Less fish, more cans!
Taxi drivers the world over are an excellent barometer of a country’s general health and Jon, who was driving us to Rekyavik airport, was no different.
‘Operating 24/7 again,’ he tells us proudly as we pass a long low building on the outskirts of the city. It is one of Rio Tinto Alcan’s three aluminium production plants spread across Iceland which have recently seen Aluminium output surpass fish production as the country’s most valuable export. Aluminium smelting is a high-energy process making Iceland’s geothermal heating an attractive proposition. ‘You can heat five houses in Iceland for the cost of just one in Europe,’ Jon informs us, adding dryly: ‘But the aluminium production is not here just because geothermal heating is cheap,’ he says, ‘it is also because it is environmentally more acceptable. They can tick more boxes,’ he says, proving his grasp of international commerce is as good as his idiomatic use of the English language.
As a taxi driver he has been one of the first to benefit from the successful promotion of Iceland as a tourism destination which the Government launched following the country’s spectacular financial collapse in 2008. The jaded eye of the world-weary holiday-maker has, it seems, been turned by the tranquillity of volcanic moonscapes, geothermal geysirs, sub-zero temperatures and the magically elusive Northern Lights. ‘Tourism has tripled,’ Jon says happily as we approach the glass façade of Keflavik’s stylish airport building, evidence of the Icelanders’ talent for under-stated, edgy design.
Icelandic natives, Jon has told us, enjoy passport-free passage to Denmark and other Scanda-wegian countries yet they seem relatively unsophisticated in their approach to increased tourism and there appear to be plentiful openings for entrepreneurial types to capitalise in this growing market. Despite the increase in visitors to their shores tipping is neither expected nor encouraged and as a Boeing thunders in overhead, stuffed tight with yet more tourists, I wonder how much longer it will be before that changes.
As we stand on the tarmac outside the departures area I have time for one more question. There are parliamentary elections in April and in addition to the main parties there are a number of newly formed parties with optimistic names like Dawn and Bright Future. ‘So the election, will the social democrats get back in?’ I ask.
Jon gives a stoic shrug typical of his fellow countrymen. The ruling party, he says, has not fulfilled its promises but, he adds with an air of resignation, whichever party wins they are all just politicians.
Icelanders are a race that has had to struggle almost daily for survival against the power of nature; his answer is salutary.
Our thanks to Christine Lee, formerly of BBC Sussex and now running Talk Up PR for this great article.
Categories: Out there