Cleaning Up

After ten days in Tanzania, I was absolutely filthy.

I was so dirty that I felt sorry for the person who had to sit next to me on the plane to Iceland. My feet were stained black with African soil, my fingernails were packed with mud and grit and my hair and skin smelled like a week’s worth of campfires. I knew I needed to clean up before meeting National Geographic photograher Annie Griffiths.

And so, when I landed in the fresh arctic air of Iceland, I suddenly longed to be clean. Really clean. Most of all, I longed for hot water, which is something that I do miss after a long stint in Africa.

Lucky for me, Iceland is a place just bubbling with naturally hot water, which pours up from the deep and volcanic earth. All over the country, geysers, hot pools, and steam vents hiss with heat from the Earth’s core–some of it simply too hot to handle.

Soaking up the Earth's natural steam at Fontana steam baths in Laugarvatn, Iceland (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
Soaking up the Earth’s natural steam at Fontana steam baths in Laugarvatn, Iceland (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

I settled  for a good steam cleaning at Fontana, a natural steam bath in Laugarvatn, which in Icelandic, translates simply as “hot bath water”. The lake of Laugarvatn sits at the edge of a powerful steam vent, where Icelanders have come to warm themselves for more than a millennium. The sagas recount how the very first Christian baptism in Iceland took place at Laugarvatn, because the early Vikings knew the water there was warm.

Today, the water is still remarkably warm, and I spent hours at Fontana, soaking in the warmth and basking in the hot steam, wading in the cool lake, nibbling rúgbrauð (rye bread) baked right in the Earth, and leaving about as clean and refreshed as I’ve ever been.


  1. Christina @ Packed Suitcase
    Washington, DC
    July 15, 2013, 3:53 pm

    The hot springs look so relaxing! Dipping into the water must help your travel-weary muscles!

    And, bread that bakes in the earth?! Just another reason why I’d like to visit Iceland. 🙂

  2. Erin
    July 15, 2013, 9:51 pm

    I too feel sorry for the person who had to sit by you on the flight to Iceland! 😉 The hot springs look awesome! I had no clue that there were so many natural springs there. All the more reason to keep following you on your adventures! I always learn so many cool things. The rye bread looks amazing too!

  3. Barruch
    Washington D.C.
    July 17, 2013, 9:14 am

    Thats amazing! I know Iceland runs much of their electricity production from geothermal sources but the idea that folks can simply access that heat just a few feet under the ground straight out of their own backyards for every day heating needs is amazing. This is the equivalent of tapping into underground natural gas reserves to run your oven (only without the nasty effects of burning fossil fuels)!

    How many people actually have access to this ready source of heating fuel in Iceland or is whats in this video sort of an anomaly?