What makes a community worth protecting? Its contribution to a nation's GDP? A historic legacy to protect? What does it take for small communities survive and even thrive in the age of globalization?
These questions ran through my mind as we visited the town of Seyðisfjörður in the Eastern Region of Iceland at the innermost point of the fjord of the same name. It's the ferry port to and from mainland Europe and although the town itself was founded in the 19th century, the area has been inhabited since the 9th century. Like Siglufjörður, Seyðisfjörður also lived through the boom and bust cycle of the fishery industry.
Seyðisfjörður's port was a significant base for Allied forces during WWII. Archeological remains of the earliest inhabitants have also been found here at the Skalanes research station. Here they are excavating and researching a longhouse, as well as a pagan burial site from the 10th century.
Today, Seyðisfjörður'a main emphasis has shifted to tourism. Although there are only about 500 year-round residents, they welcome over 400,000 tourists during the summer months.
Above the town is a huge construction effort to redirect landslides away from the town, and to warn residents in time to evacuation. The guide told us that this expensive project wasn't just being undertaken because of Seyðisfjörður's economic or historical significance to Iceland, but rather because every community, no matter how small, is worth protecting.
These words resonated with me deeply. How amazing it must be to live in a place where people were valued because they simply exist. Now, I admit, I only have our guide, Ollie's word on this, I haven't researched this in depth at all. Maybe the townspeople of Seyðisfjörður are being protected at great expense because of their economic value to Iceland as a whole. But, to me, his words rang true.
During our circumnavigation of Iceland, we visited several small towns and communities. These seemed to be valued, supported, and celebrated; their specific history conserved. Imagine if our governments invested to protect, support, and celebrate even our smallest communities - what a world we could have.
That night, I saw the most beautiful sunset of the trip, almost at 11:00 pm, through the porthole of my cabin.
Sunsets, eso es lo mío.