French off-roaders publish apology peppered with wild accusations, ask to be allowed to "continue their travel in peace"
The French "adventurers" who found their way into local news after getting stuck while engaged in criminal off-road driving published a public statement, apologizing for driving off road, asking to be "allowed to continue their travel in peace". The sincerity of the apology is blunted, however, by other statements and accusations made by the group.
The statement, which was published on the Facebook page of David Noel, who is one of the men in the group, and was sent to the National Broadcasting Service, is written in French and is accompanied by a google-translate translation into Iceland, states that the men had spent the night at Kerlingarfjöll. In the morning they drove on to Háifoss waterfall. The men took a track which is still closed to traffic due to snow and extremely muddy conditions. As the snow melts and the frost in the ground thaws roads and tracks become impassable.
After driving 8 km (5 mi) the men say they came to a snowbank which blocked the road. Instead of turning around the men decided to drive around the snowbank, ploughing into the muddy moss and delicate ground next to the road. The men were rescued from this impasse by Police in South Iceland, then paid a 400,000 ISK fine for driving off-road. They also say they tried to repair the damage they caused:
"Finally, to you all Icelanders, receive our sincerest apologies from us. This clumsiness, which is experienced by you as an offense to your nature, is something we sincerely regret."
French travel agency not to blame
The statement also clarifies that the French travel agency Imagine 4x4 is not to blame for the incidence, arguing the group was traveling on its own. Large stickers from the agency on the vehicle seem to indicate the cars belong to the agency, but he explains the agency gives its customers these stickers during tours. Many customers then leave the stickers on their vehicles.
In addition to the apology the statement attempts to justify the destructive off-road driving by shifting the blame onto the staff at Kerlingarfjöll. The men claim they did not see the sign indicating the road is closed, claiming it was improperly placed: "In fact, the sign was not positioned well enough to be seen," and accuse the staff of having moved the sign after the fact:
"If this sign had been more visible, we would not have engaged on this track. If this sign had been properly installed, there would be no need to replace it later. The police told us that the thaw was late due to the cold weather this year. This track is usually practicable. Why not put big stones at the entrance to the track as we saw in other places?"
Páll Gíslason, at Kerlingarfjöll Highland Center told Iceland Magazine that this claim is simply ludicrous. Páll told Iceland Magazine he last checked the track in question a few days ago, on Thursday July 12, and that it was clearly visible to anyone driving along the road:
"The sign is very visible, and impossible to miss. If they didn't see the sign, they were not paying attention to the road and the surroundings, which is obviously not good."
Páll similarly rejects the claim that the sign was moved after the men had gotten stuck: "We categorically reject that accusation."
Claim they are victims of "racism"
David Noel, who is white, also left a couple of angry posts on the Facebook page of Kerlingarfjöll Highland Center, accusing the staff of the center of unfair treatment and xenophobia or "racism". The posts, which appear to have been google-translated from French into Icelandic heap abuse on the center and its staff:
"In fact there is racism against foreigners who come to discover your beautiful country. We have not done anything and you are making false accusations, and whoever was responsible for putting up the sign closing the road didn't do that, and he publishes photos with our faces and the plates of our vehicles without permission."
David doubles down on the accusation of being the victim of racism in a second comment, accusing Icelandic travelers in France of behaving badly:
"Fortunately we do not use the same words about Icelanders when they visit our country while behaving in ways which are far from exemplary !!!"
In a third post on Facebook David complains that the response is disproportionate:
"We're treated like tourists who killed someone!! It's totally disproportionate. We regret, but it is a misunderstanding because the road sign had not been put in the right place. This is becoming anti-tourists."
It should be noted that Icelandic media has not identified the men by name and had not published any photos of their faces. We at Iceland Magazine identify David by name, only because he has chosen to come forward personally on the Facebook page of Kerlingarfjöll Highland Center to level accusations against Icelanders and the staff at the cabin.
The registration numbers of the vehicles had also been obscured in all but one photo in Icelandic media. We at Iceland Magazine did not identify the men until David came forward publicly as a spokesman for the group. We also want to clarify that we do not believe the actions of these men reflect on the French nation or other French nationals. Icelanders are in no way "anti tourist" and do not harbor prejudices against foreign travelers. The overwhelming majority of Icelanders are positive toward tourism and foreign visitors, and are very hospitable and polite. However, Icelanders are very critical of visitors who behave disrespectfully, break the law, or damage nature.
Icelanders are also, as a rule, very welcoming of foreigners who move to Iceland to work. If the French off-roaders have experienced antagonism it is not indicative of any systematic racism or xenophobia by Icelanders.
A serious offense
Páll Gíslason told Iceland Magazine that the damage caused by the men will take decades to heal. "They made some attempt to even out the tracks they left in the ground, but you need to wait until the ground has dried to repair the damage. Attempts to repair damage while the ground is still soaking wet only causes further damage to the delicate vegetation. Tracks like this take decades to heal.
The men explained that they noticed tracks on the ground next to the road, which caused them to think they too could drive off-road to avoid the snow. Páll told us that it is impossible to mistake these tracks for a road. This incidence does, however, serve as an example of the dangers of driving off-road: The tracks left by one off-roader serve as an "invitation" to others to follow.
Páll says he has had enough of off-road offenders tearing up the vegetation in the highlands:
"I hope this story will serve as a reminder to anyone traveling in the highlands to stay on the road! Now people know they need to stay on the road when in Kerlingarfjöll."
We at Iceland Magazine agree. This story is a textbook example of the dangers of off-road driving: Not only does it damage nature, and is a crime in Iceland, but it brings bad Karma.
You don NOT want to spend your dream adventure at a Police station after being caught in criminal off-road driving and then read angry comments on social media from locals who have read about your misadventure in the papers.
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