The Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Text by Manol Z. Manolov | Images by Manol Z. Manolov and Nikolay Bratovanov © 2017

It was somewhat of a sobering thought to realize that, without barely noticing it, five days of our Icelandic adventure had already elapsed. With circumstances out of our control, the decision to retreat back in the direction of Reykjavik was made for us two days prior, and we now had to readjust our schedule to make the most of the almost three whole days that remained.

This retooling and adaptation exercise was not unfamiliar to us – when in Iceland, the location (read: weather)’s inherent unpredictability instills a discipline of flexibility into all who choose to travel there. In this vein, when we had first landed in Reykjavik, we had also had to implement an immediate readjustment of plans, due to the severe storm that was raging and the following days of uncertain weather. What we had originally slotted in for the beginning of our trip was a fascinating-looking peninsula directly northwest of the capital city, which housed Þjóðgarðurinn Snæfellsjökull – the national park with the unpronounceable moniker. Our plans shifted because of unruly weather yet again, we made the decision that now was the time to pay a visit to the Snæfellsnes peninsula.

First things first, though, we had to bid a final adieu to our favorite feline:
Onward, then, once more, to destinations unknown. The road north led us through the impressive Hvalfjörður Tunnel – impressive because of its length (it is 5,770 meters long, 3,750 of which are underneath the seabed, and reaches as far down as 165 meters below sea level) but also because of how expensive its toll is. The one-way 1000 ISK charge (roughly equivalent to $10 USD) put yet another dent in our already exhausted Icelandic budget. Truly, everything in life has its price.

Once past the money-sucking tunnel, we were rewarded with beautiful scenery. Esoteric-looking structures that had all of a sudden sprouted rainbows lined the lonesome road:
Majestic mountains dominated the landscape:
And manmade inventions helped make the surroundings even more surreal:
The rain, however, had started to come in again, and we had to go, ever driven forth by our faithful companion and motivator – the weather:
Not before doing a bit of cleanup, however! The same rain that was now prodding us on, had managed to find its way into one of our food bags the night prior, thoroughly soaking one of the most prized possessions on this trip – our supply of McVitie’s Dark Chocolate Digestives:
Our Dacia was now nearing the peninsula itself. The scenery was becoming more majestic by the minute and we decided to pull over into a particularly pretty area, which also happened to contain yet another hotpot. We weren’t about to give up hope so easily! Sadly, we immediately noticed a sign showing the way to the pot and we knew what was in store for us. The reddish volcanic soil road ultimately led us to a clearing which was plainly intended as a parking lot of sorts. The hotpot was directly behind it, and we decided to take a walk over. A quick glance revealed what we already knew – the tourist population was in full residence at yet another one of these natural spas that dot the Icelandic countryside:
Placing aside ever-diminishing hopes of recreating the bathing heaven that (luckily) we got to experience once before, we marveled at the beauty of the location itself and more or less decided to come back here to spend the night. Even if no hot water would bestow its blessing upon us, the weather was clearing up, and the absence of light pollution made us think that this would be a good spot for us to witness another display of aurora borealis when dark fell.

The scenery was gorgeous enough in daylight:
Though, ever-conscious tourists had decided to strew their crap (sometimes literally), general garbage items and toilet paper about:
On our way back to the main road, we stopped by an abandoned structure to take some photos and examine the area – we noted that the ruins could serve as an interesting prop for the northern lights show which we were intent on witnessing later on.
We continued on, passing by scenic churches, backed by imposing mountains. The fine, clear day persisted and we were happy that we no longer had to contend with the rain:
Perhaps best of all, it seemed like we had the whole road to ourselves:
The occasional vehicle would pass, temporarily marring the otherwise serene environment, but overall, the Snæfellsnes peninsula featured the least amount of traffic that we had experienced in Iceland so far. Not to mention, we had already encountered many a tourist, obviously distracted by the landscapes all around (how can you could blame them), who while craning their neck sideways, backwards and all about and take in the surroundings, often took their vehicle with them into our own lane. Nikolay in particular had to deal with numerous excursions and blunders onto incoming traffic, tourists randomly stopped on a one-lane road so they could get outside and take a picture, illegal and dangerous U-turns on said roads and so forth. Driving in Iceland, as sparsely populated as it is, has to be taken seriously. With an ever-increasing number of distracted visitors on the roads, safety can easily be compromised and eyes should never be taken off the road. We discovered this by experience.

As we soldiered on, we kept discovering more and more beautiful landscapes and vista points by the wayside, sometimes with the Atlantic Ocean waters right below us:
One spot that we had marked on our maps that we wanted to see while visiting the peninsula was the famous Kirkjufell Mountain and the complementary Kirkjufellsfoss (waterfall). We were now heading the way of the attractions, eager to see what the hype was all about, and trying to beat the sun’s setting, which was soon to come.

The recurring pattern of tourist saturation was soon encountered once more. We noticed the overcrowding a while before even approaching the waterfall’s parking lot by the side of the main road. The Kirkjufell mount’s ridges extended toward the sky on our left. The congestion of cars and tour buses was so bad, that vehicles had overflown onto the road itself, some parked by the wayside and next to the entrance. We snuck the Duster in somehow and managed to catch a lucky moment when a car was leaving its spot. Far from ideal, it was at the edge of the lot, almost onto the footpath, with the Dacia dangerously exposed to a potential scuffle with an improperly parked camper van. However, we weren’t about to be picky. From the looks of it, the Kirkjufell area was so packed with people that we were not about to linger for long. Sadly, another beautiful place that we had looked forward to exploring a bit more had been relegated to just being ‘checked off the list’ as quickly as possible.

Once down by the waterfalls, we had to once again put our ND filters to good use, if we were to get any clean shots of the scenery. See if you can spot the tourist ghosts:
But poor Nikolay… He had felt ambitious enough to attempt a shot of the Kirkjufell mountain with a small pool of water in the foreground. Swell enough idea, for the spot he had chosen seemed quiet and people-free at the time. Having carefully selected the location from which to expose a shot, he had set up his camera and tripod and begun the photographic process. In the era of globalization and overpopulation, however, peace and quiet does not last long – not even in Iceland. Having noticed the attempt by Nikolay to take a photo of the mountain from that particular angle, the hordes shifted. A number from the multitudes about, rushed over to where he was standing, eager not to miss out on an iPhone or DSLR capture from that specific location. To illustrate my point and the horror that takes over a photographer when he is bum-rushed like this in the middle of a long exposure, I will let the below image speak for itself. Nikolay’s tripod-mounted camera, still exposing despite obvious intrusion, is located somewhere behind the woman in the blue jacket. The surrounding was complete and the concept of personal space, even when it is obvious one is taking a photo, was completely ignored:
Thankfully, the shot was worth it (another victory for ND filters):
After witnessing my companion's sad fate, I chose to hang further back and take this shot from a distance:
But we had completely had enough. It was time to head back and at least enjoy dinner in peace. Afterwards, we were looking forward to a nice display from the solar winds above. We reentered our Dacia, wriggled slowly out of the constricted parking lot and headed back south to the place where we were going to spend the night.
The sun was just wrapping up proceedings as we parked the Duster into its place for the night:
Nature was displaying its glories yet again – despite the cold which had begun to sneak in as the sun disappeared, we were enthralled by the light show before the light show:
After checking on the hotpot and declaring it a total loss, it was time for dinner. A few rocks next to the nearby bushes proved a suitable location for setting up our gas stove and food items. We commenced preparations for another headlight dinner, while keeping an eye out for the light in the sky:
Field mice lingered around our makeshift camp as we ate, eager to share in the libations, and we made sure to watch the bags carefully while dining. On our left, the moon began to emerge:
We did not have to wait long for the main attraction. As we packed our food bags away (on the rooftop of the Duster this time, because of the rodents!) the sky began to show faint flickers of light. It seemed like we were about to blessed by the Icelandic aurora gods yet again:
It wasn’t long before the lightworks really got going. We rushed toward the abandoned building, stopping for some quick shots along the road:
The aurora was raging in the heavens above as we approached our objective. The hardest thing now was to decide what angle to shoot from! Ghostly lights and urban exploration erotica graffiti made for a fine foreground to complement the exhilarating main attraction:
Despite our best hopes and protestations, it was not to be like the display of yore, however. The lights in the sky soon began to diminish and the cover increased in density. Through the wispy clouds we could see the faint light of the moon and the sporadic glow of what was still happening behind closed doors. But it was not enough to warrant lingering in the cold, dark field any longer. We had gotten our shots.

Returning to the Dacia, we noticed that two vehicles were still present in the earthy lot. A duo of American girls soon emerged from the area of the hotpot and retreated to their vehicle to change clothes. The duo of (unidentified nationality) males that had escorted them out of the bathing hole entered their camper to do the same. Inevitably, the ladies soon knocked on the camper door, as per what was obviously a pre-determined agreement, took off their shoes and were promptly admitted inside for a night of who-knows-what. Soon, tittering and modern music began to emanate from the vehicle and obviously, good times were had by all.

After packing away our gear, converting our own vehicle into sleeping quarters and securing the food bags on the roof of our Romanian-esque SUV, we also prepared for turning in. Another day in Iceland had come to an end.
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