This was it our last day in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and would you believe it had the audacity to rain!? Yeah I shouldn’t have been surprised, this is Iceland after all the weather is anything but forgiving. Despite it’s best efforts though this country just cannot help but be stunningly beautiful. As we entered west Iceland on our way to the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum we were struck by the sun trying to muscle it’s way through the clouds over this stunning fjord. It was kind of creepy seeing this interesting light peaking through a sea of gray, ominous clouds. But we had our good rain coats and a go-get-em attitude so we were not deterred. Once you pass through the fjord and over a small bridge you are in Bjarnarhöfn and the landscape changes in the blink of an eye. What was scenic coast line and epic mountains becomes a roiling sea of cooled lava covered in delicate green moss as far as you can see, but we’ll come back to that at the end. While you snake your way through this drastic landscape it’s hard to imagine any kind of business thriving least of all a farm that has been run by one family that is the areas leading producers of “hakarl” or fermented Greenland shark.
This is one of those strange places where the past and the present meet and shake hands with one another. There is a modern cafe where you can have a bite to eat and an excellent coffee. Then there is a museum that is dedicated to the family business of fishing and fermenting Greenland shark. The meat of which is flooded with a natural anti-freeze and is toxic to eat fresh from the sea. The shark is prepared and fermented for 6 months, the process nullifying the toxins making it safe for consumption. Guess what you get to eat at the end of your tour. Agree or disagree with fishing for sharks you cannot deny the history that oozes out of this place. They have all of the tools of their trade displayed and the curator is and exceptionally friendly, more than willing to answer any and all questions. I found my self hovering a little at each antique and curiosity wondering where it had come from and what it’s story was. Where did the dried angler fish in the window come from? Who made the glass floats hanging on the wall? Did you know that the skin of the Greenland Shark is covered in tiny hooked ridges and was used as a sandpaper in the old days? This is one of the rare places where you can really absorb some local culture and I highly recommend you do so. So what does fermented shark taste like? Well if you took a pencil eraser and soaked in ammonia you would be getting pretty close. It is chewy and the fumes from it are heady. If you have a weak stomach try it with the offered rye bread as this will cut down on some of the ammonia taste. While their meat is a delicacy here the Greenland Sharks are exceptional creatures all on their own. They are the longest living vertebrate with a life span of 400+ years and can grow to be 16 feet long.
Let’s revisit the lava fields that I mentioned earlier. This is one of the most unique landscapes I have ever encountered. I have seen lava fields before in Hawaii and California, but nothing like this. The whole place looks the ocean was being churned by a violent storm and suddenly flash frozen in rock. The shapes are stark and striking as they jut from the earth. Covered in a very delicate slow growing green moss, that is very susceptible to damage and must be avoided at all cost and only admired from afar. Seen from the air here it looks like a unique carpet laid out in the valley between the mountains. When you visit this place, and I sincerely hope you do, that you will take a moment and just stand at the edge of this place and take it in. Let the wind drown out the rest of the sounds as you absorb the around you. Consider what primal forces shaped this landscape and how it could be gone in an instant shaped into something new and equally captivating.