The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and I went there on 13th November 2007. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation and the warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, which are used as a skin exfoliant and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40 ° centigrade all year round.
The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant because in Iceland, renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation’s primary energy and over 99% of the country’s electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy, and the country expects to be energy-independent by 2050. At the Blue Lagoon as part of the process of power generation superheated water 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 hot water heating system and then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in and is changed every forty-eight hours.
The signs to the attraction were a bit confusing but as we approached we could see the plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere and finally it was impossible to miss the huge structure of the power station looking like a set from a James Bond movie and we turned off the road and into the car park, which today, probably on account of the wretched weather was virtually empty. Soon after the power plant was opened and the pools began to fill people started to bathe here and some made claims about magic healing properties so eventually the company seeing this as a commercially viable venture developed it as leisure centre/tourist attraction and now it costs £15 for a one hour swim. They market it in the promotional literature in this rather extravagant way:
‘Guests enjoy bathing and relaxing in Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater, known for its positive effects on the skin. A visit to the spa promotes harmony between body, mind and spirit, and enables one to soak away the stresses of modern life. The spa’s guests rekindle their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air.’
The Blue Lagoon has about four hundred thousand visitors a year but today there were no more than about twenty in the water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. After changing and showering the only way to the open air pool was to leave the building and as the temperature was only slightly above freezing it was a short but brisk walk to the luxuriously blue water which was warm and welcoming and once in the water we made immediately for the hot spots. Soon these became too hot to sit around in and we had to swim off to explore. In boxes at the side of the pool were plentiful supplies of mud brimming with silica and sulfur for application to the face and body and we had a good laugh slapping this over our faces and making fun of each other.
The bottom of the pool was soft and silty with a pale brownish mud that you definitely wouldn’t want to slap on your face or anywhere else for that matter. A handful revealed a scoop of human hair and it was unnerving to think that we were swimming about and walking in the dead psoriatic skin cells of nearly half a million visitors a year. Put this on your face and as the mud dries I can guarantee an unusual beard of multi coloured pubic miscellany that would not be terribly attractive to the opposite sex. Having made this unpleasant discovery we hastily left the soft silty bits and stayed for the rest of our visit in the parts with the rocky lava bottom.
An hour or so was long enough in the lagoon so after we had showered and changed we left and drove to try and find somewhere for lunch. This was spectacularly unsuccessful and the only likely place that we found was closed. The weather was desperate and the road signs were unhelpful so after a couple of u-turns and having become snarled up in a funeral cortege we abandoned the planned coastline scenic route back and returned directly to Reykjavik where we found a diner opposite the hotel and warmed up with soup and a roll.