The strong contrast, scenic-wise, between both sides of the Swedish border has rendered me useless for taking photographs: after two weeks in Norway, where the landscapes jump themselves into the camera and you don’t even need to think for getting excellent pics, what can you now expect to shoot at in Sweden? This country compared to its neighbour is like water beside coffee: colourless, odourless and tasteless.
And my experience at Park Hotel, where I’ve spent the night, has not helped to improve such feeling: the Middle East immigrant guy at the reception was cold, not to say hostile; and cold was also my room, which didn’t have any heating. Then, breakfast was dreadful: milk had gone sour in the carton, there was no real tea among the verious unappealing herbals, and no other food offered than baked ham, cream cheese, sliced bread and some cereals. The hotel itself was uncared for, and unattended. Now come and tell me about the high living standards in Scandinavia… Continue reading “Umea’s desolate ferry terminal”
The maelstrom! Could a more dreadful situation have sounded in our ears! We were then upon the dangerous coast of Norway [where], at the tide, the pent-up waters between the islands of Ferroe and Loffoden rush with irresistible violence, forming a whirlpool from which no vessel ever escapes. There, not only vessels, but whales are sacrificed, as well as white bears from the polar regions.
Thus, in his 1870 classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, did Jules Verne describe the terrors of the vast maelstrom whirlpool charted by chroniclers since at least the 16th century; but it wasn’t until after Edgard Allan Poe published his bloodcurling tale A descent into the Maelstrom that this word became popular. Continue reading “The maelstrom (and a church called Neverness)”
Located on the island of Tromsoya and connected to the mainland by two bridges and the Tromsoysund tunnel, Tromso is the second largest city north of the Arctic circle –first is Murmansk, in Russia– and a main cultural centre for all northern Norway. Famous –among other things– for the old wooden houses and the modern Arctic Cathedral (quite a landmark), it hosts several international festivals in summer and makes for an excellent observatory of auroras during winter time.
Along the late middle ages, the native Sami settlers had to share this area with the Norse, who arrived as colonizers from lands more to the south; and though the rich heritage from the former is well documented, they got the mice’s share and today are almost extinct. On the year 1252 the newcomers erected on Tromsoya the northernmost church at the time, called Sancta Maria de Trums juxta paganos, i.e. “near the heathens”, namely the Laplanders; but Tromso was not just a Norwegian outpost in an area already populated by those; it was also a border to Russia: the Novgorod state had the “right” to tax the natives east of here, whereas the Norwegians taxed them to the west. During the next five hundred years Norway’s limits would be pushed eastwards, though, making Tromsø lose its character as a frontier town. Continue reading “Tromsø, undisputable Arctic capital”
When the famous explorer of tragic death Roald Amundsen, first to reach the South Pole during his epic Antarctic expedition in 1912, headed for the opposite end of the globe (90º north) sailing on the Italian zeppelin Norge, he made a last stopover in Vadso, where the mast is still on foot that serviced the airship. Amundsen, one of those real adventurers that existed before the era of credit cards and mobile phones put an end to such job, disappeared forever in the Barents Sea two years after later, ironically during a rescue mission; and so he found his grave in the snowy and icy latitudes he had so much loved.
Today I’m visiting that island of drinking water (such is the meaning of Vadsoya) and thus pay a small tribute to those explorers who did not hesitate in sacrificing their lives–in exchange, yes, for glory, but mostly following their passions. Continue reading “Vadso, a stunning view to the Arctic”
Or the Spanish family staying at the same hostel, traveling in a rental car guess where to? Yes, to Cape North. And on top of those, in the evening another couple from Spain arrived: Guillermo and Olatz, two agreeable Basques driving a red Volkswagen T3 van; such a classic! This morning I have spent a nice while with them, right before parting; pity! They seemed merry and optimistic, the kind of people I like: unassuming and good natured. By the way, they have not hesitated in asking me to pay them a visit in Bilbao, on my way back. So, eight Spaniards have met by coincidence in a remote Lappish town. And also I have come across the three Germans I met two days ago in Savukoski, that family riding a motorcycle with a sidecar towards Cape North.
But I must say, such coincidences are not as rare as they seem when taking into account that Nordkapp is a major touristic destination–actually a tourist trap–and that, but for some narrow byroads, there are only two routes going there: one along the Norwegian coast, and this one through Lapland, which goes past Sodankylä and Inari. Therefore, Inari is a narrow bottleneck in virtually every road trip to Cape North.
And this is where my bike and me branch off the main tourist stream: instead of keeping straight to the north, we take route 971 to the northwest, perhaps one of the quietest roads in Finland, which takes to, also, one of the less known borders with Norway: Näätamö. Before venturing this way, though, I’ve made sure there is some acommodation this side of the border, for a last night in Finland. And the guys over at Inarin Hopea–a small Lappish jewelry workshop–have told me that, indeed, there is a reindeer farm called Toini Sanila where I can stay.
It is a cloudy, grey and windy morning that rounds off a drastic weather change along the past forty eight hours. Temperatures have dropped more than fifteen degrees, and I’ll be lucky if it doesn’t rain before I get to the farm. According to locals, the weather this summer, with highs of thirty degrees, wasn’t quite normal, but they also say today’s weather–August 9th–is not normal either, as we probably won’t reach fourteen. Let’s put the blame on climate change.
A few kilometres after leaving Inari I overtake Guillermo & Olatz and see their van becoming small on my view mirror; but when I come to the fork of route 92 (the one towards Nordkapp) I realize I have missed the road I wanted to take: it is so nonimportant, I have probably overlooked the sign. As I study the map, the Basque’s van goes past, and I see them merrily greeting me behind their red Volkswagen’s windshield. I won’t catch up with them any more along this trip. My way branches off everybody else’s when I turn round and take–now correctly–the route towards Sevettijärvi.
Since I crossed the Baltic from Estonia, it has been fifteen hundred kilometres of beautiful but unvarying landscape. Here, finally the environment has changed to something sensibly different: the land is rocky with big loose boulders, vegetation becomes staler and sparser, and most interesting: the waters are clear!; they don’t have any more the dark tinge so prevailing in this country, but instead are colourless and transparent–which means, I guess, that this corner of Lapland has a different geological substratum than the rest of Finland.
I feel like grabbing a beer and having a snack, but not a soul seems to live along this way. Eventually, after three hours of riding and not too far from my destination, I come by a locality called Sevettijärvi. I use the word locality instead of town or even village because Sevettijärvi is really, really small. It is smaller than one of those cortijos (ranches) in Extremadura, my homeland. Even its name is larger than the place: barely half a dozen spread out houses, a pub and an Orthodox church connected unpaved paths. You know, the middle of nowhere.
Anyway, a pub means beer and, alas!, I like this kind of places. As a matter of fact I’m quite pleased with having found it.
I stop by the wooden terrace –bare– looking over the lake, dismount and walk to the door. The floorboard confers an exaggerated gravity to my steps. Inside there is a room with a bar –untended– and a few tables where some people talk and pay me no heed. Further on there is a lounge where three dozen people sit around two or three long tables, obviously celebrating something. This time a waitress comes my way and says it is a private party, the pub is today closed, sorry. I guess it is a Russian wedding, judging from the language most people are talking; and it make sense, when you think of the Orthodox church and the nearness of Russia. Pity not being a guest! Beer will have to wait.
Out of curiosity, four of them follow me outside and watch my movements as I’m putting on gloves and helmet. I try to mentally be in their shoes: what do they see? A dark skinned foreigner on worn beige trousers, a bone-coloured jacket and a golden kerchief, pulling down a white jet helmet and adjusting black gloves; then he sits astride on an untidy motorcycle, turns on the engine and rides slowly on the gravel track. Where’s that plate from?–one will ask. Estonian? As I ride away, I overhear someone replying: Ispaniya.
Porotila Toini Sanila is a reindeer farm (porotila) with restaurant and acommodation, located on a neck of land betweeen Sevettijärvi and Kirakkajärvi, fifteen kilometres near the Norwegian border. The property is self-described as meeting point of the Finnish, Samish and Norwegian cultures… a versatile accoommodation and meeting place for groups and people travelling alone. Which means, this is the right place and element forme. Just in case the reader doesn’t know, in this kind of places the relations between guests and hosts are somewhat different: there is no room for mistrust or formalities here; nobody comes to a place like this for cheating on the hosts, and nobody runs a place like this for cheating on the guests. Only a warm and sincere hospitality, a familiarity, makes sense. And that is exactly how I have been welcomed by the landlady, who makes me feel at home.
All rooms in the main building are booked, but there are a few empty cabins. Along with a jar of water, she hands me the key to the nearest one and says I can use any bathroom (even those reserved to the staff) and also the sauna (no additional cost). I gladly accept: a sauna session will be great in such an unpleasant weather as today’s. As to the cabin, I find it enough for me: two beds with thick duvets, a powerful electric heater and a small table. I don’t need much more for spending the night. Oh!, well: sure I girl woud do…
After the sauna I feel a brand new man, as usual: toned up, clean and rested. The contrast is what matters, as I always say; and this time the contrast has been granted because the cold water came chilled out the pipe. Then, having some time left until dinner, I go into the woods for a ramble…
I haven’t walked too long when I find myself in a strange–nay, in an eerie setting: it is a sparse wood of small, tortured conifers among whose tops the wind blows a murmur; a murmur filled with misterious whispers as if coming from the other world. When I stop to listen, the wind quietens down and then all is silent, uncanny and dismal, like if one hundred goblin’s eyes were spying on me; but upon resuming my walk then again the air rustles on the withered foliage of the trees. The ground is totally covered with a cushiony, thick layer of moss and humus on which my feet sink, leaving no track whatsoever. There is a ghastly, an unreal and fantastic note onto everything. All over the place there are rotten carcasses from broken off branches, stressing the feeling of a secluded pine forest in the remotest corner of Finland. You can’t come any farther. Only spirits might dwell here, which reminds me of the Indian cemetery in Jeremiah Johnson. How bloodcurling must it be here under a heavy snowfall!
Eventually, I come to a small lake of limpid waters. Gentle ripples die in tiny little waves onto the shore’s boulders with a hollow slap; and such calm of the lake only makes for a more spooky feeling on a windy day like this!
When I turn back home, an irrational fleeting fear seizes me of having got lost; but then a sunbeam makes its way through a gap opened on the clouds, and points me in the right direction. All of a sudden, under this new reddish hue, the wood seems to lose its gloomy look; just a pinetree forest like any other.
Back in the farm, I sat in the dining room for dinner. The kind landlady recommends me the reindeer meat with blackberry jam. Delicious! You don’t very often get food this tasty, healthy and natural. Then, while drinking a tea, I peruse the superb photographs displayed on the room’s walls. Among them there is one that mesmerizes me with its strength: it is the black and white face of an old sami native, his countenance strikingly expressive. The photograph is sitting at a table, sharing the owner’s company, and I can’t but congratulate him for his art.
It is already dusk when I retire to my cabin for reading a while before getting in bed. Outside, the light wanes imperceptibly slowly; so slowly that, by the time I turn off the lamp, it is still clear night. Behind the blindless window panes, a soft blueish dimness will watch over my dreams until dawn.