By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Bathing in the Blue Lagoon

As an Oregonian, you probably have jumped the breakers in the frigid Pacific. You perhaps have swum in the Great Salt Lake and wept because of salt in your eyes. If you’ve bathed offshore in Maui, you’ll remember the tranquility of its soft, warm waters. If you’ve counted laps in McMinnville’s pool, you have improved your physicality.

But to widen your swimming experiences, you should, by all means, add a swim in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.

We McMinnvillans tried out this world-famous spa, and it offers not only unique bathing — but the possibility of shedding 10 years.

In the beginning, we were a bit apprehensive about outdoor swimming in October in this land of glaciers and fields of ice. But our three-day Iceland Golden Circle itinerary included this nationally known attraction that draws hundreds of thousands a year. A Seattle-Times writer described it this way: “As a day trip, it’s a splurge, costing about $63 for bus and entry.” But that visit to the Blue Lagoon for us McMinnvillans was included, and our only extra cost was the $6.50 rental of a bath towel for each swimmer.

This, assuredly, was no backyard pool. We couldn’t afford to miss it. Nature built this mammoth facility so huge that I never saw any of its boundaries. Nature then conveniently provided geothermal heating. Equally important are the natural silica-mud masks, massages and spa treatments. Those mud facials awaited us, and we were assured that the swim and the facials would leave us in a state of euphoria and we would look perhaps 10 years younger than an hour before.

The demographics of our trip to the Blue Lagoon would not be simple. Our visit there was on our last day in Iceland. A bus picked us up at the hotel and hied us south of Reykjavik to the southwestern corner of the country. At the Blue Lagoon, we would unload all baggage except carry-ons and stash it in the baggage storage room. We would take into the Blue Lagoon: swimsuit in plastic bag, passport, billfold, bookings, all other valuables. At the end of our swim, with wet suit in plastic bag, we would return to claim our baggage, get on another bus and head for the airport wearing clothes donned that morning for our flight from Reykjavik to Seattle, to Portland, and bus to McMinnville.

With baggage stowed away, we headed for the Lagoon entrance. Steam from the geothermally heated waters hovered over the area like smoke once hovered over Oregon’s burned grass-seed fields. Everywhere was activity. Buses disgorging visitors. Kids charging about. Tourists, tourists, tourists. Families. Cameras in every hand.

At our first point of entry, we were fitted with a plastic wrist band programmed to record a locker number. A mere scan locks or unlocks the locker — we hoped.

With valuables securely in place and bodies garbed in swimsuits that I know in at least one instance had not been used for a while, we headed for the mandated shower. I hoped in the shower I could keep my head dry in order to be somewhat presentable on the flight home and not look like a shaggy dog that’s been out roaming in mud puddles. At the first twist of the shower faucet, my head was wet, and there went all hope of getting on the plane looking like a human.

But that was of little moment when we were about to experience something as memorable as a swim in the Blue Lagoon. We were ready now for the main event — an immense steaming pool with swimmers everywhere dotting the surface but still with plenty of room for us. A pool so large that it appeared we could get lost in its waters and never be seen again. The pool’s elixir is as famous as the site itself. The natural silica, produced with volcanic cooperation, when slathered on the face and body promises exciting results — a conservative estimate of the loss of 10 years is the quote. I was thinking that if we could stay in the pool a sufficiently long time, I would be able to get two applications. If one application sheds 10 years, surely two would shed 20.

So now, on an October day, I was about to swim in that famous outdoor pool on an island of glaciers and ice fields, and I had misgivings. Tentatively, I stuck in a toe — as I do when jumping the waves at Lincoln City. If that highly touted water is too cold, I could always change my mind.

But it was just the right temperature — wonderful to the touch. It was totally unlike plunging into the John Day on the first swim of the season. It was like a warm, soothing bath after a hard day of gardening. This magical potion sedates, relaxes, soothes. And as good measure, for those of us who would prefer not to be viewed in our swimsuits, the sulphurous steam heating system provides an ethereal cloud that conceals actuality.

By then I had lulled along enough in that warm, tranquil bower. I had to find the magic silica. Everywhere, I saw people with white faces who had already applied the potion and were waiting for it to work. I asked one of the nearby swimmers where I, too, could find my mask material. She points to the big tanks, some four or five feet in diameter, that extended above the water’s surface. She said to use the big ladle in the tank to scoop out the mud in liberal quantities and to then smear it on.

I headed for a nearby tank, reached down with the ladle and brought forth a scoop of magic that looked like whipped cream. I rubbed a big blob on my face and neck — and other places that need rejuvenation. The elixir was a bit gritty. I scoop up another full ladle and smeared on that. We McMinnvillans appeared to be ready for Halloween. I felt my mask getting a bit firmer as it was exposed to the air, but I did not yet feel the years slipping away.

And as if that weren’t enough here in this world-famous spa, there were more enjoyments. At the ready is an ice cream stand in the pool. We saw a family of four enjoying ice cream cones in the Icelandic waters. If you feel the urge for beer or a glass of wine while here in the pool, that, too, is available.

But departure time was at hand and we had to catch the plane. I dried myself on my $6.50 towel. Hair dryers were available, but I was beyond that. I tried to wash the silica from the hair at the back of my neck, but it had become so firm I couldn’t run my fingers through it.

All the way from Reykjavik to Seattle to Portland, I sat in that state of dishabille. But that is of small consequence because I swam in the Blue Lagoon — and partook of its magic elixir. The only thing is: I’m still waiting for someone to acknowledge that I now am 10 years younger.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at



I probably would have stopped by the hot dog stand first.. not so fond of black death.. so would leave that out.. the mineral springs are cool. kind of a cross of soap lake (wa) and a local hot spring


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