We went snorkeling in Iceland. In March.
If you did a double-take and thought, “Why the hell would you do that?”, that’s exactly why I did it. One of the many reasons for traveling is to brag to your friends and family that you went somewhere. But if everyone’s going somewhere, it makes it harder to brag about your special, very unique vacation. If we end up going to Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand later in the year, we’ll have to book a landmine-clearing excursion just to have something unique to write home about. Oh well. I guess we still have “Getting married at The Four Seasons in Bora Bora.”
At any rate, everyone’s going to Iceland these days. It used to be backpackers and Northeastern folks stopping on a layover to or from Europe. No longer. Everyone is there. EVERY. ONE. Northern Lights. Shrug. Glacier hiking. Yawn. Ate a horse? Pffft. Did you try the urine-soaked shark? (No.)
So I booked a snorkeling trip.
But before we went snorkeling, we went to the Blue Lagoon. I know. I know. One second I’m whining about places being overrun with tourists, the next I’m booking a trip to the most overrun tourist attraction in Iceland.
I have no regrets. There is no shame in going to see the things in a country that have become popular. Some folks will come to New York and spend the entire time in dive bars — just like the kind they hang out in back home — and consider themselves superior to those who go to The Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are sort of miserable to get to, but they’re also well worth that little bit of misery — for the views, for the history, for the education, for the people-watching. We went to Paris for the first time last year? Did we go to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower? Of course we did. Even if the Eiffel Tower is just that: a tower. It’s basically like going to the top of a tall ladder. But it was worth it.
So we went to the Blue Lagoon, even if it is 40 minutes away from Reykjavik, even if it is crawling with tourists, even if it is actually “waste water” from Iceland’s geothermal heating system.
And it was worth it. My one regret was not making it the first or last thing on the trip. A number of guides advise you to stop there on the way from or to the airport. We didn’t do that. I was worried that there would be some sort of scheduling snafu or that dealing with bags would be a hassle. No such worries. (On the bus we did take to Blue Lagoon, I got stuck to Awful American Trying to Save a Seat for Imaginary/Late Boyfriend Who Ended Up Watching YouTube Video at Full Volume All the Way There and Cara got stuck next to Old Lady Who Smelled Like a New York Subway Hobo.)
The beauty of the Blue Lagoon is precisely that it caters to international travelers. It’s a well-oiled machine. You reserve an arrival time in advance (this is a must), show up with your tickets, stand in a properly-managed, fast-moving line, get your locker, take your shower and then are free to bask in the soothing warm waters, drink in hand, algae mask on your face, until you pass out from dehydration.
But we didn’t stay that long. Because we had a snorkeling trip that afternoon.
We’d booked the trip through Extreme Iceland’s site, but the excursion was actually run by Dive.IS, which offers snorkeling and SCUBA outings as well as dry-suit courses and certification for divers. They’ll pick you up at your hotel and drive you out to Thingvellir (which you may remember from the previous post).
(Tangent: I was starting to worry that I hadn’t seen Texas Man on this trip. You know who I’m talking about. Go anywhere in the world and you’ll see Texas Man. Sometimes he’s a she — or a whole horde of Texans. Sometimes he’s cringe-inducing. Sometimes he’s hilarious. Sometime’s he’s both. I was starting to worry that Texas Man had been replaced by New England Patriots Bro — an entirely inferior specimen. Texas Man might wear jeans on the ski slope, but he’ll at least have the sense not to wear shorts during the winter. On our way out to Thingvellir, we stopped and picked up another couple. They were from Texas, but they had much more of a hipster vibe, so I didn’t feel like I was getting the full Texas Man experience. Not to worry. Once we got out to the park, we were joined by Mike, a real Texas Man. He sauntered up from some parking lot in a trench coat. Certified diver. On his way too or from Europe for a sales trip. He actually lived in the same general Fort Worth vicinity of the couple. Texas is big. But it’s a small world after all. Oh, and get this: I think every single person in our dive group was from the South.)
Once at Thingvellir, we started the process of getting 16 or so inexperienced people into dry suits in the middle of a parking lot in Iceland. While this process was starting, we also witnessed the tail end of the process as the previous group waddled over the rise and into the parking lot and began trying to pull off dry suits in the middle of a parking lot in Iceland. (It was at this point that I noticed that the gloves were not dry-suit gloves, but rather thick wet-suit gloves. And some of the folks just getting out of the water seemed to be looking at their hands as if they’d never be of use again.)
The process was hilarious. People were nervous about getting in the water in the first place. Getting into dry suits is not an easy task — especially when they’re not designed specifically for you. And for dry suits to work properly, you need parts of the suit to be uncomfortably tight. If you’ve been in wet suits before, you’re at least aware of the discomfort. Some of these folks had never even had a wet-suit experience. One woman, who’d apparently been talked into this by her husband, looked a little nervous and unhappy and was complaining that the suit was way too tight. Turns out it wasn’t close to tight enough.
For the record, this woman was not Cara. Granted, she too had been talked into this by me, and she was giving me that “I’m gonna get you sucka” look. But she was a champ about the whole thing.
Eventually, we were suited up and ready to go for a snorkel.
Some answers to your questions.
- You spend more time getting into and out of dry suits than you do in the water.
- The water is between 32 and 35 degrees (F.)
- Yes. That is cold.
- Yes. Your lips go numb, as do your hands, but pretty much everything else stays nice and dry and toasty.
- Yes. The water is crystal clear.
- No. There are no fish or other wildlife for you to see. (Well, there may be a few tiny fish, but there aren’t many of them and they’re the same color as the rocks.)
- The rocks are pretty interesting.
- The water is a mix of spring and glacier water and — think about how odd this is if 99% of your snorkeling/diving is done in the ocean — it is delicious.
- Aside from whatever nerves you’re dealing with, it’s not strenuous at all. The dry suit is basically a floatation device and you swim with a current.
- There are hot chocolate and cookies after the snorkel.
Was it worth it? I’d argue yes. While we didn’t see fish or coral or anything like that and getting into the dry suit was no day at the beach (though it was half a day in a park … hahahahaha. I’m hilarious), we can still tell people, “Oh, we went snorkeling in Iceland” and get that “WhachootalkinaboutWillis?” look.
I would say, however, that if you’re going to do a day of water sports, you should reverse the order. Get the cold, slightly stressful bit out of the way first, then go to the Blue Lagoon and relax for the rest of the day.