>Due to the abundance of hot water in Iceland, it has to be used for something. Rather than stuffing every pool indoors and loading it up with chlorine, there are geothermal pools around the city. These lie between the decadent indulgence of South Korean jimjjilbangs and the dark, solitary of the pool I used at university. First and foremost, they have lap pools with lanes. Lap pools always reminded me of dancers or figure skaters, with their long elegant arms leading my eyes. There are swimming lessons, swimming competitions, and swimming teams. However, they also have hot pots–hot tubs–of varying temperatures. Steam rooms. Some have saunas or water slides.
Going to the pool can be a family thing, but plenty of adults go to relax, exercise, and socialize. They are not spas, not in the way I view them, but they are warmer than the pools I am used to in America.
On our first trip to the pool, we went to the largest in Reykjavik, Laugardalslaug. This was our first instance of Socially Mandated Group Nudity (SMGN). Without the pause I had seen from Americans abroad in the past, without the pause I gave the first time I stripped down in a foreign locker room, my (female) friends took off their clothes. We debated about how to arrange locks, and stuff, to minimize our commitment to them.
Then we showered.
All of the pools we visited had the same sign in them, imperative statements describing the procedure of washing “without a swimsuit” before entering the pools. Line silhouettes of people highlighted the areas of your body you need to wash. People–well me, and I assume others do this as well–struggle into their swimsuits while they are wet. They head outside, some people with confidence and arms down, and some people, like me, with arms wrapped around them, shivering from the cold.
In the winter, steam rises off the pools and hot pots like a mist or a fog.
Our first time at the pool, we all piled into a lane in the lap pool, swimming laps, talking, and playing. We explored Laugardalslaug, testing the hotpots and steam room, sitting in the rock pool. We explored individually and in small groups. We played in the kiddie pool.
MM and I, off on our own after a bout of lap swimming, looked at the water slide. I’d never been down a waterslide before, you see, and while the group excitement had carried me to this point, my overwhelming fear took hold.
“Kids do this,” I told myself as we made out way across the pool, climbed out, and, shivering, climbed the stairs to the top.
You see, as a kid I fell. A lot. I tripped over curbs. I fell off chairs and counters. I slipped on the ladder to our bunk beds and got a concussion as a small child. Before that, I fell down the stairs in our house. In first grade I fell off a ski lift, a traumatic event that had scared me metaphorically for life. I can’t walk on ice. I nearly broke my ankle last spring. Since childhood, fear has been a dominating force in my decision to do physical things.
And with fear inside of me, I climbed up the steps to the water slide, edging MM to go first. She didn’t. There was a short line, dominated by children, teens, and their parents. When it was my turn, I sat down on the slide and allowed the water to slowly carry me off to start. There were twists and turns, it wasn’t too fast. It was kind of fun.
Then it got dark. I reached out for the wall and found nothing to hold on to. I slid further. Faster. The slide twisted and turned. It got lighter and then darker again.
Then there were blinking LEDs.
I bust out of the end of the slide into cold air and then warm water. Before I could even rise to the surface, the person behind me exploded from the slide and landed on top of me. He picked out tricks to go faster, employing them to fly past MM on the slide. He apologized, to MM after she was there, and to me.
Breathless, MM and I reconnected, lost in how the slide had been -fun-. We recounted each moment, each twist and turn, the blackness and the LEDs, our words broken up with excitement. We went again.
As our other friends went, I picked up tricks from them to go faster. Limiting your body contact with the slide by lifting yourself up with your shoulders and heels. Balancing your head on your hair, or lifting your head off entirely, dropping it down flat right before you fall off into the water.
Other pools didn’t have slides, not like this one. Another pool, one I hadn’t gone to, looked like it did from pictures.
Sundhöllin, a more bare bones pool, has hot pots on the roof. AO and I went one day, later joined by MM and DH. The pool was smaller than others, but there was a proper springboard to dive off of. I can’t dive, though I wish I could. It was the only springboard we saw in Reykjavik. It was cold, and the wind blew bitter. We sat in the hot pot, just too hot for comfort, and watched the sun set. AO’s hair froze. By the time we got to Sundhöllin, we were used to trips to the pool. It was fun, but it didn’t seem special.
When we went to Laugardalslaug for the first time, it was January first. The buses weren’t running. We walked, in the cold, some four kilometers there, through the city center into what looked like the rolling suburbs, with car dealerships and strips of stores. The walk there took over forty minutes, the walk back, on a more direct route, took less time. Normally, the bus ran from down the street from the flat to Laugardalslaug. When we went a second time, we took the bus. On that day, it was so cold salt was thrown around the ground and it hurt to step on. The edges of the pools, the dangerous, blue frame, was frozen in places.
Sundhöllin, which we visited in our second week, was located past the Church, near the city center. It was an easy walk, but the trip wasn’t made specially, it was nestled between a trip out to cafes and the walk home for dinner.
Vesturbæjarlaug was the pool we went to the most. We considered it to be the closest, and a lot of us liked the feeling that it was “the local pool,” it wasn’t the biggest, or the oldest, but it was the one that felt the most like a place you go regularly. The steam room was hotter than the others I’d visited, but the sauna cost an extra fee and wasn’t all that warm.
Other people visited other pools. A group went to Blue Lagoon, and I think MM and MH went to Árbæjarlaug one day. There was a pool down the peninsula, NC told us, that also had a slide. I think he and some people made it out there, but I didn’t. When we first arrived, there had been an idea, a push, to try everything. As the days in the first week seemed to stretch in length, the pressure–on me–to do everything dissipated. Some part of my mind adjusted to the idea that I lived there and it wasn’t until it was getting time to leave when I realized there were a lot of things I hadn’t done. I say this content with what had happened, rather than remorseful over what didn’t. Sure, I would have liked to see a glacier or gone to Árbæjarlaug, but it’s okay that I didn’t.