Goðafoss

While traveling around Iceland’s ‘Diamond Circle’, one of the last major stops before heading back to Reykjavik is the beautiful northern port city of Akureyri - Known as Iceland’s “Northern Capital” the city was a welcome respite after countless hours of driving through northern Iceland.

Coincidentally we happened to be travelling through Iceland at the same time as when the 2018 World Cup was being held and the Icelandic national team had earned a spot for the first time in its history. It was somewhat of a cultural thing for me as I’m from Canada and the whole football / soccer thing never really interested me. I find its to be a far too dramatic sport. The collective attention of the Icelandic people however was focused solely on the World Cup.

We knew that Iceland had a relatively small population, especially compared to what we’re used to living in Taiwan, but when almost half of the country had packed up and left for Russia, the small town of almost 20,000 seemed eerily empty.

Nevertheless Akureyri is a picturesque harbour-side city surrounded by mountains and the ocean and compared to the capital, has a much better system of urban planning, which means getting around is a lot less confusing for tourists.

Our accommodations in town were stunning and included a geothermal jacuzzi which was much appreciated after driving hundreds of kilometres from the rather desolate area where we stayed near Dettifoss.

Another highlight was having access to a nice supermarket where we picked up some fresh juice, Icelandic craft beer, fresh bread and more supplies for the road.

Due to time constraints we hadn’t planned many stops for the last leg of our trip between Akureyri and Reykjavik, so just before arriving in Akureyri we more or less made our final stop along the Diamond Circle at yet another waterfall, but not just any waterfall - The Waterfall of the Gods.

With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to stop and check it out?

Godafoss

Goðafoss as it is known locally just so happens to be one of the most spectacular and well-known waterfalls in Iceland. Even though it is not as large, wide or powerful as all of the others it is certainly one of the most beautiful and that is true for every season.

There’s a reason why the waterfall is known as the “Waterfall of the Gods” but before I get into that I think I should talk about its physical attributes:

Godafoss is a 12 meter high, 30 meter wide set of cascading falls, similar to Canada’s Niagara Falls.

The water flows from the river Skjálfandafljót, one of Iceland’s longest rivers. Originating from the Vatnajökull Glacier, the river also happens to be the water source for several other waterfalls including Hrafnabjargafoss, Aldeyjarfoss, Barnafoss and Ullarfoss.

During the summer the area around the waterfall is lush with green grass which reflects in the colour of the water. In the winter the area is usually covered in snow, the falls may freeze and if you’re lucky you can see the Aurora Borealis in the night sky.

The waterfall is attractive year round and when I visited it was really beautiful.

However I would have loved to have the opportunity to watch the Northern Lights at the same time.

So how does it get its name?

Well, like a lot of things in Iceland, it has to do with a bit of a legend. Whether or not the story is true is up for debate, but in Iceland it is widely accepted as fact as it is chronicled in the Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), a 12th Century work that tells the early history of human settlement in Iceland.

The first people to settle in Iceland were Norwegian explorers, more commonly known as the Vikings. When they settled on the island they brought with them their culture and their old Norse religion which consisted of deities like Thor, Odin, Loki, etc.

No, not the superheroes that you’ve seen in the movies.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe, societies that practiced what was considered “pagan” religions were often forcibly converted. The Christianity of a thousand years ago was much different than it is today, no one bothered with slogans like “God is Love” to convert people - The good word was spread primarily by the sword.

By the time the Icelandic Commonwealth was established in 930AD, pressure to make Christianity the official state religion became an issue as Norway threatened to invade if the people of Iceland didn’t conform.

Around the year 1000AD, when the annual meeting of the parliament met at Þingvellir, it was decided that for the good of the people, Christianity would become the state religion with the caveat that pagans could still practice in private.

That decision was placed on the shoulders of an “Ásatrú” priest (or goði) named Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson who was said to have spent days meditating and praying to the Old Gods before it was clear what path would be taken. When the decision was made to make Christianity the official state religion Thorkelsson returned home to the north of Iceland where he tossed his idols of the Norse Gods into a beautiful waterfall.

Since then that waterfall has been named Goðafoss.

Photography

Like most other destinations in Iceland there are a few things you’ll want to take into consideration if you’re planning on visiting and taking photos at this waterfall.

Similar to Dettifoss, the last waterfall you’re likely to have seen before this one, there are two different sides to view Godafoss from. In this case however getting to either side doesn’t take an much time - You’ll just have to get in your car, cross a bridge and park at another parking lot to enjoy the view from the other bank.

Unfortunately due to the amount of people that visit, you’ll probably want to find a spot to set up your tripod away from the wooden platform - The problem with the platform is that when people walk it creates a shake which will ruin your long exposure shots.

To solve this problem you can walk a bit further past the waterfall onto the grass bank for a bit more stability. Likewise you could also consider taking the path down to water level.

If you do take the path down to water level though, you’ll be confronted with a whole new set of issues with the amount of spray and mist that will cloud up your lens. In this case you’ll need to bring something to safely wipe down your lens with between shots.

Most of the shots I’m sharing here today were taken on an overcast and somewhat dreary day with a wide-angle lens and an ND filter attached. The shots are a range of long exposures that are anywhere between 2-10 seconds each.

If you don’t have an ND Filter on-hand it is important that you know how to manually control your camera if you’re looking to take photos similar to these. You may be able to get up to around one second exposures if the light is right.

To do this you’ll want to ensure that your ISO is as low as possible. Preferably at ISO 100. You’ll also want to have your exposure set to -1 or -2 so that your shot won’t be blown out.

Take some test shots and play with the settings to find out what’s best and then have fun!

If you visit during the summer and want long exposure shots like the ones here, I highly recommend investing in a Natural Density filter for your lens. However if you visit during the winter when there isn’t much light, you could get away without one.

If you visit in winter you’re going to be in luck because it’s likely that you’ll have the added bonus of the Northern Lights overhead. You won’t need lens filters for taking photos of the waterfall and the Northern Lights, but you’re definitely going to need a tripod, a remote control (or cable shutter release) and a lens capable of f/2.8 apertures.

For a handy introduction on how to shoot the Northern Lights click this link - Northern Lights Photography Settings

Getting There

 

Godafoss is located in northern Iceland along the Ring Road that circles the country.

Situated along the ‘Diamond Circle’ sightseeing route it is about a 53 kilometre (45 minute) drive from the northern city of Akureyri.

If you’ve first travelled south along the Diamond Circle and made your way north, the waterfall is about a 50km drive west of Lake Mývatn or the town of Húsavík.

In both cases you will drive along Road N.1 which is the highway that circles the country. The waterfall is a simple stop along the road and there will be adequate signage on both sides that notify travellers that you’re approaching the falls.

If you’ve decided that you’re not going to bother renting a car while visiting Iceland, you’re going to have to rely on public transportation or tour groups to get to where you want to go. There are tours out of the capital offered by tour groups like Reykjavik Excursions or Arctic Adventures which offer tourists access to several different destinations. It is important to remember that if you want to book a tour that you should do so well in advance as the seats on the daily tours tend to fill up quickly.

There are public buses that run between Akureyri, Myvatn and Egilsstadir that you may want to consider but you should know in advance that these buses don’t come that often, so you may get stuck waiting around for quite a while which is probably not the wisest way to use your time in Iceland. 

Bus Link: SBA-Norðurleid route 62 and 62A.

As one of the highlights of any travellers trip through Northern Iceland, Godafoss is one of those must-visit locations when you’re in the area. The waterfall is beautiful all year long but even though it is one of Iceland’s most popular destinations, it is rarely packed with people. If you visit, make sure to check out both sides of the fall and enjoy the beautiful scenery. Likewise if you are in Iceland during the winter months, try to visit a bit later at night so that you can not only enjoy the waterfall but the beautiful Northern Lights as well.


Asia's First Mass Same-Sex Wedding (凱道同婚宴)

On May 24th, 2017, the Constitutional Court (司法院), Taiwan’s version of the Supreme Court, ruled that the right to equality and freedom of marriage under the constitution of the Republic of China must also be guaranteed to same-sex couples.

The ruling, “Judicial Yuan Interpretation No 748” (釋字第748號) became a hot topic of public debate throughout the country and would result in a couple of referendums opposing changes to the definition of marriage. The decision made by the High Court however wouldn’t be reversed, so the government had two years to come up with a solution that would bring marriage laws in compliance with the ruling. 

Instead of being proactive, the government procrastinated and pushed the topic aside for as long as it could. The ruling of the Constitutional Court however demanded that action be taken before the deadline of May 24th, 2019 when registration of same-sex marriages would automatically come into effect.

In February 2019, with time running out and pressure from both sides mounting, the cabinet introduced a draft bill to the Legislative Yuan (立法院) titled the “Enforcement Act of the Judicial Yuan Interpretation No. 748” (司法院釋字748號解釋施行法) for consideration. Likewise, opposing parties also introduced their own draft bills to be debated in the legislature.

The draft bill introduced by the cabinet granted same-sex couples all the rights available to heterosexual couples under the Civil Code, with the exception of certain adoption rights and the inability for certain transnational couples (those couples where one partner is from a country that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage) to wed in Taiwan. 

The government used its majority in the legislature to push through their bill and with little time to spare, it was passed on May 17th, 2019 (the last possible day under the courts ruling). It was then promptly sent to President Tsai Ying-Wen who signed it and passed it into law on May 22nd.  

You might be reading this and thinking that Taiwan’s road to marriage-equality was a short one, but indeed it was more than three decades in the making. Historians often look back to 1986, when the Legislature first debated marriage-equality initiated by LGBTQ rights pioneer Chi Chia-Wei (祁家威) who filed a petition with the government to revise the law.

It would take well over 10,000 days since Chi first started his crusade, but the persistence and hard work of so many dedicated people throughout the country ensured that Taiwan’s LGBTQ community would finally have the right to marry - and on May 25th, 2019, over 526 couples did just that.

This is the short version of Taiwan’s road to marriage equality. Now if you’ll indulge me for a few moments, I’d like to talk about myself. 

I’ll surely lose my blogger membership card if I don’t talk about myself for a bit.

If you’ve been following any of my social media or know me in person, it should be fairly obvious that I’m a vocal ally, and always have been.

I don’t often talk about this stuff but while growing up I had to deal with a fair amount of bullying during my junior and high school years.

When I wasn’t getting shoved, tripped or hit, I’d often hear the words “faggot” shouted in my direction. These kinds of things generally have a damaging effect on a young person’s self-esteem but truthfully I always had a bit of a hard time understanding the point of it all.

Sure, I realized that the word “faggot” was meant to be demeaning, but what I could never understand was what was so wrong with being gay.

One of my best friends was gay - He did however do an exceptional job of keeping himself in the closet - despite his love of Celine Dion, Cher and Paula Abdul.

He was an inspirational person - He was kind to everyone, respectful, polite and good looking. He was the kind of kid that you’d bring home and your parents would automatically approve of. You were a better person by just hanging out with him.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with him. He wasn’t weird; He wasn’t different.  

This kind of put things in perspective for me - The bullying was meant to hurt, but physical violence was really the only leverage they had over me. Calling me a fag? That didn’t hurt. I’d much rather be gay than someone “cool” in the eyes of ignorant kids like that.  

Upon graduation my friend and I ended up being accepted to the same university.

This was around the same time that Canada started to take the issue of marriage-equality seriously and was also the time when my friend was finally confident enough to come out of the closet and introduced us to his first boyfriend.

As one generally does in university, I soon started attending meetings and protests and eventually became much more vocal in my support for marriage equality. I strongly felt the situation was similar to that of the Civil Rights movement in America and if I simply stood by and let my gay friends protest for their rights, then I’d be doing them a disservice. I felt it was my responsibility as an ally (and for all the other allies) to stand up and use my own voice to achieve the change that was necessary.

My involvement caused quite a few arguments with my parents who were (at the time) opposed to changes to the definition of marriage - and despite the fact that I always had I girlfriend were probably worried that I was going to come out.

During one Christmas Eve dinner we got into one of our typical political arguments while we were all sitting around the table and in frustration I angrily exclaimed that I wouldn’t marry until my friends had the same privileges that I have.

They told me I was being dramatic. It was my only leverage though. I’m the only male in my family and it would seem that ‘carrying on the name’ is my responsibility. (Children…. Eww..)

When same-sex marriage finally became the law of the land in Canada in 2005, we heard some of the typical comments that you hear when this kind of thing happens: “Its the end of society as we know it”, “I guess we’re all going to be gay now.”, “What’s next? Human’s marrying their pets?”, etc.   

It was nauseating.

But Mr. Chi is cute.

But these things have been said so many times in so many different countries and yet none of them have actually come true.

My parents, I’m sure like a lot of people at that time, started to discover that many of the people in their social circles (who had been living in the closet) were finally free to come out and get married. They suddenly realized that they had friends like I had and they started receiving invites to weddings. 

In retrospect, I’m sure they’d rather forget about their opposition to marriage equality but I’m glad to know now that they’ve come around. 

They would later sarcastically tell me that now that same-sex marriage was legal that I would have to fulfill my promise and find someone to get married to.

That scared me, so that same year I hopped on a plane and moved to Taiwan.  

When I arrived here, I assumed I didn’t really have to worry that much.

Taiwan was home to Asia’s largest Pride Parade and it seemed like LGBTQ members of society here were generally much more accepted than other places in Asia.

There were also large and very active civic groups that skillfully lobbied the government, planned protests and generally did a great job of advocating for marriage-equality. 

I wrongfully assumed participation wasn’t really as necessary as it was back home. I thought I could continue to be an ally but I wouldn’t have to be as active as I was before. I could just sit back and let the people of Taiwan do their thing.

I was wrong.

Fast forward to the referendums of 2018 when the government (ambiguously) allowed a couple of (really ignorant) questions regarding marriage-equality to be put to popular vote.

In the months leading up to the referendums I was unhappy with what was happening. Others felt optimistic - But I’ve seen how ignorance and discrimination rears its ugly head.

I’m of course a fan of democracy, but we’ve had recent experience with good people being fooled into voting against their own interests. (Cough.. Cough.. Brexit..)

I was also convinced that the rights of a minority should never be put to a popular vote - Human rights are something that need to be protected at the highest level of governance. 

While marriage equality advocates and LGBTQ groups were doing a great job mobilizing the youth vote there were also extremely well-funded religious groups spreading messages of hate, discrimination and the damnation of society if such a thing were to come to fruition in Taiwan.

Messages like this were damning, especially in what is still considered a semi-conservative traditional Confucian society.  

When the crushing results of the referendums came in, like many I was heartbroken.  

The Taiwan that I loved suddenly wasn’t the same anymore. 

Cheers! 乾杯

You should be well aware by now though that even though the results of the referendums were a set-back for marriage-equality in Taiwan, this story isn’t a sad one - It does have a happy ending. 

The reason for this, as I mentioned above is that the Council of Grand Justices gave the government a deadline of May 24th, 2019 to legalize same-sex marriage. The results of the referendums couldn’t change the constitutional decision made by the judges, so it was up to the government to come up with legislation that would allow same-sex couples to wed.  

With the May 24th deadline quickly approaching, the various political parties came up with their own plans for legalization and it became a heated issue. Fortunately, the DPP-led legislature led by President Tsai Ying-Wen bravely used their legislative majority to push through the best possible compromise to make the dream of marriage equality a reality. 

Was the final result a perfect victory?

No, not at all.

There is still a lot of work to do to realize full marriage equality rights in Taiwan, but for now, same-sex marriage is legal in Taiwan and as scheduled, on May 24th, lines started forming at Household Registration Offices around the country with the full attention of the world’s media.  

Taiwan was finally the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.   

And to celebrate, LGBTQ groups planned a grand wedding banquet to be held on Ketagalan Road (凱達格蘭大道) in the shadow of the Presidential Palace. 

The massive wedding banquet was organized by TAPCPR (台灣伴侶權益推動聯盟), otherwise known as the “Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights” which was one of the groups at the forefront pushing for marriage equality.

Held on Ketagalan Boulevard with the Presidential Palace as the backdrop, the banquet was a basic Taiwanese “Bandoh” (辦桌) outdoor wedding banquet with over 160 tables, a full course menu and lots of entertainment - including messages of support from some of Taiwan’s top celebrities.   

If you’ve lived in Taiwan for any length of time you might think that this kind of traditional wedding banquet certainly isn’t the “fabulous” kind of same-sex marriage banquet that you’d expect. There were tables covered in plastic, traditional Taiwanese dishes, lots of local liquor, an “electric flower car” (電子花車), an MC and local entertainment.

It was something similar to what you’d see while driving through the countryside or the mountains.

It was extremely basic and I think that was the point - These people have waited all their lives for the opportunity to marry and even though they’re gay, they’re not different, they’re just like the rest of us.

The wedding banquet was everything that you’d expect from a traditional celebration in Taiwan and the media was there to show the world - and of course those in Taiwan who aren’t yet convinced - that the love and commitment these people share with each other is no different to the love that straight couples share with each other.

With 160 tables and over 1000 people formally in attendance, the atmosphere was an exciting one. People were eating good food, drinking and sharing their happiness and excitement with their families and those closest to them.

Attendance at the banquet turned out to be one of the hottest tickets in Taipei and those who couldn’t get in decided instead to take part and show their support in their own way by having picnics around the perimeter of the banquet in order to be a part of the historic evening.

Chi Chia-Wei - Taiwan’s Superman.

I wanted to be a part of that historic night, so I figured I’d have to have a picnic of my own.

Fortunately, a few days before the banquet was to be held I received an email from the editor at Goldthread in Hong Kong enquiring whether or not I was free on Saturday to take photos for them.

When I read the email, I could hardly contain my excitement.

I’d be receiving a media pass and would be able to walk around, take photos and soak up every minute of this historic evening. I’d also get to meet some of the heroes of the marriage equality movement in Taiwan.

I was paired up with talented journalist, William Yang, someone I’ve known for quite a while through social media. William has made quite a name for himself in recent years for his work as the East Asia Correspondent for Deutsche Welle News and as a contributor to several other publications.

Our mission was simple - Interview a few of the couples, take some photos of the banquet and enjoy ourselves. It was an ideal opportunity.

The article had a tight deadline though and I had to work quickly to get the photos ready to be published. 

I had lots of fun at the banquet, but once I got home and loaded the photos onto my computer I started feeling a bit stressed - I put a lot of pressure on myself to capture the magic of this historic evening and didn’t want to fail all those people who waited so long for such an opportunity.  

It was relieving to hear from both William and the editor at Goldthread that the photos were great.

Later that day when the article started picking up and was being shared all over social media I received a lot of appreciation for the photos which made me feel a bit better.   

Link: In Pictures: Taiwan’s First Mass Gay Wedding (Goldthread)

Taipei Popcorn

I’ve gone on for a bit here and as I’m not particularly known for my writing skills, I’d like to share with you some related articles that I think you should read to help you understand the situation a little more clearly. I’ll likely add a few more articles in the coming days and weeks, but for now, here are some that I think really capture the magic of the battle and the victory celebration.

Two Days of Celebrations in Taiwan With Historic First Gay Marriages in Asia (New Bloom) 

Gay Marriage Legalized in Taiwan, but Challenges Remain for Full Equality (New Bloom) 

The 30-Year Crusade behind Taiwan’s Same-Sex Marriage Law (Commonwealth)  

What’s Next for LGBTQ Rights in Taiwan? (Ketagalan Media)  

My closing thought here is something that I think will stick with me for as long as I live. I’m not the kind of person who gets all emotional at weddings, but on this occasion I couldn’t help it.

Imagine standing there with your eyes in the viewfinder of your camera looking directly at a happy couple preparing to put rings on each others fingers.

This is a couple whose love has had to endure almost indescribable pressure from a society that would prefer for them to just be “normal.” - Yet they’ve endured.

They’re a couple who for their entire lives have never imagined that it would be possible that they would be able to be standing where they are at this moment in time with the opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other and also have it recognized by law.

They’re a couple that are now recognized as equal members of society, just like you and me. But unlike most of us, they’ve had to fight for their human rights. They won’t take this victory for granted.

As I watched them with tears in their eyes sliding the rings on each others finger, hug and then share a kiss, I couldn’t help to feel emotional. This is what marriage is all about. Its about love.

And as the saying goes, 愛最大.

Congratulations Taiwan.