Thursday, March 08, 2007

Alas poor Lapland.

Sitting here, Lapland coffees in hand the dulcet strains of the piano caressing our ears, we prepare our final overseas blog entry.

First of all we must apologise. Holly lost her leg of the bare knuckle brawl for the single Internet connected computer at the hotel, and as a result we were unable to bring you an update to yesterdays entry. So here it is (better late than never):

After posting yesterday's entry we set off for some cross country skiing. Buoyed by our earlier successes we decided to spread our wings a little and set off on the medium difficulty "nature trail" (that's "nature" not "naturist"...). Even before reaching the trail we were rewarded with the nature - not a naked Finn, but a naked male and female Reindeer at the side of the track.

We pressed on to the nature track which turned out to be a narrow path with ski tracks winding through the forest. The scenery was beautiful, and with the narrower tracks you got a much more intimate experience. Sadly we didn't see any more nature (although there were plenty of "natural traces" scattered across the tracks...).

We arrived back at the Hotel just in time to catch lunch - today was chicken soup followed by a coffee, some liquorice sweets and a big bar of chocolate (which we didn't eat all at once). Well, we needed to keep our strength up...

We then received the key to our 5 man cabin. It was the furthest away from the Hotel ... blah blah winter wonderland ... blah blah Narnia ... It's hard not to repeat ourselves, but it was just magical and wonderful and perfect. It has a kitchen, dining area, lounge with a huge fireplace, bedroom with bunk beds, shower room, and a master double bedroom with an en-suite bathroom AND SAUNA! Wow. So we made immediate use of the sauna (once it had warmed up), had a nap and then got ready for an early dinner at 18:00 (Russian soup with olives, baked perch with veg and fruits of the forest mousse). We had to go for the early dinner this evening because at 20:30 we were off out again...

And so 20:30 rolls around, the roll-call is called and we're off on our snowmobile powered Northern Lights expedition. A taxi drove us to a nearby town where a car-park full of snowmobiles was waiting. We got changed in to snow suits and crash helmets, had a quick lesson (thumb lever on right = accelerate, handle on left = brake) and set off in to the night. I drove first, winding our way along snowy tracks towards the highest darkest point in the local area. The couple in front were the slowest slowcoaches in the world, but despite their best efforts we made it to the viewing point in one piece. To our surprise, despite the clouds we saw the sky lit up to the north. It turned out to be Ivalo Airport, but I'm not fussy - light in the sky in the arctic, good enough for me!

We continued on to a lappish tent in the wilderness, where our guide impressed us with his woodsmanship and whipped up a couple of feather sticks (pine logs skilfully cut with a knife so they can be lit with a single match) and quickly produced a roaring fire. On this he warmed up some "brutal" coffee and handed round some ham and cheese sandwiches (only our fourth meal of the day).

After this short (but very cosy) break we set of back for home. This time Holly drove, and despite the driver in front's best efforts to lose the leader due to his lack of pace (and to kill us all on the downhill sections with a combination of mad swerving and erratic braking) my new wife's skillful handling of the throbbing machine got us back safely.

We got a taxi back to Kakslautannen, where we trudged back to our cabin and settled in for the night. A good night's sleep was required because we had an early start the next morning...

Breakfast the next day was a quick and functional affair as we awaited the pick-up for the Husky safari. A quick taxi ride down the road and we were at the Husky farm. The guide suggested that those without proper clothing (i.e. everyone apart from us!) should get some extra coveralls and warm shoes.

We then had a quick driving lesson (stand on the runners to go, stand on the brake to stop, don't fall off) and wandered through the bedlam that was a hundred happy huskies in the farm. We came to our team, straining at their harnesses ready to go, gave them a few quick strokes, got on the sledge and we were off. Although the two humans on our sleigh had no idea what they were doing, the five canines were old hands and set off along the trail with no guidance from us at the back. I drove first through the beautiful Narnia-esque winter wonderland (sorry - if you have any better way of describing it let me know). We stopped for rests every now and again when the dogs got tired (it should be noted however that toilet duties were performed en-route with hardly a break in stride).

After 45 minutes or so it was time to stop for lunch. Our Husky guide showed himself to be every bit as good a woodsman as our snowmobile guide had been and a few minutes later some feather-sticks were burning away and a roaring fire was growing in the fireplace of another lappish dwelling (this one a more substantial winter hut, but built to the same design as last night's tent). He prepared us a lunch of hot berry juice and frankfurter soup followed by coffee and traditional Finnish cinnamon sugared bread. At this point Holly decided to brave our most dangerous challenge yet - the Lappish toilet.

After a very entertaining and informative chat with our guide (who was a really nice guy) we headed back to the sledge and I took up the passive role, while Holly took over the reins (except there weren't any reins - just a brake). Our original team having been swiped we introduced ourselves to another group of happy Huskies, who promptly got over excited and tangled up their harnesses - can you blame them? In a last ditch attempt at freedom, one of them gnawed through half his harness in between his wild acrobatic jumps (we later learnt that to avoid fights he had to be put in an all girl team as he could get a bit boisterous). Having been assured that this was nothing to worry about, we were released and set off for home. My beautiful and accomplished driver handled the dogs like a pro, coping well with events such as "stopping mid-run for a poo" and "not starting when we want to go".

We shortly arrived back and had a quick look at the puppies (who stole a glove clean off my hand and only gave it back very reluctantly) and then returned to base. We had hot chocolate with a cake in the bar and, inspired by the fire-lighting skills we had seen over the last 24 hours, I bought a knife (with a sparking stick included) and some firewood and set off back to the cabin. Four feather sticks and one match later we had a real roaring fire going (and the smoke alarm - I think the fire was a bit too roaring for the little fire place). Holly had a nap, and then we set off for our moonlit round-trip cross-country ski expedition. This was the first time we actually did a full circuit, rather than going and coming back along the same path.

Of course nothing can be easy or simple for us, and one of my skis started freezing up - picking up ice and snow on the underside so that it didn't run properly. However, this only meant a few stops to clean it off, and undeterred we completed our 4 mile trek with skill and speed and arrived back at the Hotel in time for dinner at 8pm (smoked salmon salad, pan-fried pork steaks with cognac and cranberry sauce and potatoes in cream, topped off with pancakes and jam). As it was our last night we treated ourselves to a bottle of Finnish "Champagne" flavoured with a hint of cloudberry - actually pretty good!

And so we bid you adieu from Finland. We catch our taxi back to Ivalo tomorrow at 11:20 and should be back at Stansted by 19:30. No more honeymoon. Poop.

However, we plan to drag every last scrap out of what little time we have left, so it's a ski back to the cabin now for more fire making and a sauna!

Catch you later,

The last-night-of-honeymooners


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