The first attempt I made at seeing the Northern Lights here in Iceland was something of a learning experience. After about an hour of waiting outside, beachfront in Vesturbær, I learned why people here invest in wool socks. The next thing that I realized was that just walking outside and trying to see the Aurora can be a giant waste of time. That is to say, you can be sitting there all night waiting for the lights and never see them. I suppose that’s the risk you take. Still, there had to be a better way of doing this. At 03:30, I went back home.
Over the next few days I continued to check the “Aurora forecast” on vedur.is, and as soon as it looked promising, I strolled down to the beach for another try. This time, I went with two pairs of socks and an extra layer on my top half, but they still didn’t keep me quite as warm as I expected (and needed) them to; Iceland in March can get pretty cold. I remembered seeing a photo once of a hotel in Finland that had glass-domed ceilings so that people could lie in bed and see the Aurora. Actually, this image inevitably appeared in my head every time I tried to see the lights, sort of taunting me. Wouldn’t that be nice. This time, I called it quits after about three hours, frozen, defeated, and no closer to seeing the lights.
There seem to be some benefits to going on one of those guided Northern Lights tours that you come to realize after trying to see them on your own. First, the guides take you outside of the city to places where the Northern Lights are most visible; they know where to go. More importantly, though, you can basically sit in the bus or van or whatever it is and look out the window while you wait for the lights. Either that or you can have the guides go outside and be on the lookout/freeze to death while you wait in the warm van for them to tell you to come out (at least that’s what I would try to get them to do). Despite these considerable advantages, I opted to continue to try to see them on my own.
At the office, I checked vedur.is again to see the forecast. It looked good. It occurred to me that day that I should definitely do everything I can to see the lights while I’m here because who knows when I’ll be back again for another chance. After renting the only car available with an automatic transmission from Cheap Jeep, I took a drive outside the city as soon as it got dark.
I pulled a little off the road and drove up a dirt path where it was just about as dark as it gets. The good part about this experience was that sitting in the car is certainly a better option than waiting for the lights while you’re outside. It wasn’t exactly warm, but I could feel and hear the wind shaking the car and I was just happy that I was sitting inside of it. It wasn’t quite as nice as the hotel in Finland, but at least I had a bottle of water and some “Vanillu Kremkex” to snack on.
The bad part, however, comes in two parts. The first of them being that you can really start to psyche yourself out when you’re in the middle of nowhere in the dark. I don’t think I have ever been more “alone” than when I was parked on a dirt road in the middle of the night a little outside of Reykjavík. In some ways it was pleasant and truly enjoyable, and in others it was a little unnerving. The second and obviously more serious piece of bad news was that the night was over and, after all of my efforts and planning, I still hadn’t seen the Northern Lights. How frustrating! It was after this experience that I decided to give up on trying to see them; I had made an honest effort but this was ridiculous.
A few weeks later, my roommate’s cat woke me up at about 02:40, which was a fairly regular occurrence. Having a hard time falling back to sleep, I got up to get something to eat. While my bread was in the toaster, I stood there bored and half asleep and lifted my head up to look out the window. I was outside about five seconds later watching the best light show I’ve ever seen.