Stories from Lapland

On the road

It was four thirty in the morning and while the sun was already up, my eyes were barely open. We had packed the car already in the evening to avoid extra hassle in the morning, so it was pretty much a brush teeth, get dressed, walk dogs (to the end of the driveway and back), pack food in travel fridge and off we went. Me, husband, dogs and the youngest of our teens. Teen went to sleep in the back seat, I tried to get some shuteye too, while husband, who is quite often awake in the wee hours of dawn anyway, drove.

By the time we stopped for the first time, the backseat was on blankety tumble. Dogs and teen were jumbled together, curled up and sleeping like a proper pack. They stirred up enough to have a snack and the dogs even had a little walk around the small patch of greenery, like every time we stopped. Couple more hours and another stop. “How come you need to pee so often? You’re stopping, like, all the time!” complained the teen. Less than five hours and we were in Oulu. And yeah, already stopping for the second time!

Couple hours later we were in Rovaniemi. Usually we have done the biggest part of our shopping there in a Prisma, but this time husband decided to go in only for a tomahawk or two and maybe something else we couldn’t probably get from Sodankylä. He returned from the store in record time – the weather was bad, it was a Saturday and the place was packed. He did get those tomahawks (cowboy stakes), though, which we grilled during our stay in Vuotso.

On the road again and next stop Sodankylä. That was the big grocery shopping stop. I got out of the car with the dogs, and tried to get teen to join me for a walk. “Come on, we’ll walk to the ice cream stand by the other store and get some ice creams,” I tried. “Nah, I don’t need any,” she replied and put the ear plugs back in. Okay then. I walked there with the dogs, got ice creams for myself and them and walked back to the car when those were eaten. Husband was still in the store. No surprise there.

When all the Lidl and K-store business was finally done, it was an hour and a half to Vuotso. We were racing against a thunder storm – or so we thought – that was due in Vuotso at about seven or so. We made it to Vuotso by five thirty. Eleven hours with (minimal) stops. Back home we drove two hours longer. There was way more traffic then and we stopped for longer times since we weren’t in such a hurry.

Thunder! 

First day at the cabin husbandtook out the bigger one of out new inflatable kayaks and pumped it up. Teen was actually revived enough from the long day of sleeping in the car and eager enough to try out all that cool gear we had with us, that she came out to the canal to do a bit of testing of the kayak/canoe. It was in canoe configuration, since we hadn’t taken the kayak tops with us, having the idea that we could have the dogs with us in the boat. The sky was a bit ominous and the canal way shallow there where our cabin was, so we didn’t do much more than a couple test paddlings.

Later on, since there still was no rain despite the dark clouds roaming the skies, we did some target shooting with the bb-gun in the yard. Teen was dying to try the bow and arrow, but we didn’t have a target setup for that yet. So the next day we set out to figure out that target issue, just husband and me. Teen volunteered to stay behind with the dogs.

Probably it was best for everyone that way, for it would’ve been a rather boring day for them in the car while we scoured the stores of Ivalo, trying to come up with something. Besides, once we finally did, we couldn’t have transported the stuff, had the backseat of the car been taken, for we ended up buying three 10cm thick 100x120cm styrofoam insulation boards.

We were still fifty kilometers from the cabin, when due to some intuition I sent teen a wapp message asking if everything is ok at the cabin. She called me in a few minutes, telling me that she’d been out shooting some bb-gun when rain had started to drizzle down. She’d gone inside with the dogs and then it started raining sideways. She called me when thunder was right on top of them cracking and crashing and booming like she was in a warzone. All was well, though, she just wanted to know if she needed to do anything special because of the thunder, like unplug anything or so.

It really was one hell of a thunder front! It caught up with us on our way to the cabin – at the time of the phone call, I still had a sunny sky above my head! – and husband had to pull over to a P spot to let the rain pass before continuing. By the time we got back to the cabin, it was only drizzling there again. Looking at the lighting radar, the whole of eastern Lapland was like a red warzone.

When the rain stopped altogether, teen and husband taped them together into a proper target for some archery practise. We all got our chance that evening, taking turns at shooting arrows, until I went to prepare some dinner with a bruised arm – I had some learning curve there to not hit my upper arm with the bow… – and husband took over the sauna warming operation from teen and allowed her to shoot arrows as long as she wished. She’s a natural! She was thwacking away, all the while gossiping on the phone with her friend and hitting the target real good.

Nellim

Eleven in the morning is an inhuman time to get out of bed, let alone leave the cabin for a road trip. Parents who try to get their teens moving at that god-early hour might get reported to Amnesty for violation of teen rights (if the teen somehow musters the energy to google their contact info and actually make a report). So, after a bloody fight (read: yelling back and forth), the teen stayed in the cabin while I packed sandwiches and snacks and got into the car with husband and dogs, for a nice road trip of our favorite haunts in Lapland.

We started with Kakslauttanen, trying to drive down to see the igloo cabins, but realizing that they well are protected from nosy tourists like us by forbidding driving anywhere close to them (unless you have a pass, I’m sure). We continued to Saariselkä, in hopes of seeing at least one reindeer, for they had successfully eluded us during the trip so far, except a few that we passed on our way to Ivalo the previous day. No reindeer in Saariselkä, though. Only a dead crooked tree and a pop-up clothes booth and a new dress. The dead tree totally unrelated to the clothes booth and dress.

From Saariselkä we climbed up to Kaunispää – in the car naturally, since there’s a road going all the way to the top. Husband went to the souvenir shop to look for a magned for this magnet spot in the car (probably it had been a phone stand) and I walked with the dogs down to the place where people have built all these little towers from rocks, trying to avoid this akita that was visiting Kaunispää with it’s humans too.

After a lunch of a sandwich each we hopped back into our car and drove down towards the main road again. While we were roaming Kaunispää, a flock of reindeer ahd made its way to the hillside and was gradually crossing the road in twos and threes. We wanted to see some reindeer, we got it! I opened the window to get better photos, but soon enough the dogs curled up in the back seat got a whiff of reindeer and Meggie started letting out these high pitch hunting barks that nearly break one’s eardrums. Had to close the window and hold the dog down until we were safely past the reindeer.

Two years ago on our first trip to Lapland, I read an article about this remote village called Nellim, that has become a major tourist attraction for especially Chinese arctic lights tourists. “Tourist attraction” is generally a red light for me, but since the tourism mostly happens in winter time and the village was painted as a quaint oldfashioned place in itself, I wanted to visit it. So we drove all the way there to look around. There’s not much to look at – a church on a hilltop, a rather cute burial ground, bit of rapids and a remote bay of Lake Inari.

Somehow I just loved the place and so did husband. We even played around with the idea of moving up there, not to the village but somewhere between Nellim and Ivalo, when we retire or otherwise are able to live where ever. Last year we didn’t visit Nellim, but this summer we wanted to go back, so that we did.

We drove that 40km of poor road – some paved, most not, new road under construction and obscuring the old just a bit, also making it muddy and bad to drive – just to sit at the hotel terrace and have a drink in the Nellim sun. Two years ago it was the warmest day of the summer and Nellim the warmest place in Finland when we went there, with 28C in the shade. Now it was “only” 25C and already cooler than several days this summer.

They say Finns don’t talk to strangers. No, we don’t, not much, not often.  When teen and I encountered other Finns in Lisbon in May, we shut up or spoke English so they wouldn’t know that we’re Finns and start talking to us, because many Finns do like to talk to other Finns while being abroad. I don’t (but then again, I talk to strangers right here in Finland).

In a place like Nellim, the atmosphere of Nellim is just so relaxed, that people just chat. That first time there, on that same terrace, we chatted with another couple and I learned of Riitta Lehvonen and her books; this encounter lead me to buy those books and read amazing stories about Lappish people and Lapland. This time we chatted with this family – a granpa, dad, mom and daughter – who’d come there for and ice cream. They told us there had been a total (mobile) communication outage in Ivalo the previous day, due to that thunder.

We were back at the cabin at around seven in the evening and I found the teen in bed with her phone. There were telltale signs of some eating activities on the dining table – an empty plate and cocoa mug – but otherwise everything was exactly the same as when we left. “So, what did you do all day here?” I asked the teen. “Ate and watched Netflix,” was the flat answer. “You didn’t cook any food though?” “Didn’t feel like it. Just ate those carelian pies. Mom, could you make me some food, please.” Smells like teen spirit.

“You’ll have to wait for the cheese burgers were grilling soon.”

Airing out the teen spirit

Most of our week in Lapland was nice and warm, even hot. One day out of them all was cool, the temperature only rising to a high of 18C all day, while most days were partly or mostly sunny and 22-25C. Only one day was downright hot. That day we had planned (husband is a weather app addict ;) ) to go out kayaking all together, but when the day came, it was windy. Way too windy for any nice smooth kayaking for beginners (or longinners, i.e. last paddled a kayak 20 years ago).

After spending the first part of the day just slouching about, reading and whatnot we decided in the afternoon to at least go try it out a bit. We packed the kayaks in the car, got into our swimming wear and drove a few kilometers to this beach by the Vuotso bridge where the water was deeper. The wind still came and went in gusts so we only pumped up one of the kayaks, the single one only husband and I had tried so far. We took turns doing rounds there in the canal and were quite unanimous about not filling up the other one.

Our plan of taking dogs on kayak trips was put to the test too, and we came to the conclusion that our idea of kayaking with our dogs is an illusion: Timmy refused to come anywhere near the water and the wee carry-on Meggie scrambled out of the boat and swam to the shore as soon as she figured it was safe. Nope, no kayak-dogs those dogs of ours.

Teen took a turn paddling around the canal too, but somehow I got the idea that she wasn’t too impressed. She might be, once we take the kayaks for some real trips, down some lakes and rivers or even the sea here in Helsinki. When we have a plan and a destination to reach. That had been our goal in Lapland too, but the waters there are not exactly suitable for our purposes, plus as we noted, the dogs can’t be taken with.

We had a nice afternoon there with the kayak, though, the teen in a rather good mood too. She was looking after the dogs while we were setting up the kayak and paddling and participating in action. After her own turn she went for a swim and got bit by a fish. Husband and I went swimming, too, once we were done with the kayak too. Lovely warm water!

After all that activity, teen was ready to crash with some Netflix again, and I was unable to lure her out to shoot arrows with me that evening, as well as the day after or the day after. Nor did she touch the bb-gun anymore, but I did. I shot did a fai amount of target practise, hitting the bullseye enough to rip the target in the middle.

Reindeer

As mentioned, by the third or fourth day in Lapland, we had barely seen a few by the roadsides. That all changed on the really hot day. The Internet had a blast with a photo of reindeer swimming with people on a beach in Rovaniemi and YLE ran an article about a group of reindeer harrassing the Vuotso K-store (well, really just chilling there but obviously the poop and pee and stuff, you know…).

Photo credit: Pekka Niinivaara

We saw no reindeer swimming anywhere, but that day they did come out. No way could we keep the dogs untied in the yard anymore, for they came trotting down the road by the cabin, back and forth several times a day. At some point inside the cabin, huband pulled the curtains and put barricades in front of them, because the dogs were going crazy over the reindeer outside. First time in our three times there have they come down that road like that.

It just so happened that the reindeer group was chilling by the store on the day we went to get some milk and such, so got to say hi to those bucks there. Next day there was only one lonely reindeer left, and when we drove past the store on our way home early Saturday morning, the storefront was free of reindeer. We saluted Vuotso, “until next year!” like we told the owners of the rental cabin. They promised to store our archery target for us.

Home sweet home

It was a long drive home, but it’s kinda nice to make the trip in one day instead of spending a night somewhere. It’s a long day of travel, but at least it’s only one long day of travel instead of two, and free of the extra commotion caused by needing some separate overnight bags and carrying fridges and whatnot to the one-night accommodations. Especially when returning home. As we say in Finnish Swedish: borta bra men hemma bäst – away is good but home is best. Dogs were happy to be home too!

The weather here is a bit tropical right now, though, so when we first opened the car doors, a blast of tropical hot weather blew into our nicely AC:d car. Teen sighed: “Can we go back? The weather was nicer in Lapland.” Yes, it was. Still, it’s good to be home. Tomorrow I start work again and next week husband and the next week teen is back to school. Slowly but surely moving towards the regular routines of normal everyday life.

[Photos in Flickr]