I had been yearning to head inland from the coast, to land so rugged that it was inaccessible for hundreds of years to all but outlaws and bandits who fled the law, nature’s brutality their best protection. These days, it offers a way inland without necessitating a 4WD, and with a population of less than 400, it maintains its quaint romanticism. Besides, the promise of a hot spring, a secret hot spring, was enough to beckon me to Flúðir.
Will stop for fish skin
On the way to Flúðir I stopped to refill the gas tank at a cross-roads called Hvolsvöllur. Across the street was a colorful barn with free wifi called Una, selling all kinds of local Icelandic products. I had been wanting a fish skin purse, but they were too damn expensive, so I opted for the skin itself, still paying too much (43,000 krona/$38). One thing Iceland is not: economical. Anyway, it’s a nice stop, with locally sourced and handmade items.
Gamla Laugin (Shhhh, the Secret Lagoon)
Before travelling to Iceland, “hotpot” was my favorite type of Chinese restaurant. In Iceland, hotpots became a sanctuary of warmth and restoration, conjuring childlike wonder as I floated in unbelievably earthy depths.
The Gamla Laugin is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, and costs 2,500 krona ($23) to enter. The man at the front desk had a very Icelandic pastime, which he offered casually, as if to say he knitted scarves in his free time: he was part of a volunteer search and rescue team, saving about 10 tourists a year (!) from their hubris while climbing mountains and glaciers. (On that note, always check the weather forecast, and wear layers!)
There are locker facilities to store your clothes, and you get your own key. Be sure to follow Icelandic etiquette by washing with soap before you enter. The lagoon’s minerals leave your skin soft like a baby’s bottom, but your hair like a banshee, so slather it in conditioner and tie it up, or if you’re really concerned, use a swimming cap. And if you’re sleeping in your camper car like me, bask in this opportunity to shower! I even shaved my armpits! To this day I am really curious if that was a good move. Doesn’t hair keep you warm? Seriously wondering.
After my soak at Gramla Laugin I stepped into the Kaffihus Grund, a cozy restaurant attached to a guest house. I arrived only a few minutes before they closed, but they welcomed me anyway. I ordered the lamb chops; ironic after I chased two sheep behind the cliffs of Skogafoss waterfall to get a good picture.
It was only the second hot meal I had in six days, the first one being the burger and salty fries at the gas station in Egilsstaðir three days prior. The lamb didn’t stand a chance. I ate every last crumb. Every last bit of salad (avocado in Iceland?! One point for globalization!). All the hot veggies. Each chop of lamb. The Viking Christmas beer. The. whole. thing.
As I ate, I felt something that had been alluding me…warmth. My Spartan accommodations accentuated the essential nature of warmth–a steamy shower, hot food, a warm place to sleep–to feeling whole and healthy. Warmth is comfort. I was grateful for this meal and for the home I had to return to after this adventure was over.
Like futuristic fireflies, geothermal greenhouses dotted the dark hills of Flúðir, growing fresh veggies year round. I had Icelandic ingenuity, balancing respect for the environment and harnessing the Earth’s energy to thank for my plate full of veggies.
That night I fell asleep alongside a gravel road with warm bones and a full belly. A massage therapist once asked me what type of work I was in after giving me a face massage and noticing tension around my jaw. I’ll succinctly describe it as diplomacy, requiring I bite my tongue and swallow my naturally cynical responses on a regular basis. As I fell asleep I realized I had spoken so little over the past few days alone, holding nothing back in my thoughts and behavior. There was no one I had to cajole or convince, no one to explain myself to. It was liberating. My jaw felt loose, not tense or tight as during an average work week. The Secret Lagoon had worked its magic.