Elysium in January: A Layover in Iceland and The Blue Lagoon

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The sky was dark, and had been for some time, but it was only 5 p.m. and we were heading toward blissful tranquility, the Blue Lagoon. Tom, Abby, and I had been in a car for eight hours, trying to fit as much of Iceland in 24 hours as we possibly could. They had met me at the airport, and with hugs exchanged, we were off on down the road, in the dull haze of winter morning light.

It was 9 a.m. and Tom pointed the car in the direction of Gullfoss Waterfall, rumbling down the road. It had been 24 hours since I had last slept, but I didn’t care, this was a strange new world, and I was wide awake with wonder. The roads wended their way through valleys with imposing hills and mountains stretching off in the distance, a green martian landscape with volcanic, basaltic rock cropping up in cairns, random monuments of lava’s might. The dirt was black, popping the green moss like neon lights glowing verdant on grey days, and the rocks were many and small, stretching out in cold, dry desert fields.

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Abby slept in the backseat, missing much of the landscape, as we sped toward the unknown. We weren’t sure of our directions, but that was all part of the adventure, and we wound our way through small towns, which at times were nothing more than a convenience store and a few Scandinavian looking homes. It was a few hours into our trip that Tom thought we might have taken a wrong turn and were heading in the wrong direction. We plied on a little while longer, and in the distance, spotted a house set far off the road. From within this squat residence a long-haired black dog emerged, and ran with a speed and fury as if the devil chasing him nipping at his tail. As we neared where the driveway intersected the road, the dog drew closer, his fur flapping back as he gained speed. Lunging at our car, he missed us by feet. . We were so taken by this dog’s intensity as he tumbled across the road, having missed us with his lunge, and he rolled like a rag doll thrown from a speeding train. Standing up, he seemed to huff like a bull ready for charge and take chase, but eventually he faded off into the disappearing horizon. Icelandic horses, one of the few pure breeds in the world, were grazing off in the distance, and ran parallel to the car, chasing the road, snorting as their long mane’s flew back, like a flag fluttering in a fierce wind. It was as if all animals were intrigued by these American’s visiting their nation, telling us to be wary, that this was their land.

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The waterfall was magnificent and beautiful, even in January, and its spray froze our path to this ferocious yet striking force of nature. Every step was a precarious one, and if we tumbled, we fell with no chance of survival. There was rope railing, which  was the only lifeline one would have, if any misstep occurred. Reaching the falls, the spray created an ethereal mist which roiled throughout the air, and floated languid, landing on the path, thickening the ice which smoothed to a high polish. The water roared as we took in the beauty of this natural wonder, and deciding our next location, we set off to lick a glacier.

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Tom always wanted to lick a glacier, and with his infectious personality and both our love for adventure, we all agreed to set off in the rented Polo Volkswagen four door hatchback, down a dirt and rock road, away from Gullfoss, heading deep into the interior of Iceland, toward the glaciers and imposing volcanos. As Tom steered us down that road, rocks the size of eggs bounced up into the undercarriage, large thuds reverberating through our feet, and for every pot hole we dodged, he caught two more. It wasn’t his driving, but instead this was terrain only lifted vehicles traverse, and signs reporting a lack of help in this area, made us realize we were traveling down a path that could have dire consequences if we became stranded.

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Far off in the distance we spied a large sheet of ice, black toward the base, but glimmering blue toward the slope, as it grasped at the sky. Moving closer toward this frigid wall of ancient time suspended in the present, the glacier seemed to move away from us, as if revolted by the idea of our saliva covered pink tongues sliding across its slick cold surface. We eventually turned around, and bombed down the road, looking at the gray surface to make sure there was no black oil slick that had followed us. Eventually the black top greeted us again, and we made our way back, in a round about way, to Reykjavik, and the to the Blue Lagoon, passing over the Silfra Tectonic Fissure, which is the watery gap that sits in the divide between the North American and Eurasian Continental plates.

But, the penultimate experience of our Icelandic tour was the Blue Lagoon. The afternoon sky was black with night as it strangled the sun with its coke hands. The winter sky was warmed with an orange glow as the streetlights began to fizzle on, illuminating the empty streets. I was tired, yet excited, and the thirty-six hours of no sleep lingered in the back of my thoughts, like an insipid, dull annoyance of tv static humming far off in the other room, only coming through in lulls of conversation. We pulled up to the large building rising from fields of basaltic rocks which rolled by like backs of fin whales as they plied the waters, rounded humps breaking the surface all at different intervals. We could see the steam rising from behind the structure, and with an eagerness, we entered the building to relax and enjoy the warmth which would encase us.

After a brief shower–in which you must be nude, as all the signs in the men’s changing room points out–we were out into the chill of the night, ready to enter the hot waters. Steam rose from the blue geothermal water which is pumped from the earth deep below, in which silica, algae, and minerals are picked up on the journey to the surface. The waters, a comforting 98-104 degrees fahrenheit, embraced our bodies as we slipped into the lagoon, and this was elysium in January. The squish of mineral laden mud scrunched between my toes as we walked along the edges, taking in the whole area and the different views. It was beautiful in that winter darkness, the steam rising up to the sky, illuminated by the low lighting which encased the water in a shimmering glow of turquoise. I could have sat there, the water up to my nose, the warmth penetrating to my bones, and slipped into unconsciousness, as if the waters hypnotized and pulled from me all the sleep I have missed over time.

Drowsiness clutched me instantly, and I felt a serenity calm me, and soothe my body. We stayed there for hours, the darkness a far distant force held at bay by this body of water, protecting the sanity of those who deal with the inky black for many hours and months each year. The lagoon embraced me, and I embraced it back. Life seemed so far away, and nothing more than a mere memory, as the water washed away all irritations, concerns, and stresses.

Later that night, we pulled the Polo behind a large do-it-yourself home repair store, and nestled in for the night. Leaning the passenger seat back, I barely had time to doze before the Sandman clamped my lids shut. But before I went into a deep coma for the night,  I saw myself floating in those azure waters, a warm blanket of mud covering my body, and I drifted off with a smile on my face, knowing in the future, there will always be layovers in Iceland when I travel to Europe.

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David Jester

About David Jester

David Jester lives in the Midcoast region of Maine. He received a masters degree in American and New England Studies from the University of Maine. David is a full-time firefighter/paramedic and writer, who maintains another blog www.firefighterwithapen.com. He travels the world, but chooses locales that many would never consider for vacation. The world is full of many different and unique places, why not see them all?