I had hoped for another big rally in 2013 but a freak head injury on a theme park roller coaster had delayed my travel plans. I had a severe case of itchy feet, or wheels as it were, and I was determined to be out of the country for my birthday. Most normal people would have chosen a warm destination but I've never been one for following the crowd. Fortunately when I announced my plan, to drive on frozen Icelandic roads in February, enough of my friends were crazy enough to join me to make it a party. 8 of us flew from Heathrow to Reykjavik where we collected our four hire cars. Jane and Spike, and Drystan and Peter went for a mid range Kia Sportage. Don and Caroline went for the best the hire car company had, a Nissan Patrol. Beth and I, being on a tighter budget, chose a Nissan Micra; I'd had a soft sport for Micras ever since my drive to Mongolia, they're tougher than they look!
Our first stop was Geysir, famous for its.......Geysers! Steam rose from the ground and pools of water boiled. A walkway guided us on a safe route around the park where clouds of water regularly erupted skyward. The largest of the geysers let of steam every 5 minutes, providing plenty of photo opportunities, whereas others were less frequent and some remained simmering pots. A gift shop and café opposite sold traditional Icelandic jumpers and other goods at traditional Icelandic prices! (Iceland is known for it's high prices as most goods must be imported.)
Just up the road from Geysir we pulled in to another car park; for the viewpoint of Iceland's most famous waterfall, Selfoss. We should have parked closer as the cars coped a lot better on the ice rink of a car park than we did! We skated and slid the few hundred yards to the viewing area. Fortunately there was a fence to stop us sliding right over the edge!
If we thought the car park at Selfoss was bad we were in for a shock. Our big hope on booking a trip to Iceland had been to see the northern lights but, since they can't be guaranteed, we'd set up another little birthday treat. I'd always wanted to try my hand at dog-sledding but the thing with dog sleds is they need snow, and lots of it! As the road climbed higher the snow at the roadside grew deeper and patches of ice on the road turned into sheets of ice with occasional patches of road peeking through. Should we lose control we might get a soft landing in a snow bank but more likely we would hit a rock or plunge into one of the steaming, yellowed sulphur pools we passed. The others in their 4x4's were worried about me following behind in the Micra but the little Nissan felt perfectly safe on the slick surface. I assured them if we did start to lose traction then I'd stop and Beth and I would continue to the sledding centre with them, collecting the Micra on the way back down.
Don was in a state of shock when I parked the Micra, next to his Nissan Patrol, at the top of the mountain. "I can't believe you got that thing up here!" he gaped. Much of my success was down to the winter tyres fitted by the hire car company and I knew from Mongolia how capable Micra's can be but to Don I just grinned and said "It's not what you drive, it's how you drive it!"
It was bitterly cold and a light snow fell which, although very pretty, stung our faces when the sleds started moving. The dogs didn't even notice the weather! Greenland huskies are well equipped for conditions far more extreme than anything Iceland could throw at them. They loved running around and playing with the latest set of visitors, having their ears and tummies rubbed and posing for photos.
What goes up, must come down but the Micra didn't fail me and we made it back to the main road. Then we turned off the main road again as we'd selected a suitably remote hotel for the night in hope of seeing the northern lights. Apparently we would have had a lovely light show if the clouds would have cleared for just a few minutes but it wasn't to be. We were a little disappointed but had known from the start that we couldn't be certain of seeing them. The dog-sledding had been such a highlight of the weekend that it didn't seem to matter and it was my birthday so the celebrations took over. After dinner and wine in the restaurant the party moved to mine and Beth's room. Alcohol, like most things, is expensive in Iceland; the wine at dinner was £36 for a brand that retails at £8 in the UK. We came prepared, Beth and I had picked up a bottle of pink vodka in duty free and Don had brought a flask of sloe gin from the UK. He and Caroline grow the sloes themselves and bottle it on their farm. A late night was in store!
The next day we started back toward Reykjavik but by a circular route so we could stop by a few more places of interest. First a caldera, a lake formed when the chamber of a volcano collapses, leaving behind a crater. Shades of rust and green streaked the steep banks down to the lake which was completely frozen over; gas bubbles moved just below the surface making eerie patterns.
Iceland is full of geological wonders; it's one of few places on earth where the movement of the earths tectonic plates can actually be seen! A bridge marks the spot and has to be lengthened periodically as the plates move further apart. Of course you can't see it with the naked eye but annual measurements show the movement and if you stand in the middle you can put one foot in Europe and the other in the American continent. The black volcanic sand is pretty cool too.
Our last stop before heading back into Reykjavik was the fabulous Blue Lagoon. This area of geothermal springs has been turned into a health spa; the perfect hangover cure! The cloudy sulphurous waters are naturally heated, although the springs themselves have barriers around them to prevent visitors swimming too close and cooking themselves! We spent the afternoon floating around (the water is too buoyant to swim far), plastering ourselves with the mineral rich mud and enjoying the odd cool drink from the poolside bar.
Our hotel for the night had whale on the menu; after our initial horror we established that it was not an endangered species and in fact needed to be culled as it was decimating fish populations. The texture was a lot like tuna and it was served in a peppery sauce; very nice but I couldn't eat a whole one! We'd seen a lot over one short weekend but Iceland has a lot more to offer, I would love to go back for an extended tour, maybe with Pedro for some off roading!