It was only last year that I learned about the northern lights. It was all thanks to facebook and the many users who shared this time lapse video of the northern lights taken in Tromso. I stared open mouthed at the video and I told myself that I’d love to witness something as magical as the Aurora Borealis. That time, I was processing my papers to the UK and I promised myself that if everything goes according to plan, I will go to Tromso and watch this phenomenon.
Here’s my facebook post last year:
Is a trip to tromso even possible for me? will I afford it? Its in the northern part of Norway! I mean, who’s been to Tromso? have you been to Tromso?! I don’t know anyone who’s been there! How much would it cost? Arctic circle? I’d probably need one hundred thousand pesos to go there. I don’t have that money 🙁
Back then I thought it’s probably not going to happen. Thing is, It’s hard to imagine something to be possible when you don’t know anyone who’s been there or has seen it. Also, there aren’t much articles about trips or backpacking in Tromso (Can you even do backpacking in tromso on winter?) Oh well, I thought I’d just keep my hopes up.
My number one to do list before I die used to be trekking the trail to see the Inca Citadel in Machu Picchu. However, after seeing that video of the northern lights and knowing that such a beautiful natural occurrence actually exists, it has become my priority. What’s more exciting about it is that it’s not something man made that you just go to and visit. You can go to the arctic circle but you’ll never know if it will show up or not. The encounter can be brief or it can last for hours. The northern lights is always tricky and surprising – something that only nature could possibly provide and control.
I’d like to believe that God shows you signs regarding the things you want to do the most. If He wants things to push through, He has ways of telling you. Sometime around March last year, one of my highschool batchmates posted a picture of her in Tromso with the northern lights in the background. My first reaction was “OMG! IT’S POSSIBLE!” I assumed that was ‘the sign’. At least, I know someone who’s been there and has actually seen the northern lights. Seeing that picture and receiving my decision letter from the Nursing Council in the UK made me closer to reaching this dream. I was still in the Philippines then but I knew it was not impossible. Still, I was really jealous. With all honesty, I get jealous all the time when I see people going to places I’ve always wanted to go to. How do they do it? Where do they get the money? How come I’m just stuck where I am? I often ask myself when will I get the chance. There was one point I thought I’d just stop reading travel blogs because the more I get obsessed reading them, the more I get stuck…the more I get jealous and the more I think travelling would be impossible for me. I know travel blogs are meant to help you achieve your travel goals but it did the opposite for me. I felt self pity everytime I read this topic on my laptop by my bedroom window and then looking out asking the trees and the sky when the universe will give me the opportunity to travel.
I guess Time is always in control. After two and half years of patience, hard work and God’s grace, I’m finally doing it.
I started planning my trip to Tromso since July last year. I researched on the best places to see the northern lights, went through airline websites to find cheap flights (which weren’t cheap!), browsed through airbnb, learned about transportation, food cost and compared prices of excursions offered by various travel agencies . Ughhh expensive!!! But the good news then was there’s a lot of time to save until winter. It was nice to know that my friend, JP, also wanted to see the northern lights. I was scared to go by myself, anyway. As soon as we both agreed on going to the arctic to see the aurora, we immediately applied for the Schengen visa. I told him “mag apply na tayo para wala ng atrasan!” Thank God he was up for it!
Luckily, Norwegian air went on a sale last December and it was good timing to book our trip to Tromso. I felt so relieved after booking our airfare tickets because the only thing that was left to do is wait for the departure date. I was so excited I had to download a countdown application so every morning it would tell me how many days are left until we fly to tromso. Ako na talaga excited.
We booked our northern lights tour with Tromso Safari because they had good reviews on trip advisor and they are one of the cheapest travel agencies in Tromso. Plus, their facebook page is updated everyday when it comes to their northern lights chase.
It was on the night of January 31, 2017 when I saw the northern lights. It was not an easy chase. I was so naive thinking you just have to look up at the night sky and that’s it. Apparently, its more complex than that. They said if you really want to see the northern lights, you need to have clear skies and high aurora activity (there are aurora forecasts on the internet that tells you “Go” and “Try” if you want to catch the dancing lady…and yes, I looked at it from time to time because it only said “Try” for that night). We left mainland with heavy snowfall. I was losing hope and starting to get depressed. I told my friend “we’re never going to see it.” It was very cloudy and no stars could be seen. It took us an hour and 30 minutes to find a spot with clear skies and three stars (yes, three). Then, we all went down the bus and attached our cameras to the tripods. We stood there with our heads up scanning for any signs of aurora borealis. The tour guide, Denise, pointed her finger up and said “Guys! you see that pale green line? that’s northern lights but its very weak.”
It was weak. I could barely see it with my eyes.
The camera can take good shots of it but we were seeing nothing. Then, the stars were gone. It was just clouds everywhere. We were in the middle of snowy mountains and my fingers were freezing. We were standing there in total darkness – disappointed and miserable. The tour guide decided that we had to leave and find another spot. I hurriedly went inside the bus not because I was excited to chase the lights somewhere else but because I needed to touch something warm and check my capillary refill. Good thing the heater is just right under my seat!
When we were about to leave, the tour guide said “wait! wait! it’s clearing up!”
We all went down the bus again and we found more stars. There we are again with all our heads up and eyes wide open waiting for someone to shout “There it is!” Few minutes after, the clouds covered the stars. See, even if you have a good aurora activity, you will never see the lights when you have the clouds in between. My toes were freezing as fast as my hopes were sinking. The tour guide finally gave up and we went for a short 20-30 minute ride to another spot. This time, there was a clearing through the clouds and we saw a lot of stars (I’ve never seen so many stars in my entire life!). I jumped out of the car as fast as I can in order to find a place where I can set up my camera because the lights can appear and disappear anytime. Just when I was fixing my camera settings, the green lady started to dance above our heads. It was really green. I could see it and it was moving. I stopped taking pictures (I wasn’t even holding a professional camera! I’m practically wasting the moment by taking crappy pictures!).
I lay myself flat on the snow covered ground and watched the lights above me. The feeling of just being there – in complete silence with my soul, breathing deeply and inhaling every second of the moment that was unfolding right in front of me – is impossible to describe. I was in total awe of the show the universe is performing. Suddenly, the colors white, pink and purple started to show up like moving curtains across the sky. I could hear “wow!” and “oh my God!” in the background. It was a brief 15 minute encounter with the northern lights but it was both a perplexing and humbling experience. That was somehow a transcendence of a kind as I can’t find the right words and construct the right sentences to give justice and explain the feeling of being in that moment. The temperature dropped to minus 10, I couldn’t feel my toes and I could barely move my fingers, my back was hurting, there was a feeling of pins and needles on my cheeks but God, I didn’t miiiiind! I had to take everything my eyes were seeing into my memory bank and let it stay there as vividly as possible because I don’t know if this is ever going to happen again! Really, what a time to be aliiiive!
The clouds covered the sky and then it was gone. It was a good thing the tour included snacks! When the show was finished, the driver gave us a hot cup of chocolate and cake. I needed that hot chocolate to defrost my fingers. mehehe.
Somehow I wanted more. But the Aurora Borealis is not a guaranteed show and I guess I’m more than lucky to see it even for just a short period of time. Please note that the northern lights don’t appear to be as vivid and bright as the pictures show. The camera setting has to have an exposure of time or 10-30 seconds, depending on the movement of the aurora. Human eyes don’t work like that. Nonetheless, it is still a wonderful sight to behold.
*All pictures taken are from the photographers of Tromso Safari.