Monday, May 5, 2014

On Hákarl and Other Adventures

Horses at our first stop, the farm.

It's twenty past midnight here in Reykjavík, which means I should most definitely be in bed. But, I know if I go to sleep now, I'll forget to write about some crucial part of yesterday's trip. I'm going to attempt to keep this much shorter than yesterday, but we'll see how that goes.

The very tip of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Today we drove around the entire Snæfellsnes peninsula. Could there possibly have been a lovelier day? I think not. Iceland Horizons was our tour company, and again, they blew all other tour companies I've ever used out of the water. David, the owner, was our guide. Because the weather was so fabulous- clear skies, sun shining, breezy, and around 54 degrees- we made a few unplanned stops and decided we'd get back into town when we got back into town. In order to get from Reykjavík to Snæfellsnes, you drive about thirty minutes out of the city, into a tunnel that goes directly under one of the fjords. From there, it’s quite a long drive before you reach the first planned stop on the tour. 

Mmm, hákarl in the final, curing "stage."

 As I mentioned above, the weather was absolutely perfect. So, David took a detour and we went down a small dirt path to a local farm. The owner didn't speak any English, but we learned from David that he was a retired fisherman who had set up a small museum about the making of hákarl in one of his barns. For those of you dying to know what, exactly, hákarl is... Well, just google it and the results will be something along the lines of: "the grossest food I ever ate." I'm pretty sure either Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern tried it when they came to Iceland, and even they couldn't keep it down. Crazy, considering those guys will eat anything! But, you're still wondering what hákarl is: rotten shark meat. Yep, you read that correctly! The meat comes from the Greenland shark, which is highly poisonous. The original settlers of Iceland figured out that if you cut the shark up into large chunks and buried it in the ground for six weeks, then dug it up and air-cured it for another four to five months, it became edible. I did quite a lot of reading on Icelandic food before our trip, and the rotten shark always seemed to pop up. Mostly because people wanted to talk about how gross it is. And, I swore that I would most definitely not be trying any. There must be something in the Iceland air, because when the old farmer brought out some "fresh-made" hákarl for us to try- I found myself just going for it. And I have to say, it wasn't nearly as gross as I was expecting. Yes, it has a sort of strong ammonia smell and taste. Yes, the texture is completely gross. And, yes, I did almost get sick as I chewed it, but this was mostly due to the mental "I'm eating rotten shark" picture that kept flashing through my mind. It mostly just tasted like chewy, rotten cheese. Guess I can check another thing off the bucket list...
Me and my new friend from Atlanta, hanging out on the moss.
After satisfying our weird food craving, we wandered around the farm for a bit (more Icelandic Horses! I think this is becoming a thing...), then drove up the road a ways to a giant moss-covered lava field. Continuing with the anything goes in Iceland policy we ate some reindeer moss and wild thyme from the side of the road, and checked out the Beserkjahraun (Berserker’s lava field). Did you know that the English word berserk comes from the Norse Berserker, which was the name for Odin’s warriors… The trek around the field was pretty amazing, and I’ve decided that the moss there is much more comfortable than my bed in our apartment here.

On the drive through the mountains, David taught us a bit more about the old Norse religion of the Icelanders. Today, some of the older generation still believes in elves and trolls. Tolkien was so fascinated by this aspect of the Icelandic culture that he based the elves in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings on them. Other random facts learned on the drive: it takes over 10,000 years for a volcanic flow to become fertile topsoil; NASA brought astronauts to an Icelandic pumice field to train for the first trip to the Moon; and Snæfell (the volcano after which the Snæfellsnes take their name) inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

An unexpected stop, and quite a hike!

We made stops along the way to look at birds, seals, waterfalls, and all other sorts of amazing things. We ate lunch at a black sand beach, hiked around a fishing village, and saw a monument to a local giant. All in all today was the best day yet! We made friends with some of the amazing people on the tour- a PhD student from Atlanta and a couple from Washington D.C. Our tour guide, David, was brilliant, and I can’t express how utterly perfect the weather was. It’s enough to make me want to stay forever.

The tour started at 9am this morning, and we didn’t get back until 8:45 tonight. Afterwards, David, the couple from D.C., the women from Atlanta, Mom, and I all went to dinner at an amazing fish and chips place in downtown Rekjavík, a perfect end to a perfect day. Tomorrow is our final tour with Iceland Horizons, led by the incomparable David. It seems like our time here is going by so quickly, but then again, these sorts of trip always do fly by. Forgive any crazy grammatical and/or spelling errors. It’s now one a.m., and I’m going to bed. Thanks for following along on our crazy adventures!!!

ða nótt.

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