Friday, February 21, 2020

Rescued in Iceland

My recent rescue by kind strangers has naturally brought to mind the last time a family trip was saved by a stranger.

It all started with a trip to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  We took my Mom there one Christmas vacation day in 2006. As we were enjoying an exhibit about geysers and volcanoes, my Mom said she’d always wanted to visit Iceland.  We had no plans for Spring Break that year, so we decided to take Mom to Iceland.

Iceland is fantastic.  We had a cozy rental house in Reykjavik and a nine-passenger diesel van to drive around the country.  There is one major road in Iceland, the Ring Road, that goes around the edge of the island and connects the few settled parts. The interior is left to the volcanoes and icebergs and geysers.

Iceland is cold on the top but hot underneath.  There are geysers and steam vents and boiling hot streams all over the place.  The Icelanders are practical, and they know better than to step into boiling hot water, so there is rarely any signage or fencing at these spots.  At some of the more popular geysers there is occasionally a small sign that says “Haetta” (hot).

Perhaps the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon.  It is a large outdoor hot pool in a lava field formed by the runoff from a geothermal power plant.  You can swim around in it, but you have to shower first. When we were there, we had to be inspected by a firm Icelandic matron before we were allowed in the pool.  That was weird.

Iceland has its own breed of small very hairy horses.  We took five-year-old horse-crazy Amy to a riding stable, and the owner made us all put on full-body waterproof coveralls before we could ride.  We were puzzled by this as it seemed to be a pretty nice day for Iceland.  As soon as we got on the horses, however, it began to sleet sideways, and we understood.

One day as we were heading to a waterfall on the Ring Road we saw an amazing rainbow.  We all wanted to take pictures of it, so Larry did what he would have done in America, and pulled off onto a gravel patch by the side of the road.

The van promptly sank up to its axles in gravelly mud.

There was a brief moment of silence followed by a lot of bad words.

Larry got out and tried to do something with rocks to get some traction.  There was no wood or anything to use because Iceland has no trees.  We were not near anything except some scattered farms, and they were all set way back off the road.  From where we were, we could see one tiny farmhouse far away across a snowy field. 

We hadn’t seen another car in an hour or so.  In retrospect, we should have just stopped right on the road to take our pictures.

As Larry was stomping around outside and swearing and my mom was analyzing how much food and water we had, I pulled out my cell phone.  I had FIVE BARS of coverage!  You can’t get five bars of coverage in Silicon Valley!!

There was a big sign on the dashboard of our rental van that said, “Dial 112 in Emergency”, so I did.  A nice man answered the call and I explained our situation.  “What farm are you near?” he asked.  And I actually knew!  I had been following our road map of the Ring Road which listed all the farms.

The operator said, “I will call the farmer and he will bring his tractor.”  We sat in the van and watched as a tiny tractor pulled away from the tiny farm and slowly chugged up to the road and then around the road to us.

The farmer had no English, intensely dirty overalls and boots, and two or three yapping farm dogs with him.  He put a hook under our rear axle, started his tractor, and popped us up out of the mud and onto the road.

I was ecstatically happy.  I tried to offer him some money, but he waved it away, so I kissed him on the cheek to show my gratitude.  He seemed surprised but not entirely displeased, and he loaded up his dogs, waved goodbye, and chugged back to his farm.

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