I cannot swim. And by cannot, I mean I can’t even float and can still manage to almost drown even while wearing a lifejacket. But, sometimes I forget that. Like when I eagerly signed my friend Gina and me up to snorkel the Silfra rift in Iceland’s Þingvellir National Park.
The Silfra rift is the gap between the Eurasian and North American continental plates so you are essentially swimming between the two continents! Cool, right? That’s what I thought and certainly did not want to pass up the chance to do it during our visit.
We booked an afternoon is dive.is, and met up with our guide, Chris at Þingvellir one afternoon. We got there a little earlier so Gina and I went over to check out the rift ahead of time. Then I got nervous. Seeing the water reminded me that I was afraid of the water and, the water was so clear you could see all the way down, at least a hundred feet or more. When we finally met up with Chris, I told him I could not swim and while he words were super nice and encouraging, I could see his face saying, ‘great, a problem child.’
Because the water is freezing, we had on dry suits that were supposed to make you float. After putting on everything: a jumpsuit, the actual dry suit, gloves, a hood, and the kitchen sink, I felt like the little kid from A Christmas Story. I could barely move and, I was getting even more nervous.
With limited mobility and capacity to breathe, we were ready to enter the water. Enter semi-freak out mode. I got in the water with my mask on and immediately clung to the rock wall and hand rail. I looked out ahead and saw that everyone else was floating in the water. Ok…good. Maybe I won’t die. So, I put my face in the water to make sure nothing would get in. Enter total flip out mode. I seriously flipped out when I looked down and saw how deep the water was. I mean yes, it was beautiful, but I couldn’t help but think of all the Lifetime movies I had seen where everyone thought it was a great idea to see sights in the water and then never resurfaced. Chris swam over to me and gently reminded me that everything was ok since I was still holding on to the handrail.
After ferociously peddling to the rock that was two inches away I tried to regain the nerves to try again. It took me a while. So, I flipped over on my back and was like oh, ok. This is better, I think. After taking in the sights from above and with lots of encouragement from Chris and Gina, I decided I was ready to try again.
I flipped over and tried looking down again. I talked myself into believing that I was not going to fall and moved into my systematic self…..breathe in….breathe out…oh, look, I’m not drowning….ok….then, some water got in my goggles…and I start my rapid peddling freaking out again. Repeat.
I calmed down and finally got the hang of it and gone a good distance on my own, pushing water out, taking in the sights, doing it! Then, Chris swam over and told me to come to him. Hmmm….why would he be saying that? I’m doing fine…what’s happening? He took my hand under than water and told me to hang on and that the water is going to get deep. Oh, that’s strange, the water is already deep!!! Within a minute, I realized why he was coddling me. Holy cow! The water was sooooo deep! I am pretty sure I left earth for a moment died a little..or a lot inside. I tried to surface but figured that wouldnt help much and eventually I pushed through it. Once I calmed down a bit, I just could not believe what I was seeing. So amazing. Way down below, I could vaguely see a diver who was much braver than I was. Because the water is so cold, there are no fish or other living things. And the water is the bluest blue ever! While I was enjoying the view, I was still scared, uncomfortable and kind of ready to be back on land.
I brought an underwater camera and clearly was in no condition to take photos but luckily Gina wasnt as scared crazy as I was.
I made it through and felt so awesome afterwards. Big steps for me. And with amazing backdrop. In theory, I’d like to try it again to redeem myself and enjoy the experience without being scared silly. But, moments like these remind why I travel: to push boundaries, to face fears, and to give your friends some good stories to bring up at your wedding.