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Warming up to Finnish traditions

Diving Resort in Bunaken

For those who don’t know, Living Colours Diving Resort consisted of three main departments. The dive center, the restraunt and the accommodation. These worked seemlessely in the open to produce the “Living Colours Experience”. Unknown to most, and still the source of many conspiracy theories is Living Colours R+D devision. The research and development division is, to the naked eye, just a bar. But this is the place where magic happens.

On a normal 35 degree June afternoon the two Finns sat in the shaded bar, quietly talking over an ever increasing pile of Heineken bottles. After a while they stood with purpose and headed into the sunlight. Curiously I watched two Finns building a fire on the beach, placing rocks on a makeshift metal frame over the fire. They almost resembled how I would imagine cave men looked. Feverishly working away gathering wood, rocks, more wood, more rocks, more wood, and even more rocks. Hardly taking the time to sip their Heineken they grunted their plans, nodded, and sweated in the heat. They seemed to work together each knowing the others thoughts, almost like they were two guys, with one brain. After hours of work the fire was extinguished, the rocks hot, and the pair was ready.

Sauna on the beach at Bunaken

The first sauna on the beach 2010. 

 

A crude tarpaulin and bamboo frame was placed over the heated rocks, the steps from the beach would be their seat. Inviting all who had spectated they ushered some ten people under the tarpaulin. With a proud smile, they pored water onto the rocks, causing hot steam to rise. Enjoying the heat the proudly explained the Finnish sauna tradition. THEY had dared to dream. And over the past eight hours they had produced Bunaken’s first operational beach sauna.

After that day, Living Colours Diving Resort was to gain an extension to its R+D division, a place where ideas would be hatched in the comfort of a Finnish sauna. From the design to the importation of Finnish materials, rocks, and scents the sauna was in place. Everything was ready – almost.

A sauna “tonttu” or elf, is a man who tirelessly prepares, heats, and cares for the sauna.

Since 1689 Sauna elves have been graduating from Lapland’s coverted “Heateri Experti” college. Located in the small hamlet of O'Vykeeni just south of the town Purk Elle, the college is shrouded by secrecy and intrigue. Some say the course syllabus is contains teachings from the first Tonttu’s who came to Finland from England after getting lost on their way to the crusades, other myths include “Heateri Experti” being the birthplace of salmiakki. All that is certain is that only the most capable “elves” gain access to the college. The course is a long and hard one, which demands much from the students and profesors. All that is known for sure is that only students with Pure Finnish blood (about 40% alc.) make the grade. But due to budget cuts and funds being diverted to support the failing National Ice hockey team, the college has only limited places for ten Tonttu every five years (average training time). After numerous letters, emails, telegrams, smoke signals, and carrier pigeons sent from Living Colours Bunaken requesting immediate assistance, we heard no response. In desperation we decided our Tonttu would have to be trained on Bunaken. But who could make the grade amongst the few? I alone heard the call. I stepped forward and volunteered.

 

Authentic Finnish sauna in Bunaken island

Salmiakki Koskenkorva aka Black Death 

The first obstacle was to gain some “Finnish blood”. Short of becoming a vampire and draining an unsuspecting diver I'd have to “marry into the club”, this proved to be challenging. The average Finnish girl is not overly impressed by, what can only be best put as, Jungle hygiene. But luck was to be on my side when a group of three travelling Finnish girls arrived to the resort. Once my future bride was selected I would be cleared to begin my training. I proceeded to procure the tools I would need to woo the maiden. These were three small and cute kittens, 24 heineken, and about 2 hours of “Gunther and the Sunshine” girls music videos, she stood no chance. Within six months terms and conditions were arranged and she had clicked the “I agree” box.

The training began in ernest, mastering the skills of the Tonttu would not be easy, more than simply lighting a fire was to be learned. The first week was spent “straightening the liver”, this was done by increasing the levels of Heineken to an acceptable Finnish standard. Before moving onto consumption of the Tonttu’s worst enemy, or best friend, – Salmiakki Koskenkorva aka Black Death. No stories that start with a shot of Black death ever finish with “and then we got home safely”, and it is rumoured that more than a few Tonttu’s have succombed to its sticky claw. In Finland, the great Helsinki sauna fire of 1878 was said to be caused by a particaulary stronger batch, four saunas burned for three days creating of the nations largest ever smoke sauna.

The next Tonttu training focused on the wood. Getting wood is easy, but keeping wood for a long time can be a tough order, especially in the jungles of Sulawesi. Your wood is sensitive, delicate, and neglect it for a moment and you can loose it. This proved to be a tough lesson on Bunaken, a pile of sauna wood drying will look like a steak dinner to the termites, who will turn it to dust in faster than you can imagine. Keeping your wood, and keeping it dry was no easy order. But persivere I did, and I am proud to say that even my wife stared approvingly at my wood.

Dive resort in Bunaken

 

The training continued, long hours, hot days until finally my Fiskars axe was a mere extension of my taught, ripped, upper body and muscular arms. Chopping wood for hours in the blazing sun all under the watchful eyes of father Peter, a Catholic priest who had volunteered to supervise this phase of the training. Always a touching presence, Father Phyle was encouraging. Adjusting and advising me to position my body with my back to him as I swung the axe. This phase of the training was oddly photographed by Father Phyle, and though I wasn’t too hot, he insisted I not wear a shirt. I was saddened when father Phyle was recalled to the Vatican to polish the gold, leaving me to my training.

After months of training I was introduced to my final Guru – Mr Harvy Arr, a Finnish hero. He was the most Finnish man in the southern hemisphere. His skin was whiter than snow, reflecting natural light, a permanent frown engraved on his forehead, which I later learned is how Finns smile. Being raised in Lapland he had an aversion to sunlight, so from now on we worked at night, heating the kiuas to temperatures that would make fukushima reactor 4 look like a Sunday bbq, and giving our eco resort the carbon footprint of Chinese power station. Unfaced we continued, working long hours and being brought food by his wife, Lulu Arr, we worked on. Finally it was time to test. The Arr family all joined, Harvy, Lulu, and their daughter Lisa-Lulu Arr. After a few short steams Harvy looked happy, he frowned a big happy Finnnnish frown, and I knew I had graduated with honours.

That was over five years ago, and two Kiuas' later we are still here. Still the only true Anglo-Finnish sauna in the southern hemisphere. On hot days I sit upon the sauna balcony I wonder what happened to Harvy, if he still teaches. The thoughts make my forehead throb and extend into a happy Finnish frown. I read that father Phyle is helping others all the time, the latest I heard he was helping the police with their enquiries, he does enjoy giving. As for the two pioneers who dared to dream, sweat, drink, and build a sauna in the topics, that’s another blog post.

If tree falls in the forrest and no one is there to hear it, who chops the wood for the kiuas?

 

Accommodation in Bunaken island