Cosmic light extravaganza in the Arctic atmosphere
By DON LYONS
THANKS to very good travel connections, you can land in Vancouver one day and be on a plane the next to the Yukon or the Northwest Territories (NWT) - two of the most remote regions in Canada.
Once you get to either Whitehorse or Yellowknife, the respective capitals of the two regions, it is easy enough to rent a car and tour around the Arctic on your own. While the road network is not as extensive as in the rest of the country, motor travel provides the best, the easiest and the fastest introduction to the beauty, the vastness and the grandeur of the Arctic.
For those with a yen to get completely lost in the vastness of it all, it is possible to sign on with any number of regional or local airlines and tour companies located in northern British Columbia, Whitehorse and Yellowknife who specialise in exotic travel packages.
They will fly you to a remote fishing and hunting lodge run by experienced travel guides. These lodges are usually located on the edge of some remote lake in the middle of nowhere, hundreds if not thousands of miles from civilisation.
But don't despair. The fishing is great, the guides are friendly and, most of all, experienced in survival techniques. And they provide all the basic amenities that you would need to make your vacation a pleasant one. They almost always have day-to-day short-wave radio contact with civilisation, so it is easy to get help should any accident happen.
Whether you are staying in one of these remote camps or in a hotel in one of the hundreds of towns that dot the Arctic, or roughing it in a camper van, your first inkling that you have entered into a brand new world will come on your first night in the Arctic. You will have a chance to experience the universe as you have never seen it before.
Look out your window, grab a lawn chair and race for a good seat (there are no bad seats in this house) because the best light show in the world is about to take place. It makes Hong Kong's Lunar New Year fireworks display look like a damp squid.
It is called the Northern Lights - a quirky atmospheric happening as old as time - that has left locals and travellers gaping in awe and wonderment, trying to unravel this mystery of this cosmic happening.
But who really needs to explain wonderment. Think of Stephen Speilberg's movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when the alien spaceship beings its descent on to the plateau and you get a feeling of the excitement and the sheer magnitude of the event you are witnessing.
As darkness falls, the sky, as far as they eye can see, becomes a swirl of ever-changing hues of blue, green, reds, oranges, yellows, whites and just about every other colour imaginable. The whole sky is pulsating, the colours ebbing and flowing.
The universe seems literally lit up with this phantasmagoric undulating array of colour.
And this cosmic light show goes for hour after cosmic pulsating hour. Every few minutes, you will find yourself exclaiming in breath-taking wonderment at this, one of the ''Greatest Shows on Earth''.
One can only imagine the awe with which the indigenous people of the Arctic and the first settlers witnessed the Northern Lights. While today, we have a very simple explanation for this meteorological phenomenon, nothing can take away from its awe-inspiring and transcendent beauty.