|Working as a tour
guide in Iceland
|After coming back to Germany in the end of May I enjoyed a glorious worldcup as you may have seen. In July it was time to travel a bit once again. The purpose, however, was not leisure, but the tough job of a tour guide ;-)|
|Iceland is an island that culturally belongs to Europe although it geologically lies on the edge of the North American and the Eurasian plate. This edge is called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and its volcanic and tectonic activities have been forming Iceland in the last 20 million years.|
|I got a Mitsubishi Pajero and started to explore the route I wanted to take with my bicycle tour group a couple of days later.|
|All over the island you can see its volcanic origin. In
many places it is easy to imagine how flowing lava formed this
Due to the low temperature just south of the arctic circle there is not a lot of vegetation around. It is mainly grasses and mosses and thus the only larger animals you can find are sheep and the very rare polar fox.
The prevailing low pressure systems and south-westerly winds create a fairly mild and wet climate all year round. On the north-eastern side of the island, however, it is much drier and you can get a lot of sun in summer.
|This is what makes exploring iceland on your own so
difficult: There is only a couple of paved roads along the populated
areas on the coast. But inlands it is all gravel roads and routes that
in most cases don't even have any bridges.
So, in order to cross a river, you have to drive through with a four-wheel-drive. This is always on our own risk and you have to judge before hands if the river is not too deep for your car. Thus I had to walk barefeet through almost icecold glacial rivers to find a spot where my car could get through. In some occasions I even had to turn around and look for a different way on the map as the water was much too deep.
|When I was exploring the route in the highlands around
Landmannalaugar with my car in order to find a suitable way south to the
coast, I was slowly running out of options.
Once again I had to cross a river which looked more than knee-deep and I was not supposed to drive into water like that as my engine might suck water and stop working. So I was looking for a longer way over two sandbanks where the water was shallow enough for my car. I went into the lowest gear of my four-wheel drive mode and steered the car into the river. Suddenly, it stopped. I tried to use the clutch a bit more but that did not help, my wheels started to spin. When I opened my door, I could see all the trouble: the sandbank was too soft and my car had been sucked into this sh... Oh my God!
I got out and tried to do some crazy stuff like digging the sand away but stuff like that is absolutely useless in a river. It was seven o'clock at night and I was on an unmarked route that only was on very few maps. So the chances of somebody coming here would be quite rare and at night they were next to nothing. 100km from the next village my mobile phone obviously had no signal and my GPS-unit was able to tell me where I was but I couldn't send any emergency signal neither.
Thus I had two choices: waiting for help that might come the next day or not or finding some help. There was a small campsite about 22km from me. It was about 7 degrees, raining and storming. So I got my stuff together: mobile-phone, gps, map, tent, sleeping bag, food, water. I had to cross a mountain of more than 1,000 meters and a snowfield as well. There is always the risk of a temperature drop and snowfall in the mountains at that latitude.
I tried to think as rational as possible, since I did not want to make an even worse mistake.
I calculated that I might be able to get to the campsite in around three to four hours if everything goes well. So I tried to walk uphill and run downhills when I could. Gliding down the snowfield was actually quite fun, although every now and then these terrible thoughts came into my head. About me being out here on my own and about a 40,000 car in the river where it was not insured. Not to go mad I tried to focus on the things I had to do: climb, walk and run.
After about two hours and 15km and crossing two bigger mountains I made a stop to drink and I got my mobile phone out of my pocket. And to my surprise I had received a text message.
So I must have had some signal somewhere on the way. I thought about it for a second and then I left my backpack with all my stuff and went all the way back up onto the last mountain.
|Up there I really managed to find the signal but it was
too weak and it always disappeared so it was impossible to make an
emergency call and I had to keep on walking.
Three kilometers later I suddenly saw the lights of a car infront of me. In the meantime I had been on a marked route and there was somebody else still out here at half past ten at night. I stopped the car and there were to Icelandic guys who wanted to deliver food to some friends. They did not have a rope so they could not help me with my car but they offered me a lift to the next village on the paved road around Iceland where you normally have reception with a mobile. So I went with them and delivered the food to their friends and on the way back I got off in a village about 150km from where my car was. I had some sleep in my tent and the next morning started to organise the rescue.
Nobody could really help me so I had to call my rental company. They told me that it would cost about 1000 to pull out my car plus the cost of new brakes since they must have been in the sand. Damned!
|I called the tour operator and they were not too happy
about my news. But they luckily had some connections in Iceland. So
there was a taxi driver coming to pick me up. He gave me a lift to the
fire brigade in the next village and those guys just charged me 200
for pulling me out with one of their trucks. We got to my car within
another two hours and it was still there and basically fine.
I supported the fire truck with my cars engine and eventually I got out on the soft ground. Yeah! But rolling backwards I heard the sound of the sand on my brakes and I was quite concerned. But the guy from the fire brigade did not really worry. He just took my car and drove into the middle of the river. A bit back and forth and out again and the sand was washed off and the car was absolutely fine. He also told me that I could go into water as deep as my hips with that car. I should just make sure that I go a bit down the river when crossing it and that there are no rocks in the water. Great, the car was fine, I was fine and I had gained some more knowledge about four-wheel-driving. Time to go on...
|The next route I tried was far less problematic
concerning rivers and so I finally had the way I was looking for from
Landmannalaugar to the coast.
That night I had to drive until sunset since I was a bit behind schedule. Luckily in summer sunset is at 11pm in Iceland and sunrise, which woke me up in this picture, is at about 3 am.
But the rest of the tour was explored within two days and I could even check out the nightlife of Reykjavik on a Saturday night.
More than half of the 300,000 Icelanders live in their capital Reykjavik. So I joined the official pub crawl to get to know people and places and after the stress with my car I just enjoyed this party night in the northernmost capital of the world.
|The next day the I welcomed the motivated cyclists on
In comparison to my week exploring the route, during the tour itself everything worked pretty well.
But it is still work and not a holiday since I was always responsible for everything and you can just close the door of your office and say I am done for today.
However, place like this waterfall which is sourced by a river that flows over 20km underneath the lava, are a great reward for the work.
|This typical landscape in the highlands is a reason why many people think The Lord of the Rings could have been filmed in Iceland as well.|
|Another effect of Icelands setting on the
Mid-Atlantic-Ridge is that all the magma underneath the thin crust
occasionally heats up the ground-water as well.
And that is where you can find a thermal field with its significant smell of rotten eggs which is caused by the sulphuric gases that are emitted.
|In other places hot water erupts in form of a geyser.
This one for example can be seen every five minutes.
This picture is about a tenth of a second before eruption...
|...and this is about a second later, when a fountain of
water rises up to 20 meters into the sky.
A very impressive experience...
|And this is how you can reward yourself when the
weather is not that fine in Iceland: with a hot spring.
There is lots of them all over the country and we managed to find one almost every day.
This one is the most famous due to the minerals which create this colourful water: the Blue Lagoon.
If you are looking for remote wilderness in Europe, for volcanoes, fiords and glaciers or if you are just suffering from the summer heat, come to Iceland, it's a unique experience.