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Came across this article,got captured by the title “nation of reindeer and blueberries” and I wonder how his backpacker-writer is going to write about his/her trip?

Norway Backpacker – Travels around the nation of reindeer and blueberries

To go back to the very beginning of it all – sometime towards the end of August last year- seems like returning to another world. To a world where there was time and space – space that made you feel small, rather than the space I’m getting used to now that often feels cramped, as though you’re too big for it and there isn’t room for you.

I came home exhausted, but with more energy than I’d left with. To begin at the beginning then: I left my home in Edinburgh and flew to Tampere in Finland, which was itself a fairly eventful, if not particularly exciting, journey, as I had to spend the night in a Swedish airport on the way.

The airport was basically just a small room, with no seats or anything that might hint at comfort but, due to the airline’s not so brilliant scheduling, there were enough people doing the same thing to raise the temperature and to give the floor a generous covering of bodies! The restaurant was behind a curtain, so I decided that coffe would probably be out of my price range, and opted instead to share some water with a russian actor, in exchange for my lending him a jumper to sleep on. I was ‘woken up’ at 4am by an airport worker whose sole responsibility seemed to be to persuade anyone lucky enough to be asleep to wake up, and everyone else to move out of the way of the bustle of departures that would begin in an hour or so.

The flight was my first journey into Scandinavia and, as I gazed down at the clouds over the sea, looking more like icebergs, I felt a tingling of anticipation. In Tampere I met Sanna, a friend from my time in Germany, where we had been fellow exchange students, and whom I hadn’t seen since that time. I spent the night at her flat in the student area of the town, glad that I was now 2 hours ahead of Britain, and so would have a short wait for bedtime!

Tampere is a very modern, sterile looking town, with an attractive old cardboard factory sitting in the middle, in defiant juxtaposition to its surroundings. After a very necessary coffee and a walk over all the bridges we could find (and there are lots in Tampere), I was ready for sleep! We were woken around midnight by naked students running past the window – apparently it’s traditional for new students to drink beer in the sauna until they have enough courage to run to the police house at the end of the street and serenade whoever is on duty there that night!

I took the train next morning to Jyvaskyla, a bit further north, and met up with Steve, who’d spent the last 3 weeks doing a science course for graduates who haven’t had enough yet. The fast, clean, on time train put our rail service to shame – as almost every non-British train I’ve been on has done – I had to find an english-speaker to check my ticket for me and reassure me that I hadn’t wandered into first class by mistake (he was also able to still the usual worry about being on the correct train in the first place!). Thus reassured, I took full advatage of what felt like luxury and slept all the way to Jyvaskyla. Steve, who had obviously been enjoying student life in Finland in the way students everywhere do, turned up 20 minutes late, stinking of alcahol, so that it wasn’t quite the romantic reunion I had looked forward to.

Pleased to see him again none the less, we strolled around the town, noticing the practicality of the street names – for example, the main shopping street: Kauppakatu (shop street). We took a half empty bus to Kuhmo that afternoon, where Steve’s granparents live in a wooden hut by a lake, close to the Russian border and literally hours from civilisation. We spent the first night in the town, where his relatives own a house, which, having turned down the bus driver’s helpful, but we thought unneccessary, offer of calling a taxi for us, it took us a good 2 hours to find. With no street lights and no road names, we found ourselves creeping up to people’s front doors in the darkness to read names on letter boxes and generally walking round and round in circles. Really, we were proud that we managed to find it at all!

His aunt came the next day to drive us out to the lake, surrounded by endless forest broken only by more lakes, and, rarely, by a road. We spent about a week there – fishing, berry picking, rowing and driving his cousin’s rally car around the fields, because that is actually all there is to do there! Neither his granparents nor the aunts and uncles I met spoke a word of english or german, which made things interesting at times, but they were all so quiet anyway, that it didn’t seem to matter much. We ate elk every day, as his uncle had shot one quite recently, and fish from the lake with vegetables from the garden – I suppose if you live like that it doesn’t matter how cut off you are. We went walking in the forest near the house (this was before they proudly told us that 2 bears had been shot in the area that month) and saw 3 elk together, only about 20m from us!

That was incredibly lucky, as they’re so shy that seeing one so close is unusual. I tried fishing for the first time, but soon realised I preffered rowing out into the middle of the lake with a book rather than a fishing rod! I did catch a big pike one day, though – big enough that it fed me, Steve and his granparents for a meal, with leftovers for the next day! The downside of my success was that Steve became determined to catch something just as big and borrowed a fishing rod for the rest of the trip, which had to be tied awkwardly onto the rucksack every morning, and disentangled from numerous trees and shrubs that we passed too close to – and all with the end result of no fish!

Leaving Kuhmo, we drove to Kajaani , where we stayed in barracks with a cousin of Steve’s. We managed to find Deutsche Welt on the TV and, by coincidence, they were showing an article about Lofoten in Norway, one of our later destinations, and I began to get excited about our plans. At breakfast the next morning, we ate as much as we could cram into ourselves, concious of the small amount of food we were taking for the next week. A quick search for camping gas and boot wax in the morning (we didn’t find either, so we took lard as a substitute and made do with the welding gas kindly given to us by Steve’s uncle, which fitted our stove, but would later soften the metal into an interesting new shape nearly impossible to balance a pot on), and we were off to really begin the adventure!

First stop: Rovaniemi, just a few kilometres south of the arctic circle, and home to The Santa Claus Villiage. According to our guidebook there was a campsite on the edge of town and, after lengthy consideration, we decided that it was late enough to justify taking a taxi there, by which time, of course, all the taxis had gone and we were alone in the darkness with no choice but to walk! We dragged ourselves and our stuff a half hour out of town, only to find that the campsite was closed for winter, so back we came across one of those iron bridges that are described as great feats of engineering, to find that the only hostel was also closed, since it was, by this time, pretty late. We ended up finding a guesthouse which looked very closed, but ringing the doorbell eventually brought out a little old lady in a dressing gown, who didn’t speak to us, but showed us a room and pointed to the price. After a grateful night’s sleep, we took another bus, which was going all the way to the Norwegian coast, and got off at Kilpisjarvi in Finland, just at the point where Norway, Finland and Sweden all meet.

Actually, we didn’t get off at Kilpisjarvi, but ‘at the end of the trees after the second lake past Kilpisjarvi,’ as we’d described to the bemused bus driver. It was mid-afternoon, raining, and the road stretched emptily away in both directions, leaving us completely alone in the greyness. Opposite, our path snaked away through the heather and disappeared quickly into the mist. This was it! The beginning of almost the longest trek I’d done, in unfamiliar country, with just our backpacks and, of course, each other. We began to have our first doubts as we viewed the bleak landscape around us – drenched and desolate – but, with the road looking convincingly empty and long, we turned our faces away from it, and headed into the wilderness.

It was already late afternoon as we pulled our jackets tighter and left the tarmac behind. The scenery outside the bus window had changed as we’d come north – the dense forest was now replaced by barren hills and jagged, icy peaks – a remoteness we were eager to immerse ourselves in. We walked only a little way that first day before setting up camp, stiff from the long bus ride and unused to our heavy packs.

When we left the road, the prospect was dour to say the least – it was like any day in Scotland when the cloud seems to sit so thickly over everything that it seems impossible for it to stop raining. When we stopped, however, the rain stopped, the sky cleared, and we saw about 30 reindeer closer than a stone’s throw from us! A magical beginning to the trek! As the cloud cleared, we were disappointed to still be able to see the road – not so far away as we’d hoped, but we joked about the longest journey beginning with a single step, and pitched the tent facing the peaks in front, rather than the road behind!

The second day was hard going – neither of us were used to carrying that sort of load – but very rewarding, as we climbed over a rise and onto a plateaux – leaving Finland and the road far behind. We spent most of the day crossing the windswept boulder-strewn plateaux, with patches of scrub and small lochans, all the time following red markers painted onto stones or trees. The markers were a welcome surprise – we hadn’t expected route finding to be so easy. The markers were the only sign of people, and seemed mysterious in such a harsh, inhospitable landscape. I felt as though I could be in the Cairngorms back home, only the mountains seemed to stretch far further into the distance, and were interspersed with a few rocky alpine-looking peaks.

In the near-distance, there were boulder-strewn slopes and a biting wind, which ensured we didn’t stop for long. At one point a bird soared above us – if we’d been at home, we’d have said it was an eagle, but this place was wilder than home, and we didn’t know what lived here. At the end of the day, we descended into birch forest, where a hut – our destination for the day – nestled by the side of a marsh, which itself formed the banks of Lake Kilpis. It was beautiful, and still early enough when we set up camp for Steve to trapse off to the water with the fishing rod, and to come back again half an hour later with nothing!

The next day the rucksacks seemed to feel better – maybe it was the porrige we’d eaten, or mabe we were getting used to them. The next few days followed a similar pattern – across plateauxs and round the sides of great mountains, through the shadows cast by the jagged snowy peaks that rose above us on all sides, and down into valleys to camp. It was hot during the day – clear blue skies meant we were tanned a healthy brown before long – but the nights were well below freezing, so we made campfires whenever we could find enough wood. We saw a lot more reindeer and some ptarmigan (or grouse – I have never known which is which, but these ones were the ones that turn white in winter), and ate blueberries to make up for the lack of fruit and veg in our meals of rice and rice and rice! There were some extra special days, when we found lagoon like lakes, which looked like natural roman baths – pools of emerald green or deep blue water surrounded by smooth rock walls and fed by quiet, unassuming streams. There were waterfalls every day: really big, powerful, cascades of water, hitting the ground as though meaning to force a way to the centre of the earth, and smaller, gentler, falls that made white veins over the rocks, where the water was just falling off the mountainside, as though there was too much up there.

The weather did finally break, and the strength of the storm really brought the wilderness home – it did somehow suit the scene in a way, and we only had 2 days left, so we couldn’t complain anyway! Walking in the forest that day a birch tree in front of me swayed in the wind, then swayed further, then teetered on the brink of stability before breaking in half and crashing into the swirling mass of leaves and branches that we were walking on. It was more thrilling than frightening – that kind of wind can make you feel truly alive! Once we left the forest, the battle to stay upright became tougher, and the rain, which had been there before, but in an almost ignorable way, began to lash fiercely at our faces, and the rest of the day was painful – the worry of putting up the tent didn’t help either! By the time we had reached the hut, we had decided that the only way the tent had a chance of survival in such weather was to pitch it as close as possible to the wall of the hut – which is, officially, unallowed. Seeing heads in the hut, we banged on the door to ask the necessary permission, and instead found ourselves with dry beds (beds, with mattresses and everything – the luxury was almost too much for us!), and 2 german hikers who cooked us dinner (not rice!).

It was a fantastic night, and was probably just what we needed to make the last 2 days as enjoyable as all the rest! After the trek, we hitched our way back to civilisation and found a bus to take us to Narvik – a town important for it’s ice-free port, which caused it, after some dramatic sea battles, to be destroyed in the course of WWII. Recovering in Narvik, we were introduced to Norwegian prices, which are high everywhere and, in the pub, extortionate! A ferry took us across to Lofoten, famous for it’s cod and herring fisheries – dried fish is almost 80% protien and tastes delicious if you only have a wee nibble!

Lofoten itself was breathtakingly gorgeous – towering peaks rising from the sea, with wee villiages, hamlets really, balancing percariously along the slightly more hospitable coastline. Another ferry took us back to the Norwegian mainland, and a train took us back below the arctic circle to Trondheim – the first big town I’d seen since Tampere! Wooden houses, waterways and people on bicycles just about sum the place up – we got lost looking for a museum there and a lovely off-duty taxi driver took us there for free, by which time it was closed, but they let us look round an exhibition anyway -learnt all about babies being swaddled and am surprised people in this country aren’t all bow-legged! The cathedral was also impressive – rows and rows of figures carved into the stone front.

From Trondheim a combination of buses and hitchhiking took us into the Jotunheimen (translation: home of the giants), where we did a 3 day hike. We began going over the Beseggen ridge – famous for Peer Gynt’s terrifying ride in Ibsen’s play. It was very different from the trek before – the path was an icesheet on the way up – making the parts where you had to scramble over the rocks even trickier, and deep snow on the top, with breathtaking views down the cliffside to the green glacial lake below. The descent down the ridge put your heart in your mouth at places, it was that narrow. Leaning out over the drop to get to the next flat bit of rock, trusting that it wouldn’t be covered in ice, made you really concious of the nothing that was between you and the water, about 1000m below. On the third day we climbed the second highest mountain in Norway – a fact of which we are both very proud, although it was fairly straightforward. The path was clearly marked right up to the edge of the snowfield on top, where cairns marked the edge of the precipice, which had to be followed to reach the summit.

The only difficulty was the weather, which turned from clear and wonderful to winds that blew the snow onto the cairns, making them hard to see, and eventually brought enought cluods that ditinguishing between the white ground and the sky was impossible. We made it over though, and it cleared (predictably) when we started to go down – giving us amazing views – a great vista of mountains and corries with frozen waterfalls coming out of them! Exhausted, we hitched our way to civilisation again and got to Bergen. A couple of days in Bergen, where we tasted smoked whale and 5 different types of caviar, and became fully convinced that Norwegians are all ridiculously fit and healthy, and then we saw Oslo. We went to a couple of excellent museums in Oslo, which have convinced me that I have missed my calling as a polar explorer, and then home!


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