Total distance covered: 425 km | 264 miles + ferry
Light filled the sky when I fell asleep at 1 a.m. and it was still bright when I woke up a 4 a.m. We needed to get an early start to catch the ferry which departed from Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and would deliver us, 3 hours later, to Brjánslækur on the Westfjords. As we hit the road I noticed the full moon hanging in the sky. The moon, along with a sunset after 10 p.m. and a sunrise before 5 a.m., and the reflective light grey ground, made it seem as if darkness had never covered Húsafell. On our 3-hour drive to the ferry which skirted the northern shore of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we saw a total of 4 vehicles before we entered town. Few people were out, but there was no lack of sheep: literally hundreds of white, grey, and black bundles of wool dotted the hillsides and convened on the roads, using the markers as scratching posts.
Ferry rides provide a wonderfully different perspective of the landscape. An island girl by nature, I stayed above deck as much as possible enjoying the fresh ocean breeze and layers upon layers upon layers of land on the horizon. The journey was slow and the water was smooth as we crossed Breiðafjörður. The shoreline of the Westfjords appeared- it was hard to grasp the enormous scale of these cliffs and landforms- wow! Since arriving in Iceland my impression of large landscapes has been trumped time and time again…
Látrabjarg is the most westerly point of Europe. These enormous cliffs, at their highest point, surge 1,300 feet above the ocean and are home to the country’s largest colonies of cliff-dwelling birds. It is also believed to provide nesting and breeding ground to the largest auk colony in the world, although I must admit I was enamored with the puffins. Driving around mountain passes with numerous 180˚ switchbacks, directly along the edge of steep cliffs, on narrow dirt roads was exciting to say the least. Just making it to this location felt like a great adventure. It’s hard to believe the adventures of the past- after they had traveled to these cliffs, people would dangle, suspended from ropes, over the edge, on the mission of collecting seabird eggs. Today, signage suggests that visitors approach the cliff edge on their stomach- being careful not to get to close, as they might damage the cliffs stability and this highly prized landscape. The lack of concern for a person falling over the cliffs was refreshing- fall over the edge, that’s fine, but don’t hurt our sacred landscape!
Westfjords- stunning in scenery and isolated. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, Maine, and lived for a few years on North Haven Island, Maine (an hour ferry ride from the mainland). I thought I understood isolation, but what I had previously experienced was nothing in comparison. Here, only a few small “towns” exist and in some places miles upon miles past before a single dwelling came into view. A view, in Iceland has an entirely different meaning as there are almost no trees blocking one’s sight. This increased visibility also raised the question of privacy, or lack thereof. We passed one farmhouse sitting at the crutch of a massive fjord, braving the extremes. Adjacent to the house we noticed the john (outhouse). For miles around everyone would know when the urge was calling- Mom and I couldn’t help laughing out loud.