Sunday, January 16, 2011

No-Then Lights

I'm officially in love with this part of the world. I don't think I've ever gawped so much as on the coach to our Northern Lights expedition last night, staring out the windows as we passed snow covered mountain, fjord and forest. Its the sort of scenery I've only ever seen in films before. Admittedly those films were Alive, Insomnia and 30 Days of Night, all of which are about terrifying deaths in one way or another. I did then start thinking about how in the dark you could be killed and buried in the snow for days and no one would find your body till the Spring. Then I saw a 'moose crossing' sign on the side of the road and forgot all about it. I had made the mistake of talking to the first person I saw waiting for the trip, and rather than choose the attractive girls standing the other side of me, that had walked by me twice already that day in town and acknowledged such things with a smiling nod, I instead started to speak to a German lady who had the ability to kill all banter with a few sentences. An engineer for dairy plant cleaning fluids I chose to stem all banter, or lack of, by just observing the scenery and remembering that I am on holiday and therefore don't actually have to talk to anyone for once.

As we got nearer to Lyngsfjord the temperature reader on the coach went from -7 degrees to -23 degrees and I couldn't help but feel excited. I've never been that cold before. I'm sure that's not something I should have been looking forward to. It wouldn't work in the opposite direction. I've been in 42 degree heat before and if someone offered me the opportunity to be in 72 degree heat and fry my face off, I'd be wary. I'd still probably say yes because I am nothing but an adventurer. Minus 23! That's insane cold. As we stepped off the bus my beard began to freeze and we raced indoors to be fitted with giant thermal suits that were to be put on top all other clothes restricting movement to a shuffle akin to Frankenstein's monster, and huge boots with extra woolen socks to go over your own. It was all necessary. The twix in my bag had become an instant ice lolly and my camera battery had died almost instantly of cold, ruining all possibilities of good pics of the event. I had, all in all, 6 layers on and was tempted to go round asking people to punch me to see if I could feel a thing. I didn't know these people though and chances were the German lady would somehow make it too boring to see through.

All dressed up in uniform there was an odd feeling between everyone that we had bonded. We would be seeking out the Northern Lights together, all looking like shiny jelly babies, and as small talk and banter was thrown between our international crowd, Roy stepped up. Roy the tour guide. Roy the survival expert. Roy with his odd glasses, stupid hat and Norwegian enthusiasm. He found out everyone's name and then lead us out into the snow with tales of how the last week has brought the brightest Northern Lights he has ever seen and that we should be in luck. We trudged along a well worn path, every step outside it causing you to sink knee deep into the glistening snow. I'm not just stabbing my hand at travel writing here, it actually was glistening. I'm not sure if it was planning a big night out, but there was seemingly more sparkly glitter in the cold dust than at nightclub run by pixies. We dodged dog sleds and snow bikes that needed to go past, and Roy would stop every few paces to check whether or not we had frozen yet and to give us details about the wildlife - wolverines and lynx - or make us chew on a bit of pine tree that he swore was edible. I'll tell you now that next Christmas I shan't be discarding dinner to have a munch on the decorations instead. He asked at one point who liked gin and there was a joyous 'yes' from most of the group, praying that there would be a small token of booze to carry our journey on, but instead we got to eat some juniper, which gin comes from, its bristly pines not going down the same way as a decent G&T.

Then we stood under the starry sky, with the bright half moon and waited. And waited. And nothing. Nothing at all. Clouds hovered over and soon it was too cloudy for anything to appear. We walked in file back to the Saami tent with a sense of disappointment. No matter how amazing the mountains and landscape, we had all taken this trip to see one thing, and it didn't happen. We sat around the fire and were handed bowls of non-descript soup. I, as a veggie, got some cauliflower concoction that seemed ok but I was pleased I couldn't see it too well in the dark. Roy came round and showed us his pictures of the lights from a week before. He meant well, but his amazing photos and constant reminders that he saw them all the time just felt a bit like he was rubbing it in. Full of food and a feeling of being let down by inexplainable solar activity we got back to the main camp, discarded our heavy suits and spent the next two hours on the coach staring at the mountains hoping for a glimpse of Lights before we got to bed.

No such luck and instead I stayed out drinking till 3am with Chris and Vic (Vik?), a lovely couple from London that I met on the trip and had no such chat about dairy plant cleaner. This was their third holiday to try and see the Lights having been to Sweden and Iceland before with no luck. They had started to believe it was all a scam, begun by Joanna Lumley to scam tourists of cash. We had decided that to cheer us all up meant we must hit other ventures instead and resigned ourselves to the fact that yes it would cost £20 for a round of three beers, but beers were really needed. Walking past bar after bar of girls in high heels and miniskirts despite arctic temperatures (it happens all over the world apparently), playing the sort of music that sounds like a heart monitor in an earthquake, we discovered the only 'quiet' bar in the area and huddled in the corner amongst other old people and had a really nice night.

One last chance to see the Lights again tonight, though Auroral forecast is low and there's clouds again in the sky, so it doesn't seem likely. If not, well, I'll just have to come back. Till then I'm going up a mountain to eat waffles. You heard me.

Sorry if today's entry was more travel journal than comical entry, but Mack's beer is more potent than I thought.

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