Iceland lived up to its name. Everything was white. Everything was cold. Being January, the temperature hoovered reliably around freezing. And yet there we were, in the middle of an ice field, stripping off our layers and layers of winter jumpers. We were going snorkelling.
If you are familiar with the geothermic splendours of that country, you may have assumed that we were attempting something akin to the Blue Lagoon, a hot bath dunking that eased the chill of the winter air. You would be wrong. The Silfra Fissure is not geothermal. It is glacier water, and has been warmed not the slightest by its century of filtering through the nearby lava fields. It is also the gap between two continental plates, a chasm between worlds, where the blinding purity of the water allows you to see further than almost anywhere else on earth.
Issuing his command, the instructor handed around our masks. We had wriggled ourselves into submarine-yellow drysuits, after encasing ourselves into a onesie with the thickness and softness of a sleeping bag. Sealant boots and gloves protected our hands and feet from the icy chill, but our heads were left at the mercy of the elements, and seconds after we slipped into the water our lips swelled up preposterously, and small icicles formed in our hair.
Not that we noticed. Looking down, I felt as though I had never before understood the true meaning of “floating”. This water was so clear that I seemed suspended above the rocks below by nothing at all. I could see everything, everywhere, and I tried to force my mind to understand that the walls of either side of me really were continental plates, that I was currently swimming between America and Europe. When I lifted my head, it was to see myself gliding through a landscape iridescent with snow. It was a surrealism the tropics could never match.
On we swam. Down the claustrophobic Big Crack, over the glittering Silfra Hall. A reverent turn around the depths of the Silfra Cathedral and then our final stop in the never-ending Silfra Lagoon. There were no fish of course. The water, pure as it was in our mouths and throats, was too icy to support life. The only creatures which splashed and played there were our black-clad selves, clumsy in our huge drysuits, awestruck at the beauty of nothingness.
Although it was barely 3pm, the winter sun was already starting to wane, and the landscape surrounding the glacier was being bathed in shades of gold. It seemed like an impossible place to be, a land so inhospitable and barren as to be forbidden. Yet there we were, swimming in a lifeless, dazzling lake.
I suddenly noticed, with a start, that the chill of the water had started to penetrate to my bones. My suit had leaked. Pulling myself out, I star-jumped to restore my blood flow, gazing at the canyon we had, incredibly, just snorkelled down. I was stunned, speechless, and freezing.