We made it out!
It was looking a bit touch and go there for a while, but thanks to the efficient work of the Icelandic road authority and a highly competent bus driver, today we escaped Seydisfjordur and made our twice-rescheduled flight with minutes to go. We were the first vehicle through after the road clearing bulldozers.
The mountain pass between us and the nearest town with an airport was completely closed for 48 hours, as Eastern Iceland was battered by snowstorms. And yes, I know, its Iceland in winter, but I was told this is highly unusual at this time of year.
We were holed up in the lovely guesthouse for longer than planned, along with a German couple who had planned to leave even before us. Yesterday and the day before it didn’t feel like to great a hardship – we were warm and safe and had enough food and drink, and wifi. We even ventured out yesterday in a blizzard – Lauren wanted to see what it was like. She was full of bravado, but after 30 minutes was basically wimpering. A useful lesson in respecting the full force of nature.
But today we’d had enough and it was starting to feel claustrophobic.
Yesterday night we were told the forecast was for the wind to drop, meaning roads might be cleared, and that the bus should come at 0930.
We were ready by 0900, and then spent the day monitoring the roads authority website to check whether any cars had made it through, and if the road had been opened. The website is quite amazing, it has the exact weather conditions of each and every road – including gravel ones – updated regularly throughout the day – including temperature, wind speed and direction and level of snow and visibility. They even have webcams on many of the mountain roads that log how many vehicles have passed and when. It was quite frustrating to see various impassible roads turning ‘clear’ during the day until the one road out of our village was the only one still not clear.
Eventually about 3pm, when I was seriously beginning to wonder if I should reschedule the 6pm flight to Reykjavik yet again, the owner of the guest house came to tell us she had spoken to the bus driver and he would attempt to make it through in the next hour, and pick us up from the guest house at 4.30.
He turned up at 4.25, and our excitement at seeing him was tempered only by the difficulties in actually getting to the road… with heavy backpacks on we all sank straight up to the tops of our thighs in the snow and if it hadn’t been so damn cold and it we hadn’t been quite so on edge about the conditions, I suppose it would have been funny. We floundered and scrambled our way to the bus – a sturdy ford transit type affair with 12 seats and snow tyres – and piled in, trying to brush off as much snow as possible. The bus driver then drove around the village to pick up other people who had obviously been in touch – there was a couple with a young child of about 1, an elderly lady, and a girl of about ten travelling on her own.
We then set off climbing on roads that are no doubt treacherous at any time of year, twisting and turning steeply along the side of a mountain. Visibility was minimal and as far as I could tell the driver just aimed between the snow poles with reflective tops on either side and accelerated, hard. I was anxious to get to the flight on time, but not that anxious to go quite so fast. But he clearly knew what he was doing and its not like I could have driven in those conditions. It was still snowing heavily, but the wind had thankfully dropped, and sitting in the middle of the van I was almost grateful for my limited view. We did skid a few times, the back end swiveling away from us, but the guy was clearly a pro and we never felt (completely) out of control.
We made it to the tiny airport just as they were closing check in, but it was one of those relaxed regional airports that feel more like bus stations, they didn’t even check our passports, just asked for our names and gave us our boarding cards.
There were no fancy gangways here, we simply walked out onto the tarmac, avoiding the worst of the ice underfoot and holding tightly to each other as the wind had picked up again, and climbed aboard the relatively small plane that would get us through the snow storm safely to the capital. The plane had 9 rows of 4 seats, all full.
It was a slippery-slidy kind of take-off, you could feel the forward motion negating the plane’s desire to skid sideways, and I was glad when we were airborne. It was a fairly bumpy ride, but nothing we couldn’t handle, and Lauren who had the window seat watched avidly for the northern lights. It kind of felt like the weather gods owed us one, but no such luck, the lights weren’t out to play.
One nice little Icelandic kind of twist, in the pocket on the seats in front of us were notebooks to ‘fill with our adventures’ and people had written where they were travelling from/too and why. It was kind of poignant, all these people leaving their notes and making their mark. Some visiting family, others heading out for wilderness camping, others on a world tour…. Modern day sagas :-).
So, we made it to Reykjavik – admittedly 2 days later than planned, and with poor probability of northern light sightings here for the next few days (frustratingly, after great sightings down here up to yesterday!) but we will pack in what we can in the 2 days we have left – geysers, waterfalls, and thermal lagoons all beckon.
And then, off to Ireland for a catch up with all our Irish friends – Can’t wait, folks!