14 November 2011

moment of silence

One of the recent news items has had me thinking a lot about this country, the people who live here and the people who visit. Late Wednesday, a young man called the emergency number to say he'd lost his way out on one of the glaciers in the south, and needed help. Teams from the volunteer rescue squads were immediately on the job, despite the call going out in the middle of the night. Over the next few days, hundreds of people volunteered their time to search for this lost visitor. When I called some friends on Saturday, they were all still busy helping out, cleaning the vehicles that came back from search efforts and restocking for the next trip out.

Sadly, they found the young man later that day, his body in a crevice where he'd probably died from exposure. I suppose it's a better ending than the last time such an event happened when two German tourists went hiking and were never found again.

This story made me think again of how powerful the nature is here. It's a country where the wind can blow entire ship containers into the sea from a dock, a country where people can go missing and never be found, where the weather can change instantly, and where you can never be too prepared when you venture out into the wilderness. Most people are smart and sensible but for the thousands who are, there's always the one horrible sad story. There are plenty of sites reminding people of the dangers here but I'd just like to reiterate it because the consequences can be so awful- don't go into the Icelandic highlands alone, tell people where you're going and when you intend to return, and most of all, go prepared. You always need more clothes than expected here, and climbing on glaciers is not something someone should do unless they're experienced and properly equipped, especially this time of year. Glaciers in the autumn have had all summer to melt and are full of crevices that can be hard to see. The nature here is amazing partly because it's so powerful, but it's not the kind of power that's worth toying with lightly.

The other thing this week made me think of was how incredible Icelanders are in emergency situations. It's a nation that knows how to get on the job swiftly and seems to be quickly innovative when the need arises. During the search, local hotels and associations pitched in with food and accommodation for the tired search parties, and all the rescue team people who weren't sufficiently trained for highland search missions were helping to support in dozens of ways. I've seen this kind of quick and flexible response to other unexpected situations here many times over the years, from volcanoes to floods, and even in the case of the Haitian earthquake, when Icelandic search and rescue teams were among the first to respond.

So thank you to all the searchers, and for anyone who goes out to enjoy Iceland at its best (and sometimes at its worst), please come back safely.

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