Ever since I can remember, all the workcamps and summer holidays that I’ve embarked upon have been of the sunshine variety, in an effort to boost my tan in the absence of any real summer in the UK. So it was with some surprise that I found myself eagerly choosing a workcamp in Iceland this year (my 5th!) - surely the very word “ice” in the name would put anyone off in mid-July?! Iceland is a small island north of Scotland, with a population the size of Coventry, and with summer temperatures that barely exceed those of a chilly English November. The project was based in the far northeast of the country, about as far away from the capital Reykjavik as possible, which meant that we all travelled, by way of a 14 hour minibus journey, to the camp together – the journey was a great opportunity to see some of the natural attractions Iceland is famous for, as we drove past waterfalls, lakes filled with iceberg fragments, glaciers and miles upon miles of volcanic landscape interspersed with tiny villages.
It also meant that by the end of the journey, the group had already become very close, forced together by the intimacy of a small minibus! Our village, Bakkafjordur, was a fishing community of just 100 people, with no bar or accommodation, and a shop/bank/post office only open from 1pm until 5pm every days – I suddenly understood why my guidebook said “few travellers will venture here”! The local school we stayed in was superb, with internet access, sports equipment, and even a dishwasher and washing machine – all this for just 11 children, and certainly a far cry from my previous, rather less luxurious, workcamp facilities! The work comprised of two parts; for much of the time, we worked our way along the local coastline, picking up all the discarded fishing nets and other rubbish swept in from the sea, so as to protect the vital fishing industry of the area, whilst other days were spent planting hundreds of young trees in an effort to regenerate the countryside.
As we were in such a remote place, we soon became minor celebrities, and the local villagers made every attempt to make us feel welcome and to give us a taste of the traditional Icelandic culture. Almost every evening someone would pop into the school to say hello, often bringing local food for us to try – highlights include raw dolphin (not particularly tasty) and rotten shark, eaten after being buried for months on end…! We were taken on a fishing trip, a jeep safari to the desolate interior of the country, and given a tour of the village fish factory, a smell that I think none of us will ever forget. In return, we helped re-paint the school playground, and hosted a barbeque for our new friends in the village. As for the weather? Well, yes it was sometimes wet and cold, but we also had some sunshine, and any bad weather simply made us feel that we were adventurous explorers in the middle of nowhere. By the end of our camp, I was extremely sad to leave; we really felt part of a community, and the isolation had also pushed our group of volunteers together so that we were remarkably close. The long drive back to Reykjavik through yet more breathtaking scenery gave me plenty of time to reflect upon a camp that was a remarkable experience, in a country that has already got me contemplating my next visit.
(Louise Treves, July 2005)
click here for pictures of projects in Iceland
click here for a country profile of Iceland