Birgir Smárason is at home on Iceland's construction sites with his Actros 2663


Viking at the wheel.

Birgir Smárason is a true Viking. He transports heavy equipment along lonely roads in his new Actros 2663 for one of Iceland’s largest construction companies.

Increasing numbers of travellers are pouring into Iceland. Tourism already generates a third of Iceland’s export receipts. However: since the economic crisis of 2008, the infrastructure has not grown anywhere near as fast as the number of visitors. If you count the number of overnight stays, on average there are almost 30,000 tourists in the country every day. "It’s quite busy for only 337,000 inhabitants," says Birgir Smárason. The 38-year old is one of about 20 drivers who are employed by ÍSTAK.

The company is located in Mosfellsbær, about 15 kilometres north of the capital Reykjavik, and is one of Iceland’s largest construction companies. In the main, ÍSTAK and its 330 employees are involved in large-scale projects financed by the state: schools, hospitals, power stations, ports, tunnels, roads and bridges. "Our buildings shape life on the island," says Birgir proudly. Amongst other things, ÍSTAK built the international Leifur Eiríksson terminal at the airport in Keflavik and renovated the Hallgrímskirkja, the country’s largest and most famous church, as well as the parliament building in the capital, Reykjavik.

“There aren’t a lot of drivers on the island – so you just need to be able to drive everything.”

Birgir Smárason, driver for ÍSTAK

Versatile: Birgir Smárason has more driving licences than protective goggles on the dashboard.

His drive: chocolate bars.

On this icy morning, Birgir is on his way to a quarry around 40 kilometres west of the capital, Reykjavik. On the trailer of his brand new Actros 2663: a dump truck weighing more than 40 tonnes. Like many of the drivers at ÍSTAK, Birgir has a driving licence for nearly all of the construction vehicles belonging to the company: from the truck and a diverse range of excavators to crane vehicles. "There aren’t a lot of drivers on the island – so you just need to be able to drive everything," says Birgir. "I am delivering the dump truck to our quarry close to the airport. We dig gravel there to extend the apron. Then, I will drive on to a fish farm." 

One of the largest construction sites that ÍSTAK is in charge of at present is about a 30-minute drive south of the quarry. Six large tanks for breeding edible fish are being built here. Birgir and his Actros are picking up a telescope work platform there. After a short break and another chocolate bar – it is his sixth today – he sets off back to the ÍSTAK equipment store. The route passes numerous Iceland ponies and always alongside rugged volcanic rock formations covered in a moss than changes colour every ten kilometres: from green to yellow and then to red.

The steep climb from the coastal road up to the ringroad 1 which goes around the whole island is no match for Birgir’s powerful Actros. "I love my work and our unspoiled nature. On our roads, many of which are just gravel, you can travel for hours and meet only a handful of other vehicles," says the descendent of the Vikings. "That’s what real freedom feels like."

One of the largest fish farms in the world is being built south-west of Reykjavik.

Photos: Christoph Börries