Spaceman On A Buggy

Photo by
Art Bicnick

The frozen land of Iceland is a hot-spot for science fiction movies. From the cinematic Svínafellsjökull glacier featuring in ‘Interstellar’ to the eerie Dettifoss dominating the opening of ‘Prometheus,’ the country is chock full of peculiarities that don’t resemble anything Earthly.

Especially as a foreigner, it’s easy to imagine yourself as an astronaut when walking through the countryside—to feel like an explorer visiting from another planet. To let myself revel in that sci-fi spaceman experience, I booked a buggy tour with Safari for a day of riding through the land. I mean, driving a buggy is probably as close to the Mars rover as I’ll ever get.


At 9:30 on a crisp Monday morning, I arrived at a greenhouse six kilometres outside of Mossfellsbær—Safari’s headquarters. The place is decked out with ping-pong, a foosball table, and, thankfully, coffee. As far as Mondays go, this one was off to a good start.

Our guide Patrick greeted us, ushering us past the ping-pong table, to brief us on what we’d be doing that day: driving some buggies through the desolate Icelandic wilderness.

Immediately, it was time to get dressed for the adventure and Patrick handed each of us the gear we’d be donning, or as it was in my imagination, my spacesuit: a pair of water-resistant coveralls, gloves, a tight-fitting balaclava and a helmet.

Over 100 of these suits hung in the space between the coffee machine and foosball table. They’re insulated, made for cold weather, so when winter comes, the buggy adventures don’t quit; they just adapt. In fact, Patrick insists that driving in the winter is the most fun.

The semi-final frontier

After signing some boring paperwork promising that I wouldn’t act like an idiot out on the track, we suited up and climbed into our buggies. Within minutes, we were covering vast and varied terrain—the norm for Iceland. Over ragged rocks, under geothermal pipelines, around muddy bends, and through shallow river fjords, we drove on, reaching speeds up to 60 km/ph, all against the backdrop of blue skies, yellowing grass, and a low hanging sun that disappeared behind the clouds from time to time.

It was then time for a quick stop, and we chose a scenic one: the crest of a hill overlooking a gorge. Far in the distance, the Hellisheiði geothermal power plant pumped steam up in a column to the sky. Patrick explained that the plant produces power for the whole region.

The architecture of the plant is spider-like, with series of pipelines travelling from one dome-like structure to another. Large, industrial-style buildings tower over these domes, with spire-like drills looming over them on the cliffs above. It looks like a space station, or a colony on Mars—the perfect landmark for the otherworldly landscape it’s surrounded by.

We forge on in our buggies, ignoring the wind nipping the parts of our faces that weren’t covered. Before long, we reached the power plant that had previously seemed so far away from us. We drove around it, and up a ridge to a solitary dome, where we stopped again to rest. My fingers and toes were frozen, despite the gloves and thick socks I was wearing. That said, the cold didn’t diminish the smile on my face.

“It looks like a space station, or a colony on Mars—the perfect landmark for the otherworldly landscape it’s surrounded by.”

No man’s sky

The sun bathed the valley below in a warm glow with blue skies occasionally peeking out from behind the heavy clouds. Beneath the gaze of craggy, igneous cliffs, several rivers flowed beneath, surrounded by looming mountains. It was beautiful, and I felt small, humbled.

After soaking in the view, and jumping up and down to get the blood flowing through our hands and feet again, we set out again to drive through the rivers below us. It took one massive splash in my face for me to remember that there was a face shield on my helmet. I was immediately thankful my spacesuit was water-resistant. No word on how it’d fare in the upper-atmospheres, though.

With fingers and toes now numb, we made the fun and bumpy drive back to the greenhouse. Iceland may seem like a different planet at times—most of the time, actually—unlike anywhere else on Earth. Yet, here it is, a testament to the eccentric geological oddities our beautiful planet offers.

As we took off the suits and left the Safari HQ, I felt myself coming down to Earth. But, I’m still going to pretend to be an astronaut whenever possible and I encourage everyone else to do the same. It makes the cold a little easier to deal with.

Distance from Reykjavík: 13 km
How to get there: Route 49 east
Tour provided by:

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