Woke up today feeling like we did at the end of our South Africa expedition last year – just plain damn tired. This is what happens when you’re trying to seeing the Northern lights at night and then using what daylight there is to do something during the day. In Africa it was getting up at 4am to see the animals – you just have to sleep when you can because at the moment when you are doing things you’re too excited to realise how tired you actually are. It’s only when you stop does the fatigue hit you. Luckily for us we have a long plane trip in a couple of days and a chance to sleep off the hours whilst flying. Today there is only a day expedition planned and then a chance to get back to the cabin and rest up (unless there is another massive light show tonight!)
We headed off at 9am ready for our husky ride in the Arctic. We were a little hesitant as other tourists had done it at the place we went to yesterday and came back with concerns about the way the dogs were treated and also the fact that the sleds were incredibly hard to control and people ended up falling out of them. Armed with this knowledge we did not anticipate an easy time but figured that it was one of those things you have to do when in the Arctic. We met our guide’s wife, Hege, at the supermarket which saved us having to go into Tromso itself. This gave us an additional half an hour in the morning but also made the trip to their house a little shorter. Upon arrival, there were the sound of dogs (97 of them) howling like wolves in a chorus that rang out over the fjord and into the mountains. One thing about Norway, unless you are in town you can be miles from anyone and this becomes beneficial when you are sharing the space with a lot of dogs as your neighbours.
Immediately Hege gave us our thermal suits which has become the norm with all the activities that we have done. She then said that we could go and say hi to the dogs. This was already different to last night where no-one was allowed near the dogs unless there was a guide present. Some dogs were attached to chains and sleeping or standing outside little timber boxes that were their kennels. A number of the kennels were surrounded by snow insulating and protecting them from the wind and any potential rain. They were extremely friendly and all the dogs had their names placed on plaques at the top of the kennels. There were interesting names such as Daiquiri, Vodka, Hangover (maybe a sign of what you do when it gets really cold) and then others with names such as Luca meaning lucky. The other dogs were already hooked up in formation ready to take us tourists out on an expedition into the snow.
What struck us was that the owners (Hege and Per Thore or PT) were very friendly with their dogs, knew all of them and were keen to pat them when possible. The dogs also seemed to look up to PT getting excited when he went near them or moved towards his sled as if the dogs knew it was almost time to go.
With instructions on how to operate the sleds completed, we were placed into pairs with Philip and I on one sleigh and Claire getting to go up front with PT. It was then off! It is incredible how fast these dogs can go although Claire was told by PT that she was a hoon. This being the second activity where she had been given that advice. They are not massive dogs being Alaskan Hukkies – I suppose the size of Ellie but much leaner.
Therefore the six dogs pulling Philip and I were given quite a task. On the flat it was fine but going up hill the dogs were like six feather weights trying to move two sumo wrestlers. Coupled with this if you were the driver you needed to assist the dogs by pushing off the snow yourself in a skateboard motion. I’m not sure who struggled more the six dogs or Philip (he says it’s cos the hill was a big one!) but eventually they decided to swap two dogs ŵith another two dogs saying that the first dogs were getting old. We did the same giving Philip a break as I became the driver going uphill.
The dogs generally love it though. When put together as a group of six, they motor along the snow with seemingly ease; even looking around themselves at the scenery or managing to “poop” whilst running at full steam.
The route took us up a mountain and as we did so an incredible pink and red glow emanated from the horizon. Whilst the sun has not yet risen here and won’t do so until the 23rd January (and then only for about a minute), the sun reflecting off the clouds created what looked like the most amazing sun set (and yet it was only 12 noon). This coupled with the fact that we were looking down into a major fjord, looking across at snow capped mountains and sledding through crisp white snow made for an incredible sight, and one that we continue to find hard to fully absorb.
I’ve said a number of times on this trip that places are incredibly beautiful – this is another one! It’s natural beauty and expanse coupled with the crisp, fresh landscape make it something so completely different to where we live. Houses are few except for in Tromso proper and are either a pale yellow, pale grey, white or rust red exterior. As it is so dark and there are few lights outside of the town, people leave a multitude of interior and exterior lights on all the time so that others know where the houses are. They also adorn their houses with a huge number of what we would call Xmas lights and have interior xmas lights in the shape of trees, rainbows etc. It makes for a beautiful scene as the dark takes over.
Today steering our dogs through the terrain we also lost sight of what we were doing and at times our dogs would race up to the sled in front of us. It was then a matter of pushing on a metal brake which then dug into the snow and slowed the dogs enough that you could either stop or get some distance between the sleds.
We went for about an hour and half before returning back to the house, where there was a massive lavu to have chocolate cake and hot chocolate in. Gotta say the chocolate cake was pretty good. We haven’t eaten a lot here and sweet stuff is not high on the Norwegians priorities (unlike the Austrians) so something sweet and home made was devoured with relish.
After we had finished, we then headed into Tromso proper for what was our first chance to really look around town. Little did we know though that nothing opens on a Sunday… yep nothing… not restaurants, cafés (oh unless you’re after the true Norwegian feast…Burger King). So a little disappointed we headed back to the supermarket to purchase some additional groceries for dinner… hmm not open either.
Both Claire and Philip thought it was a ploy to save some money to spend later on. This wasn’t the intention but may turn out to be the case as we move towards South America. As it was we had enough supplies from our shopping expedition a few days earlier and therefore didn’t go hungry although a dirty great big hamburger (or in Philip’s case a dirty great big piece of steak) would be kinda nice.
Tonight was about tidying up and packing. We decided to see if we could see the Aurora from the cabin rather than go out. The thing with the Northern Lights is that it becomes very addictive. Everybody including all the guides talk about how the first night we were here it was a 10/10 night and that you only get one or two of them a season – lucky us! So after getting the rush on the first night you go in search night after night for the same rush; knowing all too well that we were lucky to see it to that degree at all. When coming here we were just hoping to catch a glimpse and out of the five nights we have had one amazing show, one very good show and a couple of average ones; a really fabulous strike rate given what could have been.
So in seeking the next rush you sit looking out the window of the cabin watching the night sky. Hot chocolate made and Oreos for dunking. Lights off so you see the sky and candles shimmering in the dark. All around you is quiet as you look for signs of the sky changing. Each night has been so different for us, from sitting in the snow in various locations eating quantities of fish soup, reindeer soup and vegetable soup to getting our high from the isolation of our cabin deck. Each place we have left we have longed for just one more day…for this place we’d love a couple more than that.