Words by Stefan Michel, operational manager and co-owner.
My love story with Iceland began with an internship offer in a hotel in Hvolsvöllur back in 2007. All my friends that studied with me at the hotel management school in Lausanne in Switzerland chose big cities like New York, Paris and London for their internships. No idea why, but for some reason, I wanted to be different and through a friend of my uncle I got that job offer in Hvolsvöllur. Tourism was very little back then in Iceland and also wasn’t there any Facebook, Instagram, etc. to get a taste of Iceland in advance. So I arrived at the end of January in a very snowy, cold and pitch dark country – and I wasn’t too impressed at first. Not sure if there were tears but definitely the feeling of being lonely, stuck in the very middle of nowhere.
However, meeting my co-workers (one of them called Hildur…) made life here very enjoyable. So much that it really hurt to say good-bye after six wonderful months and that I decided to come back in the year after for another project. With a Swiss friend I spent four summer months in the Vík area to plant 15.000 trees. And what a summer that was – the morning we spent planting some trees and in the afternoon we went out exploring that amazing island!
I went back to school and followed the more usual career path. So my next work experiences brought me to South Africa, Scotland and Austria. After a year in Vienna, I got a little homesick of always living abroad and went back home to Switzerland. I found a great job, managing a restaurant in the capital and life was absolutely perfect and I was pretty sure I would never ever move away again… Well, after many years of not visiting Iceland, I decided to spend my 30st birthday in Iceland with all my best Swiss friends. I was still in touch with Hildur, my co-worker from back in the days and asked her to help me out to plan that special trip. She was working as a travel agent for Midgard Adventure and organized a fabulous Midgard Surprise trip on my 30st birthday. Her husband Addi was guiding the trip that day – also him I met on an unforgettable party night more than ten years ago. The tour was amazing and as I know now, definitely life changing. Addi showing us his backyard (Thórsmörk was his “office” that day), telling all his stories of his daily life on this magnificent island…well, me and all my friends were sure that this guy must live the best possible life.
After this trip coming back to Switzerland was harder than usual. Having spent several months of my life in Iceland already, I knew I wanted something that sets me apart from the “normal” travellers. So I contacted Addi if he can help me find a little summerhouse – a base for my future travels, my own little piece of Iceland. Well, not even two months after my birthday I came back for a little house hunt. And it was a successful one as I fell in love with a cozy little cabin near Selfoss. Still there was no plan to move away from Switzerland but the urge to actually spend some time in the new house got bigger and bigger. So I resigned from my wonderful restaurant management job in Switzerland to take a little time-out. In December 2015 it was time to move into the cabin, together with my mom I experienced the difficulties of travelling and moving in during the biggest snow storm Iceland has experienced in many years. These days were extremely cozy and fun – memories that will last a lifetime. Having settled in, I invited Hildur and Addi for a cheese fondue dinner. They told me more about their Midgard Adventure business and that they also own that old cement factory that they would like to turn into some sort of accommodation. They were lacking the necessary finances themselves and the banks were not too fond of their vision either.
I was planning to become an entrepreneur in Switzerland anyway, but as the plans haven’t gone too far with this, I told them that I would be willing to look into this option to support them financially and maybe also with some insights from my hotel education. Soon after they sent me their business plan and introduced me to their vision of Midgard.
It became obvious that if this was serious, I had to meet the rest of the team before deciding if I would really want to be part of this project, at least financially. So they planned a mission to their Þúfa hut in the very centre of Iceland in order to get to know each other. In crazy stormy winter conditions we drove in the Midgard super jeeps to this magical place. At least that was the plan. Probably it wasn’t planned to get stuck in a river, digging out the car in that winter storm for about 4 hours in the middle of the night, all sooo far out of my comfort zone. If I felt like Hvolsvöllur was the middle of nowhere, what was this place then?! Well, it was though the perfect moment to get to know Siggi, Stefnir and Addi in their natural habitat – on an outdoorsy mission with difficult Icelandic winter conditions, working hard, but never forgetting to smile and having fun. After meeting these guys there was no doubt that I thought Midgard was a great way to spend my money and to support these hardworking and just extremely decent people.
Of course,I was super happy that they approved me as a person and business partner as well and that they wanted to take it forward. Soon after I met up in an office in Reykjavik with the rest of the owners (Svenni (Siggi’s dad) and Björg (Addi’s mother)) to sign the papers that made me a co-owner of Midgard. We went for a lunch to celebrate me investing into Midgard and it was the ideal time for Björg to put me into the spotlight with an interview-like conversation, trying to get to know that Swiss person that just slipped into her family business and her daily life…
The following months I got more and more involved in what this old cement factory should be turned into. Amazingly all our ideas were very much in line and finding an agreement in things was incredibly easy and fun. The plan was to support the team during the last three construction months, before the planned opening date of Midgard Base Camp in January 2017. I am (or at least was) everything else than a handyman but I tried my best to help out with the “easy” jobs in the construction. It didn’t take long to notice that Icelanders have a different time table from what I was used to from Switzerland and the construction was delayed by a few months. So my promised three extended by another five months until we finally opened up in May 2017. Spending eight months on a fun project like this, working closely and hands-on together, puts a stronger connection between people than any “job” I knew from my previous life. Suddenly thinking about going back to Switzerland and continuing my life there became a heartbreaking thought. These Midgard co-workers became in these eventful eight months, my best friends, my family and there was no way that I would just leave them and say goodbye. It was the time to tell my family and friends that I actually live in Iceland now.
So the journey of course hasn’t ended there. But the fun continued and the love for these people that built up Midgard continued to grow. The first three years of operating Midgard Base Camp was the best learning experience of my life. Spending our days with amazing guests that feel more like friends, organizing amazing events at and around Base Camp and enjoying the free time exploring our amazing area. Life is never boring, never ever am I getting tired of the amazing Icelanders that surround me. I strongly doubt that there is any better place to live and work out there! Short: I found home in Hvolsvöllur, with Midgard Base Camp and its wonderful people in its centre.