|The face of a sheep who wants something (in this case, her baby that she hadn't been feeding well which we adopted out).|
For our last full day in Iceland, Carly and I set off in the trusty Lancer to explore Snaefellsnes Peninsula. I drove and she navigated. Neither of us had cell data, so we relied on a map and some instructions from Snaedis, just like everyone did 20 years ago (well, not Snaedis's instructions in particular, but you get what I mean). Since I was driving, I did not get any pictures of the landscape, but Carly did and either she'll send me some photos to add to this post, or she'll make her own post to showcase the pictures.
We took route 54 north from Borgarnes. The weather was generally cloudy, but not rainy. It seemed that the entire peninsula was enrobed in a dense layer of fog that concentrated itself around the mountains with the occasional tendrils reaching down into the valleys and lowlands by the sea. The fog added an appealingly mysterious quality to our surroundings, but unfortunately it also made sightseeing things farther than 500m or so away a bit difficult/literally impossible. We passed many farms, including one with beef cows, and lots of pastureland, along with stony ground spattered with low shrubby bushes, and winding marshland. Sheep could be found in all of the above. We had intended to go west along the bottom of the peninsula, circle around to the top, then drive east to Helgafell outside of Stykkisholmur, and then head back. However, I made a navigational error and continued on route 54, which headed through a mountain pass in the middle of the peninsula instead of turning left onto route 574, which would have taken us to the end of the peninsula.
Like most Icelandic roads, this mountain pass was just barely wide enough to accommodate a single lane in either direction, and had no guard rails. I was sure as hell not executing a 3-point turn on a narrow, curvy mountain pass in thick fog and with no guard rails, so we had little other choice but to continue onward and accept our new adventure. It would have been a lovely drive if we had a better view of the mountains surrounding us, but we had to make do with the occasional glimpse of a peak through the fog. In a moment of higher visibility, we did pass a small, possibly abandoned shack by a pond that was right by the road, and I can't help but admire and also be a little concerned for whoever had been intrepid enough to put it there.
Near the end of the pass, the road petered out into gravel, but it was well kept up, and the Lancer handled it just fine. We headed downhill, and suddenly popped out into clear air, with a view of the beautiful blue sea! We turned left and headed into Olafsvik, where we bought sandwiches for later. We continued west, admiring beautiful cliffs with nesting seabirds and still hoping for a good hiking trail or road so that we could see Snaefellsjokull itself (I suspect that on a clear day it would have been very visible from many of the places we'd visited, but alas). I took a likely looking road that turned out to lead to the oldest concrete church in the world, built in 1903 and located in the town of Hellissandur. It was cool but fell a bit short of 'big volcano surrounded by glacier with rumored psychic energies' cool.
Soon we were rounding the end of the peninsula and entering Snaefellsjokull National Park. While we were searching for a good hiking trail, Carly spotted a big volcanic crater off to our right. It turned out to be Saxholl, which has a nice set of steps on its side, so that visitors can climb right up and peer inside! (Spoiler alert: no lava) The wind increased very noticeably as we climbed, but fortunately the exercise of getting to the top kept us warm enough. We headed south again, noting a lighthouse and several large pillars of rock in the sea ahead. This turned out to be the location of Snaefellsjokull National Park's visitor center, which was small but had some good exhibits, including a 'sheep bath' historically used for dipping sheep in medicine to rid them of skin parasites. A staff member informed us that it was unsafe for us to hike too close or onto the glacier without a guide, and if we just wanted to see it, we would probably have better luck continuing east and trying a gravel road that veered to the north just past Arnarstarpi. When I asked if the road was safe (specifically for those in a borrowed 20-year-old car and no cell service), all I got was: "Well, the road is at your own risk." Thanks...
|Top of Saxholl.|
|View from the top of Saxholl.|
We continued to Arnarstapi, which Snaedis had circled on our map, although to our chagrin, neither of us could recall specifically why. It was a cute little town with a big statue of a mountain spirit... and then I noticed that past the statue there was a viewing area on the cliff overlooking the sea. As it was such an overcast day, I doubted the view would be particularly good, but we were there and decided to walk over and have a look anyway... and soon realized exactly why Snaedis had circled Arnarstapi.
Leaving Arnarstapi, we came upon the gravel road the visitor center staff member had mentioned to us. There were a few cars parked by the side of the road there, and several warning signs. Some of the writing was in English, perhaps because legend had spread of the crazy and/or badass American woman who drove up the glacier in a 20-year-old car last year (not going to name any names...). Had we more time, we would have followed suit of the other cars parked there and just hiked in a little ways, but it was mid afternoon at that point, so we just accepted that we would not see Snaefellsjokull in person and continued on, happening upon Rauðfeldsga gorge which had us cheered up in no time flat. The fog and mist only added to its allure. There was a vast amount of unmelted snow inside that made it impossible for us to hike farther in, but we were happy to simply look. Birds emerged from their nests in the mist frequently, and a thick layer of moss and plants covered much of the gorge's surface.
|I can only imagine the amount of water that flowed from the gorge to cause this.|
|Some plants intrepidly growing on the side of the gorge.|
Because it was the shortest route back to the north of the peninsula, we decided to take the same somewhat scary mountain pass again when we came back to it. To our delight, some of the fog had lifted and sunlight was starting to pour through, giving us more views of the surrounding mountains and some power lines that ran through them (most electrical lines in Iceland are actually underground!). This time, we took a right at the end and headed east through Grundarfjordur. The landscape between Grundarfjordur and Stykkisholmur looked downright alien at times. We passed through desolate areas with red-streaked rocks where it looked as though nothing but mining took place, as well as a vast lava field that contained the Shark Museum. Having heard my harrowing description of hakarl (fermented shark), Carly elected to not stop there.
|Cliffs near Grundarfjordur.|
We eventually made our way to Stykkisholmur, unfortunately by the time where most of the museums and such would be closed. A bit of a shame, as it was a very cute town. Helgafell, a hill by the sea that is said to be sacred, was located on our way back from Stykkisholmur and despite being a hiking path, was also closed in the evening. At any rate, it was a lovely hill, and the drive there had been interesting. As we headed back home via route 54, we found that many of the places that had been foggy on the way up had cleared partially or in full, and the sun was starting to come out! We saw mountains and farms we'd had no idea were there on the way up. It was almost like driving a different road! Once back at Hestur, we found one of the nicest, sunniest evenings we'd experienced in our whole stay there. Snaedis had made a traditional Icelandic lamb soup with golden beets, potatoes, carrots, onion, and parsley (all of which can be grown on Iceland), although she kindly omitted the lamb for my portion of soup. Helgi helped us to brand some trimmed ram horns with Hestur's label for Grace, which was fascinating to watch but also produced much more smoke than I had anticipated.
In the morning, we said our goodbyes to Helgi, Myla, Dyri, and the sheep before heading to the airport with Snaedis and Yngvi. The weather was initially gloomy, but things brightened up as we headed in to Reykjavik. The ride itself was uneventful, save for us getting to hear more Snaedis stories. We spent much of the plane ride home worrying about getting the horns through customs. As it turns out, customs officials are very nice. We declared the horns and were gently pulled aside and had to wait in the back for our luggage, along with a couple who "made a mistake and brought a meat stick." I don't know what happened to the couple (and their meat stick), but Carly and the horns and I all made it just fine after the horns were inspected. Then I reunited with my family and marveled at seeing trees again!
|Dyri judging me for admiring his cute widdle pawprints.|
|View of Hestur from the mountain it rests beside.|
|Heading away from Hestur.|
|House(?) outside Reykjavik.|
|Lava fields in Keflavik.|
|Bye, Keflavik! I hope I will see you again someday...|