Written By Hayden Carlyon
I can’t think of a better place in the world for a winter getaway than the land of fire and ice. I know what you are thinking, who the hell would want to go to Iceland in the middle of winter? To be fair it was a little cold at times but for the most part the temperature stayed above freezing. It does tend to get dark rather early though and you only end up with around 6 hours of daylight each day. But the incredibly clean air, crystal clear fresh water lakes, friendly people, stunning snow capped mountains and winter wonderland type scenery more than make up for it.
Iceland is basically a huge volcanic island smothered with endless lava fields and glaciers and apparently in the summer, rolling green hills. In 2007, it was ranked as the most developed country in the world by the United Nations, it was also the forth most productive country per capita.
Unfortunately, the day before we arrived the entire government had collapsed, amidst pressure and public protest from the local Icelandic people for an immediate change in government. The president and several of his cohorts were politely forced to resign as a result of their inadequacies and inability to run a country whose economy had rapidly been disappearing down the toilet. If only that could have happened here in the US a few years ago…
On our first day in Iceland we picked up a small rental car from the airport. We dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed into the countryside for a scenic drive along the golden circle, a tourist route about an hour and a half away from the capital that showcased some of Iceland’s most famous sights. It was a fantastic drive through the snow covered country side with geysers, huge waterfalls, long haired horses with dreadlocks and lots of snow; did I mention that there was a lot of snow?
Later that night we drove our trusty little Hyundai Getz out into the mountains, about one hour south of the Reykjavik. With great anticipation we sat there on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, freezing our butts off, under the assumption that the Aurora would miraculously appear from nowhere, light up the night sky and wow us with its beauty. By the time 2am had come and gone we had spent close to two hours staring at an empty sky without so much as a shooting star. We decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel after what was to be one of several disappointing nights searching for the northern lights.
Most days it seemed as if we had the entire Island to ourselves as the “little car that could” dragged its butt through the foot deep, snow filled ruts, on the deserted country and coastal roads. With steaming geysers, the incredible Blue Lagoon hot spring and picture perfect, ice cold snow feed lakes to skinny dip in, we had plenty to keep ourselves entertained. Each day we would spend the relatively scarce daylight hour’s sightseeing, immersed in the stunning beauty of our surroundings and each night we would find another secluded spot in the countryside and wait patiently, cameras in hand and fingers crossed.
After three nights of cloudy skies and incredibly changeable weather we were starting to wonder if the Aurora was just a figment of the Icelandic imagination. Something the locals used to lure tourist to their country, so that they could fleece them dry with their $10 Big Mac meals and $8 draft beers. What had we done? We had forgone the infamous Reykjavik nightlife, who’s clubs were filled to the brim with six foot tall blondes that would do anything to escape the boredom of living on an island with a population less than the city of Batman in Turkey (yes there is actually a city called Batman and it has just over 300,000 inhabitants). Instead of partying till the wee hours of the morning we spent three nights sitting in a freezing car, staring at an uncooperative sky, fighting off the onset of hypothermia.
We left our hotel at around 10pm and drove along the waterfront to the harbor. It was a beautiful clear night for a change, with hardly a cloud in the sky and it looked like the weather was going to hold. As we moved further away from the light pollution of the city, the stars began to light up the freezing cold night sky. I felt the excitement slowly building as we got closer and closer to the lighthouse at the end of the harbor. If the northern lights did exist, this would be the night we would see them and for me I couldn’t think of a more fitting end to our trip. Just as the road came to a dead end at the harbor Emily spotted a hint of green above the horizon and as we parked and got out of the car the sky started to glow.
It began as what looked like a faint ribbon of green cloud slowly moving from left to right across the night sky. As the minutes went by the swirling green waves continued to intensify and light up the horizon. I set up my camera on its tripod and jumped up and down on the frozen beach excited to finally be seeing the ever illusive Northern Lights. The sub zero night temperatures numbed my checks and I slowly started to lose feeling in my fingers but this time I didn’t care. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline of finally seeing what I had come all that way for or the cheap vodka coursing through my veins but I was impervious to the freezing cold night air. I set my camera to a 30 second shutter to capture as much of the light as it could and sat there snapping away like a Japanese tourist in New Zealand who was seeing a baby sheep for the first time. With so much of a build up and all the anticipation it was an incredible feeling to finally be seeing such a beautiful natural sight. It only lasted around an hour but it was more than enough time to soak it all in and get some nice shots before heading into town to celebrate the end of a very successful visit to Iceland.