When planning our trip to Iceland, I wanted to have the best possible chance to see the Northern Lights. You’re never guaranteed a show, but Jon thought by visiting at the most active time for the lights – the vernal equinox – we would have a good chance. During the equinox geomagnetic storms, or disturbances in the Earth’s magnetic field, are the strongest making it the peak time to see the lights (here’s a great article if you want to know more). Combined with the darkness of winter and a stay of 9 days, I thought we might just be lucky enough to see something in that big, open sky.
So, after that full day exploring ice caves and photographing icebergs, we were back at the hotel bar, ordering food. I was practically starved for the chicken BLT, and Jon and I sat in the lounge, cozy in our seats with other hotel guests nearby, sipping cocktails. As we waited for our meal, reminiscing about the day’s adventures, the bartender came over and said, “your food will be ready in 15 minutes, and the northern lights have appeared outside.”
Boom! It was like a madhouse around the hotel. Word was out and literally everyone was frantic. Guests were running from their rooms with tripods and jackets flying off their shoulders. The hotel staff was hurrying to the balconies in their aprons and chef hats. Jon ran back to the room, snagged his camera and tripod, and sprinted outside (without a jacket, of course) to photograph the hotel as he had attempted to do the night before.
After the stampede, I stood outside the hotel entrance as long as I could bear it in my wool sweater, staring up at the green ribbons across the sky. I had waited so long to see the lights and they looked like surreal projections on the sky, streaking for miles into the horizon. Dim, neon green and like the breath of a mystical dragon, I watched them brighten and swirl. Everyone had their phones out, snapping away so they could share the experience with friends. I felt silly to be the only one not taking a picture, but I wanted to enjoy the moment, to see them quietly without distraction and to appreciate the natural wonder of the spectacular light show.
When I could take the freezing temperature no longer, I hurried back into the empty hotel, finding Jon eating his cold sandwich, gear strewn around his feet. “I ran around the front,” he said through bites, “a few people followed me and I got some good shots. The lights went all across the sky.” We chowed down quickly, biting into the cool, toasty crust of the BLTs just as the bartender came back to say, “your food got cold, but I take it you didn’t mind.”
Sated and warm, we took these photos after dinner, capturing the incredible night sky. Similar to how I felt when I first saw the pyramids in Egypt, the aurora would make anyone believe in Gods.
Have you ever seen the northern lights? Share your story in the comments below! Next week I’ll share the tantalizing tale of Iceland’s Westfjords, so stay tuned! For more of our Iceland trip, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.