Thursday, January 11, 2018

A warm highlight in Iceland

Happy New Year 2018. 
Editor's note: This article is written after a December trip to Iceland. 
    When you don’t second guess yourself, you come out for the better. Here’s my story.
    Quickly assessing my body’s overall condition from head to toe, there’s a noticeable dull throbbing from intermittent sleep. A pretzel is a more accurate description as my limbs unpeel themselves from resting in an uncomfortable economy seat for so long. My breath is stale and bed head is the best I can do with my appearance. That’s not an ideal prospect for the start to a brand new day. 

    Without any further fanfare, my husband and I get off the plane in Reykjavik, Iceland, at 6:30 am after a five-hour overnight flight from New York. It’s dark and no one notices. Thank goodness the press wasn’t alerted.
     The plane is full of sleep-deprived people anxious to hit solid ground and stretch their legs. I notice that the tourists like myself are bundled up in heavy down coats, hats, boots and gloves. On the other hand, the Icelanders returning home are in lighter jackets, sneakers and hatless.
     We step into predawn air, and surprisingly it is nowhere as cold as when we left Rochester the day before in a steady snowfall. Rochester was the land of Arctic tundra compared to Reykjavik with mild 30-degree temperatures. Ah, those hardy Icelanders expect you to deplane outside on steps, too, year round.
     After passing through customs – no hold-up for me today – my husband and I head over to the Fly Bus to take our excursion to the Blue Lagoon, a tourist favorite.
     It’s too early to expect our hotel room to be ready and this tour seemed like a cool idea when I booked it back in July. Previous travelers claim that it will be our initiation into the Icelandic way of life.
     Now I am questioning my sanity. We had carefully packed our swimming gear in our carry-on luggage, but to shed all those layers of winter clothes for a couple hours in a communal locker room for an outside pool in December seems a lot of bother.
    Later I am told by an Icelandic resident that locals go several times a week to an outdoor pool for its rejuvenating and restorative powers, along with the accompanying socialization. Besides, it staves off only 4 hours of daylight in the winter, and it is healthier than other forms of indoor entertainment. Obviously we aren’t believers yet, and our Thomas name is living up to its reputation.

     The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is located in a lava field in a location favorable for geothermal power, and is supplied by water used in the nearby power station. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.  The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 99–102 °F. The Blue super-heated 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.
     Iceland has a strict code of hygiene and guests are required to shower prior to enjoying the geothermal spa. The communal showers are split up by gender and of course, bathing suits are required.
     The silicate minerals are the primary cause of that water's milky blue shade. After the minerals have formed a deposit, the water re-infiltrates the ground, but the deposit renders it impermeable over time, hence the necessity for the plant to continuously dig new ponds in the nearby lava field.
     With a spring in my step I walk briskly to the edge of the pool barely seeing one foot ahead of me.  I perceive a chill in the air, and I rapidly slide in.
      The instant I dip into the warm waters - icy rain falls down on my hair from above - and start looking around the murky landscape – it is still completely dark outside – I realize that it is the most surreal moment I have ever encountered. As I explore different parts of the water I convince myself that here I am far away from home soaking away all my weariness in a country I have been curious to visit for a long time.
    The lagoon winds around and there are many spots to stop and soak. It is amusing watching people taking pictures with cell phones, and frankly, I am satisfied to have left mine in the locker away from the water. I’m not going to chance a protective plastic pouch either.
     I have no desire to get out of the water. The deterrent isn’t the fact that I would have to rush back through the cold air to the locker room. It is simply a fabulous moment that I wish to cling to as long as possible.

     Once I do, all my aches and pains disappear and I feel on top of the world and ready to tackle a day of touring.
     The next afternoon I visit a different spa and the same sensation takes over which lasts the whole trip. Right then and there, I become a convert to geothermal baths. My husband not so much.
      Cheers to the Icelanders - and other Scandinavians - for sharing their secret of a healthy body for all seasons.