Our hunt for the Northern Lights: We arrived in Tromso at 9:20pm. We were here to visit the home of my good friend Tanja who I’d met at University in America. It was pitch black, the airport was tiny, our pick-up was MIA, and it was FREEZING. Welcome to the Arctic Circle [350km above it at 69 degrees north].
Tromso is a community of 70’000 that relies on fishing as it’s main export. It has been the main centre for ‘Arctic Hunting’ since the early 1800’s and still holds an important role in maritime economic activities in Norway today. This is displayed through many areas of the town; from the modern and stunning harbour side, to the local aquarium Polaria, whose building was designed to represent ice flows that have been pressed into the land by the rough Arctic seas. We visited Polaria on our first day in Tromso and watched the seal show featuring the Arctic bearded seals. We also watched an overly technical and scientific explanation of the solar space storm that is the Aurora Borealis. This spectacle we would definitely be in search of!!!
This outing was our only activity of the day, as we didn’t manage to drag our confused bodies out of bed before midday. This is because from November 26 to January 15 the sun remains below the horizon in the polar night. Being mid January we did get a few hours of ‘daylight’ (between 10am-2pm) however the sun still didn’t manage to make it over the horizon and it appeared to be dusk for these hours.
Our second day in Tromso comprised of a cross-country skiing adventure in the dark. It’s a fantastic spectator sport – when consisting of a Danish and an Australian who had never skied before, an avid snowboarder, and a born and bred Norwegian playing guide.
Out of the shed in the backyard came a vast selection of skis. We each were given our weapons and the hike commenced. Behind the house we hiked around 400m (felt like Everest) to the cross-country ski track and tried to ‘assemble’ ourselves in a stealth and fashionable style. However this resulted in gammy retarded dances in 50 layers of clothing, and the Norwegian doubled over in laughter.
After about 5 minutes it came time to learn to ski. This is not like regular skiing but has a free heel for more mobility and requires much more endurance – which we were lacking after 5 weeks of bread and beer in central Europe. Once we were moving we didn’t know how to stop or turn. We ran into bushes, squashed some man-bits, got our legs all tangled, lost a pole here and there, and ended up with snow down our pants (how does that even happen?). Eventually admitting defeat, we skied the streets of Tromso to get home instead of going back uphill via the ski track. This resulted in the somewhat challenged ‘Norwegian ski team’ awkwardly struggling past the kitchen windows of unsuspecting homeowners while they prepared their evening meal. Character building stuff.
All activities we could have possibly wanted to partake in while in Tromso were accessible out the backdoors of the cozy residents of town. We were at the top of the world and I was as far from home as possible. The scenery was like nothing I could have possibly imagined.
During the eveing we stood dressed up ready to bus to town for some more beer action while the ever-optimistic Jamie repeated – as we’d heard ALL week amidst the cloud, rain and snow – “I think it might be clearing up, I think I can see the Northern Lights” – Tanja shrugged it off as another random comment, but Jamie persisted “I saw one of the lights” (lol).
Turns out he was right. As Tanja squinted at the sky and tried to block out the surrounding street lights with her hands it was confirmed, the notorious lights were present and my failing hopes of seeing this bucket list item were restored.
This time the Norwegian ski team moved with lightening precision. Into the house, two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of pants, two thermal tops, a jersey, two down jackets and a woolly hat EACH. A thermos, camera, tripod and a few dead reindeer skins to protect our weak southern hemisphere bums from frostbite, and it was off to hike Everest again.
It felt like we’d been dropped onto a different floating rock in space. Snow up to our knees and a dancing green glow painting it’s way through the night sky. Conversations about the inaccuracy of science and the potential for other life in space followed….
No words can describe the surrealism of this experience for me. The power of the night sky, which often goes unnoticed, reflects the magnitude of our universe and our inferiority upon this planet. The strength and beauty of nature…, and the mysteries that lie within it. All I can say is…. DO IT!
The rest of the week consisted of ample amount of traditional Norwegian meals. Fish, dried fish, year old dried and then rehydrated fish, fresh salmon, and even a traditional BBQ which was unlike the ones we have down under. Tanja’s family had a little ‘smoke house’ outside with a wood burning cooking… devise in the middle, which we cooked meat on and feasted. One of the most amazing and different experiences of the journey.