I was standing in the crowded Akureyri Information Center in Iceland. There were stacks of maps and brochures to area attractions neatly piled on the counter. The center also doubled as the bus depot and tripled as the ticket broker for the airport. It was a busy place. Bundled Icelanders and straggly backpackers came in and out of its frozen and rainy doors. I planned to take a plane in my search of puffin (an odd looking cold weather bird) to the tiny island of Grimsey, which straddled the artic circle. The flight to Grimsey was on a teeny plane and I had one of those gigantic backpacks—the kind that has all those patches of foreign countries on it. The lady at the counter had nonchalantly told me that this plane had no storage for my pack and all of the six seats on the flight were taken. She said “You could just leave it on the floor over there,” as she pointed at a wide open, unprotected section of floor in the middle of the information center next to a rack of postcards and in the future path of hundreds of potential thieves.
Clearly she was kidding. Being from Los Angeles, she could not fool me. There must be a locker around here somewhere. So, I looked around to no avail. “Really, everyone does it” she said. Panicked, I looked back at her and told her of my rational last second solutions, “Can I put it in the secret locker room? How much will it cost for you to take it home and guard it? How about the trunk of your car? Is there a special holding area for personal belongings and their emergencies?” “No, no, no and no,” she politely responded. “Why don’t you just leave it over there?”
“And let someone steal all my stuff!?” I squealed.
She finally looked at me in all seriousness, “Why would someone want to take your things?” I stood there speechless and feeling a little paranoid. I did not know why anyone would want to steal my things. And mostly, I was carrying soggy socks and underwear that were the result of walking through Iceland’s many downpours. She continued. “Do people take things that are not theirs where you are from?” Her nearby co-worker could only shake her head, “That’s terrible.” The other lady said.
I looked to the space at the front of the tourist office. I counted six backpacks – and a purse. I thought about how my jaded viewpoint had little to do with this country, or its people. Most Icelanders believe in faeries, gnomes and trolls. The whole country is organic and there are fewer than seventy people in jail in the whole country; and they go home on weekends.
I turned to the ladies behind the counter. “It’s safe, huh?”
They both nodded finding sympathy for my American neurosis. I walked over and leaned my pack against a wall near a warm radiator. Still doubtful, I leaned in closer to my pack, looked around to make sure no one was noticing and whispered, “Goodbye old friend.”
I boarded the itsy bitsy plane to Grimsey to watch the Puffin and an abundant bird population thrive on a tiny island in the Arctic Circle. Upon our landing the weather turned for the worse and I stayed at a small bed and breakfast for two days longer than expected.
Upon my return, my pack was right where I left it.
While it is never recommended to leave your luggage unattended and always wise to take precautions while traveling, I was not entirely surprised. Iceland is one of the few countries where normal rules just do not apply. In a bigger way, I have found people want to help the weary traveler and because of it I have never had a significant problem visiting far away places.
I recommend never leaving baggage or personal items unattended. –Editor –