Chasing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik

July 7, 2015


EuropeinternationalPersonal Recollectionsthings to doUncategorized

europe iceland international reykjavik

I’ve seen endless photos of green streaks against a pitch black sky, but could never truly imagine how that moment would feel. Our group had two full days in Reykjavik, but we decided against devoting both nights to the hunt. We are all in our young to mid 20s and wanted one night to take in the Reykjavik party scene. So, with two minus one…there was only one shot. How lucky would we get?

I posted in 10 Things I Learned About Reykjavik that I booked my Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle tours with Reykjavik Excursions. Reykjavik Excursions also offered a Northern Lights tour, but something was off-putting about the experience. I was traveling with six other people. It was going to be our first night together as a complete group. We barely knew the surface details of each other, and with the Reykjavik Excursions’ tour, we would have to spend the intimate night alongside even more strangers on a stale coach bus. I didn’t want to share this memory with any more people than I had to.

Coming across Anita from HappyWorld was by chance. Anita operates Paragliding Iceland during the Spring and Summer months. The experience looked amazing! Could I paraglide across the fluffy white goodness of Iceland instead? Anita was blunt in saying that although there are some rare occurrences where flights could launch in the winter, it would be a stroke of luck. But was I set with a Northern Lights Tour? She redirected me to the HappyWorld website, which was was geared to tourists seeking a private experience. Bingo!

skb Jupiter
I didn’t get to see the lights, but I did get to see Jupiter.

On the night of the tour, Anita picked us up at our hotel. The experience felt like an awkward blind date. …Is that woman Anita? …Could she be skb? Our eyes lock, and we nod. We had found each other, and our journey was about to begin. Anita drove 30 – 40 minutes from the city center. There, we would meet her business partner. He was with a couple that had also booked a private tour. As we drove off the road and into the depths of the woods, my heart skipped a beat. Darkness surrounded us. Growing up in New York City, I had become uncomfortable with large open spaces. One of my worst fears is to be dropped off in a field, left alone to fend in the wilderness. This seemed like the making of my horror story.

A mile or two into the woods, Anita found her partner. He was setting up his star gazing equipment. Since it wasn’t quite ready, Anita asked us to explore with her. “Don’t worry, there aren’t any wild animals here. Only ogres from Icelandic folklore.” The glow of the crescent moon illuminated the forest just enough for us to see. The deeper we walked, the more my foot sank into the snow. I regretted not wearing three pairs of socks with my combat boots.

“HELLO?” shouted someone. I jolted forward with Tina, and we lunged at my partner. “You’re the guy here! Can you stand behind us?!” I shouted. He hesitantly allowed us to walk first. Tina and I raced to catch up with Anita. We made our way back to the car and saw Daniel racing towards us. He was kicking back mounds of snow with each step. “Guys, why didn’t you answer back?! I was taking a picture and you all disappeared. That was me saying hello!” Relieved that it wasn’t the ogre, everyone chuckled a sigh of relief.

The clouds weren’t relenting. A short distance from the cars, the couple had parked themselves on the snow. They held hands beneath the stars, and shared body heat under a blanket. Unable to bear the cold with the same resistance as them, our group retreated into Anita’s van. “Don’t worry, I’ll knock on the window if the lights start to come,” she said with a smile.

The best hotdogs in the world at  Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Not that I've tried every single hot dog in the world. But I imagine it would taste like this.
The best hotdogs in the world at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. Not that I’ve tried every single hot dog in the world. But I imagine it would taste like this.

Without cell phone reception, we were forced to amuse each other. And what else could be better than scaring each other in the dead of the night? My partner recalled a particularly chilling tale of a true story from “Fact or Fiction”. I’ll spare you the details, but it involved a young woman not realizing she was driving with a murderer in the back seat of her car. “Crystal, is something in the trunk,” I asked, shaking slightly, after my partner had finished the tale. “No, but…” A sudden knock had us all shrieking in panic. The doors flew open, and a face emerged. “Sorry to scare you all! Just wanted to see if you all wanted to see Jupiter while having crepes and hot chocolate,” asked Anita with her chipper smile.

Still catching our breath, we nodded. Crepes rolled in cylinders and hot chocolate were quickly distributed among us. The hot chocolate was a soothing relief from the nipping cold. Anita asked who wanted a second round. Everyone’s hands shot up at the thought of warm seconds. Clearly we were getting comfortable with each other, and manners were starting to disintegrate. “I really want to stay out here with you, Anita, but I’m just so cold,” said Krizelle. Anita laughed and ushered us back into her van.

“Damnit, I should have downloaded ‘Heads Up!’ I said with a sigh. “We can play categories, and then the loser has to answer a personal question,” suggested my partner. Without other options, that was a solid idea. I can’t divulge the answers, but that night, I learned about numbers of sexual partners, who had cheated, where public indecencies took place, and some non-sexual questions that I can’t longer recall.

“Daniel, you really suck at this game,” said Tina with a chuckle. He had lost 9 out of 10 times. “I like you, but I really don’t need to hear any more about your life,” said Krizelle. The van door slid open while we were roaring in laughter. “I hate to disappoint you , but I just don’t think we are going to see the lights,” said Anita. I looked at my watch. Nearly four hours had past, and it was after 1AM. “It’s okay,” I said. “I think we all kind of forgot we were here to see the lights, anyway.” “I really hope you all aren’t disappointed,” said Anita.

“No, no!!” we all chimed. “You all certainly are a cheerful bunch. I could hear the laughter from outside,” Anita said with her smile returning. She got back into the car, and we started driving back to the city center. “We didn’t see the lights tonight, but you will have the world’s best hot dog.”

Anita drove to Baejarins Betzu Pylsur and made good on her promise. She treated us to the best hot dog of my life. A group photo was taken to commemorate the experience. I’m left wondering what it will be like to see the lights. I know it’ll be indescribable once it happens. But I’m thankful for the experience that HappyWorld gave our group. Six young individuals kicking off a ten day Eurotrip by being forced to spend 4+ hours with only each other. By the end of the night, there was even talk, in between the hot dog chewing, of returning together to chase the lights next year. And why shouldn’t we? We had mastered the darkness, the lack of cell phone signal, and even the ogres.


Want to Experience Unique Iceland the Adventure Way?

Northern Lights and Stargazing Tour: 20.000 ISK per person, with a maximum of 8 per group

Captured this photo using the night vision on my Go Pro Hero 4. I actually had no idea what was around me until I reviewed this photo because it was just that dark.
Captured this photo using the night vision on my Go Pro Hero 4. I actually had no idea what was around me until I reviewed this photo because it was just that dark.

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