The Alaskan Lupin
Many of you read the last letter that I sent out in regards to a trip that I took earlier this summer through Scandinavia. I have one more story that I would like to share with you about the cruise that I think you will enjoy. After leaving the picturesque port of Alesund, Norway the ship headed northwest into the Arctic Circle. The sun never went down, it just slid across the horizon and after a day and night at sea the ship approached Akueyri, Iceland.
Tourism is a rather new phenomenon in many parts of Iceland. Akueyri is a port town on the northwest corner of the island that is surrounded by natural wonders. These include thermally active fields, similar to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, lava formations and a gorgeous waterfall with a river of glacial water. When we arrived, I would guess that the residents had never seen a ship like the Disney Magic. The middle school summer band greeted us at the dock with a unique mix of Michael Jackson hits. It was the cutest thing that we had ever seen.
When we got off the ship and onto a tour bus we were greeted by our guide. She was actually a local teacher that was off for the summer. She was admittedly the worst tour guide ever (she didn’t actually tell us her name until over an hour into the trip) but we all loved her. She tried to teach us how to say the alphabet and how to sing Happy Birthday in Islandic. It was like having Rose from the Golden Girls narrate a day of her life with a bus microphone. It was her sincerity that truly pulled us all in. She just wanted us to enjoy where she lived, to see the beauty that she sees in the land that is her home.
Throughout the day as we drove by massive fields of purple flowers, our guide told us that they were Alaskan Lupin. They were imported into Iceland from North America to try and keep what little topsoil the Island has from blowing away (most of Iceland is covered in old lava fields). Alaskan Lupin is a hardy flowering plant that can survive in harshly cold environments. She went on to tell us that the only problem with the flower is that it doesn’t understand anything about borders, it has spread everywhere. The flowers are doing exactly what they were intended to do, except that they have absolutely changed the entire landscape of the island.
Our dear friend Mary was sitting with us on the tour and she reflected that she had moved to Orlando in 1951. Tourism wasn’t new at the time, people had been traveling to the Silver Springs State Park in Florida to ride the glass bottom boats since 1878, but it had its borders. The borders of tourism in Orlando are long gone, along with the orange groves that are now walled neighborhoods and strip malls. You could almost see the pain in her eyes as she thought about what tourism will do to this little island. Yet there we were, Iceland tourists, enjoying the fields of non-indigenous purple flowers and the wondrous sights that the island has to offer.
It is an interesting moment when you realize that you are the tourist leaving your footprint on someone else’s land. Being from Orlando, the shoe is usually on the other foot. Tourism changes the landscape. That is inevitable and what it was intended to do. It is the people who sincerely share the essence of what makes their home special with others that truly makes the world a beautiful place to visit. Being that person is what makes Orlando so special for the rest of the world.