Definitely everyone wakes up earlier than me! I get out of bed and see that many campers are already gone, those still here being finishing preparatinons for departure. None of the tents I saw yesterday on the lawn is left, and most of the huts are empty. Only the laziest remain… or those who’re not in a hurry.
But not being in a hurry is, I’m afraid, only an excuse I put to myself for not awakening early (a gift with which I wasn’t born). And I do regret it, as I miss many things because of morning lazyness: from contemplating the dawns (a phenomenon almost unknown to me) to enjoying that particular gentleness of the atmosphere at daybreak, as if it would shatter with a sneeze of the beholder; or watching the growing bustle in town, when it starts becoming alive: street sweepers watering the cobblestones, press arriving to the newsstands, bakeries taking out the first batches of bread, people breakfasting at the cafés, and–well–the one thousand little details of a society who wakes up, which are usually more poetic than those at bedtime.
On the other hand, waking up early would give me certain (purely psichological) reward, maybe only of a moral nature, though it might be something else:
the reward of knowing that I’m living a little bit more according to a natural order in our existence, because going to bed with the moon and awakening with the sun seems to me more in harmony with what evolution made us for. But of course, as said, it may well be just a taught moral prejudice: the satisfaction for accomplished duty, or even–who knows if there aren’t subconscious religious values behind? I’m thinking of the biblical commandment: by the sweat of your brow you’ll eat your food, an idea which has maybe rooted in our consciences deeper than we think, along with all the good and evil drivel, plus linking together night and sin…
As to today’s goal for me, it was settled a few days since (if not a few weeks since, in case I’ve been hiding motivations to myself): Inari; one of those names, or places, quite meaningful to me, for it was stage to an important–or at least unforgettable–episode in my life… But more on this later on. For the moment being I have to pack my luggage, put inside the bike’s side cases all my things, that I left last night spread throughout the cabin (the very few items making up my baggage, limited to the very essential and therefore used daily) and say farewell to Sodankylä for carrying on northward towards the next Lappi connection, which is Ivalo. Two hundred kilometres of woodlands, water and reindeer without a town except for Saariselkä.
After two months of stiffling summer, weather is today finally changing. It was about time! When I left Spain, eight thousand kilometres southwest from here, May wasn’t yet gone and, on some peaks of the sierra, snow patches could still be seen; summer wasn’t come and nights were cool in those highlands. But two weeks later hot arrived, and it’s been chasing me all through Europe since: France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Poland, the Baltic Estates and most of Finland. So, it feels great now that I can ride the motorcycle with the jacket on yet not sweating the shirt underneath.
At this stage of the journey, highway E75 –Lapland’s main communication motorway– does not offer anything new to the driver: running mostly along Kurittusuvantu river, it’s not easy to find here landscapes whose likes I haven’t already seen a few other times since faraway Helsinki. Notwithstanding, I don’t get tired of watching this beautiful nature, these inmense wild forests and lakes, and I keep riding slowly, stopping every so often for taking shots of elegant landscapes which, though apparently identical to the previous one hundred, still offer some hue or shade making them new and worthy to my eyes.
By Saariselkä I pull over to see what the town can offer, and maybe to drink a coffee or have lunch; but it turns out it’s just a ski resort, therefore unappealing for me, as it catters for quite a different type of visitor; so, despite its lively shopping center with several opportunities for spending money that would delight some people, I ride again on Rosaura and carry on my way.
Barely fifteen kilometres further there is the town of Ivalo, with more character than the previous besides some local importance, as it’s the communication hub between Lapland and Murmansk (in Russia), which in turn has an undeniable commercial and military value for being the largest over-the-year open harbour in the Arctic (thanks to the Gulf Stream) and for hosting a huge Russian naval fleet base, with nuclear submarins and the whole stuff. I was there ten years ago (in Murmansk, not in the base) having misadventures that I’m not going to tell here now –there’ll be some other better moment for that– because I’m now writing about Ivalo, where by the way I’ve made a long stopover poking about the shops and restaurants, having a coffee and even pondering over whether or not to stay tonight. I like this little town, where I believe I’m noticing that relaxed atmosphere I’ve also found in other small towns near the Arctic, like Canada’s White Horse or Dawson City, or USA’s Fairbanks; a kind of town which seem to have their own slowed down sense of time, where nobody seems to be in a hurry and where the river of life apparently flows in quite a different way; and this is what they call Yukon time in the north of Canada. That’s the feeling I get here: that Ivalo also has that Yukon time, that special one I find so suggestive. So I’ve thought of staying here overnight, but finally my impatience won for arriving to Inari, just half an hour further up.
Inari! And what a feeling it is to come back to this remote little town ten years later! The tale of how I happened to come here my first time, one decade ago, has some substance. I was spending a sabbatical year in Finland, namely in Tampere, when one of my friends there, Pascal Binaud, suggested me to take a trip to Inari because, as thaw was due, I had been talking about getting away from the city during those ugly days when half melted, watery snow gets dirty and black with traffic’s grease and people’s shoes, turning streets and parks into unpleasant muddy hells before the ice totally thaws and drains away down the sewers; those which account for the ten or twelve ugliest days in any Arctic city’s year. So I wanted to travel somewhere in Lapland, where thaw comes at least one month later and where, at the same time, I would be able to enjoy my last season “in the cold” for that unforgettable stage of my life. That’s why Pascal, who had been working several years as a country guide in Inari, advised me to go there, because –he said, full of his own romantic memories– it’s a special place where something magic seems to always be possible, and even the very journey is a pleasant one since the very moment you step on the train, in whose couches there’s usually a very nice atmosphere, relaxed and bubbly.
I didn’t need to think it twice: despite being so small, Inari seemed as good a place as any other for escaping Tampere’s thaw, plus it was credited with Pascal’s suggestive description, so I bought me a train ticket for the night express and there I went. By the way, it was true what he told me about the warm feeling at the train, which I found pleasant and inviting yet respectful enough for letting people sleep; it was as if all the passengers belonged to some group on an outing, and particularly the restaurant coach was lively all night long. Still, I could take some hours’ sleep, and the early morning sun had already risen when we arrived to Rovaniemi, Lapland’s capital, where most of us got off except for a few passengers who carried on to Kemijärvi. Lapland–you should know–is so remote and scarcely populated that the railroad doesn’t certainly reach as far as Inari; not even to Sodankylä, but ends much more to the south, in Kemi. The last two hundred kilometres you have to go by bus, whose atmosphere was, by the way, also quite relaxed. I mean: there was some atmosphere, which is a lot to say for a bus.
And I can perfectly recall the moment I arrived to Inari, everything covered by a spotless blanket of white snow, resplandent under the sun, and the air was so thin and chill that it made me cough when inhaled. The bus left, and when I stood there all alone in front of Hotel Inari, I imagined myself one of those wanderers in the movies that arrive to some forgotten station in the middle of the desert.
But I soon realized that Inari was far from being the desertic retreat I at first sight thought, and I also quickly learned that Hotel Inari was its centre and heart, working as bus stop, post office, shipping agent, information office, tourist agency, restaurant, rooms, bar, pub, social centre, meeting point and whatnot. While having a coffee and beginning to discover the curious local life, they kindly told me where could I find some cheaper acommodation, as my budget didn’t allow me to stay at the hotel. Following the directions they gave me, I came to rent a hut in Lomakylä Inari Holiday Village, a kind of campground half a mile from the “centre”, up the hill. But once I dropped my backpack in the small –though sufficient– cabin and switched on the heater for later on, I went back to the hotel, where I spent long whiles during the days I stayed in Inari.
And it was that very afternoon (there were only a few customers in the spacious lounge of Hotel Inari) when I met that half Viking, half Sami girl whose name has regrettably vanished from my memory long ago. Sitting at one of those tables we strook up a conversation and from there, like the most natural thing in the world, we spent the following days together.
The rest is easy to imagine, therefore not too interesting.
One of those nights there came, as is customary in Finnish villages, the man of the music (this expression is my own) with his hi-fi equipment, karaoke gadgets and some musical instruments to enliven the soirée in Inari. Of course he played at Hotel Inari. And I, with the help of that country-ish decoration of the lounge by that time (rather nicer than today’s, to my taste), the walls full of paintings and old pictures of Sami people (indigenous Laplanders) and that genuinely naïve atmosphere, had the feeling I was back in time, in some far west town like we’ve all seen in the movies.
And now that I’ve arrived to Inari, now that I’ve returned–one decade later–to this same place, methinks I’ve come mainly for being moved by my recollections; perhaps even for weeping. Weeping for an irretrievable past of my life; a time when I was able to enjoy every hour, every day, because I didn’t even know the meaning of anxiety, and the angst for uncertainty han’t yet thwarted me, nor I knew about future hardships that would come with age and other life events; a past where I was strongly self-confident. Yes, today I believe I’ve returned here for shedding tears on the grave of my past.
So, it was among these very tables in Hotel Inari where I’m sitting at now, on these very couches (now upholstered in black leather), where ten years ago I met that young woman who then shared with me a week of her life. And I’m not talking about love or rapturous feelings, as nothing of the sort took place; honestly, it’s not the girl herself what I long for, but what she, and the days we spent together, represent in my life and memories; what my life was then, that’s what I’m missing today; the me of 2004.
Sunk in these yearnings, I take a stroll along Inarijärvi’s wild shore, immensely rich in beautiful scenes; and while I’m taking them in one hundred pictures I can’t stop remembering that chick over and again, thinking: if only I could say her name! But no matter how hard I try, I can’t recall it; not a trace of any of its letters comes to my mind; and every time I unsuccessfully try, I feel an emptiness inside me; like if I knew that, once uttered, once my lips could say aloud that name, my mind would finally shake off the spell of those beautiful but–in a way–afflicting memories; like if, evoking her while saying her name, I might sigh her away and carry on my way. But as I can’t remember it, the recollection gets stuck in my head, blocking my progress.
Once I finish my nature trail, whetted my appetite, I go to Hotel Inari for having dinner. This time I’m not lodged here either, but just opposite, in Villa Lanca, a cute hostel where a young Spanish couple work this summer season as (what their boss euphemistically calls) “volunteers”; actually a sham on her part. But–as I was saying–I’m having my supper in the hotel because Villa Lanca has no restaurant and also, of course, because I need to round off my remembrances of one decade ago.
As I’m eating the flavourful reindeer with vegetables, I devote some last thoughts to that girl and to the short trip when I met her, not even dreaming that ten years later I’d be here again remembering them. Who knows? Perchance this post might work as a message in a bottle: if someone reads these words who knows her or has some news of her existence, please let her know I still remember, and please convey to her my gratitude for the week she gifted me with.
And that’s all. Today my soul bleeds with enormous grief when I think that all these beautiful memories, all those experiences and emotions in my life, and many, many more I won’t ever write, will die with me, never being passed on to noone else. But then again, who lives?
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