Whichever the route a traveler takes for getting into the heart of Lapland, most likely he’ll go by Sodankylä, where all the roads meet. Same those who go to the popular Nordkapp, or those aiming the unforgettable Inari, or the ones driving towards lovely Vadso or heading to hostile Murmansk, and also he who just wants to get lost in the deep forests of the large natural parks, they all have to meet here, in Sodankylä, gate to the Great North.
Being the main crossroads in the Finnish arctic circle, all kind of travelers converge here, before retaking each their own particular course. Therefore, it is no wonder that –with barely nine thousand inhabitants– this town abounds in bars, lodgings, kahvilas, shops and restaurants; goes without saying, there are also important services like petrol stations and workshops. Sodankylä is alive, lively and busy; but at the same time feels cozy and close, endearing, strangely warm.
I have arrived here taking the long route from Salla, passing very close to the Russian border, then towards Savukoski and yet west, joining the E63, the highway that comes all the way from Jyväskylä, more than eight hundred kilometres to the south. Every of my readers knows that I like quiet byroads. By the way, in Savukoski I stopped for a coffee in a kahvila where I have met a German family, father, mother and child, who come from Stuttgart riding a motorcycle with a custom sidecar. I spotted them on their biker suits, sitting at the terrace, and I sat nearby for some conversation, along which they told me they were going to Nordkapp. Then, before parting, they talk about sleeping tonight in Sodankylä. Hopefully we’ll meet again there, or somewhere else, farther on to the north.
The sun strikes heavy as we’re putting our gear on: jacket, gloves, helmet, sunglasses–this little routine that makes me feel like a rider. We jump on our motorcycles and start the engines, almost in unison; then we part with a farewell wave, and we take different roads. Funny enough, ninety kiometres later we arrive to Sodankylä right at the same time: when I’m waiting at the STOP sign in the main junction, I see them crossing. We nod at each other, and that’s the last I see of them today.
Acommodation in Sodankylä is almost fully booked. Only hotel Karhu has rooms, but that is out of my budget; so, I finally stay in the campsite, called Nilimella, one kilometre from downtown, across the Kitinen river. I am lucky: I get the last available hut. It is a very likeable place, very green and tidy with its lawn closely mowed. My cabin is by the boundary trees. Inside, it feels like a sauna because it has been hit by the sun all day long; and that’s a lot of hours in the arctic summer days. It is basically furnished, but comfy and pleasant. After bringing in the side cases I go for a shower to the common baths, leaving the cabin’s door opened. I trust people here. This country gives me a feeling of safety that I appreciate a lot; so different from our countries in Central or Southern Europe.
On the campground’s lawn I see people from all countries. There is a Spanish couple with a separatist sticker from Catalonia on their bike’s plate, though they’re not speaking in Catalan, probably thinking they’re not understood here. There is also a group of Italian bikers and some Dutch motorhomes. And a car with French plates and another from Germany. Later on, while exploring the town, I overhear a young couple from the USA and I spot some bikers’ groups from other countries. Apparently, many of those people aim Cape North, which seems to be a major tourist attraction. I would have never imagined.
As I’m feeling like some refreshment for the body, I go for a plunge in the river. There is a small beach on the eastern shore where some kids are playing a ball, some gals are suntanning and a few boys are enjoying themselves laughing loud on the small jetty. However, there is hardly anyone in the water. Soon I find out why: it is quite cold; much colder than the last time I tried, about two weeks ago, down there in Sahalahti: that lake was like a soup. But this here is a river, and I’m now much more to the north; maybe that’s why.
After my short dive, I lay down on the towel and doze for a few minutes. The sun now has lost azimut, and warms me up just enough for giving me back the heat I’ve left in the water, but not more. I’m even feeling a bit cold, so I grab the towel and go back to the camp. On passing along the pub, near the beach, I read a sign anouncing LIVE MUSIC TONIGHT. Good idea!
As I still have plenty of time, I go exploring downtown, and finding some place for dinner. There are many, all of them looking fine. I made up my mind for Pälvin Kammari, a restaurant on Jäämerentie with a sunny wooden terrace. For the first time this trip I can properly eat a good reindeer dish, which comes served with cranberry jam and garnished with potatoes and vegetables. Simply delicious; tasty and tender like no other. For a drink, Lapin Kulta of course, Lapland’s beer.
It’s such a pleasant moment! I’m enjoying myself a lot; it feels really good here: sitting at this table, relishing the delightful dish, drinking a good beer and warmed up just enough by a sun that can’t make up its mind about setting. I don’t even know if I miss some company. I guess I do, but I’m not sure.
After supper, I go back to the pub by the beach. The performance is about to begin. Neither crowded nor empty, the terrace has about the right atmosphere. They are two musicians, one guitar and vocal, the other on the keyboard, who play popular songs with arrangements of their own. Sounds quite personal and fine. This event is so Finnish, so familiar and close! One hour later, after a break of the band, everybody moves inside: the mosquitoes have kicked us out. That is the main problem for the Finnish summer. Some of the espectators have actually left, overwhelmed by the annoying bugs.
By the time the musicians hung the microphones and start packing, it is past eleven p.m.; yet, the sky is not dark; actually it won’t get dark for the whole night. On the high clouds one can read a coming change of the weather, probably tomorrow. Hopefully this stifling summer, too warm for this country, will finally come to an end.
Back in the campground people have gone to bed; the lawn is very still and the grass is covered with dew. It’s got rather cold, and now I am glad to feel the warmth kept by the hut’s logs. Tonight there will be no need to leave the door ajar, like the previous days.
It is about two or three in the morning when I wake up for a pee. Outside, the cold makes me shiver. I look up at the sky: it’s already dawning.