Most Reykvíkingar tend to think that being born outside of the capital is some terrible accident that needs to be corrected as soon as possible, and in fact the last hundred years saw a mass migration to the big city, with new urbanites pouring in from all over Iceland. But thanks to the tourism boom, employment prospects have opened up and enabled people to stay put in their hometowns. Tourism has also created a demand for local knowledge, which has made young people passionately interested in their surroundings. One such person Anton F., who is a guide and co-owner of Geotravel Iceland. Geotravel specialises in tours criss-crossing the desolate highlands, taking in such splendid scenery as the newly minted Holuhraun lava field (which only came into existence a couple of years ago) and the stunning Askja volcanic crater.
“My father and grandfather both took tours here, but it’s only in recent years that it has changed from being a part-time job for farmers to a full-time career,” says Anton, 27, who was born by Lake Mývatn.
But you yourself are also a farmer?
“One is always a farmer at heart. I own a pig-and-a-half along with a cousin, and some sheep. We must remember where we come from, and it is very relaxing to deliver lambs or to cut wool.”
So you expect to live here your whole life?
“That has always been the plan. I have lived in Spain and Australia and my wife is from Estonia, so we go there every year. I met her eight years ago when she was an au pair here, and thankfully she decided to stay. Mývatn is becoming a little bit of a multi-cultural society, people come from all over to work here in the summer and some stay on.”
Mývatn, about an hour’s drive east of Akureyri, is a community of some 400 people clustered in a few settlements around the scenic lake. But the population goes up to well over 2,000 in the summer, and as many as 700,000 people pass through each year. This brings with it benefits beyond employment. “We have seven restaurants now in this small area,” Anton says.
‘Game of Thrones’ comes to town
On his days off from travelling the highlands, Anton tends to, well, travel the highlands, taking his one-man tent with him to Askja. His other passion is Iceland Search and Rescue, with whom he volunteers.
“My interest in mountaineering initially came from taking part in the Search and Rescue team youth program,” he explains. “When you get older, you take full part in the operations.” Anton is always on call. “Sometimes there are one or two operations a week, then there are quiet times in between.”
The rescue squads subsist on donations, but one important aspect of the funding is working on the many film projects up here ‘Game of Thrones’ has come through Mývatn in recent years, and ‘Fast 8’ was here just this past winter.
Anton says that the worst job he ever had was turning tourists away from the Dettifoss waterfall during the filming of Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’. “People looked like they wanted to throw me into the waterfall, and I felt like I deserved it.” Tom Cruise also got a mixed reception from local farmers when grazing areas were closed off for the making of ‘Oblivion’.
“Those guys showed up for work in helicopters, but they mostly stayed around Akureyri,” Anton recalls. “Our job was to keep spectators from taking photos of the set.”
Still, the money they brought in contributed to the rescue service. “Yes, it may even be said that Tom Cruise has saved lives in the area,” says the mountaineer.