Our third day of travel in Iceland started gloomy and wretched. It was raining outside and in fact it had rained half way through the previous night. Not only that, the rain was slowly changing into sleet and as I peeked out of my windows for a glimpse of daylight, an icy shroud welcomed me instead. My Jeep Cherokee rented car, parked outside, was engulfed under a blanked of snow and looked like some hard work was needed to get it road worthy. Dull and depressing, this looked like a day of Rain, Sleet and Hail.Iceland Travelogue Part 3. Yesterday we had visited the erupting geysers at Geysir and the majestic Gulfoss ( You can read it here) , and had a wonderful day all through. By the time we had had our breakfast and had cleaned off the breakfast table, loaded the travel gears into the car, we were kinda late. By then the rain had thinned out a bit, the light had become sufficient to drive, but the mood the whole team was a bit low. Today our plan was to go to Thingvellir National Park, about 35 Kms from our cottage and then to Kerid Crater Lake, but we were worried about the weather. This is the third part of my Travelogue on our Road Trip across south of Iceland, titled ” Rain Sleet and Hail . Iceland Road Trip, Part 3 “. Iceland Travelogue begins here !!
There is a saying that whenever the weather turns bad in Iceland, just be patient and it can change anytime.No one could really foretell how the weather will behave for the day. But waiting out for even half an hour didn’t help much, and we decided we will brave the drizzle and make a quick dash to the National Park. As we drove ahead, we saw hails, little chunks of ice started raining down on our car and windscreen. There were pools of water and snow, turning dark in patches across the driveway and onto the main road as we started for our day trip. Driving in the snow is a big challenge. Having lived most of our lives in and around Dubai or India, we were totally unaccustomed to the nuances of driving a car across this snow turf and sleety conditions. The icy rain kept pattering on our windscreen, the wipers were working over time and so was the car heater. It was freezing cold outside and furthermore the visibility was poor. The highway which takes us from Uthlid to Thingvellir National Park is a two way highway, which means cars and trucks whoosh past you on the other side of the white demarcating line in the middle of the road.. Soon we found that large trucks and huge carriages whooshed past us spraying rain and mist as it crossed over. For a second or two, the windscreen went blank with the splashed water, the visibility turned zero, till the wipers cleared off in its next beat.
There were three of our cars , driving like a small convoy and we were almost clocking 70 KmpH when it happened. I could just see the earliest one, swagger a bit , seemingly out of control when a huge truck sprayed rainwater onto my windscreen as it crossed me driving from the other side. And then I felt, like the wheel had gone loose, and the car skidded out of my control and swayed into the opposite lane. For the next couple of seconds the heart stopped, as I understood that I had no control of the car. The surface meting snowy road had eased out the friction and the tires had snapped contact with it, to turn a different angle. A couple of seconds, the heart raced to my mouth, till the steering got the car back under control. I softly braked to bring down the speed,.and looked ahead to check my other friend ahead. He had also brought it back by then . I breathed a collective sigh of relief as I saw his bright red tai lights, indicating that he is also bringing the speed down. We had learnt our lesson !!. Never drive fast on snowy tracks, and its advised to drive below 50 KmpH under all situations.
Reaching Thingvellir National Park
We reached Thingvelir National Park, bearing bad weather all the way. The rain and gusty winds made the cold unbearable. I sipped coffee from the little apparatus that I had inside my car, it heats water from the car cigarette lighter port and all I needed to add was a sachet of Nescafe.
Tentatively, decked in full thermal gear with rain-proof jacket and overpants, I ventured out. It was real miserable outside, the biting cold and hail were beating against the face, and turned my hands numb in a matter of minutes. It was – 5 Degree Celsius outside.
The rain drizzle soon changed to to sleet.We couldn’t succeed more than half an hour outside at Thingvelir. Close to the parking lot, there’s an elevated walkway, from where you can have a good view of the park below, and its lakes and escarpments. The rain and sleet made visibility worse, and we had to cling to our parkas and rain caps to cover ourselves from the strong icy wind. Down the path which leads to the tectonic plates, separate North America. For your info, the European Tectonic plates are about 3 kms outside the park and you will notice this on your drive back. Weather played spoilsport for us, the children were having a tough time bracing this tough weather conditions and so were we. shaky phone camera photos for Thingvelir. Additionally, the icy rain kept marking the camera lenses every few seconds, and soon my DSLR camera stopped functioning in the cold. I could just manage a couple of shots with my smart phone here at Thingvellir.
We soon ran back to the comfort and warmth of the Visitors center, it was cozy, the smell of hot coffee rwafted in the air, the soft murmur of tourists around and it felt relaxing. The center has options for coffee/ hot choclate drinks, restrooms and a shop t buy your memorabilia. We soon wrapped our stay here, feeling a little cheated and betrayed by the weather and decided to go ahead with our plan for the next fixture – Kerid Crater Lake.
As we came out of the park, a few kilometers away we saw people stopping their cars on the edge of the road. A few had got off their cars and were posing around for photographs braving the still pattering rain. Though we couldn’t fathom what they were stopping for in a nondescript location, it struck us soon that this should be the European end of the Tectonic plates that we had read about. Though we had crossed the location and had moved a kilometer ahead, we turned our cars back and reached the spot for a view. It was still drizzling. Here you can distinctly see the dark uneven gorge running on both sides of the road, going deep as it went down through the mountainous terrain. A western couple ventured out a started walking down the gorge, but we didnt have the capacity and the courage in this weather. It was a good experience to stand and take a few quick shots in the still rainy and icy climate. While we were restarting our cars , we saw the same couple hurriedly return. 🙂
As we drove towards Kerid the conditions improved. The rains came to a halt, the fog cover slowly diminished, and low lying snow clad mountains came into view all around us. The sky started to take its azure blue shades and the snow started sparkling in the sun. Finally we felt relaxed and it was time to celebrate. Soon a particular bend of the road with a view of ice capped black sloped mountains, mosses and lichens covered with snow of the ground and a sight of blue lakes in the background stole our hearts. We parked our cars safely to a side, for a few minutes of merry and the mandatory photo shoots,a short breather and a smoke. The children were happy to feel the warm sun on their faces, and ran amok, over the moss and lichen fields bordering the road.
When you travel with three families, and with five young bubbly children, the happiness gets out of hands every time they had an opportunity and freedom of nature. Photo Ops takes double the time, everyone tries out anew pose or a new click. Half an hour flew in seconds, out in the desolate stretch of black road bisecting the snowy white horizon, and low snow clad black mountains guarding the way. Hardly a dozen cars crossing us in that time frame from both directions. Finally everyone understood the need to move on. There’s still lots more to see… But we mostly forgot and stopped at one more additional spot which beckoned us with its beauty.
The day wasn’t a good one for us anyways. An hour or less, enjoying the sights and fantastic views on both sides of the road as it wound itself through icy mountains and blue oceans and lakes, one of my friend’s car met with a flat tire. This was a new challenge amidst a forsaken land where we had not passed even a village in the last 20 kilometers or so. We were literally in the midst of nowhere, with hardly any knowledge of any close by villages or auto garages. While I tried to contact our Auto Rental agents, and tried my best of educating them of our misfortune with some language barriers , my friends had started to try their chances in fixing the wheel themselves. I shared our location information through WhatsApp and then finally after a couple of calls and missed calls, was told that the Agency would be taking no responsibility for a flat tire. They told us to folow instructions, and switch the extra tyre for the flat one. Unfortunately, by then the sun had again taken refuge behind some dark clouds and it began to drizzle. The cold started to get severe by the minute as the daylight dimmed once again, and strong winds blew over us and into the sea which started to crash dangerously against the embankment.
After the initial exasperation of the group members, worry started to set in. They slowly retreated to the comfort of the warm car interiors while we, the menfolk tried in vain to slip the existing tire off its wheel. Desolate by nature, this even wasn’t a highway that we were at, and hardly did we find any one passing us by, in the half hour that we were working on the wheel. Luckily for us, we found a truck with some willing local Icelanders motoring up, and they immediately responded to help. Another 20 minutes of hard work by all of us, and we were able to change the good tyre for the bad and were ready to go. Whata relief as we finished our work and thanked them profusely. They were happy to pick up a couple of chocolates which was all we could offer, they smiled and waved at us as they moved on. But by then, we had lost valuable time. The sun was lower in the horizon, and we understood that Kerid Crater Lake was still about 85 kms away and is no more a viable option for the day.
Beaten but not broken, we decided to call the day off and instead return to our cottages for some good hot Indian lamb curry and have an in-house party for everyone. The dying sun turned icy rain into golden flakes at sunset as we turned back our cars for home. The horses kept company at different turns across icy fields, running and neighing over undulating terrains as we drove back to our cottages, hungry, wet and tired. Everyone needed a warm bath, hot food and rest.
We picked up some sodas and coke from our cottage-managed grocery and all of us got down to the serious business of cooking a sumptuous dinner. The kids couldn’t wait to jump into the hot Jacuzzi.
It was time for a drink and be merry. Tomorrow is always new day !!!
Continued to Part 3 of our travelogue on Iceland. CLICK HERE..