The Case of the Missing Laptop

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So, Sri Lanka has certainly got off to a memorable start. I touched down around 10.30pm, feeling mighty flat and non-enthused, to be perfectly honest. My nine hour stopover ended up being quite tolerable, actually, but as soon as I got on the plane, tiredness hit me like a ton of bricks. 99% of the time I love travelling, I really do, but I can’t deny there are times when it all seems like too much effort. Sitting on the plane with heavy eyes and a headache, all I wanted was to be at home, in my bed, with my dog curled up at my feet. I guess after three months of leading a quiet life at home, being reminded how big and busy the world is had overwhelmed me.

Despite warnings of possible delays due to renovations currently occurring at Bandaranaike International Airport, going through immigration was quick and easy, and I was ready to be picked up by the free shuttle at the nearby airport hotel where I was staying within half an hour of getting off the plane. Once the brief formalities of check-in were finalised and I’d been shown to my room, the exhaustion magically evaporated. The hard part was over and I could finally relax- or so I thought.

My laptop had run out of battery while I’d been waiting at Kuala Lumpur, so I pulled out my charger and went to connect it to my laptop, only to realise, with a very sickening feeling, that it wasn’t in my room. The first pang of panic struck as I walked back to reception and, when it wasn’t to be found there either, my tiny bubble of hope burst immediately. Of course, I couldn’t now remember when I’d last had it with me, but I suspected that I’d put it down while calling for my shuttle- a call which I’d made outside on a ledge near the taxi rank, which was swarming with people. I had zero hope. It was gone forever.

The hotel staff kindly drove me back to the airport, insisting that they hadn’t seen it. I think they thought that I thought they’d taken it, and I’m sorry if I gave off that impression. It was a miserable ride, made even more depressing by a lady I spoke to on the phone who, although I couldn’t focus on much of what she was saying in my state, I did comprehend when she said it was my responsibility to look after my own possessions in the airport. Like I’m not disagreeing with you, lady, but I just felt it was an unnecessary kick in the guts. You’re telling me something I already know and am kicking myself over. I tried to console myself with the fact that I’d backed everything up on my portable hard drive back home- but it was a bitter consolation.

Once I’d been dropped off, I returned to the place where I’d made the call, but, unsurprisingly, there was no laptop there. The only other place I could’ve left it was at the currency exchange counter, so I made my way back to the arrivals hall, knowing it was only a fool’s hope leading me on. A guard stopped me from entering, so I explained my situation, and he made a couple of calls. When he finished the second call, he turned to me and said there is a laptop. He directed me to the day pass office, and a tiny spark of hope was ignited- could it be?

I wandered over to the office and, lo and behold, there it was. I spotted my scratched black Compaq straight away, sitting smack bang on top of a table. Just another laptop in an office to anyone else who may have glimpsed it as they walked past, but a glorious sight to see for yours truly. I could’ve cried, I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d assumed the worst, but some angel out there had proved we shouldn’t give up on the goodness of people.

I was let into the day pass office in order to verify that the laptop was actually mine. The only problem was, of course, that it had run out of charge. I was willing to catch a taxi back to the hotel and get the charger, but I think it was obvious to the two officers that I was being honest about my claim. They took my details and let me take my laptop without any further ado.

I had to find my own way back to the hotel now, as the shuttle had not been allowed to wait for me, but I was so ecstatic that I didn’t even care. I knew now that the hotel was only a fifteen minute walk away, so off I went, completely unperturbed at walking on the side of a road in a brand new country at 12.30am.

In my experience, there is always one time on a trip, guaranteed, when something will go wrong, and I’m hoping that with this misadventure, my quota for Sri Lanka has been filled. I also believe that all’s well that ends well- and I certainly couldn’t have asked for a happier ending than this. To the honest soul who handed in my laptop to airport staff- thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You have saved me a lot of grief and ensured my memories of this trip will not be overshadowed by an unfortunate experience. May plenty of good karma come your way.

A World Painted White

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The last place I visited on my quest to see the Northern Lights in the European winter of 2015 was the Swedish town of Kiruna. When I touched down on the 15th of January, the sun had emerged from hibernation and the snow was aglow with a soft pastel light.

Although polar night was officially over, the next day dawned with an overcast sky. It did not bode well for aurora viewing and indeed, I did not end up seeing any lights dancing over Kiruna. Luckily for me, there was still magic in the air.

This was the view that greeted me when I ventured for a walk from my cabin at Camp Ripan. Five minutes down the path and I felt like I was the only person on earth. The world was still and silent, save for the satisfying crunch of snow under my feet.

Kiruna felt like a winter wonderland, moreso than any other polar town I visited (except perhaps for Saariselka in Finland, too). The magic was in the trees. They had not been exposed by the elements and stripped bare, left to sway like skeletons in the bitter Arctic winds. Rather, these trees wore the weight of the snowy weather like an insulated coat, until it was time to feel the warmth of the sun once more.

This type of winter is the stuff of childhood dreams. I could very well have been in Narnia, lost in a land encaptured in the midst of winter’s spell. But there was no White Witch at work here. The snow that fell around me was a gentle and pure form of magic, painting the world afresh in the cleanest shade of white. Perhaps somewhere amongst these fairytale trees, all the secrets of the world lay hidden.

A Game of Chasey

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My quest to see the Northern Lights in January 2015 began in Ivalo, where I was lucky enough to see them twice, and continued in Tromso, an Arctic city in northern Norway. Unfortunately, my three day visit was a cloudy, snowy, rainy and blustery affair which prevented any colourful night skies from being visible.

I flew back to Oslo, my quest of seeing the Northern Lights in Norway unfulfilled, but compensated, somewhat, by the absolutely spectacular landscapes unfolding below me. I was flying in the early afternoon for a change and as soon as we ascended above the clouds blanketing Tromso, I was greeted by a vast expanse of relatively clear blue skies once more.

One particular sight captivated me the most. I found it stunning in its simplicity. A divided line of light on the horizon, perfectly balanced between the golden glow of day and the oncoming shadow of night. Darkness would have already fallen on Tromso by this point, as it was still in the clutches of polar night. Looking behind me, a deep violet glow was spreading across the clouds. Slowly, it was creeping its way forward to extinguish the last rays of sunlight still shining over Oslo.

As it turned out, a thick blanket of clouds on our descent meant there was probably no sunset visible in Oslo that afternoon either. But up in the heavens, it was a different story. Day and Night are always running to new corners of the earth, always chasing after one another but never quite able to catch up to each other.

The Pink Shadow

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It was twilight time when I arrived at my new accommodation just outside of Ivalo village on January 4th, 2015. I had two nights booked at a family-run property by the name of Guesthouse Husky. True to its name, there were about 150 huskies on the property. Being a dog lover, this was my idea of heaven and it turned out to be a fantastic stay.

About 1pm, I decided to brave the elements so I could meet some of the adorable husky puppies yapping playfully outside my room. Considering visibility was excellent, the temperature was not unbearable and I needed some exercise, I continued to walk around the property, shortly coming across a snowy road leading to my favourite sort of place- the unknown.

Wandering amongst the vast expanse of uninhabited forest, my attention was soon drawn to the horizon, where a faint, dusty pink light seemed to be kissing the tops of the trees. Seeing this hint of colour was a pleasant surprise and I quickly set off down the road, hoping to glimpse more at the bend. It felt like I was chasing an elusive fading shadow and this snapshot was the best I could manage.

Afterwards, I just stood in the middle of the road for a while to appreciate the stillness and silence. Occasionally, a slight wind would echo through the forest, brushing snow off the trees and sending it adrift in the air.

This is a land of extremes, the border of one of the great wildernesses of the world. Yet the pale light of twilight also made it feel fragile and new. I felt that if I waited long enough, that dusty haze on the horizon would turn into fire. In reality, the day never did quite dawn. It faded before it had ever truly begun. Perhaps it is why this corner of the earth still feels so unspoiled. Long may it stay that way.

The Twilight Hour(s) [Part 2]

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It took me 40 hours to get to Ivalo, Finland. The journey started on New Year’s Day 2015 and involved four flights, including a six and a half hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Berlin seated next to the worst passenger I’d ever encountered in over a decade of flying.

When I finally got to my accommodation, I was exhausted beyond measure. I have no trouble sleeping on planes but I hadn’t been able to rest much at all this time around. (Being seated next to the Worst.Passenger.Ever obviously didn’t help.)

It’s safe to say stretching out in my bed at Hotelli Ivalo was the most glorious feeling ever and I had an epic 13 hour sleep. When I woke up at 9.45am on January 3rd, I was surprised that the world outside my window was nowhere near as dark as I’d anticipated it would be, given the sun would not be rising for another six days.

I had no grand plans to do anything that day and actually ended up just relaxing in my room and observing the twilight hours. Having just come from Perth, where we were in the middle of summer and experiencing 14 hours of sunlight a day, it was a very interesting ‘day’ adjusting to the phenomenon of polar night.

This particular collage shows the progression of twilight into night. The top picture, looking out over the frozen Ivalo River, was taken around 12.30pm, the ‘lightest’ time of the day. The smaller pictures were taken at 2pm, 3pm and 4pm. As you can see, by about 3pm, it was pretty much back to black.

All in all, there were a solid four hours where there was enough light to ensure you didn’t feel as though you’d spent the whole ‘day’ in perpetual darkness. Just enough to prevent cabin fever, I’d say 😛

The Twilight Hour(s) [Part 1]

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In my quest to see the Northern Lights, I started off the year 2015 by visiting Ivalo, a little village in the Lapland region of Finland with a population of about 4000 people. Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland and is situated in the Arctic Circle, a part of the world where the sun remains below the horizon for a lengthy amount of time in the winter. When I visited two years ago, the sun had last set on December 3rd, 2014 and would not rise again until January 9th, 2015.

I was aware before arriving here that my four night stay in this town would be spent in polar night. I had also read that a certain amount of light filters through around noon during the ‘civil twilight’ hour. (In fact, many places within the Arctic Circle experience more twilight hours than equatorial regions.) Yet, it took me quite by surprise when I opened my curtains at 10am and saw just how ‘light’ it actually was outside. It seemed like just another grey, overcast winter’s day. I wasn’t going to be living in pitch blackness like I’d imagined after all.

It just goes to show you can never quite know what to expect of certain things until you experience them for yourself!

 

The Emerald Ribbon

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Yesterday marked two years since I saw the Northern Lights for the first time. I remember it was about 5pm when one of the staff at the guesthouse where I was staying knocked on my door to inform me the lights were putting on a show. I’d been working on my laptop and was somewhat surprised by the early display- not that I was complaining! I quickly got dressed in my layers and rushed outside, camera in hand, ready to capture the magic- only to discover I’d left my memory card in my laptop. Hence, I have no photos of the spectacular sky that night, though the dancing heavens left such an imprint on my mind that the memory of it will never fade regardless.

The next day was very cold but the sky was clear- a promising sign for another light show that night. My wish was granted around 9pm, when a rippled green ribbon broke through the darkness and curled its way through the midnight sky. The display was a lot fainter than the previous night, the final remnants of a dying solar storm. Emerald wisps would glimmer and glow, then disappear to leave only whispered memories of magic and mystery. It was not a long display and though I kept a lookout for the next few hours, there was no encore performance.

Although this display was nowhere near as intense as my first aurora viewing, it was still beautiful in its own way. Indeed, this is part of the magic of the Northern Lights- you never quite know what you’re going to get. Plus this time, I’d been able to capture a few photos which I was very thankful for because, despite going on to continue my chase in Norway and Sweden afterwards, and then Iceland later in the year, the weather gods never granted me another viewing and I haven’t seen another aurora since this day.

The Northern Lights are the most beautiful and mysterious thing I will ever see in my life, and the only thing that could ever make me want to leave my bed and go outside on a -30 degree night. Many people regard them as a bucket list item, and rightly so, but for me, seeing them once, then twice, is not enough. Once you have seen them, a part of their magic stays with you forever and I dearly hope I will yet see them again one day.