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Polar bears are not common here in Iceland, but stray ones visit us from time to time. They come here from Greenland on icebergs and swim ashore. On January 27, 2010 one polar-bear came ashore in Þistilfjörður in N-E Iceland. In 2008 two of them came ashore in June in North-Iceland (Skagafjörður). A polar bear was spotted in Hornstrandir in West-Iceland in May 2011. It was shot. The last polar bear we know of before that time was in June 1993 when sea-men killed a polar bear which was swimming in the ocean close to shore, so we got quite startled and were not prepared for this. The last polar bear on-shore was spotted in 1988 in Skagafjörður i.e. twenty years earlier than the 2 from last year. And 2 were spotted in 1986.
Polar bears are an endangered species, but we have to kill polar bears which come ashore. I know this causes a lot of controversy, but better kill them than they kill us. These are not cuddly little teddy bears but dangerous, unpredictable carnivores. If we were to drive them into the ocean again then they could go ashore at another place in Iceland, so that is not an option. Catching them and sending them back to Greenland is not an option either due to contagious animal diseases. So what is the option??
I add this as a danger here as it seems that due to Global warming more polar bears are coming to Iceland. There were people camping in the nature close to where a polar bear was spotted so I would advise you not to camp just anywhere so far up north in Iceland, but stick to the camping sites.
From the settlement of Iceland ca 600 polar bears have been spotted in Iceland. The oldest source is from 890 when the settler Ingimundur gamli (Ingimundur the Old) spotted a polar bear with two cubs in Húnavatnssýsla (the Icelandic name for a cub is "húnn" and for a polar bear is "ísbjörn"). So if you hear somebody yelling: "Ísbjörn" - then don´t start running...
The pictures I have added are from a stuffed polar bear in the tourist store by Geysir. One of the polar bears killed lasts year is on display in Blönduós and the other one is on display at The District museum in Sauðárkrókur.
Updated Mar 1, 2013
There is volcanic activity in ca 25% of the square measure of Iceland. There are 30 volcanic systems so it is self-evident that it is dangerous living on this island. Each of these 30 volcanic systems have more than one volcano. And there are ca 30 volcanic eruption each century, the latest one started on 21st of May 2011 in Grimsvotn in Vatnajokull glacier, which is the largest glacier in Europe. In 2010 there were 2 volcanic eruptions in Mýrdalsjökull and in Eyjafjallajökull in South-Iceland which caused chaos in Europe with all the airports closing. In the 20th and 21st century there have been 41 volcanic eruptions!
We never know where the next volcano is going to erupt and I can tell you that there are so many lava fields in Iceland that one hardly realises from which volcano the particular lava field originated.
Our seismologists monitor these volcans so we get to know beforehand if there is any seismic activity underground. It is important to listen to the news before travelling somewhere just in case seismic activity has been detected in that particular area. The latest technology is helping us with locating travellers in Iceland and if an eruption should start in a specific area then all the travellers there will get an SMS with: "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE" or "Start running NOW" or something like that.
Updated Feb 12, 2013
I have been asked about this sign by ring-road 1 in South-Iceland, ca 20 minutes´outside of Reykjavík going east.
It is only written on Icelandic so I understand that visitors driving by don´t understand what it is about and might think that something happened here. Here are the wrecks of 2 cars damaged in traffic accidents - on the sign is written how many people have been killed this year (every year) in car crashes in Iceland.
On the sign it says "x látnir á árinu" meaning x killed this year. And "Eru beltin spennt?" meaning Have you buckled up? Let´s remember that the speed limit on the high-way in Iceland is only 90 k/h, I know that many people aren´t aware of that.
The man in charge of changing the number on the sign says it is a lousy job and that it is not easy going there after each fatal car accident, changing the number of more people killed on the roads in Iceland.
Updated Dec 28, 2012
There are several traffic signs and warning signs which are only in Icelandic. I have added a few of them in other tips like "Einbreið brú" meaning "One lane bridge" and "Malarvegur" meaning "Gravel road".
Here are a couple of others:
"Nema strætó" means "Bus only".
"Varúð - vinnusvæði" means "danger - construction area".
"Einkastæði" means "private parking".
"Lokað vegna snjóa" means "Road closed due to snow".
"Vinsamlegast stöðvið vél bifreiðarinnar v/útblásturs" goes without saying...
I will add more signs when I come across them.
Updated Oct 9, 2012
When hiking in Iceland in the summer, you will often hike across large snowy surfaces.
Most of these have solid ground underneath, but some are situated over streams and creeks, forming ice bridges which grow thinner and thinner as summer progresses and the snow melts.
Remember that some streams carry ice-cold glacier water, and others carry scalding hot water from hot geothermal springs. Therefore, even in the same geographical area one ice bridge, bridiging over a cold water stream, may be thick and solid, and another one, bridging over a hot water stream, may be very thin and fragile.
Try to follow in the footsteps of previous hikers to minimize the risk.
Updated Aug 24, 2012
The Icelanders like to say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing! In other words, if you are properly dressed and equipped the weather should not prevent you from whatever activity you are planning.
This is fine, but on the other hand some weather conditions make traveling hazardous, and you should always heed what the locals say. The photo shows a monument to a young hiker who perished in a snow blizzard in June on the Laugavegur trek, just a short distance before the Hrafntinnusker hut, where he would have found shelter.
So, before embarking on a hike or a trek ask the locals about the weather conditions and forecast, and make sure it is safe to go.
Written Aug 18, 2012
There are stone cairns in many places in Iceland. They are there of course on purpose and were raised in the olden times to mark the way for travellers.
In the last few years visitors in Iceland have started adding to the cairns or making new ones. I don´t know what this is about - maybe it is a "I was here" thing, well, for sure that is what it is. But this can be dangerous as these cairns are here to lead the way in the highlands and where ever they have been placed. Let´s keep this in mind - I know nobody does this to mislead other travellers, I think this is just an act of mindlessness.
There are also places in Iceland, like by Gullfoss waterfall, where a lot of small cairns have been erected by visitors. Let´s not destroy nature, with time this has started to look very out of place, to say the least.
On the other hand there is one place in Iceland where it is expected to erect a small cairn before going further - maybe you can find that tip, it is here in my Iceland "things to do" tips.
In the olden times it was quite common to leave messages inside the cairns - some of them were vulgar poems, I guess men have been men since time began.
Updated Jul 31, 2012
In Iceland there are lot of glaciers and there are several agencies which offer guided tours on the glaciers. Only last night (14.02.10) one agency took a group on a tour on Langjökull glacier despite a really bad weather forecast with -10 degrees C and wind of 18-20 meters/second. Two people, a Scottish woman and her 12 year old son, got seperated from the group and our resque team (300 people) had to go look for them. Fortunately they were found alive.
At the beginning of February 2010 a woman with whom I went to college, and her 7 year old son, fell down a chasm on this same glacier, Langjökull. She was killed, but her son survived. The Icelandic resque team resqued him. These people were Icelanders in a group of Icelandic people going on a tour on the glacier.
In November 2011 a Swedish young man was found dead after having gone alone on a trip on Sólheimajökull glacier. The Icelandic resque team (500 people doing voluntary work) looked for him for 2 days.
So you can see the risk in going there, even if you are with an organized group always check out the weather forecast for yourself, there is now investigation into why this agency went on this tour despite the bad weather forecast. I add the link to the Icelandic weather-forecast on-line.
And of course this website Save travel is a must read before coming to Iceland.
Updated Feb 29, 2012
Many parts of Iceland are covered in lava, including areas very close to Reykjavík, and these areas are dangerous to walk in as moss covers lava like a soft blanket. The moss covers up holes and small fissures and one can fall in or hurt ones feet if not treading with caution there. The same goes for when these lava fields are covered in snow (see my photos). In March 2010 one woman fell into a fissure covered in snow close to Reykjavík. Her friend was able to call 112, our emergy number, and she was resqued out of the fissure.
The lava can take on very strange forms as you can see from my photos, where one lava formation looks like a witch or what we call Grýla (the mother of the Yule-lads). This photo is taken close to Þingvellir and the snow-lava photos are taken in Grímsnes, S-Iceland, close to Kerið (see my tip).
The Icelandic name for lava is "hraun".
Updated Feb 29, 2012
I refer to my tip on Geysir-Strokkur.
Take care that this is a high temperature geothermal area and stay within the boundaries and don't touch the water as it is extremely HOT. And never ever go within the boundaries of Geysir itself as it erupts about 3-5 times per day about 10 metres in the air. Before it erupts thuds can be heard. I have seen people walking straight up to Geysir and looking into it!! This is extremely dangerous and last December (2008) a British couple was in grave danger and had to run away from Geysir as it was erupting. By chance an Icelandic tourist-guide was passing by and could warn them in the nick of time.
There aren't enough warning signs there and people cross the boundaries as they are not high enough, so tourists might not realize how extremely dangerous this is. Every year people get injured by the hot water. In September 2010 the boundaries/ropes were put higher up so that there should not be any confusion anymore as to where it is allowed to walk in the Geysir area.
In August 2010 a 2-year-old Spanish girl got injured close to Strokkur. She fell over the rope where the run-off water from Strokkur runs and got burnt in the face and on her hands. Small children should always be carried by their parents in this geothermal area.
Updated Feb 29, 2012
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