I cannot believe I forgot to publish something on this experience, I guess with the excitement of a trip home for a few weeks not much got written. Never the less here goes.
To say this place is cold is like saying Leo Messi can play football. The truth is I have never experienced a level of cold like this in my life before, if you think I’m joking, this is what it looks like.
If you have never heard of this festival its called the Harbin snow and ice festival and basically comprises of ice sculpting, snow sculpting, ice building and swimming (??!!!) oh and a sneaky trip to see a few tigers.
Teams from all around the world come to build these apartment-block-sized ice and snow sculptures for months until the festival starts mid Jan in the small (10m ppl) town of Harbin. They are then unveiled in a massive explosion of lights, ice and fireworks, while you look at the pics remember these are ALL ONLY ICE AND LIGHTS . . .
These are for those who are interested in grand gestures, then there are those that are in it for the creativity. Those teams who come for precision ice art, who design them and then create an artistic masterpiece from a square block of ice roughly the size of an SUV, I have shown a few but there must be about a hundred of them, each with a story and absolutely brilliant craftsmanship and attention to detail . . .
Then there are those that are interested in both, they use fashioned snow to create giant sculptures, stories, advert or castles that are laid out across a gigantic park for all to see, again this is a small sample of the hundreds of these things . . .
In between enjoying the art there are thousands who enjoy the outdoor activities like sliding down an ice hill in a tube, most fun I’ve had since i was a kid. Sled dog rides, think alsatian pulling a rocking chair, ice sailing, snowmobiling, spinning tops and anything else ice related you could possible to on a giant river frozen a meter thick!
Also there are a few, as you would expect, that are a snowflake short of a snowstorm. Every winter they chainsaw out a swimming pool in the frozen over lake and swim. Now I know what you are saying, its good for circulation blah blah. Believe me, I have on numerous times done the sauna to snow rolling around and back scenario, this is a little different.
First of all its -25 at best, when I took off my two pairs of gloves I literally felt my fingers go numb immediately, then start to burn like they were in acid, that was with two beanies, 3 fleeces, a ski jacket, thermal vest, long johns and pants on. It was so cold I have never in any ski trip over the last 25 years ever had to wear thermal underwear and here it wasn’t enough. To give you an idea my iPhone was so cold it just gave up and switched off only to restart in the hotel room after defrosting!
They do not start in a sauna, they walk out, de-robe and dive in. It helps that they are all part Russian but still I thought Lewis Pugh was hardcore, this is another level!
There is also the added benefit of going to look at the Tiger sanctuary, a place where Tigers are kept, rehabilitated etc and you drive around in a glorified bus to have a look, after that you go on the wakling trail (this is actually how they spell it) and can pay a small price to poke a dead chicken through the fence with braai tongs and feed the poor caged bastards, not exactly Inyati but still quite amazing.
Lastly one of the greatest highlights has got to be eating a hot pot dinner in an igloo. The nice warm luxurious Shangri La Hotel has built a freezer door which opens into a large nicely decorated igloo where you sit with blankets, heaters and a table full of freezing, literally, ingredients to cook hot pot (the Chinese version of fondue, sort of).
Then once you are stuffed full of meat, veg and what I can only assume where testicles of some kind you can march down the corridor and chill in the ice bar with a vodka neat, because when its -30 you don’t really need the ice!
All in all I have to say this was not on my bucket list, in fact I had no idea it existed but after seeing this it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The best part of all is in summer it’s a beautiful 35 degrees and they have one of the biggest beer festivals in the world!!