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Since the boom in tourism began Iceland is now facing a new, growing problem – tourists littering, and worse. I have addressed the problems before in The Iceaboo but let’s repeat: the cleanness of the Icelandic nature is due to people not throwing trash around. There are no cleaning ladies sweeping through the scenery every morning to gather up what you left there. Tourists have already had such a devastating effect on some of the old wonders that one, Seljavallalaug, is now avoided by Icelanders because it’s been left so filthy (link). At another place, Hrúnalaug (link), the problem has gotten so bad that the owner is threatening to bulldoze the whole place or possibly spread manure thickly around the old bathing house.
However, seeing the habits of many tourists manure may not deter them. A current, somewhat pressing problem is that foreigners rent cars, park them by the main road for the night and sleep in them, and in the morning they drive off leaving all their trash behind, including human feces and used toilet paper. The aforementioned Hrúnalaug is also suffering from both camping (forbidden on the site), vandalism and lots and lots of – well, shit (link).
Pooping in the nature does probably not sound like a huge problem, but when the sheer amount of tourists (link) and small amount of land are compared the problem becomes more obvious. Worst of all the travelers don’t take into account things such as nature parks being, well, areas that you really shouldn’t damage. That’s why they’re called nature parks. Snæfellsnes in particular is in trouble and it’s barely July.
While destroying nature parks is inexcusable the actual problem may not be entirely the tourists’ fault. According to Haraldur Sigurðsson (link) some rental shops in fact advice people to stay the night on the side of the road, as that’s not forbidden by law. Up until now Icelanders have enjoyed this freedom happily but getting a million tourists means “a million poops” as Haraldur puts it, and I can’t help but agree with him that the law should probably be changed now. It’s sad to lose that bit of freedom but too much is too much.
Another problem, when looking at the matter from the tourists’ point of view, is the lack of toilets (link). If you’re traveling in Iceland it’s best to go whenever you see one, the next one may be several hours away, and there’s no guarantee to the conditions when you find one. I know we once drove for a long time to see Dettifoss and used the public toilet there, which not only lacked toilet paper but had a floor swimming in… well… all kinds of things you’d rather not think about (the smell was so awful I thought my nose hairs would fall off).
So while tourists are very welcome here, please keep in mind a few things:
– There’s a lack of toilets in the countryside. It’s a problem that is being worked on but until things change, please use the toilet whenever you find one, you don’t want to drive past Kirkjubæjarklaustur because you didn’t quite need to go yet and then find out you’ve got nothing but desert up ahead for hours.
– Read the signs. If it’s a nature park, camping is not allowed. If it’s private ground, camping is not allowed without permission. If it’s private ground such as Hrúnalaug that has actual signs banning camping in the area, do not camp there.
– Don’t litter, just don’t.
– As for pooping on the side of the road… oh come on, that’s gross and you’re gross for doing it. I understand that sometimes emergency strikes but this many emergencies is just not very likely.
– Besides, why would you even want to spend your night on the side of the road? Camping sites here are cheap, have toilets, showers, sometimes even washing machines for your clothes, washing and cooking spots, electricity and so forth, staying at camping sites makes your traveling so much more comfortable. They also have large bins for your other dumping needs!