I stepped off the plane after the 8-hour flight from San Francisco and the smell of the air reminded me of Monterey. The tangy scent of salt mixed with the shocking freshness of the air as if someone had put an oxygen mask over my face. I stood at the top of the silver metal staircase of the Barbie pink airplane looking out at a flat expanse. There seemed to be nothing around the airport. Nothing but a bunch of mauve-colored planes gathered at a farm on the edge of the water.
A shuttle bus took us to the main terminal and I followed the mass of people to border patrol. The airport seemed either under construction, or the modern architecture turned it into an intentional maze of corridors and minimalist design. After taking care of the basics: exchanging currency, getting a SIM card, and buying a road map, I headed to pick up my rental car. The rental car space sat alongside a series of other industrial buildings where a shuttle took you to your destination despite the fact everything remained quite close due to the small size of the airport. Inside the rental car place, you took a number as if you were waiting at the DMV, waiting amongst the red plastic chairs with a coffee from their minibar if you so choose.
The huge smile and tousled blonde hair of the incredibly friendly woman who helped me reminded me of a friend of mine from my childhood. She sold me on the gravel and ash protection as well as pre-paid refuel. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered, but since my flight leaves at 6am on Saturday, I figured it was worth the extra 75 euros. After picking up the white SUV, it was time to head to the Blue Lagoon!
I can’t describe the wonder I felt driving through the Icelandic countryside. Between the airport and Keflavík, all the way to the home of the Blue Lagoon in Grindavík, jagged lava rock covered the landscape instead of grass. I kept thinking to myself, “This is where dragons are born.” A mottled grey-green moss covered the rocks giving them an alien texture. The rolling hills in the distance stood as monoliths: gods of nature guarding the fae beyond.
As I approached where the GPS told me The Blue Lagoon would be, I noticed steam rising from the ground like the bowels of the Earth had been cracked open. This had to be it. Sarah (who I have named the British voice in the GPS) told me to turn right. As I drove along the one-lane road, thin streams of milky blue water began running along the side of the road below me. On the left-hand side, what looked like a factory rose from the lava rock bellowing that steam I saw from the main drag. Tour buses and parked cars started popping up amongst the rocks. I knew I had found the parking lot. Another monolith, a great white slab of glass with the inscription “Blue Lagoon Iceland” stood at the entrance to a corridor of black lava rock piled high on both sides. I walked down the stone path marveling at this land so foreign to the concrete and soft green of the Bay Area hills that I was accustomed to.
The actual entrance to the spa had you cross a moat of the blue milky water to enter a building made of glass. The arteries of pipes ran in perfect Nordic industrial design along the length of its body. A tour bus had beaten me to the entrance so I decided to take a moment to check out the small pools outside of the spa to wait for the rush to die down. I followed the few people taking pictures off to the side. The jagged black rock surrounded a flat plane where pools of periwinkle blue milk weaved through forming ponds crusted with pure white mineral. I later learned that this is the silica brought up from the depths of the earth. Against the blackish rocks covered in yellow-gray moss, the scene looked alien. I couldn’t stop staring at it.
When I finally made it inside, I followed the packs of people past the front desk and up at the changing room. They ask you to shower before you enter the lagoon as to rid yourself of all the city muck, lotions, sunscreens, and whatever other slime that might be sticking to you. It took me a while to figure out the wristband system with the lockers. Another woman and one of the cleaning ladies told me how it worked because they saw me struggling. It did not help that I was giving in to my OCD because I had my passport in the locker and wanted to ensure that it was locked properly. I checked the lock three times before heading down only to have to go back and put my glasses in my locker.
When I was a kid, I used to watch this anime called “Ranma 1/2” where the main character would turn into a girl when hot water got poured over him and back into a boy when they bathed in cold water. Or was it vice versa? Anyway, the story took place in Japan and the characters would train in the mountains, taking breaks to bathe in these majestic hot springs with wooden bridges rising over the pools and saunas made from volcanic rock. Now imagine that, but the water looks like blue milk, and the rocks surrounding the pools appear covered with a white crust. You think it is slime or algae, then you go up to touch it, and the substance feels hardened onto the rock itself. The water felt like a warm bath. You couldn’t see an inch below the surface because of the minerals. One of the signs said that the lagoon gets the blue color from the way light refracts off the elements in the water.
As I slid into the blue milk, I played with the shadows my body cast in the water. If I brought my body part close to another part then the water turned dark as if some sinister monster were about to rise from the depths. Yet as soon as I moved it away, the water faded back to that gentle blue. I floated around the lagoon listening to all the different languages as people conversed in Russian, Italian, English, Icelandic, Spanish, and more. I tried to start thinking about the serious self-reflection I needed to do on this trip, but honestly my mind just drifted off, sinking under the water.
I thought about nothing at all except the blue milk.
When I started thinking again, especially about food, that was when I knew it was time to leave and head to the hostel.
It took me a while to pull myself from that place. I just wanted to turn into a giant prune and drift forever, but instead I set the GPS coordinates for Galaxy Hostel and headed towards Reykjavík. Thank goodness for cruise control because with the 90 km/h speed limit, it felt like 50 mph and all I wanted to do was lay into the gas. People kept passing me, but I’ll be damned if I get an expensive Icelandic speeding ticket.
As I passed through smaller suburbs, I noticed two places had road signs that said “Home of the Vikings” or “Home of Elves.” Iceland, between your breathtaking landscapes and fantastic mythology, you are very quickly winning my heart.
I got to the hostel and took the elevator to the 3rd floor. Someone had posted a drink menu on the side of the elevator for happy hour. When I got to the lobby, it reminded me of the hostels from my last European trip. I felt a sense of nostalgia recalling my 19 year-old self meeting people from all over the planet and going off on adventures.
The lady at the front desk showed me to my room and all the amenities. I swear between her and the uncannily Barbie doll-like flight attendants on the airplane, I am starting to wonder if Iceland intentionally hires blonde-haired, blue-eyed women for customer service positions. I felt delighted when I saw the bunk I would sleep in. It was every sci-fi fantasy I wanted it to be complete with a touch sensor console area to control lights, etc. inside of your pod and a TV built into the glass wall inside the pod. The blue-violet overhead light really made me feel like I was in a space ship.
I had a full-on geek boner.
My original plan was to drop my stuff off and then go explore Reykjavík to find dinner. As soon as I lay horizontal, I was done for, only to wake up at 2 am realizing that time had just disappeared.
Some things are just like home.
I got up to see if the rumors I had heard about there being light in the middle of the night were true, but found it was totally dark. I ended up having a conversation with a man named Shay from Israel who had been traveling around for the last month. He told me how “the north” of Iceland was beautiful. He had sprained his ankle at Myvátn, but then people kept coming to visit him and he made friends that way. When he went to the south, he went to buy a plane ticket to Akureyri back in the north and someone had thought he was going to walk all the way there, so the person bought a plane ticket for him. He joked that it must have been God making up for the sprained ankle. I told him that I was torn between traveling to northern or southern Iceland. He said if I only have two days, I should go north because there is so much to see in the South that I will want to go hiking and take more time. He also mentioned I could do both and circumnavigate the ring road, but I felt I would end up spending more time driving than seeing anything.
I guess I’ll head north then.
Wow. It’s now 4:30 am. If I want to get going early, I better go back to sleep.