Light fracturing the froth of a wild grey wave, flotsam churning over with the power of the sea. It’s hypnotic. The roar of it, the hiss of the wind and the stretch of beach, black and shimmering like the night sky. The fleeting sunlight over monstrous jagged cliffs and rocks rising out of the water. It lures you, dares you to capture it.
But listen guys, you need to practice restraint because Iceland is straight up trying to kill you. All the time.
Sure, it may look substantial with solid mountains stretching as far as sight can reach, but the ground could be shifting beneath your feet. Literally shifting, Iceland is seated on top of two tectonic plates.
The Icelandic Rescue Services were called out between 1200-1300 times last year to rescue people who had become victims of the elements. In a country as small as ours, that’s a lot of incidents of people stuck on glaciers, lost in the highlands, caught in a storm.
“We can’t really say that some places are more dangerous than others, it depends on so many factors that is impossible to answer without going in-depth,” said Jónas Guðmundsson, a project manager working on Iceland’s Rescue Services Safe Travel website. “Reasons for being careful varies, at the most popular destinations like Reynisfjara you have to be wary of the waves, at Gullfoss you have to be careful of snow and ice at the edge of the fall.”
In fact, Reynisfjara beach has already claimed a tourist’s life this year and almost claimed a child’s life. Just days afterwards, despite several warning signs forbidding it, tourists were back at the water’s edge taking pictures, seemingly chill about the looming threat of the undertow.
Last month, Icelandic Police had to warn tourists not to get distracted by northern lights after they pulled over two travellers for driving erratically while admiring the aurora. And only last fall, a tourist died after stopping their car in the middle of a road at night to climb out and admire northern lights.
I would be lying if I didn’t tell you guys that despite the tragedy of it, when news breaks that the Rescue Services have been called to save overly ambitious visiting hikers, there’s a collective groan among the Icelandic populous.
Social media feeds fill up with jokes about tourists who have lost their car to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon or who nearly slip to their death to take a selfie.
But it isn’t malicious, if we didn’t laugh, we’d be crying. Crying because it’s not just sad or disrespectful to us, to Icelandic nature, but because we want everyone to have a good time. You know, without the senseless mortal danger.
Besides, if travellers don’t heed safety advice then gorgeous natural sites get shut down, which ruins it for everyone.
So, what to do?
“We would emphasise the need for information; stay safe, get information and adhere to rules at tourist attractions – they are there for a reason,” said Ólöf Ýrr Atladóttir, Director General of the Icelandic Tourist Board. “Read safety warnings and heed staff at locations. Use the Safe Travel website and information lines like the information number 1777 and the website for the Road and Coastal Administration. Talk to people, ask around, and leave travel plans when venturing off the beaten track.”
In other words, use your common sense out there kids, we want you to come back to Iceland and spend some more of that sweet cash to prop up our economy, not least the publication of an unnamed English language paper in a country of 325,000 people.