After two days of long drives, today we opted to spend time in Rekjyavik.
We took a boat tour to an island just outside of the harbour where a colony of approximately 30,000 puffins live. These "very polite little birds" live on this uninhabited island during the summer in order to breed. During the winter months they fly to the sea between Greenland and Canada and stay out in the wild ocean without touching land. Somehow they return to the same spot to find a mate for life. There are 15 million Arctic puffins in Iceland.
As we approached the island (only 15 minutes from the harbour) we could see the puffins either fishing, floating on the surface or on the wing back to the island with food. They bring up a single puffling each year and feed on little whitebait-type fish. You can see the fish in their beaks as they fly back to the burrow. The arctic terns are the local "pirates" - they try to bully the poor puffins into dropping their catch. Sometimes they are successful.
The puffin has to work hard to fly. It must flap its wings 400 times a minute to stay aloft. They fly all the way past Greenland like that! If they are being chased and they stop flapping, the bird drops like a stone and splashes into the water. The crew pointed out a take-off stick where puffins patiently waited in line to climb to the top off the stick, face into the wind and flap away.
We only had an hour on the water so were soon back in the harbour. After that we drove around town for a while looking at some of the sights. Rekjyavik is a small town, so it only takes about 10 - 15 minutes to get from the centre to the outskirts. We even found the bacon factory and they were cooking! Mmmm.... bacon makes everything better - even a lazy drive. We also bought some beautiful Icelandic hand knitted wool wear from the Red Cross shop - this is a less than a quarter of the price of the tourist stores and supports the Red Cross resettling refugees in Iceland. We saw some (presumably Syrian) refugees in one of the shops - can you imagine the culture shock?
The weather was closing in, so we rested in the hotel before going to the Blue Lagoon (Bláa lónið) in the evening. This was a surreal experience. We bathed in nearly 100 degree milky blue water whilst the air temperature was 10 degrees, all while low cloud and mist blew overhead.
The Blue Lagoon is a bit of a dichotomy and demonstrates the power of marketing. The silica water is actually runoff from the adjacent geothermal plant. Superheated water (approximately 240 degrees) is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. By now the water is 37 - 39 degrees and the silica concentration means it cannot be used as potable water, hence the runoff is used in the lagoon. The lagoon basin itself is concrete, with artfully placed lava rocks to disguise the surroundings. That is not to diminish the experience though. We arrived for our 8pm pre booking (this is essential) and whilst there was a short queue to get in, the pool was perhaps only 40% - 50% full. Our research had suggested this was a good time. Apparently in the morning and mid afternoon the pool is nearly full.
The pre-bath shower is mandatory and we applied the hair conditioner to protect our hair from the salt. We swam into the pool from a doorway inside the building (most people strangely went outdoors to enter the water) and then floated outside. The lagoon is massive. The steam floating off the surface mixed with the mist made it at times it felt like we were the only people there, except for the lifeguards dressed in yellow survival gear, hats and gloves.
We applied the white silica mud face mask (twice!) and floated around. We even had a beer at the swim-up bar.
The mist and light rain continued but did not disturb us. We even sat in the sauna for a while until it became too hot and then we hurried back to the water. We also chatted to three Australian lads from Perth who had done a week in Iceland, crammed into a Hyundai i10 as they drove between camp sites. They said they spent $200 a night to camp next to Gulfoss. We were glad to have spent the extra $100 per night to at the Rekjyavik Hilton (where it was warm... and we got fed... and we had WiFi), although one of the blokes said "it's not often you can camp next to a waterfall". Too true... but still being warm and dry overides all of that.
After two hours in the water we had turned into prunes (or raisins as one Icelandic lady said) so reluctantly got out. A swim in a thermal spring is a must-do in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon is only 45 minutes as it is close to Rekjyavik. Bring your own towel for the cheapest (Standard) experience although the Comfort experience provides a towel, a free drink and the algae mask for only ISK2000 extra, which is reasonable value considering a beer is ISK1130. There is also an in-water massage experience and exclusive chill out area for an even higher price. We wonder if the Secret Lagoon (an hour and a half away) or some of the other lesser known thermal pools might be a more authentic experience - without the marketing hype.
It was after midnight when we returned to the hotel for a warm, relaxed and very restful slumber.