The Iceland adventure in a four-wheel drive began on a sullen Friday morning in Reykjavik as spring brought unpredictable winds and a very changeable sky.
After quick stop at the Thrifty office somewhere in town and a warning not to drive the new Ford rental SUV into a river, we took off for the 832-mile ring road. Finding the Miklabraut was tricky thanks to a GPS that led us to a dead end of a suburban neighbourhood instead of where we needed to go. Getting lost really (as well as driving on a different side of the road), should have been the least of our worries. I’ve been told to expect sunny blue skies replaced by bleak storm clouds at any minute and up the mountains in Hveragerði, the winds did indeed pick up – so much, that counter steering became a norm.
Several panic attacks later after truly believing that TC would drive us off into a lava field or off a cliff, the landscape flattened out a little and we floored it, overtaking where we weren’t supposed to and accelerating straight the face of a speed camera. Our traffic sins continued in that fashion as we tried to get to Mýrdalsjökull in time for a Skidoo ride and a glacier walk with Arcanum tours. TC managed to meet that magical deadline with many minutes to spare, only to find out that the winds up in the glacier made both activities impossible. The only other option was to go in a super Jeep tour which we agreed to. Ólafur was our guide – and the first person who tried to speak Icelandic with me and failed when I gave the wrong answer to his question – up there and suffered the travails of a broken rim when we were halfway up. While waiting for rescue, he cheerfully regaled us with tales of the worst tours he’d given and assured us that this was a lucky break.
The ring road is everything Iceland has to offer outside of Reykjavik and I’ve not even seen half of it (let’s not even talk about the inner roads that are off the beaten track). At every turn is a powerful contrast of black lava sand and snow-capped vertiginous cliffs as the roaring winds add to the tortured, brutal feel that you’ve come to a place on Earth that is closer to an alien (or lunar) landscape. The Dyrhólaey (hill-island with the door hole) peninsula at Vík í Mýrdal is such an example of it: behind us is Mýrdalsjökull and to the east, Reynisdrangar’s black lava columns rise out of the sea, fronted by the menacing sentinels of Reynisfjall’s basalt sea stacks that look as though they rise to the heavens.
That there is a surprising lack of cars the further along we went is a baffling question I’ve been constantly asking myself. Where are all the people that had piled out of Keflavik airport and into the buses that headed for the capital city? It turns out that March is obviously not quite a popular month, even though visitor numbers are slowly creeping up every year. And that’s something to be grateful for really, when I’m able to stand, solitary, in open-mouthed wonder without needing to apologise for being in someone else’s picture.