Despite the journey of days to get here and not managing much sleep once I finally did, the excitement at waking up in my beloved Reykjavik was irrepressible! This is my 7th visit and I’m as excited as if it were my first, perhaps even more so. The first order of the day was to clean up the controlled explosion of my backpack from last nights, or rather, this morning’s, early arrival. Then, if I was going to make it through the day, there was one thing I needed more than anything else, coffee! Luckily, Reykjavik takes coffee very seriously. Surely it must hold the record for most cafes per capita and I was already lamenting the likelihood that I wouldn’t get to all of them in my week here.
I left my gorgeous, cosy apartment with all the confidence of a local returned from a weekend away. It helped that I’m staying just a stones throw from Hallgrimskirkja – Reykjavik’s most iconic landmark – and a pebbles toss away from C is for Cookie – one of my favourite café’s. Of course, once I’d made it that far, I remembered that I have no sense of direction and need to use a map to get around my own neighbourhood. Luckily, the café had a map to spare (as almost every business in Reykjavik now does, such in the pervasive presence of tourism in Iceland these days) so I was able to navigate my way back to the bus terminal with only two stops along the way to check with locals that I was still pointed in the right direction which I’d traversed so many times before.
It was with great joy and anticipation that I boarded the bus bound for my favourite spot on the planet – the Blue Lagoon. For those that don’t know it, it is, as the name suggests, a lagoon that is blue. The lagoon sprang to life as a consequence of the construction of the nearby Svartsengi Power Plant, which harnesses the areas geothermal power to supply electricity to the surrounding regions. The water used to generate electricity is run off into the lagoon where is becomes an otherworldly opaque pale blue when mixed with the white clay and blue algae of the basin, both of which are phenomenal for skin.
It has become, without exception, the most popular attraction in Iceland and as a consequence it has garnered some criticism for being a ‘tourist trap’ – if this place is a trap, you can lock me up for life and throw away the key!!! Yes, it is popular; yes, it is more expensive than the local pools; yes, there are far more tourists than Icelanders but I. Do. Not. Care! The only people who are not enchanted by the Blue Lagoon are either dead inside or too pretentious to acknowledge that they are visitors themselves! I’ve been travelling this planet for almost 17 years now, independently and on a shoestring. I understand the off-the-beaten-track mentality and balk at the idea of group travel as much as the next ‘traveller’ (as opposed to tourist, there is a difference!) but some things, some places, some experiences should be enjoyed by EVERYONE on the planet if they’re so lucky to have the opportunity. No matter how many other people have been to the Blue Lagoon, not one of them has ever diminished the fact that some of the most magical and joyful moments of my life have happened in the warmth of those blue waters.
I apologise for my fanaticism but I’ve been asked so many times if the Blue Lagoon is worth visiting by people who had intended to skip it if not for my insistence. Not a single one of them has regretted it. It’s not an either/or proposition – you can go to the Blue Lagoon and still seek out your indie-travel haunts – no one will strip you of your ‘traveller’ status or force you henceforth to travel in a flock. Don’t rob yourself of a magical experience just because you want to swim against the stream. It’s a big lagoon with room for everyone … though I do prefer it in winter when there’s a bigger disparity between air and water temperature, more steam, and… ok, I’ll admit it, less people. Ooooh! What a hypocrite!!!
I was especially eager to get there today because not only was I to be reunited with the lagoon itself but also with my dear friend, Karina, who has been off gallivanting around the globe on her own adventure. When I impulsively bought my ticket to Iceland Airwaves several months ago, Karina was the first person I confessed my stupidity too. Her response: “get me one too, I’ll meet you there!” and so that day has come!
I arrived a little early, around 1pm, so I could run around taking photos so as not to bore Karina later on. I perched myself in the designated meeting spot by the gift shop for her 2pm arrival and I waited, waited, waited. After an hour, it occurred to me that I should check her inbound flight from Berlin, which was of course, delayed. By the time another hour elapsed, all the staff knew me. After yet another hour, I was starting to worry that we were going to miss our massages! Luckily the staff were incredibly friendly and accommodating, allowing me to change our 2 one-hour massages into 2 half-hour massages in the latest available time slot. They prepared our towels and gowns and were just taking down Karina’s name and description so I could go through when she flew in the door.
No time for happy reunions, we ran through to the change rooms, saturated our hair with conditioner (to protect it from the silica clay – great for the skin but a bit rough on the tresses), and entered the lagoon. Aaaaaah, the bliss of entering the warm water from the cold air felt like home. We smothered our faces with the white clay from the big pots dotted around the waters edge but before it had time to dry, Karina was called for her massage. I floated alone, soothed and subdued by the warmth of the water and of the gratitude I was feeling to be back in its midst.
Soon enough, a very chilled out Karina emerged from the massage area, that being the signal for me to go in. Trysti welcomed me, a man I’d never met before yet one I would want to marry within half an hour of his strong hands masterfully massaging me from beneath the water as I lay flat out on a buoyant mattress, submerged intermittently to keep me warm. Luckily for Trysti, he was so good at his job that he rendered me completely speechless, capable only of squeaks and mumurs of bliss, making my proposal somewhat incomprehensible.
I rejoined Karina in the main body of the lagoon; both of us grinning like idiots. There was just one more thing we needed before we could start our reunion in earnest. We paddled up to the bar and availed ourselves of a celebratory drink each, then kicked back and let the talkathon begin before we were not-so-rudely interrupted…
Karina was the first to notice, she kept looking up, I followed her eye line and sure enough there they were, the Northern Lights! At first they could’ve been mistaken for a vapor trail or long thin cloud but I’d seen that greenish tinge before and knew it was the aurora. It strengthened into ribbons and clarified into a celestial green. It dropped into curtains with pink trim and danced above our heads. It swirled and dwindled, divided and came back together.
The photos would’ve been amazing but what was even more incredible was being there, fully present with one of the dearest people in my life, champagne in hand, starring up at natures most magical trick. I could have cried at the realization of yet another long held dream. I’ve always said that my ultimate experience would be to be in the Blue Lagoon in the snow under the Northern Lights (of course, this is impossible because snow comes from clouds which obscure the Northern Lights). Last time I was here, a snowstorm from nowhere fell as I had my massage and lasted the length of my Blue Lagoon visit. This time, a Northern Lights display just after I emerged from my massage and at only 7pm!!! I didn’t even know they could happen that early in the evening! It felt fated and fantastical, playful and powerful, gracious and just bloody gorgeous! I’m starting to run out of wishes to be fulfilled by the Blue Lagoon. Perhaps next time I will have to ask Trysti to marry me!
We stayed another hour before begrudging emerging back into the cold night air. We did our best to tame our hair but that’ll take another week at least – I don’t mind at all – this place is in my blood, it might as well be in my locks as well. I always feel a palpable tug on my heartstrings leaving the Blue Lagoon and tonight was no different. I warned Karina that her ‘Welcome to Iceland’ may have set an unrealistic expectation but that remains to be seen.
Tomorrow, Iceland Airwaves and a new adventure begins!