Reality Check! (KH)

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katharinahauptmann02_dlYes, the discussion about tourism in Iceland won’t come to an end any day soon. And since tourism is an ever growing industry around here we will probably never stop discussing topics involving travelers.

Just take a look at the headlines of the past weeks: Tourist Falls into Crevasse at Þingvellir, Tourist Abandons Destroyed Rental Car or the story about 2,000 tourists out and about looking for Aurora Borealis around New Year’s. The bottom line is that tourists and everything they do are ever present in Iceland, and like never before.

While a lot of people criticize the overwhelming number of travelers visiting this small island, there are also amusing stories around, and with amusing I am referring to face palm moments.

One of these stories caused quite a bit of laughter here. A group of four travelers from the U.S. needed to be rescued from an iceberg that was drifting on glacial lagoon Fjallsárlón in East Iceland last May after strong wind suddenly pushed the floe that they had set up a picnic table and chairs on further away from the land leaving them stranded. Luckily they were rescued unharmed shortly after.

How on Earth could anybody think this was a great idea?

Then there are always those travelers who get into car trouble. Ok, we all make mistakes, but if the car rentals explicitly warn foreigners against driving certain roads or in certain weather conditions (and they do) then why not just listen for your own safety? If I was to rent a car in an unknown terrain I would heed the locals’ advice and not drive through that river or drive into a storm. If you don’t know the terrain it is likely that you underestimate the possible dangers. Warnings are there for a reason!

Tourists have complained  about damage caused to their rental cars after getting stuck in bad weather in Iceland. Common sense should prevent you from opening a car door in a storm.

While I am sorry for the high cost of repairs that they have had to fork out, they should have simply read up on where they were going. It is the easiest thing in the world to read the weather forecast and to make yourself familiar with the safety instructions regarding how to drive safely in Iceland, something which, as far as I’m aware, are provided in every rental car. In any case, visitors should take responsibility for their own safety and do their research.

And not just regarding driving in Iceland, visitors should just read up more about the country they’re visiting.

By that I don’t mean tourists should learn to sing the national anthem by heart or name every glacier of Iceland but just basic knowledge.

Most visitors are certainly here for the breathtaking nature. And rightly so, the northern lights, waterfalls, lava fields and glaciers of Iceland are truly amazing and I totally agree that they are worth visiting. But still, people have bear in mind that nature is unpredictable. Through my work I have a lot of contact with tourists and I must say that I have heard so many stupid questions from travelers reaching from: “Do you know Björk” to “Is there really a jacuzzi on top of Kaffibarinn?” to “Can we pet the puffins?” (while on a puffin and whale watching tour) and “What time do the northern lights start?”

I just don’t get it!

Do people really believe natural phenomenon work on schedules? That the Icelandic tourist guide switches on the Aurora Borealis every day from 7:45pm until 8:10 pm? Or that the whales are contracted performers showing up daily close to the whale watching boats to jump out of the water?

So please, dear, dear tourists, be open for a new experience and leave your unrealistic expectations at home, be aware that nature is unpredictable and trust the locals when they warn you of certain things. The latter also very much applies to warning signs as it is not wise to enter a closed-off area just to get really, really close to bubbling fumaroles or geyser, for example.

But if somebody tells you to run around downtown Reykjavík naked, do think twice!

Common sense is the magic word!

Katharina Hauptmann - katha.hauptmann@gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.