On our second day in Iceland, we dove right in (pardon the pun!) and took the trip out to Thingvellir National Park to go snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, a crack in the earth where two tectonic plates – North America and Eurasia are ripping apart at a rate of 2 cm a year.
When you think of snorkeling, it is probably an image of some place in the Bahamas. Warm, tropical, and bathing suit clad. We were in long underwear (mine were pink! They were on sale…) and wrangled into an under layer with a thick dry suit over layer that had latex fittings around the wrists and head. Pushing through that latex smashed my nose flat, and I was completely out of my comfort zone as the gear went on. The latex gripped around your neck so tightly, as to not let in any water. They call it a dry suit for a reason! I have no fear of water, so the physical part of snorkeling was going to be fine. Mike is more comfortable on top of an icy mountain than in the water, so this was his first time, and it turned out that he was an immediate natural!
We suited up in the bitter cold, my hands in so much pain from the wind chill, and waddled out to the entry area, lined up with other groups, awaiting our turn to get on the platform. We moved slowly down the platform stairs and put on the flippers, had some instruction from our guides, and were all amused when we had to spit in our masks to get out the fog.
It was go time. Heel walking down the steps, we submerged. The first few seconds were an adjustment. The water was someplace in the mid 30 degrees F. The suit felt bulky, and my forehead, exposed, felt like an “ice cream brain freeze” but just then, at that moment…. I relaxed and looked down, and focused on the beauty that surrounded me. In that second, all of the previous awkwardness slipped away and the pure rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins!
We slowly moved along in our group, through the shallows, looking at beautiful rock formations and layers of color, so very different from those Caribbean waters, but just as spectacular. Knowing that we were looking at this special and unique place on Earth was so exciting, and its significance was not lost on us. Glacier waters, filtered by lava and so pristine that you could drink the water while swimming. I didn’t drink intentionally, but got water in the snorkel when I was being overconfident, and doing some fancy moves in the water 🙂
Moving on, the shallows opened up to an area called the “Silfra cathedral” and the bottom dropped out from underneath us, vast and beautiful. The visibility is 100 metres. There are no fish swimming in the fissure – they stay in the big Thingvellir Lake, where the fissure feeds. We did not snorkel out there, therefore saw no fish, just the ancient rock formations and limited growth of algae and “troll hair” (I love that description!) By turning your head in the water, you could observe vibrant layers of color. I popped my head up a few times for photo ops, I stole a few moments to look around and really soak in where I was. If ever I “lived in the moment,” it was right then. Check out the video:
After about 35 minutes, we exited the water with help, as our limbs were pretty chilled, and walked back to the staging area, cold and wet. Our tour company was wonderful and obviously prepared, with a warm trailer to change in, and provided us with hot chocolate and cookies, which were sweet and delicious. I felt like a little kid coming in from the winter snow, enjoying that small pleasure. Getting the chill out took a while, and I fought the shivers for a bit, but getting out of your comfort zone is what it is all about! On a funny note, the Aussie woman that was part of our group, turned and looked at me with a wild-eyed look and exclaimed “What the F&%# were we thinking!!??” (Say that with an Australian accent.) Priceless! I laughed so hard at that one! Our guides were Icelandic transplants from Milan, Italy and Namibia. Stefano (Stefanino…little Stefano and Luis.) Two places that seem so foreign from both Iceland and scuba diving, but here they were, and certainly the real deal, as they were effortless pros! They told historical tales on the drive out, and were jovial and quite patient with our equipment fumbling.
We’d worked up an appetite and asked our guides where we could get an Icelandic lunch and a hearty soup…authentic stuff! They’d dropped us off at Kaffi Loki right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja and we took a second floor table to get a great glimpse of the church during lunch.
I had mashed fish, herring, and rye bread ice cream (yum!.) Mike had a meaty, stick to your ribs soup and we shared a Viking beer. We took the plunge and ordered the fermented shark, and our sweet server strongly recommended chasing it down with a shot of Brennivín – A rye/licorice tasting (found out that it’s actually flavored with caraway… which now makes sense!) Icelandic schnapps. Ok… the shark. Tasted/smelled like solid nail polish remover and was horrible! HA! We had a lot of fun with that. We started noticing the lanterns everywhere… on the steps, windows. So cozy and romantic…every corner filled with light.
Out of the Kaffi and back to take some photo’s of Hallgrímskirkja in the light, and a hand in hand walk back through town. We ate like Vikings!, we exclaimed, and kept shouting out “Valhalla!” during the rest of our trip. It was our battle cry!
We felt so incredibly present. A perfect day in Iceland.
https://www.dive.is/ Book with Dive Iceland. Tell them Travel Debutante sent you. I will definitely go back and do it again. They were well organized and the guides were great. The entire team was helpful and upbeat.
http://loki.is/ Kaffi Loki 28, Lokastígur, Reykjavík, right across the street from Hallgrímskirkja.
- Eat a decent breakfast. Our guide told us he only gets cold when he doesn’t eat. Fuel the furnace!
- Don’t skimp on the under layers. Get good long-underwear. I skimped, but got lucky. Don’t be me!
- Wear two pairs of wool socks. Saved me!
- Bring dry clothes just in case
- Go-Pro… A must! Look at Mike’s footage! You’ll never get the shots underwater without it.
- Hand-warmers. Didn’t have them that day. Would have helped
- Gloves: Keep them on as long as you can. It is the wind whipping exposure that makes it painful. The temperatures weren’t that extreme.
- Don’t wear earrings or jewelry.
- Be patient while getting on the gear.
- Order the fermented shark. You have to! Make sure to video your reactions