On The Benefits of Hot Pools, Mostly

Spring in Iceland is a mostly cold, grey affair, strikingly suited to the harsh, rugged landscape. The road into the capital city, Reykjavik, from the airport in Keflavik, cuts through rocky, volcanic terrain, reminiscent of Martian landscape in its arid, reddish desolation. Tall, snowy mountains rise behind the city, which itself is an organic sprawl, emanating out from the harbour centre.

For this foreigner, the street names alone present a near-insurmountable challenge; was the best way to our hostel via Suðerlandsbraut, or Kringlumýrarbraut?

Once situated, my travel companion (who also happens to be by mother, Mary) set out to explore the city.

Known for being exorbitantly expensive, Reykjavik lives up to its reputation. A restaurant meal will run you about CAD$30 and up, while a pint of the cheapest Icelandic beer cashes in at between $10 and $18.

Luckily, we’re happy to eat cheaply, and we also have a wild card in our pocket – another Yukoner! A Whitehorse resident who now works as a guide, our friend took us snorkelling in the Silfra – a canyon in Þingvellir Lake, squarely in the centre of the mid-Atlantic rift.

The eerily clear water between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates is supposed to be some of the cleanest in the world, filtered for a hundred years or more through porous underground lava fields.

At the urging of our guides, we sipped cautiously at the sweet blue stuff as we swam through (very counterintuitive, that – every Yukoner knows never to drink lake water); it tasted incredible.

Swimming the glacial waters of the Silfra was only one of the many times we found ourselves immersed in Iceland’s fabled waters – geothermal hot pools are a national pastime here, and we quickly found out why. The one nearest our room was Laugardalslaug – a tiled complex of differently heated pools ranging from 38ºC to 42ºC, a 5ºC cool-down pool, a giant lane-swimming rectangle, a seawater pool and a steam room. Icelanders from all walks of life congregated there, socializing, exercising, or simply relaxing. It seems the thing to do after a long day of work or school. We were struck by how calm everyone seems, and hypothesize that it must have something to do with this luxurious daily soaking.

Further explorations last week saw us hiking 17 km round trip through a surprisingly sunny tundra-like desert to explore the site of Gjaín, which comprises the reconstruction of an ancient Viking longhouse and a nearby oasis of waterfalls, streams, vibrant green moss and breathtakingly geometric basalt formations.

We finished that particular day with a desperate dash to the nearest hot pool, further reinforcing their very obvious necessity (and our country’s sad lack) of these amazing institutions.

Tomorrow sees us leaving Reykjavik to drive through the remarkably Yukon-esque midlands, where the grassy tundra and looming mountains are near indistinguishable from areas on the Dempster Hwy.

We will be tackling the Ring Road, a highway that circles the entire country, for the next week, checking out geysers, ruins, glaciers and (at Mom’s insistence), the cheeky, shaggy Icelandic ponies.

‘Til next time, takk fyrir and goðan daginn!

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