Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chillin' in Nellim

Those of you, my loyal readers who've been paying attention, will recall our visit last February to the 'World Capital of Bleak', Iceland.(if you need reminding click this <link>) Those of you least prone to Alzheimer's may recall that although the 'Jeeping across the glacier' and the 'Freezing cold scuba' were great experiences, the primary goal of the trip, to view the Aurora, failed to materialise. Iceland apparently had a great display on one of the nights we were there, unfortunately that coincided with our overnight stop at the top of a mountain, in a hut, in a frozen huddle, in a blizzard, with zero-visibility and a distinct absence of enjoyment from herself. 

In fairness, as our wheels touched down on Gatwick's hallowed tarmac her ladyship was immediately on the case and had, almost before our baggage cleared customs, booked us a week in the very,very,very North of Finland, well within the Arctic circle, surrounded by snow, pines, reindeer, Russians, Lapps, wolves and bear, in short, probably the best Aurora spotting place in the known world. She's a star. 

Early March and with bags full of thermal underwear, (sorry no photos of that) we fled the chilly Surrey spring for the icy hell that is Helsinki, enjoyed a fairly liquid transfer wait in the exec lounge then bundled onto a flight with some of the most warmly wrapped airline passengers I've ever seen for the 90 minute hop to Ivalo. 

We were en-baggaged and taxi-fied then set off for the hour drive to our hotel, the delightful Wilderness lodge in Nellim, a thriving metropolis supporting a population peaking around 150 people on the shores of Lake Inari and a few km from the Barents Sea and the Russian border. We knew this was going to be a great trip when the taxi driver pulled up in the woods and invited us to join him outside the bus for a fag (him) and a first view of the Aurora Borealis (us). We discovered that the lights are rarely are as vivid as photos show, (insert scientific explanation here) but frankly, seeing the aurora before even arriving at the hotel meant we started the holiday with a sense of achievement and a lack of tension, we were on a high which never really went away. 

The hotel, the Wilderness lodge, has a central building for feeding and organising, some rooms, more in a couple of separate blocks and for a few lucky early-bookers, like ourselves, cabins in the grounds. We found that we'd scored a self contained cabin with our own sauna, fireplace and (not used except for a cuppa or two) kitchen. 

The regular and substantial buffet meals were all that one could ask, they were substantial, filling, very palatable and with plenty of choice. To generations of UK citizens (raised on horse-meat) reindeer is a pleasant low fat alternative. Inevitably (as I fell giggling from my February no-drinking regime) wine and beer were very expensive and it would have been nice to keep Mrs Stuffy out of the souvenir/arctic-clothing-supplement shop. Despite being supplied by the hotel with more than adequate cold weather gear she still managed to buy hats, gloves and more hats, and some gloves, and some chocolate, some biscuits and some gloves, and a scarf, and gloves. 

Part of the appeal of this trip for me was the almost relentless activity, it's a full-on very active holiday, snowmobiling one day to visit reindeer herders, fish through the ice, snowshoe around the woods for four hours, cross country skiing and driving huskies across a frozen lake. Every evening after supper we'd garb ourselves in layer after layer after layer and trudge, mush or skidoo our ways to a variety of campsites where we'd invariably be entertained by fabulous aerial displays of incandescent solar flare activity while our Sami guides prepared very necessary fires to thaw our frigid toes and fingers. Sleep, in the brief intervals between mushing and noshing came quickly and deeply.

I had two real highlights, the Huskies were enormous fun, desperate to run and a joy to guide across the lakes but also delightfully flatulent at just the right level for my lovely wife bundled in the sled at the perfect dog-vent height.

Secondly,one evening, Julie chose to be sledded to a camp on the lake rather than snowmobiling with me to the woods. Result! boy-time on the snowmobiles!!!!. This led to an excruciatingly cold but delightful 30 minutes where I found myself all alone on my snowmobile at the very top of a hill in an arctic forest whilst our guide and the rest of the group extricated the remainder of our team of unlucky pilots from the bushes and snow where they'd inadvertently parked the machines at the bottom of the hill. 

I enjoyed an exclusive, private, silent, skylit display, it was enchanting and it kept me smiling for days, and occasionally, it still does.

Would I recommend this trip? They've plans to expand the accomodation and I (le misanthrope) enjoy the relative intimacy of small groups and rare silence. Next year is supposed to be awesome as a result of serious solar activity, so go soon, before all of Japan arrives and asks you why you're sitting quietly looking at the sky instead of squealing like a colony of rockhopper penguins on speed and creating more light with your assorted electronics than that appearing magically in the absolutely glorious night sky.

Seriously, go soon... 

There's a video here, click on the old fool with the husky, please make allowances, we weren't really bothered about photos and so didn't take the  tripod that's needed to take high quality photos of the lights.

Really, book now... 

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At 7:20 am, Blogger IzinSing said...

I am so, so jealous! I would like to,counter with our trip to Myanmar, but I haven't blogged it yet. I lived for 15 years in Aberdeen and never saw the lights once. Next year is my year!


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