Iceland in a Bottle
You've heard the expression 'if only you could bottle it,’ applied perhaps when one pures a 5-iron, sinks a 50-foot putt or any of life’s more enhancing moments!
If someone could 'bottle it’ - you'd go to the ends of the earth to find out more, right?
That’s where I am right now!
The tiny town of Siglufjörður sits at the head of a narrow fjord, 23 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It's Iceland's most northerly municipality and during the months of June & July it’s as bright as most Scottish afternoons - after midnight!
The ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ has its advantages! There are no vampires, at least not through the summer months and you could go for a game after the pub, depending on how many you’ve had.
I was somewhat surprised to learn that North Iceland has been tipped by Lonely Planet as one of the 10 best places to visit in Europe. You don’t hear that much about the area yet through the summer months, it offers breathtaking Alpine landscapes, trout and salmon fishing, trail hiking, whale-watching, thundering waterfalls and geothermal hot tubs. In winter, it’s a skier's paradise with the added bonus of a ringside seat to the Northern Lights, regularly showing at a fiord near you. Additionally, this was the setting for the ‘chillier’ scenes in Game of Thrones.
But I’d not come all this way ‘location-spotting’ for TV series but to find out about a product that claims to be helping people enjoy the above-mentioned sporting activities - golf in particular - well into their later years. And by the way, such a product comes in a very nice bottle!
AGLOW IN SIGLO
But before lifting the lid on Benecta, let’s look further at the town that’s producing it. Siglufjörður, to give it its full name, is a modest hamlet of a mere 1500 souls. In the clean, fresh Icelandic air, there's a sense of settled prosperity with brightly painted houses ‘neath snow-striped hills, even at the height of summer. It wasn't always so!
In fact, just a few years back, Siglo was on its knees, its fish-processing factories abandoned and boats left rusting in the harbour.
Once Iceland's main herring station, Siglo had a population three times that of today. Then, in the 1960s, the herring stocks collapsed and Siglo started an agonising descent. The Icelandic banking fiasco of 2008 rubbed further salt in the wound and poor old Siglo touched bottom.
Today, it’s one of the healthiest, most thriving communities in all of Iceland. There’s a brand new hotel with 68 rooms & suites, a lively cafe scene, a geothermally-heated swimming pool, a craft beer brewery and at the far end of town, a brand new golf course! The population is rising with young families moving from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik and indeed other parts of Europe to take advantage of the town’s easygoing pace and superior quality of life. There’s lots of work with young businesses springing up and a large factory at the centre of it all, the one that produces the so-called wonder-supplement, Benecta!
We pulled up to the Siglo Hotel in the bright evening sunshine and waiting to greet us was the man largely responsible for the town’s turnaround. Robert Gudfinnsson is a jovial, genuinely friendly character and a native of Siglo. The man made millions from fish farms in Iceland, Mexico, Peru and Chile and was residing somewhere along Easy Street, Phoenix, Arizona at the time of the 2008 fiscal belly flop.
“In 2008, when everyone was rushing to take their money out of Iceland, or at least trying to…” Robert told me sitting outside his ‘Hannes Boy’ cafe, “I decided to put some back!”
“It was all about timing,” he reflected “and I definitely wouldn’t do it today! At the time, I was living in Phoenix, running several very successful companies and not losing anything. It was a great advantage, being far away from my home town to see what was going on and what could be done. You think differently from a distance! To me, it was obvious what would happen!”
They say Robert spent in the region of £30 million on his former ‘hood’, purchasing abandoned wasteland, broken-down piers and decrepit old factories. His grand plan was to spruce the place up, revitalise the economy and take advantage of the upturn that he knew was bound to come.
“After the 2008 crash,” he continued, “the Icelandic Krona was worth very little and that gave tourists the chance to come and discover the island.” The Tröllaskagi Peninsula, where Siglo is situated, certainly has a lot to offer. Like Shetland or Orkney in the far north of Scotland, this remote part of the world has a sharp, elemental beauty that is quite breathtaking, very different from your typical tourist destination. There are a lot of people appreciate that!
But tourism wasn’t the only card up Robert’s sleeve. The ‘man with the plan’ had been toying with a project ever since he ‘got busted!’
When he told me that, I pictured a young, bespeckled heavy-rock fan dishing out the joints back in the early 1970s. As it happened, there were ‘joints’ connected to his new venture.
“I was fined for dumping shrimp shells over the side when a friend told me there was value in those shells.” It was a biopolymer product called Chitin which reputedly had a role to play in protecting people’s joints as well as generally alleviating symptoms associated with getting older. With no end of shrimp shells at his disposal, Robert began looking into the matter. And after 10 years of research and careful study, Robert and his team found ways to improve the already well-documented beneficial effects of chitin or ‘short chain chitosan’. They presented it as the ‘wonder-supplement’, Benecta!
MASSAGE IN A BOTTLE
To delve a bit more into the science; chitin and its derivative, chitosan are natural building blocks for the body, derived mainly from shrimp and crab shells. They’re already used in biomedical applications such as wound dressings, antimicrobial agents, anti-ageing cosmetics, weight loss and as a supplemental treatment for Crohn's Disease.
The Benecta product has been further developed looking specifically into the use of chitosan as an anti-inflammatory agent especially related to joints. “As we get older, we are more prone to inflammation,” Robert informed me. “Chitin bonds to the proteins that cause inflammation, reducing them and eventually helping to eliminate them.” Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that taking two tablets per day has a noticeable effect in increased levels of energy and improved mobility.
Through Robert, I met a couple of locals who’d been taking Benecta for a fairly long period and were ‘enthusiastic’ to say the least. A woman in her early 80s had suffered from arthritic pain and stiffness over the long term. Now she was taking a lead roll in an advert for Benecta showing her skimming across the fiords in a powerboat which she was piloting. She didn’t have any English but I could tell she was a convert. Another chap had suffered from psoriasis and from what I could make out (again, he didn’t speak English) he believed that taking Benecta had more or less cleared it.
A golfer in our midst had been on the supplement for several months and was swearing by it. His swing certainly didn’t didn’t seem any the worse for wear.
In actual fact, around the time of this trip, I had been suffering from some sort of golfer’s elbow, especially first thing in the morning; a good opportunity to put Benecta to the test. Robert put me on the pill! They say it doesn’t work for everyone so I’ll keep taking it and see what happens.
But what is clearly evident is the effect that Robert and Benecta have had on this local community. Siglo, with the Genis (Benecta) factory at its centre, is a wonderful example of how the right attitude (and a few million Icelandic Krona) and an apparent willingness of the locals, can turn an ailing, aged community into a vibrant, economic success. Gudfinnsson might be a shrewd businessman (although I didn’t really feel that) but he is also a clearly positive person with the means to get things done. He’s an entrepreneur that believes in long term aims rather than quick gains. And in the process, he’s helping turn his hometown a healthy, thriving community again as well as being attractive to the rest of the world. What’s not to like about that?
I recently read that Iceland was the ‘best read’ country in the world! Apparently, there are more books written, published and sold per person per year than anywhere other country. The average Icelander reads four books per year and one in ten will have something published! I suppose the reasons for this are obvious; it’s cold, dark and generally inclement most of the winter.
But through the extra-long summer days you can hang up your reading glasses and fireside slippers and hit the great outdoors. We had a few days adventuring in Iceland’s enigmatic North and the weather was simply amazing; crystal clear skies and warm temperatures - in spite of snow still clinging to the mountainsides. Time for some golf!
The brand new course at Siglo offers 9-holes with 18-tees and the customary stunning views. In spite of its youth, the course is already a good test with a design that’s up to any international standard. The clubhouse, which was still under construction at the time of our visit will double as a ski lodge through the winter.
For a second round, we took to the 1st tee again after dinner and drinks at Hotel Siglo for a spot of ‘Midnight Golf’. And by the appointed hour we could still clearly see where our drives were landing - usually in the rough in my case. I tried to do this in Shetland one time on Scotland’s most northerly course on the island of Whalsay but the clubhouse camaraderie (too many drams) and lack of light didn’t quite allow it. Here at Siglo, at 1am it was as bright as a dull, Dundee afternoon.
AKUREYRI GOLF CLUB
Akureyri Golf Club is also worth sampling. Akureyri is the main town in the North, Iceland’s second-biggest urban area and a great destination in its own right. Blessed with a drier climate than the Reykjavik region, it has its own ‘hipster’ scenes such as local microbreweries, great seafood restaurants and a very chilled atmosphere... in a good way!
Akureyri Golf Club, they say is the most northerly 18-hole golf course in the world. I guess that makes Siglo the most northerly 9-holer. Akureyri hosts the annual Arctic Open tournament which for more than 20 years has attracted golfers from all parts during summer solstice when the sun barely sets.
We also played at Golfklúbburinn Hamar near Dalvik, a few miles to the south, a superb little course with, yet again the customary amazing views from every hole.
I wouldn’t say the north of Iceland is a ‘must-go’ golf destination but if you do decide to become a member of the Night’s Watch (as per Game of Thrones) and play some proper Midnight Golf, you really ought to pack your golf shoes at least and hire a set to play these three delightful courses.
From the port of Dalvik you can go off on an organised whale-spotting expedition. We sailed out quite a distance but it was worth it as the humpbacks seemed happy to entertain us - in spectacular form. In fact I’ll swear this guy knew he had an audience. This is one of the best places to see aquatic mammals including white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, the small harbor porpoises and sometimes even the majestic blue whale. We were happy enough with our humpback.
The North of Iceland is a truly majestic place and I really loved discovering this ‘elevated’ part of the world. It offers something special and it’s worth the extra miles and expense (Iceland’s once again as costly as it used to be).
Benecta is not that cheap either. At around £40 for a tub of 60 (a month’s supply), it’s sold directly to the consumer via their website (benecta.com) keeping the price point “as reasonable as possible,” Robert told me. “Going through traditional outlets like High Street shops such as Boots would double the price!” But that’s always the issue with such medical claims. If it truly helps, as it clearly seems to in some cases, then the price of decent dinner to keep your swing smooth and relatively pain-free, will be money well spent.
Of course, if you’re allergic to seafood, it may not be suitable. Just saying...
Also like similar health supplements, Benecta has never benefited from any large-scale clinical trial. Those things cost money and ‘Big-Pharma’ who support such scientific endeavours wouldn’t be out to prove the benefits of a natural product like Benecta that possibly cuts out the need to take profitable painkillers and over-inflated anti-inflammatories.
I’ve been taking Benecta since my visit to the great North and I have to admit my golfer’s elbow seems to have disappeared. I also suffered from some sort of long-term irritable bowel and to be honest, that’s a lot better too! Who knows! These niggling issues can be subtle and I have adjusted my diet towards the ‘Paleo’ model which seems to be a big help.
But, I would say, if you have some clear pain problems due to joints and muscle ache, I definitely recommend giving Benecta a go. It might take a couple of months to monitor any benefit but for the price of a round of golf, you could find yourself swinging a lot smoother - with some side benefits you never even thought of.
Now, I wonder if they could invent a pill that would sort out my rather desperate duck hook?
David flew from Glasgow to Iceland with Icelandair - www.icelandair.com.
Icelandair offers the opportunity to stopover in Iceland at no additional airfare when you’re flying transatlantic to one of it’s 23 North American destinations. Golfers are now able to maximise their Icelandair stopover by taking advantage of its world-class golf courses and squeezing in a round during the Midnight Sun, enabling them the flexibility to play at almost any time of the day.
Icelandair fly from four UK gateways including Glasgow, Manchester, London Heathrow and London Gatwick. In addition, the transatlantic airline fly from Dublin to Keflavik where passengers can connect to 23 North American destinations.
Icelandair offers Gate2Gate WiFi across their fleet enabling customers to stay connected throughout the flight.
In early summer 2018, Icelandair will bolster its North American route network with the launch of five new routes including Dallas, Dublin, Kansas City and putting San Francisco and Baltimore back on the map
Icelandair’s destinations include:
Canada: Edmonton, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and VancouverEurope: Reykjavik, Akureyri, Amsterdam, Bergen, Berlin, Billund, Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Gothenburg, Glasgow, Hamburg, Helsinki, London, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Munich, Oslo, Paris, Stockholm, and ZürichUSA: Anchorage, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Newark, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa and Washington D.C