I felt like a kid again as we endured sweltering heat in the back of Peter’s little car, careening down the broken roadways of Uganda. You know what I mean – being so excited to go, then wondering if you will ever arrive. Getting out of Kampala alone was a trick; you must puzzle piece yourself through the stifling traffic. Sometimes this involves squeezing through a tiny slot and hoping the two cars converging on either side of you will stop.
Yes, I'd been to New York... State. My aunt, uncle, and cousins moved there, so my parents courageously packed four of us five children into their Chevrolet and drove one thousand miles--but that's another story. Decades later I had the opportunity of going to New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall (along with three hundred others). My choral group of thirty or so sold baked goods and conducted a huge garage sale to help keep costs down, but it was still a pretty good chunk of change.
Martin is an animated person, with warm and intelligent eyes the color of dark chocolate, and skin to match. During out pre-departure tour meeting at the hostel, he goes through the usual tour-guide stuff, - safety issues, a basic itinerary for the next few days and what we can expect from the tour overall. I have travelled with Geckos Adventures previously, so I half listen and watch Martin as he speaks. He gives us a brief run down of his history, and I think to myself that I’ve found a new friend for life.
Once you start ticking off the things to do on your bucket list, it’s hard to stop, so I signed up with a small group headed for the Icehotel in January to see the northern lights.
I have to say, it was an expensive trip – I’ve never paid so much for a long weekend! – but it was worth it. Kiruna was the most northerly airport I’d ever flown to and my first trip to the Arctic Circle, so I wasn’t surprised when the temperature dropped to -35ºC.
After a coach ride by the light of the other-worldly, pink ‘Alpenglow’ you only find in the far north or at altitude, we arrived at the Icehotel. I wanted to avoid the check-in tailback at reception, so I started off by checking out the hotel instead. To call it a hotel is not really fair. It’s more like a village, in which the bit made out of ice is only a small part amongst dozens of wooden chalets and outbuildings. It’s more like Portmeirion, the setting for the cult Sixties spy series The Prisoner - except with everyone wearing snowsuits instead of black and white blazers. Most people know it from the James Bond film Die Another Day, but the scene wasn’t actually shot there. Having said that, you still get the snow and ice and the frozen river – all that’s missing is Halle Berry and the Aston Martin!