We are picked up at nine 9:00am in a monster truck by a rather Nordic looking fellow named Steini. It sounds like there is an entire nitroglycerin factory at work behind the dashboard and we are only idling in downtown Reykjavík. Steini is a pro at the helm of our land-barge, but he keeps a constant flow of information coming to us while we barrel out of the city. Once inside the vehicle he installs himself into an internal PA system
to broadcast a steady stream of information varying from erosion to beer, from shipwrecks to acts of God, from the farming crisis to anecdotes from the Sagas, and even cheesy jokes about Icelandic forests.
Water: Falling, Gurgling, Stinking, Drinking
We make a few stops on the drive into Hvalfjörður: a ruined NATO base, some berry-picking, a coffee shop with a makeshift museum of whaling in Iceland. This is all interesting, but I am most taken by the stairs that automatically descend when the doors to our monster truck are opened, à la Flight of the Navigator. I find it comforting the way Steini casually throws around these grandiose spans of time. “We used to have two glaciers in the Northwest, but one melted,” as if talking about his pet guinea pigs. He continues with his geology lesson as we come into Reykholtsdalur, dotted with its geothermically heated greenhouses. Nearby is Barnafoss (Children’s Falls), a waterfall buried among treacherous cliffs and rock-faces, named after two children who fell to their death from the rock arch that used to stand over the falls. Afterwards we lunch at Húsafell. I recommend brown-bagging because the food is only fair, but the prices are exhorbitant.
Our Landing Pad is Ice
We drive next to Stefánshellir, a hidden lava tube in the middle of a lava field. Once inside the temperature drops drastically and the welcoming scent of moldy bread pervades every chamber of the caves. We see stalactites galore and in the deepest and dankest chamber Steini tells us this is where a children’s choir festival was held not too long ago, and I am reminded of how weird a place this country is. The next stop and piece de resistance is Langjökull glacier. The road ends, but we carry on. This is the moment you wait for as the monster truck crawls over piles of rocks and sloshes through pools of glacial runoff. Once on top of the glacier we amble around like cosmonauts, looking into bottomless holes and at the odd deposits of jet black silt. Steini seems quietly pleased with our wonderment. It’s otherworldly on the ice and the rest of the trip is lost to its grandeur. On the way home we make stops at a large, stone cairn and also Þingvellir National Park. We arrive home at 6:00, climb down from the monster truck, and give one last, grateful salute to Scoutmaster Steini. More than just his heroic bone structure, Steini’s zealousness to show us his country, and the earnestness with which he does just that, are the reasons this trip is so very enjoyable. As Steini says, “No matter how many times I drive through here, I always see something new.”