Weathering Iceland - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Weathering Iceland

Weathering Iceland

Published November 28, 2016

Signe Smala
Photos by
Art Bicnick

Iceland’s wind. I’ve been in this country for only two months now, but we’ve spent so much time together, me and this fellow, that I feel able to say we know each other pretty well. I’ve gotten used to his morning grumpiness and restless attempts at blowing me back home, when in the morning I’m fighting on my bike out of breath for each metre towards the hilltop; his pat on the back when I head back from work; or the annoying obsession of his with a hairstyle called The Haystack, which is now almost permanently on my head. And I kind of felt that we had gotten to a point of mutual respect – I knew his strength, and he knew that, if pissed off, I could say some pretty mean things. In short, we successfully managed to coexist. But half a month ago I learned that Iceland’s howling air has got some seriously murderous vibes.

The south coast of Iceland is abundant with amazing attractions and beautiful landscapes, one of them being the arch of Dyrhólaey. The peninsula, whose name in direct translation means “the hill island with the door hole”, with its fascinating lava rock arch and amazing view, is well know as a must-see place for visitors. As I and my parents, who had journeyed here from Latvia for a short stay, definitely fall in the “visitors” category, it was marked as one of our stops.

The weather leading up to our excited calls of “Oh, look, it’s there!” had ranged from pleasant sunshine, snow storm, drizzling rain and finally to wind gusts of quite average strength. The serpentine-like gravel road reaching up to the higher part of Dyrhólaey got quite steep at times, indicating the notable height of the destination. We saw it as a promise for a nice view of the destination. As we got to the top – which at this end of the peninsula was a flat, 20m-wide, sand-covered parking spot – the first strong gust of wind shook our car. I have to add that we were driving a decent 4×4 vehicle, with an overall weight close to two tonnes. Some laughter broke out as, you know, we were thinking that this is just a temporary showing-off on behalf of Icelandic wind, rather than his Inner Dexter taking over. But as my dad was trying to find a less windy spot on the smooth-surfaced cliff, we slowly grew more and more nervous. The shaking was persistent and even growing. The sight of surrounding cliff edges, who seemingly welcomed all the loose objects to enjoy a fall of 120m towards rocky ground, wasn’t exactly calming, either. Still having some pride, we reassured each other that, well, this is just wind, we should hop out and quickly get the tourist sightseeing done with, since no one here desired to become the next “tourists losing car to Iceland’s nature” news story. Don’t know exactly what made us think that a mere human of about 60kg facing this wind would be a more sane choice than staying in the car, but out of the car we went.

Starting to head in the direction of the lighthouse at the ocean side of the peninsula, I soon noted that, firstly, it’s almost impossible to breath, as the airflow around my face was too strong for my lungs to actually steal some of the oxygen. Secondly, after stepping more than four metres across the open field, it was impossible to move forwards. I was quickly stripped of my scarf and was starting to contemplate if the desire to catch a sight of a damn rock was really stronger than my will to live, when a gust of wind threw me back at the stone wall separating the lighthouse and it’s surrounding fields from the parking place. Soon my mom joined me, clasping the stones not to be thrown further away through the gate. My dad, some distance away, was somehow still on his feet. He was laughing, but a sound of faint panic and terror was clearly shining through. Without any desire to proceed, we retreated to our car, which at this point was shaking all the time. My dad praying for the hood not to fly into the windscreen, me praying for our car not to fly off the cliff, we saw how three fellow tourists, making their way back from the lighthouse, were thrown off their feet one by one.

Now in full-blown terror, we realised that not only staying on the peninsula was dangerous, but trying to get away from it was as well. The possibility that wind hitting the car sideways on our way down the muddy, narrow, winding road could lead to an undesired shortcut downwards. This was the high point of adrenalin. Sitting motionless, with hands clenched in our laps and feeling a nervous shiver taking over our bodies. After a while, as the wind kept on howling and throwing sand in our window, we decided that we would either go or someone was going to pass out, so we slowly started our way down. Soon it was clear that, at this side of the peninsula, the wind was barely present, and our escape would be safe. With relieved laughter and rubbery limbs, we made our way down and bid farewell to Dyrhólaey from afar.

Now when I’m facing this old fellow on my way to work with sand blowing in my eyes and tears streaming horizontally across my temples, I don’t say mean things to him. He’s crazy.

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