Spacewalking along Geysers

• Dispatch #15 •
I explore some amazing geysers in Iceland.

In the olden days, I can imagine how a geyser was one of the most entertaining and terrifying things you can possibly see. It looks odd—a green or sometimes blue hole in the ground. Its often sulfuric smell makes it seem like a gateway to hell. And the explosion! Such a perfect way to experience a piece of nature’s fury. I can almost see the planet, seething inside, and finally needing to let her anger out and gave birth to a geyser.

Steam flows out of a geyser.
Steam flows out of a geyser.

I was at the site of Geysir, at the northern edge of the southern part of Iceland. Geysir (or The Great Geysir) is the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word “geyser” is derived from Geysir. It has been active for 10,000 years.

There were several smaller geysers in the area, and I was happy to see even the colors of just one. The green hues reminded me of a very big human eye, and the blue makes me think of lapis lazuli. It looks like a big gemstone from afar, and without the other sensual cues that made me think of danger, such as the heat coming out of the vent or its smell, I could almost want to touch it.

Beautiful!
Beautiful!

Geysers are such emotional forces of nature. But like the caprices of human emotions, geysers, too, are temporary. They are usually near volcanic areas, of which Iceland has plenty. The combination of three features: very intense heat which comes from magma near the earth’s surface, water that travels underground through pressurized fissures in the Earth’s crust, and a plumbing system made up of fractures, fissures, and other cavities in the earth, including a reservoir to hold the water while it is being heated.

Strokkur is about to explode.
Strokkur is about to explode.

While Geysir itself doesn’t erupt, its neighbor Strokkur does every few minutes. It was amusing seeing all of us tourists waiting with bated breath and with our fingers on our camera’s buttons as the minutes passed by. And then suddenly, the steam started leaving the hole and the water swelled. The crowd became excited and leaned forward. Wait for it… wait for it…wait for it! And whee! The water shot up several meters like an upside down dinosaur taking a pee. We took several photos until the water went back down. And then waited a few minutes again to repeat the entire process. I took to cheering every time it did.

We wait with bated breath and cameras. Except for that guy.
We wait with bated breath and cameras. Except for that guy.

Ok, if the dinosaur metaphor doesn’t suit you, perhaps sex does. The slowly heating water, the steam coming up, the water swelling and breaking the surface, and finally the climax of the earth relieving itself of hot water. I can almost imagine the kinky mythology our ancestors used to think about to amuse themselves.

Like a crater on the moon that flooded with water
Like a crater on the moon that flooded with water

Beyond the action you can see for your eyes, though, there is life in these hot pockets of the earth. Heat-loving bacteria called thermophiles, which survives at temperatures of 50 to 70 °C (122 to 158 °F) and hyperthermophiles, which prefer temperatures of 80 to 110 °C (176 to 230 °F), produce some of the bright colors of the geyser.

Without the smell or the heat, I could have jumped in.
Without the smell or the heat, I could have jumped in.

Walking away, and along the active and dormant geysers I had seen earlier—Geysir, Strokkur, Blesi, and bunch of others with strange-sounding names, I realized that Iceland can make you feel as though you were taking a walk on some other planet. No wonder so many locals turn out to be writers. One can mine stories from anywhere here whether they’re erupting or not.

It feels like being on another planet.
It feels like being on another planet.
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