|Hazards of the North (JB)|
|Written by Iceland Review|
|Monday, 21 November 2011 11:00|
The recent death of a Swedish tourist on Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull in south Iceland, has sparked a much-needed discussion concerning independent traveling in Iceland’s highland.
For most Icelanders and local residents the notion of hazardous road conditions and dangers in the inland is engrained into our existence.
We know not to trust the weather reports as conditions change rapidly, especially in the more isolated part of the country where the winter season is a series of unpredictable blizzards and when we do travel, we prepare for the worst, just in case.
We take pride in the vast extremes of nature and live in a state of relaxed anticipation where it comes to natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanoes. We know what to expect and when the weather gods sent us a warm November we appreciate the grand gesture.
However, a season of warmth is no guarantee for safe travels and the unfortunate young man whose life ended 600 meters above sea level in a never-ending white desert is yet another example of such a tragedy.
Cinematic works have been made of such deaths where the last moments of life in such spectacular landscape are cast under a romantic spell.
The reality of such a death is no doubt a far cry from the romantic ideology. Yet it is this romantic ideology of being one with nature many adventurous travelers who visit Iceland seek to find and is sometimes the reason terrible accidents occur.
Supposedly the idea of hiking a glacier with a group of people or even just a guide, strips one of that solitary state. But is it really the reason for people embarking on such journeys alone or do we as Icelanders perhaps have ourselves to blame in part?
The magical winter wonderland of Snæfellsjökull glacier. Photo by JB.
A trip with a guide to the frontiers of Iceland’s glaciers is one I plan to take one day. They certainly are expensive but worth it, I am told.
The knowledge many of Iceland’s seasoned guides possess should if anything enrich the journey and make it one to remember.
And to share a magical moment with like-minded travelers is one that will live on in memory; to have someone to share the experience of an adventure with, whether it’d be a stranger, friend, family member or a partner keeps the memory alive.
I speak from experience in these matters as I too have visited places of extraordinary beauty, places I would have loved to experience in solitude, but given the threat posed by a solitary state in the midst of the Namibian Skeleton Coast or camping alone in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is was not a wise idea.
In fact, I might not be alive had I found myself surrounded by a group of lions in the Serengeti. I would not have known how important it is to keep food away from my tent or even to remain as still as I was able to do the night I slept next to a lion.
In fact, in my romantic notions I might even have slept under the bright starry sky with no wall between me and the glorious lion king who graced me with his overnight presence just over ten years ago.
The second question to contemplate is whether Icelanders are to blame for the romantic illusion of our landscape. I too tend to underestimate the many hazards of wintertime travels.
I have found myself in a few and I think most Icelanders and residents of Iceland have a story or two to tell of such experiences. We turn them into semi-heroic tales of how we conquered the hazardous road conditions and the blistering storm.
But we forget to mention that while we found ourselves in the midst of a snowstorm, more often than not on the Ring Road, Iceland’s highway No. 1, we were petrified.
Perhaps it is a mechanism of pseudo-bravado to conceal the fact that it scared us more than we are willing to admit. Then again, maybe if we allowed ourselves to feel the fear we would never travel during the months of winter.
Whatever the reason may be, we need to be more responsible and we need to educate our tourists about the hazards of our country, especially wintertime travelers. It’s not enough to give vague warnings of potential risks.
The Safe Travel website is a much needed addition for travelers. I do wonder, though, if there is room for improvement.
Should we have a small pamphlet available at Keflavík International Airport (KEF) for our wintertime tourists, where all the necessary information and links are provided for those planning to tour Iceland?
Could we take an advantage of the latest technology and perhaps have the information available for download on iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and the new Android smart phones? There must be a way to get the information across.
And how about a Travel Iceland “app” available for free or minimum charge?
Iceland is the winter wonderland of the north, and it is rich of rare beauty and extreme isolation.
Terrible accidents must not stand in the way of others who want to experience the magic of winter. But we must keep their safety in mind and learn from horrible accidents, such as the one I mentioned earlier.
And on those notes, I send my condolences to the young man’s family and hope the Icelandic Tourism Board in cooperation with the government and other affiliated associates, will come together and find a way to prevent such horrible accidents from occurring when possible.
|Last Updated on Monday, 21 November 2011 14:08|