I felt the anxiety bubble inside me as we drove to the airport. I was excited, obviously, but I also felt nervous. The usual travel worries ensued. I worried about chargers and cameras and toiletries and warm clothes and being late. The list could go on, but my biggest fear was apprehension.
The northern lights had been at the top of my bucket list for a long time. Always mesmerized by its natural beauty, the Aurora Borealis has intrigued me to the point of booking a trip to Iceland on a chance I might see them. A chance. And therein lies the apprehension.
We arrived at Birmingham Airport to board our plane journey to Reykjavik with Icelandair. It was a Monday afternoon and I couldn’t help but feel lucky to be heading to the land of ice while others are back to their routine and starting their working week. I took one last breath of the misty city air before boarding our flight. Breathe out and say goodbye.
Icelandair were incredibly hospitable. Just a taster of what was to come in terms of an Icelandic warm welcome. It was 3:30pm when we eventually touched down on Icelandic soil, and my anticipation for the days ahead grew even stronger. It was almost a similar feeling to a longing nostalgia, though I had never been here before. The moment I stepped off the plane, I took another deep breath- tasting the air of a new city. I imagine my lungs are jars collecting the air of the places I’ve travelled. This one tasted fresh with a hint of sulphur.
We took the FlyBus to our hotel, admiring the breath-taking scenery along the way. We arrived at our hotel, Hotel Cabin, and proceeded to check in. Before our trip, I had been repetitively checking the Northern Lights forecast online to assess our chances. We had been booked on the northern lights hunt with Reykjavik Excursions for the following night, but the weather looked poor and overcast, so we managed to rearrange it for that first night. We dumped our bags, ate dinner at the hotel and met our coach driver in the lobby.
11:30-something PM. Darkness- besides the moonlight beaming onto the snow-topped mountains in Thingvellir National Park, the sky and our surroundings succumbed to nightfall and nothing out of the ordinary appeared to light our way. The sky itself was clear and we started to do some constellation spotting to pass the time while we waited. Waited for the famous light show everyone had come to associate with Icelandic winters. Time seemed to run away into the darkness as we stood huddling into ourselves trying to keep warm. I had worn every item of clothing I had bought with me to Iceland. I felt like a matryoshka doll, layer upon layer hiding that small child version of me in the middle that wanted to jump and scream with excitement. When it got to the point that I couldn’t bend my fingers anymore, I retreated back to the coach to get warm. When I got on, the coach was full and it appeared everyone had given up, until our guide jumped on and said something had appeared in the sky. Immediately we rushed off the coach. Was it finally happening? Was I going to see the northern lights after all?
I looked to the sky to see a greenish hue to what looked like a rain cloud in an arch over our heads. We were told on the way by our guide that some people are disappointed when they see the northern lights because they expect them to be as we see on all those pictures and postcards- vivid green and purple streaks lining the night sky, but apparently they just show up better on camera. Standing there, seeing a vaguely green smudge above me, under all those layers, I stopped jumping and my heart sank with disappointment. I couldn’t help but feel cheated by all those images. I had dreamed about this for such a long time, and I had clearly gotten lost in my own expectation.
Everyone was about to give up for the last time on that frosty January night, when out of that arching cloud a bright speck of green started to break through. It was small but it lit up the whole sky with its luminosity, and then suddenly, it was everywhere.
I climbed on top of an icy mound to escape the crowds of people who stood in awe. I immediately wanted to take as many photos as I possibly could to capture it while it was still here. The lights moved around the sky, following that first arch. I kept turning my head to see where they had danced to next. Their movement slow and powerful, there was an eerie, almost extra-terrestrial feel to this gift from the sun that was met with both screams of fear and excitement by the crowd. At one point it appeared that the whole sky had turned neon green, and I just couldn’t believe my luck. I crouched down to the floor, huddled to keep warm, and I took a moment to bask in wonder. It has fast become a poignant memory for me; one that I will cherish for the rest of my days.
The wait was worth it.