Crossing the River

In Sojourns
A trip to Iceland, featuring a crazy adventure on the way to a volcano.

It took approximately forty minutes for us to arrive in Reykjavík by car. It had only been a mere twelve months since I had returned from my first trip. I peered across the cab to catch my mother’s eye. Her face, wrinkled in skepticism, turned back towards the barren land beyond the window. I could tell she was secretly expecting to be surrounded by volcanologists and polar bears from the moment we stepped off the plane. She would much rather be at the beach, somewhere in the Caribbean.

It was nearly midnight when our cab driver dropped us off at the newly remodeled hotel in the city center. At this point, the sky was a dull gray, something we would consider to be dusk back home.

My father squinted at his watch. “What time is it, anyway?”

I reminded my parents that each year, Icelanders spend two to three months under continuous sunlight during the summer. “This is also their summer solstice weekend which means 72 hours of straight daylight,” I explained.

I heard my brother James groan beside me and laughed. We could soon see the city lights of Reykjavik. When we arrived at the hotel, the four of us stumbled into the lobby to check in. We then proceeded to clamber up the narrow stairs with our bulky luggage into our minimalist apartment. We sank down into the white sheets exhausted. I remember falling asleep to church bells from across the way and people in the bar downstairs conversing well into the morning.

Our first morning established the routine for the rest of our stay: after a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by our guide in a large 4×4 vehicle and set out on Iceland’s Route 1, properly named the ‘Ring Road,’ which circles and connects most inhabited parts of the country. As we travelled back and forth from the city, we would pass hundreds of cows and sheep grazing in the brilliant green grass that shone in the morning sun. We could also see tiny white clusters of sheep nestled high up in the mountains.

We had given much thought to the trip in advance, carefully planning activities and locations of interest to us. Our trips to the diverse national parks along the southern coast were particularly memorable. We were able to see flooding rivers and glaciers at Thórsmörk and massive waterfalls at Þingvellir. We also learned many new, odd things from our guides–for example, how to cross a river in your vehicle.

Our guide Svavar taught us how to cross rivers while we were in Thórsmörk, a valley region sitting between two glaciers. We drove on a pitted gravel road for several miles deep in the valley. Blue rivers and streams constantly rushed past us on the dull floodplain. Svavar mentioned the opportunity we would later have to cross one of the largest rivers in the area. I remember thinking, A river? Does he mean a stream? How deep can the water actually be? We were headed towards the glaciers and when the time came to cross the “river,” I was not expecting much. Svavar walked us through the process, step by step. I admit to freaking out a little when he unlocked the doors and told us to unbuckle our seatbelts.

“We wouldn’t want to be trapped in the car underwater, would we?” he then explained.

Well no, that would suck. Wait–does this type of thing happen all the time?

After he finished emphasizing the potential dangers, Svavar put the car back into drive. The decline was a lot steeper than we had expected. The water splashed over the hood of the vehicle and pressed against all of our windows. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion. I remember glancing back at my mother. Once again I saw the anxiety and panic flash across her face as she reached for any available handles to hold on to. Afterwards, I could tell she was trying to keep her cool as though we never saw her white-knuckled grip. Thankfully, and before we knew it, the current had carried us through the river and onto the opposite bank. According to Svavar, it worked ‘wonderfully.’

I glanced in the side mirror at the rushing water behind us, excited but thankful it was over. Well that was insane. Wonder what he has planned for tomorrow?

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