Iceland: Bring “Treat Yo Self” Money

When I told people I was going to Iceland in December, they thought I was crazy. If I had a nickel for every time I heard “black people don’t go there” (which is total BS), I could’ve afforded a ticket to The Blue Lagoon. My track season makes it extremely hard to travel outside the country, so when my high school friend Helen said lets do it, I was all in.

We had been planning the trip for close to 3 months, and it really didn’t include too much organization. When December 14th rolled around, I hopped on the plane with no itinerary; only my carry on, a backpack and my North Face. If you don’t have access to Airline Benefits, I highly recommend WOW Airlines (It starts  around $99 round trip). It’s a quick flight over from JFK (less than 5 hours). Luckily I got business class, so I had a few coffee and baileys and passed out.

When you land at KEF and you want to drink in Iceland, I advise you buy a small bottle of vodka or a 6-pack of beer at duty free. It is way cheaper than buying a drink at the restaurants and bars (I learned this the hard way), and all the beer in the grocery store is non-alcoholic. Being that Helen got in a day before me, I was warned of the $40 dollar taxi to our hostel in Keflavik and opted for the bus for 440 ISK ($4). Most of the trip we either walked, or took the Strætó bus.  You should download the Strætó bus app on your phone, because you can purchase tickets from it and plan your route around the city. Although the weather was extremely unpredictable, we found something to do every day.

Day Trips & Attractions for the low low ($$)

IMG_3594

FUNNIEST tour guide (www.citywalk.is)

When you get to Reykjavik, I recommend finding a city tour. It’s free, except they ask for a small donation. The guide will tell you the history of the city, give you cheap spots to get some awesome food and some tips on what to do and what to avoid in the city.

If you cannot afford to go to the Blue Lagoon, hit up the hot pools. There located all over the city, run a little over 5 dollars, and you can soak as long as you want.

Since the Ring Road is not the safest thing to do in the winter, we opted for day trips from Reykjavik. We didn’t want to have a limited amount of time in organized tour groups, so we took to CouchSurfing and found other travelers to go with. We helped split the cost of gas and parking and got to have as much time as we wanted at each location (dependent on daylight) We met Brian and Patrick, 2 guys from California and split the cost of a trip to The Golden Circle. If you’re going in the winter, it’s best to start a couple hours before sunrise, so you can see every location. We ended up not seeing Kerid; Patrick was helping a man who had slipped on some Ice and busted his head open (his blood was literally all over the Ice, pack proper shoes).

IMG_3509

Gulfoss Waterfall

Helen and I learned the hard way that some day trips should not be attempted at all in the winter. We met this girl on Couchsurfing who rented a car and wanted to check out the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River. Again, IF YOU DO NOT HAVE PROPER SHOES, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS There was so much ice on this 2 hour hike, I’m surprised no one got seriously hurt. We ended up having to turn around half way because it started getting dark, and a hail storm ensued. I kid you not when I say, we scaled the mountain on our hands and knees so we wouldn’t slip off the edge. Helen and I had a come to Jesus moment, realized we weren’t super heroes, promptly went back to town and had KFC for dinner. In conclusion, some tours are meant to have guides.

Food

We did not have proper Icelandic food while we were there. The most lavish thing we ate was Pho for $15 bucks a bowl.

If you are on a budget, I suggest packing a lot of dry food in your luggage. If you don’t have room in your bag for this, there’s a grocery store called Bonus. It’s similar to Aldi, and is extremely affordable (also great for gifts!).

There are quite a few bars in the city. My favorite was definitely Mikkeller & Friends. The prices were a little high, but they have a large variety of beers to choose from, and a restaurant below the bar.

The Conclusion

IMG_3542.JPG

Following this picture, I almost died (not kidding)

I don’t want to bore you with a long lecture about the do’s and don’ts of Traveling to Iceland, so I’ll just end with this: If you want to get the most out of an experience, don’t try doing everything by yourself. Sure, hostel hopping and almost falling off mountains is fun, but if you truly want to enjoy yourself come prepared to pay for those things you want to enjoy. My biggest regret the whole trip was not going to the Blue Lagoon.  Helen and I tried to work our way in by posing as a popular blogging site that caters to black women wanting to travel to Iceland. They caught on very quickly that we were not who we said we were, and offered us nothing except for 116 dollar tickets for 2 hours.

I look forward to the next time I go to Iceland (I’ll definitely wait for some warmer weather). It is an amazing country with beautiful people (literally), great beer, and some of the most breath taking sceneries I have ever seen. I’ll see you all next time in Brazil!

The Traveling Afro

if  you want to see more pictures of my trip to Iceland, click here!

Bed bugs, white men and Morocco during Ramadan: How to avoid being a know-it-all solo traveler.

No two travel experiences are alike, and I can say that my trip across the big pond is evidence of this. During my study abroad in Seville, Spain I took a solo weekend trip to Tangier, Morocco during Ramadan. I couldn’t believe it was literally 30 minutes from Spain, so I took advantage and hopped on a Ferry from Algeciras to Tangier. As easy as the trip seemed, it ended up being a hand full, as this two day trip ended up being the most expensive to both my time and my pocket. The best way to explain my trip is to break it down into 3 terms: bed bugs, The Old Medina and the old white man.

IMG_1775

The Strait of Gibraltar

THE BED BUGS: While planning my trip, I had a small amount of Hostels that I could choose from for the “low low” ($). One that caught my eye on Hostelworld.com was “The Melting Pot Hostel. It was easy to find in the Old Medina and it had an amazing breakfast, decked out with fresh fruits, pancakes and Moroccan mint tea. I stayed in a mixed dorm with a 55-year-old German man named Johnny (more about Johnny later on, he’s quite the charmer). It wasn’t overly crowded and it was pretty quiet. Breakfast was definitely my favorite part about the hostel, but it is too bad that I did not read all of the reviews. After two nights I noticed a rash spread all over my body, and bed bug bites covered me from head to toe.  Needless to say, pay attention to reviews, as the most convenient option to your budget isn’t always the best one.

IMG_1804

Moroccan Mint tea!

THE OLD MEDINA: I kept in mind that it was Ramadan and that I should dress more conservatively, especially when walking around The Old Medina. I also didn’t want to stick out too much, so before leaving Seville I bought a white shirt from H&M, harem pants, Birkenstocks and a scarf I could drape around my shoulders. I wore this for two days, and it served some of its purpose. I definitely dressed the part, but I still screamed tourist. It’s not only because of my brown skin, but I believe that I was not approached as much as others said I would be because of the way I dressed. People did still approach me, but it’s probably because I looked lost in the Old Medina.

IMG_1790

The Hand of Fatima, a symbol of good luck, is common all over the city

The Old Medina is filled with so much history and beauty, and I wish I could’ve learned a lot more about it while I was there. Two days is not enough to take in the whole city. A lot of buildings and museums were closed for the holiday. When I go back, I’ll definitely check them out.

THE OLD WHITE MAN: I have always used mixed dorms, and have never had a problem with them. The worst experience I’ve had is probably seeing a bare ass at 4 o’clock in the morning in Bogota, but I would definitely put Johnny at the top of the list. One thing that threw me off was him rubbing his stomach and calling me a very pretty girl (yes dad, this happened). I took a few things from our conversations though. Johnny was not the biggest fan of the area, and constantly complained about people asking him if he wanted a tour around the city, if he could spare a euro or two, or if he wanted some hash. This led him to staying in the hostel for the rest of his trip, which probably didn’t help him enjoy it any more than he already was. Johnny should’ve known he was no longer in Germany. If you’re going to be a Johnny, then stay at home. Spare me and everyone else from creepy vibes, and negativity.

New Friends

A view of The Old Medina

 

THE CONCLUSION: Johnny asked me a question that really got me thinking; “what is it like for you to walk around the city alone?”. To answer his question, Tangier wasn’t what I was expecting and walking around alone in Tangier was a lot different than walking alone around Spain. Even though the countries are very close, they offer two contrasting realities. I thought of Camel rides and blue cities, and what I was met with is how people live extremely different than me. At first I wasn’t happy with my experience in Tangier, but looking back I think it was an important trip to take. Instead of complaining about being outside of my comfort zone, I should’ve looked deeper into why and how people live the way they do. When I return to Morocco, I think I’ll have a better idea of what to expect and how to interact with people. I’m looking forward to my next visit.

Until next time,

 

The Traveling Afro