Recreational Hypothermia

Warning: Profane language

I’ve done enough online dating to know the number one question asked when people see the photo above on my profile is “Are you wearing a drysuit?” Yes. Obviously. While I appear to be bobbing like a rubber duck in a glorified pond, I assure you, I would have died without it. The water was only 2 degrees above freezing and located in the chasm between the separation of two tectonic plates in Silfra, Iceland. It is some of the purest water in the world and my best friend and I were about to stick our faces in it.

The second most asked question I get is “Why? What do you even see there?” The short answer would be nothing…if by “see” you mean animal life of any sort whatsoever. You know, the main reason most people snorkel or scuba dive. Trout does exist in the water but they don’t like to be seen too often. Apparently, Kim and I are not most people. We didn’t mind paying almost 200 dollars for the pleasure of spending an hour suiting up and receiving instructions in how to move and adjust our drysuit. Nor did we squawk at the fact that we would only be in the actual water for about ten minutes. We are not complainers! Instead we said “Bring it on!” like the good ex-cheerleaders we are, only to swim at an Olympic speed to reach the end of the course, throw the suit to the ground and try to get our extremities to feel heat again.

I would like to state that I am not an adventure traveler. If you continue to read my blog, you will see that I spend more time being led around historical sites by a plastic frog on a stick in the air than I do scaling mountains or jumping out of airplanes. I appreciate my life. I need my life to be able to do more bus traveling. You can’t see anything if you are dead. This is a fact! (Unless you believe in the afterlife and that angels are looking down from heaven. They can see everything…EVERYTHING! #nevernude…but I am not one of those.) Not being an adventure traveler would assume I am not one to snorkel in freezing water but others could argue that adventure travelers would not be paying anyone to snorkel anywhere tours are involved. They would just do it…f*ck rules #100%pureadrenalinerush.

So being that person somewhere in between adventure traveler and putting the tour in tourist, here is what was running through my head:

This isn’t so bad. I feel like a cork in a bathtub. This suit is amazing.

Oh, we have to look down now and swim. I can do that.

Shit! This water is cold. It feels like an ice bath for my face. It’s good for the skin though, right?

What did she say about keeping my hands on my back? It’s f*cking cold up there…ach…it’s colder in the water. Hands on back it is.

Why am I doing this? Kick your legs Elizabeth! Kick. Your. Goddamn. Legs! (Yes, the cold made me curse like a sailor, as it should! Sailors must be freezing 90% of their life.)

For Christ’s sake, look around! This is what you’re here for.

Wow, the water is really blue…like really blue!

The algae is neon green and sparkling somehow as if there were a phosphorescence to it. It looks like I’ve fallen into an alien planet straight out of Avatar. The gradients of the blue range from cobalt to Ian Somerhalder’s eyes. In the depths ahead of me I see an effervescence of bubbles rising from below. At first I marvel at the thought that this is a natural gas rising between the break in the continents and I am in awe that I get to swim through it, until I realize that it is only the leaking air from a scuba diver below me. I don’t let this get me down. Instead I appreciate the clarity of the water that allows a 100 meter visibility, gaining a view of each rock, every crevice, the delicate tendrils of algae that float like mermaid’s hair, as well as the fins of every snorkeler in front of me. There may not be animal life but it is one of the most surreal landscapes I have ever seen and if I wasn’t freezing my ass off, I would splash around it in all day pretending to a be a sea creature rising from the abyss.

Silfra fissure was created by the separation of the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates. The water is some of the clearest in the world, created by glacial melt from thousands of years ago that was covered up by a volcanic eruption and continually purified by a current that runs through the fissure (SILFRA.org). Our tour guide explained to us that it was so clean we could drink it. I questioned this with all our bobbing bodies in the water, but not enough to not do it. I mean, my face was already submerged in it, I might as well take a sip.

I try to find Kim so that our picture can be snapped together by our tour guide when I see a small black figure off in the distance already emerging on the metal exit gate. This is my friend…apparently the fastest swimmer Silfra has ever seen…at least today. I make my way towards her and we climb out of the fissure. Kim has practically no body fat and she finds that she no longer has use of her hands. Luckily I still do, and after prying my wetsuit gloves off, I warm my fingers by scraping hers off as well. She stares at her hands as if they don’t belong to her body anymore, another strange creature from the abyss. We jog in our feet fins back to the starting point like overgrown penguins. We’ve been promised hot chocolate and cookies. Icelanders must believe they can make foreigners do anything for hot chocolate and cookies.

They are correct.

We help each other strip our drysuits off and get our “summer” layers back on. I attach myself to the cookie bar, while Kim (still a vegan) puts every piece of clothing she brought with her on and hides in the tour van. I catch a glimpse of myself in the van window. My face is a cheery red. I look happy, healthy. My skin looks amazing. Best facial I’ve ever inadvertently paid for.

All photos in water taken by DIVE.IS

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Book Suggestion:

While not about snorkeling, check out Boy on the Edge by Fridrik Erlings. A YA book by an Icelandic author.

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