Iceland 2018 - Part 1 / by William Bryan

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The battery was dead. I had left the lights on.

Our hunky, (not so trusty), 10-year-old 4x4 camper van with 250 thousand kilometers on the odometer, wouldn’t start. It was only our second day on the road but we were already hours away from any gas station or mechanic that we might expect to have jumper cables.

“Someone around here has to have some jumper cables, right?” I asked my dad as we sat in the cab of the van with the pouring rain clanging on the roof.

“I’d hope so, but maybe the battery will have some juice left if we just give it some time. Let’s get a cup of coffee in that restaurant while we wait,” he replied.

We clambered out of the van and back into the rain that had soaked us to the bone as we had explored the Skógafoss Waterfall. As we walked through the busy parking lot packed full of cars and tour busses we hoped for the best with the van. But after 30 minutes of coffee, turning the key in the ignition still only granted us a few sad purrs from the starter motor before it fell silent. Exasperated, we were resolved to starting the search for jumper cables.

We asked the restaurant, no luck. We asked the drivers of the tour busses, the monster truck Jeep tours, and the other tourists in campers around us, still no luck. But when I walked into a tiny tourist shop hidden behind the restaurant the man at the counter was happy to go in the back and grab some jumper cables.

Before we knew it, the van’s engine was rumbling thanks to the help of some Swedes, and we were back on the road to the next waterfall.

After killing the battery, we decided to not use the van’s headlights during the day to avoid another mishap. But soon after we pulled out of the parking lot for Skógafoss a car flashed us with their headlights. We rumbled on, clueless as to why it had happened, assuming it was a coincidence. Not more than five minutes later it happened again.

After getting flashed half a dozen times we decided it wasn’t a coincidence, and a quick Google revealed that it was Icelandic law to have your headlights on, day and night. Naturally we decided that we’d have to turn the headlights on and just be extra careful about turning them off when we got out to explore.

So, we were extra surprised when a week later as we rumbled down a pock-marked dirt road on our way back from another waterfall—this time the largest in Iceland, Dettifoss—lights flashed in my face yet again.

“Dad, why are we getting flashed, now?” I asked.

And that’s when I noticed the driver of the car in question was frantically pointing his finger up, towards the roof. I glanced in the side mirror and noticed that the pop-up tent on the roof of our van had popped up because of the bumpy dirt road and a gale force wind blowing from behind us. I slammed on the breaks and we skidded to a stop as my dad looked at me in shock.

“What the hell is wrong,” he asked, surprised.

“The pop-up top popped up,” I yelled as I threw my door open and jumped into the rain and wind.


My dad was quick to follow and we struggled to pull the top, which was acting like a sail in the wind, back down and lock it into place. After wiping the rain out of our faces, we sat in the warmth of the van and laughed about the struggle, before we continued (more slowly) down the dirt road and on with our adventure.

Reykjavík in a day