Southwest Iceland is where you'll find the erupting hot water spring after which all the world's geysers are named. It's called Geysir, and it's located within a geothermally active area (just down the road from the spectacularGullfosswaterfall). The name derives from the Old Norse verb "geysa", to gush. Geysir has been known to gush over 100 metres into the air, most recently in 2000 and 2009, but it's a temperamental soul and these days only splurts heavenward following bouts of local earthquake activity. As a dormant feature, now little more than a bubbling pool [photo], the coachloads of tourists who flock to the region each day barely give old Geysir a second glance. Instead they gather around its smaller cousin Strokkur, which may not be quite so violent but gives a far more regular performance.
Strokkur, step 1[photo]: At the centre of a geothermal pool is the head of a tube burrowing down into the earth. Magma heats the water within which gently oscillates and periodically sploshes out into the surrounding rocky basin. Around the perimeter, an expectant crowd waits with cameras poised. Will this splosh be the signal of imminent eruption? Has it been the requisite at-least-five minutes since Strokkur last burst forth? Everyone's ready with their cameras, some for the entire up-to-ten minutes, keen to catch that perfect snap. It's the ultimate point-and-click game, trying to read the signs and press the shutter perfectly, rather than being fooled by a rogue burst of steam or a turbulent wave.
Strokkur, step 2[photo]: It only takes a fraction of a second, but the water in the tube suddenly rises up to form a hemispherical blue bubble. There's great upward pressure, caused by boiling water within the earth being explosively released.
Strokkur, step 3[photo]: The geysir fires into the sky. If it's windy the spray will be diffuse, sending a cloud of sulphurous steam directly into the crowd of onlookers. In less breezy weather Strokkur shoots upwards, sometimes reaching 30 metres, usually less. Kerwhoosh!
Strokkur, step 4[photo]: After the eruption the central tube is empty, so water starts to flow back in from the surrounding pool of scalding liquid. Sometimes this is enough to set off a rapid chain reaction, and Strokkur erupts again within sixty seconds or so. More usually one whoosh is all you get. Some of the crowd hang on, waiting eight-or-so minutes for the entire cycle to repeat and another fine photo/video opportunity to present itself. The rest of the crowd shuffle off, having experienced the natural phenomenon they came to see. There's a cafe, restaurant and gift shop of the foot of the slope, and there's still time to buy a sandwich, cuddly puffin or t-shirt before the coach departs. Poor old Geysir, meanwhile, bubbles unloved and unwatched a few dozen metres to the east. Until the next earthquake unblocks its tubes, that is, and then Geysir'll show its upstart neighbour Strokkur who's the daddy.