Bright lights, no city
by Maria Martinez-Ugartechea | 26 July 2017
It's early spring, it’s freezing, and I’m drenched but in spite of this somehow I’m happy. Skógafoss, the 60 metre tall Icelandic waterfall, just sprayed my friend and I. As we run back to our little rented car, through the muddy riverside, I realise: that was exhilarating!
It’s our first day in Iceland and we’ve already seen two waterfalls (we also visited Seljalandsfoss) and have driven by the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010 causing enormous disruption to air travel across Europe.
I’ve wanted to explore this island since I was a child and I’m hoping I’ll get to see the Aurora Borealis. I’ve done my research, I know the Northern Lights are elusive and unpredictable, but I also know that by coming in March we have a good chance of seeing them because the nights are still long and dark and there is higher solar activity near the spring equinox.
I change my clothes awkwardly inside the car and we drive off. My friend is behind the wheel and I’m the co-pilot, a very easy task considering there is only one road and we are the only ones on it. We are driving the Ring Road, or Route 1, a motorway that, as its name suggest, circles the whole country. People say that if you didn’t stop you could drive it in less than two days, but of course you want to stop. You’ll want to stop every five minutes.
The landscape is stunning! It’s craggy and eerie, it looks like an elf’s world; something taken out of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, with thousands of big volcanic black boulders covered by bright green moss and snow.
It’s a gusty day. Even with the car windows up you can still hear the loud wind whistling.
We are on our way to Jökulsárlón, a large glacier lagoon on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. It’s an amazing place to watch the lights, not only because it’s far away from any light pollution but also because it’s a beautiful spot. The lagoon connects the Vatnajökull glacier with the ocean and visitors get to see human-sized, turquoise blocks of ice that have broken away from the glacier floating away towards the sea, playful seals swimming amongst them.
As we drive up to the mountain, we enter a cloud of thick fog. When we come out of it, the sky is cloudy and I start to wonder whether I’ll get to see the lights. But I keep looking up.
Suddenly I see something moving in the sky. We are 15 minutes away from the lagoon and the inky sky starts to clear. Dim green streaks begin to show. I cannot believe it. This is really happening.
Within a matter of minutes there are iridescent colours shimmering above us. We get to Jökulsárlón and rush out of the car. My heart is pumping fast and I feel like a small child in awe. Greens, yellows, and pinks are flickering. Colourful rays are swirling across the sky, on both sides of the lagoon. Some burst quickly like flashing lights and some seem to move slowly. Then I see a gleam of green in the shape of a phoenix and I just can’t stop looking at the sky. The Aurora Borealis continues to dance above us for another two hours and even though I’m surrounded by ice and snow I feel warm inside.
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