A reader relates the tale of his two-wheeled adventures in enchanting Iceland
IN OUR CONTINUING GLOBAL motorcycle rides, this summer my wife, Farzana, and I decided to explore another part of Europe which was a little outside our comfort zone. We zeroed in on Iceland, a country often defined by its dramatic volcanic landscape of geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, glaciers and black-sand beaches — a nomadic dreamland where the brave and brutal Vikings once ruled the rugged region. The place literally breathes fire and ice because glaciers and volcanic springs can be found close to each other. Iceland is not a destination; it is an adventure. It’s a topographic and climatic mélange. Our ride sprang surprises and mindboggling vistas at every twist and turn of the road.
As our Iceland Air flight made its final descent towards the Keflavic airport in the capital city of Reykjavik, we could only see snow all around as we looked out of the window from 20,000 feet. Whoever said it was summer in Iceland? Upon landing we learned that Icelandic weather had thrown up a sudden dampener and that they had unexpected heavy snowfall at the beginning of summer that blanketed most of the east and north of the country, making it too dangerous for motorcycle travel in those parts. This forced us to alter our route, travel plans and hotel bookings completely. I soon picked up our rental BMW motorcycle and had a discussion with the people at the shop regarding climate forecast and alternative route possibilities before heading back to our hotel. Subsequently, the wife and I strolled around the serene capital city of Reykjavik, visiting the lovely seafront area and then taking in the sights and attractions around the downtown area. The next day we would start the ride on a cautious note with prayers for good weather
as we were warned to look out for dangerous cross-winds and possible snow.
As we loaded our luggage and got astride our motorcycle, we hit multiple glitches. The GPS power cable snapped, the helmet intercom was not working… the list just went on. An hour later we fixed all the problems and were soon riding out of city limits, accompanied by heavy cross-winds that tossed us all over the road. Nevertheless, the ever changing spectacular landscape kept up our spirits.
Our first stop was the Kerid crater which was formed after a volcanic explosion 3,000 years ago. We then proceeded further to the Seljalandsfoss waterfalls and then on to the famous Skogafoss waterfalls on Route One. The locations and surroundings of these were absolutely breathtaking. Finally, we made our way to the southernmost village in Iceland, Vik, which was our destination for the day. The day came to
an end with a sumptuous dinner.
On a cloudy morning in Vik, breakfast over, we headed towards Dyrholaey, which is a peninsula of volcanic origin. A short distance away we arrived at the Black Sand Beach, where one also comes across the very unique Reynisdrangar rock formation, sculpted with great precision by Mother Nature. At the Black Sand Beach, the sight of the black sand and the contrasting milky white froth of the sea waves was a delight to the eyes.
We then made our way eastwards, towards Hofn. This time the brutal cross-winds were pushing us to the edge of the road, threatening to almost end our trip on a bad note. As we cruised along the Skeidflotur flood plains, one noticeable aspect of Iceland was the stark changes in scenery: one minute you’re riding through hard, impenetrable rock, and the next moment it’s fertile and rich farmland, after which you come across hills, followed by plains as far as the eye can see. Our next halt was at Jokularson Glacier Lagoon with jaw-dropping scenery of icebergs floating in the lagoon that slowly find their way into the ocean. We rode a little further and finished an exhausting day at Hofn.
The next morning we woke up to the sound of light showers. After a simple breakfast we finally made the painful decision to backtrack to Vik as the route further east and north was mostly covered in snow and some roads had been closed off. Therefore, we abandoned our original plans and decided to explore central and western Iceland instead.
We headed westwards on what was a largely wet ride amid pelting rain. Along the way we entered the second largest national park in Iceland, the Skaftafell National Park, and explored on foot the hiking trails. First, the Svartifoss falls, which are surrounded by dark lava columns, and, second, the hiking trails took us to the spectacular Vatnajokull Glacier, the biggest glacier outside the polar region. It was a three-hour rejuvenating walk in the very lap of nature that saturated our visual sense. We got back into the saddle and made a brief stop at the roadside Laufskalavarda site, which, once a farm, was destroyed by the first recorded volcano in the year 894.
According to the local tradition, everyone passing by it is supposed to place a stone at its site to bring good luck, so we also did our part. We called it a day after a nice seafood dinner.
On day four, with the sun shining bright overhead, we started out further westwards on highway one through winding roads that cut across rugged mountains and arrived at Solheimahasandur, the famous site of the 1973 US Navy plane crash in Iceland wherein the pilot managed to miraculously save all crew members. After an eight-kilometre walk to the crash site we hit the road again, heading west towards the small and enticing fishing town and old harbour of Eyrarbakki. Here we took in the sights before we finally settled into the town of Laugarvatn for the night.
After a sumptuous breakfast we left the confines of our super cosy cottage at Minniborgir and headed towards the UNESCO world heritage site, Thingvellir National Park, located on the famous Golden Circle route of Iceland. The Park is situated in a rift valley that marks the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge notable for its unusual tectonic and volcanic environment. The continental drift between the North American plate on the left and the Eurasian plate on the right can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults. The other major attraction here is the world’s first parliament, Altingi, set up in the year 930. We took a highly relaxing stroll in this spectacularly scenic place and, post lunch, started our journey towards the western part of Iceland, Borgarnes, which has a population of 1,800. Here we visited the Settlement Center, a museum featuring the history and settlement of Iceland and settled down for a nice and yummy vegetarian dinner within its premises.
That evening we checked into the hotel in Borgarnes. The hot water here had an overwhelming odour of rotten eggs. On enquiring we learned that our hotel, like many other hotels in Iceland, used water from natural hot springs which had a strong odour of sulphur, thus saving energy and expenses. After breakfast we headed towards the famous Golden Circle route that led us to Geysir. The English word ‘geyser’ has been derived from this Icelandic Geysir. The place is full of geothermal ‘geysirs’ out of which presently only one, named
Strokkur, is active. The blowhole sends out hot water gushing at high speed at regular intervals, climbing up to a height of 100 feet. There are numerous smaller natural hot water springs all around, some of which are used by the local people to boil eggs and also bake Icelandic rye bread in underground boxes. We decided to call it a day close to Geysir.
Day seven was the concluding day of our memorable Icelandic motorcycle adventure. We started from Geysir in an eastward direction, heading to the enchanting Gulfoss waterfalls. These spectacular waterfalls are located in the canyon of the Hvita river. It seems that the gorge was formed by flash flood waters that forced their way through cracks in the basalt lava layers. It is a combination of two waterfalls and it is well nigh impossible to describe the brilliance of this place in words. From there we headed in a southwest direction to the town of Hveragerdi that sits atop a 5,000-year-old lava field and has a lot of geo-thermal activity. Soon we passed by the big power station in the area that uses the natural hot water springs to power its turbines. We also visited the only shopping complex in the world that straddles two continents. The mid-Atlantic ridge and Eurasian ridge pass under this complex and it’s an area of high earthquake and tremor activity. It was affected by the earthquake in 2008. From there we started our final lap into the concrete jungle of Rekjavik, making our way through evening traffic and arriving back to our hotel.
Riding in almost virtual seclusion, those seven eventful days have been an overdose of awesomeness for both of us. It was mesmerising and breathtaking, intimidating and, at times, very frightening, mystical and surreal. The Icelanders are among the nicest and most helpful people we have ever come across. No wonder Iceland stole our hearts in more ways than we can count.
(You can watch all of Haroon and Farzana’s global rides at www.rideforpassion.com)
Riding in almost virtual seclusion, those seven eventful days have been an overdose of awesomeness for both of us