Northern Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500 CM

The Snæfellsnes peninsula was such a magical place, that I didn't want to leave without seeing as much of it as possible.  I took a day to drive through the little towns on the north coast, starting with Grundarfjörður.  To get there, I passed through a lava field where it was rumored that two Berserkers were charged with the task of cutting a pathway through the lava, as well as a museum where you can witness firsthand the process of fermenting shark. (I was determined not to try this traditional Icelandic food, though I gave in a few days later.  Thankfully the small piece of shark is always followed up with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland's signature liquor.)  Once I arrived in Grundarfjörður, I was handed a free coffee, quickly ushered past a group of old women knitting, and seated in a room for a personal viewing of a slideshow of historical photographs documenting the town's prosperous fishing history.

I continued driving through Ólafsvík and Rif, stopping to wander down to quiet harbors and through frozen soccer fields for a better look at Iceland's unique churches.   I had intended to stay in one of these little towns, but as I walked through them, nothing felt quite as right as going back to Stykkishólmur and the little harbor hostel there that had become a place of comfort to me, so I grabbed a few groceries in Rif and made my way back as the sun set behind me.

Walking from Arnarstapi to Hellnar.

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500CM

On my first full day on Snæfellsnes, I decided to walk across the cliff-top lava field from Arnarstapi to Hellnar, two tiny fishing villages on the south coast.  Meandering over moss-covered lava, the walk was stunning, with waves crashing below me on the left and formations rising up on the right.  Stopping only to duck into a cave to escape the wind and change rolls of film, I arrived at a gorgeous stacked arch on the beach in Hellnar just as snow started softly falling.  I found it difficult to distinguish whether I'd accidentally stumbled into a beautifully hushed scene or whether it began to take shape once I got there.  As I stared upward, I could feel all of the past that I had lived and not lived rush forward and then halt at the exact place where this moment started, not touching it.  Whatever I would do afterward ambled forward until it was hidden behind some lava spire, having everything and nothing to do with this electric moment of complete stillness and silence.

I was lucky enough to have a few of these moments in Iceland.  Having felt one there standing on that rocky beach, I began to search for them and create them whenever and wherever I could.

The weather started to pick up as I left, and I rushed along the increasingly stormy cliffside back toward Arnarstapi.  Entering the town, I stopped to photograph the similar shapes of the volcano Stapafell and the stacked stone monument that stands as a tribute to a half-man, half-troll, Bárður.  After avenging the disappearance of his daughter, who was sent floating on an iceberg across the ocean, Bárður was said to have disappeared into the Snæfellsjökull glacier.  The monument was built by Ragnar Kjartansson, the grandfather of one of my all-time favorite artists of the same name.

Though it continued to get stormier, I decided to hike a few kilometers up Stapafell to search for Sönghellir, or the cave of songs.  A short ways up, I was met with bracing cold and a wind so strong that I had to lean into it to keep from stumbling backward down the mountainside.  This continued as I made my way up the mountain, guided only by a paper map and the rare small sign, already covered in snow.  Finally, following footprints and some intuition, I found it, the place that had been used by Bárður for shamanic rituals as he was guided by the whispers that could be heard within the cave.  I hid from the storm in the cave for quite some time, searching through all of the symbols and markings on the walls, finding dates from as early as the 1600's.  Eventually I left, only to beat darkness down the mountain.

Stykkishólmur, Iceland

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500 CM

After an entire week in Iceland of late nights and irregular meals, rolling into a cozy, quiet harbor hostel with free use of the washing machine and half a pizza leftover from the previous guests was no small comfort.  Stykkishólmur, where the Greenland scene in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed, is the biggest town on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which isn't saying much since I hardly saw another person there aside from my hostel-mates.

After dropping bags at the hostel, I drove back a short ways to a small mountain called Helgafell, or Holy Mountain.  It's a sacred place, where many dying people have made pilgrimages in hopes that they will be taken into the mountain as a transition to the afterlife.  I was there, tired and full and pensive and happy, to follow the strict instructions that would allow me make three wishes.  As I took my first few steps toward the mountain, my focus was shattered when I heard a gunshot ring out from somewhere in front of me.  I froze, but couldn't see another person anywhere.  I took another few steps, only to hear another shot and see one of Iceland's huge crows fall from the sky.  I decided to keep going and made it around a curve in the mountain just in time to see a man disappearing into a small shed with his gun over his shoulder and the big black bird dangling from his hand.  Figuring he was used to people coming to the mountain for wishes, I pressed on, locating my starting point at the grave of a woman named Guðrún Ósvífrsdóttir.  From there, I walked straight up the mountain, without speaking and without looking backward or to my right or left.  At the top, I found the ruins of an old Augustine monastery and from there, facing east with the crumbling stones at my feet and the peninsula stretching into the ocean in front of me, I made my wishes, even as I wondered what to wish for.

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”

-Mary Oliver

Driving into Snæfellsnes.

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500CM

After a late second night in Borgarnes, I set out for one of the places in Iceland I was most excited to visit.  A detour from the ring road, the Snæfellsnes peninsula is believed to be one of the seven major energy centers on earth, and I could already feel something stirring inside of me as I drove across its rivers and lava fields.

Deildartunguhver.

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500CM

After Glymur, I found I had enough time to make it to the Deildartunguhver spring before dark.  It's the highest flowing hot spring in Europe and is over 200º Fahrenheit, so even the steam can be too hot to touch - something I stupidly discovered when placing my hand over a vent.

Hiking to Glymur.

Kodak Portra 400 // Hasselblad 500 CM

After bumping into each other again over breakfast, Dale, Daniel, and I decided to spend the day hiking to Iceland's second tallest waterfall, Glymur.  Most people driving the ring road bypass Glymur entirely, opting for the underwater tunnel beneath the fjord instead.  We made our way down dirt roads, descended through caves, and ran across logs spanning rivers before finally making our way up the side of the canyon to where the river Botnsá begins its beautiful drop.

 Sunset driving into Borgarnes. 
 Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

Sunset driving into Borgarnes.

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

After Reykjavík, driving into Borgarnes was a quiet, deserted affair.  At one hundredth the size of the capital while still being one of the biggest "cities" in Iceland, the first person I saw was the owner of the hostel once I called him to come check me in.  After a little exploring, I sat down to a dinner of tomato soup and toasted bread and met Daniel from Bristol, England, who had been hitchhiking around the country for the last 6 weeks.  When asked what he did, he insisted that he was a traveler that happened to work with computers just long enough between adventures to fund them.  He shared some tea, I shared some chocolate, and we talked about our various travels.  Shortly after Daniel went to bed, a large Australian man with two black eyes sat down across from me.  After introducing himself, he asked if I minded him taking out his two front teeth.  Dale, professional fighter and most genuine of people, and I talked about photography, micro-expressions, war, various societies' perception of loss, native cultures, and much more.  When I finally tiptoed into my room that night, my roommate, a cyclist from Quebec who had been biking Iceland for a few weeks told me, "it's ok, you don't need to be quiet."  As I laid down and closed my eyes, he let out a sigh and softly said in his thick French accent, "after spending so many nights outdoors, it is difficult to fall asleep inside."  "I can imagine," I answered.  "Sweet dreams."

 Lava formation - hiking near Botnsdalur. 
 Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

Lava formation - hiking near Botnsdalur.

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

This image feels so very Icelandic to me: moss covered lava in swooping, gnarled formations that could serve as sacred places for the Huldufólk (hidden people), the elves that over half of the population believe in.  A very private people, the huldufólk have been known to occasionally help Icelanders in peril.  Disrupt them or their natural homes, however, and they can really wreak havoc.

 Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

After stopping by the Bonus supermarket for two bananas, a can of tomato soup, and a small loaf of bread, I finally set out to drive the entirety of Iceland, starting north in hopes of beating winter weather.  I knew that there was a hostel, if not much else,  in a little town called Borgarnes a couple hours away; and so it became my next stop and only concrete plan.  This is the first photograph I took after leaving Reykjavík.  As the landscape unfolded around me the farther I drove from the city, I started laughing.  And laughing.  Driving alone on winding roads (I had taken the long way around  rather than pay the 1,000 krona to use the underground Hvalfjörður tunnel) past the characteristic mountains and fjords was so very much the Icelandic experience I'd played out in my mind for so long that I couldn't help but delight in its reality.  I pulled over and ran down the road to this river, the wind whipping my hair in every direction, only looking up from composing the photo in my camera to acknowledge, with tears in my eyes and a grin on my face, the single pickup truck passing by.

 Mortiz, Reykjavík, Iceland. 
 Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

Mortiz, Reykjavík, Iceland.

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

This is Moritz from Bremen, Germany.  He makes a good buddy for watching soccer in pubs and checking out one of Reykjavík's many thermal pools, Laugardalur.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík, Iceland

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500CM

Rather than let it be discovered slowly that my journey through Iceland didn't go according to plan, I will state upfront that none of it did, partly because I never really had a plan to begin with and partly because what little plans I thought I had would change daily (or hourly) due to weather and whims.  I had "planned" to stay in Reykjavík for one night before starting on the ring road, but after making some new friends and realizing that the rest of the trip around the island would likely be a lot more solitary, I ended up staying in the city for a few days.  My time there was spent in leisurely exploration: seeing "Girl Culture" by Lauren Greenfield at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography, visiting the Einar Jónsson sculpture garden, stopping in at the Icelandic Phallological Museum, attending a gymnastics meet thanks to the team from Denmark staying at my hostel (really miss you crazy, crazy kids), making it to the top of Hallgrímskirkja, and more.

Seeing photos online didn't prepare me for how impressive Hallgrimskirkja was.  Named after the writer of the "Passion Hymns," it's the biggest church in Iceland and sits a few blocks above downtown so that it's strikingly visible from street corners.

Blue lagoon, Iceland

Kodak Portra 400//Hasselblad 500 CM

Due to equal parts exhaustion, wonder, and not knowing where to go next, I ended up spending over 7 hours in the lagoon.  Every time I told myself I'd leave in an hour, I'd look up at the huge clock moments later to find that more than an hour had passed in a dreamy haze of floating around watching bodies and silica mud coated faces take shape and then disappear again into the steam.  Subsisting on skyr smoothies and glacial water, I probably could have stayed forever, but I finally found the motivation I needed during a conversation with two Canadians and a German when I agreed to give them all a ride back to Reykjavík in exchange for dinner and drinks, given we could find my car in the staff parking lot.