Iceland’s Blue Lagoon Is an Unnatural Wonder
Now before I get in trouble with Pink Iceland, a fantastic LGBT travel organization, let me say I loved Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon and would go back in a minute no matter how much fun I make of it. But there’s fun to be made.
Some years ago, upon first hearing about the Blue Lagoon—Iceland’s biggest tourist attraction—I couldn’t wait to visit this natural phenomenon. It’s a swimming lagoon filled with sea water heated to 100 degrees by underground geothermal seismic activity.
When traveling from the airport to Iceland’s capital of Reykjavik, we passed a giant geothermal energy plant adjacent to the famous lagoon. How marvelous, I thought, that this natural lagoon, heated by underground thermal energy is able to generate heat and power for an entire capital city!
Yeah. Well it’s the other way around.
Turns out that the bluish water, which indeed comes from geothermal sea water deep in the earth, is what’s pumped out of the power plant, creating the Blue Lagoon. And it wasn’t until the 1980s, that some public relations genius spied locals bathing in the warm pools caused by the run-off. “Aha!” he thought. “We will make this industrial run-off a massive tourist attraction and turn it into Iceland’s Disney World!”
It started with a trickle and one lonely bathhouse. Over the ensuing years, using natural lava rock instead of recognizable pool tiles, entrepreneurs expanded the run-off stream, improved the amenities, and now it’s a Shangri-La rising from the moonscape-like rubble that is suburban Reykjavik.
The Lagoon employs hundreds of people in an area which can use employment and literally thousands of people visit it daily to bathe in the blue water and smear Silica (that comes from the water) on their faces. Oh, and they buy beauty products that are beauty byproducts from the minerals in the lagoon.
It makes me darn proud of my public relations profession.
Weeks before we visited, we made reservations. There’s the Standard ticket, which buys entry and a Silica mud mask; Comfort ticket, adding a towel; Premium ticket (our choice) adding a bathrobe, slippers, drink at the bar, and a reservation for dinner complete with a glass of Prosecco. Oh, and an algae mud mask in addition to the Silica. The Luxury package added a host of expensive anti-aging products to take home but failed to include a total face lift, so we figured it was too late for us and passed on the products.
Fast forward. On Blue Lagoon day, we arrive at the parking lot overflowing with tour busses, in the shadow of the power plant. We join the unwashed masses, chattering in a veritable United Nations of tongues, surging toward the entry.
We are each given a plastic high-tech bracelet, which knows which services we purchased, and gets us through the turnstile, where we pick up our towel, bathrobe, and slippers. We move fast as the surging mob behind us threatens to overtake our position.
Rushed off to the ladies lockers, we arrive to find a large flock of naked women, chirping in Asian, Norse, pig-Latin and other languages. Terrified, I hug the wall, mouth agape, clutching my rented robe. Bonnie grabs me, points to a locker and demands I get out of my stupor as well as my clothes and head for the mandatory shower.
On the wall there are explicit directions for what and where to wash and monitors standing by to assure compliance.
“What are these, the orifice police?” I ask as Bonnie shoves me under the shower head.
And then we all struggle into our bathing suits. Only women can understand the torture of trying to insert a wet body into a dry bathing suit. It’s an Olympic trial.
Well suited, we press our high-tech bracelet against the locker to shut it securely and join the now-washed masses heading for the Lagoon.
Ahhhh. I get it. The air is cool at 60 degrees but the water is gloriously warm. And blue. And the lagoon is so big (how big is it?) that the masses disburse, leaving us plenty of privacy as we float and swim and luxuriate in the comforting mineral-infused power plant run-off. Weird.
We swim up to the Silica mask kiosk, grab a handful of white goop and apply it all over our faces. It would have been easier with putty knives. The stuff quickly becomes drying spackle. I smile and a fissure opens along my laugh lines. I laugh because there are hundreds of bright white spackle-covered faces around me, like a sea of mimes.
We dunk our Kabuki-masked heads under the water’s surface to rinse and swim for the bar, where our magic bracelets know we get a complimentary beer. Swimming away, savoring the Icelandic brew, we drink and dive with impunity. It really is glorious.
Then it’s back to the kiosk for the algae mask. “It’s an anti-aging marvel,” says the handsome young man in the kiosk as he offers up the green sludge.
“Too late. That ship has sailed,” I say.
“No, look at me,” he says, “I’m 75.” Good one.
We obediently apply the green algae muck to our noses, cheeks and chins and start singing the score from Wicked. Bonnie channels Kermit singing, “It’s not easy being green.” As for me, I’m Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk.
Green at the gills, we swim behind a waterfall, travel the circumference of the enormous lagoon, and marvel at the natural lava rocks masking its man-madeness. We frolic, luxuriate some more and then, algae mask hardened to perfection, I crack a smile. Literally. Time for dinner and Prosecco.
We wade out of the lagoon, don our terry robes and slippers and trudge back to the lockers. Mercifully, the tour busses have stopped arriving and the changing area is no longer a massive peep show. We scrub the vestiges of green mud from our faces, dress, return our terry cloth and, using our electronic wrist bands, verify that we drank no more than was due us on our pre-paid ticket. Then, we use the wristband once more to open a compartment in the exit area, we surrender said wrist band and watch the turnstile open automatically to let us out. Very technologically efficient.
Frankly, we didn’t expect much from a fancy restaurant at a tourist attraction, but we got a great surprise, enjoying delicious arctic char and lamb chops, along with our included bubbly wine.
And we toasted to the marketing and promotional superstars who turned power plant left-overs into one of National Geographic’s 25 wonders of the world. It’s enough to turn us PR hacks green with envy.
Speaking of PR, join me at Accent on Travel (37156 Rehoboth Avenue) on Wednesday, Sept. 21 for a happy hour to learn about the fantastic cruise I am hosting next summer. It’s a Sailing cruise liner with a stellar itinerary in the Italian/French Riviera! From Rome and Portofino to Corsica, Monaco and Cannes—an amazing journey on a small ship of approximately 200 people. And I’m entertaining! It sails next August—come hear about the trip—it’s sure to be a blast! Or, call Accent on Travel (302-278-6100) for details.
Fay Jacobs is the author of As I Lay Frying—a Rehoboth Beach Memoir; Fried & True—Tales from Rehoboth Beach, For Frying Out Loud—Rehoboth Beach Diaries, and her newest book Time Fries—Aging Gracelessly in Rehoboth Beach.