I spent the first part of Sunday packing. My stuff had got scattered all over the place and even once I’d packed in the apartment, there was all the stuff that had escaped into the car. First stop was at the N1 at the end of the main road to get rid of as much rubbish as I could – I’ve been living out of the car for a week, eating most meals in the car. I’ve accumulated a lot of bread wrappers, plastic cheese wrappers and juice cartons and I haven’t been stopping religiously at a bin every day to get rid of it bit by bit.
Second stop was at the Geothermal Park in Hveragerði. I only realised yesterday that the hot river above town is a different place from the Geothermal Park which is in the middle of town and while I don’t fancy walking 40 minutes each way to see a hot river – they’re kind of abundant in Iceland – I was willing to drive two minutes up the road to visit the Park.
What’s interesting is that there’s a hot stream flowing through the Park – so hot that they sell eggs at reception for you to boil in the stream. Except not today. The stream is currently only at about 80° and it needs to be at least 90° to boil the eggs. Actually a lot of the Park was a lot cooler than I was expecting. There are two or three hot springs which have produced silica-rich bright blue pools – all totally dried up. All the bubbling mud pools, totally dried up. I did happen to catch one of the boreholes spouting – an actual working geyser! It’s too late at night now to find out how often it erupts, but I didn’t even know it existed so I’m pretty pleased to have seen it. It’s not as high as Strokkur but whereas Strokkur is one violent explosion, this one lasted quite a while and was definitely several smaller eruptions which looked like more steam than water.
The hot river is very decorative but the only things producing much steam or heat in the Park were the boreholes. Here’s the thing about geothermal areas – they move as the hot spot under the ground moves. New hot spots appear, old ones fade. And this one definitely looks like it’s faded.
Onwards. I drove to the airport via Reykjanes because the other option is to go via Reykjavik and that’s not an option. It’s one thing driving a left-hand-drive car on the open road. It’s quite another to try and negotiate a capital city, with lanes and traffic and lights and all that. Besides, I knew from yesterday that it’s one hour and ten minutes to the Blue Lagoon from Hveragerði via Reykjanes plus they always say twenty minutes from the Blue Lagoon to the airport. That’s an hour and a half. Whereas I know it’s forty minutes from Hveragerði to Reykjavik and then it’s an hour from Reykjavik to the airport. And I’m not entirely certain whether I’m counting those from similar points in Reykjavik. Either way, that’s a minimum hour and forty via the capital so my way is ten minutes faster.
Anyway. Off I went along Reykjanes in the sunshine. Stopped at Krýsuvík, where there’s another geothermal area. This one is much better. This one has its own car park and is free and more importantly, the ground boils and bubbles. It’s all red and orange and yellow, streaked with blue and green and white. I suppose it’s very ugly but in a way, it’s very beautiful. So many colours, so much heat, so much steam, so much smell. Blue-grey bubbling mud, orange and white steaming hillside, signs warning of potential steam explosions. If you’re in the south-west of Iceland and want to see something geothermal, Krýsuvík is a much better option than Hveragerði. Of course, if you’re in the north-east, Hverir, just outside Mývatn, is even better.
Off I went again, now heading straight for the airport, or rather in the direction of the airport to see how early I got there and whether it would be possibly to pop to the pool in Keflavik. And then my car pinged and a message appeared on the dashboard: loss of pressure – front left tyre. What was I supposed to do? Stop and check it but this wasn’t a road I could stop on. I slowed down and drove until I found a junction. These roads are rarely used – no one would mind if I made a quick stop in their junction. I hopped out and examined my tyre. It wasn’t flat or obviously damaged. I squeezed it and then went to squeeze the front right tyre for comparison. They felt much the same. I was 14km from Grindavík, the only settlement since Þorlákshöfn, a tiny harbour barely fifteen minutes out of Hveragerði. In other words, the only settlement for an hour. I couldn’t just sit on the side of the road. I had to get to Grindavík.
I drove slowly. I had a vague idea that sudden movements and sharp braking might not be good for my tyre, whatever was wrong with it. I wondered if maybe a bit of speed might be good for it. From what I remember of my physics, if it was warmer, the pressure would increase. Maybe if I could heat it up, it would re-inflate itself. But I decided that wasn’t a good idea and continued driving slowly and steadily. Fortunately it’s a quiet road and there were very few cars following to be annoyed by my lack of speed. I made it to Grindavík in one piece. I knew from yesterday that there was an N1 roadhouse in town and I went straight there. But this wasn’t somewhere I could get help. It’s just a café with a couple of petrol pumps out the front. I got out the car’s manual. It explained the warning light I’d had sitting staring at me for 14km and it said exactly what I knew it would say. If this comes up, stop immediately, do not continue driving. It also, helpfully, had a few things to say on the subject of tyre pressure. That if the pressure is low, the tyre will flex more and if it flexes it will get hot and it will explode. If the pressure is high, it will get hot and it will explode. In short, my tyre was about to explode. And I knew that. I’d driven 14km with two images alternately flashing before me – Richard Hammond’s 2006 Vampire crash and the lady who hit the bridge on my last afternoon at Kimco. If the tyre burst, it could go the way of the Hammond crash and that would be all kinds of bad. Or at best, it could be like the bridge lady and that would be very expensive. I’d ignored both scenarios long enough to get me to Grindavik but I was still 23km from Keflavik. I needed to do something – in a tiny sleepy fishing village on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
The N1 provided the news that three streets down was an OB petrol station with an air pump. I drove down and tried the door of the kiosk. No one in, of course. It’s Sunday and anyway, all fuel stops in Iceland are completely self-service, pay-at-pump jobbies. There probably wouldn’t have been anyone there any other day either. I wandered around and found the air at the side of the building. Ok. There was nothing visibly wrong with the tyre so I would have to assume that it was gradually losing pressure over time, as tyres do, which is why they need reinflating sometimes, and that it had simply dipped below the car’s accepted standard. I would fill it up. I consulted the manual again to find out what pressure it should be. It didn’t tell me. I flicked through several places and eventually discovered that there should be a sticker inside my door. There was but all it showed was a little picture of a meter next to each wheel, with no useful numbers. And by now I had barely an hour to get to the airport and either I was stuck in Grindavik with a non-functioning car or I had to risk an enormous crash. Not that I panicked and overreacted to this ridiculous warning. I eventually found the important sticker on the inside of the fuel flap. Three rows, two columns, three numbers in each box. No clue. And then at that moment, as I stood there with the manual in my hand, the fuel flap open, looking distressed, a car pulled up.
Icelandic men come from two moulds. One is the Norwegeian stereotype. They’re tall and slim and blondish and usually wearing a lópi. The other is the Ólafur Darri Ólafsson type – that’s Iceland’s most famous actor. He was the drunk helicopter pilot in the Ben Stiller Walter Mitty thing that thinks you can predict eruptions and that Eyjafjallajökull is next to Stykkishólmur. He was the policeman in Trapped recently. Apparently he’s in the BFG. Anyway, he represents the second mould of Icelandic Man – largeish, hairy and helpful. This man was the second kind. His other half was driving and he was half-leaning out of the window, which is why I took him to be there to help me. He wasn’t but the moment I asked him to, he did. He found the right number on my sticker, programmed the air machine, attached it to my tyre (I unscrewed the cap – I’m not completely helpless!) and it was done within a second. He also pointed out that my left mudflap was a bit wobbly, which I knew and warned me that when I returned the car, they might try to charge me for it. Immensely relieved to have my tyre fixed, I packed up my manuals and headed off.
The warning was still on but that didn’t surprise me. The manual said it would need to be reset, it wouldn’t just vanish. I didn’t entirely want to reset it in case something went wrong with it but on the other hand, if I reset it and it immediately came back on, then I’d know something was still wrong with the tyre. On the other hand, when I reset it and it didn’t come back on, it just made me worry all the way to Keflavik that I’d forced the car to believe there was no problem when there still was. The drive to Keflavik was every bit as slow and careful as the drive to Grindavík.
I paused on the corner at the airport to fill up with fuel and empty my rubbish. Everyone else had the same idea. There are three bins there – all full, plus one big industrial bin. I ended up dumping stuff in there, an armful at a time. I’d only done half of it in Hveragerði in the morning, not wanting to put a week’s worth of rubbish in one petrol station bin. And then on to the Hertz dropoff. The nice man (ODO-style) had a look at my windscreen, wandered around the car checking for obvious damage, checked the mileage and the fuel and that the tyre warning light didn’t come on and then gave me a receipt and sent me away. Not a penny for the mudflap, not a penny for driving too far (as had been in the process of happening to an American as I walked into the office), not a penny for nearly exploding a tyre. However, their shuttle bus had broken down two days ago and I had to walk to the terminal.
By the time I’d walked the 200 yards with all my luggage, I was hot and angry. There were too many tourists in the airport, not enough trolleys, not enough check-in machines and then the machine gave me a middle seat in the middle of the plane. I’m 99% sure I chose my seat when I booked the tickets – window seat in the penultimate row. It also gave me the option to change to the one and only other unoccupied seat in the plane. Middle seat, one of the last three rows. I declined and I wish I hadn’t because I was in the exit row and therefore none of my luggage could go under my seat where I like it. However, because there are now too many planes we were taken by bus most of the way to the cargo terminal where our plane was sitting on the horizon. I managed to get on the first bus and I managed to get to my seat long before most people in the vicinity which meant that for once, I had first pick of the overhead lockers. This is the problem with sitting at the back – by the time you’ve fought your way through, a lot of the lockers are full. Not that I mind sitting with my stuff under my feet.
The screens were a bit defective – on the way out, I’d watched 45 minutes of a film before we even hit the runway but today the screens didn’t even switch on until we were up in the air. The flight tracker mode didn’t work at all – the little plane sat on Keflavik for the entire flight and half the information was missing. But that was ok – I had a book to read and somehow that made the flight pass much quicker than watching a film and a couple of episode of TV that I’m not really interested in.
I found the M25 this year. Last year I somehow missed it and carried on along the M4 until I hit the outskirts of Reading. Everything else, I wasn’t quite sure which side of the M25 it was – is Slough inside or outside? Maidenhead? But I knew Reading was on the outside. This year the M25 was right there. The M3 was right there. And once I’m on the M3 I’m all good. The only thing distressing me now that I’m home is that there is nowhere on the way home from Heathrow on a Sunday night that will sell me a loaf of bread for my breakfast toast tomorrow. It might have to be the remnants of cereal I brought back from Iceland.