Day 5 (The Y Chromosome)

“That can’t be good.”

Four words you never want to hear while watching Emerson attempt to start the car, for the seventh time in a row, with no success. “Try again,” we all respond. Chhhk Chhk Chhk Chhk Chhk….Nothing. Chhhk Chhk Chhk Chhk Chhk….“Shit.”

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This morning started off amazing. We got to sleep in for the first time since we arrived. We almost made it until ten before a rogue mountain sheep woke us up with his mating call. We spent the morning being lazy. We finished laundry, took showers, played cards, edited photos, and ate the cereal we had brought with us.

We got on the road around noon, filled up our car, and made the hour long drive back towards Dyrholaey (the home of the puffins), to finish seeing the sights we missed yesterday due to rain. We decided to take a different route up the mountain this morning, to avoiding anymore near-death cliff experiences. We ended up finding this cute little mountain top parking lot, with a direct view of Vatnajokull–Iceland’s biggest glacier. It was quite the view. We started walking down the path the other tourists were taking and began scouring the cliff side for the native birds.

Fun fact: The world’s largest puffin colony is located on the island Heimaey, just a two hour boat ride from where we were viewing them. There is a human population of about 4,500 living on this island. Between the months of July and September the local children are given cardboard boxes and blankets; and after sunset they are sent out into the streets and are instructed to collect all the baby puffins they can find that have gotten separated from their mothers. Apparently, it is so common to find these temporarily orphaned babies running around the island, that each child collects an average of 6 to 7 puffins a night. They bring them home with them, feed them, and keep them warm, and then bring them back to cliff sides in the morning.

Puffins carve out holes in the sides of cliffs to create their nests. You can often find them sitting on the rock ledges and in the surrounding grass covered areas. They are quite shy, so getting close to one would be almost impossible, so viewing them from a nearby cliff is usually your only option.

It was a few minutes before we spotted one. They weren’t exactly just hanging outside of their caves in the hour we were there. I suspect it was feeding time for them, because as soon as they popped out of their holes, they dove down the cliff and flew straight for the water. We watched them fly in and out of their nests for about twenty minutes and got maybe one or two decent pictures. For such a chubby bird, they move rather quickly.

We got in the car to head towards our next stop—one of Iceland’s most famous black sand beaches, Reynisfjara. 

I wish I could sit here and tell you all about our experiences on the black beach. How we frolicked down the sand, how we skipped in and out of the waves, how a friendly puffin swam right up to us and actually let us hold him for selfie purposes…but instead you get to read about how we spent the next six hours sitting in the parking lot…trying to get our car to start.

After about ten minutes of trying to start the car, over and over and over and over again, it suddenly dawned on Emerson what exactly could have happened to cause this. When we were heading out of town and stopped to fill up the car, he maybe, sort of, most definitely picked up the petrol nozzle instead of the diesel one. Whoops.

You know, I have been conditioned my whole life, though media, peers, schooling, and societal norms to recognize and appreciate that men are the superior sex. But today, I was proved wrong.

Okay, let me not be a total dick. Because, seriously, poor Emerson. This guy has been stuck traveling around the country with three girls who have little-to-no filters. He has had to hear all about our menstruation frustrations (copyrighted for the name of my imaginary all-female punk rock band). He has had to hear us talk about our lady parts, lady habits, and lady gossip. Emma is pregnant so all we have been discussing recently is the horrors of child birth. Jordan and I have been using all the hot water, leaving him with nothing more than a single drop of lukewarm water for his own showers. We’ve been forcing him to listen to the Mamma Mia soundtrack all the while scream-singing in his ear. We’ve been criticizing and nitpicking at his driving all week. We’ve sent him out late at night to search for a very specific brand of Icelandic cookie; because if you can’t have Hershey’s chocolate during your “special time” you need the next best thing. We’ve basically made him our pack mule this entire vacation. And on top of all of that, we’ve been forcing him to take picture after picture after picture, until it was deemed good enough to be posted to social media.

It’s no wonder the guy was so emotionally and physically drained that he mistook the green nozzle to mean diesel (as it usually does in the U.S.). If I had to travel an entire week surrounded by men talking about their junk and football, I would probably have a hazy brain too. Also, to be completely fair, if Jordan and I were doing this trip on our own, we undoubtedly would have ended up making the same mistake. So even though I have to give him a hard time for like the rest of his life, it was honestly a mistake any of us could’ve made.

And not to mention, Emerson handled it like a champ. He stayed really calm, found the number for the car rental place, talked with several people to develop a plan, and kept reassuring the rest of us that everything was going to be ok. I think he stayed so calm because it was one of those situations where he recognized if he “lost it” in front of three hormonal women, that he might as well just set fire to the car, because there’s no calming us down once we get started.

After talking with the rental company (which was currently located four hours away from us) Emerson informed us that the manager of the company had contacted a local mechanic to come help us, and that he should be here in under an hour. Well, the hour came and went. Then another 40 minutes came and went. Then Emerson decided to call the mechanic, only to discover that the mechanic’s phone had been shut off. Super. He calls back the rental company and informs them, that the mechanic isn’t here and that his phone isn’t receiving calls. The rental lady basically tells him to calm his tits and be patient and that she “isn’t allowed to call another one, because her boss will fire her.” *Insert biggest eye roll ever here* And because Emerson is such a stand up guy, he politely said “ok” and we waited a while longer.

After two hours of no-show Joe, Emerson called back. When the same lady attempted to give him the same bullshit excuses, Emerson channeled his inner drama queen and I could not have been more proud. He said back to the lady, and I quote, “Yeah, see we’ve been waiting two hours, in the cold. The parking lot is getting emptier by the minute. All of the other local mechanic’s shops in the area are closing down. And we can’t exactly spend the night in our car because my wife is super pregnant and we have no heat or food.” <—He says as I was currently downing my second bag of Doritos.

You should have heard that lady scramble. I guess from now on I’ll be pregnant too when stuck in an emergency situtation. It gets things done so much quicker. I already have the body for it. Anyway, she told us that she was going to contact another local shop and that she would call us right back with the information and ETA. Our new knight in shining armor was supposed to arrive in yet another hour, so wait again we did. To be honest it wasn’t the worst place we could have been stranded. The parking lot had a bathroom, there were puffins to keep us company, and we had great views.

When the new mechanic finally pulled up in his big van, we all literally started clapping (as white people do) and I even think I saw a few tears streaming down Emma’s face. He opened up his van door to reveal that all he had brought with him was empty cooking oil barrels, a couple of plastic tubes, and the smallest tool box I have ever seen. After awhile of him “doing his thing” and having no success we started to wonder if the rental car lady had actually called a second mechanic or if she just called her great uncle Yohan to come rescue us, because all the other mechanics were busy or closed. Either way Yohan wasn’t going down without a fight.

He went at it for about an hour. Having us try to start the car over and over and over again, while he wiped up the mysterious liquids spraying from under the hood and using his one wrench to tighten and loosen random metal pieces. The rest of the girls and I were starting to question his abilities after still no success. We actually started panicking that he might leave us on this mountain top by ourselves to go “fetch another tool” and actually never come back. We decided if he did that, we would beg to be taken with him. One, because we didn’t want to be stranded. And two, we were officially out of snack foods. As Emma said, “This is probably the only time in history where three women would beg to jump in a strange man’s black windowless van.”

After about another ten minutes of trying to turn the car on and off, on and off, to no one’s surprise, the battery died. In typical Yohan fashion he didn’t bring any jumper cables with him. So he then proceeded to walk around the parking lot asking the five people that were left if they happened to have any. Again, let me paint this picture for you…This entire time Yohan had been with us, he had been funneling the gas out of our tank into these spare oil jugs and then every ten minutes or so would proceeded to dump that same gas all over the ground, in front of our car. Now, I’m no mechanic (Despite my dad’s best efforts I literally don’t even know how to check my oil levels) but sparking our battery back to life in the same spot where about 60 liters of gas happen to rest on the ground, does not seem like a smart plan to me.

Thankfully no one had jumper cables, so we were spared this time around. Instead he pulled the battery out of his own car, and kept going with his normal routine until, thank the heavens, our car finally started!! He ended up putting our original battery back in, and somehow it worked. Praise.

Once again, we were exhausted and just ready to get home. Yohan followed us to the nearest gas station to make sure everything was still working ok (and to low key make sure Emerson put the right gas in this time). We paid him and went on our way.

We obviously skipped the black sand beach because of pure exhaustion and because it was almost dark by the time we got off the mountain top. But I figure I’ll still tell you about it, so at least when I go back to read these blogs, 20 years from now, I can look at the images I pulled off of google and feel as though I actually did get to experience it…

Reynisfjara, the black sand beach, is home to some incredible geological sites. For starters—the cliffside that runs along the beach is very unique looking. 

The symmetrical columns lining the cliff were shaped when, once upon a time, lava flowed out of the nearby volcano, cooled and contracted. The slow speed at which the lava cooled made it crack and create these hexagonal forms. This process is known as columnar jointing, which is explained in the link.

On this same beach you can spot these three gigantic free-standing rocks that sit in the ocean about 100 yards from shore. The Icelandic legend behind these rocks is that three trolls waded out to sea to grab a passing ship. As they were dragging it to shore, the sun came up and froze the trolls in place. We were able to see these rocks from our puffin viewing spot, and again later in the evening on our drive back home. 

We are now back at our cozy cabin, playing cards, and quickly approaching bed time.

Tomorrow we continue heading south east. We are going to be visiting diamond beach and glacier lagoon where we can finally see some icebergs and glaciers up close. If we’re lucky it won’t rain, we won’t get pushed off a cliff, and our car won’t break down. Wish us luck!

Until tomorrow!

-E