Why I Travel - A Night Under The Northern Lights

I am always asking myself the question, “why do I travel?”

Why do I have this unexplainable yearning to explore and experience new places?

Of course as a photographer a huge part is simply about capturing the beautiful landscapes and foreign stories - but what else?

For me there has always been something more. This chase of the unknown and the willingness to say "YES!” That moment from the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” when he runs and jumps in the helicopter! The music explodes and you imagine yourself in Ben Stiller's shoes choosing to take that leap of faith into the unknown! 

So here I was asking myself that “why” question while traveling through Iceland with my friend Kelsey. We had discussed every aspect of each other’s lives, but on this day we asked each other…"why do we travel?”

The day that defined that very question for me was when a series of events had lead us to a certain area in the Golden Circle in Iceland.

After a lot of last minute changes, we decided to go to a different area then originally planned and visit the famous Geysir. The sun was setting as we finished at the Geysir and were debating if we wanted to keep exploring in the freezing temps, when we thought we saw a hidden hot spring off in a field. We’d read about some secret lagoon near this area and were determined that had to be it!

Bundled up, we started our way across the field towards a green Defender parked in front of a small shack. Several times Kelsey and I stopped to see if we should turn around, not sure if people were camping there, (or enjoying the lagoon) so we kept walking.

As we got closer I could hear laughing and didn’t know if we were getting ready to see some people skinny dipping when we got closer, but instead when we peeked in the entrance to the shack there were four Dutch men sitting around a fire! We all instantly started laughing at our surprised faces and they offered us beers and we joined around the fire.

We all started introducing ourselves and they started to explain to us the spiritual journey they were on. Like no joke, they paid to go on an adventure where they could get in touch with nature and their emotions. They even got kind of emotional sharing what they had discovered about themselves so far and they were only on day one! 

LETS REWIND: Meet Arie Van Ingen, he’s an ex-Dutch Marine that now owns a business taking people on rugged adventures around the world. (So he was the facilitator.) The best part is that with each adventure Arie is challenging his attendee’s to be fully present - so no phones, to express their emotions, and to face their fears.

So we sat listening to the men talk about their journey while Arie cooked up a pot of lamb and potatoes as he smoked a cigarette. 

Arie then turned the hard life questions on Kelsey and I. Calling us out when he thought we weren’t saying something good enough. My favorite was when Kelsey gave an answer and he said, “you’re talking...but you’re not saying anything!” We then all laughed!

Several hours had gone by of us discussing life and laughing around the fire when Arie casually says…”The Northern Lights are out, who wants to see them?”

Kelsey and I fell out of the shack we were so excited and sure enough when we looked up they were streaking across the sky.

I had given up thinking I would see them on our trip since it’s towards the end of the season and HERE THEY WERE!

Arie then asked if we wanted to see them from the top of what felt like a small mountain and like Walter Mitty, we screamed "YES" running after him up the hill. (He later said...run...you called that running?) At one point I literally face planted I was so excited and when Kelsey was helping me up, I realized...my lungs were burning from the freezing cold! 

When we reached the top we sat there oohing and aahing at the pulses of light across the sky.

It..was...life changing.

I felt like we had our own private tour guide as Arie told us to look in different directions and explained how a certain one was getting stronger as it pulsed brighter. I would point my camera in one direction, but it truly was a 360 view from were we sat on the hilltop. The Northern Lights were in almost every direction and we sat watching until we finally noticed how cold we were and started our way back down.

At the bottom of the hill I started my timelapse and I will never forget Arie’s impressive math skills as he rattled off how long the final video would be judging from my shutter speed and interval time. I had NEVER put that much math into anything I’d photographed! I would argue the timing made sense for my freezing toes and he finally said, “that’s because you are stubborn” and I couldn’t agree more!

After Kelsey and I had said our goodbye's, we started our hike back across the field.

The same field where we had discussed why we travel, not knowing we would soon end up in a shack, sitting around a fire talking with total strangers about life while the Northern Lights danced overhead.  

...and this my friends, is why I travel. 

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-Tara