lunch we went for a walk along the beach, again digging in every exposure we came across, hunting for educative features. And briefly teamed up with the dog again. And coming up with the brilliant idea to have Wil cook an excellent meal of fish and chips while Roland and I jumped into the hot tub that belonged with the chalet, accompanied by two beers and the usual cheeky little snifter of whisky. It worked brilliantly.

A fresh section is cut

Clean up, pack in, and leave!

We already had done everything we needed to do for the fieldwork and more, but the men had come up with the idea of looking for a pure peat bog section and take that home as well, for scientific reasons I will not get too deep into here. So the next day we went on a search. We tried several promising sites, but the peat was never pure enough. Until we drove along a bog with a freshly cut drainage channel running through. The bog had been inaccessibly swampy, but with this channel it would soon be fit for grazing by horses. And it saved us the digging of a deep pit. Happily we recovered another tin-full of sediment from the channel, and called it a field trip. Getting even more material would be really overdoing it. And we also had to manage to get everything home.

Wil looking very smug with another tin full of sediment, and the drainage channel in the background

We then had two and a half days left. Time for fun! We used the afternoon for a road trip. We intended to drive closely past Snaefellsjokull volcano, but unfortunately the road was exclusively claimed by a hoard of rally drivers. Luckily the volcano is also beautiful from the other side.

We drove a nice curl in the rain through the magical, dreamy landscape. We passed by numerous volcanic cones that had vomited out numerous jagged, crumbly lava flows, and by beautiful basalt columns, dizzying vertical cliffs, strange erosional features, and got out of the car often to be humbled by this landscape that seemed to have such an overpowering personality.

Slightly less impressive are the towns: here Stykkisholmur

Sunday the weather was supposed to be rather bad, so we decided to drive inland and have a look there. Roland had come up with a cunning route featuring many interesting sights, beginning with a very picturesque waterfall. And then whole range of waterfalls, many of them coming from the flank of a lava flow. These can be very permeable, and this one obviously was. The main channel this water ended up in was a roaring white mass, just some tens of meters upstream. And then something I looked forward to! A 4 km lava cave. We first went in at the wrong side. It was more 40 than 4000m there. Pretty, though! On the other side a tunnel went into the rock, and it was easy to believe it indeed would lead far, yet entry was blocked. Understandable, but disappointing too. So we went on.

This was the wrong end
This was the right end, but still an end…

And what then followed was for me the absolute top of our roaming. Coming inland the landscape already became inhospitable. Grey lava flows as far as the eye could see. No vegetation, no colour, nowhere a little spot you could pitch your tent. Just grey rock. And dark peaks lurking at the horizon. We drove deeper and deeper into this unforgiving interior that could not be captured on camera. I felt like my heart was blown clean by the sheer beauty. And then we came to the edge of the ice cap. The road led all the way to it; we could even have driven onto it. But we were rowdy, yet not that rowdy. But standing on glacier ice again, so soon after Strupbreen, was amazing. The skies were haunted by dark clouds, and the reign of this troll-infested land was complete. Awestruck we went back to the car. And slowly drove back to civilisation.

We had thought we could do some hikes on Monday, since Wil and I would travel on Tuesday. But we had forgotten that it would be an early flight, and we would have to spend the night near the airport. And that we had to deliver the rental car back to the rental company, and Roland to Reykjavik where he would meet up with the students. So we had to be back in Reykjavik at four, and it still was quite a drive. We therefore restricted ourselves to a visit to a nearby volcano that had produced a lava flow that is mentioned in the Landnammabok. It had evidently spat out some more explosive material, of remarkable colours, after the more gloopy lavas. And finally we just drove into another very arctic-looking, empty valley, where we had lunch on the shores of a lake. And then we headed back.
It felt like being on Mars!

The red tuffs on the blackish lavaflow, and Eldborg, the cute volcano, on the background

We delivered a miserable Roland, who was dearly missing his family, to the slightly depressing youth hostel that was crouching in the drizzle, in some uninteresting quarter of an ugly city. And drove to the airport. And about 24 hours later we were back in Plymouth, and unloaded all the samples into the cold storage. The end of an amazing field trip. And though we are now temporarily bereft of our inspiring scientist-in-chief we can start moving forward the boundaries of science with these ample samples. And start preparing for the next field trip…