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.
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.