The wheels spin out throwing wet black sand behind the van and the transmission falls out of gear and stalls. Shit. We are at the southern most point of Iceland, a few miles from a town of 900 called Vik. Our front wheel drive, underpowered, camper van is stuck on the volcanic beach in the pouring rain. It’s late, almost 10pm and the sun goes down. Ooops.
Well, the good news, is we are self-contained. A few months ago from a Trip Advisor board post, someone suggested Snail.is for VW camper van rental. At first I was skeptical. One of my favorite parts of our adventures is NOT driving.
But as I researched Iceland more and more, it became clear that this is the way to do it. Good, affordable Hotels can be scarce. And the kids fucking love it. They can hang out in back and nap or grab something to eat. And when I was exhausted I just pulled over into a parking lot and took a nap on the bed. I could get used to this. And we have power for gear, and I can boil water for fresh coffee anytime I want, right behind the driver seat.
We arrived in Iceland last night very late. Our last days in London were hectic; really crazy and the flight got into Reykjavik late. I only got a few hours sleep at the home of the owners of Snail.is, a service they offer van renters. They own 16 vans, and operate only from May to September.
We leave most of our gear behind in their garage, get a quick tour of the van’s accommodations: sleeping bags, charging station, a bunk bed up top, small propane stove, sink, off-battery heater, table, seats and utensils. It’s all we really need. After a stop at the local market for some food we hit the road.
The peninsula on which sits Reykjavik is home to 75% of Icelanders. Iceland is very sparsely populated – surprisingly so. Just over 300,000 people live here, which puts them below the Bahamas and Malta and about the same size as Pittsburgh or Corpus Christi.
Helga the woman that rents us the van joked over breakfast about the Simpsons episode about Iceland in which Homer asks the small group of Icelanders’Is that all of you?’ and they sheepishly say ‘no’ and one more person joins them.
But they gather outsized world attention with volcanic eruptions that halt all Europe air travel, indie rock darlings Sigur Ros and Bjork, and an economic collapse that wouldn’t have made page 10 if it had been in Africa or Asia for a similarly sized country.
Once you leave the greater Rekjavik, Sefloss, Keflavik area the towns are all under 1000 people and the vistas get spectacular.
Most of today we drive toward the East along the southern coast. The girls are having a blast in the back of the van playing cards and reading. The views from the car aren’t great because of the rain, but inside it’s warm and fun.
The south East is the most rainy area, and is characterized by cliffs that end a half mile from the ocean. So water pours over the cliffs in a series of a hundred waterfalls.
The first isn’t even in the guidebook (pictured above). I only recognized it because the word for falls is ‘floss’ and it’s appended to everything around here. When I saw ‘Uriddafoss” on a sign, I did a U-turn on the two lane route – 1 that circles the island and checked it out. The falls are not high, but there is a lot of water power here. A wiki page says they once wanted to put a hydro-dam here.
Lily makes fun of Emma in the back. “Ooohh Emma has no friends, because she’s playing solitaire. And solitaire is the game for the lonely” We stop at one of the fuel stops and get soft ice cream.
The rain continues as we hit the second waterfalls of the day, the magnificent and unpronounceable Saljalandsfoss. Saljalandsfoss is amazing because you can get behind it and see it drop into the pool of freezing water below. The wind and rain plus waterfall makes this August day pretty chilly and we get soaked. But everyone is elated because it’s so beautiful.
The car is dry at least. The last waterfall is just 20 miles down the road, and I check our time – 7:30pm. The guidebooks say there are restaurants in the town, Skogar, that stay open till 10pm.
One gets accustomed when travelling, to reading about small towns in guide books and no looking at the population sizes. Skogar, is a pretty big hub of tourism according to the book.
Skogar is like four buildings and a waterfall. The waterfall is amazing. We climb up and down on stairs that go along side it. But the restaurants are most definitely closed by the time we get there, and all the shops and buildings are deserted.
So we head down the road to Vik, which at least has a population of 300. There is indeed a few restaurants here, but they also are closed. Looks like we will be eating Cheerios tonight.
Vik is famous for it’s black sand beaches, so I turn off the road thinking we might as well camp on the beach, and Voila, that’s how we are stuck. Turning off the van, we break out our food and eat carrots, cheerios and bananna. I make some hot chocolate for the girls, which Emma drinks.