Iceland: On the road to Jökulsárlón – Heimat und Unheimlichkeit


Ahead, the road threaded between sea and cliff. I had a strong sense of Heimat – of home and the Antrim Coast. It reminded me of the dark basalt that drops like a dead-weight to the sea on the coast road; the isolated, flat-topped and conical hills; of the geometric columns of volcanic rock at the Giant’s Causeway and the sea that churns and bombs at  Ballintoy, just as it did at Dyrhólaey.
Only everything is on a much greater scale in Iceland: wave; cliff; hill. Even the basalt formations. And while volcanic activity is dim in the prehistory of Ulster – in Iceland the tremors and hisses and steaming vents are a constant reminder, volcanic activity is in the here and now.

But soon the sense of Heimat disappeared, to be replaced with an unsettling feeling of Unheimlichkeit – a feeling of unfamiliarity; a strangeness and a sense of other-worldliness. An unhomeliness. We were teetering into something unknown.

The road passed through litterings of moraine and over milky-white or ice-blue melt-waters and rivers that look like papercuts on the map. And on over single-lane bridges stretching out like string. Ahead tuyas lay small in the distance – still an hour away and growing before our eyes as we drove on through the day. For more than a 100 miles we edged around the ice-cap of Vatnajökull – a great splat of white on the map covering almost a tenth of the island.
We drove through fields of lava and plateaus of nuclear-green and mustard moss, lichen and unfamiliar grass.  There are no trees here. This place is barren and empty. And it touches something raw and primeval in you.
There are no towns either, and few settlements. From time to time we could see the red roof of barn or smallholding. What would it be like to live in this landscape? In all this space?
Our world became even more unheimlich – there were rounded hills, so smooth and regular, I could have sworn they were man-made. This was Tellytubby land and I almost expected to see Dipsy or La-La peep out from behind one of the humps.Further on, the road lay edged with little cylinder cones, pointed with nipples of rock.

I wanted to laugh out loud. We’ve entered a place that should only be possible in a drug-induced world.

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