27 August 2012

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

"I wonder how many car commercials are filmed here," Merlin said.  We drove through the lava fields of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, the road cutting through the seemingly endless stretch of jagged basalt rocks.  Cooled lava.  A yellow moss covered whole patches of rock like a golden crumb topping over baked blueberries.  In the far distance, you could see the chartreuse grassy patches of the next terrain in an endless progression of surreal landscapes.  You could almost hear the car commercial voice over speaking slowly and deeply about natural beauty, the open road, horsepower.  Intrigue.  Beauty.
We'd see only one car at a time on the road.  Mostly, we were alone, free to stop for photos, brake for sheep, turn around for signs that read "Dead Whale."  At times, I was reminded of the lunar landscape of Pag Island, Croatia, whose desolation was achingly beautiful.  Then, the lusher landscapes would conjure up childhood memories of watching The Secret of Roan Inish
It's impossible to really compare Snæfellsnes Peninsula with anywhere else.  Real or imagined.  It feels so surreal and otherwordly that Jules Verne chose its large glacier as the setting for A Journey to the Center of the Earth.  I think Merlin really put it best in our daily notes on our first night: "This looks like a fictional land, made up to be filmed in New Zealand and computer enhanced to become unbelievable."
The largest town on the peninsula is Stykkishólmur, the sort of town you can imagine being painted and glued down piece by piece by a pair of enormous hands creating an idyllic setting for their model train set.  The cookie cutter houses mostly date back to the late 19th century and have been protected from the harsh weathered fate of most harbour buildings by the big, basalt island right off shore.  It stretches out like a protective wall, its lighthouse blinks away mist at the top.  Once can imagine this scene being mostly the same over a century ago.
People call Snæfellsnes Peninsula "Iceland in Miniature." You can get a taste of the diverse natural beauty of the whole island in a drive around its western appendage, they say.  You've got your fishing villages with bright orange mussels and your lonely farmstead in the shadow of a hulking mountain.  You've got the sea, the springs, rivers, lakes, sheep, horses, birds galore.  Corrugated tin roof houses painted bright colors and prefab cottages with red or blue roofs. 
Black stone beaches, golden sand ones, water brimming with islands or lapping up in turquoise turning to foam.  This beach, on the northern coast of the peninsula, was flanked on both sides by craggy, imposing 'bird cliffs.'  There were no birds at the moment, but their plentiful white droppings acted as a "we were here" tag.
There are viking ruins, ancient water sources, elf cathedrals, craters and fresh water pools, fjords, cliffs, museum cafes selling 'love balls.'  And very few people.  Every house seemed to hold court over its own mini kingdom, a majestic buffer zone between it and its closest neighbor.  
As we left Snæfellsnes Peninsula, taking the road east on the northern coast, the scenery became downright pastoral.  The first trees we'd seen in days popped up, carefully planted around houses to offer some privacy.  The whole experience, the last 48 hours, started to feel like a trip to Oz as we left.  Except that here we were in a technicolor Kansas that was as fantastically beautiful as any of the rest.  I'm starting to feel a little bamboozled by all this awesomeness. 

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