Our first night in the camper van is relatively comfy. The rental company is called ‘Snail’ and indeed, we are travelling with our home on our backs. Inside there is a small sink, propane stove, plenty of storage space and other basics. It does not have a shower, naturally. And that will eventually become a problem, but not on day one.
The van is about 200 yards off the main road fed by a dirt track that we had no trouble driving on in the 2 wheel drive. But when I pulled off last night, the sides of the road were all sand, and the car seems stuck, spinning it’s wheels. I consider my options when making coffee, if I can’t free the van myself, the town is about a mile down the road. I’m assuming I’m not the first moron to drive a 2 wheel vehicle through sand.
And it rained all night, heavily. But the sun actually creeps out and clouds part to reveal beautiful black sand dunes, with orange-yellow succulents crawling along the ground. Along the edge of the road, where it’s more dirt, there are endless Baptisia, which is done flowering and even very few of the pods are left, owing to the huge numbers of birds in the area. I bet it’s amazing when it blooms but the blooming season is so rapid here, it’s almost fall.
We hike along the beach, which is the first true black sand beach I’ve ever been on. Amazing! The white ocean foam from the north Atlantic waves and the black sand make it look like a photographic negative. This is practically the southernmost point in iceland, kind of like their Florida. Yeah. It’s fucking cold in August. Even Lily doesn’t want to get wet.
Down the beach toward town are these rock fingers coming out of the ocean called ‘The organ’ (heh heh). It’s another of Icelands thousands of fascinating geological formations, this one made of basalt.
Back at the van, we clean up and cross our fingers. I put the car in first and try to slowly pull forward against the slippery sand… And the tires just spin and dig deeper. Shit, we are definitely stuck.
“Hi, it’s David. I have a problem. The car is stuck in sand just off the road. What do you suggest?
“I suggest you GET OUT! The ocean can take the car out to sea!”
“Oh no, I just said it was in sand. I didn’t drive it into the ocean”
“Well then, I suggest you get some help”
.. . Silence …
“Ok thank you very much”
We walk to town, and the matter is solved pretty easily. They give me a number to call (‘Otto’ is his name) and he promises to pick us up in a red Dodge Ram in 30 minutes, leaving us just enough time to eat at the little grill place attached to the main petrol station. ’Otto’ has seen this a million times before and doesn’t crack a smile the entire time. He looks at the van, ties a rope to the back of his truck, tells me to put it in first but use little gas, and voila, we are out.
I give him $40, and he gives me the tip of a life time: ”You can’t drive a two wheel van in the sand.” It sounds so obvious when he says it like that.
Back to Skogafell, the day is clear and bright. The falls make a rainbow, but there are a million more people than when we were here in the rain yesterday. One of the main glacier hiking outfits is based here, and a helpful woman books us for an afternoon on the local glacier.
The ride up to the glacier challenges the van again. They shouldn’t even allow two-wheel drive camper vans in Iceland. At one point I have to drive through a mid ditch that covers the entire van in a giant splash of brown muddy cold water. And our spines are rattled by the 5km drive up the mountain to the glacier.
The glacier is a 7km one that is part of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that erupted in 2010 and 2011. Our guide, who looks like a tall hollywood elf with long blond hair and striking nordic features, says dryly in perfect english that the 2011 was much larger, but no one knows that because it didn’t affect plane travel in Europe.
A few minutes later on the glacier, his radio erupts with icelandic voices chattering quickly, and he says ‘The are talking about getting drunk tonight. One of the cool things about being icelandic is that you have a secret language. There are only 300,000 of us’ I love this guy – man crush.
They have little crampons for Lily and better boots for Emma. The other two families look like they are going o Everest in their gear. We have sweatshirts and jeans. But of course Lily and Emma lead the way, darting all over the ice and peering into every crevasse.
It’s our first time on a glacier, and for a minute I thought of Trish. One of her transformational moments in life was writing the travel guid for Norway in 1992. She always felt an affinity to the Nordic north, through her love of epic fantasy and fascination with arctic geology. We never got to a glacier as a family, with her. She would have been happy to see the girls.
And the highlight of the trip, difficult to photograph, is this huge ice hole/fissure that is at least 30 yards across. The ice is black, not from soot, but from the volacnic activity of the past few years. It makes ‘dirt cones’ which are in nordic lore, little glacier demons that you need to touch or kiss as you get on a glacier to make peace.
The sky is grey and cool, but we are spared rain, which makes the experience so much better. Emma and Lily are exhilarated. Brom black sand to white glaciers! What a cool day.
It’s time to get the fuck out of the Vik area though. We hit a local supermarket and buy stuff for pasta and butter – one of the girls most favorite meals. Sadly, not reading icelandic, I bought baking soda for salt, and kefir for milk. Oops.
Of course it’s light till 11pm, and we’ve eaten so I hit the road toward The huge national park Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon the bay with little glaciers. It’s a great drive, and we sing the whole way – Kelly Clarkson, Hairspray, and Krewella. And we do the ‘Cool Whip Routine’ in betwen songs. And they are asleep as I pull off the road (in to a parking lot this time) and turn off the engine. I can hear the sound of the ocean behind us, freezing waves crashing against shore. Sleep comes easily.