A surprise adventure!
My husband had kept our trip to the Arctic a secret from me for a long time. I was not allowed to look at the pile he was amassing on the spare bedroom bed and a friend had told me that she knew where we were going and a pedicure would be in order. Hmmm. Pedicure duly done and I found my first clue - wet wipes! Nervous now. Had envisaged camels, snorkels, galloping through water in Africa, off-piste skiing and cosy hidden-away hotel. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. Off to Stansted we went in winter woollies with rather a lot of luggage - I am normally rather good at travelling light. Hmmmm.
We spent a fabulous afternoon in Stockholm. It is a beautiful and regal city. Water flows everywhere, and in January, it is very cold. Full of families wrapped up against the cold outside, eating, drinking, listening to music and being stylish as is the Scandinavian way. We ate in an awesome restaurant which served state of the art 'scientifically prepared' food. Sounds stange but a quite excellent experience. Turbot wrapped in pig's cheek in what appeared to be amniotic fluid and yet tasted of heaven.
Lapland & the Arctic
Left annoyingly early to fly to Kiruna in Arctic Lapland. We flew over mile upon mile of Arctic tundra. Flew over Kiruna mine which was straight from a James Bond film. The light was like no other I have seen. Sparkling, sparkling blues and silvers. -25c and dropping and beautiful. We drove straight to Matt's set up. No hanging around. I swapped my relatively elegant mountain garb for many hairy undergarments, smelling only quite nice, topped off by an enormous baby style snowsuit and boots three sizes bigger than my own, to accommodate multi-socking, and huge fluffy reindeer hat. These were to remain firmly on for 95% of our trip.
Our new best friends
Siberian huskies are the ones you know about. Sweet faces, super-fluffy and blue, blue eyes. There they were in their kennels waiting for us. But what is this approaching? A four wheel drive truck pulling an interesting trailer. Inside are Alaskan racing huskies. A cross between alsatians and greyhounds. Uh-oh. Out steps Aasa, our guide. This is her hobby. She is an explosive expert in the mines in Kiruna. She's tough. We are with her and her Alaskan hounds. No warm-up. On your sledge and flying holding on for dear life because, if you fall off ""the dogs carry on til they die"". That's the way to learn.
Setting up camp
The day is ending - it's about three o'clock and the scenery is like nothing else. Pink sky and blue vastness turning to navy, and total night time in a matter of minutes. Quite the most dramatic and silencing scenery I have seen. We arrive in our camp and the evening chores begin. Cutting holes in the ice to collect water to heat the dog food. Water freezes faster than you can work. Boot camp stuff. Second lot of water is for the sauna. This is the 5% when you are not in the giant baby snowsuit. Surreal, sitting in a wooden shed in the steam with stars sparkling and the temperature dropping to -35 outside. Very quickly you become attached to your dogs, even with threatening names like Demon and Grim. They are your responsibility and their welfare comes before anything else.
Reindeer stew and berry panna cotta
Aasa is married to a Sami and the reindeer and the dogs are the most important things in their lives. We eat reindeer stew and lingonberry jelly. On our second night we are visited by Lillemor. In a true Moomin fashion, a small round beady eyed lady with a head torch appears from nowhere and without further ado cooks arctic char caught by her in an ice hole that day followed by fragrant panna cotta made from berries and wild herbs that she has foraged and dried in the summer months. She slips away into the night with a cheery wave and is gone. 'Did that just happen?' we ask ourselves. The following day the adrenalin is pumping harder than ever. There is something fantastic about moving at break speed in total and utter silence. The odd flying turd keeps one alert and ready to duck. We spend the following morning before we leave exploring Matt's empire on a ski-doo - fun but not nearly as exciting as the dogs. This was an intense few days. An adventure that roots itself in your heart. Much to savour and consider when returning to the bland, manic world we live in.