Where do you go when you’re battling winter flu? Above the Arctic circle of course
In the second week of January, Jo Ruocco woke at 2 am with a temperature of 104. I set about making chicken broth. Days later I was downed by the same vicious bacterial infection, still quaintly referred to as ‘the flu’. Well, at least we had something to look forward to.
‘I can’t wait to see the Arctic,’ Jo said, hacking up more phlegm – yellow this time instead of green. ‘And we need a good camera so we can capture the Northern Lights.’
Exciting as it was – the aurora borealis – I couldn’t help noticing that the bacterium horribilis had settled in for a long vacation – in my throat.
‘Shouldn’t we have booked the Canaries?’
‘Why do you say that?’
‘We need heat, we need sun!’
‘Come on Ali! It will do us good just to get away.’ Jo said.
‘You’re right,’ I said. ‘All that clean Arctic air will knock the socks off these germs.’
A few weeks later, armed with enough medication to set up a small clinic, we were on an early morning flight from Heathrow to Helsinki.
Finnair flight attendants are so calm, so stoic. Our constant demands for water, didn’t disturb them in the slightest. You get the impression that even if the plane were falling out of the sky, they would go around with complimentary tea, coffee, and blueberry juice. I have to say, it’s nice to get a free drink on an airplane ride these days. On the way back, we were transferred to British Airways, where you need a mortgage to buy a sandwich.
We had a four-hour layover at Helsinki. Finnair dropped us off at the short-haul terminal and took care of our onward luggage. This gave us time to saunter around in our thermal 30 jackets and Sorel snow boots, enjoying the sights and sounds of the well-heated terminal.
‘Have we landed in Japan?’ Jo asked.
Wiping the perspiration from my forehead I paid attention to my surroundings. Everywhere was Japanese, all shapes and sizes, young and old.
‘Maybe flights are cheap?’
‘I doubt it. It’s over 9 hours from Tokyo. Why are they wearing masks? Is there a bird flu epidemic?’
‘I guess it’s to prevent germs.’
‘Makes sense. Look at us. Walking flu-bombs.’
I read somewhere that some Japanese travellers don’t like dealing with strangers – hence the surgical masks. But hey, who knows.
The Finns are courteous people. Looking around the airport terminal, Jo and I saw leather recliners; rows of charging docks; comfy-cozy armchairs to curl in while you charge up your laptop or phone; and, if you don’t fancy queueing for a 5-euro latte at Starbucks, there’s a 2-euro coffee machine right next to the charging station. What other airport caters so well to couch potatoes? Heathrow take note! So, with almost four hours to waste, and not much to do, we figured we should eat.
We looked for places and saw a sophisticated bistro, a posh hot dog stand called The Gourmet Sausage Company, and the infamous Burger King – but we began drifting towards the Japanese, as you do. Eventually, they led us to Two Tigers, an authentic sushi and noodle joint, jam-packed with customers. We looked at the menu. Wonderful.
‘Not cheap,’ said Jo.
‘Two bowls of noodles and drink? 40 euros.’
‘Twice as much as a hot dog.’
What could be more nutritious than a bowl of Udon Kombu thick noodle seaweed soup, with shrimp and shiitake? We decided it was worth the money, and it certainly was.
We left Helsinki in a snow blizzard and arrived at Ivalo regional airport an hour and a half later. At 9 pm the tiny terminus was packed and our driver was waiting, holding up a sign for Kakslauttanen. All we had to do was fetch our bags from the belt. A group of French were collecting their endless ski equipment, which just kept coming, and one loud guy was in charge. At last, I squeezed past him to collect our bags, which actually showed up in less than five minutes – it just seemed to take forever watching that French character. The driver hustled us into the van, and in no time, we were on our way to the Saariselka region, cutting through the snow-covered wilderness of the Arctic Circle.
Kakslauttannen – a slice of paradise
Kakslauttannen Arctic Resort is 30 minutes drive from Ivalo, and has two villages, East and West. At 9.45 pm, our driver dropped us off at the East Village, and bid us goodnight. We stood in pin-drop silence, breathing the hygienic night air. The temperature was fifteen below zero. An oil-burning lamp flickered next to the hotel entrance, where we stood gazing at the tall pines dressed in their mantles of snow. Everything was picture postcard perfect.
The hotel was made of wood – wooden doors, carved wooden door handles, wooden walls, floors, ceilings – it felt like stepping back in time. A porter greeted us and took our bags inside the hotel, where the reception staff were very welcoming. Registration took around ten minutes, and then a charming clerk with a beaming smile handed us our key, and gave us our complimentary supper to eat back in the cabin.
Our log cabin was fantastic. We had a huge veranda facing a secluded stretch of forest. Inside, we had a kitchenette, private sauna, king-sized futon supported by a log frame, a rocking chair, and a traditional tulikivi soapstone fireplace. I ran my hand along the giant log walls, enjoying the silky smoothness of the wood. Some odd figures and symbols etched into the logs caught my eye. I thought I recognised a reindeer, but it was hard to tell. Still, we had more important things to think about.
We opened the styrofoam boxes containing our supper, and found a healthy, well-balanced meal of creamy mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, fresh lingonberry sauce, giant pickles, and chopped reindeer meat. The reindeer meat was a bit like beef, only leaner and more flavoursome.
In the Arctic wilderness, throughout the winter months, the reindeer was the Sami’s only source of nourishment … lots of omega acids … etc.
Nevertheless, you can’t help thinking about the poor animal.
I said to Jo, ‘I feel bad eating the reindeer, do you?’
‘Don’t you? I mean, it’s like eating Bambi.’
‘It’s more like venison,’ Jo said.
‘I’m only eating it once,’ I said.
‘It’s on our inclusive dinner menu,’ said Jo.
After supper, we unpacked our medications and spread them out on the desk in front of the window, lining them up in order of priority as follows:
- Benelyn cough syrup for nighttime
- Covonia cough syrup for daytime
- Sudafed day and night decongestants
- Amoxicillin max strength
- Penicillin max strength
- Ibuprofen max strength
- Throat lozenges
- Cough drops
- Ear drops
- Mucinex mucus suppressant
- Vics nose inhaler
- Vics rub
Satisfied, we undressed and got into bed, finding the futon to be hard, but very comfortable. When we laid our heads on the pillow, we were amazed by the complete hush all around, and we began drifting off to sleep.
Then of course, Jo had to ask, ‘are there are polar bears out in those woods?’
I thought about it. ‘Polars are further up.’
‘What about grizzlies?’
‘Uh uh, no grizzlies out here,’ I told her.
‘Are you sure? What about black bears then, or brown bears?’
‘Nope. They’re all in hibernation.’
We started off back to sleep.
Then Jo switched on the bedside light. She sat upright. ‘What’s that noise?’
‘Jesus Jo! You’re giving me the heebie-jeebies!’
‘Some kind of scratching sound? Just outside the door. Do you hear it?’
I listened. There was some sound, but I couldn’t identify it. ‘Don’t worry, the door is locked.’ I said.
I figured the cabin door had to be around 70 mm thick, with a secure locking system. Nothing could get in, not even a bear. We turned off the lamps again and lay awake in the dark, listening intently for more sounds, but all we heard was the impenetrable secrecy of the woods. The silence felt like a living presence. And then there was that eerie sensation of something outside looking in.
The following morning, we learned what was doing the scratching. Stay tuned for part two!
Part one of a four part series. To be continued …