Published November 20, 2015
The Northern Lights–also known as the Aurora Borealis—have captivated and enthralled those in Iceland since the settlement. Nowadays, people travel from all over the world to see them. While I call Reykjavík home, I decided to check the phenomena out in all their glory with BusTravel Iceland. So, on a brisk Friday night, I forwent my usual tradition of drinking beer and watching TV to go see something truly spectacular.
A minibus picked me up conveniently by the Circle Hostel, then circled around and picked up more people—six in total. We then met up with a bigger bus, with forty nine people all going on the trip. I sat next to an excited, elderly man from Japan. He was in the process of seeing the world, having travelled to Iceland from New York. Next on his itinerary was England, but seeing the Northern Lights was an obvious highlight for him.
Speaking over the bus’ intercom, our guide, Ingo, told us to buckle up. Our voyage had begun.
BusTravel Iceland is one of the oldest tourism companies in the country, originally founded in 1960 under the name Þingvallaleið. Today, they run many different kinds of tours, but their Northern Lights tours are among their most popular.
On the drive, Ingo told us how the Aurora Borealis are formed. Essentially, charged particles are released from the surface of the sun. When those particles come into contact with Earth’s atmosphere, they become excited and light up. This produces the colourful swirls of light that dance across the sky. The key to seeing them, he explained, is cold air, dark skies, and no clouds.
In all their glory
As we left the city limits, the street lights disappeared, revealing the Northern Lights in all their glory. My new friend jumped up and down as much as his seatbelt would allow, grabbing my hand, and pointing. “Look, look!” he yelled, at the sight of the auroras.
At that moment, people all around me gasped and cried out as green ribbons of solar light danced across the black sky, made brighter by the fact that there was no moon. We disembarked to take a few photos, with Ingo showing us how to adjust our camera settings to take the perfect shots.
An acquired taste
At the end of the tour, we were rewarded for our efforts and patience with a cup of hot cocoa and a piece of hraun—chocolate-covered puffed rice. The bravest among us were allowed to try hákarl, the infamous Icelandic fermented shark. I expected a strong flavour of ammonia, but it was nothing like that. In fact, the texture was spongy and rubbery, but the flavour was more like crab meat. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste.
Back on the bus en route to the city, the green Northern Lights had vanished and the sky was pitch black. The bus remained quiet—all passengers, my new friend included, deep in thought about the magnificent event that had just played out before us.