The road in Iceland comes in degrees. The ring road on the island, route 1, is almost fully ‘sealed’, asphalted. In the more peripheral areas of the country the road comes unsealed, a gravel road. Even further from civilization there are so called F-roads, which are basically uneven gravel roads. Some of the F-roads can only be driven by 4×4 cars and when the F-road crosses rivers only 4×4’s with big ground clearance are able to pass.
On our 3,000 kilometer tour around the island we have driven all these roads. For the really rough roads we left our rented Toyota Avensis and took the 4×4 buses that drive through the country. What amazed me the most however weren’t the roads, but what I found next to the road.
Driving through Iceland one comes across a network of N1 petrol stations. Around Reykjavik the network is denser, in the West-Fjords and to the east of the island they are positioned about half a tank apart. As a motorist one therefore really depends on them.
What fascinates me however is the fact that life in the Icelandic villages, especially in the smaller ones, circumvents around these petrol stations. The centre of the village, that is the petrol station. As a cause or effect of this, the petrol stations have absorbed all the program the village can maintain. There are villages where the only café or grocery shop is… at the petrol station.
Tuned to the local situation, each petrol station has a different configuration. Some of the program I came across around the island in addition to the obligatory fuel installations:
Area to wash your car
Shop for motorists
Shop with BBQ and camping gear
Shop with basic groceries
Exhibition on local history
Strategically positioned at the main road to or through the village, the petrol station not only has absorbed all kinds of program, it also attracts program it hasn’t yet incorporated. If a village has a supermarket, it is almost always positioned right next to the petrol station. (It also happens that the supermarket has its own petrol station.) Also never far from the petrol station are the more specialized shops, or the tourist information centre.
Most of the villages in Iceland depend on fishing as their ‘raison d’Ãªtre’. The dependence on the petrol station for basic services in the future however could well mean that there will be villages that will cease to exist when the oil company chooses to close it branch. With an at best stable population in the countryside, the scenario that a new petrol station would be the start of a new village for now seems unlikely. Theoretically it is certainly possible. In Iceland urbanization starts with a petrol station.