Sunday, April 8, 2018

Snaefellsness Peninsula: Day 12

Today, Iceland was a sensory experience.  Every part of my body felt it, in every way possible.
We climbed a small crater in blustering winds, sometimes so strong I would loose my footing on the staircase leading up the side of the crater.

Staircase on the crater

We drove to one of the westernmost tips of the peninsula, and looked for sea birds atop black basalt cliffs, as the raging sea crashed blue and white below us.  To get there we drove through a lava field, dirt road barely etched out amidst the ancient magma.  The van bumped and rumbled through the potholes until we felt it in every part of our bodies, but the views from those basalt cliffs was worth it.

Sleeping Fulmars

We saw a yellow sand beach, startling to the eyes after all these weeks of black sand.  It seemed out of place, as if we'd been transported to another place, far from Iceland.  I blinked, making sure it was really yellow.  We walked along the small patch of beach, marveling at the beauty of the band on the beach where the black sand and the yellow sand met.  We had been in search of puffins, after a report that one was seen yesterday in this area.  No luck on the puffins, but it didn't matter.

Then, a lava tube.  Deep underground we went with a tour guide, via a spiral staircase.  Helmets strapped on and flashlight at the ready, I tentatively stepped forward and explored the cave, taking care with the uneven ground.  It was cool in the cave, but not windy like it had been outside.  The eerie shapes of ancient melted and hardened lava surrounded us.  Our guide told stories of old trolls that used to live down here and hold assemblies; I could believe it.

Further into the tube we went, crouching down at one point to get from one tunnel to another.  Nothing lives in these lava caves except for tiny bacteria on the ceilings, sparkling like stars when we shone our flashlights upwards.  Then, he had us all turn our flashlights off.
Staircase into the lava tube

Inside the lava tube

We all stood still and quiet as we were plunged into pitch blackness.  I closed my eyes.  I opened them.  It was the same.  Nothingness.  I held on to Jen, irrationally feeling as if I was going to loose my balance simply because I couldn't see anything.  Everyone in the group was utterly silent, as we all stood motionless, listening to the sounds of glacial water dripping from the roof of of lava cave.  It was disorienting, but also strangely comforting and meditative.  There was nothing to see, and no way to see it.  For someone who is used to seeing, it forced my other senses to temporarily become more acute.  I could hear the delicate music of the individual drops of water falling on the cave floor; I could feel my body in space, almost as if I were disconnected from the ground.  It was a strange feeling.

Back in the light of day (and the intense wind that wouldn't let up), we headed to Djúpalónssandur.  This is easily one of my favourite places in Iceland.  The moss-covered lava fields, the basalt and lava cliffs, the crashing of the sea on the sandy black beach full of round black pebbles - it was all like something out of a dream.  I was drawn to one particular opening in a rock that reminded me of the rock opening in Dummiborgir, the land of trolls and a few elves; I felt as if this was another Elven portal.  Through it, I could see a shining blue pool framed by the greens and reds of the mosses on the orange and brown tinged lava rocks.

I went slowly down the trail to the beach, where I could see the pool from the other side.  I spent a lot of time here, looking out at the impassable blue pool and the feathery lichens and mosses that coated the rocky formations.  Everywhere seemed to house the magic of elves, and I again felt as if I were in another time or place.  Even the black pebbles, some perfectly round and smooth, almost tingled when I touched them, as if they held powerful magic.

I did eventually manage to tear myself away, though it was hard.  The mysterious, rugged beauty of this place seemed to pull me further and further in (or inwards), and I had trouble leaving.  It will be a place I return to, for sure.

The Lóndrangar basalt cliffs were our next visit.  We could see the cliffs from afar, but wanted to take the hike to see them up close.  I led the way, carefully following a barely-marked trail through a rocky lava field covered in snow.  The wind was relentless; we didn't have the energy to speak, or look around, just walk forward, one step in front of the other.  After what seemed like ages, we finally reach the sides of the cliffs.  These towering, impressive rock formations, standing in the wild sea, as we stood beside each other with not a single soul around, seemed to make it really hit home how isolated and raw Iceland's beauty really is.

I stood on the edge of the cliff we had been hiking on, staring out at the white surf crashing against the ancient solidified lava, and I spread my arms out and just let the wind thrust itself against me.  I felt like a kite, simultaneously blown back against my own will, but also suspended, as if I could take flight at any moment.  It was a wild feeling, and I let all my senses just dissolve and feel it.  There's no room for anxiety or sadness or confusion when one is living perfectly in the moment.  And in that moment, there was only wind and surf, moving through me.
One of Iceland's oldest wooden churches

A few last stops were made before we headed to our campsite for night.  Arnstapi, the picturesque arch in the sea, as well as a walk further down the trail where there was a similar one that could be walked on.  We took turns walking carefully across the stone bridge (it's much wider than the photos make it look, and not as terrifying as you would initially think).  Standing there with the wind blowing all around me, hundreds of fulmars flying in all directions, and the crashing of the waves in a cove right in front of me, was exhilarating.  I don't usually go for these sorts of experiences, but when I'm with Jen I'm always along for the ride.  This time, as most times, it was definitely worth it.


Last night, we drove around the small town we were camping in, looking for a place to watch for the aurora borealis.  The lights of the town were obscuring the sky, so Jen took the campervan on the road in the dark, as we searched for a good spot.  Our first choice was a romantic, if a little frightening in the dark, spot very close to the shore.  Unfortunately there were still a few lights on the horizon that were affecting our ability to focus properly on the night sky, so we decided to drive the 25 minutes down the road to the viewpoint for Kirkjufell.

As soon as we got out of the van, we could see a faint tinge of green lighting up the sky behind and above the mountain.  Excitedly, we stood watch as the sky changed; mostly faint green and white/grey, but the intensity and patched would constantly change and move around.  It was magical.  So much more different than our first aurora experience, but just as incredible.  We stood watch in the dark, staring at this incredible mountain, the thousands of stars, and the softly changing lights.

This is life.  Nothing but this moment.  This is Iceland's lesson for me.

I hope I'm learning it.

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