Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Transport, Icelandic Style

Overland travel in Iceland isn’t always as easy as it is in other European countries. The Viking solution to lava plains, gravel deserts (sandurs), snows and rivers was the original 4x4 - the horse. Low-tech but effective, their short and stocky descendents are still very common – and, as you can see, they aren’t over-fussy about where they graze. These hardy beasts are still the transportation of choice for jobs like rounding up sheep in the highlands, where four feet can reach places that four wheels cannot. Riders often travel with a string of replacement mounts alongside.

On a vast gravel plain in the south of the country, we found a real mongrel: apparently the offspring of a giant off-road vehicle and a steel-hulled boat, tourists can board it as easily as a bus. Once loaded, it plunges into a lake full of icebergs – from which, being a 4x4, it can come ashore again wherever it likes.

Outside a museum in Hofn, we found this – a Canadian cross between a snow mobile and a minibus. We thought it looked very practical, and were a little surprised that we had never seen one operating.

Found a suburb of Reykjavik, this vehicle, unique in itself, says a lot about how a certain segment of the population likes to spend their free time. With its large tires, extremely high ground clearance and custom-build accommodation in the rear, this is a classic Icelandic “Super Jeep” or “Super Truck”. Not everyone drives monsters like this one – but they certainly aren’t uncommon.

We think the next one belongs to the Icelandic emergency surfaces. Distinctly tank-like (it has a hatch on the roof, a periscope, steel shutters on the windows), the people who drive this may have to face anything from sandstorms (here, they can strip the paint from car) to bridge-swallowing glacier bursts (where huge lakes suddenly drain themselves from mountains to the sea at flow rates that beat all rivers but the Amazon, tossing icebergs before them like bowling balls) to volcanic bombardment (rocks, toxic gases, lava flows, lahars, ash falls, etc.). Mere blizzards must make a nice change.

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