“Don’t hit the walls. Don’t lift your head up too high. Keep your hands on your back — the current will carry you.”
Three simple instructions. I kept marveling at that simplicity as I walked with the rest of the group along a trail in Þingvellir National Park. With a dry suit wrapped tightly around my limbs, neck, and torso, it was difficult to move quickly. I also had my snorkeling gear — goggles and a pair of flippers — tucked under one arm, making my gait look even odder.
We were all eager to get started. It had taken an hour — and a lot of jumping and strange contortions — to get into the dry suits.
Our three guides stopped us once we were all on the metal platform that led directly into Silfra. Shockingly clear water lapped at our legs while we put on our goggles and flippers. Our guides reminded us again: “Don’t hit the walls. Don’t lift your head up too high. Keep your hands on your back.”
Two by two, we walked straight into the water.
The dry suit did its job — if my face and hands hadn’t been exposed, I wouldn’t have known the water was cold at all. My face started to sting, then went numb shortly afterwards. And, as long as I didn’t move my hands, my own body heat would warm up the water in my gloves, keeping them safe during the 40-minute trip. Easy-peasy.
Although there was some bottle-necking to deal with at first. Nothing knocks you out of a peaceful reverie like a flipper to the face! The owner of that flipper kept kicking me as we both struggled to create some space between us (whoops).
Once that problem had been solved, I found peace again. The current kept gently carrying me downstream, letting me marvel at the view below me. Thanks to the how clear the water was, every rock and plant was visible.
The Silfra fissure is actually the only spot where you can dive or snorkel directly between two continental plates (North American and Eurasian). I had a great view because the water’s so cold and clean that the underwater visibility is over 100 meters. (The view in the “Silfra Cathedral” section was particularly impressive — easily my favorite moment of the journey).
Soon I became aware that I had drifted a bit outside of the water’s current and was headed for the closest wall of the fissure. My left hand barely grazed the stones, but I still mentally gulped as I frantically paddled away from the wall. I kept using my hands to move away until I was back in the middle, where I belonged.
I managed to avoid breaking the final rule until just after we had entered the Lagoon — the final leg of the journey. We had to swim against the slight current in order to reach the Lagoon (rather than continuing downstream to the lake, where a helicopter would have to rescue us). Once I was past that current, I lifted my head and reached up to empty out my goggles, which had just filled up with water.
Right then, I breathed at the wrong moment and water rushed down the wrong pipe. Cue the gasping and coughing and hacking and flailing.
I saw one of the guides making a circular motion with his hands as he swam toward me. Flip over. Flip over.
I flipped over onto my back, still coughing. All three guides quickly reached me and floated there, monitoring me until I got my breath back.
My heart wouldn’t stop pounding. But I knew I was starting to recover once my mind went from thinking oh shit oh shit oh shit on repeat to, I just had to be that tourist, didn’t I? Brilliant.
“Simple,” I finally said. “It was a simple set of instructions.”
After we had a good laugh, the guides asked if I wanted to get out. I nodded, so one of the guides gently grabbed my arm and started pulling me toward the exit stairs.
Then another guide jokingly asked me to pose for a picture. I flipped onto my front again, laughing, my face still covered in snot and tears. Very photogenic!
And when I walked out of the Lagoon, I stopped long enough to take a proper sip of the water. Silfra’s so clean that you can drink the water at any point, but I wanted that experience to be on my terms at least once. Choking on that beautiful water didn’t count!
…The water tasted great, of course.
Thanks for reading,