Iceland summer 2012: The Blue Lagoon

My birthday started with me waking up far too early, opening presents and then going to the Blue Lagoon.

It’s not quite as magical in summer – it’s much busier and the air is hot, so it doesn’t feel quite so amazing sinking into the hot water. It was nice to be able to see the mountains, though, and especially to see the power station. My favourite fact about the Blue Lagoon is worth repeating: this mineral-rich blue-white natural hot water is the waste from the power station next door. I can’t believe I couldn’t see the power station last time – the fog was clearly thicker than I realised and also means that when I saw the mysterious red glow dancing around in the sky, it was not the power station because it was in completely the wrong direction. Maybe I did see the Northern Lights from the hot water after all.

No Northern Lights this time. Eternal sunshine this time. After a few minutes outside, I had to go back in to put my goggles back in my locker and get my sunglasses. The lagoon bar was open – you can swim up and buy drinks using the wristband. I had a red and blue striped slushy thing which took forever to drink.

I had a massage – that involved going to a roped off corner of the lagoon, lying on a floating mattress and being draped in a wet blanket to keep me warm and having a back massage while lying on my back. I didn’t know such a thing was even possible. What I’m fairly sure of is that the big Icelandic man doing must have done his training with the KGB – he seemed determined to break my spine. When he was finished, he left me floating in a quiet corner of the massage area until I’d come back to life. I don’t know what he did to me but I could hardly walk and could hardly think. I was just some kind of flesh-coloured goo in sunglasses. I sat in the water for a while and then decided maybe something to eat and drink would be a good idea. I went to the inside bar and had a big cup of Sprite and three Babybels in a row (the Blue Lagoon does not really cater for my eating habits) and read whatever I could get my hands on in English from the book/magazine rack. After about an hour, I began to feel like a human being again and went back out but it didn’t take long to realise my arms were stinging and to deduce I had sunburn. I hadn’t even thought about suncream. I’d gone through my little collection of bottles before I left, taking the shampoo and conditioner with me but leaving the shower gel and suncream because I wouldn’t need them (the Lagoon has magic blue algae-flavoured shower gel. It has conditioner but it’s not good enough for hair that’s been soaked in salt water and minerals for eleven hours). I suppose because last time I was at the Lagoon, it was in a snowstorm I didn’t associate sun with the place and didn’t notice it was a bright sunny day in which I’d be outside in a swimming pool for the entire day.

I retreated to the relaxing room upstairs to consider my options. I didn’t want to get any more burnt that I already was, so going back into the water was out of the question. If I wasn’t going in the water, there was little point in staying. I could go back to Reykjavík, do some shopping, write some blogs. But I didn’t want to say goodbye to the Lagoon just yet. I put on my white fluffy dressing gown, which was by now quite wet and very heavy from constant taking-off and putting-on and went outside to look at it. I thought it would be a good idea to cross one of the catbridges and go and sit on the edge and then to put my feet in the water. I sat there for nearly an hour, protected from the sun by the dressing gown before it finally dawned on me that the sun had moved across the sky enough that a part of the water was now in shadow. All I had to do was stick to the shadowed area.

So I spent the next four hours making my way around the shadowy parts. That’s not so easy – we’re far enough north here that the sun doesn’t set until late and the buildings are made of glass so the sun suddenly reappears when you’re not expecting it. But it moved enough for more and more of the lagoon to open up for me and I spent a few hours splashing around in the water avoiding the sun.

I was due back on the 9 o’clock bus – the last one, so to avoid running the risk of missing it and being stranded, I got out a bit early, smothered my hair in conditioner, paid all the extras on my bracelet and wandered the building for a while. The extent of the sunburn had soon become apparent – I’d actually had to check my t-shirt wasn’t really on fire because my skin burnt so much. They sell sun mousse in the gift shop – although it’s on the wrong side of the barrier to be able to get at once you’re in – and all sorts of algae-based lotions and potions but not a drop of aftersun stuff. I used the cold water from the drinking fountain instead – that helped briefly.

First stop in Reykjavík an hour later was the 10-11 for some aftersun cream, shampoo and Doritos. The suncream doesn’t go out of my sight for the rest of the week. I am red. If it sticks out of the water and is normally covered by a t-shirt, it’s scorched. My forearms are nicely browned, with white watch mark, and my neck is fine. My nose is a bit red and my cheeks are a bit pink and I seem to have a skier’s tan, thanks to the sunglasses but my face is mostly ok.

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