Monday, July 27, 1998 4:33 AM
part 7

Of the last five days, three of them are Catholic holidays. That Iceland continues to celebrate Catholic holidays is a strange situation, considering that Icelandic is no longer a Catholic country. That Icelandic is no longer a Catholic country is less strange, though, considering that the Icelanders executed in the 16th century the last Catholic bishop in the country, thereby killing (oh, the pun, the pun! And Dr Smith from Lost in Space, with a new accent?) Catholicism here. I suppose that Icelanders took better to the holidays, than to the religion.

It continues to amuse me to see so many signs advertising "sex", as it was some time before I realised that "sex" is the Icelandic word for "six".

I found a small statue of a bear, with a plaque claiming that Berlin is 2380 kilometres away. It didn't say in which direction, and there was no further information to explain why it is there at all.

I experienced my first earthquake - 5.3 on the Richter scale. The epicentre was about 60 kilometres away but, despite that, the building shook. There is a primal fear of earthquakes, but I suppose that I'll get used to it.

An Icelandic-Canadian arrived yesterday, who might be working for us soon. Apparently, there are quite a lot of Icelanders in Canada. The result was that today, as I was arriving at work, the boss was just leaving, and he dragged me with him to the car, collected the Canadian from the hotel, and took the two of us on a short tour of Iceland.

First was a trip through the lava fields that abound. These particular lava fields, stretching to over 40 square kilometres, were created by only two volcanic eruptions, and most of them were created by only one. To see the volcano in the far distance, and its lava before us, was a most humbling experience. It would have been extremely impressive to have seen the lava reach the ocean that is beside the lava fields: watching an ocean boil would be quite a sight. You can determine the approximate age of lava by its appearance - the presence of grass indicates "old" (at least a thousand years) lava. Lichen indicates "young" lava. A molten mass, flowing towards you at great speed, indicates that you are about to die.

Iceland has enormous clouds, too - despite the size of the lava fields, a cloud mass above us was sufficiently large to cast a shadow over more than half of it.

Then it was on to the "Blue Lagoon".

The Blue Lagoon received its name from the movie of the same name, and it sounds better than "Blue Accidental Lake", which doesn't roll off the tongue in quite the same way. Indeed, the lake is an accident - when the hydro-electic plant was built, the outgoing water was expected to flow down the stream, but sediment settled at the stream mouth, slowing greatly the current, and a lake formed. The water is bright blue, owing to something in the rock, and is apparently very good for people, and because it is outgoing water from the hydro-electric plant, it is also mostly very warm. I say "mostly" because, occasionally, the current will move either cold or hot water past any particular point, so the temperature can change suddenly, for a few seconds. In winter, the steam becomes so thick that people can get lost in the lagoon, because the visibility drops to almost nothing at all. There are two problems with the lake, though: the depth varies greatly from knee-deep to more than two metres, and it is full of rocks that stick out at all angles. Owing to the colour of the lake, these rocks are not visible, so bruised shins are common. A new lake is being sculpted next to the current one, with a more precise control of the depth and a smooth bed.

We went for what was intended to be a brief swim, but the water was so pleasantly warm, that we stayed until long after we became wrinkly. And it hailed.

When the lake formed first, it was used occasionally by employees of the hydro-electric plant, and word spread quickly. It began as a location some distance from everything, with no access restrictions, and a few people using it during their lunch break. It progressed to scores of people arriving and changing in their car. It is currently a hotel, restaurant, fences, change rooms, a sealed road, signs, tourist trips, souvenir shop, and payment for access. The mud, from the bottom of the lake, is bottled and sold to tourists and exported as a health balm. The steam from the lake is visible from several kilometres away. Despite that, it remains a location some distance from everything.

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