we approach midnight.
As we climb into direction to the lake highlands Myvatn, we scanned the rearview mirror. We notice that the clouds open. That unveil a sky of various fiery shades that spreads to the ocean Áarctic e à frigid surface of the northern coast of Iceland.
The boreal eccentricity of that sunset invites us to pull over à icy verge. We enjoy its unfolding for a few minutes, until the freezing wind takes us to the illusion of thermal comfort imposed by the undoing of the great star.
We take what we take. Soon, we return to the warm haven of the car.
For a short time. A few kilometers ahead, a new incandescent vision amazes us, this time parallelepiped, even more resplendent in the near night it had settled.
We investigated that UFO perched with the care it deserved, not least because a slippery slope and a clearing dotted with holes covered by snow separated it from the side of the road.
Iceland's Something Extraterrestrial Greenhouses
A few meters from the tarnished glass casing, we notice 100% vegetable content. We confirmed what had already occurred to us: it was an Icelandic greenhouse.
The sun, which in that wintry spring still resisted almost eighteen hours above the horizon, arrived with rays so insipid that they did little to stimulate our skin and senses.
We were about to enter Iceland's gentle months. We calculated that the climate of your antipodes months was much harsher.
And yet, except for the tiniest length of daylight, for most of the year, almost arctic Iceland is even favored.
Iceland's Still Generous Sub-Arctic Climate
Two ocean currents, the North Atlantic and the Irminger, surround it.
They keep the surrounding ocean free of ice and soften winter temperatures that would otherwise be far more extreme than the normal 0°C average in the southern coastal lowlands and -10°C in the interior highlands.
In a localized dimension, the intense volcanic activity contributes to heat and preserve vast areas of the island less frozen.
This is the case with volcanoes, fumaroles and geysers around Lake Myvatn, which we would soon explore.
Over time, Icelanders have learned like no other people to live with its delicate geology.
And to manipulate the concentration of volcanoes in favor of geothermal energy generation, heating and some electricity production.
Iceland's Geothermal Proficiency
There are five large geothermal power plants that produce a quarter of Iceland's energy.
Almost 90% of the country's buildings are equipped with geothermal heating and hot water.
Bearing in mind that 75% of the country's electricity comes from water, it is clear that Icelanders are confident that their nation no longer depends on fossil fuels and as little as possible on all types of imports.
Later, we would come to realize that the eccentric greenhouse we had been examining was just one of many, kept warm from the depths of the island.
It was part of that ambitious sustainability plan.
Greenhouse Vegetal Production that Barely Brings Down Prices
Due to the short spring-summer period, only the most cold-resistant tubers and vegetables, such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, and cabbage, can be grown outdoors.
Greenhouses like those were increasing in number before the eyes in strategic places in the country. They made it possible to generate, in less and less limited quantities, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, flowers, plants and even bananas, grapes and another tropical delicacy.
As we could suffer on our skin, greenhouse production still did little to change the price of Iceland's insular and northern isolation:
“It's 3500, or 3700 or 4000 crowns (24, 25 or 27€)” the cashiers of the supermarkets where we stocked up politely informed us as we went around the island.
"Do you pay in cash or by card?" Each time we heard the total, that was the question that we were least concerned about.
Invariably, we would look at the basket and try to figure out if we had mistakenly placed something in it or if we had made an exaggeration. But not. Only the little we wanted was confirmed.
We filled the bag, turned our backs. We continued our journey resigned and always excited by the hot and cold geological magnificence of those places.
Fumaroles, Geysers and Other Geothermal Sources
After going around the island, we settled in Reykjavik. From the capital, we set out on strategic incursions to the unmissable areas around.
In one of them, we stopped in the valley of Haukaladur. There are three other valleys of the same name in Iceland. Only this one hosts a vast geothermal area that the Viking colonists reported in 1294, which had been formed a short time before, by seismic action.
In fact, earthquakes continue to activate and deactivate these sources, as happened alternately in July 2000.
We read in advance that these were two of the most famous geysers in the valley, the Strokkur and another, the Geysir (a term derived from the Old Norse verb geysa for gush).
The Geysir proved to be the first geyser known to modern Europeans, described in a printed work and eventually adapted as the worldwide nomenclature of the phenomenon.
Well, we soon realized that he was as famous as he was capricious. As a rule, it only broke out on four or five solemn occasions a day. We did not hesitate, therefore, in dedicating ourselves to the most sociable Strokkur.
We've seen it sprout five or six times in less than an hour, more than 20 meters high, and we've even been baptized by the spray of its scalding, sulphurous water.
At the end of that afternoon, we were returning to the capital.
We are surprised by the mottled scenery of the Hellisheidi plateau, snowy but not too much, colored by patches of brown volcanic soil that the new late sunset turned to ocher.
We lead to one of the highest points of this plateau.
From there, we can appreciate how twilight seizes the homonymous geothermal power station – the largest in the world –, located next to the Hengill volcano. And how it gave rise to a new extraterrestrial panorama.
Neither geothermics nor Icelandic quasi science fiction would stop there.
“If you don't like the weather in Iceland, wait just a minute,” professes one of the nation's most popular sayings.
The Amornado Delight of Lagoa Azul and the Svartsengi Geothermal Station
But many more hours had already passed than we were willing to concede. One of the island's attractions that could best compensate for the bad weather was still at our disposal.
We dedicate the entire following morning to you.
We pass through the sophisticated portal of its reception and go up to the panoramic terrace.
From that summit, we were amazed by the surreal sight of hundreds of bathers in pure delight, subsumed in the water of Bláa Lonid, the blue lagoon of Grindavik.
In the distance, at the opposite end of the lagoon, isolated by abrasive lava slabs, we glimpse Iceland's fourth largest geothermal station, that of Svartsengi.
In full operation, the chimneys of this plant released clouds of steam that joined the celestial ones.
We went down to the changing rooms and joined an international and amphibious crowd.
The water temperature fluctuates depending on the distance from the sources that release it.
Normally it's perfect, but every now and then some boilers overheat certain sections.
We still laughed heartily with the stampede of a group of ladies, afflicted with an imaginary cooking.
Despite the water barely above the waist, two lifeguards are limited to having fun with the situation, recurrent and not very worrying.
Eva and Guthrun, representatives of the lake, also wearing clay or similar face masks and equipped with trays with cups, approach the bathers.
They convince us to test substances that can beautify any skin.
"Try this one!" they make us uneasy. It's a kind of natural Icelandic botox!”
Meanwhile, a thunderous volley expels us, the young sellers and the other bathing customers from the volcanic broth.
The storm proves not to last.
A tiny hail was still falling when the first Icelanders began to return to their famous geothermal cuddle.