I sat in an oversized leather chair, holding a six-dollar Americano in my hands and listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA.”
I was trying desperately to warm up, having been soaked from head to toe by the steady rain. Once again, I noted my appreciation for the Goodwill-bought Cuddl Duds I was wearing underneath my clothing. I had worn them in Nepal and now in Iceland. The decade in Florida had thinned my blood considerably and the extra warmth was a beautiful thing.
Nepal’s air had been dry, crisp and clear; Iceland’s inclement weather regularly spit water at us. We saw the sun once for a few moments. The vast majority of the time, however, a heavy, dense cloud cover hung low in the sky. These were the types of days that sent Floridians indoors and resulted in a marked decrease in productivity.
Although the rain was a regular occurrence, I refused to buy an umbrella. Umbrella prices averaged around twenty dollars. For this reason, my perpetually damp clothing became the norm.
We had wandered around Geysir hot springs, an active geothermal area located in the Haukadalur valley of southern Iceland. We were here to see the volcanic pools, experience the geysers and take in the volatile yet beautiful landscape. It didn’t disappoint: it was beautiful, amazing and surreal–just like every other natural phenomenon we had visited within this picturesque little country.
Our adventure in Iceland was short: four days. In the weeks leading up to this trip, Chris had researched, planned and mapped the places we needed to see and experience with precision detail. He was determined to not waste a single moment.
Unfortunately, droves of tourist busses also had the same idea: a steady flow of them entered and exited the popular location within the heart of the “Golden Circle.” Wide-eyed tourists armed with cameras filed off their transports. I realized that this described us, too; however, we marched to the beat of our own drum. We rented a car and relished the freedom that this expense had provided us.
Iceland’s volcanic activity had formed this area–as well as this whole island–millions of years ago. Black lava fields and volcanic rocks remained and are strewn everywhere: in countrysides, near the ocean, in towns. The beaches are made from black sand. Even the salt is black.
Iceland straddles two tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. These plates are slowly moving away from each other at a rate of about just under one inch per year, causing the country-wide geological phenomena that people flock to the Scandinavian country to see.
Iceland is one of the only places on Earth where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible above sea level. About 90 percent of the fissure that circles the planet is located under ocean waters. In Iceland, however, you can see the crack, walk through it and even swim around it at Thingvellier (Þingvellir) National Park.
Because of this volcanic activity, the hot water in Iceland is serious business. Not only is it scalding hot right out of the tap, this abundant natural resource is harnessed and is used for sustainable energy. For this reason, Iceland’s heating and energy is fairly inexpensive. The geothermal power plants located across the country produce about 30 percent of the country’s electricity and meet the hot water needs of about 87 percent of Iceland’s 338,000 residents.
We were visiting the Thingvellir tomorrow. Today, however, we were exploring this hot spring area in the rain. Steam rolled up and billowed around us, caused by the underground and surface boiling water pools that bubbled from the ground in varying degrees of intensity. A heavy sulfur smell lingered in the air.
When Chris first told me that we would visit this area, I had a bit of a “been-there-done-that” attitude. I had been to Yellowstone National Park multiple times. Although the landscape was somewhat similar, the United States had bubble-wrapped its volcanic gem with ramps, gates and fences. Here, there wasn’t much standing between me and the boiling pits of death–merely a thin rope.
There was one large warning sign as we approached. The distance to the nearest hospital was in black and white: it was about 38 miles away. For the unfortunate soul who tripped and fell or attempted to “test the temperature” of the water, it would be a long, agonizing ride to help.
I bent down to touch the ground; it was hot. Steam billowed out from the earth in fumaroles around us. The heat felt good.
We headed toward one of the most predictable geysers in the park, Strokkur. Boiling water explodes from geyser at a rate of about every eight minutes to 10 minutes and reaches as high as 90-plus feet into the air.
We wandered throughout the area, marveling at the volcanic pools around us. They were brilliant blues, yellows and oranges. Although research had shown that the area had been active for about 10,000 years, the geysers in the valley have varied in their frequency, awakened periodically by earthquakes.
About 30 geysers surrounded us. “Geysir,” which is the largest, can go years between eruptions and is currently in an inactive phase. We had seen Smiður and Litli-Strokkur, as well as had witnessed the power of Strokkur. We had seen boiling mud pots and had looked deep into the earth, thanks to the crystal-clear water of these pools.
As we sat in the visitor’s center, eating pastries and drinking warm drinks, I reflected on the beauty of the land around us. I appreciated this amazing adventure, despite the cold drizzle, the dark skies and the rain.