We ended up driving about 2000km during our week in Lapland. Instead of exploring the grounds of the UK National Park close to us, we drove up to Nellim one day and visited Purnumukka and Kuttura on our last full day in Vuotso. Nellim is a remote village of less than 200 inhabitants, 40km from Ivalo (so by distance, not that remote, but in all other ways, definately), 7km from the Russian border. A pittoresque little road winds through fells and Lake Inari fjords from Ivalo to Nellim. About 2/3 of it is unpaved gravel road, but it was in a rather good shape.
Nellim has been in the news lately for a couple of reasons. One being the said road. Nellim used to be an important location for Finns in WWII, when a lot of food supplies etc. came to the country from Norway and Sweden through Nellim. Currently there is no proper road anymore between Nellim and Norway, but one has been debated over for 25 years. Also, the people of Nellim have been asking for money to pave the whole road between Ivalo and Nellim. Now, finally in June that money has been granted to the village.
I am sure one of the reasons for this is nothing less than the Wilderness Hotel, which is the second thing putting Nellim on the world map. Apparently Nellim is an excellent place for seeing the northern light in the winter time and since the old school of Nellim was abandoned some years ago and a hotel was built in its place, Nellim has been attracting a whole lot of tourists from all over the world, especially in the winter. Summer time is more or less building time for the Lapland holiday resorts, most of the tourists being Finns hiking in the wilderness or Germans touring the sites in their campers.
Winter being the main tourist season, Nellim was rather quiet the day we visited it. There were a few boats in dock (many people haul their boats to Lake Inari for some boating and camping) and some mild car traffic, and the hotel was open despite the construction work being done to expand it by 50%(!) during this summer time. There was an old Lappish man walking down the main road and a couple people at the hotel restaurant terrace, where we too sat for a beer and a sparkly water (beer for Husband, water for me) and a bowl of water for the dogs.
That day there was hot. It was the hottest day of the whole summer so far and we happened to be in the hottest place in all of Finland that day, surprisingly enough. Officially the hottest place was Utsjoki, but the shade temperature on that patio in Nellim read 28C and another one in Ivalo announced the rare temperature of 32C as we drove by on our way back to our cabin.
There is not much to do in Nellim, really. I had seen the picture of their orthodox church in the article where I first read about Nellim, so I knew it was there and wanted to go see it for myself. I would have liked to walk there – it was only a kilometer or so from where we had parked our car – but the day was so hot that we opted for our air conditioned car instead. The church, quite typically, is on a little hill, up a dirt road from the village main habitation. A very pretty log church it was too. I took some pictures, rounding it up and we left.
The next morning was our last day there in Vuotso. We had planned a sauna for the evening and there was packing to do in order to be able to get out of the cabin by noon the next day and so on, so no long drives – at least no really long ones – for that day. In Nellim we had been talking with another couple with a bigger dog in tow there on that hotel terrace, and they had told us about this woman reindeer slaughterer who lives in Purnumukka and has written a couple of books too. Later on I learned that there have been documentaries and articles in magazines and whatnot about her too, but I got really interested in her books – and Purnumukka, especially since it was only about 25km from where we were staying.
So on that Saturday we first drove to Purnumukka, a village of about 20 people, the village of Riitta Lehvonen, the first ever woman to have pursued the profession of a reindeer breeder and slaughterer. A woman who grew up in the city, in Turku, but moved to Lapland straight after highschool to become a wilderness guide at first. She then got married and they decided to swap money to freedom, as she puts it, and they moved to Purnumukka to a house with no running water, to begin with. And she is happy with her life now, after a whole lot of hardships, that I have not yet read about; I have only started the book about her life.
Purnumukka it was then. Tiny, secluded, enticing. Not much there, obviously, apart from the scattered houses, but we did find a nice swamp with a whole lot of cloudberries. And we did see a whole lot of mushrooms that turned out to be rocks. That happened to both of us several times during the week in Lapland. The rocks there are either red with rusty iron ore or dirty yellow like porcinis. A few times I saw a huge one, and now I do mean a boulder more than a rock even, and wondered what the heck it was, as it looked like a mushroom but no way could there be such huge ones. There wasn’t. They were just rocks.
We picked some cloudberries there. I ate them as I picked them, but since Husband doesn’t like them all that well (that might be a crime in Finland, though, not to love cloudberries and admit it), he picked as much as he could fit in his big hand and then gave them to me for a snack. We walked a bit more until we decided to hop back in the car a head out of the village. According to the village info map (yes, even this little place has one) there are some remnants of WWII right there by the road, but we didn’t manage to see them. Not that we looked too hard, only from the car window. Purnumukka was mostly burned down by the retreating Germans in the Lapland War (at the end of WWII), like so many other villages in Lapland.
We drove out of Purnumukka and north a bit and then turned to go to the little village of Kuttura. Nothing really special about Kuttura, in fact I told Husband that we’re probably suffering the 40km of poor dirt road just to see nothing. Somehow the village had spiked my interest, mainly I suppose because it is on the Ivalo River, along (or as I read later on, the starting point of) one of the most beautiful canoe routes in all of Finland. And truly enough, Ivalo River there was beautiful. The old iron bridge crossing it to the actual village was quite nice too. A bit of a blast from the past.
The other thing that had caught my attention was the story of Urho Kekkonen stopping there at Kuttura on one of his skiing escapades in the 1950′. I love places with stories! Legend has it that Kekkonen had asked the village people if there was something they’d like him to do for them, and they had asked him for a road – back then the only way to the place was via the river or just wilderness. Kekkonen had obliged and according to the legend the road was built loyally following the straight line Kekkonen had drawn on the map. The road is almost like it was drawn with a ruler. Almost.
The road passes vast swampy areas on both sides of the road and I can only imagine how much work it has been to make solid road there, in the swampy lands. Nothing like Louisiana of course, but wet enough. That area is also the gold area of Lapland. There’s plenty of old gold mines and there still are places where gold is actually panned for somewhat actively. At least for the amusement of tourists – and maybe locals themselves too. Along the way down to Kuttura (and back) there is a place, the Gold Kiosk, where there was a gold panning contest going on. A gathering of the super-rednecks of the country, I’d say.
Husband was in need of some smokes so we drove up to Saariselkä for one last time. This time we made a round in the holiday village – I had no idea that the place was so big and so packed with hotels! A couple of reindeer were lazily grazing in the front yard of one and several vacationers (I assume) were lazily slurping beer in front of an Irish pub (Irish pub in Lapland!!) called O’Poro (O’Reindeer in English). I tried to visit a souvenir shop to see if I could find one of those books by Lehvonen, but the place was closed. So we drove to Kuukkeli, where Husband did find one of them for me, the Tyttöteurastaja.
I immeadiately started reading the book, right there in the car on our way back to the cabin and I immediately knew I liked this Lehvonen. She is the same age as Husband, some nine years older than me, and a cool character with lots of empathy, no bullshit kind of an attitude and my kind of sense of humor. Apart from the obvious tending to reindeer and slaughtering them, she takes photographs that are made into postcards and sold in the souvenir shops of Lapland, and she sells condoms called “Aslakin rykimäsukka”, with a picture of mating reindeer on the package. I actually saw them there in Kuukkeli and was snickering because I found the idea so funky, before I knew they were a product of Lehvonen’s (well, made by a Helsinki company, but sold by her, and the picture is hers).
In the evening we had our sauna, with the sausages again. Sauna in the winter time is wonderful when you get warm for a while in the midst of all the cold. Sauna in the summer time, um, let me rephrase that: sauna on hot summer evenings is a different kind of pleasure, when you have good “löyly” first, then come out to the still warm summer evening, sit there in the evening sun, having a cold drink and maybe taking a dip in the lake, if there is one nearby. There was a lake on the other side of the road from our cabin, but we didn’t venture there for a swim. Mainly because I had scouted it out and discovered all the vegetation one would have to walk through to go for a swim. Eww.
The next morning it was time to pack the car and head back south. We had originally planned to stay overnight at Kempele again, but before we reached Rovaniemi the plan was revised, and I canceled our reservation as we decided to make it all the way home that same day. We had a slightly longer stop there at the Santa Clause land at the Arctic Circle, but that wasn’t really my kind of place. We stopped again at Vaskikello, this time to get swarmed by flying ants (they were all over our car making it difficult to get back inside!) and once at Tähtihovi Heinola just to get out, stretch, pee, and change drivers.
It was midnight when we got home, after 1030km and 13h of driving. It was good to be home again. The trip was good, we enjoyed it, but home is the best place in any case. Our plants had grown like hell during our week away. And the warm weathers followed us from Lapland, and it is finally sunny and hot here in Helsinki too. Last week of vacation is well on its way already. Next Monday it’s back to work again.
[More Lapland pics in Flickr]