Road trip through Iceland

Into the Land of Fire and Ice: A Road Trip in Iceland

Dante Scarano

Dante Scarano

Dante Scarano is a Contributing Editor at Global Storybook.
Read more about me here.
Dante Scarano

Icelandic MountainsIceland, with its majestic and raw beauty, is a hot destination for many travelers.  Low number of the population along, with its northern border – on the doorstep of the Arctic Circle, turns Iceland into an unknown frontier of an unexplored country.

Before flights were cheap and were leaving daily out of Boston, my friend Nick and I boarded an Iceland Air plane, departing from Scotland – to the land of ice and snow, where the midnight sun and the hot springs glow.

Floating through the clouds the jetliner calmly rocked to and fro.  Peeking out the window, I saw mountains poking their summits through the white puffs of clouds.  Skimming across the tarmac we were finally here – a country that I longed to explore for quite awhile.

Stepping off the plane the wind hit me like a brick in the face.  It was bitter and cold.  The name Iceland was fitting indeed.  The air made it painful to intake any sort of breath, but soon I acclimated to the harsh weather.  Boarding the bus headed to the heart of Reykjavik, a little tickle formed in the back of my throat, but I thought nothing of it.

I awoke the next morning with more than just a scratchy throat.  A headache and a severely runny nose accompanied it.  “Shit,” I thought, as my ideas of exploring the outdoors of the country seemed to fade away as I stared into my dorm room pillow.  Nothing is worse than being sick on the road.

IcelandSpeaking from past experience, I always contract some sort of illness while abroad.  While my initial reaction was: boot up an iPad or a laptop and mentally check out, to watch the newest season of Game of Thrones, I just couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t do it.

Upon notifying my friend of my impending sickness, we hemmed and hawed about what our next plan of action should be.  Come to think of it, we were clueless even before we got on the plane in Scotland.

So after a quick search on the internet, asking around the hostel, we decided that renting a car for the day would be most beneficial.  We could be free on the road, no longer constrained to the dogged itinerary of any tour guides.  This was the most enticing way to see the country.

But, to our quick surprise, neither of us could drive a stick, which greatly limited our choice of rental cars.  So after continuous searching, our personal automatic chariot was finally found on the outskirts of the city.  This shop, though sketchy, was our only choice.  All they needed was a credit card and a valid drivers license.  So with a shaky hand I passed my debit card over as a collateral.  Then, frantically, I did what any travel-savvy adventurer would do – run around the car snapping pictures of all the previous imperfections.

Leaving the city just a moment later, we were off.  The radio began to play a mysterious yet catchy tune.  My sickness seemed to come and go at that point.  It was as if the raw air, landscapes… and 1000 mg of ibuprofen, staved off my fever (for the moment).

The city quickly faded in the distance.  Mountains shot straight up and summits scraped the sky.  As the sun beat down it warmed our little Nissan Micra from the icy outside wind.  The roads were barren.  We cruised along on the raised road through meadows of brown and yellow.  There was not a soul in sight; the scenery could easily be mistaken for the American Midwest, save for the striking landscapes and snow capped mountains.

Our stops, at any given moment to take a snap or two, became more frequent as the landscape grew.  Cruising up and down cliff faces, as our little Nissan chugged along – the car was clearly not cut out for rides as strenuous as this one.  Using only a road map we picked up in the visitor center, the signs on the road, and gut intuition, we plotted our course to Geysir and Gulfoss.

The road just ran down through hills made of volcanic rock and mud, passing through sleepy hamlets, tucked away in the Icelandic countryside, running on only geothermal power.  The sun reached mid-day about at the same time we pulled into Geysir, a fairly large touristic destination, where droves of people piled out of their tour buses to see water explode out of the cracks of the earth.

There was this satisfying feeling of watching these geysers bubble up and burst off, every five minutes.  The steam, rising out of the earth, comforted us in a blanket of warm mist (a welcome respite in the Icelandic weather).  After marveling at Geysir, we got into our little car and followed the road to Gulfoss, a massive waterfall surrounded by ice and snow.

Water careened down in a thunderous clap as we drew closer to get a better look at the falls.  Sunlight passed through the mist in such a way, that a rainbow arched out of the waterfall, creating a picturesque scene at this, already beautiful, sight.  These views took my mind off my ailment, though the ibuprofen was slowly wearing off and I needed to return to the car to get warm.

Gulfoss, IcelandThis was our halfway marker for the day as we looped back towards Reykjavik.  But of course we made plenty of stops along the way.  Our only guidance were the various road signs from here on.  Whenever we saw something interesting, or a road sign, we’d stop to see what the fuss was about.

Later on, overcome by a sense of adventure, we stopped to investigate a massive inactive volcanic crater.  We skirted around the rim and soon walked down to the center where we found a quaint pond.

On our way back we cut through þingvellir National Park, where the earth was once covered in fire and brimstone.  Long cooled lava chutes ran adjacent to where we stopped to walk along the porous crevices.

We got our car stuck, teetering on a rock as we “off-roaded”, I could see my deposit on the car disappearing.  Take a second to imagine two grown men rocking back and forth in cadence.  The vehicle shook like a car parked at a make-out point (if you catch my drift…).  Luckily the car came off its stone perch and we decided to never venture off the road again.

At one point I distinctly remember Nick saying: “You know I think we can hike that”, as he stared at an enormous mountain, “Yeah we definitely can hike that.”  Thankfully for my health, we didn’t.  Because given my worsening sickness I don’t think I’d be around to tell this story if I made that climb.

Hours melted as we stuck to our routine of – driving, getting out, taking pictures, exploring, etc.  Soon we came across a cliff face unlike any that we’d seen throughout the day – one with land unnaturally jutting straight up in each direction.  A quick Google search told us that it was here where the continental plates of North America and Euro-Asia separated.  A landmark that we’d later go snorkeling in, with its crystal clear waters and its almost below freezing temperatures.

In the meantime, the sun was setting over the ridge, turning the sky a deep purple and by now I was thoroughly sick, as we drove back to Reykjavik.Craggy Volcanic RocksTo cap off the day, that unknown, peculiar, and ultra-catchy song chimed in over the radio once more.  Grasping for our phones to “Shazam” it, we listened intently to the DJ, sorting through the Icelandic words to try and pick up a song title or the artist.  The song in question was none other than C2C’s hit “Down the Road”, a song that eventually would be synonymous with our Icelandic road trip.

Swinging through the nerve wracking roundabouts on the outskirts of the city, we were finally back.  You may be wondering – what happened to your illness?  Well after getting the car back to that shady rental place, I snuggled up under the warm blankets at the hostel and didn’t emerge until the following day at 12 o’clock in the afternoon.  The next day was slightly wasted, but it all seemed worth it for one ride around the otherworldly setting of Iceland.

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