It’s amazing to think about the far-reaching effects of the tourism industry in Iceland. We’re a tiny country, 103,000sq.km and only 306,000 people, but this year, around a half a million tourists came and scoured every corner of this country, seeing more in 1 week than most Icelanders see in a lifetime of living here. You notice this on Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main street where everyother person passes you speaking a different language, and also on highway 1, the ringroad around Iceland littered in rental cars and some serious campervans shipped over with Smyril’s car ferry from Europe.
Working with Ishestar riding tours and also at the Radisson Hotel in Reykjavik, I get a sneak peek into the lives and plans of some of these tourists, fulfilling life-time dreams of traveling in Iceland, riding horses over snow-topped mountains, icecaving in glaciers, and photographing active volcanoes. There’s a tour company called Arctic Adventures that specializes in all the most extreme types of sport tourism, including snowmobiling, 4x4ing, river rafting and white water kayaking. I went with some river guides and Arctic Adventure staff from Drumboddstadir down a class 2 river, experiencing Iceland as totally adrenaline-filled tourist and enjoying the feeling of taking a vacation in Iceland.
I was with Frikki, a doctor who river guides in the summer but also happens to be the chairman of the Reykjavik Hunting Association, so we were on our way to the east for the reindeer hunting trip. He knew all the staff at Drumbo, and we kayaked until nightfall, pulling our kayaks and canoe out of the water well after 10pm. We stopped in one gorge to do some cliff jumping, 5m into the glacial river in our dry suits that didn’t keep us so dry but did bob us like stuffed scarecrows back to the surface immediately. That night we ate chicken masala and tapped into a bottomless keg, exchanged shoulder massages and then went into the sauna together where swimming suits are banned. I discreetly wrapped myself in a towel, but tried very hard to remain casual as 3 naked men posed like Troy all around me.
The next day we drove north to Skagafjordur, where a glacier river called Jokulsa has a west and east arm both great for kayaking and river rafting. We joined a tourist group and took 2 rafts down the class 4 east river, and drifted through the intimidating rapids with names like the Green Room, which was more of a 4+class rapid. We made it through the 3 drops and boiling currents without flipping, but watched in horror as the second boat tipped on the first waterfall and everyone got sucked under and dragged out. Paddles went flying and the safety kayaks had to rescue all the stranded souls, but eventually we were all in good enough spirit to go cliffjumping again.
We stayed at the staff house again, grilled a few hamburgers, and crashed on the couch. The staff there were from Canada, England, Nepal, France and Guatemala, creating an international hostel vibe in this remodeled barn in the middle of farm country. We were a few kilometers away from Varmahlíð, and stopped at the natural hot pot Fossalaug on our way north. We continued roadtripping our way East, driving out from Skagafirdi to Akureyri through Olafsjordur and Hofsos, stopping in at Frikki’s uncle’s farm to have the best smoked arctic char I’ve ever tasted. We were invited in for coffee and cake, and got to peek into the private life of farming. We also visited his aunt, glimpsing into her arts and crafts life out of a remodeled warehouse where she harvests down feathers from eider ducks and turns them into the clothes as soft as clouds.
To get to Iceland and go on your own Arctic Adventure, its pretty easy to find cheap flights here.