Stories

 

Finland


From the July 23rd to August 7th 2013

Our first day in Finland was the last of sixteen consecutive days during which the sun did not set. The following morning, Aless received the call he dreaded. While his mother continued fighting against cancer, his father got hospitalized. Four hundred kilometers away from the nearest airport, we immediately drove to Rovaniemi, from where he took off the following morning.

I continued the journey with Zorro, waiting for our friends Sixenroute which we had planned meeting a few days later. A few kilometers from the Arctic Circle, I settled on a little beach on the shores of Lake Kotajärvi. This was a great place to admire the sunset.

    

Lapland evokes for many the countries of Santa Claus. But Lapland is mainly the territory of Sami people, indigenous occupying a territory extending over Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Upon our arrival in this region, we were under the spell of the half-tame reindeers resting along roads or zigzagging between cars. At the time, a sheppard always accompanied the moving heard looking for fresh food while they are now assigned to pasture plots on prescribed and regulated areas. Reindeers, primarily reared for their skin and meat, spend the winter in the mountainous tundra, join the camp in June in order to mark the fawn, and are then moved to the summer pastures. To maintain hundreds of kilometers of fences, the Sami people are now forced to move with snowmobile or 4x4 .

    

Together with the Sixenroute family, we left the Kemijärvi region for the Oulanka National Park, the first of many national parks we will discover alongside the Russian border. It allowed us observing the difference between exploited and wild forests. A panoramic view point offered a good perspective of the wide extent of forest which is home to bears, elk, wolves, lynx and wolverines. Here, we saw nothing but a squirrel…

    

Thirty kilometers north of Suomussalmi, we discovered the Silent People village where a thousand of scarecrows are dressed in old clothing donated by local villagers. Earth clods covered in grass for the heads created beautiful eccentric characters.

    

While a week earlier we were dazzled by the sun throughout the night, it was now dark at night. Despite the 24 hours daylight, we never had trouble sleeping, even with the midnight sun. For us, it felt like having a nap, if you're tired, you fall asleep, with or without light.

At the Patvinsuo national park, we relaxed on a sandy beach near the Suomunjärvi lake and used the available fireplace to make wood -fired pancakes. The following day at 4 am, equipped with thermos of hot tea, blankets and hammocks, we reached the Teretinniemi observation tower, located in the middle of a swampy area where a bear was spotted three weeks earlier. Comfortably installed, we silently waited for any animal to show up. After watching two swans and their offspring in three and a half hours time, we turned back.

    

The Petkeljärvi national park ranger informed us that in the last 20 years, he has only sighted two bears. What about elks ? Like all people we have asked, the easiest place to spot an elk is on the road, during dusk or dawn. We took our chance and left the national park at 9 pm in order to drive along the forest at dusk. At midnight, it was dark and we still hadn't seen an elk.

In the border town of Imatra, a hydroelectric dam holds back the water of the Vuoksi river. Each day, the dam is opened and within a few minutes, the dry river is turned into a canyon of swirling water.

    

We then visited the medieval town of Porvoo and its wooden houses before reaching Helsinki. In the capital, we used the Olympic stadium car park as our base, a few steps away from the city center.

Despite the little varied landscape, the country offered freedom and peace. There was room for everyone and we discovered that Finns are very discreet. Lakes and rivers abounded and offered great spots for the night. The forest covering the country was full of mushrooms and berries which we picked and ate without moderation. Unfortunately, we didn't have the chance to see wild animals, including bears and elks which we easily observed in the United States. While we were mentally prepared for a living hell with mosquitoes, we were relieved to see that at the end of July, there was very few of them.

We left the country from Turku, sailing through the archipelago in order to reach the Swedish capital city.

Click here to read the following story about our trip in Sweden.

See the album "Finland - July-August 2013"