Twenty-something years ago I remember seeing a photograph in NME or Melody Maker (I can’t remember which) of Damon Albarn from the group, Blur. The full-page photograph was of him swimming at The Blue Lagoon, outside Reykjavik. Over the next few months, I became somewhat obsessed with the photograph. I’d never heard of The Blue Lagoon before then, and the image of a large, oddly-coloured blue, steaming swimming pool fascinated me. In hindsight, it was probably that image which sparked my interest in visiting Iceland.
That, an a documentary about Bjork I saw once on television which focussed a lot on the geo-thermal energy industry, and how she wanted to make “music that sounded like electricity”. And so this week, I finally fulfilled that long-held dream of visiting Iceland, and today, I visited The Blue Lagoon.
From the moment you turn off the main road from Reykjavik to the airport, and head towards The Blue Lagoon, you know you’re headed in the right direction. As soon as you see the sign which tells you it’s 10km away, you just need to look up and you’ll see a cloud of steam emerging from the rocky landscape. In some ways, the landscape reminded me of parts of The Northern Territory and The Kimberley, except of course the rocks here are often covered in some kind of heath-like vegetation.
As we came closer, there was a growing sense of excitement from those on the bus. When the bus finally came to a stop, it was a short walk into the modern swimming complex. They have restaurants and cafes, and you’re encouraged to “size up” with a massage or some other kind of treatment. It was far more “modern” than I’d expected, having visualised something a little more rustic, based on the on-line reviews.
As you read on-line reviews about The Blue Lagoon, there’s a lot that’s been written by Americans and Brits about the requirement for what’s often described as compulsory, communal naked showers before entering the pool. The way it’s sometimes described, you would think it’s one massive “nude-fest” with the ultimate goal of taking away any sense of personal dignity. I can honestly say, of the hundreds of people attending, I saw only a handful of people who actually followed the instructions to completely strip and give their “hairy parts” a good scrubbing. On top of that, most of the showers had modesty screens.
Once showered, I walked outside, and was, for a brief moment a little overwhelmed by the touristy nature of it all. I didn’t hear much Icelandic spoken, but I did hear a lot of British and American English, and a fair bit of Swedish. It’s promoted as a popular spot for people to visit either to or from their airport connection. But in the midst of all that, the most surprising thing for me was the bar located towards the right of the pool.
The on-line reviews will tell you it’s variations in the temperature due to the rocks which causes the occasional “hot spot” in the water. I’d hazard a guess it’s actually probably the occasional spot of wee in the pool from a “Larger Lout”. While I was swimming around having some kind of semi-spiritual experience, I was surrounded for a while by large numbers of people in the lagoon drinking beer. I felt particularly sorry for the young bloke whose job it was to wade around the pool and to pick up the plastic glasses left floating by the lads. Later, he got to work in the bar itself. I heard him tell one bloke he wasn’t allowed to have any more to drink, as the electronic device they give you to put on your wrist (for lockers and purchases) indicated he had met the three drink safety limit.
Pretty quickly, I paddled off away from the bar, finding quieter spots at the outer extremes. That’s where the water often became really hot (there are warning signs) and where you can coat your face in the silica mud. There’s a sign in the pool which advises you should use it for a 5-10 minute mud-mask. “Is it okay to put it on my beard”?, I heard one bloke say to another, to which the other responded, “I don’t know about that, but you should definitely put it on the top of your head. It might help grow some hair.” Over about four hours I waded around the pool in a series of circles, enjoying the colours, the warmth, and the atmosphere of it all.
By about 5.30pm, the tourist crowds had all but disappeared. By about then there were maybe only 30 of us left swimming about. As we headed home on the bus, I felt absolutely thrilled that I got to experience something I’ve wanted to for many years. I was also really thrilled that it lived up to expectations. I felt incredibly relaxed, and the skin on my face felt wonderfully smooth.
So in summary. I’d highly recommend it, but suggest you try to avoid the busier daytime hours when the Lager Louts are around (before and after the main flights into Reykjavik).