Nature ‘takes no prisoners’
Because crime is virtually non existent in Iceland, it is a great place to be when it comes to personal safety. But there is another side to Iceland’s coin. It’s stunning natural beauty can be fraught with natural hazards that come with the territory. Icelanders all know this. It’s just part of the national psyche. They have heard the stories of the dangers throughout their life, so for them this is a no-brainer. Perhaps this, and the fact that tourism just started in earnest a few short years ago is why we see so few danger signs posted in the most hair raising spots. For some of us it is not that simple though- maybe we come from a land-locked country where the dangers of the sea don’t exist, or maybe we come from an urban center where the dangers are more people oriented and not nature oriented. And maybe we come from a country where there are signs everywhere to alert us to dangers and it is easy to relax. No sign = no danger, or something like that.
English signs in Iceland are not as plentiful as you and I might deem necessary, but there is progress being made in this regard, and you should start to see more and more signs in English scattered around the country.
Whatever the case, visitors need to keep it uppermost in their minds that mother nature sometimes has a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude and doesn’t mess around. This would certainly be the case with the present Holuhraun eruption, which continues to rage, although thankfully at somewhat lower levels than during the previous four months. Never the less, the area has been called ‘the most dangerous place in Iceland today’ and has been closed off to everyone except scientists and a few media personnel and is strictly monitored. In September 2014, police stopped several jeep drivers and their passengers who tried to sneak into the area for a closer look at the eruption. We are not surprised to learn that the trespassers were issued hefty fines for their folly.
Driving in Iceland
If you are planning to hire a car during your stay in Iceland, be sure to study up on the rules of the road. While many road signs are international and will be recognizable, there are several signs that are specific to Iceland and/or are written in Icelandic. The good news is that there is now a free app that has all the signs translated into English or Japanese that you can download at safetravels.is (more about that below). It is also important to note that speed limits are strictly enforced, especially in summer and it is not unheard of for unsuspecting tourists to receive fines in the realm of 100.000kr (about US$750) Ouch! There is little tolerance towards drunk driving and stiff fines are enforced for both DUI (driving under the influence) and speeding. Follow the speed limits and keep to them. Watch out for freedom loving sheep on the road who roam freely around the country and can be often be found along the sides of the road. They are quite independent little rascals and are experts at finding the loopholes in pasture fences, much to many a farmer’s dismay. (The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.) Gravel roads are another potential hazard and you are advised to slow down quickly should your road suddenly give way to gravel.
Safetravels.is should be the first destination for your trip to Iceland. Here you will find tips for driving, including a corny but memorable video where an elf discusses some of the things to watch out for while driving in the countryside. If you are heading off into the highlands, or doing any hiking, there is a page where you can lodge your travel plans- always wise since weather conditions can change quickly, even in summer. You will also find a link to the English pages of the Icelandic Met Office, vedur.is and a link to the Icelandic Road Administration site vegagerdin.is where you can get daily updates about the road and weather conditions right around the country. Lastly, call 112 if you are in serious trouble (Iceland’s version of 911). And yes there is a free app for that also.
Enjoy your stay in Iceland and above all, stay safe!