MOST AWESOME LETTER
Iceland is a beautiful place. There is no doubt in my mind that this wild landscape is one of the most unique amongst those that I have encountered over the course of the summer. In the past four months, I have covered hundreds of kilometers. I have walked from sea level to 3000 meters. I have seen the ocean and the sea, the rolling green hills of Ireland, the dry panoramas of Corsica, the snow-capped peaks of the Vercors, and the massive fjords of Norway. I have walked across barren lava fields in Básar, stood jaw agape in its canyons, surrounded on either side by thousandyear-old glaciers spilling their blue gold through the valleys. The millions of tons of volcanic debris encountered on my hikes were a humbling experience. The roaring of the breaking ice in the Jokulsárlón glacier lagoon made me appreciate the powers of fire and ice and the role they play on this island to a whole new degree.
Yet through all of these incredible experiences, the memories, and the wonderful people encountered, one common point repeatedly stood out in a glaring fashion: tourists. And although I have been a foreigner in all of the places that I have visited this summer, I am ashamed to be associated with these hordes of individuals who pile out en masse onto the trails. Time and again, no matter their origin, they leave the wilderness with scars in their wake. These fans of ecotourism, covered form head to toe in crisp Gore-Tex and gear they do not even know how to use, are simply too posh to follow one of the first rules of Leave No Trace: stay on the trail. Apparently, it is more important to keep those fancy pants as clean as the day they were bought than pay heed to the signs indicating rehabilitation zones. They would prefer to further erode a muddy trail rather than walk through a puddle.
This negligence takes its toll on the fragile alpine environment. As the audio guide on the Reykjavik Excursions bus put it so justly, the pillow-like green moss “looks so sad” when it has turned brown and died from one too many trampling individuals. Although I follow the Leave No Trace principles as much as possible, at times it becomes impossible to determine where the “real” trail lies. From afar, it begins to look more like a messy road than a pristine wilderness landscape.
Initially, I was shocked and offended at the bluntness of some of the rangers, even at the end of what must have been a hectic season. Now, I think I understand their pain and frustration a little more. I simple hope that a change in mentality will occur, sooner rather than later.
Between you and our last issue’s most awesome letter, we are amassing a veritable collection of tourists-taking-tourists-to-school! Hopefully you’re not ashamed of every last one of them – we are pretty certain that many of your fellow travellers are very conscientious about the fragility of our environment. There are hundreds of international volunteers that come to Iceland every year with non-profits like Seeds and Worldwide Friends to lend their hands to environmental protection and restoration campaigns.
Some of them wear Gore-Tex, too, for the convenience and all. It’s also really fun to say: Gore-Tex.
Thanks for eloquently and thoughtfully expressing concern for the protection of this place. We sure care about it a lot, too!
Hi there people,
I am Esli Tapilatu, a social graphic designer from The Netherlands currently working on a very nice project called Capital of happiness. In this project i search for stories about happiness worldwide. And for this project i will visit New York, Ulanbataar, Ghana, Tokio, and (tatatatataaaaa) Reyklavik.
There is one thing, i don’t know anybody overthere, yet. But i am looking for stories, big ones, small ones. Touching, stories that make you laugh. Do you have any tips to connect to the Reyklavik people? I will visit the city in February but i want to plant some seed in advance. I am looking forward to hear from you and if you have a nice story to share, feel welcome to mail me.
Best of luck.
Firstly, we are very curious what a social graphic designer is? Are there anti-social graphic designers? Do they alienate their co-workers and work alone in dark caves? Are you all about the party?
Secondly, we’re a little jealous that you get to travel to all these cool places to collect stories about happiness when us journalists usually only get to travel to talk about misery and pestilence. Lucky you! We certainly do have many local readers who would gladly share some happy stories with you though.
We will put any folks in touch with you who want to spread the joy.
Keep on smiling!
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