My final post from Iceland highlights one of my favorite experiences from the trip – seeing the Northern Lights. Like 99% of the other visitors to Iceland in winter, my main goal of the trip was to see the Aurora for the first time in my life. After a lot of research and advice from locals, the only thing that I knew for certain was that in order to see the lights, I would need to have a lot of luck. The lights are not an every-night-show, as they depend on the presence of solar energy/storms and a lack of clouds for viewing from the ground. Huddled around a laptop everyday, our group of 6 comically tried to predict the occurrence of the lights, checking both the solar activity and cloud cover around Reykjavik.
Upon reaching our final night in Iceland after four days of bad forecasts and seeing that the solar activity was only rated a 2 on a scale of 10 (very weak), we began to realize that we might not see the aurora, even though we had come to Iceland in winter for that very purpose. Accepting this fact, we turned on some music, opened the bottles of whiskey we had bought from the duty free shop at the airport, and began to celebrate our last night in Reykjavik. That night, our group really came together, and I had not laughed that hard in a long time, maybe in my entire life.
Around 11 pm one of our group decided one more time to check the forecast in a last ditch effort, and was surprised to see a small clearing in the cloud cover, about a 45 minute drive south of Reykjavik. Following much deliberation, finding a driver, and a hilarious attempt to prepare ourselves for the adventure, we set out in search for the small break in the clouds that we had seen on the radar. About 30 minutes into the drive, I looked out the window and started to see the stars that had not been visible from the city. A few more minutes and more stars. And then there it was – just like that – a green haze in the sky among the stars. I yelled to stop the car, and we immediately pulled over, all tumbling out of the car onto the side of the road like a comedy act, me losing my gloves in the process, running wildly into the darkness to get a better view of the aurora. After the initial excitement, our Icelandic host calmly explained to us that if we drove just a little further away from the city lights down a side road, we’d be able to see them much better – and he was right.
What had just been a blur before was now a defined swirl of green light gently floating through the sky, moving so slow that you really had to stare at it to notice its movement. I could have stayed out there for hours, watching it slither through the sky, but we gave into the cold and returned home to celebrate our accomplishment. The next night, on my flight from Iceland to Copenhagen, I saw the lights again, this time from the airplane. At this altitude and level of clarity, the lights could noticeably be seen “dancing” through the sky as I had heard them described to do so before. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and it was one of those moments where you are in awe of something so beautiful and incomprehensible that you really wonder if there’s something else out there.