North of Borgarnes, we head towards the coastal reaches of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, gracing the Snaefellajokull glacier-covered volcano, more prominent with every advancing mile. As inspiring for us as it was in 1864 for Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Sheep with days-old lambs dot hillsides, escape fences and hog roadway ditches. Farms ripe with summer grasses, amidst the ever-present lava-covered mosses. Icelandic horses guarding the white-wrapped bundles of hay dressed like giant marshmallows. Sue plays her sing-a-long favorites, as we drive through the countryside alongside sway-grass verges and over single-pass bridges.
A dirt road meanders inland to the Gerduberg cliffs, really, hundreds of basalt columns stretched about 600 yards of cliff length. A wonder of hexagonal-shaped stacked pillars marshalled together, like soldiers in battle formation, and one of the finest examples of columnar jointing in Iceland and around the world. It’s hard to believe this bewildering uniformity is a natural geological structure, with columns higher than a two-story building and each roughly three-feet in diameter.
Estimated to about 4,000 years old, formed by flowing basaltic lava, rapidly cooled by the sea and solidified into evenly running columns. Walking along the cliff base emphasizes Natures’ power to create such structures. Some columns lean out, breaking rank, others have crumbled over time. A pathway on top with stunning views for those brazen enough to climb up, gaze to Snaefellajokull and surrounding volcanoes, including the symmetrically-shaped Eldborg volcano, distinctive against the sea’s horizon, watching over its lava field eruption, from about twelve-hundred years ago.
Further on, there’s an obscure sign to the Svodufoss waterfalls along another dirt road to a gated fence, but other than a couple of departing cars the place looks deserted. The gate opens to a long access pathway around a bend, and Svodufoss waterfall flaunts its spectacular view, falling off another basalt column cliff. From the crazy-paved patio, the eye-catching falls welcome us with freshly minted bench seats, supported by a stone wall with a moss-covered topping. Surreal, a private viewing of the scenic waterfall, framed by the Snaefellajokull glacier, as the falls teem majestically into the River Holmkesla.
Wandering around this land, you get the feeling a surprise lurks around every bend. Mesmerizing scenery, volcanic fields, craters, snow-capped peaks. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula has so many viewpoints screaming for a stop along the south coast road with the Snaefellajokull ice-cap getting closer. Since travelling today, this striking 5,000 feet peak has reared from various vantage points. The volcano over 700,000 years old, last erupted in the third century.
Farmlands give way to the dramatic expanse of moss-covered lava fields, stretching towards the sea shores. The mountain terrain becomes more barren, vast volcanic slopes, characteristic long arch repose, laden with lava-sintered nodules forming loose scree.
A series of upper rock crags resemble mysteriously hooded and pointed golden faces, capped with a dark-mounted headband. Dark, deep-socketed eyes, with just enough sag to indicate a crooked nose above an open mouth spewing volcanic scree. The faces eerily watchful, guardians of the land.
The coast road into the Snaefellajokull National Park, encompasses the volcanic glacial mountain to our right, overlooking the jagged rocky coastline inhabited by volcanic black sandy beaches, strewn with factual and historical myths. At Djupalonssandur and nearby Dritvik, the moss-covered lava rock falls down to ocean-washed gullies with multitudes of strangely-shaped volcanic rocks.
A gully possesses smatterings of irregular rusted iron, remaining from the 1948 shipwrecked British trawler – The Epine GY7, where only five of nineteen souls were saved from the frigid waters. The iron pieces remain, respecting those who perished out of Dritvik Cove. The area, full of lava formations and part of Iceland’s folklore history, as shapes stand proud, interpreted as ‘Church of the Elves’ and ‘Singing Rock’, where it is thought elves could be heard singing inside the rock. And, as in many parts of Iceland, there are Kerling’ (troll woman) rocks, and nearby, a ‘Karl’ (male troll) rocks. Amongst such stories, Icelanders are raised to admire and protect such nostalgic images.
We are accompanied here, as at other historic stops. Tourists spill out of buses to capture the sights with multi-cameras, tripods and excitedly pose for selfie images.
Stomach growls demand another stop. Famished, we splurge for a late lunch in RIF, tucked in a cozy corner of the Gamla Restaurant, overlooking the harbor. Salmon over potato with cheesy cauliflower for Sue, and their famous, feisty fish soup with scrumptious buttered bread for me.
Onwards to Stykkisholmur, the major populated and commerce center on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in readiness for the next day Baldur ferry, bound for the Western Fjords. The town, regarded as one of the cleanest and environmentally-conscious communities in Iceland.
The most striking futuristic architectural wonder Stykkisholmaskirkja, a church, rising like a tall ship with a sail tower. The church acts as a unique beacon proudly overlooking the sea, and renowned for its excellent acoustics, attracting musical events throughout the year. This masterpiece compliments the town’s zest for modern creations with the natural stunning mountainous terrain of the surrounding areas.
The Fosshotel, less memorable, undergoing renovation with some disruptions to luggage access, as well as bar and restaurant capability. It’s about 40o F when we head towards the town’s quaint portside for dinner. Lots of park activities in play, basketball, trampoline and an improvised short-field soccer game. With 24-hour daylight, kids play tirelessly into the night.
The recommended restaurants, either full or have a two-hour wait for Finsens, Sjavarpakkhusid and Narfeyrarstofa! We end up at the Skurinn restaurant, fish and chips, burgers and more. The place has a crowded homely ambience, like stepping into the large living room of a family gathering, but with lots of nooks and crannies. We take their table near the glass sliding doors to the outside patio.
The waitress warns of an improvised menu because the kitchen ovens have irreparable problems. Are we destined to starve tonight? She says there will be a delay, but the microwaves are working overtime tonight. “Hygge” (hoo-gah), she says with a smile, displaying her treasury of perfectly white teeth. “Enjoy, make yourselves at home and take your time.” It sounds like she’s rehearsed this plea to foreigners, relax, lighten up, communicate, share valuable time, be in a happy place – hygge! We order and wait, and sip our drinks, Gull draft beer for me, cappuccino for Sue, and revisit our Snaefellsnes wanderings.
Lots of kids and parents. From the patio, mischievous young boys bring chills to the room, sliding the window door open. The older kid, keeps coming through to the washroom, unless, it’s an adolescent fascination with girls, as he re-emerges every few minutes? His younger brother makes funny ghoulish faces at the window, pressing his nose on glass, like a piglet on steroids. Next table, a local couple chat, while their young daughters’ whisper and flash impish grins. Life’s enigmatic tease spins on.
Eventually, our food arrives with my second beer. Nachos and cold teriyaki chicken for Sue, microwaved chili and salad for me with brown rye bread, delicious. Another rabbit pulled out of the hat.
A chilly stroll to the hotel. Hot-Toddy nightcaps, in a snug corner of the makeshift hotel bar. Bed with a warm cozy duvet, and in minutes …, sawing logs in a happy place – our hygge?
BIO: John Barrett’s work and other adventures have taken him to many different parts of the world, where human volatility and disregard for the planet’s environmental health are at risk. His travel stories have appeared in Wanderlust, Our Canada Magazine and The Vancouver Sun. Instagram: john.a.barrett
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You missed the best part of the peninsula, the Hotel Buthir. It is located next to the river flowing down from a waterfall on the coastline and is a bird sanctuary. The view is breathtaking and gourmet dining also.