When a hobby became a passion
By Joseph B. Bantolo, Norway
I came to Kirkenes 20 years ago, late spring of April 2002 when the midnight sun was just starting to shine the entire day. We lived in a rented apartment beside the hospital where my wife, a nurse who came three years earlier, works. Our living room has two glass walls looking out to “Bøkfjord”. My first six weeks were amazing and challenging, as if I was on another planet where the sun never sets, with 24 hours daylight.
Then came wintertime, three months of darkness and freezing cold weather. I could not forget my first winter out in the snow besides the hill where we lived with minus 15 degrees clear winter skies that November night, and Aurora Borealis first appeared. The intensity and brilliance were so strong, I felt goosebumps in my whole body. I was magnetized, could not move, and froze right on my feet but extremely excited that this curtain of wonderful green lights waving above me so magically are made by a Heavenly Creator. I thought how this wonderful scene can reach around the world. I began to research and learn more about the northern lights, it took me years of hard work, save and dream that one day I can take pictures of this wonderful phenomenon.
It took five years until I got my first DSLR camera, a Nikon D70. In mid December 2006, I had my first picture of the aurora. I was enormously proud that I have captured it at last. This drove my interest to learn and study more about the aurora and best time to hunt it. Factors to consider: weather, temperature, phases of the moon. The auroras are more active before and after a full moon. And I always have this magical connection, that “tonight, Aurora will appear”.
Since 2005, when friends came to visit especially in winter months, I brought them around Kirkenes and neighbouring towns; sometimes we travel up to the Lapland area of Finland, to hunt and experience these magnificent wonders of creation.
Hunting the northern lights can be challenging and time consuming. The Arctic regions of the Nordic countries, Finland, Norway, north Sweden and Iceland, are the best places to hunt and experience viewing the aurora borealis. Russia is also a suitable place especially the northern places and parts of Siberia. This also appears in some parts of Canada, Alaska and Greenland. The south pole has also the Aurora Australis.
Some friends visiting us are lucky because aurora appears right above our home in Kirkenes, when they step out of our doorsteps, it is there waving at them. Friends from various places contact me especially in wintertime, that they need help to view the auroras. Some are not lucky but most got a glimpse of the show. Philippine Embassy officials in Oslo were here last winter and lucky that Aurora appeared on their first night. Former Philippine Ambassador to Norway was on official exit visit and spent her winter experience hunting the famous northern lights. A group of 24 pilgrims from Oslo visited Kirkenes and the Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila chapel recently and were amazed and happy to see the magic with their naked eye, how aurora borealis dances and changes colours from green, red, yellow, and purple.
It takes around two hours to properly experience the excitement as long as there is a strong solar CME (corona mass ejection). Join my FB group, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/764349337387205). This is for all Filipinos around the globe who like to experience and hunt the northern lights. The best months and time are between the last week of September to the last week of March. The weather is a principal factor in viewing and hunting the auroras. If the weather will not cooperate, I must sometimes travel and bring them outside Kirkenes and find suitable clear skies. The temperature can be incredibly challenging because it drops fast and can go down to minus 25 degrees or more during the hunting time. We can start around 6:00 pm up to midnight, transportation is sometimes necessary, proper warm clothing a must.
The counties of Norland, Troms, Finnmark and Svalbard or Longyearbyen are the best suitable places in Norway to hunt the northern lights. Kirkenes is a small town on the boundaries of Norway, Finland and Russia. In Finnmark the towns of Alta, Kautokeino, Karasjokk, Hammerfest and Kirkenes are the most visited places to hunt and see the northern lights. Kirkenes is sometimes called the melting pot of east Finnmark because different people meet here and interact with each other. It is blending place of different races and cultures, an old former mining town from the early 1900s, people from various places flock in to work at the mine.
Kirkenes has a history rich in races and different cultures. The community is called Sør- Varanger, the fjord opens to the Barents Sea around different towns and part of east Finnmark. The natives were originally the Sami people who live in different small places around the community and were fishers and reindeer live stockers. Earlier migrating settlers were Finnish, Russian and people living around the vicinity of Finnmark but in late 1800s people from the south of Norway came and developed the town, Kirkenes- now the economic centre of Sør- Varanger. Kirkenes has an international airport, it is also the last port of destination of the famous Hurtigruten coastal cruise travel, a six-day tour along the coastal towns of Norway from Bergen in the south crossing through the Arctic Circle to the northeast town of Kirkenes with a cruise ship. In wintertime there is possibility that you can view the auroras right on the deck of the ship while sailing along the coastal channels and fjords.
Arctic Nordic Adventures. Winter activities are mostly derived from the traditional culture of the Sami people: dog or reindeer sledge, ice fishing, skiing and winter fireball in the wild while viewing the auroras. In the winter cottage adventure, you can experience the native winter bath, “dampbad”, a sauna where the water in the pool is heated but outside there is an open space. People soak in the pool then run or roll over the snow and back to the pool. Some exchange stories and drink wine or beer while viewing the auroras. Aside from traditional skiing and outing we also have the modernized way to travel through ice and snow by using the snowmobile. From February until April people are more active because the sun begins to appear again after almost two months of total darkness.
We have two big hotels, Thon and Scandic Hotels, and small budget hotels. The Kirkenes Snow hotel is a great alternative and can be reached online. We have a local filipino-owned restaurant, https://www.facebook.com/BangkokRestaurantogTakeaway.
For group tours/luxury van, https://www.facebook.com/vipkirkenes these are our Filipino pride of special services for your winter, summer, or Arctic Nordic adventures. We can arrange group tours, and a suitable plan to match your interests and choices.
This hobby became a passion for me for life, as part of my advocacy of connecting people around the globe, the Auroras Borealis has been a part of this passion.
Contact me (https://www.facebook.com/JBoreales2015/) (https://www.facebook.com/groups/582378063023986) learn more tips and information on how to come and visit the Arctic regions of the Nordic countries.
Thank you, and please enjoy my photos.