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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The most beautiful thing I had ever seen

Last Tuesday, I and a couple of Finnish students went to the Blue Lagoon. It was a wonderful place. On the way there, the bus passes through mountainous barren landscapes, and then a big lava field draped with bright green moss. It truly looked out of this world. As we approached the Lagoon, we could see big clouds of steam coming from the geothermal plant nearby. Later, I found find out that clouds of steam rising from the ground wasn't uncommon in the Icelandic countryside. In these particular sites with strong vulcanism, Icelanders put up powerplants, villages (that are powered by the nearby plants), greenhouses, and of course, steam baths and hot springs. Blue Lagoon is one of these hot springs, neighbor to the big geothermal plant.

The Blue Lagoon really is blue. Milky, powdery blue. Actually, the water is transparent, but the sun reflects on it in such a way that the surface looks milky blue and you can't see farther than a few inches off the surface, which is also out of this world. My students and I enjoyed being there -- it's worth a story for another time. But the real point of this entry is what happened after the Blue Lagoon.

The Lagoon closes at 8PM, but we didn't know that the bus (a charter bus) didn't leave until 9:15 in the evening. We were disappointed to know this because we hurried to catch the non-existent 8:15 bus. Waiting out in the Icelandic cold night, we tried (without success) to hitch rides with couples leaving from the Lagoon, and a company tour bus (again without success). We just had to wait there for an hour so I decided to write postcards in the meantime.

Suddenly, someone saw something. Could it be??? The other people waiting for the bus had scattered. Someone told us we could get a better view from just behind the bus stop, where there was a hill and it wasn't well lit. At first, it looked just like a strong streak of green, like a brush stroke in the air that became brighter and brighter as our eyes got used to the dark. Then parts of it grew, swelling into something that looked like a waterfall.

At this point, the bus came. But apparently the bus driver had seen the aurora on the way to the bus stop, so he called in the passengers to say that we should walk a little further down the road to the parking lot, where it was darker still. For I don't know how long, the bus driver and we were just standing at the corner of the parking lot, looking up to the sky into the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life.

The bright streak which we first saw from the bus stop became even brighter still, turning into an arc in the sky. It stretched across from one horizon to the other like a mythical bridge.




On one side of the sky, the waterfall of green turned into a bright curtain, fluttering and dancing. It was a sight to behold. Everyone was very excited, holding their breaths, taking pictures and holding each other (at least those who knew each other!).


The arc also danced, but in a different way. It split in two and combined again.



I didn't know until then that you could still see the stars so brightly though the northern lights.

Needless to say, nobody cared about the bus schedule anymore. Especially since the bus driver was with us watching the lights. He said he had been living in Iceland for eight years and that this was one of the best displays he had seen. Many tourists go out nightly without even seeing these mystical lights, or at least not this bright and big.

Apparently the sun activity was very bright that particular evening and the aurora was even seen in central Reykjavik, where there is a lot of light pollution and where it is normally just seen as a weak streak in the sky. I know this because the next day, I took a tourist bus tour. Two of the other tourists were a couple who watched the northern lights near the central church in Reykjavik. The man proposed to her there, under the aurora. Talk about slick!

Anyway, my students and I were very happy to have experienced this together. We were just grinning all the way back in the bus to the city, thanking our lucky stars that we had no luck hitching an early ride. I thought for a moment that I could die happily right there and then. But luckily, I didn't do that either.

The bus driver, instead of taking us to the bus station late at night (we arrived in the city at 11PM), even dropped all the passengers off in the vicinity of their respective hotels. Talk about good vibes. The whole evening was just magic!

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