Arctic Circle Adventure Part 3
This is the third entry in the Arctic Circle Adventure Series. You should probably go back and start at part 1.
December 19, 2022 Monday
We woke up ready for our first full day in Kakslauttanen. We made or way in the dark to breakfast where we quickly learned that the eggs were powdered and had an odd taste. Every day for breakfast after that I opted for granola and yogurt. And I think I ate approximately 48,000 croissants during this trip. After we fueled up we met in the lobby for our first excursion was a reindeer drawn sled drive.
We booked a sled that the both of us could sit in, and we sat very close to the ground. We learned about the reindeer, most notably that they do not like to be touched. I also learned that their snoots are adorable and all I wanted to do was give that snoot a smooch.
The other thing we learned, and I found this completely fascinating, is that ALL the reindeer in Finland are privately owned. They roam around like wild animals, but they are really somebody’s cattle. Every so often they get rounded up and checked on, but they largely just roam around. Kakslauttanen has their own reindeer, and pretty frequently one of the roaming reindeer will come by to say hi to them. It is illegal to shoot a reindeer because you aren’t allowed to shoot someone’s property.
Our sled was hitched to a reindeer. Then that reindeer’s lead was tied to the sled in front of him, and that sled was hitched to a reindeer. So basically we had a train of reindeer and sleds led by a woman walking beside the lead reindeer. As our reindeer walked we noticed a clicking noise in his feet, we learned later that this is a way that reindeer communicate. When the clicking sounds faster and sudden that is a sign that this reindeer is running from danger and the rest should run as well, for example.
After we walked a loop in the snow among the gorgeous snow laden pines, we came back to the paddock. We had the chance to feed our reindeer a special treat: moss. They love moss. In summer months moss is harvested from the trees for the reindeer to eat over the winter months.
We didn’t have another excursion planned until night time, and it was daylight, so we walked the campus the resort.
This is what our igloo village looks like in the day light.
We walked across the bridge over a frozen pond. Todd tormented me by walking out onto the ice. Walking out onto a frozen pond is terrifying to me. I have this recurring image in my mind of him falling through a massive crack in the ice. As he walked out on to the ice my heart raced. I hate it when he does that. Anyway.
There was a man with his son and a few sleds at the edge of the pond. There was a steep hill with a set of stairs, and the boy over and over scurried up the stairs and sledded down the hill. So then of course I needed to do it, and then so did Todd. Sledding as an adult is a bit more painful on the butt than when I was a kid.
We walked along the cabins on the other side of the resort. The cabins are half log cabin half igloo. So one whole wall was the igloo and I am guessing it’s the living room in the cabin that is in the igloo part. We kept walking up the hill, we saw a tower in the distance that we learned we could climb up inside. We didn’t bother to do that, but something even cooler happened. A group of about a half dozen or so reindeer wandered across the path right in front of us. We stopped to take a video and stood in awe as these roaming reindeer just sauntered right past us not at all in a hurry like the deer in New England would be.
The daylight was starting to fade, so we made our way back down the hill toward the main building. We were joking “Well, it’s sundown, time for lunch.” We went in and had some chicken soup with chicken nuggets and fries.
After lunch we had some time to kill and didn’t want to waste a second doing something like napping. We learned that there was a planetarium on campus and they had a movie that Kakslauttenen produced which was about the northern lights. With the overcast sky that day we were pessimistic about seeing the northern lights tonight and figured the next best thing would be to watch the show. We made our way over to the planetarium and had enough time to linger in the massive gift shop attached to the planetarium. It was part art gallery part gift shop and featured handicrafts by local Finnish artisans. So, let’s just say that many euros were spent and many Christmas gifts were purchased and leave it at that.
So, the northern lights movie. Let’s just say that the seats reclined back, the lights were dimmed, the narrator’s voice was very soothing, and I probably snored. And then we saw Jamie’s family as we were leaving.
After dinner we got to experience one of the absolute highlights of our time in Finland. I can truthfully say that a bucket list item was checked off, a dream achieved, all those cliches. It started with a snow tank ride.
Every time I try to tell someone about a snow tank they’re like, now what the heck is that? Have you seen the movie National Treasure? The one where Nicolas Cage is trying to find a treasure after his family had the clues for generations. In the beginning he goes somewhere in the Arctic in a snow tank to find “Charlotte.” That’s what this was. But the problem was this kind of vehicle was too small to take all of us tourists. So the tour guide, a man named Janna, literally made a passenger vehicle he could tow. He took a sprinter van and affixed it atop the tank tracks. Then he towed it with the kind of snow tank that Nick Cage drove in.
We rode in this van with a family from Brazil—oddly the same man and boy who we met sledding by the pond earlier in the day, and another family who was originally from Pennsylvania but were taking a break and living in Barcelona with two of their very cool daughters. (Turns out the dad was an immunology doctor and worked nonstop since 2020, as immunologists were impossibly busy during a pandemic.) Janna turned on some very bright lights out the sides of our tank so we could see the scenery go by as he navigated us over streams and rough terrain. The plan was to take us above the tree line, and then down into a valley where he has a campsite. We’d take a break and have warm drinks and cookies, and then hopefully see some northern lights.
As we climbed and the tree population grew thinner and thinner until eventually there were barely any I began to feel as though we’d driven his snow tank to Mars instead of a bald plateau in the Finnish wilderness.
His campsite was exceptionally cool, however. He pulled up to a wooden teepee that he and his friends had made themselves. There was no electricity so he lit candelabras and a fire in the center of the room. Over the fire he heated up a traditional fruit drink and served Finnish cookies that his mom had made. He talked about growing up on that land and playing Rambo with his friends there with such immense pride. And of course he should have felt proud, he is sharing land that her personally owns with us and I so wish I could have seen it during the day.
We left the surprising warmth of his teepee and went outside to see if we could possibly glimpse the northern lights. We had very little light pollution, the moon was out behind the clouds and we got a bit of light from that. We all trained our eyes on the sky and watched the clouds thin in certain spots and the starry sky peek through.
“There!” Janna pointed just over the roofline of the teepee.
“Where?” I asked. It just looked like more white clouds, only more wispy.
“I see it,” Todd pointed his phone at the sky and snapped a few pictures. He adjusted a few settings on his camera in his phone and clicked again and again. When he showed me the screen I couldn’t believe my eyes. On the screen were vivid green streaks across the sky above where we stood. I looked up at the sky then looked at his screen again.
“That makes no sense, we are not seeing that up there,” I pointed out. But I whipped out my own phone and took pictures anyway.
“You aren’t seeing the green?” he asked. “It’s not as bright as the picture, but there is definitely a bit of green there.” I didn’t see the bit of green in the sky. “You’re probably not seeing it as much because it’s still behind the clouds. But those are definitely northern lights.”
I wasn’t seeing the green. I joked with the woman from Pennsylvania about what Janna must have put into our drinks for us to think that we were seeing the northern lights.
Todd explained to me that my camera is more technologically capable of perceiving things quicker than my eyes are. And that’s why the northern lights look so vivid in my pictures than they do just observing them with my naked eye. I took a bunch of pictures and watched the white wispy things dissipate as quickly as they came on that Todd insisted he could see a green tinge. But then, back when that picture of the dress came out, remember that? The dress that broke the internet? Anyway, I saw white and gold when I looked at the picture and he saw it as blue.
We climbed back into the snow tank, talking about a bucket list item being checked off. I think I need to go somewhere and see them again without cloud cover to see if I can actually see the green. Janna drove us back, we got into our shuttle and headed back to Kakslauttenen.
We made the walk back to our igloo, the clouds had cleared and we still saw the white wisps streaking across the sky—that I saw as white but he saw as green. When we entered the igloo we heard a loud persistent beeping. The northern lights were going off. I turned to Todd and smiled at him happy that we got the chance to see the northern lights the night before his birthday.
Check out Arctic Circle Adventure Part 4 here.
BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.
added on 02.05.23