Touching North America from Eurasia

There is one place on earth–Silfra–where it’s possible to “touch” two different continents underwater and it’s located within the Golden Circle of Iceland. Leah and I were up for the challenge, but it required some preparation.

First, we traveled southeast of Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park, the birthplace of parliamentary government (Althing, 930 AD), and the zone where volcanic activity has played a heavy hand in shaping our planet.

Not to get too bogged down in earth science, but a rift occurred through the middle of Iceland where two tectonic plates are pulling away from each other 2.5 centimeters every year as a result of volcanic activity in the region since the beginning of time,

and much of it vents under Lake Thingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake.

Above sea-level, lava fields at Thingvellir have been torn apart by tectonic forces, leaving gorges and fissures to admire between two continents.

However, inside the rift valley created by daily earthquakes throughout time, there is one ravine, Silfra that allows snorkelers and divers to experience the tectonic plates underwater, but it requires a dry suit to tolerate the water temperature (2o C) and a certified outfitter to guide thru the underwater fissure.

Leah and I had booked an excursion through Arctic Adventures, who supplied all of our underwater gear and a guide to assist with dressing, and underwater photography.

We dressed in a parking lot by the roadside where various outfitters have set up shop.

Over the thermals and wool socks we supplied, we stepped into fully insulated jumpsuits to wear under incredibly bulky dry suits with fixed booties, snug rubber sleeve guards around our wrists, lashed with rubber bands, and a snug rubber seal around our neck with a rubber band choker. An industrial zipper across our deltoids sealed us in.

Then came a rubberized neoprene hood over our heads. Imagine forcing your head through your neck. After accessorizing our fashionable outfits with neoprene lobster gloves, we were ready for the apocalypse.

We were a group of twelve…

under the supervision of Chris (from Hungary) and Marcelo (from Sao Paulo). We split into 2 groups of 6,

and waited our turn to enter the water.

Immediately, the suit constricted around my lower body as I stepped deeper and deeper into frigid water…but I stayed dry! Without hesitation, I glided in and immersed my face. Only the small area around my facemask was exposed and the sensation around my lips felt like a cold scalding until they turned numb after 10 seconds.

We flopped onto our backs, and let the current carry us slowly through the gorge while watching the arctic terns doing aerial maneuvers overhead.

As we floated past Grynningar Shallows, I was awed by the clarity of the water, with visibility beyond 100 meters (300 ft).

We were in the water approximately 40 minutes. Once we reached the Silfra Lagoon, the stiff current required strong frog kicks for us to reach the exit point.

As promised by Marcelo, each of us emerged from the lake with “Angelina Jolie lips.”

Overall, the experience was sublime. However, my biggest complaint had to be cold hands. Most of the time, my hands stayed clasped behind my back, out of water, but the weak stitching around the seals of the gloves made them porous. Marcelo quipped that the gloves leaked because they were made in Sweden.

Lest we be judged for our adventurous antics, consider this unassuming mother of three from Germany, who stripped down to her swimsuit, and took the polar plunge, albeit for only 30 seconds.

I don’t think she’ll be doing that again, anytime soon, but for me, it could become an addiction.

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