As I stretched my arms out to welcome the morning, the moon greeted me. It was almost 8am and the sun had not quite risen. Morning dew covered the top of the glass igloo roof, an indication today was to be colder than yesterday. The ground was crunchy and the air was chill as I meandered down the dirt path, over the bridge, around the lake, and up the dirt road to the lodge for breakfast. The buffet barely touched as it seemed to be a slow start this morning. Trying to eat a little bit of everything in an attempt to fill completely for lunch, I devoured plate after plate after bowl after bowl of goodness.
Two of the people I had met the night before at dinner joined me for breakfast, one was living in Germany the other in Wisconsin. Here we were united in the north of Finland for the same goal of seeing the northern lights in the comforts of a heated glass igloo. When we started discussing what was North versus South based on the direction of the sunset from 30,000 feet on the flight the prior night as compared to where we were in relation to the airport, I should have known I’d met another INTJ. It wasn’t until later in the discussion that indeed, that was revealed to be the case.
This morning we decided to take one of the hiking trails from the resort through the nearby tundra. Yesterday was relatively warm, enough so I removed all my layers down to just my down vest, so today I set off without my hat and with just my ‘light’ winter gear. An hour as the snow flakes started to fall and my hands started to lose feeling, it was apparent today was colder than yesterday. We were going in the direction of what on the map was marked like a town on a trail we believed to be ‘the’ trail. After crossing a few marshes and jumping rocks to cross insanely cold streams, we realized this was not ‘the’ trail.
When we finally caught up with ‘the’ trail, we managed to find another hiker from the resort, also living in Germany. She had solid hiking gear with proper shoes and hiking poles. I on the other hand in my attempt to fit 40 some days of multiple climates and experiences into one carry on, had to make do in my Born boots that I’ve been wearing every day for the past 17 days (and will continue to wear for the next 15 or so until the Hawaii portion of the trip). After the first marsh crossing the water had got through my boots and my socks were soaking wet allowing my toes to grow numb.
A couple hours later we approached the town that was marked on the map to find out it was closed for the season. This was a little before the shoulder season, which starts mid-November. The hotel, the hostel, the restaurant, the cafeteria, everything – closed. Our freezing cold fingers were so ready for some warmth, our feet ready for a break, and our tummies ready to get filled, we were sorely disappointed. The sun never came out from behind the clouds and laid so low in the sky it was often lost somewhere on the horizon.
The four of us decided it was time to head back, the snow had started to pick up pace and had moved from tiny flakes to full on thick heavy flakes. The temperatures were around freezing and our extremities were reaching their limits. The walk back started at a pace we felt was faster, though once we saw the reindeer in the distance we just had to stop and take a gander. Too far for any good photographs because they were hidden amongst the pine trees, though it didn’t stop us from gawking a bit and hoping for a closer shot. The snow broke for a bit and then hit again, heavy and thick, before breaking a final time and like a miracle the clouds scattered and the sky was a solid blue.
Each time I took my hand out of the gloves to translate a Finnish warning sign on the trail, I was reminded they were near frostbit. I could barely feel them and they could barely type, shaking, and hardly functional. A few of the signs had words even Google didn’t know, we carried forward assuming it couldn’t be that bad, right? Our desire to get warm was far greater than the risk it seemed we were taking on by walking down the ‘blah prohibited blah’ path. Another 30 minutes or so later we reached the resort.
Not knowing if the hot water would be too much of a shock to my frozen, numb, barely functioning hands, I figured wrapping them in my fur hat was the best option and trying to get enough movement to circulate enough so that I could take my boots off. Who would have known how much dexterity is needed to unzip and remove boots. This was a great early indicator that my gloves were not sufficient for Siberia or Mongolia and I will need to beef up when I get to Russia. Thicker socks might be on the shopping list as well!
Back at the dining hall I found my favorite table in the corner with the window – just in case the northern lights appear during dinner! – this time getting a place setting for four. Everyone is excited as tonight is the night for the best chance of seeing the northern lights in over a week. The sky is covered with clouds so unless they disappear they will shied us from seeing the beautifulness the sky is prepared to deliver to us tonight. I have perfectly rationed my bottle of wine from the first night to have exactly a third left to consume tonight.
Just before dinner started they lit the fireplace with the smell of burning wood and smoke filling the air. After a super cold day, there was no scent more appealing than that of heat. We started with some salad, which despite having hoped for a warm soup like the prior nights, I was excited for some vegetables. After finishing our starters, they served us a delicious beef steak (thinking maybe flank cut?) with potatoes-au-gratin, my favorite! The dessert was a raspberry mouse layers of sorts and although I have no idea how to describe it, it was indeed delicious. Plenty filling and the perfect meal after a cold long hike.
We chatted and laughed and had a lovely time finishing off our bottles of wine and learning about each other. In hopes of seeing the northern lights, we migrated to the bar area downstairs to play a game of adventure. The board game was clearly made for this region as it was a map of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland and the goal was to visit every country’s key destination. Even the little town the igloos were in was on the map! It was in 8 different languages, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game in so many languages – there were two sets of everything (one with four languages and one with the other four). Wild.
Once the kp index started to show likelihood of northern lights we scurried back to our igloos to wait for the wonder of the night to appear. There was something bright and green on the horizon that twinkled a few times over the course of the hour, but the clouds were thick and there was little getting through. Fingers crossed it will improve as the night goes on!