Travel Thursday: She puts the Ice in Iceland, part 1

The important thing they leave out of the brochure, I realized, was that the infamous Blue Lagoon was actually the waste pond for the geothermal power plant.
Ugh. What kinda waste we talkin’ ‘bout here?
Still, I had to admit it felt grand, especially the heat; not like there was debris floating around, after all. According to the poster I’d read as I’d undressed and then showered before getting into the lagoon–yes, it was compulsory–the superheated water went through turbines and a heat exchanger and who knew what else–science gives me a headache–before being thrown out here for human use at a supposedly much lower temp, but still plenty hot. All clean and green, and it wasn’t like a country dotted with volcanoes was ever going to run out of hot water. More worrisome was the blue-green algae that gave the place its color and name, but no one had died from it yet. And at least there were no fish. . .
And it looked really spooky with all the steam. . . things could happen in even these shallow depths that no one would be aware of. . .
Grinning, far from imagining murders, I took a quick look around to see if my companion was still in the area. Not that I expected her to say yes to a round of fun out here, but on the other hand the demure and almost straightlaced-looking Brit had a hidden naughty side that I thought I knew how to access. . .
Except I couldn’t see her. Dammit.
Then I wondered if I could convince that redhead in reception to join me, but imagined her protest: “Oh no sir, I’d be fired just for going into the water, let alone what you’re thinking!” All with a wink. . .
Redheads were natural-born teases, though I did notice she didn’t say no to other locales. . . still, that was just in my own mind, so it didn’t really count.
It took less than five minutes to figure out there were lots of Brits and Germans here, some of them actually trying to swim before realizing it was way too shallow for such sport. Most seemed happy standing or sitting in the hot water for hours, like they had nothing better to do; if I heard “It’s a fantastic sensation being surrounded by warm water in the great outdoors on a chilly day!” one more time. . .
And when she talked me into coming here, the Beautiful Brit–not her real name, and Brit means British, not Brittany–had gone on about a friend who’d been here in the rain and said it made the experience even better, but then you couldn’t trust the English when it came to precipitation. She also mentioned how much fun those silica mud masks were, so that showed the lack of brains right there. I figured I’d skip the steam room and sauna too, instead hanging out under the artificial waterfall, so she could see what it was like to be left alone.
So of course that was where I found her. . .
Luckily we were both too bored to do anything but leave the water right now, which we did, me feeling the cold air much more than her, as expected from our respective home climes. With all the footbridges crisscrossing the lagoon it took me a few moments to orient myself, but soon enough I was headed in the right direction, with the lovely brunette for once refraining from back-seat strolling.
After the mandatory post-bath shower, we passed a poster advertising Iceland as the hottest destination in Europe. . . literally! As always I wondered why such commercials were located in the actual places they were trying to get people to come to, but I’d never accused ad execs of being smart, so there ya go. Another ad claimed the Blue Lagoon waters were healing, but didn’t say how, or of what, for that matter. Again my over-rational mind took off, wondering if the tiny island of Iceland had any truth-in-advertising laws. . . considering how they took care of their bankers when they stepped out of line, it seemed likely. . .
The Brit had stopped to read more about the geothermally heated pools, as always doing her overly maternalistic thing where she read it out loud as if I were an illiterate child. “The Blue Lagoon is a lake full of mineral-rich seawater heated by underground lava, actually outflow from the adjacent Svartsengi–or however it’s pronounced–geothermal power plant. This sounds dangerous but is considered healthy. The silica and salt content of the bubbling 113-degree water is said to cure psoriasis and eczema. Blue-green algae and the white silica mud form a light natural sediment that gives the lagoon its vivid aquamarine color. Steam rising from the surface shrouds the view in shimmering mist.”
I’d left after having my earlier question–about what was healed–answered, but once I got to the lobby I waited for her, again looking around at the way the wood and stone harmoniously played with each other, my mind instinctively figuring out how to best photograph it. After that I wondered if a sauna would do me any good, or was I hungry enough to go that way instead?
“Tea and snacks sounds good,” she purred in her Oxbridge accent, a combination that usually didn’t go together. “I’m sure you could go for a massage. . . hmmmmm, silica mud mask! I did promise myself I would do that before leaving.”
“Waitaminute! It says here you can get ‘an energizing massage under the Blue Lagoon waterfall,’ but we were there and didn’t see it!”
“Maybe you didn’t,” she laughed, “with your mind on other things.”
I’d played poker with her often enough not to buy that for a minute, though I did take the time to look over her swimsuit-clad body again, just to bring out that blush that she always thought she could control. With that done, I told her under no circumstances was I going shopping with her for skin care products, but she only grinned.
Finally she reached the bottom of the list and made a face. “I’d like to hit up this Exclusive Bath and Lounge thing, but it sounds terribly expensive.”
I made a face too, but at the bracelet I was forced to wear. “This thing is not only the key to our lockers, but also keeps a running tab, so we can pay on the way out. . . with a lovely credit card that doesn’t belong to us.”
Her frowny face grew, if anything. “They didn’t mention anything about expenses. . .”
“Which makes it their fault. I for one could use some privacy. . .”
That seemed to clinch it for her, and we made our way in that direction, where smiling faces led us to a private changing room–though we didn’t need to change just yet–then on to a private indoor lagoon, which for me was a lot more fun than outside, with the air being warmer. Having passed through an empty lounge with the epitome of Scandinavian furniture and a roaring fire, we knew we were alone, which was exactly what we needed; even the help left, once they showed where they kept the button to summon them.
“So,” she dove in conversationally as well, wading like a synchronized swimmer in front of me as I relaxed against the side with only my head sticking out, “got any opinions on the elections?”
The release of my vitriolic hate for all politicians made me feel better a minute later, and my smile only grew as I twisted my back until the popping sounded like a footstep on a few layers of bubblewrap. As always she frowned at the clatter, which she considered as uncouth as a burp in front of the Queen, so I took a moment to wax philosophic on the subject, knowing it would piss her off.
“The sound actually comes from small sacks that I’m told act as shock absorbers around joints. . . I just call them airbags, which is more what they are than what they do. Even you have to admit there’s a sense of relief when one pops.”
“I don’t have to admit anything.”
“You should be teaching at Oxford, with that voice. Did you know these airbags have different pitches, depending on the size of the joint?”
Since she fancied herself a musician, that interested her a little more. “Examples, please?”
“Put simply, the bigger the joint, the deeper the sound. The hip is the tuba or double bass of the body, while the pinky is the piccolo.”
She was already grinning, so I did too, wondering if she would ever realize how easy she was to play; someday I might tell her, but only when I had nothing more to gain.
We decided we’d had enough of this wet stuff for now and rang the summon button to see what other mischief the attendants could get us into; for me it was indeed a massage, just like for her it was indeed a face wrap. I wondered how long it would take me to get bored if I got to do this every day, but my sighs of contentment were testament to my not thinking very much at the moment. . .
My yelp was louder than hers–as to be expected, considering I’m a warm-weather boy, but everyone still laughed, especially her–when, after the steam bath and sauna, we were given what the workers called a “refreshing” cold water sprinkle, though I loudly considered it a new form of waterboarding. A little mollified by the hot chocolate–they seemed confused when I tried to explain hot vanilla–I stuck my tongue out at her grin showing over her mug of veddy British tea as we looked out from the balcony at the Blue Lagoon,
From this vantage point the lagoon looked even more ethereal. Just about every village, as well as numerous places in the capital Reykjavik, had a communal geothermal pool, at a lot less cost than this, but there was no denying the beauty and otherworldliness of the sight before us. American astronauts had walked the lava fields of Iceland before blasting off to the moon, to get a sense of what it would be like walking on Earth’s satellite, but for my money this was far more of a mystic landscape. Despite being inured by the far more wild naturalistic sights of Yellowstone and New Zealand, this was a spectacular view of its own, the milky turquoise color mixing with the billowing white steam and the geothermal power to make a surreal setting that could have come from some fantasy writer’s fevered imagination.




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