Rounding the world – Day 16: Lapland, Finland…

Last night the clouds only parted slightly and despite waking up every 30 minutes ‘just-in-case’ there were no northern lights to see. Somewhere in the middle of the night the sound of light rain pinged the roof of the igloo in a soft soothing dance. The moon followed as the clouds passed and lit up the night to where you could see the pine trees all around and really feel like you were in nature. I was surprised to wake up without the sun, the dusk seem to last for hours and it didn’t really get light until mid-morning. I’m not sure we’ve ‘seen’ the sun all day, direct sun that is, it’s light, but there’s no sun in sight.

The breakfast buffet was fit for a king and in my typical fashion I ate and ate and ate until I couldn’t possibly eat any more. Breads with 5 different kinds of home made jams (I chose cloudberry because really, what is a cloudberry!), various cold cuts, various cheeses, various fish dishes, vegetables, salad, homemade salad dressing, yogurt, berry mixture, granola, hard boiled eggs, bacon, potato cakes, mini hotdogs, the list goes on. It is impossible to not get full and admittedly I did attempt to try one of everything. I love food.

The shower room was empty by the time I got there and the water pressure and temperature were perfect. I was a bit surprised that the water shuts off every 30 seconds, I suspect to conserve water/heat, so it took a few pushes to complete the process. Dressed and ready for the day it was time for hiking with huskies! I’m a sucker for dogs, especially the big fluffy ones, so was super excited for the activity. They give one husky per couple so luckily a perk of being alone is that I got a husky all to myself. Her name was Curry. She was a year and a half old and was ready and willing to pull me up the hill as if I’d been a sled. They don’t let them be full time sled dogs until their muscles have fully developed so next season will be her first. She was certainly ready.

The huskies were tuggers, intense tuggers, like the dog was walking us, this is the guide’s preference as they don’t want the dogs to learn not to tug. They are built for the winter season when they pull sleds of people around all winter. In the other seasons they have to maintain the skill to tug, to pull, to keep moving forward. Their bodies were slim, likely from all the exercise, not unhealthy slim, but supremely fit slim, with their chests bulging with energy and strength ready to climb and pull whatever was needed. Mine, little fluffy cuddly Curry, was probably one of the most tugging and my arms definitely got a work out.

As we started to climb the mountain (small mountain) the dogs noses went up, sniffing in the air, something was near by. Curry was particularly interested. Was it a bunny? No my friends, it was a heard of reindeer off in the distance. Beautiful fluffy white and grey reindeer nibbling away on the moss that covered the ground. There was a period of what seemed like a stand off. We were holding the doggies tight and the reindeer were looking our direction, they knew there was a risk at hand and likely were assessing what to do based on our movements. The dogs whining loudly so desperate to be released, on their hind legs begging to just have one little chase. Eventually the reindeer decided it was time to get out of dodge and started to scamper across the mountain, which only got the doggies more riled up.

Given the reindeer / dog situation, we decided to take a different path and go more around the mountain rather than over the mountain. The trail was well maintained, dirt path that could accommodate 2-3 side by side. The dogs tugged and tugged trying to be the leader, every dog wanting to lead but only one was selected for that role, and to Curry’s dismay, it was not her. That didn’t stop her from trying, though as long as I got her close to her brother she was happy. The two were inseparable. During one of our breaks we tied up the dogs to give our arms a bit of a break, Curry of course had to be tied with her brother and while all the other dogs were resting, these two were like a couple energetic kids chewing on everything in sight and bouncing around tangling themselves on the tree they were tied too until Curry’s brother got the idea to just chew through his leash. Silly pups.

During the hike the guides taught us a little bit about the area. The section where we were hiking – Kiilopaa – is on the border of Urho Kekkonen National Park and about 30km from Russia. Hiking is a common hobby in the Lapland for both locals and the tourists that come. All the reindeer that we saw are owned by someone, as there are no wild unowned reindeer. Which would probably explain why people are respectful of not running them over or letting their dogs loose on them. The herders migrate them around and stay in cabins as needed throughout the land. The cabins stay unlocked and are first come first serve to provide shelter in case of cold or snow or rain. There are three local tribes that live up here in the north, though their numbers aren’t that high – in the few hundreds. There is a local language but for the most part, people up here in the Lapland speak Finish. However, a lot of the tourist industry is serviced by foreigners so the tourist outfits tend to speak English (though the huskies learned Finnish!). The reindeer have three main predators – bears, wolves, and wolverines. I had no idea there was a difference between wolf and wolverine, though wolverine sounds intense. Hopefully we won’t see any of them!!

Off in the distance there were patches of low cloud cover like little silvers of puffy white sliced in between the layers of the mountains. My camera could do no justice, though it looked out of a movie it was so beautiful. The tugging pups pulled us all the way back to the trailhead. At some point along the way and without any trigger, my purse strap snapped. I do admit my PacSafe purse has been to many countries over the years and has encountered various conditions, but I did not expect it to literally snap…luckily my MacGyver-like skills came to the rescue and I was able to jerry rig it back together as there was no slowing Curry down!

After we loaded the pups back into the puppy trailer and we piled into the van, the guide realized we had a little extra time left on our excursion so they took us to the husky farm where the 200 or so dogs lived. Each dog had it’s little dog house, some were in them heads hanging out, some were on top of them snuggled, and the rest were all running circles excited to see us. Our goal though, was to head to the mama that just had puppies two weeks prior. Puppies!!! The little ones were so tiny and we got to hold them, their fur so fluffy and soft. It took all the willpower in the world to set them back down. They were all snuggled together deep in the back of the puppy house collapsed on top of each other like one big puppy pillow. Awe.

Back at the ‘village’ as they call it, I was ready for another lazy afternoon. I wasn’t sure if the breakfast would fill me up, so I had grabbed a couple slices of bread, some cheese, some salami, and an apple from the breakfast buffet to tide me over if I got hungry before dinner. They do have a lunch buffet of salads and soups for 22 Euro which in my option is too pricey. They also have some sandwiches you can buy for around 5 Euro as well as other snacks which is nice. The reception is well stocked with juices, teas, coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, and all sorts of other options to tide you over. About half of the tourists here are Asian, which I found interesting, and many of them were smart enough to bring their own food supplies. Thinking there must be some Asian travel agency that promotes this place and knows some of the tricks to share. Bringing a few things of ramen noodles for lunches would have been a good call (for those wanting to save a few bucks).

Back in my room I stretched out on the zebra colored bedspread to gaze up at the blue skies scattered between the clouds and pine trees absorbing the peacefulness and tranquility of the area. There is nothing like leaning back and getting lost in a book in the middle of the Arctic Circle surrounded by nature on all sides. Certainly the opposite to my flat in New York City with the hustle and bustle of subways and taxis honking, performers with their loud boom boxes, and the ever present construction work. No, today, it was silence, perfect, complete, utter silence with memories of nestling little husky puppies up against my cheeks to feel their warm love through their little fluffy fur coats!!

The more I read of the book I checked out yesterday, The Heretics, the more I get sucked in. Though with my entire peripheral vision filled with pine trees and nature from the glass top igloo, it was easy to get distracted from the book and just gaze up and soak in the thought that – yes, I am really here, how freaking cool is that. I am in the Arctic Circle. I am in a little glass igloo in the middle of the Lapland. A place that more than two years ago I had no clue even existed, though here I sit, in utter peace, surrounded by beauty feeling so fortunate that I want to cherish every second, every feeling, every moment.

Before long it was already dinner time, as I made my way through the forest, across the bridge, around the lake, and up the hill, it was the scent of pine trees that I just couldn’t shake. I tried to breath in as hard as I could as if there was a way to capture the scent, to seal it in my mind forever. Dinner tonight was a lovely asparagus soup and the main was a green curry chicken with rice. The dessert was fried cheese in a sweet milk like soup, and admittedly it was a little too unusual for my tastes. By the time I finished, they were adding logs to the fireplace and for the next half an hour the room had a smokey wood smell that reminded me of childhood camping trips.

Tonight’s kp level is kp2, which means barely likely if any chance to see the northern lights. As I crawled under my fluffy white comforter and slid the zebra blanket over, nestling in for the night, just above me were a slew of the most beautiful twinkling stars. I think I may have even seen a couple fall. Time to set the alarm for the every half an hour wake up ‘just in case’ – maybe tonight will be ‘the’ night!



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