Bíldudalur is like many small towns and villages in the Westfjords—nestled deep in a fjord against some intimidating mountains, comprised of what appears to be two or three streets and a handful of small houses. But Bíldudalur is special for two reasons.
First, the location itself shields the village from Iceland’s characteristic relentless winds, making the weather relatively fair all year round. Second, it sits on the shores of Arnarfjörður, home to the bulk of Iceland’s sea monsters. In fact, Bíldudalur has a museum dedicated to these creatures, which made our visit an unforgettable experience.
Typically, when you think of locals using folklore for the entertainment of tourists, you might imagine something fairly cheesy or exploitative. This was definitely not the case with the Sea Monster Museum. For one, the layout of the museum itself gives one more the feeling of an old man’s reading parlour than anything else: the centrepiece of the exhibition floor is a round structure covered in shelves with books, figurines of the four major sea monsters of the area—fjörulalli (“shore laddie”), hafmaður (“sea man”), skeljaskrímsli (“shell monster”) and faxaskrímsli (“combed monster/sea horse”)—and a few monitors where you can view a clips from a documentary about the fjord’s sea monsters.
This, to me, was the most fascinating part of the exhibit. It’s one thing to listen to some eccentric hippy-dippy granola-muncher talking about supernatural beings; it’s quite another to see old, no-bullshit, grizzled farmers and fishermen discuss, quite matter-of-factly, seeing such creatures. To be honest, it gave the sightings an air of credibility that even a sceptic like me was not impervious to. The documentary itself should be released on DVD this winter.
The crowning piece of the exhibit is an interactive map that really has to be seen to be believed. By moving small plastic pieces over a map of the region, with arrows to guide you in the directions of monster sightings, cartoon bubbles of text and images describing monster incidents in the fjord make it seem as though this quite little hamlet is practically teeming with horrible beasts. Luckily for us, we didn’t encounter any, but thanks to what we learned at the Sea Monster Museum, we’re well prepared should the occasion arise.
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