Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Gold and gem mining

Reykjaldur, source:
Well, yet to end the sheer volume of entries on Iceland. I thought I had. But no, not the case. Today's entry looks more at the professional trends affecting hot spring culture in Iceland.

A name I have seen pop up concerning putting Icelands' hot springs on the map is that of Anna Sverrisdottir. She is of Iceland of Health, an organisation which promotes health and wellness tourism in Iceland. It's mission:
'Health and wellness tourism is gaining more popularity thanks to easier travelling and greater acknowledgement of the importance of preventive health care.
In 2008 Forbes Magazine ranked Iceland as the world’s healthiest country. This is due to a unique combination of excellent health system and unspoiled nature.
Iceland is the cleanest country in the world, according to researchers at Yale and Columbia universities, where the Nordic island ranks first out of 163 countries on their Environmental Performance Index*.
In this context, the therapeutic opportunities offered by Iceland gain a new dimension and value.
Ísland of Health is an association primal function is to promote health and wellness tourism in Iceland and develop new innovative products in a constant search for higher quality standards'.

The Icelandic Times also has an article on Iceland of Health which mentions that they established themselves in 2010. It seems to be more an organisation that seeks to promote well-being in the broader context, with assistance of Iceland's natural thermal waters. 

Ms. Sverrisdottir has held positions at Laugarvatn hot springs (link) as well as the Blue Lagoon. However she is also connected to Vatnavinir:
'Vatnavinir promotes water and health related tourism for the whole of the country. We have developed concepts through our Wellness Country Iceland vision for geothermal centres across the country integrating wellness and nature with the therapeutic effect of thermal bathing'.
In their extensive website they go to some lengths into developing a theory on how to classify Iceland's hot springs:
'Main Stations;
Larger scale centres providing a full range of services and facilities ranging from types of accommodation, cuisine, treatments and therapies on offer, bathing experiences, services and facilities. Often these will be the principle centre in a region from where it is possible to visit a range of satellites and smaller wellness places.
Local pools in regions located in distinct settings in landscape providing a web of unique interrelated water based experiences across Iceland.  Satellites vary in range of services on offer, from very basic to offering accommodation and refreshments.
Hidden Gems
Natural or semi man-made pools in remote natural locations difficult for the uninitiated to reach'. 
And what they seek to enable to do on the ground:
'There are remnants of Iceland´s bathing history in many places in the Westfjords. Vatnavinir want to protect and preserve this history. Hot springs are secured and utilised as thermal bathing pools or saunas. Turf pools are rebuilt. Repair work is done on old concrete swimming pools. Pipes are either dug into the ground or emphasised by painting them red so it is clear for all to see where the hot water for the pool comes from'.
They then come up with some great ways of enhancing locals springs as well as creating a uniqueness to the experience with emphasis on the Westfjords. 

Gvendarlaug hot spring, part of Vatnavinir's Westfjord projects. Source.

They also have developed plans for soaks in and around the islands capital, Reykjavik.
The UK newspaper the Independent (29 august 2010) has a short article on  Vatnavinir / Ms Sverrisdottir:
"We have so much warm water in Iceland and we want to encourage more use of it, in a sustainable way. We also want to focus on what is special about different parts of the country rather than trying to create six new Blue Lagoons."
Though all are based around geothermal water, each Vatnavinir site is unique. Ranging from simple roadside hot pots to large swimming pools, from small family-friendly pools to seaweed-based spas, most are in existence already, but what Vatnavinir has done is give them suggestions for development. In consultation with the local communities, some will be spruced up with more natural landscaping while others are set for more extreme makeovers'.
Other background is afforded by the article from the website:
'For Icelanders, personal health is inexorably connected to the natural world. This is the concept that Vatnavinir is using to promote the country as a paragon of wellness tourism. Formed by a group of like-minded architects, designers, and philosophers, Vatnavinir's goal is to position Iceland as a health-tourism hot spot with a series of eco-friendly, small, sustainable water-therapy treatment centers located around the country that will be distinct from large, developed geothermal spas like the famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik, which is visited by more than 400,000 people per year'.
I did try to contact Vatnavinir, but unfortunately that they failed to re-contact this website ...

Now while we are trailing off-subject I might as well throw in some thoughts on Icelands free to roam policy. Because this may well have consequences for soakers in Iceland.

Essentially you are free to walk and stand wherever you feel like in Iceland. that's fine. But it also means that with thousands (10s of?) using this freedom daily there might just be some limits, naturally. Think of how to regulate waste disposal if nobody takes an interest in getting rid of it?

So some land owners have taken the initiative to challenge the freedom, such that earlier this year one was required to pay an entrance fee for visiting Geysir. The Reykjavik Grapevine (April 7 2014) has an extra long article on the pro's and cons, opinions etcetera. 

And then there is the news that the Geysir landowners are suspending entrance fee collections due to judicial and government pressure. All are now waiting for courts to decide.

What's does this mean? If fee paying becomes possible it could well mean that some more popular wilder soaks may want entrance fees. That's fine, and for the more popular ones this could work out positively: hygiene standards might be upheld and refuse nearby collected. Visitor numbers might even drop a little, thus making a visit more rewarding.

How to popularise a one man hot pot?

For less visited hot springs this could mean roughly the same. But it could also persuade land owners to enhance their facilities. After-all look at the gold mine that is the Blue Lagoon. It could mean the start to the end.
What also could happen is that with the advent of fees comes rules and hey presto the right to skinny dip also disappears (if such a thing ever existed ...). Because the fee-payers are the moral majority?

If only one could know what the future will bring ...

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