Iceland 2018 - Part 2 by William Bryan

“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.

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.


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