Iceland, what a beautiful piece of rock! The island was one of my dream places to visit since I was a young boy, due to many areas of my personal interests covering: geology, volcanoes, nature, ice, astronomy, a lot of Science and the sense of adventure. Iceland has it all. Although, this trip was my second visit I definitely didn’t have the same experience first time.
Where to begin?!
I’ll start with my actual reason for visiting and this was for an interactive media conference focusing on Virtual Reality called Slush Play.
Representing Unity, my role at the conference was to catch up with the local game development scene (which is on a steady rise), meet new contacts from different industries and companies and continue sharing my knowledge and learning more about Virtual Reality, all achieved I must say.
The event was one of my favourite experiences at a conference and I have attended many. I only stayed for the one day, missing the second day of the conference but the time I spent there I had many productive and interesting discussions with new and known people, everyone I met we seemed to get on and have a laugh which isn’t always the case at conferences, it felt like everyone was there for the same reason and objective.
On arrival, I went straight to the Blue Lagoon, from the airport it is surprisingly close, 15-20 minute drive, the general advice is to go after or before flying due to the proximity.
I find it a little hard to describe my feelings towards the Blue Lagoon, I was excited to be visiting and I actually feel a bit disappointed post visit but I believe this to be because my expectations leading up to the visit were wrong.
My vision for the Blue Lagoon was no way near what it actually is, this might sound a bIt silly as I had read about it online via reviews and other blog posts and the official website of course. I thought, what I would be swimming in was something that hadn’t been so man made and crafted, I thought it would be more natural (I wonder if anyone reading this knows what I mean?), the whole site is heavily crafted for what I imagine is safety reasons, I mean we are technically swimming in a big bath that is being heated by geothermal energy.
There isn’t much to do when you get there, it is basically you taking a very long bath, in a big bath, outside, with other people in it. Before you reach the bathing areas you would need to navigate through all the naked people (men in my case), it is a requirement that you shower without your swimwear on, this is for hygienic reasons. Luckily there are one or two private showers.
There’s a bar which you can swim up to, expensive drinks obviously, alcohol is on sale. There’s another bar which serves silica mud masks, which you can apply on your face and leave for 10-15 minutes then wash off. After, you can apply an algae mask for moisturising your face.
Once you’ve had fun spreading mud and algae on your face, I just tried to make the most of what was on offer, so I bathed and practiced some meditation techniques I’m learning, actually this was very nice and relaxing, I felt rejuvenated, energised by the natural surroundings and soaking up all the healthy minerals and goodness in the sea water.
I would recommend visiting the Blue Lagoon, please don’t be put off by my comments, I don’t regret going at all, the average time someone spends there is 2-3 hours, this seems about right, I wouldn’t take a day out of my trip to do this again, it definitely makes sense to do it on the same day as flying. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to go a second time. I actually buy the silica mud mask and other products online.
The second day in Iceland was the speakers excursion day, I wasn’t a speaker but I got to attend in place of my colleague who was speaking but was arriving on the day of the excursion.
The excursion consisted of a 2-3 hour drive to a Glacier, which we would then drive snow mobiles on, are you fucking serious? Snow mobiles? Me driving? On a Glacier?! Yes they were serious, adrenaline rush coming up.
Before the rush, we stopped for a break, which happened to be the site of one of Iceland’s famous Geysir’s, I had the pleasure to witness the power of a rare hydrogeological condition, which is only possible in a few areas on Earth which are near active volcanic areas, Geysir’s happen because they are near Magma. It is interesting to know you are standing relatively close above Magma..
What a beautiful site, great to witness the power and energy planet Earth showcases in the form of a Geysir.
I’ve always wanted to see a Glacier, huge powerful blocks of ice that shape and cut the rock beneath it, this seemed quite a scary thing to do, knowing about how cracks and deep crevices form on Glaciers, what happens if there is a crack opening and I drove into it?! Well, I wouldn’t be coming back that is for sure, that fear of driving on ice that’s slowly moving down a rocky mountain sounds a little crazy, I have experienced other extreme sports before, jumping out of a plane at 15,000ft to name some, but this actually felt like a step up from that believe it or not. All I could do is embrace it, so I did, I’m not one to shy away from doing something new, whether I would do that thing again is another matter.
When we arrived at the Glacier there is a hut where the crew hang out who organise the excursion, we also had a nice warm hotdog to get an energy boost to prepare us for what was about to happen, the hut is very close to the Glacier, it is right there, a huge mountain of ice just sitting looking quite menacing, I was thinking I’ll be driving a snow mobile on that shortly, is this actually happening? Am I dreaming?!
Soon after, we started suiting up, the only time I would ever wear a onesie is for extreme sports, this onesie was incredibly thick and warm, designed to be placed on top of the already warm clothes I was previously advised to wear. I also wore a helmet that was thicker than any other helmet I’d ever seen, it almost felt like I was gearing up to go to space or something, but what I did know is that I will be going to quite an inhospitable place which is extremely dangerous.
I hopped into the super jeep, this was the first challenge, the drive had to take us over the bed of rocks, it looked like something from Mars, this was off road at it’s finest, driving extremely slowly so we didn’t tip over, we were told to keep our helmets on inside the vehicle and to try to avoid head butting the glass windows. This short drive took 15-20 minutes to reach the base of the Glacier.
We drove up the Glacier to meet the nutters who regularly drive snow mobiles on Glaciers, oh, I mean these totally sane people who would no doubt teach us how to drive one. To my surprise the safety instructions took no more than 60 seconds, keep your feet inside the vehicle, that’s the throttle, that’s the break, don’t break while using the throttle. Okay?! ready?! Uhmmm okay, hey why not, remember let’s embrace it, so I picked my snow mobile, obviously trying to pick the most awesome looking one, there were different colours and design variations, some cleaner than others but all do the same thing..I hope.
Driving the snow mobile is definitely more challenging then I thought it would be, the throttle was almost like a side angled Xbox controller trigger but in a position for your thumb to use as if you were changing gears on a bicycle. This made it particularly challenging to maintain your speed while turning left or right, you also had to lean into the turnings as weight distribution is super important on that type of terrain. The terrain is very bumpy, uneven, icy and generally treacherous and the trails left from other snow mobiles tend to off balance and redirect you slightly.
All is going so well, I’ve got the hang of it and I actually got some air time in one instance (not sure how many points I got for that), standing up as well, I was also going quite fast up the slopes.
No, it wasn’t going as well as I thought, maybe I got a little complacent? I crashed!! It wasn’t a crash into something, the snow mobile decided to throw me off to the side and it flipped over, it was actually all my fault, I didn’t lean into the turning properly and the slope on the turning was steeper than I anticipated, weight distribution wasn’t correct and it chucked me off, luckily I knew it was coming, so I partly jumped out of it and landed as comfortably as I could, otherwise that 300kg snow mobile would of landed on my right leg crushing it between the vehicle and hard ice layered on top of hard rock, that would not of been fun I promise. I picked myself up instantly, my heart was racing and adrenaline was rushing around my body, it is actually quite important that I checked myself over properly, adrenaline can mask any pain you might have, I was a little worried that I may have broke my wrist as this was what I primarily used to land on, of course this is never recommended but it’s such a natural thing to do, silly human brain.
Turned out I trashed the cool snow mobile I picked, it’s now out of action, so one of the sane guys picked me up in his snow mobile and we were already heading back down the Glacier as the excursion was coming to an end. Luckily I got to hop off and drive another snow mobile down the Glacier for the final descent, obviously a little nervous to get back on one on my own, but if you fall off you should definitely get back on, best to conquer that fear now then letting it brew until the next time I get to drive a snow mobile.
Snow mobiles over, we were treated to a BBQ back at the hut, the meat was cooked to perfection and the veggies and salads were delicious, food in Iceland is incredible, so fresh and healthy it’s a dream.
On the way back to Reykjavik, the organiser from Slush announced on the super jeep minibus that we are stopping for a waterfall break, naturally I thought that was a metaphor for a toilet break, to my surprise it wasn’t, there’s an actual waterfall, another incredible surprise Iceland has thrown at me, driving up to the sight I had absolutely no idea there was a waterfall in the surrounding area, the flat rocky lava planes go for as far as the eye can see, the waterfall cut down into the terrain, it’s a glorious feature, it was my first time seeing a waterfall of this magnitude, it was magical.
In the evening I went for dinner in the center of Reykjavik, serving traditional Icelandic food…fish. This is where I experienced the delight that is Killer Shark, in Icelandic it is called Kæstur hákarl, pronunciation TBD.
It is fermented Shark, the Shark has been fermented for 5-6 months because the flesh is poisonous. The Shark is called Greenland Shark.
The Shark was presented in a Jar, two small cubes of flesh were inside, I opened the jar and took a whiff and it stunk of ammonia, whoa that was rather off putting. The topic of the day seemed to be about “experiencing new things”, so I wasn’t not going to try it now, I tasted the one of the two pieces of flesh, very fishy taste at first then this horrific ammonia after taste hits, quite overpowering. This type of food is really not my cup of tea. I did eat the last piece if you wondered…
Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights):
It seemed like Iceland was throwing everything at me in just one day, there was a buzz throughout with the locals as there was a predicted spectacular showing from the Aurora Borealis in the evening. Reykjavik was to turn their city lights out from 10-11pm for Astronomy. This was so awesome and I hope other cities around the world take notice and do the same, light pollution is such as issue especially in the UK and it is a shame we are blinded from this in order to see what would be a beautiful nights sky above us. I took this image with my mobile phone, excuse the quality:
Before falling asleep I had realised I had seen H2o in all 3 of it’s natural states throughout the day, Steam from the Geysir, Ice from the Glacier and water from the waterfall.
If all this wasn’t enough, for the 3+ days in the back of my mind the monster volcano known as Katla was clearing her throat, with multiple earthquakes detected in the area, I didn’t actually feel any earthquake from within Reykjavik but there was and still is a genuine concern that an eruption is imminent and it is predicted to be 10x more explosive than the famous 2010 eruption from Eyjafjallajökull.
In general what an incredible life experience, which I’m so happy to have survived, hope you have enjoyed this post. Now go visit Iceland.