Alden Boon

Haukur Thorsteinsson: Life on the Off Road

May 30, 2016

6:10am and the lazy sun has yet clambered to its zenith. Haukur “Hawk” Thorsteinsson is already up. He downs the famed Icelandic hotdog — his sustenance that fuels him for a nine-hour day of adventure — and washes it down with a glass of water straight from the tap.

He tends to his tawny, jaw-framing beard. So luscious and conspicuous the beard is that it has been a part of his identity for 20 years. “I’ve been growing it on and off since I was 15 years old, and it was around then I got the nickname ‘Hawk the Beard’. It is very wild, and it takes some time to tame it in the morning. Between that and my handsome mustache… it’s a 10-minute routine.”

Almost a necessity that supplants a scarf in Iceland’s frigid weather, Hawk’s beard recalls the stout Vikings of yore. Icelanders are no stranger to Nordic mythologies, and many grow up hearkening to sagas of valour. “I am especially intrigued by the way Master JRR Tolkien connects the Nordic mythologies with his own stories.” Hawk’s obsession du jour is Grettir the Strong, honoured in legacy as one of the strongest Vikings that ever lived. Such stories the 35-year-old tour guide enthusiastically regales his passengers with.

af36f1d1-d9a5-48f6-a72e-22df75a1a6f7
2016-03-25 13.20.32

It is now 7am. Hawk runs a mental checklist: GPS navigation device, ropes and shovels — all checked. He has a long day ahead. A day of traversing glaciers, stratovolcanoes and the like on a modified 4×4 jeep. Getting stuck in knee-deep slush is common and extrication is not a task for mere mortals.  The vagaries of Icelandic weather also mean a snow blizzard could happen anytime. As a safety precaution, Hawk always travels alongside a buddy tour guide, the latter of whom is hosting another group of tourists himself.

From his home to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is an hour’s drive. Between 8:30am and 9am he makes his rounds and picks up passengers from their hotels. “They come from all over the world. What I love most about my job is that every day I get to meet new people. I enjoy making people happy and helping them live their travel dreams. My goal is to have my passengers return from a trip with a smile etched on their faces.”

Unlike the usual tour arrangement where multitudes of tourists are herded like sheep, Hawk’s groups are usually small and imitate. “In my jeep, good vibes abound and people get to talk and share stories freely. I am one of those people who give a lot of myself, and therefore I enjoy it when my passengers reciprocate.” And unlike typical tour arrangements that run like clockwork, Hawk can make special sightseeing requests happen.

“I sometimes go on multi-day tours, and I get to stay in hotels around Iceland.  These are fantastic tours because I get to know the passengers better. But it can get a little difficult because I’m also a huge family man. I try to talk to my wife and three sons on the phone or via the internet.”

IMG_0810
IMG_1415
Standing in the silence of Icelandic highlands. "When it is very cold and everything is covered in snow, it gets extremely quiet. One has not known real peace until he has stood there and enjoyed it."
Standing in the silence of Icelandic highlands. "When it is very cold and everything is covered in snow, it gets extremely quiet. One has not known real peace until he has stood there and enjoyed it."
img_inverted_commas_top

Because of how much time I spend at work, I decided that I would only work where I could be happy. It’s never too late to live your dream life — you only need to take the step, even if it’s a little scary.

img_inverted_commas_bottom
IMG_0794_1

Hawk’s job is an envious one, as he gets to explore gifts of nature like Langjökull and Hekla every single day. Iceland is paradise on earth, teeming with surreal landscapes. For Hawk, it never gets old. Experiencing Icelandic nature through the eyes of first-time tourists imbues him with childlike curiosity, allowing him to gain new perspectives and see things differently. And the place with which he has most affinity? Vestmannaeyjar, a town and archipelago nestled off the south coast of Iceland.

“Vestmannaeyjar is right where I grew up as a kid. The main island has very beautiful mountains and black sand seashores. Two volcanoes sit here, one of which erupted in 1973. The flowing lava is still very hot, and it is possible to bake bread by burying it in the lava rock soil!” Living conditions in his hometown were precarious, and ferocious waves would sweep one off his feet and engulf him. At a very young age Hawk acclimated himself to these harsh conditions and like most kids learnt the art of spranga — traditional cliff rappelling sans the helmet or harness. “I was only seven years old when I was lowered on a rope and off a cliff with a 30-metre drop. We would climb cliffs to gather birds’ eggs.”

IMG_1268

Before he was a mercurial tour guide with a triumphant sense of humour, Hawk was a social worker for nine years. He worked with handicapped people and helped them to achieve a better quality of life. “It was a very rewarding job because I was helping people; but at the same time it was very easy to burn out. I was giving too much of myself.”

Making a career switch is never easy, especially when you have a family to support. “Son of a brave stone”, his name goes, and staying true to it Hawk rose up to the occasion and took the plunge. “At first I wasn’t quite sure if this would be a good fit for me. However, after my first few tours, I realised this is my dream job. What’s not to love — getting to talk to people; big jeeps; and the majestic Icelandic nature.”

For others looking to follow in his footsteps, Hawk quotes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Don’t Panic.” Language proficiency definitely helps, but to really excel as a tour guide, Hawk reckons, one must possess a burning interest in what he is showcasing to people. “You need to be prepared and willing to research on the subject and be ready to tackle whatever comes your way.”

As for the tour guide himself, the pristine seas of Australia and Thailand as well as pyramids of Egypt beckon. “My passengers would always tell me about their home countries or other places they have been. I want to go diving in these places, and I have a desire to see temples and jungles.”

For more information on Hawk’s services, please visit his website.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on LinkedInPin on Pinterest

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

Have Your Say