Diana Khoi Nguyen

A centaur from the waist up.

Poet and human.

Swimming in Iceland

For those who are unaware, I am an amateur swimming fanatic. If JB is a mountain man / outdoors enthusiast, then I am a water nymph. Only food gets me more excited than swimming, pools, oceans, other bodies of water, and I'm not sure food > (bodies of) water.

Part of the pleasure and intimate experience of Iceland is the ability to swim. Every day, any day, anywhere. And nearly all are outdoors (maybe the only indoor one is in Reykjavik--but Reykjavik has several pools). For a place associated with "ice," there are so many swimmable hot springs, "hot pots" all over the country, in addition to places like Blue Lagoon (artificial), Myvatn Nature Baths (curated natural hot spring, but a lot artificial as well). And nearly every town (big or small) has its own village pool!

And of course Blönduós has its own pool. And it's gorgeous. There's a 25m lap swimming beauty (with whom I am most intimate), a shallow kiddie pond with weird mushroom thing that sprays out water--and mostly it's fully-grown humans sitting in the wading pool, sometimes with children, sometimes without. And there's 2 different hot hot tubs (different degrees of hot) AND there are 2 slides. A tubular windy one (the best!) and a steep scary one that looked innocuous, but one I won't go down it again.

And of course there's a steam room. I try to go to the pool as often as possible (exercise, excuse to leave the building, something I rarely do)--and because to shower at the pool is much more comfortable than to shower in the skinny box we have here at the residency.

Earlier this week I learned that not only are there cameras everywhere at the pool/gym facility and around the pools, but there are also cameras underwater! I only know this because one employee, Magnus, told me "You swim very straight." "Thanks," I replied and then he took me to the office where there are two large monitors displaying all the camera screens--several of the lap pool underwater! He pointed out that he can tell I swim straight because my body would shoot past the camera as a straight line. Wow! I wish I could see the camera screen as I'm swimming. Impossible, of course.

Usually, I find the pool to be too warm for my workouts, but since it's been around freezing and very very windy (20+mph winds), the pool has been a lot cooler. Magnus told me that they don't adjust the temperature (all geothermally heated) of the pool--and that the windiness brings the pool temp way down.

Oh! The studio overlooks the ocean (where the river meets the ocean) and aside from being majestic and gorgeous (daily sunsets! birds! whales!)--whenever it's very sunny (and cold), I usually grab my swimming gear and bolt to the pool. It's my way of not only maintaining ideal body weight, but a way to tan as well. I still wear sunscreen (50-70 spf) even though it's 32 degrees out, but it's nice to be a gentle golden color--my native Vietnamese skin.

Today there's been a snowstorm all day--well, sometimes half snow half frozen rain. And mega windy. Of course I went to the pool. The employee (I can never remember exactly how to say her name since I can't visualize it) warned me that the pool was too cold today and to "Be careful!"--but the pool wasn't that cold--cold for Icelanders, but warm still, for the native Californian in me (California doesn't often heat their pools too much--so they are chilly!).

It was an incredible experience to swim with the hail, frozen rain, and snow--to watch the steam rise and get ripped away by the strong gales--and it was harder to swim--I could only feel my pinkies when my hands were underwater. There is something so crisp and precise about a cold swim that I love. As if I can not only see clearer/better, but that my body can perform in some more aqua-dynamic way. As if I become more aquanaimal. It was of course, beautiful to see all the states of water. To feel the heat, the cold, the needles.

After each vigorous swim, I change to a more casual swimsuit (aka less expensive as training/exercise/competitive swimsuits are $$$ and I like to preserve their lifespan) and I sweat it out in the steam room. Today I met two new people from Blönduós, and none of them are Icelandic! One guy works are the only restaurant in town (now he's catering to the workers at the slaughterhouse)--he's from Lithuania. We lamented over pork--the lack of pork in Iceland, and talked about our love of eating pork ears.

The other man is from Germany! He's been living here for 33.5 years and had 4 cows and a farm, but one cow got slaughtered today (he got to keep the heart and something else I didn't quite hear over the steam and his accent). He talked about how there's a lot of fish these days in the lakes--and I started drooling because I'm dying to go fishing with anyone here. Someone take me!

So many things contribute to my Iceland happiness, but swimming is certainly a large part of that happiness-pie. Bring a swimsuit when you come. More than one. And goggles.