Who visits the saltwater thermal pool — a giant hot tub — in Southwest Iceland known as the Blue Lagoon? Tourists like me, who believe they’ll be sorry if they travel all this way and miss out on the most well-known destination in the country.
I say tourists because of the high admissions fee; it cost us 60 Euros each, while there were seven public pools in Reykjavik with entrance fees of about $5. Also, the number of selfie sticks or phones bathers carried into the Blue Lagoon in clear, waterproof bags seemed inordinately large for local residents looking to relax after a day at work.
Whatever the cost or clientele, I had to go.
As it turned out, the kind of adventures the seven of us from our group experienced weren’t quite what I imagined. Getting to the pool was the first challenge. The transport we thought we’d arranged turned out to be a free mini-bus that drove us two miles to the Reykjavik bus depot, thus giving us the opportunity to board another bus and pay about $40 each for the round trip to the lagoon.
Because rush hour and freeway construction were causing a traffic jam, the bus took a colorful alternate route, winding through neighborhoods and small towns at 20 miles per hour. We arrived at our destination 45 minutes past our appointed time.
As we checked in, we each received electronic bracelets, different colors for different fee levels that would permit us to open and close a locker and charge for other services. The clerk warned us that we’d pay a hefty fee if we lost the bracelet. Our pink bracelets labeled us ‘economy bathers.’
The three females in our entourage found an available locker in the darkened changing room only after peeping like voyeurs into a series of small rooms filled with naked women. We changed, showered, and dripped our way out into in the chilly evening light. “Ah,” we said as we shivered, “So that’s why the lifeguards walking around the swimming pool are dressed from head to toe in winter wear.”
Once accustomed to standing in neck-high bathtub water, we checked out our setting. Why were the faces of the cluster of bathers standing nearby painted in white? And how could we achieve the look of geisha or Kabuki actors too?
In the center of the main pool bobbed a man balancing a tray that held several containers. He looked like a butler about to deliver a meal. We slogged over to him and held up our pink bracelets. “You’re eligible for a silica mask,” he said, a treatment we hoped would tighten our skin and erase wrinkles. He scooped a handful of white mud, which we slathered generously on our faces. Our expectations plummeted as we spotted the facial for people wearing green bracelets: algae. If only we’d paid another 15 euros, we could look so young that bartenders would be asking for ID.
We walked around and tested the water temperature in different areas, which were separated from the main pool by bridges, lava rock buttresses and other geologic formations. We stopped at a wet bar and used our bracelets to charge Skyr smoothies (Icelandic yogurt) and continued to wander around.The water temperature was perfect, but after an hour, though our faces felt taut, the rest of our bodies were wrinkled. Buses back to town left infrequently and we intended to be on the next one.
Everything went smoothly until I’d changed my clothes and walked into a restroom. Shortly after I’d shut the door, I saw a pink bracelet on the floor. I checked my wrist. Gasp. My bracelet was missing. I held onto the one I found as I searched futilely through the changing rooms. I was going to have to exit with someone else’s bracelet and pray they hadn’t charged too much for which I would be billed. I explained my problem to the young woman at the checkout stand. “What did you buy while you were here?” she asked. I answered and she confirmed that what I’d charged matched the charge on the bracelet, “so it must be yours.” I felt like Winnie the Pooh and his friend, Piglet, who decided their own footprints belonged to a wild animal.
My husband (who had been patiently waiting for me to exit the dressing room) and I made it to the bus — to the cheers of the folks we had come with — one minute before it departed. Though the driver had promised us he’d drop riders off at their hotels, after stopping at five in the heart of Reykjavik, he took the rest of us to the bus depot where we caught another ride to our hotel.
I’m glad I went to the Blue Lagoon. After all, I had to. But if we ever return to Iceland, one of those $5 community pools without tourists and cameras sounds like a perfect place to bathe but avoid getting soaked.