The dark digital cloud that covers Iceland on my cell phone aurora map nearly matches the angry and icy sky that stretches as far as I can see from the windows of my rented accommodations.
On the other side of the glass planes, the wind is blowing so hard it catches the slender flag-less flagpole outside, shaking it as furiously as a cat does a rat. The temperature outside, a balmy 34 degrees, feels considerably colder as the frigid blasts redden any exposed flesh.
I’ve come to Iceland for the second time, on this occasion with a cadre of friends and a yen to see the Northern Lights. Members of our aurora-seeking team include two of my best friends from Gainesville, Ed and Karen Sroka, their son, Brannon, and his partner, Angeli Tiaz Baquero.
We’re to be here six days and our goal is to catch sight of the elusive light shows that splash across the horizon on cold winter nights. But, we’ve no guarantees.
The Northern Lights are fickle, exposing themselves to visitors only on dark winter nights, only in places with few ambient lights and only when the Earth’s magnetosphere is sufficiently disturbed by solar winds.
Tonight may not be that night. Indeed, a cloud-cover map of Iceland on my phone reveals low clouds envelop much of the island.
We arrived here early Sunday morning, red-eyed after a seven-hour flight from Orlando.
As I filed off the airplane my first glance was to the skies and, at this first glance, they looked promising. The sun was shining dully through what I hoped would be aurora-friendly clouds.
When I turned my eyes earthward, they met a dramatic landscape. Starke but stunningly beautiful.
A field of black boulders and volcanic scree provided the foreground to distant mountains, their tops and sides stippled with snow. That panorama was destined to become more rocky and precipitous as we ventured inland toward our first night of accommodations.
I’d come here two years ago as a lark when a $300 round-trip fare lured me to explore this tiny island. I fell in love.
Of course, it was summer and the purple lupines stretched to the feet of the mountains, Icelandic horses gambled in the fields, and scores of waterfalls rolled off cliff faces.
Now is decided different, but no less spectacular. Winter has revealed the volcanic debris that covers this speck of an island; overhead the swiftly passing clouds paint the sky.
Our first stop is the famed Blue Lagoon, where early-morning bathers float, their hands clutching alcohol-laced drinks. Steam rises off the hot water, immersing the swimmers in a cloud of mist.
We decide to pass on a dip in this spot being too bleary-eyed to muster much enthusiasm. Iceland, a country that boasts scores of such “hot pots,” promises less-crowded pools in other places.
We pass through Reykjavík and into the mountains to its east toward what is known as the Golden Circle. This looped trail is a common tourist destination given its proximity to the capital and the presence of spectacular historic, geologic and geothermal sites along its 140 miles.
Our “home” for the next two nights is a three-bedroom house along the Golden Circle. It is set, as we shortly find out, on an Icelandic horse farm and has banks of windows we hope will allow us views of the aurora borealis.
En route to the farm we stop at geysers and waterfalls. We even pull to the side of the road at one point to rub the furry heads of Icelandic horses that’ve congregated at a spot near the road.
But now, after a hearty dinner of vegetable soup, we’re glued to the aurora apps on our phones trying to prophesize whether our night will be aurora-filled or not. Probably not, we decide.
The fates and cloud cover seem to have put a damper on our prospects. It might be just as well as jet-lag has set in and our beds are calling.
Still, I wake several times during the night to peer blearily through my window, hoping to glimpse the aurora peeking through the clouds. It doesn’t.
We do, however, have more nights. And my aurora apps hint that the next 48 hours are promising.
We will persevere.