Other worldly experiences between the plates
Þingvellir (pronounced Thingviller) National Park opened our whirlwind Iceland adventure with a whisper and closed it with a bomb. And when we say whisper, nothing in Iceland is mediocre, but viewing waterfalls versus snorkeling in freezing temperatures less than four days apart warrants some distinction. We’ll get to the details in a bit.
On day one, we set out to Þingvellir in search of the Öxaráfoss waterfall. After miles of driving, we found ourselves peeking from behind towering hills only to see giant mountains in the distance. The terrain was like no man’s land in the most beautifully pure way. Iceland is so quiet. There are times when there’s not a soul in sight. It can make you feel really small, and we found that refreshing.
We made our way to the Þingvellir Visitor’s Center parking lot and spent a good 10 minutes convincing ourselves to get out of the car. So far, the weather had not been kind to us and our Florida blood adamantly refused to acclimate. The wind was the most cruel. But it was their summer, so truthfully we shouldn’t have complained. Alas, we paid for parking, flipped our hoods up, and followed where the people clustered.
After about 15 minutes of walking in the Almannagjá canyon under an overcast sky, we reached the Öxaráfoss waterfall. This part of Iceland was by no means silent. The deafening roar of the rushing water reminded us of fierce power, beautifully relentless. We broke out the Nikon and started snapping some pictures when a couple asked us to take their photo. They held out a sonogram and said: “Make it good. This is our baby announcement.” So absolutely chuffed at being a part of their moment, we staged a mini photoshoot.
We resumed our photo taking, braving some of the protruding rocks in shallow waters to get closer. Others didn’t fare so well. A tourist, accompanied by her friend, literally face planted onto one of the rocks, leaving behind a bloody mess and a huge forehead gash. We took this accident as a cue and started to walk back on the trail. A little gore and a dash of blood adds up to a light-headed Alex, so it’s best to get me out of there stat pronto. The girl was quickly attended to by her friend.
After the walk back, we perused the gift shop. Our interest was short lived. A $10 pen will do that to ya. We cozied up in our rental, drove back the way we came, and perched on an overlook parking spot to eat our packed lunch - salami sandwiches. Our Blue Lagoon time slot awaited us.
Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure
Two days later we were back in Þingvellir. This time, it was the car that was mostly silent. Nerves have a way of sucking up chattiness. Over the past 24 hours, we debated what our bang excursion was going to be – horseback riding on Vik beach? Nah, too cold. Whale watching? Nah, too touch and go – what if we didn’t see one? Glacier trekking? Sure! But somehow too far-fetched. Snorkeling? Ha! It’s Iceland, remember? Exactly. It’s Iceland. The country is home to one of the most stunningly clear freshwater fissures. It attracts divers and snorkelers galore for its pristine underwater views. And it’s located in Þingvellir Park.
Naturally, we chose this option and booked our package through Arctic Adventures. Doesn’t mean we weren’t a ball of nerves. We’re from Florida! What are we doing in cold water in Iceland?! I’m with you. We thought the same. But it was already booked, which meant no refunds.
We made our way back through no man’s land, through to literally no man’s land – where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. Waters from the Lángjökull glacier have been filtering through underground volcanic rock for 30-100 years, bubbling up into this junction that is the Silfra fissure.
On this thankfully sunny Saturday May morning, we found ourselves in wet suits so tight, we felt like they were painted on – especially around our necks – and a dry suit outer layer for protection and warmth. Our bulky but tight dry suits kept our clothes dry, although some water leaked up my left arm – it happens. Arctic Adventures also provided a cap, with one central cutout for your mouth, nose and eyes, but if you have long hair – we had twists at the time – some of your hair will be exposed, and get wet. They recommend you wear easy-to-dry clothing – long sleeved cotton top and leggings were our choice. Plus thick socks!
Like nautical spacewomen, we waddled to the launch with mitten-like gloves, flippers, and snorkels in tow – all provided by the company. The first plunge into the water sent us into a hyperventilating shock, but with limited air supply, oxygen is precious! Next, we were focusing on our numb faces and hands exposed to the icy water. Soon, we didn’t even feel that.
Like a Nat Geo Instagram feed – that’s how I would describe the experience. The water was so clear I thought I could reach out and touch the bottom. Visibility is up to 120 meters. No marine life in sight – the water is too pure. The swim took a little over 30 minutes. And we trudged back to the changing spot for some cookies and cocoa. We were semi-dry, but plenty awestruck.
The price was outrageous we don’t like to talk about it all we can say is go when there’s a deal on and even then be prepared to fork over some dough we’re still thinking about the price oh my gosh ahh change the subject.
Just before we left, we went back to the launch to taste the water. It’s been filtered after all. Relax, no one can pee in it – we were in dry suits, remember! The water was so clear that Gabbi couldn’t tell where it started and accidentally dipped her whole boot in going down the steps. Priceless.
The amount of hot water that comes steaming out of Iceland’s pores is fascinating. Þingvellir is home to the Strokkur geyser, a must see pit stop that only takes a few minutes…in theory.
Just a short walk (literally three minutes) from the well-appointed parking lot, café and restaurant, and gift shop, the main attraction awaits in Þingvellir. Small bubbling hot springs dot the path to the geyser of all geysers. There’s a rope around them, but it’s hot water, so keep kids close!
The geyser juts up from the ground every seven minutes or so but seeing it one time isn’t enough. At first there’s silence. Scores of tourists stand at the ready with their camera phones recording, watching and waiting. The water constantly bubbles, so you’re endlessly wondering, “Do I start my boomerang now? Now?!” And when it fires, it’s over just as soon as it starts, leaving behind steam and sulfur in the air, cheering tourists and the tension-filled wait for the next blast. We watched about three to four eruptions.
Next stop: lounging in some hot springs after a hike and climb to Hveragerði. The days were long and we aimed to fill them to the brim.
Don’t Make Our Mistake
The Gullfoss waterfall is just a short drive away 10 minutes, actually. Don’t miss it like we did. It’s only one of Iceland’s most popular falls.