We were awake early and snuck by throngs of tourists to steal breakfast from the hotel we didn’t stay at. With at least a bit of Skyr and some pickled herring in our stomachs we got in the car to find the fabled hot spring swimming pool, Iceland’s oldest, Seljavallalaug.
The dirt road we decided would bring us to the trailhead, ended up being the right one on our too small map and when we got out of the car there was still a bite to the air as the sun hadn’t made it around to where we were yet. The scenery was a construction site, rocky with a bit of water flowing through and a seemingly uncaring man wearing an Icelandic wool sweater operating a front end loader, still this had to be the spot. There were two guys on enduro bikes, who had come from the same place we wanted to head to and they assured us we were in the right spot but that the pool was having some maintenance done by a few local volunteers that pressure wash it once a year.
We made our decision to walk in and check it out regardless of construction, or not; after all those guys could be lying, trying to keep tourists like us away from their local swim spot, hope is a curious thing. As we turned to find the path in, an old Black Lab comes up to say hi, she is greying around the mouth and friendly as can be with quite a bit of slobber to go around. Immediately after introducing herself, she is on the trail beckoning us to follow and so we we’re off following our doggy guide to the oldest pool in Iceland.
Rocky black construction, gave way to rich vibrant green hillsides and cliffs surrounding the valley we were walking through and the trickle of water we had seen in the flat before the trail turned into a river. The morning was still and the air still cold, but this place was almost spiritual; calm and borderline solemn, justifying Icelandic folklore of fairies and trolls. Our four legged tour guide took us up and down hillsides, knowing every which way to get around obstacles and as we approached a medium sized creek crossing, noticed our struggle and brought us lower to an easier place to get across.
Growing closer, the ground emitting the scent of sulfur and steam that only comes from the geothermal, we rounded a corner to see the old pool; built into the hillside, some of the concrete crumbling but still there, and three men in oil gear pressure washing as we’d been told. The pool was empty and we both felt the pang of disappointment despite knowing this prior to our walk in. We took a photo or two, gave the guys a wave and with that followed our friend back to the car, over obstacles, creek crossings, and appreciating every bit of the sun now warming our cold faces and the glowing green hillside behind us.
This post was featured in Volume 1: Issue 2 of Lay Off The Iodine’s Analog Companion.
All photos in this post taken on Canon AE-1 on 35mm film.
A bit further along and you find the landscape begins to change; lush greens and waterfalls give way to black and in the distance almost inching towards you, your first glimpse of a glacial tongue. Skaftafell is Iceland’s premiere glacial national park and since ice accounts for about twenty percent of the island’s surface – a huge portion – this ice is not to be ignored, and Skaftafell is a great, albeit crowded, place to kick off.
A quick stroll brings you from vibrant brush and floor to the forefront of Falljökull glacial tongue, and the lagoon it melts into. It’s immensity, at one time creeping towards us, now recedes, continually gaining momentum and disappearing faster and faster as time trudges forward and our kind does little to reverse the mistakes we’ve made that have brought us to this point. A conversation for another day.
The chunks bobbing in the lagoon range from baseball size and crystal clear to car size and blue, to pure white and the size of a bus, all from the same place and all ever so slowly getting smaller to feed the lagoon.
As you take this all in, reflect on scale, time, politics, etc… the whipping wind coming off the ice chills you to the bone and through layer and layer you begin to feel it; noticeably fifteen or twenty degrees cooler and somehow fresher than the rest of the air, a bit more pure, a bit more free. Or maybe it’s just cold and that’s how you justify it. Regardless it’s time to get back to the car.