Drive Through Iceland 5: Teething Troubles


Lava Land

Lava Land – Iceland

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 4: Fun begins

Wife and child in the car, navigation not working, phone disabled, hectic first-day schedule which started at 3 AM with a flight from London, no international roaming on my Indian phone.   To top it off, we were all hungry too.  We were stuck.  It was a terrible beginning.  I didn’t feel as smart as I did a few hours ago!

We were to have lunch in the capital city.  But this navigation failure upset our plans.  I thought of my son, Anand, who had told me to hire a car navigator irrespective of maps on apps.  But I thought it a waste and unnecessary. I looked for a branch of the car rental company to hire a navigator.  But itthere was none closeby.

At last, I could see an Icelander who seemed in a rush to get into his car and leave.  I almost  forcibly held him back and explained my problem!

Fortunately, he was helpful.  He volunteered to escort us till we got out of the complicated city roads. We had to drop the lunch plan and just follow the guy till wherever he desired to take us.   He left us at access point to route 1.  I was already in an isolated lava land.  Fine, what now?

Good, a ray of hope!  There…. I could see a  fast-food counters attached to the gas station.  Atleast one problem in sight of getting resolved.  While my two ladies had a bite, I went to the young store-owner and explained my SIM-troubles to him. He tried his best to start the card, but could not.   He was SIM card vendor too!  As a last resort, I asked to buy a new SIM.  He said, “Hold on.” He spoke to the Simminn help center in Icelandic for about 5 minutes and returned my phone saying, “there you go.”

It was an unusual smile.  Was he asking me to to go away since he had other customers waiting for him?  He hadn’t behaved like a rude person. After a glance at my worried face, he took the phone back and asked, “where you going next?”  He set the Google map for my next destination and said, “Did you activate the card by speaking to the company?  It was not activated”. I could not believe that my cell screen showing an active google map!

Being wiser now, for safety,  I wanted to buy another SIM card. But the vendor refused. He smiled to say, “I guarantee, you will have no problem with the SIM you have”.  What then was the problem earlier?

The label on the SIM card packet instructed to send a message to the service provider in order to activate it.  What they meant was you had to call them and give them a message by talking to them, and not just send a SMS.  You had to know the local language for it.

The  vendor at the airport was too busy and excused himself by saying “it is simple, just fix the card and it will start working”.  It did start, but for a trial few minutes to allow for an activation call.  When the first navigation route showed up, I thought it was activated, based on the SMS I sent them. I am the smartest, you know now!  Or is it silliest?

Nishi says, " I am fine"

Nishi expressing I am enjoying

While we went through this frustration for a few hours, I was worried that Nishi who was new to such problems might regret having joined us, on the very first day. When I expressed my regret for this inconvenience, she responded, something like saying “I am fine.  Nana, please don’t worry about me.  I am enjoying every moment.”

To be contd…………...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 6: Of Geysers and Waterfalls

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 5: Teething Troubles

Iceland 65% of Population in Red marked area (Courtesy-Amazing maps)

Iceland 65% of Population in Red marked area (Courtesy-Amazing maps)

Once out of the capital city, roads were completely isolated. Iceland is a sparsely populated country.  2.2 lakh people out of the 3.2, stay in the capital.  The rest are spread across an area of 1 lakh sq km. Get that? The population density is 1 person per 1 sq km. To put that in perspective, Mumbai’s population density is 30,000 per sq km!

Though there were just two-lane roads, an average speed of 90km/hr was easy. Lava fields spread on either side as far as the eyes could see. It was a pleasure to drive on highways and the main routes alike.  But, most of the time I drove on gravel roads – single roads with a lot of loose sand.

Iceland Driving5The information on the Internet had scared me into believing that driving in Iceland would be a tough task.  But I tell you; none of these were as bad as the roads leading to remote villages in India or even post-monsoon city roads!   As long as one does not venture on ‘F’ highland roads or if one sticks to driving on metal and gravel roads, even a medium size  regular vehicle is good enough.  These roads are like a highway drive for those of us used to driving on Indian roads.

As we lost quite a few hours resolving the GPS problem, we had to skip a volcano mountain on the way.   We reached Thingvellir National Park.  This is where the world’s first parliament started in 930AD.  Though there are just a symbolic benches on a brownish rock platborm at the site now, parlliament day is celebrated here every year.

Thingvellir, Iceland. World's first Parliament (Rock platform)

Thingvellir, Iceland. World’s first Parliament (Rock platform)

Thingvellir is also a geological wonder in the world.  There are tall natural-rock walls of the two continents.  One was the edge of American continent and the other was that of Euroasia.   There are tectonic plates of two continents – America and Europe – which could be seen at once.  We were walking in between the two walls.   Iceland is probably the only place above sea level where two major tectonic plates can be seen.

Tectonic Rift of two continents - America and Europe

Tectonic Rift of two continents – America and Europe

They have been drifting away from each other by half an inch every year. The boundaries of these plates are zones of tectonic activity, where volcanic eruptions tend to occur.

After a drive of another 60km to the East, we saw a large smoke-like jet blowing up at a distance of 8-10km.  It subsided in less than a minute.  We wondered if that was the geyser we were looking for.  After about 5 minutes, another jet erupted and settled. Yes, it was the world famous Strokkur Geysir.

Strokkur Geysir, Iceland - Throwing Boiling Water 35-40ft High, every 5-10 minutes

Strokkur Geysir, Iceland

The word ‘geyser’ seems to be derived from this Geysir at Strokkur.  It is a unique natural fountain in the world. The underground pressure is so high that at a frequency of 5-10 minutes, the geyser gushes boiling hot water to a height of 40 to 60 feet.  This has been constant for decades. There were many smaller natural geysers all around.  They were unfenced and we could walk around unrestrictedly. Ofcourse we had to keep ourselves away to ensure that we do get caught under the hot boiling water gushed out of the geysers.

I would have liked to watch  Strokkur Geysir for hours.  However, we forced ourselves to leave as we were looking forward to proceed to another beauty spot on the face of Iceland, Gulfoss waterfall

By evening it began to get cold. Iceland has sub-polar, oceanic climate.  It has cold winters and cool summers.  It was the month of August which is their peak summer.  At the peak of their summer, the temperature was near freezing point,  – 2 to 7degC!  It rains and shines alternating every 2-3 days.  We carried normal, warm as well as waterproof clothes with us.   At places, it was terribly windy, strong enough to blow away our car into one of the lava valleys.

Our next target was to visit Gulfoss waterfalls.  I read a lot about the beauty of Gulfoss, which was supposedly not too far from Strokkur.  We were disappointed when a professional guide at Strokkur told us that there was no waterfall, whatsoever, in the vicinity.

We took a U-turn.  But then I recollected that I had certainly seen pictures and read about the presence of Gulfoss waterfall in that area. I checked my notes. A little tinkering with Google maps confirmed the presence of a waterfall in that area.  We DSC04884 followed the map and after a drive of about 10-12km, suddenly, we spotted a beautiful site to our right, a wide spread gushing waterfall – the panoramic Gulfoss waterfall.  The rushing water dropped and flowed from one stage to another, in 3 stages.

It is difficult to describe its beauty.  It could be compared to that of Niagara in Canada/USA and Iguassu waterfalls in Brazil/Argentina!

After a satisfactory, even if hectic first day, we drove about 70 kilometers to reach our destination for the night by 7 PM. Though isolated, it was a nice, large, well-designed compact room – a double bed, a bunker bed and a fully equipped kitchen.

Had we returned from Strokkur directly without visiting Gulfoss waterfall, we would have missed a wonderful spot! Notes and planning for the win!

                                                                                                     To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 4: Fun Begins!

Map of Iceland

Map of Iceland

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 3 Understanding the Logistics……….

Rental for a car navigator was $140 for a week. Online reviews said that Simminn telecom’s SIM card would be reliable even on mountain tops, valleys and glaciers. So, I skipped the independent car navigator and purchased a SIM card with 1GB data and 500 free calls for US$ 25.  I fixed the SIM card in the extra phone I had. The label on the pack instructed me to send a message to the company to activate it.  I sent the SMS and the navigation started working for my first stop, Reykjavik, the capital city.

Equipped with car, guided by the sim navigation, snacks and provisions duly stacked up, everything was turning out as per plan. I am smart – I thought!

Reykjavik is popular for its night life and pubs.

Hallgrimska Church, Iceland

Hallgrimska Church, Iceland

Since, our focus was to explore the exceptional geographical sites, we skipped the entertainment events in the capital. Instead, we used our time to drive through the city roads.  We visited Church Hallgrímskirkja, also the tallest building in the city.This Church has fascinating shapes and forms.  The church features a mechanical pipe organ system standing at an 50 feet high and weighing all of 25 tons.  This is driven by 4 manuals and 5275 pipes, all designed to reproduce powerful notes capable of filling the huge and holy space with a range of tones.

Pipe organ in cathedral

Pipe organ in Cathedral

India, where even the remotest of roads have enough people strolling by eager to guide passers-by, the roads in this city were deserted. We did not know where we were, let alone know which direction to move towards. I grew restless for many a reason.

I had an idea! A solution seemed plausible. Though it might be expensive,  I could use my other phone which had my Indian SIM card.  I switched it on.  ‘No service’ it showed!  How silly of me! I forgot to activate international roaming for the card. Oh wait! My wife had her phone with an Indian SIM.   ‘No service’ either.   Obviously, even if it was her phone, it would not work without international roaming activated.  Every time I leave India, I get our phones activated for international roaming.  But I had missed on doing it this time! What a blunder. We were lost.

The fun had truly begun.

To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra