Travel Storey 

From Whistler to Iceland

A visit to the other edge of North America

I paused at the edge of a steaming fissure on the axis of the rift zone through central Iceland and stepped, symbolically at least, off the eastern edge of North America, across the mid-Atlantic ridge, onto the western edge of Europe. For most of its 16,000 km length the Mid-Atlantic ridge is a submarine feature but about 15 million years ago its northern end drifted over a stationary hot spot in the earth's mantle and the combined magma production of these two sources produced the embryonic volcanic island of Iceland. Since then the island has continued to grow and is still growing as fissures, like the one I just stepped across, continue to open at about 2 cm per year.

From Vancouver Iceland is a bum-numbing 11-hour flight to London, followed by a three-hour flight back to Reykjavik where we began our journey with "Arctic Experience," a British adventure travel company that specializes in getting off the beaten track. Billed as a walking trip we spent the first day warming up with short hikes to geysers, waterfalls, and historic sites in the vicinity of Reykjavik where Ingofur Arnarson and his Viking buddies landed and established the first permanent settlement in A.D. 874.

Today Reykjavik is a bustling, friendly place with all the amenities of a small, modern European city, plus some uniquely Icelandic differences. Probably the cleanest, most pollution-free city of its size anywhere on earth, nearly every building and home is heated with natural hot water drawn from geothermal wells, and lighted with electricity from pollution-free hydroelectric and geothermal generators. More than half of Iceland's 280,000 people live in greater Reykjavik. The rest are scattered along the coastal lowlands in small fishing villages and farms. Although the country is about three times the size of Vancouver Island more than 75 per cent of its total area is uninhabitable, a vast interior wasteland of icecaps and windblown volcanic desert.

Our group of 15 travellers is completely self contained and highly mobile in a Mercedes-built, Iceland-modified 4x4 bus which Jonni, our driver, describes as "just a big Jeep." Our guide, Bryndis, an athletic 26-year-old, tri-lingual, Reykjavik school teacher is a wealth of Icelandic history and folklore and a seemingly tireless leader on our long cross-country hikes. Each evening we return to a hearty meal of fish or lamb that cook, Vilborg, has purchased locally and prepared in venues ranging from stainless steel school kitchens, to pit-fires in a roofless sod house. Accommodation is strictly "bring your own sleeping bag" – no frills but solid, dry comfort in a variety of guesthouses, private homes, school dorms, and a working farm.

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