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Travelogue – stripped down, but still kinda long

We set off on our little hiking adventure on a Friday. For the first two days we had a base camp in a fairly remote little valley called Hítardalur [right by Hítarhólmur on this map], which has a river running through it and is very lovely. Our hut was very basic, typical of a mountain hut, with no electricity or hot running water and bunks in two separate rooms that were also used for cooking and washing up.

The next morning we packed provisions and set off, hiking for 9-10 hours each day, passing through the most amazing landscapes, seeing more things – from the minute to the grandiose – than can adequately be described, thus I shall let the photos in the photostream speak the 1000 words it would surely take me to describe even a fraction of what we experienced. Suffice it to say that Icelandic nature in all its complexity can move you to tears. A Swedish woman I met on the third day called it her ‘own personal paradise’ and said that sometimes she would come upon a scene that moved her so deeply that without warning tears would start streaming down her face.

On our third day, we picked up and moved camp to the incredible Snæfellsnes peninsula. Yogis and seers claim that the area around the glacier is one of the most powerful places on earth in terms of energy, and I am here to tell you that you’d have to be spiritually dead not to be filled with awe at its beauty. It is simply one of the most magnificent, mystical sights I have seen on this earth – and this coming from one who prides herself on having both feet firmly on the ground at all times.

We stayed in the primary school at Lýsuhóll, which [obviously] is closed for the summer. Most rural schools in Iceland do this in the summer – rent out sleeping bag or other accommodation to travellers. We had the run of the place, save for a group of foreign tourists on a riding tour [including said Swedish woman] that came for one night. It was fantastic – there is an open-air swimming pool on the premises [which is filled with natural mineral water – more on that later] and a humongous industrial-style kitchen that we were free to use.

On our first hiking day we got a woman from the nearby farm to ferry us in a van over to the north side of the peninsula. She drives the school bus in the winter, and had actually ferried us in the other location as well, two days earlier. She told us an amazing story: the evening before she had been swimming in the sea nearby [the area is on a row of volcanic craters – extinct, one hopes – and there is a lot of geothermal heat in the ground] and suddenly found herself face-to-face with a seal. It was close enough to touch and was staring directly at her. The south Snæfellsnes coastline is rife with seals and they are such incredibly curious creatures, often popping their heads out of the water to check out people on shore. However, I have never heard of anyone so up close and personal with one before.

Anyway. That day we travelled an ancient route that people used to take on foot or horseback to get to the south side of the peninsula. It was amazing to think that people actually traversed it in the winter, what with the frequent precipices and moreover wearing thin shoes made of sheepskin – which is what Icelanders were forced to wear in centuries past. And methinks they would have had to have their horses on leads for a good part of the way, at least up near the top where it was incredibly steep.

For us, however, it was a fabulous walk – culminating in our view of the glacier just before the final descent.

On our fourth and last day we took it fairly easy and toured notable places by car. We drove out to the far end of the peninsula where there is a national park and checked out some historical sights, then went to the incredible Djúpalónssandur beach with its smooth black pebbles that make pearly sounds in the tide. The group then split, with some going off to a nearby town, while EPI and I and another couple went to a café down by the seashore and sat out on the patio in the brilliant sunshine. [If you’ve checked out the photostream you’ll see that the beach by the café has some amazing rock formations and a very rich bird life]. Having relaxed there and imbibed some coffee and waffles with fresh whipped cream, we headed back to Lýsuhóll to get ready for our Gala Dinner.

The Gala Dinner is something we always have on the last night and you could say it is our own personal reward for all our hard work and tests of endurance over the previous four days. One person or couple in the group is responsible for buying food for everyone and then we have a fabulous dinner party. We grill legs of lamb that we’ve flavoured with herbs that we’ve picked on our hikes – most notably creeping thyme – and make salad mixing in dandelion leaves and other edible leaves that we’ve found along the way. We decorate the table with wild flowers and everyone pitches in with the cooking and preparation. Then we drink lots of red wine and people get up to tell funny stories and give ‘speeches’ and honestly, we have such a blast. Then when we’ve finished eating and putting things away, we inevitably do what all Icelanders do under such circumstances: sing. We’ll gather around the piano – always present in any school building in the country – and our resident pianist plays and everybody sings traditional Icelandic songs. [Actually, this year a couple of other group members showed new sides of themselves and surprised everyone with heretofore hidden talents in playing and singing]. Traditional Icelandic folk songs are largely hymns to the beauty of the country, and also revolve around mystical aspects like elves and hidden people, and the Icelanders’ relationship to them. After singing to our hearts content, we’ve usually had enough and are ready to hit the sack. [Or the bag, as it were.]

The next morning, everyone packs together their stuff, says a fond farewell to everyone else, and heads home or wherever they happen to be heading. EPI and I usually take our time driving home, and this time around was no exception. Having decided to spend the day touring at our leisure we first headed to a place called Búdir [see pic of church in YT-Flickr post below]. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful area – one of the few places in Iceland that has a red sand beach and it is also on the edge of a lava field, so for a short distance inland the red sand is mixed in with the black lava formations and patches of vegetation.

Having spent a little while there, we decided to drive a mountain route that takes you right up onto the glacier, just below the ice cap. It’s the route you take if you want to go up onto the glacier, which is actually highly dangerous at this time of year except under the strictest supervision [you could fall into a hidden crevice and literally vanish forever]. Up near the top of the route, just before it starts to slope downwards to the other side of the peninsula, we decided to park the car and get out and walk for a bit – mostly because we were so in awe of the colours. The area is obviously fairly damp and the topsoil not conducive to vegetation, so you get a lot of moss and a very peculiar colour, what in English is known – surprisingly – as moss green. You may snicker, but if you’ve hung around in Iceland for a while you will know that moss comes in innumerable shades of colour – and this colour was quite unlike anything EPI and I had seen in a very long time, if ever before. So we went up into this little valley and because the sun was shining and it was nice and warm we decided to flake out in a little moss-covered hollow for a bit and soak up some rays. And that was where I heard the silence – really really heard it – for the first time in this trip. It’s so amazing, to hear silence like that – when you get to a place where you hear absolutely nothing [except for maybe the occasional buzzing of a fly], you realize how much noise there is all around, everywhere, all the time, and how you’ve stopped noticing it, long ago. And the silence there was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Truly. I completely lost all sense of time and space. I even forgot myself; I went into this deep meditative state, just became one with the surroundings and my sense of self – my ego – vanished for a little while. I think I must have slept but it was more than that, it was a profound sense of relaxation.

That feeling lingered on, even as we headed back to civilization. We toured around a little more, and I must say that the thought of returning to the city was abhorrent – I did not want to go back. I could have happily stayed on for much much longer – and have made a vow to go there a lot more often, after all, it is merely a two-hour drive from Reykjavík, yet it feels like another world.

And now that this post has gone on for so long, I shall not bother with the weather [which isn’t much to speak of] except to say that it’s overcast and drizzly and temps of around 12°C. [Whereas on our trip fortune smiled on us and we had only sunny skies!] Pity the poor Icelanders [the majority of the population!] that have headed out to outdoor festivals this weekend.

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