What would make you substitute comfort for severe climatic conditions, piercing winds and freezing cold temperatures? If you’ve dreamed about the Aurora Borealis experience, watching them from the edge of the world is worth turning into a human popsicle for.
I was an ambitiously adventurous traveller as March is a winter month in the Kolsky peninsula and there was a big probability that I’d be caught by a strong frost and snow storm. However, I secretly hoped for an unscheduled thaw from the South. Luck was on my side, but even it was unable to calm the harsh north wind.
Frosty Murmansk and warm locals
The airport is situated in 18 kilometres from Murmansk, the world’s biggest Arctic city. I named my trip “Hunting for Aurora lights on my the first date with the Arctic Ocean”.
Murmansk is 100 years old and at the beginning it was absolutely wooden. The climate is really severe and people do not smile without reason. It is considered to be in bad taste. And most of their jokes are about the weather: “We had summer, but that day I was working.”
But the warmth of the locals is evident as they engage in interesting dialogue. An employee of Murmansk regional museum enthusiastically told me about the Kola Peninsula’s inhabitants: elk, which weighs about half a ton, brown bears, the rather social bird Kuksha, and Olyapka that can dive and run at the bottom of the ice-free waters in search of food.
Finding shelter in the Tundra
Our trip was in the tundra zone, which occupies about 20 per cent of the territory of the Murmansk region – a narrow strip stretching along the northern and eastern coast of the Kola Peninsula. The hills are separated by icy lakes and covered with stones and soft lichen, shrubs, moss and voronichnik – the main meal of wild reindeer.
The best place for Aurora lights is far from the city – at the seashore. We decided to hit Teriberka – a small settlement in the very north of Barentcevo sea – and waded through the snow for about 12 km to the first fisherman’s house. Teriberka found fame in the Oscar nominated Russian drama film Leviathan.
It was very late when we finally found shelter, and it was covered with a thick layer of snow. It took us an hour to open the frozen door with the help of wooden planks. We were rewarded with a dry room, hot tea from melted snow and the first night behind the polar circle.
Early morning, I could see the bay, hills and frozen lakes, but no stones, no trees – a snow-white desert. However, echoes of civilization still existed – the mobile phone caught a tiny signal. Last call to relatives … and no contact over the next few days. We had barely warmed up our morning tea as guards knocked for a cyclone alert and wrote down our names to know who to look for. We packed up, put on snowshoes and set off to the next hut.
A Fairytale house under the starry Northern sky
The next stop was 8 km away and it was fabulous. The fairytale wooden house was located 20 meters from the sea under the starry northern sky. We spent three chilly days there without heating, wood and the constant negative temperatures were hugely stressful.
There was no mobile connection, the whistling wind penetrated into the cracks, we could hear the sea roaring, at sunset the sky was painted in pink and gold. Nature was frozen and alive at the same time. There was nothing better in the world than waking up early, having breakfast overlooking the blue ocean, seeing the waves breaking about the rocks and the water coming closer at high tide. For this, it is really worth sacrificing comfort.
The Unforgettable Dancing Northern Lights
On International Women’s Day on March 8, Mother Nature presented me the best gift. A wide bright green ribbon stretched across the sky, dynamically shifting to the north, illuminating the starry dome with pillars and splashes. Aurora was alive! It moved quickly and changed shape, resembling a bird or the DNA chain.
The Aurora lights were dancing, spinning and jumping from one place to another. The active phase is a striking representation, but does not last long. Then Aurora can leave and never return again or flare up with new vigour in the morning. Surprisingly even under the full moon, Aurora lights can be very intense and colorful.
You will never see the same Aurora’s lights or identical sunrises and sunsets. Nature is the greatest artist which draws different pictures – some are realistic, some crazy and surreal.
Teriberka – One of the 20 most popular tourist destinations in the world, 2016
Teriberka, with its abandoned feel, is really far from civilization. It took us a 17 km-walk to get there on the way back home to catch a bus to Murmansk.
We decided to spend one more night in an abandoned house, a former Teriberka weather station. Next to our hut there were old masts, and the wind played on them as if they were strings. Inside the house there was a poem by Brodsky about the sea.
A huge warm yellow moon was rising slowly in the northern sky together with Aurora – a perfect chord of the orchestra named “Northern Wilderness” in the final stage of our adventure.
Getting to Murmansk: Murmansk Airport has daily flights from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. By train, Moscow is 35-40 hours away and Saint Petersburg – 27-30 hours. The Arktika (Арктика) train is the fastest option. Buses ply from Ivalo in Finland and Kirkenes in Norway.
Best time to see the Northern Lights: From February to March or September to October.
Uliya Govorava is a travel-journalist and PR specialist from Russia. For more, log on to www.ugovorova.com.