Our group arrived to Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, at the same time, and I spent much of our only day in the city becoming acquainted with the group.
Arctic Trucks, the Icelandic company which organised the expedition, had sponsored me on this Omani expedition. The company, which has a base in Dubai and specialises in modifying vehicles, provided the impressive Toyota Hiluxes for the journey. Arctic Trucks also gave us the ever-resourceful and fearless guides for our journey, Hjalti Hjaltason and Eyjolfur Teitsson.
The rest of the group comprised individuals connected by family, and years long friendship. Last year’s participants included Abbas Al Lawati, Hani Al Zubair, Ghalib Al Mamari, and Khalid Abdulla, who returned this year to Iceland again. A year ago, Abdulla reached out to Arctic Trucks in Dubai, and they came to organise this expedition. After a highly successful run, they’ve found themselves with a new group this year, excited
I found myself with the rest of the new-comer group, however, with similar reactions of shock and awe throughout the trip. The team of new-comers included Zaid Mahmoud Al Abdullatif, Almuhannad Albusaidi, Faris Al Khodr, Humaid Al Shezawi, Nasr Al Busaidi, and Almuntasir Albusaidi.
The group were united by their love for all things in car adventures, and had immediately compared our first sight of snow to sand, excited about how different this experience would be. After a restful first day, clad in extreme winter clothing, we encountered the Toyota Hiluxes: six bright red modified cars that we would soon learn would impressively brave the elements on their journey.
The cars were not complete before the group adorned them in bright Oman flags on the windows, as well as stickers on the trunks. The flags were a sight for sore eyes throughout the convoy, especially in the midst of snowstorms and fog.
On leaving the city, the group quickly discovered on the first day that conquering the terrain of Iceland - rivers, glaciers, volcanic rock - all involved being in battle with snow.
“On a map, it seemed that we were crossing relatively small distances to reach remote mountain tops, or valleys and frozen waterfalls. But small distances in snow became hours of slow, careful driving,” Almuhannad Albusaidi explained.
“We drive in the desert dunes all the time, and I think in the beginning we thought we had the experience. But snow really doesn’t work the way sand does. It packs together immediately after sinking in, and you’re stuck,” said Abbas Al Lawati. Al Lawati, like the rest of the group, spent many a weekend night in Oman’s deserts, after long week days at work.
The desert-born group’s previous experience could not prepare us for freshly packed snow. Safe areas to tread would soon end in cars digging themselves in, and pressing on the fuel only exacerbated the situation.
“Our first day was a game of trying to get the entire six-car convoy across a small stretch of land without anyone sinking, and we stopped at every other turn,” recalled Humaid Al Shezawi.
However, we would soon realise that this Omani group was trying its hardest to pull its weight together, including helping one another out at every corner without immediately reaching out for the guides.
“If one car got stuck in the convoy, we were immediately calling in to alert the others. Two other cars would stop to help, groups would get shovels out to clear a better path for the car, and we would hook up the car to pull out at risk of our own car getting stuck as well,” Almuntasir Albusaidi
Of course, our Icelander guides Hjalti Hjaltason and Eyjolfur Teitsson were always ready to rescue the cars out. Their experiences driving in the actual North and South Poles made this experience pale in comparison. They seemed to find humour in even the most challenging of situations.
Eyjolfur had excitedly shared my passion for Icelandic music as we listened on the radio, all while driving through a brutal snow storm in the dead of night. Hjalti, on the other hand, explained that the scary part about driving in the poles is having to go on expeditions completely on your own. This journey, however, was amass with scenic breaks, jokes between friends, and awe for crossing those distances.
It was a true experience in perseverance, and resulted in some rewarding detours. Faris Al Khodr recalled the memory of finding a group of tourists and Icelander tour guides whose Ford car had broken down in the middle of nowhere.
“We spent an hour trying to help with the car, and though the convoy had moved up far ahead, we called in to bring the cars back and help with the stranded group. We offered them rides to their destination, which was a man-made cave in the inside of a glacier, and they ended up offering us a free tour into the cave,” Al Khodr said.
Both the Omanis and the Icelander guides had insisted on helping the group, even though it put them at a delay of several hours from our original destination. In a car conversation, Hani Al Zubair compared this scenario had it occurred in Oman.
“It’s a small population of people, and of course they feel an obligation to help each other. But just imagine if this was in Oman, and we saw a Ford stuck in the dunes? We would not hesitate to help,” Al Zubair, explained.
Eyjolfur, our guide, described Iceland’s tiny 300,000 population, always supportive of one another and ready to help. “It’s a peaceful country, and we don’t even have a military force. We’re secluded, self-sufficient, and we’re all you’ll ever want in adventure and tranquility,”
At one point, he even pointed to the car ahead of us on a long stretch of road, and remarked, “Iceland has such a small population that the car in front of us used to be my car.”
We continued on our journey that day, and despite encountering a snow storm through the night, and not arriving to our snow cabins up in the mountains until 3am, the group reached with ecstatic pride after the intense journey.
The rest of the trip continued on a challenging note, though Hjalti noted that Arctic Truck’s upcoming plans for a summer trip would be much easier and more family-friendly in Iceland’s greenery.
“The snow melts, and dewy, 100-year-old moss covers the entire landscape. We’d drive on actual roads, see the mountains, rivers, volcanoes, and waterfalls. The city is active with nightlife, and the sun actually never comes down because of our closeness to the Arctic.”
“Especially for Middle Easterners, going to a place that’s 5-15 degrees Celsius on average during the region’s hottest months is a welcome relief. It’s a never-ending summer with so many beautiful things to see, an entirely different Iceland than this one,” Hjalti expressed.
However, he emphasised the novelty of experiencing Iceland’s waning winter season, and emerging spring weather. Khalid Abdulla, who initiated the trip last year, defended the expedition’s challenging purpose.
“This is for adventure seekers. The kind of group that wants to enjoy a difficult but immensely rewarding journey. We didn’t care so much for tourist landmarks. It’s like being in the desert, and camping out,” Khalid Abdulla said.
Zaid Abdullatif also shared his sentiment, after many days in snow.
“You drive through intense terrain, you experience a remote landscape with no one around you. And even getting stuck makes you appreciate how far you’ve come, and everything around you,” Zaid Abdullatif expressed.
Many snowy landscapes and mountains later, the group returned to the city of Reykjavik for their final day, and even though it had been six long days, many wished there had been more.
Nasr Al Busaidi even noted that our trip had lacked Iceland’s many stunning landmarks.
“We missed out a few experiences, like seeing the black beaches, or the famous active volcano. But it was great that we made that choice, and instead continued to explore places that tourists don’t usually see,” said Al Busaidi.
Many of the group plan on returning next year for a third iteration of the journey.
“It’s a very unique experience, and it is not the kind of thing you get tired, or bored of. Instead, it is a humbling journey that I would definitely do again next year, I’m in for this every year,” Hani Al Zubair said.