The rain was coming down in sheets on the day I arrived in Reykjavik and the downpour continued for days. Needless to say, all the Northern Light Tours were called off due to the depressing forecast. Some locals told me that the lights were more likely to be seen on the eastern side of the island. On a whim I booked a 2 nights stay in Vik, a small seaside town on the southern coast of the island. The detour to Vik, however, did not bring me any good luck. The sky was miserably blanketed with layers of ominous black clouds and I had no choice but to make my way back to Reykjavik in a foul mood.
My friend, David, from London was scheduled to land in Reykjavik on the same day and I looked forward to enjoying his company for the rest of my stay in Iceland.
On my last night in Iceland, I had already resigned myself to the fact I would not be seeing the lights and went on to pack for my return flight the next day. When David and I dropped by Gray Line (the local tour operator) office to book our next day airport transfer, miraculously, the lady at the tour desk pleasantly broke the news to us that the Northern Lights tour was on and scheduled to depart in 2 hours. I immediately jumped at this unexpected opportunity. David showed his hesitation, but eventually could not resist the temptation and also signed up on the same tour.
The tour was tackily named “Northern Lights Mystery Tour” – appeared to be full and everyone was in high spirits anticipating the lights magically unfolding before their eyes. Our Asian tour guide who was originally from Hong Kong constantly entertained us with facts about the northern lights in her heavy Chinese accent. No doubts she is astronomically savvy but I would rather she kept her story short to give us some “acoustic breaks” because it was a long bus ride and some people were more interested in getting some shut-eye, especially after the lights on the bus were turned off.
The bus soon pulled up in front of a closed seaside restaurant. We were engulfed in complete darkness as there were no street lights around the perimeter. Everyone walked out of the bus in single file and gathered at the compound in front of the restaurant, some started to set up cameras and tripods, waiting for the lights to make their magical appearance in the sky. Minutes later, the restaurant opened and was lit with soft lighting and candles; our tour guide encouraged us to go in a grab something to eat. She especially recommended the restaurant’s lobster soup special and assured us that there was no need to hurry as she would inform us when the lights appeared.
Several buses from other tour companies continuously pulled up at the compound and all passengers made a beeline for the restaurant. There were not many tables in the restaurant and soon visitors were packed in every nook and cranny, all waiting for an empty table. We managed to grab an empty seat and ordered 2 bowls of the highly-recommended lobster soup. The soup turned out to be OK, not as excellent as the tour guide claimed it to be, but delicious enough to distract us from boredom.
We lingered around the restaurant for a little while after eating until we heard someone shouting, “There is some activity going on in the sky!” Everyone stopped at what they were doing and scrambled out to the compound. The sky had become clear and shone with glistening stars. A wave of excitement swept through the crowd and photography enthusiasts hurriedly aimed their expensive cameras skywards. I craned my neck and looked up at the sky for a good few minutes but nothing happened and the starry sky was intermittently replaced by threatening clouds.
One of the tourists, who apparently was an amateur soprano, started singing, “Aurora, Aurora, Aurora … I love you Aurora,” in the hopes that her voice would somehow work some miraculous magic on the lights. It was not to be.
After a wait that seemed like an eternity, people became tired of craning their necks for too long and returned to the bus to rest. The crowd was receding as a drizzle steadily fell from the gray overcast sky. When the clock finally struck midnight, our tour guide climbed back to the bus and announced that the tour was over. Not wanting to dampen everyone’s high spirits, she informed us that the bus was going to return to Reykjavik using another route and encouraged us to cross our fingers in the hopes that the lights would be spotted on the way back. Everyone held the last ray of hope at her words!
The bus did make a stop at a small town about halfway into the return trip. Everyone anxiously awaited some good news.
The ensuing announcement, however, shattered everyone’s little hopes into a million pieces. “Ladies and gentlemen, the sky was initially clear when we arrived here minutes ago. Unfortunately, it has become cloudy so we have no choice but to head back to town now. We will commence the drop off at your respective hotels in about 30 minutes from now,” the tour guide announced through a loudspeaker.
To alleviate our disappointment, she reminded us that we can reuse the ticket to re-join the next Northern Lights Mystery Tour within the next 2 years. Her words also translate into: ‘Sorry people but you have to come back to Iceland to try your luck next time!’
Some takeaways from the tour:
– Don’t hold your hopes high to see the lights, especially if you travel during rainy season.
– Bring your own food and beverage to save yourself £5 for a mediocre lobster soup.
– Tell the sopranos and tenor wannabes to keep quiet because they might ruin the good aura.