May and June have been basically throughout rainy, I mean Reykjavík was drowning in rainy, cloudy days. May even broke the meteorologic rain record here in the capital: It was raining every single day of the month. This made me think about water a lot. Iceland is famous for its water. Not only the amount of water you can find around the island in any kind of form – no matter if in countless waterfalls, in the form of ice in glaciers, geothermally heated and steaming in hot springs like the Icelandic trademark geysir, the ever present rough North Atlantic Ocean or in naturally meandering rivers – but also as botteled, exported water, like you could see Kim Kardashian sippin’ on the stylish “Icelandic Glacial”. Water is in fact such dominant element in Iceland, that it even has two colours representing it in the Icelandic flag: Blue for the ocean and white for the ice and glaciers. Sometimes I wonder why the tourist advertisements are always claiming “Iceland – the country of fire and ice”, when it should rather be called “the country of fire and water” (I know it ruins the contrast, but hey), that’s how dominant it actually is.
If you open the tap in Iceland you will have fresh spring water flowing out of it. Unlike most other European countries, the water is not recycled. You will not find any water treatment facilities here. There are no residues of chemicals, medications or fertilisiers, which are a big hazzle to remove from other countries water supply. The water will never have a chlorine smell nor will it be unsuitable for drinking. The only smell you will encounter with Icelandic water is sulphurous, but this only involves the warm water which is sourced from geothermal water – let the cold water run for 10 seconds and the smell will be gone. Actually, a lot of tourists could save part of their budget in such an expensive travel location, if they would skip buying the overpiced botteled waters in the groceries and gas stations, and rather stick to refilling their drinking bottles with tap water. It safes plastic, too.
The luxury good from the tap
Having such a surpreme quality of water is a big luxury good and is part of the high living quality you have here in Iceland. After all, human bodies are 75% water according to Dr. Batmanghelidj M.D., whose book “You’re not sick, you’re thirsty – Water for Health, for Healing, for Life” I highly recommend and drinking enough water is essential for ones health. When we visited a friends’ wedding in Poland recently, I wanted to drink out of the tap as I am used from Iceland. The water didn’t get crispy cold, neither did it taste fresh. In the contrary – there was a horrible smell to the water, almost as if it wasn’t safe to drink and straight out of a public pool. That is Poland – a European country, not any kind of third-world-country, where you might be more prone to encounter water shortness or unsafe tap water. That showed me once more what kind of precious good Icelanders have flowing around them in abundance: Fresh, pure, clean water. Siggi, the owner from Urta Islandica explained to me once I was visiting his new herbs store, that Icelandic water is sometimes even “too pure”, which means there is not much of minerals in it. Look for example at the magnesium or calcium levels – compared to most mineral waters you can buy in Europe, this is rather low. The advantage is however, that the water has a neutral ph-level and if you drink a lot – as you should drink at least 2 litres a day, doesn’t interfere with your body’s ph-level.
Icelandic water is so pure it is almost too pure
Icelandic myths about water spirits
With all the water surrounding and present in the landscape of Iceland, you would assume there would be a much bigger amount of fairytailes, myths or legends connected to water creatures, like mermaids, nymphs or at least sea monsters, especially when you consider the vivid narrations concerning hidden people, so basically elves and trolls coming from rocks and mountains, one would expect hoards of stories including such creatures. However, so far I haven’t heard many Icelandic fairytales including any sort of water spirits. There is one about a seal-women who is robbed of her seal skin by a farmer from the South Coast, the Icelandic version of Loch Ness in lake Lagarfljót in the East and a kind of mermaid-like man called Marbendill who brought a sea-gray cow on land, which is said to be the mother of all Icelandic milk cows and gives especially plentyful milk.
It is also astonishing that there is no Icelandic name which refers to water directly. Regarding there are plenty of Icelandic first names which are derived from actual natural elements, but none exists with the direct meaning of water, waterfall, rain etc. The only one I can think of is the female name Bára, which means “wave”. I find that odd, since there are names which include other forms of water in a way, like for example Snjólaug (“pool of snow”) or Sævar (“sea warrior”), whereas there are several English, Irish or even Hebrew names, which actually do have the very meaning of water or at least in connection to some water deity.
The symbol water
Water is associated to the geographic direction of West, which fits perfectly since Icelands Westfjord coast is one of the westernmost points of Europe and the exploration of the “West” aka. America has been undertaken by Leifur Eiríksson starting from Iceland. Interestingly to mention at this point is maybe that Iceland is defended by a giant bull in the West in its National coat of arms. This originates from the Heimskringla saga, in which Harald Bluetooth was about to attack Iceland when four giant protection spirits warded the island on its four points of compass. Even though the zodiac sign of Taurus is belonging to the element of earth, not connected to water or West, I sense there must be some deeper logic to this symbol of a bull guarding the West Coast of Iceland. I actually will do some further research to this.
Another matter which rings true to modern day Iceland in regards to Western astrology is, that the element of water stands for the attributes “cold” and “wet” – actually, Icelandic climate is subarctic, which translates to cold in general and to cool summers in particular. Iceland receives a lot of precipitation and therefore is “wet”. An example: Parts of the highlands receive an annual precipitation of 2.000 mm – for comparisson: “Rain forests are characterized by high rainfall, with definitions setting minimum normal annual rainfall between 1,750 and 2,000 mm” states the Wikipedia entry about precipitation. Water also symbolises beauty, which obviously seems to have been embodied into Icelands breathtaking landscape, some may even argue in the beauty of its women. Which, in addition reflects that the symbol of water has always been attributed to female energy (sorry, Icelandic men). It almost seems as if all this abundance of water brought all this beauty to it in the first place. Water is furthermore connected to the overall, timeless symbol of cleansing and purging of the human hubris.
Anyone, who has spent more then four days in Iceland will have gotten the sense of being one with nature, being cleansed, being refreshed and touched by natures raw and overwhelming beauty. Since all this can be in a broader sense attributed to peace, it is no wonder that Yoko Ono established her peace light tower in Iceland. In this sense Iceland could be the worlds saving watery grace.
The ever changing element
Water is the only element which is ever so different than all the other elements on earth. In fact, scientist are more puzzled about its attributes the more they learn and research about it. It is indeed a very changeable element and therefore suits perfectly to Iceland as this is a very changeable country. I am actually wondering why there isn’t as much scientific bustle and hustle concerning water research in Iceland as it is for geothermal, geological or volcanic studies. For example, instead of building a new, the magnificent landscape marring dam for yet another hydroelectric reservoir, let’s explore more unconventional techniques, like the Schauberger river tube or salinity hydro power plants like in Norway.
In its three forms – liquid, solid and gas – water is almost omnipresent everywhere you go in Iceland: If it is the foggy clouds hanging on to the mountain tops, thousands of glacial or fresh water rivers, hot springs, this summers’ ever so persistent rain fall, the never melting snow patches on mountain north slopes or lakes. Almost 3% of Icelands land mass is covered with lakes, that is almost equivalent to the wooded land mass. Here some more water facts from Ísland:
Iceland water facts
- 12% of Iceland are covered under glaciers
- The longest river in Iceland is Þjórsá (230 km long)
- The biggest, natural lake is Þingvallavatn at the Golden Circle Þingvellir
- The highest waterfall is Morsi in the highlands, measuring 227 m
- The river with the most water is Ölfusá
- Iceland has with 1.000 l hot water and 200 l cold water the highest per capita water usage world-wide
My watery music recommendations:
Thanks goes again to Ben for his perfect shot of Dettifoss in the title picture.