It was time to drive.
After collecting our white Ford Edge AWD car from Thrifty, a car rental company, we checked out from our hotel, loaded all our stuff, got ourselves comfortable and drove on Route 1, Iceland’s Ring Road. The car was just nice for a group of four and the boot could easily accommodate four large luggage. Everything in the car can be adjusted electronically using the touchscreen interface and the car even adopts a keyless system to start the engine. It has heated seats, which were godsend especially in Iceland. Overall, a pretty solid car for road trips. We drove in a counter-clockwise direction. heading east and south. In the beginning it was challenging navigating the streets of Reykjavik. The locals drive on the opposite side of the road, so everything you knew about driving back home had to be reversed, something that takes time getting used to. But thanks to Google maps and the timely prompts, we managed to navigate our way out safely. I was the driver of the day and I drove with a sense of both trepidation and excitement. We have officially started our road trip. We needed to cover about 200km today.
We headed east to the famous Golden Circle route covering locations such as Thingvellir National Park, Geyser, Gullfoss and Kerio. It was a pretty easy drive for the first couple of hours. But soon gale force winds started whipping up along certain parts of the route that we were driving. The windy weather were the remnants of last night’s storm and it continued around Reykjavik and south of Iceland the next morning. On certain sections of the road along Route 1, soft snow and ice crystals from the surrounding landscape got whipped up, carried by the strong wind, blanketing the entire area, making visibility very poor. Driving soon became difficult as snow and ice started accumulating on the road, becoming really thick in some areas. Patches of ice on the road made manoeuvring and controlling the car challenging. It was my first time driving on such road conditions and none of us knew what to expect or how to react to the difficult drive. At one point, visibility became so poor that we completely lost sight of a car just ahead of us. The entire view in front of us became totally white. We could barely see the road itself, everywhere else was just thick snow. That was when we got our car stuck for the first time.
As we drove in whiteout conditions, the car ahead of us came back into view. It was still a good 50 meters ahead of us. The car slowed considerably and then all of a sudden for no apparent reason, jam on the brakes. Instinctually, I hit the brakes as well. But because the road was extremely slippery, our car continued to skid along the road. As the car skidded along, I suddenly realised we were fast approaching the car that stopped in the middle of the road, closing the gap at an alarming rate . I made a split second decision to prevent crashing onto to the car ahead and swerved to the right onto the road shoulder filled with thick, soft snow. When our car came to a complete stop, I then realise that our car had gotten stuck in snow. I tried moving forward, but the car simply wouldn’t budge. I tried reversing. It was the same outcome. We were officially stuck.
Getting out of the car itself was difficult, due to the storm and the strong wind. We stepped out and assessed the severity of the situation. The car that stopped in the middle of road, started moving again, and drove on, disappearing into the storm, not knowing that our car had gotten stuck just behind him. For a short moment we were all alone. We traced back our steps to find the actual road that we were driving on and realised why the car stopped all of a sudden. There was a huge patch of snow that recently settled on the road. As the storm continued, the strong wind carried tiny ice crystals and soft snow from the surrounding landscapes and deposited them on the road. Like sand dunes ever shifting in the desert during a sandstorm, we were witnessing ‘snow dunes’ forming during a snowstorm. The car probably braked and stopped to find out if he could drive through that section of the road buried in snow. Thinking that he could, he continued on his journey.
Our moment of complete isolation was short lived however. Eventually a few cars arrived and discovered that we had gotten our car stuck. A number of them got out of their cars to see if they could assist us. Soon, we could see more people from the other direction heading towards us to see what the commotion was all about and to check if the road condition was good to drive. Traffic was held up for a brief period from both directions. They were sharing information on the road conditions ahead from both directions. After 15 to 20 minutes of deliberation under the raging storm, a woman approached us and asked if any of us driven on such icy conditions before. We replied that we have not. She then asked if we had a shovel. We replied with an embarrassing no. Fortunately she had one in her car and went back to get it. Two other guys approached us as she returned with the shovel and took turns shovelling snow from underneath our car. After much shovelling in strategic areas around the wheels, one of them gave the orders for everyone to push the car, while I put the car on reverse. After much pushing and heaving, the car had enough traction on the ground and start moving back onto the main road. We were all relieved.
We thanked the men and the rest who ‘rescued’ us profusely and continued on our journey. Slowly but surely, we drove past the patch of road with thick snow without much difficulty and traffic resumed. By then, all of us had one thing in our minds; get a friggin’ shovel. We drove to the nearest petrol station and bought one immediately.
After the ordeal, as we continued on our way to Kerio. The storm had largely abated by then. Strong wind still persists every now and then. There is a famous saying in Iceland; “If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes.” True enough, the weather can change drastically and without warning in Iceland. Kerio is a volcanic crater with a shallow lake at the bottom. But it was frozen during this period. It is a popular tourist spot because it is one of few calderas that is very recognisable visually and mostly intact, being a young caldera. On one side of the caldera, the slope is gentle enough to walk down and reach the lake.
Gullfoss is an impressive waterfall. It consists of three ‘steps’ that water flows down before plunging in a deep crevice. Because the crevice is obstructed from view, it seemed as if the water plunges down into the crevice and disappears from the face of the Earth.
Our final stop was Geyser, home to the famous Strokkur Geysir, known to erupt boiling water high into the air, up to 15 to 20 meters, every 10 minutes or so. It is one of the very few natural geysers to erupt frequently and reliably. In the surrounding land, there are other smaller geysers that heats up pools of water to boiling temperatures, emitting steam and gasses, that rises from the ground to create an out of this world, alien look to the surrounding landscape. The foul smelling gas and hot steam permeate the land, giving off a distinctive sulphurous odour, akin to the smell of rotten eggs. The odour can be so strong, that we tried to avoid the clouds of steam as it get carried away from the prevailing winds.
By the time we reached Geyser, it was approaching dusk, and when we arrived at our accommodation, Efsti-Dalur farm guesthouse, we were famished. The farm guesthouse is also a full fledge farm, with a cowshed just beside the restaurant dining area, where we can admire the cows chomping grass and the cows can admire us feasting on a 3-course meal through a glass window. And no, I did not eat their kind in a form of steak right in front of them, I chose horse steak instead as my main meal in addition to a starter soup and Skyr yogurt as dessert. The entire meal was terrific. Horse steak tasted just like beef, but has a rather fibrous texture. We also tried their homemade ice-cream, straight from the milk of the cows in the cowshed and they were equally terrific despite the cold.
Soon afterwards, we drove for about 30 seconds to a log house where our rooms await (The guesthouse has only 10 rooms in total). The log house is in another part of the property and we began unloading the car to call it a day.