How to fail at lighting a fire.
Most of you voted that you wanted more travel stories on my Instagram feedback poll last week, so here’s a quick one from Prestvannet lake in September 2019 when I was exploring the far north of Norway.
I was staying in Tromsø, which was the last stop on my summer Scandinavian trip for that year, and although summer was technically on its last breath, it was already quite cold and dark so far up north. I stayed at the Tromso activities hostel for a few days and I was sharing a room with 2 rock ‘n’ roll guys, you know the type: in their 30s, tattoos, piercings, slightly rough around the edges with decent guitar skills. Since I’m a former metalhead, we got along great and even had some impromptu singing sessions in the kitchen during rainy afternoons. Anyhow, both of them were staying at the hostel long term, and one of them worked there as a guide for their Northern lights tours.
The hostel was really nice for the price, centrally located, clean and colourful, if a bit cramped. I really enjoyed the cosy atmosphere and the staff were super friendly, although the owner had the weird habit of coming to listen to the radio in our kitchen quite early in the morning on some days. To be honest, listening to the guys grumpily pretend to care for his conversation at 7 am with the backdrop of Norwegian radio was pretty funny, so I didn’t mind. However, their Northern lights tours were expensive. No more expensive than tours from other providers, but in inflated Norwegian prices nonetheless.
Since I’d already seen plenty of Auroras when I lived in Sweden (see my Northern lights post here), I decided to skip the tour and try my luck on my own. My room-mate unofficially dropped the hint that Prestvannet lake in the city was a good local spot, but the weather forecast was abysmal: clouds, rain, perpetual gloom and barely any Aurora activity to speak of. I almost caved in and signed up for the tour (one of the main advantages of these tours is that they drive you around to popular Aurora spots all night and the guides communicate with each other, so you’re almost guaranteed to see at least a glimpse of the Northern lights, unless you’re super unlucky).
The tours coming back hadn’t had much luck either, so I didn’t sign up in the end, but I did try to find some locals that might be interested in joining me through Couchsurfing hangouts. I found a guy named Aron who was up for going to Prestvannet and we arranged to meet in the evening. It rained the first night, so we postponed and I was on the verge of giving up altogether. However, the next day was absolutely gorgeous and also ultra windy. I hiked up Mt. Fløya and almost got blown off the stairs a couple of times, but the view was absolutely worth it!
After a quick dinner and a shower I met up with Aron at the library, who turned out to be a few years younger than me, overly enthusiastic at being out of the house after a while and a bit whiny about his life in general. Interesting combo, I know. He was good company though and as it turned out, we had a hilarious evening ahead anyway.
We made it to Prestvannet after about an hour and there were a couple of tourists already there getting ready for Northern lights. The sky looked reasonably clear with some clouds and it was slowly getting dark enough to be interesting. It was cold though – clear weather and the wind had brought extra cold that bit to the bone and neither of us wore proper winter jackets. As we stood there, the sky suddenly cleared out almost completely and excited shouts started: we got to see a beautiful light green arc spanning across the sky, tinged with a bit of almost imperceptible pink at the top. It was beautiful and it was the first time I’d ever seen pink in an Aurora, but it was gone in a minute (and yet, I somehow managed a photo – I’d originally named this post “2 seconds of Aurora”, but then decided it was probably about a minute or two at most and changed it to be fair).
The clouds swooped in and out and since the night was still young, we took our glimpse of Aurora as a good sign and settled in to wait for more. We found a picnic table with benches and struck up a conversation. As is common in Scandinavia, there was an outdoor barbecue fire place right next to our picnic table, so we figured we should try and build a fire to get warmer. Now, I’m the first to say that I’m not much for camping and I’m incapable of lighting a fire unless the conditions are picture perfect, so Aron gave it a try. And another…and another one…and another…. We’d managed to gather some sticks and paper to make a makeshift pile with the firewood already there and he kept trying to light it with a lighter, but no luck whatsover. To be fair, it was windy and humid, but it was also hilarious how he just kept failing, particularly because I wasn’t the one who’d claimed to be the outdoorsy type.
I tried as well, with no better luck and we kept failing for about 20 minutes until we run out of lighter fluid. I think the other Northern lights watchers had a good laugh at our expense and I kept teasing Aron that his Scandinavian wilderness card should be revoked for this. I think he was a bit embarrassed and would’ve sulked more, but we heard some more excited shouts just then and jumped up to watch the sky. The clouds had cleared for a moment, but still no Aurora. The night went on in the same manner for the next couple of hours as the wind kept chasing the clouds around and we all kept jumping up at the barest glimpse of the sky, but still no Aurora.
Eventually we were frozen solid and out of drinks, so we gave up on Prestvannet and grabbed a beer at one of the bars that were still open. I went back to the hostel fearing my toes would fall off on the way and used up all the hot water in the communal shower (sorry, not sorry). The Northern lights tour came back a while later and they’d actually had a good hunt, but I was pretty happy with my evening too. P.S.: If you were expecting a more exciting ending to what might have looked like an almost date with Aron, I’ll have to disappoint you. I’m not single and haven’t been for years now, so no travel hook ups for me.
I woke up the next morning feeling sick as a dog. Both my room-mates had been coming down with a manflu for the past days and had apparently passed it on to me + my freezing night adventure at Prestvannet hadn’t helped either. We spent the morning with tea, instant soup and complaints about life, inadequate heating and running noses, until I actually got off my ass and went to Ersfjord (where I promptly got drenched in rain, because that’s the life in Scandinavia).
P.P.S.: Prestvannet is actually a really nice lake and a popular relaxing spot with the locals, so it’s worth visiting even if you aren’t chasing the Northern lights.
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