It is -15 degrees, and the wind gods don’t seem to be merciful.
Our surrounding is a stark contrast of pitch black skies and white snowy roads. At the edge of a frozen lake, we are constantly watching the skies in anticipation, as if expecting for something to happen.
Welcome to the adventures of the aurora chasers!
For someone who was born and raised between the tropics and a desert, the fascination to see snow was almost childlike; the stubbornness even more so. So, in September I dug into my places-to-visit-before-I-die list and decided to tick off some of those places. Three months later, I set off, a dreamy-eyed solo traveler, for two weeks to cover parts of Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and Amsterdam.
It was a snowy and cloudy morning in Rovaniemi, the heart of Finish Lapland, and forecasts were adamant that no aurora activity was expected that day. So, all of us who were headed to Meltaus, a town further north of Rovaniemi, to chase the lights that evening had very or little expectation of seeing it.
A cloudless sky, an area with less/no lights, high solar activity, and lots of luck are requirements to see the elusive Aurora Borealis. The hour long journey from Rovaniemi was filled with hope and excitement as we kept our eyes up in the skies to catch a glimpse of the lights; hoping to defy the forecasts. But the journey was as uneventful as it gets.
We reached Meltaus dispirited; though we still had two hours that evening to wait for the lights to appear.
I was one of the last people to step down from the bus. The first thing that hit me when I got out was the cold wind! -15 degrees for someone who comes from warm parts of the world is, in reality, a nightmare.
The second thing that stumped me when I got out was this stunning green light dancing right above our heads. The Aurora Borealis was here!
It was a spectacular two minute show. There was a part of me that wanted to run and find shelter from the cold; but I was unable to move. I just stood there; gazing at the sky like it’s everything I have ever wanted. I even forgot to take out my camera. I was just in awe.
The show ended as quickly as it started.
We were now walking down to the frozen Ono River to warm our freezing selves in front of the bonfire, and wait for the lights to show up again. Our guide Unna began telling us stories and legends associated with the Aurora Borealis.
The Finnish people believed that the Aurora Borealis were caused because of the Revontulet, a fire fox running swiftly across the snow causing sparks to fly up into the sky. However, the native Sami people of the Finnish Lapland believed that the Aurora Borealis were energies of a departed soul. The Sami stories ask people to not mock the lights while sitting under them or to whistle too loudly. If you do, they believed, the lights burn you.
In Iceland, it was believed that the Northern Lights helped relieve a pregnant woman’s pain during childbirth. However, she must not look at the lights. If she looks at the lights, the child will be born cross-eyed. Having visited Iceland during my trip, I can assure you that Icelanders take their legends and myths very seriously.
Some Eskimo tribes in Northern America believed that the Northern Lights were caused by human spirits playing a ball game using a walrus skull!
The stories continued for a while.
As soon as our guide finished her stories, as if on cue, the green lights began to appear magically on the horizon. This time the Aurora Borealis stayed longer than its initial appearance, and I managed to get myself out of the spell and pull my camera out to capture the mesmerising phenomenon.
Well, I tried.
The journey back to Rovaniemi was a happy one; after all the elusive goddess had shown herself and I couldn’t get enough of replaying it in my head.
Finland in December? You must be mad, they said.
Well, I sure am mad; but it has been worth it!