Tag Archives: tourism

Hiding in Plain Sight

While getting boots and gloves and hat ready to go over the lip of the hill last December 24 and visit Sheep’s Falls, one of my favourite waterfalls, many tourists stopped as well: the first stop, it seems, two or three hard hours of driving from Reykjavik. Time and again, they took a few pictures over the Berserkerjahraun to the rising sun, and then posed for each others’ cameras and drove on. It was intimate and sweet.

Still, they had Kirkjufoss to get to before the rising sun was no longer behind the mountain, and they didn’t need me telling them it would be worth it to walk for ten minutes down through the drifts, because they might not have come to Iceland to see the pale, pale winter sun and to learn its nature. They had places to be getting along to, with better cameras and the hope for brighter light, and promises had been made to them, and promises, we know, should be kept.

Just imagine how many times a day any and every traveller in Iceland, myself included, encounters people who know where they are and what is worth seeing and say nothing, because that’s the way of the land itself. As Paul Theroux pointed out half a century ago while travelling by train through South America, it’s North Americans (myself included) who point to stuff.

Art and Nature in a Quarry: It’s an Icelandic Thing

Eldborg, the Tephra Cone that translates as Fire Mountain, in Krysuvik…is a beautiful place, rarely visited….

… is a beautiful place…

You can get close to life there.

The road’s not even busy.

Two generations ago, when it looked out over an active quarry, …
… it was a major site for native Icelandic tourism. One of Iceland Air’s original jets is named after it.

Does this look like a jet to you? No? If you’re Icelandic, it might.

It was part of a network of walking paths, where Icelanders could celebrate all things Icelandic, including the beauty of Kjarval’s paintings, which a few aging Icelandic hikers still do by lunching in Kjarvalstaðir, his gallery in Reykjavik…

… but that’s about it. Icelandic artists are too worldly now to make much of his trolls and elves and such like.

Eldborg

They’re into environmental protection and other more modern mythologies, which they have embraced with great verve, but it’s good to remember that in Icelandic culture the capacity remains to see art, nature and a gravel quarry together, as one thing. The same can be said of rivers: quarries, all.

Bessastaðaá

Yes, a quarry.

 

The Irony of Laugavegur

Laugavegur, in Reykjavik, has always been the people’s street. It started as a public work project, a cobbled road to make the work of washerwomen more efficient. They could take their laundry down to the hot pools by the Old Harbour in a cart rather than in baskets while stomping through mud, rendering the act of washing moot. This project increased general Icelandic productivity many times over, and, what’s more, was done primarily for women. During the economic crisis, the storefronts abandoned when Iceland moved into its suburban mall were snatched up with people selling whatever they could, to make whatever money they could. It was a kind of flea market to attract tourists. Well that worked, even if now they’re full of chain souvenir shops and none any different than the rest. Even the kitchen shop has moved to the mall now, yet even though Icelanders no longer cruise the street in their Old Timer cars, and young Icelandic women don’t pass down the street so much in their party clothes, and old Icelandic men don’t hang around their drinking holes (those are for tourists now) construction continued, even last summer. In a country desperate for housing for the poor or even lower middle class, more hotels was the solution private money found.

June 2019

Now it’s Covid Times. Tourists aren’t rushing in. The old idea does seem best again. Not so much cobbles, maybe, for women to lug their laundry along, but a roof over their heads, so they don’t have to commute long distances in the dark and somehow care for their kids. I’m guessing, only the government can pull it off, but in a country in which men …

…spend the summer driving in circles on a tractor to make hay, while watched by their horses, so they can feed it to their horses in the winter while they watch them…

… and make an economy out of that solid relationship, a little help to the women seems wholly within their power and capacity. What do you think, guys?

They’re asking for our vote.  And, like, more than a bus shelter.

The Great Icelandic Challenge

It’s a hard one, but is it better to drive up to Dettifoss and get close to a wall of water, or park five kilometres away and walk along to goroge until  you’re ready to see the falls from a new perspective?

Dunno, but when I got this far, I didn’t want to go further, and turned around, to the forest. It was hiding behind a rock and taking on human form.

It was a message. Iceland is full of messages like that.

The Path Through the Trees, Before and After the Pandemic

Once, these birch forests were burned to smelt iron, then they were nibbled to naught by sheep.

A thousand years of erosion later, they became symbols of Iceland’s independence, and were carefully grown up from their sheep-nibbled stubs.

Ásbyrgi, 2011

Then Iceland got to work hosting tourists. The north, and its tourists, were left behind, so tourists were brought on busses as late as 2019. They had 30 minutes to walk through the trails, without history, and then were off to think whatever they might think.

The Icelanders weren’t going there themselves in 2019. They were going here, upriver, by horse expedition:

Now what? The forests wait.

Global Warming is Good Business

Black sand beaches are fun. You can watch the glaciers melt away to nothing there. This is endlessly fascinating. Most Icelandic tourism is based around twinning this melting…

Diamond Beach

… with a bit of human heat…

Blue Lagoon

Perhaps now you’re ready for the Beach of Blood?

Maybe you’re ready to go north?

Whale Beach

You won’t be alone.

If we want to end global warming, we will have to resist it and discover cold.

 

Kirkjufell is Real

Tourism is an industry. Here are some industrial views of Kirkjufoss, the most-photographed mountain in Iceland.

Tour busses race past Kolgrafafjörður …

Why would you rush past such a dawn?

… to get you to it. If you go on December 24 (not in a tour bus. It will drive past), Kirkjufell might look like this at sundown:

Mind you, if you turn around, you might see other miracles:

Few do. There is no time. The 8 p.m. Aurora bus is waiting in Reykjavik, and it’s many hours and a world away. Besides, industrial images are soooooo seductive:

I don’t think this is quite how people in Grundarfjörður experience the mountain. This is certainly one way, though:

The Eastern Burbs

And this is another.

The forest walk from the campground in November.

Iceland is real.

The November view from town.

It takes time for a mountain to speak. You can’t force it.

The Charm of Being Alone in Iceland

One of the seductive things about Iceland (for outsiders) is that the possibility of being completely alone with the Earth, in a completely simplified life, seems to be promised.

Here on the Skagafjörður in mid-December it seems so accessible, too. It’s just an illusion. Sure, you could achieve it, but you would have to change your life, and if you did it would no longer be simple. Do you dare? Do you dare stop and stay there forever, and let everything else go? Well, Icelanders made that choice 1100 years ago, and look how simple their life is, making you feel at home:

Will you walk into the dark?