Iceland

Lana and I left on a Thursday night, on Icelandair’s red-eye out of Boston.

We landed in Iceland around 6:00a. It was too early for the bus, so we lounged around Keflavik International Airport for a couple of hours. I fell asleep in a contorted position across two chairs, while Lana made a discovery.

She found Skyr!

Skyr is a cultured dairy product, similar to strained yogurt, that has been part of Iceland’s culinary history for over 1000 years. It’s yummy, and healthy. Lots of protein, very little fat and sugar. Tastes like Greek yogurt but has a smoother consistency.

At 8:30am, we took a bus to the Blue Lagoon.

Due to its proximity to the airport, the Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited sites in Iceland. It’s marketed as a geothermal spa. Here’s how it works:

The lagoon is a man-made lagoon which is fed by the water output of the nearby geothermal power plant Svartsengi and is renewed every 2 days. Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. – Wikipedia

So basically, a large outdoor pool that’s infused with silica and sulphur, heated to around 100 degrees. Good for the skin!

Later that morning, we took a bus into Reykjavik. Lana had rented us an apartment just off the small capital’s most popular street, Laugavegur. Believe it or not, this small and cozy one-bedroom apartment was cheaper to lease than Reykjavik’s backpacker hostel.

Later that night, we hopped on a snorkeling tour of Silfra, a tectonic rift caused by the divergence of the North American and Eurasian plates. Silfra runs through a lake, some of whom’s rift fingers offer phenomenal underwater visibility. Silfra is fed by cold, clear glacial water. By the time that water melts off from the glacier and snakes its way down into the lake, it’s between 50 and 100 years old.

Ian, our snorkeling guide, is an Englishman who spent nine years in the military and has since forged a globe-trotting career in scuba diving. He’s been diving all over the world and recently came from a stint in Thailand.

Ian helped us put on our dry suits. He said that the tightness around the neck should feel about as strong as a ficticious dwarf strangling you. Made sense to me. He also encouraged us to periodically take our snorkels off to swig a few gulps. I obliged his request.

Underwater, the Earth cracks open into a rocky abyss, and the algae looks like green Silly String.

The next day, Lana and I explored Reykjavik. It was crowded. Many folks had come in from around the country for Reykjavik Culture Night, an annual celebration with music and beer and hot dogs and all kinds of Icelandic fun.

We walked around the city. We ate hot dogs. We watched part of the Reykjavik Marathon. We walked around a lake and witnessed German bachelor party shenanigans. I photographed a stilted juggler.

Lana and I ate curried lobster soup and walked around the old harbor. We walked into Hallgrímskirkja church.

Later that night, we met up with a friend of mine who was in Reykjavik for the race. After a series of White Russians at a Big Lebowski-themed bar, the night blurred into a series of hot dogs and beer, fireworks and electronic music. Dare I saw we danced the night away.

The following morning, Lana and I followed a popular tourist route to the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss , and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, where we saw the Strokkur geyser intermittently erupt.

It was an educational trip. We learned, for example, that:

  • The Icelandic horse has a fifth gait, the tölt. Also, once an Icelandic horse leaves the island, it is not allowed to come back. Non-Icelandic horses are not allowed into the country.
  • More than half of Iceland’s population does not deny the existence of elves. In fact, as new roads are lain, en elf expert is summoned to the scene. If the right evidence presents itself, the asphalt road will be rerouted to careen around the elf habitat.
  • At one point it was illegal in Iceland to own a dog.

On our last full day, Lana and I took a glacier and waterfall tour. The waterfalls are wild to approach. Completely isolated from other remarkable geology, they dominate the surrounding landscape, a seemingly endless and brooding blend of grays and greens.

On the glacier, I chatted with our guide, Otti, about mountaineering and ice climbing opportunities in Iceland. “Winter is a good time for us mountain lovers,” he said.

It wasn’t winter, but I having a pretty good time.

Giddy up.

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