Joe Flaig’s story proves that a casual visit to Iceland can change a person’s life forever!
Joe was an active Boy Scout leader for many years. In 2000, when he had retired from the Navy, he took a group of older scouts to Iceland to attend an event hosted by The League of Icelandic Scout Organizations (Bandalag Íslenskra Skáta), where he and his group went on to a hike on the Laugavegur hiking trail, with several Icelandic scout leaders as their guides. Until then, he had known nothing about Iceland except where it was located on the map.
Joe gets very animated when he describes his first visit to Iceland in the summer of 2000. Laugavegur (which also happens to be the name of the main shopping street in Reykjavik) is a trail between a place called Landmannalaugar in Central Iceland and Þórsmörk in South Central Iceland. Both places are crown jewels of Icelandic scenery. The former features painted mountains made of colorful igneous rock, and the latter is a lush, idyllic valley sheltered between two glaciers. Overall, the trail is 32 miles long over a rugged terrain above the vegetation line. It is normally a three to four day wilderness backpack hike.
Joe and his group started at the north end, Landmannalaugar. Within two hours of the hike, they were treated to a feast of geological wonders—thermal pools, geysirs, and lava fields. They passed a place called Stóri Hver, where water from a river runs into holes that leads it underground and spits out boiling water. They saw a stretch of hot sand with temperature high enough to bake an egg, and traipsed on a plateau covered in obsidian, black and shiny volcanic glass. The fascinating four-day trip was the beginning of Joe’s romance with Iceland.
During the hike he also became friends with the travel guides. At the end of the trip one of them, Oddur Eiríksson, invited him to stay at his home in Reykjavik for the rest of Joe’s stay in Iceland. They have remained friends since.
Since that time, Joe and his wife have visited the country 12 times. He became so taken with the country and its people that he decided to learn Icelandic. In the beginning he did this by studying Colloquial Icelandic and several other self-help books. But when Oddur chided him on his grammar usage (which is very complicated in Icelandic), Joe decided to enroll in a three-week Icelandic language course for foreigners, given by the University Center at Ísafjörður on the north-west corner of Iceland. He has since attended several courses there, including one at the nearby town of Suðureyri.
In the Washington area, Joe has continued his quest of learning Icelandic through participation in meet-ups of people with similar interest, including, of course, members of the Icelandic Association of Washington DC. Through that route he became an active member of IAWDC, including serving a stint as its Treasurer from 2014 to 2017. At the age of 75, he’s still working hard at mastering Icelandic.
Joe Flaig was born in California, and his family moved shortly thereafter to St. Louis, Missouri, where he grew up, went to school and met his wife, Judy. The couple has three children (two boys and a girl) and also five grandchildren. Joe went to the University of Illinois, became an aeronautical engineer and went to work for the Navy. The family eventually settled in the Washington DC area. He now lives with his wife, Judy, in Fairfax Station, Virginia.