ICELAND // RING-ROAD ROAD-TRIP
August 22, 2012
I've had a fear of driving since I first got behind the wheel; something about two tons of metal barreling down a road with a bunch of other balls of destruction guided by easily distracted operators has always set me a little on edge. That being said, I've always been very cautious and attentive.
Today was my third day driving; I was feeling pretty confident and comfortable behind the wheel. As I'm making my way down a gravel road in the middle of a downpour with nothing besides grasslands and dirt in sight, I notice I feel a little disconnected from the car. Was it leaning slightly to the side? Something sounded off, but it was difficult to tell since I was driving slowly, navigating around large, sharp rocks and equally sized potholes. I stopped the car and got out to see my rear passenger tire was flat. I have never experienced a flat tire. To my knowledge, no one I know has experienced this issue abroad or at home. Now I am alone, in the rain, with only sheep as my witness and no clue what to do. As I try not to panic I realize there is a lone house up ahead. Can a person drive on a flat tire? Probably not the best thing you can do to a car, but I figured I'd maneuver slowly and carefully into the driveway, anyway.
The house looked still as I rang the door bell. What happens if no one's here? What do I do otherwise? Wait hours until someone finally drives down this deserted road? I rang twice. And what if they didn't stop? Can I keep driving with a flat? (This is the moment I hate myself for not caring/learning from my father and brother who REBUILD cars.) As I am debating between dropping to my knees crying or ringing one last time, the door opens. An old man, probably in his early 80's, looks at me confused as I tumble through my situation, asking to use his phone to call the rental company*. He shakes his head at me and my heart sinks – he really won't help?!
But then he opens the door and, without a word, beckons me inside. I follow him in (should I take my shoes off...no...oh...ok) and down the hallway, through the dining room where his equally as elderly and adorable wife was folding laundry and into their office where he sits down at their computer. When he brought up Google Translate I realized he had no idea what I was saying. I also realized this man 55 years my senior was both far more intelligent and much more technologically savvy than I was. I didn't even know Google Translate existed! We took turns typing to one another until he understood my predicament; he called the rental company and, again, we translated back and forth.
I've never experienced such kindness and patience. Without a word we went back outside and, despite the drizzle, he swapped my flat for the spare donut, refusing all my attempts to assist. I stood there awkwardly in silence as he saved the day.
I was told there would be a mechanic about 80km away in a little seaside town. Of course, because the island is populated with more sheep than people, regular office hours aren't necessarily their forte outside of Reykjavik. I sat in a gas station parking lot eating my feelings while waiting for them to reopen after their lunch-break. They looked at the car for a couple minutes then told me they didn't have the wheels I needed in stock.
Wait. What? No. What? No.
I need to find the next mechanic, another hour and a half down the road. In tears, yet again, I slowly continue down the road. At this point I'm too far from Reykjavik to turn back. With fingers crossed that I'll find success (and that my donut continues to be a champ), I drive on. I cautiously inch into the next shop, dreading the next awkward interaction of Icelandic vs. English when a beautiful angel, adonis of a man appears from Heaven to greet me. I try not to drool as he's wiping grease from his hands and tells me, in English (after I embarrassed myself by speaking slowly in broken sentences) that he had the tires and could help me.
I wish I could remember his name. Sadly, I never figured it out though he repeated it three times because that language is impossible to understand. Thank you, sweet prince. I'll never forget you.
*I was still living in a flip-phone world, meaning my cell is of very little use beyond a paperweight.