Iceland has been, during the last few years, a trending topic among travelers. It is the ideal scene for marketing and boring clichés lines: the land of ice and fire, the best country in the world, the amazing island… anyway, there are so many prefixed sentences that describe this island situated 36 miles away from the Arctic Pole Circle that we fell for them and decided to go. But this post is not about the day Iceland blew my mind away, as I guess you thought after having read the title. It is not about that. This post is about the day I was blown away by Iceland. Literally. And about the day I saw for the first time in my life –and I guess I won’t be having another opportunity- water falling up.
CAMPERVAN IN ICELAND: GOING STRAIGHT TO THE CLIFF
It was the thirteenth day of our two weeks long road trip around Iceland’s Ring Road and I was sitting behind the steering wheel of our white camper van. In the rear part of the vehicle, my wife was playing some music to our almost two-year-old son, who was kind of abstracted of what was going on. Kids have that wonderful thing: they get scared of monsters sleeping under their beds but they can’t tell when real danger is around. Anyway, he was there, singing the same tune we have been hearing over and over again for almost two weeks. We were driving on a mountain two lanes (back and forth) dirt road. On our left hand: the mountain wall. On our right hand: a 100 meters fall, no guardrails. Suddenly the car started heading towards the unprotected cliff of the mountain and that was when everything around us stopped…
SNAEFELLSNES PENINSULA: A BEAUTIFUL START
It was a beautiful day in Grundarfjörður: it was not as cold as the previous days. And you could even see some sun in the sky, which was a relief after several days of rain. We were on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We woke up at around ten and we headed west to Kirkjufell, a 463 meters high green mountain that stands alone on the seashore, and we started off the day trip. The idea was to visit Kirkjufell first and then go straight up to Snæfellsjökull National Park, home of the only great volcano in this part of the island: the Snæfellsjökull, of course. Only twenty miles separated us from it and as we had all the day ahead of us we thought it would be a good idea. In fact, we only needed to ride through route 54, and then take a small part of route 574 and a small adventure riding an F-Road: the F570.
ROADS IN ICELAND
In Iceland, you have 4 kinds of roads: the one numbered roads, the Ring Road for instance, which is number 1. Those are pretty neat roads, with some gravel parts but really well maintained. Then you have the two number roads, which are also mainly paved but they may have some more gravel. The three number roads present a bit of a challenge as they are mainly gravel roads or even dirt roads. You can still do them with good weather. And then you have the infamous F-Roads, the roads you don’t want to take if you don’t have a four-wheel drive. But we have already taken one of those some days before, with a heavy mist, high above the mountains, and our campervan survived so we thought “why not?”
A piece of advice if you ever head to Iceland: check the status of the roads here: http://www.road.is/
DRIVING ICELAND: THE DECISION
We were half a way between Kirkjufell and our final destination when the unexpected happened. Well, actually nothing related to weather is unexpected in Iceland. That’s why Icelandic people always say that “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes”. A heavy rain started hitting the car windshield. We didn’t like the weather so we decided to stop on the side of the road for five minutes but nothing changed. We waited some more but the rain kept falling heavier.
We had two options: we stayed there for God knows how long or we just buckled up and start returning to the hotel. Of course, going through an F-Road with this kind of weather was like making a decision to kill ourselves in Iceland. We took the latter. We buckled up and started the engine once again to undo our path. But as we were just five minutes away from the intersection that would allow us to return doing a circle instead of the same straight line we already did, we drove a bit further and kept going around route 54. We were hoping that the rain would stop and we could at least see a bit more of the Peninsula. Now, sitting down on a chair in my living room writing this article, I can say it was a great idea. But at the moment the car was heading straight to the cliff edge, I was cursing myself in every possible language.
DRIVING ICELAND: THE SITUATION
At first, I assumed it was a flat tire. And during that half of a second, the steering wheel was out of my control, I thought: “This is it. This is how I go”. But during a quarter of a second of that half a second, I thought about my kid and I said to myself: “Grab the steering wheel with all your strength and straighten up the camper van!” It’s amazing how fast the mind works when exposed to danger.
Just when I started moving the camper van in a straight line again I realized who our enemy was: 50 miles per hour wind force. Iceland was blowing us away right to the cliff and we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time because we couldn’t stop and we couldn’t turn around. So I did what you are not supposed to do: I started driving on the wrong side of the road, finding shelter right next beside the mountain wall and trying to avoid at all cost being near the cliff. I mean, you can’t even imagine how hard the wind was blowing in order for me to make that decision. Luckily the visibility was good enough, so I could see if a car was heading our way. Those were the moments I went back to my side of the road and just pleaded for the wind to stop blowing.
As the car was getting to the end of the mountain road, the wind was so strong that it had stopped raining but the water was still hitting the car’s windshield: the water from the road being blown away by the wind and right into our faces. We were white as a sheet of paper, laughing our souls out in order not to cry. And how about our son? He was singing his favorite tune, of course; a foreign to what was going on. My muscles were beginning to feel the tension of holding onto the steering wheel with such strength.
ICELANDIC WIND AND CAR DOORS
The mountain road suddenly came to an end and we felt relieved we were alive. Two more miles and we would reach a detour on the road that would allow us to halt the car and wait. We took it and stopped by Buddir black church. I stopped the engine and took a long breath. My hands still stuck to the steering wheel. As the rain had stopped I decided to get off the car to stretch my legs and feel the safe ground below me. Opening the car’s doors was quite a mission. Of course, I had to park the car facing the wind. Otherwise, the doors would have been blown away (literally speaking, again). So going against the wind’s force was really hard but I managed to get out of the car with my camera in my hand. After all, I love photography and I wanted to capture that moment.
I was planning on taking the magical perfectly moody photographs that you could find on the internet. But these awful images are what I managed to take:
The wind was not helping out and it even threw me to the floor. That was the time I decided to get back in the car. Of course, my wife and kid never left the safety of the vehicle. The road left ahead was a bit easier, although the wind never ceased. And when we were about to reach our hotel, the most unparalleled thing happened: we saw what I like to call a water-rise, a new phenomenon we experienced in Iceland. It is like a waterfall with one slight difference: the water does not fall. The water goes up to the sky. I guess it was the strong wind making that happen. But I’d rather think it as a sign that someone above was taking care of us during that epic journey.
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