The morning after our night in Akranes was foggy, a night after too much wine foggy.
Despite the late night, we decided to get an early-ish start to our trip to the Snaefellsnes Penisula, in western Iceland.
We grabbed some coffee and pastries from a café in the main square of town. Side note, from our experience coffee is served in teacup like quantities in Iceland. Makes you wonder what our American deal is with needing venti and trenta size coffees. So in preparation for the effects of a caffeine addiction we stopped at the regional grocery store, Bonus (which has a pink piggy bank for the “O”), for some caffeine of the “gives you wings” variety.
To get to the peninsula we stepped off the ring road at Borgnarnes, and into the lava fields where a “hidden” hot spring was said to be. We had spoken the night before to the bartender, Hedinn, who told us the general area, which was basically; “turn left at the farm before the road bends.” We found “the farm” by going to the bend then backtracking and indeed there was a turn. We headed into an open lava field, which is essentially a spread out layer of blackish and dark maroon colored rocks mixed with various grasses in their winter form. We drove, keen eyed and slow. No signs were present but for a few water filled tire tracks, hinting that cars had parked recently (again we are very Sherlock-esque).
We started back from the start to take a more hands on approach, parked and trekked out into the field. Our first spot was near a dilapidated house that was a site in itself. No glass or doorways remained so we could look at the surrounding mountains through adjacent windows.
The area was remarkable and it was hard to imagine why anyone would want to abandon this place. Maybe it was because they didn’t have a hot spring. We looked and looked and had no luck. We moved onto the next spot, this time separating, saying we’d rendezvous after 5 minutes. After 5 minutes we were back in the car and moving to yet another spot. By this point we had been searching for roughly 45 minutes, the air was wet and we had picked up some considerable mud in our hiking boots.
It was summed up best though when we made it back to the road and ran into a fellow traveler. Thinking she may know something we pulled over and she explained that she and her friends had been looking for the same hot spring for some time and she was no longer interested given that her “misery quota” was filled up. For some reason, likely it was our fatigue; Matthew and I could not get over this representation of the circumstance. From then on we referred to every hard moment in relation to our misery quota. “How’s your misery quota?” or “My misery quota is approaching dangerous levels.”
We decided that all the effort had to manifest itself into something, and given our misery quotas could likely handle a few more minutes of searching, we headed to the turn-off again and decided to take another off-chute road that was worn but looked like it hadn’t been used in awhile. This road led to a sort of parking area. Our hopes surged at this find and we were already imagining the hot water replacing the cold moist feeling that resided in our bones. We trekked out again, toward the sound of running water, and indeed there was a full creek moving cold cold coldly past. Still no hot spring in site which elicited a bit of whining on my part and then comforting on Matt’s. Matt noticed what appeared to be a metal pipeline on the other side of the creek and decided to venture over. I didn’t think there could be anything to it so I moved downstream for my own investigation.
Shortly after, I saw Matt rushing over, moving quickly through a shallow portion of the creek with a triumphant grin on his face. Ah luck!!! He grabbed me saying he had found it. We made our way over, picking up more mud and more cold water and there it was, a makeshift hot spring, metal pipe and all. The area was odd and seemed to be blown over. Wood planks appeared to have been placed as benches around a circular hole in the ground. Additionally a wooden “changing area” was knocked over and a few cold, stiff socks were strewn about. Then there was the water. It wasn’t hot, huge bummer, it was just slightly warm and entering the pool via a 4-in metal pipe that came from “somewhere.” It was this point that the only thing we wanted was a hot shower. I couldn’t imagine stripping down to nothing in the cold wet air, dipping into a barely warm bath, and then walking out still cold and back into wet clothes. To add insult to injury, on our way out, we noticed a bent and broken sign that we had passed numerous times during our hunt, bent and broken in a direction only to be seen on your way out. We left soggy and dejected, misery quota spilling over.
Moving on we headed over a snowy mountain pass with a soft powder white landscape in all 360 degrees. In areas like this the radio became spotty and we turned to Matt’s iPod since our car was not set up for a USB. Matt’s iPod was last updated roughly 7 years ago and was the conglomeration of the music libraries of friends he made along the Pan American Highway. As such, we listened to tons of reggaeton, Gypsy Kings, Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews.
We made it through the white out and arrived shortly after at the port town of Grundarfjordur and our homebase for the next few nights. We met with the hostel manager, who was beyond helpful. She had moved to Iceland recently from Poland and had set up shop in Grundarfjordur. She gave us a map of the penisula and pointed out everything worth seeing and gave us directions to places that were not marked. She described her love for Iceland, saying there was nothing like the relaxing pace and mellow ways of the locals. She was making “plans” to find a way to stay. We asked if there were any chill places in town to hang out and have a drink. Its always a little funny I suppose trying to appease tourists, and I guess many of us feel like we can fit in anywhere, be non disruptive, but she was very forward about the two bars in town. One was for tourists and one was for locals. When pressed, she insisted that the tourist bar would be our best bet. A little off kilter we’d decided we’d replenish our wine and have a quiet party for two back at our hostel.
The actual hostel was a few blocks away from where we checked in and when we arrived we were so glad. The building, which was a little barrack-esque, had oceanfront views in additional to an interrupted view of the peaked mountain Kirkjufell. This mountain, as Matthew would soon claim as his spirit mountain, is beautiful from all views with ridges that stick out like strips against the resting snow. The best and most interesting view though can be seen by driving around the bay area where the mountain takes a sharp ascent in perfect symmetry into the sky.
We dropped off our things and headed to the Bonus for groceries for the next few days. We grabbed enough food for 2 dinners, breakfasts and lunches and got in touch with the high prices of groceries, still a better deal than eating out. That night we made dinner, watched movies we had brought along, and went to bed early so we could set out early for sunrise at Kirkjufell.
The morning was brisk, per usual, and windy, per usual. Our first stop was Kirkjufell and her neighboring waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss. We spent some time here unlike our last falls experience in the Golden Triangle. We were one of only three groups visiting and had limitless access to play around. It was a relatively small series of falls but with the backdrop of the mountains in conjunction with the ability to walk fully around made it special even compared to the long drop falls we had seen before.
After Kirkjufell, which we would revisit again that night in search of the Northern Lights, we moved on in a counterclockwise direction around the peninsula. With the map drawn on by our hostel manager we had a day of stops filled with lighthouses, lava cliffs where ones foot can get stuck in snow covered crevasses, more rock star Icelandic Ponies and beaches covered in shipwreck debris.
The lighthouse that stood out the most was obviously the orange one, the very orange one. The site was scenic and somewhat of a spectacle in its muted surroundings. Hindsight though, it truly was the an appropriate beacon as it landed near the most beautiful table top outcroppings, standing feet apart for sturdiness, taking on the full force of the Atlantic. She was being a bit of a show off, sending her salty body against the cliffs for momentum and then into the air like fireworks. Magnificent.
We moved on after lunch, mesmerized by the crashing waves and the resulting thunderous sound. The drive took us around the park and around the monument of the Snaefellsness Volcano, whose height reached above the clouds and out of site. We made stop after stop as the road abutted the cliffside and the sun had decided to hang out like an old friend we hadn’t seen in days, an automatic uplift. We had planned to drive in a circle by taking a mountain pass that cut through the peninsula but was warned that it may be closed, and it was.
Our last stop before we turned around was a beautiful abandoned and yellowing house, with paint crumbling off in a very vogue way. She had eyes on both the sea as well as the Sneafellsness Volcano. She remained, falling in on herself, but my guess is that she would never fully give in unless forced. She felt like a piece of the land, like the volcano or the sea itself, she felt like Iceland. We stuck around and snooped for some time like you do when your curious and hooked into a daydream of the stories and the life that was clinging to the house just like the peeling paint.
Our turn around took us to the Vatneshellir Caves, which we were looking forward to finding out what the underworld of Iceland looked like. Unfortunately, and for your information in case you decide to visit in winter, the caves have regular tours in summer but are by appointment only in the winter. So we continued on, backwards. We took advantage of backtracking and decided to visit a landmark we had passed on before. Thank God we got the chance because this stop was one of the more effecting locations of the trip. It was a black sand beach called Djupalonssandur, with smooth black stones that looked like they could be handy in a spa.
The beach was also the landing spot for the wreckage from a fatal shipwreck that took place in 1948. The ship was a British trawler and of 19 ship members only 5 were saved. Rusted metal was strewn about, twisted and broken down into individual pieces making them indistinguishable for their use. We were the only visitors and with clear skies and sun that imparted real warmth, we lingered for an hour or so, exploring the wreckage and taking in the view of the Atlantic. This was the closest we had come to the ocean so far, save our near death experience with a rogue wave. There always so much I want to say about the places we visited but this one will just stand with our visual treasures that we keep still.
We got back to town, a long day, so many wonderful stops and we had mac n cheese and hot dogs to look forward too. We were content and happy, full and a little boozy, but we had one more plan, our first night searching for the northern lights. Following the guide of a local Aurora Borealis tracker website, we knew that there was a chance, a small one, that we would get the unique experience. We had the right time, winter, which provided the necessary darkness, and we had a good location, being away from light pollution, aka city lights. We headed out at around 10 pm and went straight to Matt’s spirit mountain. If anywhere would be unreal to view the lights, it would be here and we were going big. We parked and waited in the dark, and waited. Your eyes play tricks on you when you searching the sky at night, and since it was overcast (not a good viewing condition), any cloudy movement fooled us. We waited an hour and called it a night. A good night still, but with the plan incomplete we knew we would need to chase it the next time. The hunt continues.