Wednesday, March 30, 2016

#26: see the northern lights

I mean, how many people fantasize about seeing this natural phenomenon?

At least millions.

Sure, I'll put it on my list. Sure, I'll travel to Norway and go forth towards the North Pole. Sure, I'll cross my fingers and hope that I am lucky enough to experience some sort of magic in the sky.

But I never thought I actually would. 

In fact, I was prepared to come up with an alternate list item to swap it with; just in case.

But still. Still though, there was that tiny seed of hope. Maybe if I placed myself in the right place, at sort of the right time... perhaps.

That place, was the Lofoten Islands. The time, was the very beginning of "northern lights season" aka the first week of September. Chances were slim, but, well, I've worked with those kind of chances before, so I'd take it.

Back to the list though. Of course this is on my list. And on most other people’s list in the world. As well it should be.

View an amazing light show phenomenon in the sky? In an epic location like Norway? YUP.

Norway was an obvious choice to have a go at catching the Northern Lights. Besides the fact that it’s proximity to Santa's dwelling and the Arctic Circle is ideal, I had longed to explore Norway and it’s over the top beauty for a while now. So it was settled then. Norway it was, and the lights I would see. I hoped, anyways.

Due to the itinerary for the rest of our travels, we would be heading to the Lofoten Islands, (which I had researched as one of the prime spots for everything Norway- including the Northern Lights), at the extreme beginning of Aurora Borealis season. The very first week, to be exact. So my chances of actually viewing them were low. Real low. But I’d take them anyways.

Getting to the Lofoten Islands is an adventure in and of itself. Or, actually, being in Norway is an adventure in and of itself. But here I was, and I was stoked. KJ and I road tripped it from Geiranger up to Trondheim, taking the long route, and experiencing one of the most epic roads in the word: The Atlantic Ocean Road. And epic it was.

The drive in total took about 9 hours, in part because it was far, and in part because I was compelled to stop every 5 seconds to take photos. BUT IT WAS SO AMAZING.

So, you can imagine, how exhausted we were when we arrived just outside Trondheim, late at night, before our early AM flight to Bodo the following day. With no place to stay. Oops.

Luckily, in a small town, we rolled up to an establishment called the “Vikhammer Motel.” Not surprisingly, a heavily tattooed man sporting a ponytail that rivaled mine in length, named Vikram of course, was the Master of reception. He agreed to put us up in his last room while I lost count of his tattoos.

Alas, we flew from Trondheim to Bodo and then made our way to the ferry terminal. We had a few hours wait that we filled with meat in the form of burgers and a quick stop in my new favorite clothing store, Bikbok. Fun to say, and to shop.

It was finally time for the ferry ride which was projected to be a little over four hours. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ll tell you what I should’ve expected.

-Four hours of watching/listening to an Asian girl practice for her DJ career on her iPad. TAP TAP TAPPING, and with the sound ALL THE WAY UP.

-Four hours of smelling stale hot dogs.

-Four hours of nausea. It was wavy AF.

-Four hours of trying to not toss my cookies. Literally. I had mistakenly devoured a few or ten cookies, a tad earlier in the day.

Approaching the Lofoten Islands made it all worth it, though. It was getting dark, and sunlight only shone above the islands that I had heard were dubbed as "the magic islands." If this was some sort of marketing trick, well, I wasn't even mad, just impressed. It was, quite literally, the light at the end of a dark tunnel of nausea.

We arrived at the ferry dock in Moskenes and I all but kissed the ground. KJ and I surveyed the area. There was pretty much nothing as far as transportation. We clearly should’ve somehow arranged a cab earlier and now here we were with no way to get to Reine, where our classic fishing cabin awaited us.

“There’s a taxi.” I pointed at the lone taxi where two men were loading their large bags in the trunk. 


“Excuse me.” I said to them in hopes they spoke English. (They did.) “Where are you guys going?”

“To Reine,(insert some random guesthouse name).” They answered with Australian accents.

Reine was all I needed to hear. “Oh! We’re going to Reine too, do you mind if we join you? Is there room?”

They looked a bit taken aback. “Um..sure?”

“Great!” and we squeezed our bags and our bodies inside their taxi.

“Sorry for backpacking on your ride — literally” I apologized, as I held my sizable backpack on my lap.

“It’s no problem, really.” I was glad they felt that way. We swapped Norway travel stories and became quick friends with the dad and son duo. They even paid for the taxi, refusing our money.

“You’ll need it for Norway. It’s expensive.”

“Don’t we know it!” I heartily agreed, thinking of my newly employed ramen noodle diet.

We checked into Reine Rorbuer via the restaurant/bar area with a lovely lady, who upgraded us to a waterfront 2 bedroom cabin. UM. YES PLEASE.

“Oh, and make sure you step outside around 11pm, for the spectacular light show!”


I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much, but every fiber of my being was jolted with pure excitement at the prospect. In a matter of 30 minutes, we had gone from me almost throwing up on the rocky ass ferry ride and no transportation to speak of, to getting a free taxi ride with two Australian gentlemen, a complimentary upgrade in our cabin, and the potential for viewing the Northern Lights our first night there. 

The Lofoten Islands really were “the magic islands.”

I actually skipped. Which was an impressive feat seeing as I was wearing my big backpack, and had Lil Bea in tow. We found our traditional fisherman’s cabin, which for me was a must to experience while staying in the Lofoten Islands. And it was worth every penny.

Reine, Lofoten Islands, Norway... Postcard worthy

The view from our porch was incredible. Mountains towered up, skirting the water, and the "rorbuer" (fishing cabins) scattered the landscape around the harbor. The cabin itself was roomy yet cozy, and had a plaid couch. So, I was hooked. The deck would provide the perfect viewing spot if, in fact, the Northern Lights did decide to show up.

I was flitting about on the deck, camera in hand, when our neighbors showed up. They were Brad and Jo from Canada and we decided in that instant to be the best of friends. We made plans for a Northern Lights viewing party on our shared deck, just a few hours from then, and agreed there would be wine. That is, if it didn’t get cloudy, or fog didn’t roll in, or that basically millions of things would align perfectly for the lights to actually occur within view. It really was a long shot. There were magnetic fields and temperatures that all had to match up in perfect harmony to create optimum conditions that I won’t pretend to know anything about.

To pass the next couple of hours KJ and I meandered over to the bar after making dinner. By dinner I mean grilled cheese sandwiches.

We tried the local beer and watched the clock. It was nearing 10:30 and hope bubbled in my heart. We decided to head back to the cabin to bundle up for our viewing party on the off chance it was really going to happen. Which I was hoping so very hard that it would.

We walked outside chatting and were interrupted by two bar patrons just outside the door. 

"Hey, have you guys seen these?" one of them asked, pointing upwards.

KJ and I immediately jerked our heads northward, and gazed at the sky. We simultaneously gasped with sheer surprise and delight and looked at each other with wide eyes. In that moment we were twins: mirror images of one another in a monumental reaction of emotion.

Side note: I had never gasped with such fervor in my life. It was almost a cartoon status gasp. 

The thing is, in a moment like that, senses are heightened and I was acutely aware that I had just gasped like I never had before. A real, awe-inspired gasp? That just doesn't happen every day. 

"NO!" we exclaimed, suddenly children about to experience the effects of excitement-induced-pants-peeing. (Kidding. Sort of.)

I was glad actually, to not have my camera in hand and just allow myself to experience that initial moment fully. But then I wanted my camera. I needed proof!

We all but pranced back to our cabin, knocking heartily on Brad and Jo's door. 

"It's happening!" I bellowed.

We tore open the wine in celebration and I bundled up with all the plaid blankets I could find, prepping my camera for whatever magic the rest of the night held. 

By this time, with all the knocking and plaid gathering that had ensued, the lights had come and gone. I knew this would happen of course, but I could only have faith that they would return. Immediately. So, we waited.

and drank wine. and waited.

and then

They made their encore in spectacular fashion. We all watched in awe as the lights danced above us in a clear night sky and the impossibility of it all coming true right before us. Me, KJ, Brad & Jo would forever be bonded at sharing this moment together. 

The lights really did dance in waves, mimicking the emotions of the day, (which is super cliché, but hey, it works.) They changed color, morphing from green to blue to even violet and white. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

"This is one of those moments. Those moments of travel that make it all worth it." I said to KJ. I was actually kind of choked up. All that hoping and wishing, and the culmination of it coming true really released some emotion there.

That's it, I was addicted. I stayed up until 2am watching the lights, waiting for more, in straight up high anticipation of what the Norwegian night show would reveal next.

I did the same the following nights as well. Three out of the four nights on the Lofoten Islands produced magic in the skies. THREE OUT OF THE FOUR. I couldn't believe it. And every time I saw a glimpse of them, I wanted more, of course. On the night they didn't show, I reluctantly went to bed, but set my alarm just to check around 2am. 

I was  o b s e s s e d. 

In between northern lights hunting, we thoroughly enjoyed a mini dinner party compliments of our new best friends, Brad & Jo, went kayaking with them, shared stories over drinks with them, and eventually they signed the adoption papers. Just kidding. 

But, we did become super tight with them and knew this friendship was probably somehow tied into the whole "magic" of the islands bit that I was possibly starting to buy into. They drove us to part two of our stay on the islands a few towns over, Hamnoy; even stopping at the only grocery store along the way so we wouldn't starve. Since we were on foot, Lil Bea was a brat, and we hadn't exactly thought through the details on our move, it had been clutch. They came to our rescue, and we were grateful. 

The lights returned for a farewell, not just for our last sleepover on the islands, but also on the nighttime ferry ride back to the mainland. 

What a legendary sendoff. 

See the northern lights? Check. See them 3 times? Check, check!

*Reine Rorbuer:
*Eliassen Rorbuer:

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