Another aurora-less day dawned clear and cold this morning with flakes of snow spitting from the mouth of a gray sky.
The thermometer read 32 degrees but the felt temperature was considerably more frigid.
We had hoped to top off an almost-perfect day last night with a sighting of the Northern Lights but the aurora had eluded us.
Despite the fact the night was clear enough to offer a spectacular view of a star-dappled sky and cold enough to freeze whiskey, it wasn’t enough to reveal the lights. I stayed awake long after the others had gone to bed, scanning the sky every 15 minutes for swirls of color, but to no avail.
Luckily, our day had been a fruitful one.
There had been a dip in a geothermally heated pool, a tour of an extinct volcanic crater, a brisk walk along a rocky gorge forged by the separation of the continental plates, and a succulent dinner at a Reykjavik restaurant. We had been deeply hopeful upon leaving the lights of the city that we’d see the aurora on our long trek into the darkened countryside.
Luck wasn’t on our side last night.
No matter. Guidebooks and traveler’s blogs warn that no one should ever count solely on a glimpse of the Northern Lights to make a trip to the North worthwhile. The aurora is simply too unpredictable.
The lights might appear nightly for two or three days, billowing like brightly-lit cloud spirals above the horizon. Then they might disappear entirely for days or longer. Disappointment then, in the face of such fickleness, isn’t an option.
And, in actuality, Iceland is a country that simply can’t disappoint.
There are too many other thrilling experiences that compensate for the lack of an aurora.
Take this morning, for instance.
Before arriving on these frozen shores, we’d booked a morning of dog-sledding. We arrived at the starting point – in the center of a desolate field split by a nearly frozen salmon stream – after an hour-long trek through increasing snowfall.
By the time we reach the designated point, snow covered the ground and lay heavily upon the branches of the few evergreens we had passed.
As we untangled ourselves from the car, struggling to pull on gloves, caps and snow pants, we were rushed by a pair of sled dogs. Their arrival marked the first of scores of pats and butt scratches that would be required of us over the next hour or so.
Once the teams were harnessed a chorus of howls, barks and yips played across the air as the dogs excitedly anticipated what would be, for them, a playful run in the snow.
We climbed aboard and were off – the dogs now quiet and uniformly pulling. Over the next hour, we were treated to a ride through an idyllic countryside – snowy peaks and glaciers mounting in the distance.
After climbing out of the sled at journey’s end followed by another series of requisite doggy pats and rubs for a job well done, we headed out for lunch and a tour of a traditional grass-thatched Icelandic village – not a Disney-like recreation but an authentic set of small homes built and inhabited over 150 years ago.
Now we are headed toward our accommodation for tonight, a three-bedroom apartment in the center of Reykjavik.
I sit writing this, glancing out at the snow-capped peaks as our car hurtles through Iceland, and I realize that it’s not difficult to be astonished by this country. In fact, everything about it reminds me why I consider this the most fascinating country of all I’ve visited.
The captivating beauty of its landscapes, the singular nature of Iceland experiences, its culinary delights, and the friendliness of its people make Iceland a country with few comparables. It is so delightful, in fact, that I’m already contemplating my next trip.
But this one is far from over.
We have a night in the city booked, three nights in an architecturally amazing home in the country far North, and a final night at a hotel whose site is associated with Icelandic troll legends. We have fjords, whales, more volcanoes, Icelandic horses and other adventures in our future.
And now our travels have escaped the blowing snow of Southern Iceland to emerge into the sun-bathed landscape near Reykjavik.
We again feel the tug of aurora fever as the cloudless sky portends possibilities.
We’ve doubled down on our chances to catch the lights tonight as we’ve already booked an aurora tour that will take us well after sunset into the land far north of the city.
But no matter what the night holds for us – lights or no – we won’t be disappointed.
It is Iceland after all.