This post is written by Kirsten K. Kester, a Danish traveler who doesn't let her wheelchair get in the way of exploring the world.
It was our first time in Iceland. Our Icelandic friends had teased us for many years that we still haven't visited their country. For many years my husband Dieter and I have travelled in more than 60 countries and never have we set one foot in Iceland. Times were about to change. Dieter and I were going three weeks to Iceland, bringing our own car, sailing from Denmark.
With Dieter I have seen and experienced many obstacles all over the world – you could say that we have grown used to them. Having travelled in more than 60 countries being in a wheelchair you get used to climbing all sorts of non-accessible places such as staircases, narrow passages and many other tiresome objects. The obstacles are all part of society even though it would make a huge difference for a lot of people if they were not; you cannot make everything accessible in a blink – it will take many generations to make The World an easy access playground – if ever. Truthfully I would hate to see a lot of places plastered with concrete and ramps. So if the obstacles will remain you must use your imagination to figure out a way to go wherever you want to. And to be fair and square; isn’t it like that for a lot of people? It’s not only the users of wheelchairs there a troubled getting around. There are a lot of people to whom fewer staircases would be appreciated. In case you want something in this World; you should go and get it. Nobody will deliver easy access on a silver-plate.
I wanted to see the country where a lot of my friends are from and I wanted to see some Atlantic Puffins and The Arctic Circle.I could almost hear my Icelandic friends; puffins? That’s something you eat. And I can imagine that a puffin is to an Icelander what a cow is to the Danes but nevertheless I wanted to see a puffin and I was told that Grimsey Island would be the place for the puffins and The Arctic Circle. Maybe it is a silly thing to see The Arctic Circle; I mean you can’t actually see The Circle but I guess it just mattered to me; so I went.
The weather seemed grey with clouds blocking the sun when we arrived at Dalvik pier at 08.20. Nevertheless the view behind the ferry Sæfari - Samskip was like a masterpiece; with the amazing fjords and mountains majestically rising from the green ocean with snow on top; the green valley’s gluing everything together.I was enjoying the perfect view when my eyes hit the ferry with the extremely narrow gangway going to the deck. It gave me an immediate feeling of uncertainty; how could I get on board with the wheelchair? The view was forgotten and my mind spun and searched for opportunities to board the ferry with my 150 kg electric wheelchair – I could choose my manual wheelchair but I would appreciate going with the much more comfortable but very heavy electrical wheelchair.I went over to talk to with Halla, a employer who assures us that as soon as the cars have come aboard which they do via a crane; they would figure out how to bring the wheelchair onboard. I was just amazed; she didn’t raise an eyebrow. Normally I would get many excuses why I was not able to bring my wheelchair.Off course I knew it was manageable to board the ferry with my wheelchair; the question was how it wouldbe done the easiest way.
A man in a blue boiler suit is approaching with a forklift. I’m wondering what the forklift has to do with me? Isoon found out. The crew on the ferry suggested I simply tilted up on a pallet and a forklift would take me tothe platform where they are loading the luggage. I was astonished; it was a simple but very maneuverable and frankly a quite easy way to get the 150 kg heavy wheelchair on Sæfari – Samskip. Going below I’m grabbed by another forklift which is already on deck; and still on the pallet it takes me below deck. It was a simple but unique experience but the getting onboard was still not over. To get to the cafeteria you would have to climb some tremendous steps first. I was not worried at all; I had seen the Icelanders in action; and they did not let me down. With the same optimistic face and some good muscles they carried me and the wheelchair across every single step. I was impressed but this time in a different way; this was physically a great challenge and they did the job very well. Arriving at Grimsey, there was automatically a ramp all the way out, it could not be easier.
Scarcely had we rounded the corner at the port and the rocks were peppered with puffins. Immediately we had to take some pictures, as it were the only puffins we would get to see. It was obviously not the case; there were puffins on almost every rock shelf we could detect. Because we have no more than 4 hours to experience the island, we immediately went on a hike around theisland. We started in the north, where we crossed the Arctic Circle. Apart from the steep cliffs; very steep cliffs into the water, the terrain is pretty flat and I can relatively easilymake it quite far north of the island. The narrow path we follow is the only thing breaking the big meadow, except for the many dandelions asIcelanders thankfully do not consider as weeds, and the many other flowers. Arctic terns are extremely territorial, and often dive down toward us, in an attempt to protect their homes I presume. Puffins on the other hand, are shy and stays as far out on the rocks as possible.
After a few miles we cross the Arctic Circle. It's not something we would have noticed if we had not spotted a sign.We continue a few miles further north, until we almost reached the northern tip. We turn around and go back to the small town. It contains a few houses, a church, and a gallery, which we unfortunately do not have the time to enter. On the restaurant we fought our way in, using will, a pallet we found, a few words about that there should be a ramp on the only restaurant on the island, and a smile. We take our time eating, enjoying the peaceful island atmosphere; and having a chat with Rosa, and herirresistible son Ivan.
It's time to sail back from a great day on Grimsey, and with the ramp already in place it is a simple matter toget on board again.I am noticeably tired and just sit there and doze a little, until we are back on the mainland. A film is shownwhich I try to keep up with, but closes alternately one eye at a time.
Back in Dalvik, the crew on board has made ramps; going to shore is a piece of cake.
They are bloody brilliant the Icelanders.