Papers and phones pass back and forth over breakfast as we sketch out our itinerary for the day. I’m glad to see dad’s done some research. First observations; parking a Land Cruiser is challenging (everything is smaller here except the Costco) and, we have no map. Nevertheless, the journey begins. With cell phones in hand we depart Reykjavik for a self-guided tour of the Golden Circle.
Encompassing four of the most commonly visited sights in South Iceland, the Golden Circle is a 190-mile route looping from Reykjavik to the southern uplands of Iceland and back. This popular trek is said to be one of the best ways to experience Iceland’s unique topography. Stops include the Atlantic ridge of Þingvellir, the bubbling geothermal activity at Geysir, the roaring waterfall at Gullfoss and the natural hot springs of the Secret Lagoon. We see them all!
I am amazed by the number of Americans we encounter in our hotel and at every stop along the way. I’m also really glad Paul ordered me a dual layer waterproof coat. Intermittent rain and relentless winds are a constant vexation and with each bout we become more astute in the art of tucking cameras swiftly into coats and tugging pull-tight hoods into place.
Our first stop, Thingvellir National Park, a visible site of the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. In the resulting rift, a blanket of vibrant lawn slick with brisk hydration of inconvenient rain cushions the rocky ground below. Around the perimeter are small white signs depicting a hiking boot with a slash. Tourists comply, roaming up and down the designated paths. This luscious greenway will soon be available for weddings and special events. I get the symbolism in joining two lives at the convergence of tectonic plates, but Paul and I both find it ironic that all literature provided suggest this rift is actually a result of the plates pulling apart at a rate of about one inch a year.
Next stop, the Geysir geothermal area to see, Strokkur, Iceland’s most active geyser. Because Paul and I actually visited a similar site in New Zealand a few years back I wasn’t that enthused. Geyser watching is a lot of waiting in the stench of rotten chicken soup with about a 5-10 second plume of mist and water every so often. However, the viewing access to Stokkur certainly makes a trek worthwhile. If you haven’t experienced a geyser its definitely worth an up-close view, but for us the best part of this stop has to be watching from the top of a hill about a thousand feet above. If you don’t mind a little wind this is the way to do it.
In search of an escape from the rain and a ladies’ room we head across the street to the shops. In the fold, we stumble across two soup restaurants. Perfect! Time to warm up and dry off for awhile. Two bowls of soup, two slices of bread and tap water please. Total cost: $29.50. Wow, this place is expensive!!!
Next stop, Gullfoss Falls, the largest waterfall in Iceland. From a distance, a frothy white stream cascading through the rocky divide. However, as we draw closer a torrent and ravenous beast materializes. Its deafening roar, powerful enough to extinguish thought and speech, pounds the rocky outcrops below igniting the sky in unrelenting plumes of bitter haze. Spectacular and utterly terrifying!
Last stop of the day, the Secret Lagoon. I reluctantly follow my comrades into the bathhouse having read up on requirements the night before. Icelandic swimming pools have little if any chlorine therefore it is mandatory to wash one’s self before entering the pool . . . naked!!!
Numerous blog entries recount uncomfortable narratives of communal washing in the buff under watchful eyes of “bath guards” there to ensure compliance with showering requirements. This is further explained in the naked androgynous diagram posted on the wall, fully appointed with highlighted wash areas and written directions translated into six different languages. “Observe! Every guest is required to shower without a swimsuit before entering the pool!”
I run the shower routine through my head over and over again picturing myself walking through the turn stalls in a large white room filled with lockers and pasty white butt cheeks. Loose uninhibited women getting naked – very naked right next to me! Nope not happening! I know my reaction to the aquatic aspect of Icelandic culture may seem a bit prudish and extreme, but I’m ok with that. I am quite happy being a dry, well clothed gymnophobe, American tourist thank you very much.
So, I wait patiently on the other side holding everyone’s coats, bags and towels. They emerge one by one seemingly unscathed by the experience swearing there was no “bath guard” on duty. I sit bundled in my coat on the sideline. The water looks warm and it’s pretty cold on the pool deck, but I remain ardent in my conviction. Besides at this point getting in the pool would also require me to rent a swimsuit and I’m certainly not doing that either.