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 window for a glimpse of daylight, an icy shroud welcomed me instead. My Jeep Cherokee rented car, parked outside, was engulfed under a blanket 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 kind of late. By then the rain had thinned out a bit, the light had become sufficient to drive but the mood of 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 would behave for the day. But waiting out for even half an hour didn’t help much and we decided to brave the drizzle and make a quick dash to the National Park. As we drove ahead, we saw hail : little chunks of ice started pelting 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 snowy 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 zoomed 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 whizzed 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 with my car in the middle and we were almost clocking 70 KmpHs when it happened. I could just see the first of the cars swagger a bit , seemingly out of control when a huge truck sprayed rainwater onto my windscreen as it crossed me driving on 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 my heart stopped, as I understood that I had no control on the car. The surface melting snowy road had eased out the friction and the tires had snapped out of contact with it, to turn a different angle. A couple of seconds, my 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 tail lights, indicating that he is also bringing the speed down. We had learnt our lesson !!. Never drive fast on snowy tracks, and ALWAYS 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 which 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 extremely 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 drizzling rain 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 were the tectonic plates which separate North America from Europe. 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 torrid weather condition and so were we. Additionally, the icy rain kept fogging up the camera lenses every few seconds and soon my DSLR camera stopped functioning in the cold. I could just manage a couple of shaky 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 wafted in the air, the soft murmur of tourists around felt relaxing. The center has options for coffee/ hot choclate drinks, restrooms and a gift shop to buy your memorabilia. We soon wrapped up 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 brave couple ventured out to walk down the gorge but we didn’t have the physical strength or 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 brave couple hurriedly returning from their adventurous attempt. 🙂
As we drove towards Kerid the conditions improved. The rains came to a halt, the fog 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 lichen covered with snow on 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 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 bubbly children , happiness gets out of hand every time they get an opportunity to be free amidst nature. Photo Ops take double the time, everyone tries out a new 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 half a dozen cars had crossed us in that time frame from both directions. Finally everyone understood the need to move on. There was still a lot 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. After an hour or less of 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 nearby villages or auto garages. While I tried to contact our Auto Rental agents and tried my best to educate them of our misfortune in spite of the language barrier , 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 follow instructions and switch the extra tire for the flat one. Unfortunately, by then the sun had again taken refuge behind some dark clouds and it began to drizzle again. 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 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 repairing by all, we were able to change the good tire for the bad and were ready to go. What a relief it was when the repair work was finished ! We thanked them profusely. Though reluctant to take money they were happy to pick up a couple of chocolates which was all else we could offer, 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 was 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 . The dying sun turned icy rain into golden flakes at sunset as we turned back 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 to be merry. Tomorrow is always new day !!!