Diving for Puffin: My Valentine's trip to Iceland

Diving for Puffin: My Valentine's trip to Iceland

by Iain McGill
article from Thursday 23, February, 2017

HOW WAS your Valentine's Day? I spent mine on EasyJet. I had a hot date alright. In Iceland. In winter. Underwater. And just about the only reasonably priced thing about Iceland was the EasyJet flights. Who cares about price though - I had one thing on my mind for Valentines. Silfra.

Wikipedia tells us that Silfra is a rift formed in the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates and is located in the Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland. Who amongst us cannot honestly say that they've not fantasised about jumping into freezing cold water and dropping down between the continental plates of Europe and North America? 

Very much a bucket list dive, crystal clear water of the wake you up in the morning variety it's the only dive I've done where you're encouraged to take your regulator out and enjoy a drink. It was the highlight of the trip, the goal, the pictures of me being brave and bold now adorn my social media so what else did Iceland have to offer?

We based ourselves in a nice Airbnb in Reykjavik and hired a car mainly as we baulked at the price of the organised tour buses going to the big-ticket tourist attractions - the geysers, waterfalls and the likes of the Golden Circle. That turned out to be a good plan; the freedom to skip peak times and not be herded around like the tour groups we saw was pleasing.

The vast majority of the attractions on the Golden Circle were free – rightly for wonders of the natural world – so someone somewhere is making a killing when we saw the price of the tours.

Lots of interesting food and drink – fancy some rotten shark with your shot of local firewater? You'd better if you want to look like a local. Fancy some smoked puffin? Once you try it you'll be glad you did... How about some whale to scandalise your pals who've never seen one up close, never been to a community with a tradition of hunting them but read an article that Greenpeace emailed them one time? 

Best food was maybe an overpriced bowl of tomato soup in a greenhouse on the golden circle. A tomato soup buffet of all the soup and fresh bread you could eat showing that all those high taxes had not entirely killed off entrepreneurship. A farmer in a strategic location saw all the tour buses trundling past and decided to put a wee restaurant in one of his greenhouses and serve his product straight up there.  

The Einstok beer was the best, their Wee Heavy being a bold Scottish ale, bettered though by their white and pale ales. Gull and Viking did decent lagers, when one could afford a beer...

Reykjavik goes a little wild at the weekends – if you're out late enough. The dating scene is a little different over there, it's such a small population (smaller even that Edinburgh, and we're a village) that even the simple act of going for a coffee with someone sets tongues a wagging, so they tend to go straight for getting wasted at the weekend and hooking up at stupid o'clock in the morning, then having a good old chat the morning after... Seems if you then repeat the next weekend with the same person then you're dating. Once you've established you're not related.

That's also apparently an occupational hazard, not helped by surnames not being any use, as all they tell us is what your father’s first name is and if you're his son or his daughter (dottir) and that fact's usually been well established by then... 

It's certainly lively, a mix of happy hours and pre-loading at home getting folks well-oiled before heading out. There was a big music festival on over the weekend, so there was evidence of the odd chemically-enhanced night out as well. Geordies need not apply though; everyone is well wrapped up in jackets etc.

Politically it's got a lot going for it, being the land famous for jailing it's bankers, an idea not without it's merits and appeal. It's been livened up by the Pirate Party sitting on about 15% of the vote in the most recent election. It's been a while since we saw an effective new party here in the UK. Most people asked about Brexit though, mainly asking what we were thinking of to vote for Brexit. Tellingly though not one of them who brought it up thought Iceland should join the EU, recoiling in horror at the thought. Clever people...

Driving around was fun, but I'll tell you what - all those high taxes don't get spent filling in the potholes, that's for sure! 

The spas, lagoons and general geothermal fun were true highlights though. Fair to say after 5 spas in 5 days I'm as clean as I've ever been in my life! Our local neighbourhood one (Vesturbæjarlaug) was great to chill out in, lagarvullqn (mine's a double) with it's steam room parked directly over an, er, steaming pool, and the secret lagoon with it's own geyser going off ever 5 minutes was apparently what the famous Blue Lagoon used to be like before it went all commercial. We skipped The Blue Lagoon altogether though - with building works going on, and a requirement to book in advance that didn't work for our plans for spontaneity meant that was the one we gave a miss.

What's to go back for them? The Northern Lights and some hiking across glaciers would be attractive – we hoped every night to see the Northern Lights but the weather was against us – plus seeing the whales underwater rather then only on the menu.

What did I take home other than pictures? A book of Hugleikur Dagsson cartoons. He's quite the institution over there, and possibly has a sicker mind than even me – if you're brave enough to Google his cartoons you'll get the picture. Just don't judge me for it!

What do I wish taken home with me? Well I'm writing this on the day Doris hit Scotland bringing chaos to the roads – but more importantly I was not as keen as normal to wear my Hearts hat this morning so I'm wishing I'd bought a nifty fur hat to keep my head warm. A bit of snow does not shut the main roads in Iceland like it does here, and a PC fear of fur does not see them feeling the cold whilst out and about...

It's a big thumbs-up for Iceland, their people and the diving.

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