I have just returned from hiking 45 miles in 3 days along the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland, when National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions deliver me to the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s largest tourist attractions. My right foot has a pain in the arch that stretches up into my ankle and calf. My hamstrings feel stiff after sitting for too long, my hips and shoulders bruised from trekking my 30 pound pack. Each movement is a reminder of how alive I felt out on the trail–and my mind whirls as I make the transition between being completely alone in the wild tundra with only my husband as a quiet, steady companion to introducing myself over and over to 100 strangers. I am one for avoiding places like this–I prefer finding off-the-beaten path treasures, and I am hesitant and inwardly cynical.
A 45 minute bus ride through endless lava fields, backdropped by the sea from the center of Reykjavik leaves us quiet as we watch the intermingling grays and greens. I’ve made this ride before, but could make it a hundred times and still see something new in the nuanced landscape. Iceland is beautiful and surprising at every turn.
The geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon start out at 2,000 meters below the earth’s surface. A vent near a lava flow releases the 460 degree water to power turbines, providing electricity before traveling through a heat exchanger and providing municipal hot water for nearby residents. And finally, the water, cooled down to around 104 degrees is fed into the Blue Lagoon. It is a spectacular use of natural resources.
The water, hauntingly milky blue from silicate material that is pushed up with the hot water pressure, fills pools where soft silica provides cushioning under our feet. Buckets of silica are brought out for guests to coat their faces. And this is where I find myself–immersed in warm water after undressing and showering with my new friends of whom I have known for all of two hours, with silica spread thick on my face. And tourist attraction or not, it is heavenly. The water soothes my aching muscles and my terrible cynicism dissipates into the sweet bliss of warm water. We are instructed not to immerse our heads in the water, because the minerals are harsh on hair which will take days to recover, and as I feel the relaxing and healing powers of this warm water, I resist the urge to dive deep into the silent pull of underwater silence. To lose myself like a mermaid in a lagoon to the heavenly surreal blue. To reach down and sift the silica through my fingers. Instead, I notice that my body no longer hurts.
After changing back into warm clothes, the other teachers that I am traveling with and I walk along the paths that weave through the contrasting blues of water and blacks of lava, with the sounds of our cameras trying to capture the immensity of color. We are comfortable in our camaraderie, our skin soft, our muscles relaxed, and our laughter quick and natural. We are caught up in the unexpected contrasts of smooth blue waters and sharp dark rocks. We are full of wonder. We are one and the same in our curiosity and appreciation for this moment, and although the words are not spoken, we know that there is more to this water than healing skin conditions and relaxing overused muscles–the Blue Lagoon has baptized our new friendships.