Below the Surface: Snorkeling in Iceland
Originally published in PassionPassport.com
It was raining as Richa Joshi and her husband, Gaurav, drove to Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. The weather put a damper on Richa’s mood, but only until they got to Silfra.
When they reached the parking lot where their adventure would begin, Richa and Gaurav could feel the excited energy in the air as they joined the other members of their snorkeling group.
They had come to Silfra for a very specific kind of snorkeling experience. Instead of heading into tropical waters off a beach in bathing suits, Richa and Gaurav donned three layers and descended into the fissure between tectonic plates. This was a snorkeling trip for the sake of geology, not marine life.
They had come to snorkel in the gap between two continents.
For a brief moment, as Richa pulled her dry suit on and saw how loose it was compared to everyone else’s, nerves took over for excitement. Even though they’d come at the beginning of summer, the water temperature in Silfra was only just above freezing.
The dry suit was meant to seal their bodies from the cold temperatures, but the extra band that was supposed to cut off water from seeping into Richa’s loose suit made her feel like she was choking.
So she ditched the band around her neck and decided that, if water did trickle in, she would risk the cold.
Their guide explained the geography and geology to the group and, after a short hike, Richa and Gaurav came to the metal stairs where they were to climb down into the water.
Richa put on her glasses, mask, and fins, and got ready to jump in.
Richa’s first thought was about how cold the water was. But the chill from the low temperature disappeared because, when she looked around under the water, she was stunned.
The water she was swimming in was clear, the clearest water she’d ever seen. Usually when she went snorkeling, her visibility was marred by the fact that she had to wear contacts to replace her glasses. But while she was swimming in Silfra, she could see everything around her with perfect clarity. Because the water was so pure, visibility was as far as 100 meters.
Not only was the water clear, but Richa also immediately noticed that it tasted different. Unlike the salty seawater that inevitably got in her mouth when she snorkeled in tropical locations, Silfra’s water was pure. Richa loved the glacial water so much, she drank it willingly as she swam along.
Richa knew she wouldn’t experience water that tasted quite that good, or was quite that clear, again in her life.
As Richa swam through the fissure, she thought about the rock walls on either side of her — the American plate and the European plate. They were swimming between two different parts of the world.
The tectonic plates moved very slowly away from each other, only two centimeters per year, but they did move. And that movement had created Earth for millions and millions of years. Richa felt like she was experiencing the lessons of a geography book in real life.
Before Richa had entered the water, she’d been fixated on the rainy weather, worried about her loose dry suit, and wondering if they were going to enjoy themselves. But in the water, everything faded away.
What was going on above the water didn’t matter. It was the experience that was important — what they saw and how they felt while they were below the surface.
After several twists and turns, the fissure led to a shallow lagoon where they were allowed to swim for as long as they wanted. But after bearing the cold water for 30 minutes, Richa got out and headed straight for the hot chocolate.
As they walked back to the parking lot, they passed the metal stairs where the snorkeling trip had started just an hour or so before. Another group of dry suit-clad snorkelers was getting ready to jump in the water. Richa called out to them, knowing what they were about to experience was truly once-in-a-lifetime.