Iceland is the most volcanic island on earth. Over one quarter of the country is an active volcano zone. This is somewhat frightening, and has its numerous downsides. But there are also benefits to living where the earth’s crust is so thin and fractured. For one thing, there’s no shortage of energy – heat from the earth’s core is readily accessible, and used for everything from producing electricity to growing exotic flowers. Then there are all the hot springs and vents, which have myriad uses. We’ve discovered that the Icelandic people have turned steam and geologic heat into a kind of magic.
Iceland produces almost one hundred percent of its own energy, mostly from geothermal turbines (though there are some hydropower dams, too). Almost all of it is provided to the population at zero cost, and the surplus is sold to industry.
The baths are generally cheap and friendly places, used more by locals than visitors. This pool, at Krossnes, is one of the northernmost and most remote. At the very end of a long, dirt, Westfjords road, it’s exposed to bitter wind and drizzle off the sea. Still, the water is warm enough – a constant one hundred degrees Fahrenheit – that it doesn’t matter. It always feels luxurious.
Icelanders also use the geothermal hotspots for natural steam rooms, and many houses have their own “hotpots” - small, spring-fed tubs. From these are derived the similar “mudpots,’ which are obviously much dirtier.
From the roadside, as evening approaches, the orange grow-bulbs burn like firelight through the trees. It’s a pretty sight – comforting, but also curiously alien.
Kjöt og Kúnst – a bakery and café in town – prepares most of its food with steam and hot-earth ovens. Everything on this plate was cooked with heat from the earth’s core: the steamed carrots, the bread and the pot of plokkfiskur (mashed cod and potato with cream and cheese).
An information board in the park tells of a (possibly mythical) “hot spring bird." They are said to have dived and disappeared when people approached. If caught, they were very strange to eat.
“…their meat does not become tender in boiling water,” we read, “but if they are immersed in cold water they become cooked and edible within one hour, but have a ‘chilly taste.’”
*Disclaimer: the tourist was Rebecca.