“These renowned, dramatic cliffs on the headland beside Bjargtangar Lighthouse, extend for 12km. Ranging from 40m to 400m they're mobbed by nesting seabirds in early summer,” my dad read from the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m excited about, we get to take pictures of puffins! And not the nasty cereal,” I replied excitedly.
“No, you didn’t hear me. Nesting seabirds in the early summer,” my dad taunted.
And then it hit me. This 800-kilometer detour into Iceland’s west fjords was motivated, in large part, by a plethora of photogenic seabirds that nested on the westernmost part of the island. And they wouldn’t even be there.
We decided to press on and hope that, for some reason, there might be some stragglers in the puffin flock. As we drove further towards the cliffs my dad checked the weather and turned pale.
“You sure we want to make it all the way out to the cliffs? There’s a storm with 40 m.p.h. winds coming in tonight. Just after sundown,” my dad said.
I distractedly thought about how fast 40 miles per hour was as I slowly navigated the winding road that was carved out of a cliff’s edge.
“Oh we’ll be fine,” I mumbled as I eyed the front right tire, and the crumbled rock that ended just beyond it. I had other things on my mind than a little wind.
Both Lonely Planet and the weather app were spot on: no birds at the cliffs, and epic wind gusts and buckets of rain pelted the van and pop-top as we tried to sleep that night.
After the sleepless night, we were ecstatic at the site of our first geothermal hot spring on the side of the road. We gingerly inspected it, half expecting it to not be real, or warm. But when we found that it was both entirely real and hot enough for soaking—we rushed back to the car to change.
After enjoying ourselves in the warm waters with some Dutch travelers for a while we noticed some ominous clouds sweeping towards us quickly.
“That’s my cue to leave, nice to meet you,” I yelled behind me as I sprinted up the stone steps.
As I slammed the sliding door to the van shut behind me I heard the rain bounce off the roof above me. I looked out the windshield for my dad and as he rounded the corner the rain turned to hail.
He yelped as he clambered into the van and said, “man, you’ve got great timing. I definitely don’t.”
We laughed at what we were certain would be the last misfortune on the trip.
Two hours later we meandered along more bumpy dirt roads, nearly out of the west fjords, when I felt like the car was sliding around on the mud more than before.
“Something feels off,” I told my dad.
“Yeah,” he said. “This whole Junker that we’ve been in for two weeks is off.”
“No, more than before,” I said as I pulled over. “Will you hop out and give everything a look?”
As soon as he hopped out of the passenger door he deflated.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he grumbled.
A flat tire in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road in Iceland, only two days before the end of the trip. After assessing the damage, we climbed into the back of the van, donned our most wind-proof gear (thank god it wasn’t raining, also) and got to work. Soon after we started an Italian couple stopped and insisted on helping, and if not for them we wouldn’t have gotten any of the nuts loose from the bolts, our tools just weren’t good enough. They offered a helping hand and a rental car with a better tire-iron.
As we heaved, pulled, pushed and kicked we snapped two rusted bolts in half as we tried to loosen them. Unfortunately, a better tire-iron doesn’t mean good bolts. After an hour of struggling we had the spare tire on the car, with four out of six bolts left to hold it on.
We realized that we weren’t in any position to push the clunky van any further than we absolutely had to so we pushed on towards Reykjavík, passing by some of the most photographed parts of Iceland on the Snæfellsjökull peninsula. After stopping at three mechanics we finally found one who would repair our old tire and thought they could replace the broken bolts (they couldn’t), before we limped on towards the van rental office and the end of our trip in Iceland.