Otherworldly – April 4, 2006

Iceland seems far away already. When I think about it, I think of the Blue Lagoon, where my friend and I went on a weekday evening. It was dusk when we walked along the path between stone hills that led to the lagoon. By the time we changed into bathing suits and made our way from the locker room to the water, it was night. Most people had gone home for the evening. The lagoon wasn’t crowded, the water was warm and pale sky blue, and it was amazing, though not quite what I expected.

Here’s what tourist brochures don’t always tell you about the Blue Lagoon: It was created as a result of an industrial waste problem. Seriously. The Icelanders built a geothermal power plant — one of the main sources of energy there, thanks to volcanic activity and hot springs beneath the surface of the ground — and quickly discovered it was producing a lovely sky-blue runoff. The water was clean — all water in Iceland is clean — so instead of roping off the area or trying to drain it, some brilliant Icelander had a brilliant brainstorm: Let’s turn it into a spa! We will advertise it as a layover destination to people flying to Europe, since it’s near the airport!

Which is exactly what they did. They arranged rocks artfully, created a faux waterfall and a series of pools, placed boxes of therapeutic silica scrub at strategic locations around the giant lagoon, and installed most excellent lighting. They started selling body scrubs for approximately $40 per tube. They added massages to the menu. They made it a destination.

It really was magical the night we visited. The steam rising off the sky-blue water — which, yes, briefly made me wonder what was in the water before I tamped down the thought by assuring myself there was no way the environmentally conscious Icelanders would allow tourists to wade happily through toxic waste, let alone swim there themselves, which they do in droves — obscured objects more than about 10 feet away, except for the lights, which glowed like will-o-the-wisps. I wandered through the mostly silent water, losing sight of shore, letting the currents and levels of heat dictate my movements (yes, it is possible for a spa to be too hot, as evidenced by the scary little warning signs in parts of the lagoon). I felt disconnected from myself, peaceful, and curious about how big this lagoon was, after all. (It was huge.)

After this exploration, my friend and I met up with the two guys who’d driven us to the lagoon and we got some food and drinks from the waterside bar.

As it turns out, very little is as decadent as eating ice cream while soaking in a spa in Iceland.

Just ignore the power-plant lights to your left.

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