From Iceland — Snorkelling In Long Underwear And Thick Socks

Snorkelling In Long Underwear And Thick Socks

Published April 23, 2010

Anna Andersen
Photo by
Tobias Klose
Grapevine Archives

School’s out, work’s off and Spring Break has finally arrived. Like countless others with the same ideas of escape, I fled the city for a nice snorkelling destination. Only this was going to be nothing like that infamous image of Spring Break that perhaps comes to mind…

For starters, swap out the overcrowded and inebriated beach scene and insert a remote and pristine lava field, then substitute the warm tropical ocean with frigid 4C glacial water, and while you’re at it, forget about the bikini and think: long woollen underwear, thick socks and a dry suit. Now you’re ready for snorkelling in Iceland.

Snorkl 1 - 327a0ff94ad1cb.jpg

Swimming between continental plates

The adventure began bright and early from Reykjavík’s central bus station, where our friendly guide from, Quentin, picked us up and proceeded to take us to our destination: Þingvellir National Park.

Þingvellir is a popular tourist attraction for a number of reasons. It’s the meeting site of Europe’s oldest parliament established in 930 AD. It’s home to Iceland’s largest natural lake. And, it’s one of only two places on Earth where the effects of the continental drift can be observed.

As we drove out of the city, we passed a billboard reading 3C. Úfff! It was going to be undeniably cold out there. This was confirmed a short while later, as the van climbed over a small hill and a gorgeous view of a frozen Lake Þingvellir opened up before us. Yes, frozen!

Quentin quickly reassured us that Silfra, where we were going snorkelling, would not be frozen. Although that didn’t mean the water would be warm—it just meant the water didn’t remain still enough to freeze. In fact, we were going snorkelling in glacial runoff from Langjökull glacier, which bubbles and tumbles its way underground for 50 km before filling into the Silfra crevice and emptying into Lake Þingvellir. Talk about purified water.

The water temperature hovers around 2 to 4C year round, which makes it a great diving and snorkelling destination, Quentin told us. How does this make it a great snorkelling destination? Well, the cold temperature makes for extremely clear water, which provides high visibility for divers and snorkelers. It should also be noted that at Silfra, you’re swimming over the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between the North American and Eurasian continental plates.

Like a rhino give birth to Ace Ventura

On to the most strenuous part of the trip: gearing up. Putting on our long underwear, thick socks, and the warm jumpsuit provided by proved to be no problem. But then came the dry suit, the hood, and the mittens. I’ll just say that watching the others squeeze their heads and hands through the tight holes of the dry suit was like watching a rhino give birth to Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

After yanking the hood over our heads and helping each other put on our mitts, we grabbed our goggles and fins and headed to the water. Fearing the suit would somehow fail to keep me dry, I cautiously lowered myself in as the water pushed against my suited self. The suit did its job. Lo and behold: before me appeared a dreamy blue waterscape enclosed by jagged walls of crumbling rocks.

I said the hard work was over before we got into the water. And it was. The glacial current simply carries you along, leaving you only to stare in awe at the deep majestic blue water encased by North America on your right and Europe on your left. And when I spotted a narrow spot between the rocky steeps, I stretched my fingers to Eurasia and my fins to North America, barely reaching. It’s a good thing I didn’t wait another year or two before deciding that I wanted to simultaneously be on two continents, because the plates drift apart 1-2 cm every year.

Unlike some, a Spring Break to remember

At some point along the way I started wondering how long we were going to be in the water. It’s not that it wasn’t incredible, breathtaking, and awesome. It’s just that it started to get pretty cold while floating motionlessly on the surface. Luckily, just as my thoughts were being overtaken by the cold, Quentin popped up out of the now choppy water and said this was the last stretch before a warm cup of coffee.

We climbed up on to the icy moss covered lava rocks and took our fins off. On the short walk back to the van, the water on our suits and mitts froze. Yes, it was cold. But, when we got back into the car, my brain started working again. I thought about what we had just done. We had snorkelled in Iceland on a frosty April morning. We had snorkelled in long underwear and thick socks and, most remarkable of all, we had snorkelled between two continents above some of the youngest rocks on Earth.

This was one Spring Break snorkelling trip to remember. And I am willing to wager that a number of Spring Breakers who went to Cabo or Cancun don’t have any memories of theirs!

Trip provided by Booking: +354 663 2858 or check the website

Due to a devastating server crash, we lost all the original images that appeared with this article in its original, printed form. If you find the replacement images disappointing, feel free to browse our .pdf arcives and search for the originals.

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