Ragnar Baldvinsson is one such guide. He’s a self-described “adventureholic” who lives in Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik but works in the wilder areas hiking volcanos and glaciers. We caught up with “Raggi” to learn where he gets his contagious enthusiasm for the outdoors and what a traveller can expect when touring this unique area of the world.
I have always been an outdoorsy type, and growing up in Iceland it was customary for kids to play outside a lot; I guess I have never grown up! It helps that Reykjavík (the area where I’m based) has a lot to offer in terms of activities in nature, and the ski area in the Bláfjöll (Blue Mountains) is only a 30-40 minute drive away. In fact, there’s so much good stuff to do, it’s hard to pick a favourite activity! I really like riding snowmobiles because it involves a lot of action (I like to blow off steam), but if I’m in the mood to relax, I go cross-country skiing.
Have you always wanted to get into the tour guide profession?
Actually, being a tour guide didn’t come to me until later in life: I started out in the business world. It wasn’t until my friend who owns a tour company convinced me to take the leap from the corporate world to guiding that I did so. He promised to hire me as a guide, so with the fear of not being able to pay the bills put to rest, I left my job as the sales manager for a leading outdoor clothing company. I packed my bags, moved to Myvatn, and let all the hotels’ tour companies know that I had arrived and was ready to guide. Fortunately, I got the hang of guiding quickly because I had already studied everything about Myvatn’s history, geography and geology.
Wow, talk about taking a leap of faith! What has been one of the biggest highlights during your career?
The biggest thing for me was going to the volcano Askja during the winter, which is usually impossible because it is located in the Icelandic highlands. Being adventurous and determined, my guide friends and I found a way to get there in our super-jeeps, and we spent the night in a mountain hut. Now I am tempted to offer that trip as an exclusive private tour for tourists!
Nothing beats being in the mountains in the middle of nowhere surrounded by guests who are experiencing the wilderness for the first time, so this is a tricky question! It’s a shame when the weather doesn’t cooperate though: Once, I had people with me on a Northern lights tour on a cloudy night, so the lights weren’t visible, which was unfortunate. The good news is that there is always something interesting to see and explore in the Icelandic nature, so the show went on. Another downfall is that it can be very cold, but I follow the wise words, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just a bad choice of clothing.”
What about bizarre experiences? Has something weird and wonderful ever happened on one of your trips?
On a night trip, I was guiding a tour near a hut famous for ghosts and monster sightings, and we kept hearing loud banging noises, which, to this day, remain unexplained. On a less scary note, once, on a private tour, I listened to a man talk for three hours, and I didn’t understand a word he was saying!
“On a night trip, I was guiding a tour near a hut famous for ghosts and monster sightings, and we kept hearing loud banging noises, which, to this day, remain unexplained.”
Dont be shy: ask what shoes, clothes or equipment to bring, and, most importantly, tell the guide before the tour if you have a medical condition, allergy, heart condition, need specific meds…anything! Also, take what local guides say to heart even if it sounds stupid at the time.
Lastly, if you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
The list is endless, but I prefer traveling to secluded places as untouched by man as possible. Sadly, those places are getting harder and harder to find.