The photos in this post are a mixture of mine and Chris’s.
Sat 1st February
Chris picked me up and drove us to Gatwick stopping a couple of times on the way. Nice easy journey. Arrived at Sofitel, (perhaps a new venture for my dear cousin Sophy?!) We were met by a somewhat morose doorman in a long coat and a driver who took Chris’s car away. Mr Grumpy took us to reception in the grand atrium. Our room was fine and looked onto the central courtyard. We put the Prosecco in the fridge and wandered over the indoor walkway to the terminal to look at the shops which were a bit rubbish and to buy our breakfast in M&S.
An aperitif and then prepaid dinner in the hotel. We both had pasta mains, mine with funghi and Chris’s with carbonara, washed down with big glasses of Sauvignon. Nice young man from South Africa served us, very excited as he has not yet seen snow and was hoping it would come.
Back for après drinks. Read a bit and tried to sleep.
Sun 2nd February
She snored and I sneezed and we both had terrible indigestion which I blame on the pasta.
At 3.20 we had to wake up fully to check out so that we could then check in at 4.10. All was fine and for once I didn’t get a good work over at security.
As we took our seats on the plane in a set of 3, I asked the girl on the end if she was with Exodus too and she said yes. She made no further remarks, so I thought she must be shy. I offered her a boiled sweet which she took but still didn’t say anything except thanks. And then another but still nothing. I was starting to think she was a bit lacking and wondering about a whole week in her company. As we landed I gave her another sweet. She thanked me and that was it, off we went. We didn’t land on snow, the runway had been cleared, a minor worry I’d had. Kuusamo is a tiny airport, ours was the only plane there. We were met by Bjorn aka Teddy. 25 of us onto a coach but not my sweet eating companion!
We set off and were immediately driving through forest on snow with no other cars hardly. Some more on the main road but not many. Past the turn into the town, past the ski resort of Ruka which is tiny and has the only big hill in the vicinity. The snow deepened as we went into the national park and the roads narrowed. Before long we got to Basecamp Oulanka (u not pronounced). Lunch of sweet potato soup and black bread. Pancake pudding. Very good. Then we were issued with equipment in a very hot room, we got 3 layers of legs and 3 of tops, boots, rucksack, sit mat, 2 pairs gloves, mittens and a hat. Later a headlamp and a flask. This took a long time. We had been given a double room and not a twin and this was not what we wanted or had paid for. The Basecamp staff sorted us out so that we had a double room each and they did this quickly but it was an Exodus cock up. We had to wait while my new double room was readied. I don’t know how those sharing a double room managed to fit 2 lots of the kit we’d just been given into one cupboard.
Bjorn gave us a long and complicated briefing for the week and we worked out what we wanted to do.
Unpacked, then dinner at 7 pm of salad and elk stew with potato. Choc cake for pud. We shared it.
At 8.30 went to Chris’s cabin for tea (her) and hot choc (me) with rum.
At 9 Carol rang, just coming off the machine so I rang her at 10, really flagging, so tired had lost ability to speak, only 8 pm at home.
Mon 3rd February
Slept for hours and hours. Woke at 8.15. Breakfast of muesli and yoghurt, black bread, ham, cheese and salad. Coffee comes out of kettle on hot plate. Berry juice, water, tea and coffee available all the time in the big room.
Issued with snow shoes and walking poles. Out to the lake where we put them on, much easier design than when I last did this. Game of frisbee to warm up and gain confidence in running with them on. Into the forest. Walk on toes to go up and bounce like a trotting horse to go down (well that was my way of doing it). Also down slope on bum. Hugged a tree to hear the silence and feel the stillness. Went to viewpoint over frozen river, the rapids not frozen. Dipper dipping. To the mill and back to base.
Lunch of salmon and dill soup and black bread.
Some time later Chris and I went out on self guided walk on the Little Bear trail. The bears are currently hibernating. Went across suspended wobbly bridge over rapid river and later another bridge across frozen river, we heard it lapping underneath.
We went to a forest hut with lots of logs complete with hefty axe and saw. Also an outdoor compost loo which I made use of. Then back in the nearly dark. Sunset is at 3.30 but could still see when we got back at 4.45. Likewise I could see before sunrise at 9 this morning.
Change and then to the hot tub. Shower first. Hot tub not hot enough. Bit slippy on getting out onto ice. Eloise went for snow roll from hot tub (how brave) and came back in which possibly lowered the temperature!! Out and quick hot shower then back for shower in room but I picked a bad time as everyone was doing this so the water went off in the middle of hair conditioning but it all came right eventually.
G&T in Chris’s cabin. Dinner of chicken, veg and rice with curry sauce followed by salad. Pud was cake for Jenny’s birthday so she got up to blow out her candle and then Gary got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes. Not a dry eye in the place!
Back to my cabin for tea and hot choc with rum.
Tues 4th February
Didn’t sleep so well, itching and scratching and still too hot so turned the heating off which didn’t make much difference. Into plush minibus to Riisitunturi park about 45 mins away, stopping to drop off one lot of dog sledders and pick up another lot who have to exchange the 4th layer of clothing which is ski pants and coats. I’m sure they haven’t divided us up size wise so not sure how this works. The park has a small 380 m hill where the snow clumps very heavily on the trees and makes strange shapes out of them. Very like those in Stephen King’s The Shining which I’ve just read or Narnia if you prefer less scary.
Norra led us along with Tessa, a Finn and Lisa, a volunteer (I think) from the UK. Norra says she does feel Scandinavian which I asked because of an online conversation I’d had with one of my relations. Great walk although misty so no views but mysterious and quite magical despite having to join in the games for Exodus’ 40th birthday. We have a slightly disappointing packed lunch of fruit juice, energy bar, raisins, sandwich made by us and a heavy sweet bun.
Back at Basecamp we start to make a Sami drum out of reindeer skin. It is intricate and absorbing work and a bit like being back at school although Bjorn is a kind teacher.
We then go off for dinner in the dark in a shelter with a big fire pit. We have elk with mashed potato, pickled gherkins and lingonberry jam. Also juice. Then we make pancakes. By this time I feel I’m coming down with a cold. We go back and finish the actual drum making. Back to Chris’s cabin for hot choc and rum.
Weds 5th February
Woke up in the night feeling gruesome but on waking this morning I have a cold but feel OK.
We drive off with Anneka back to Riisintunturi wearing even more clothes to meet Lauri at the husky farm, he is a gentle giant Laplander. I have the first team behind him, Chris behind me and then the other 4 plus Lauri’s handsome but silent colleague. I have a team of 4, Chris has 6. We set off after instruction at quite a lick. The dogs crap on the go so it’s important to brake for this, brake for downhill slopes, brake when the one in front stops. My dogs were quite good and I would have liked them to go a bit faster, they went quite slowly on the flat stretches and then fast down hills. Cornering was fab. We went up through the snow covered trees into the park. Very exhilarating for 10 km. Lauri has 60 dogs and knows them all, they all know their names. They got a gravy drink at the end and eat in the evening. 500 g mix of meat and biscuit.
Back to Basecamp. Fish soup for lunch which I quite liked despite not being big on fish. Spicy bun for pud.
Bjorn gave us kick sleighs to play with which got us used to falling over and not having any control over direction.
Issue of shoes and skis.
On the lake we first practised moving around on skis, then scootering on one leg then the other leg then bringing it together. Bjorn is very long and thin and showed us the desired movements in slow motion which was a most amazing sight with the length of his legs!
We tried a few goes but when Bjorn suggested the round the lake trip Chris decided to go home. We went over to a settlement and then Bjorn brought us back across a short slice of lake rather than the whole enormous thing. We did about 3 km and I only fell off right at the finish line. It was nearly dark so we went into the wood with our headlamps on. We walked up a little slope and tried to go down it. Pippa was very good at all of it. Jonathan succeeded with some minor wobbles and I veered off to the left and had to fall over to avoid the trees!
Dinner of veg lasagna and salad and apple cake with vanilla sauce.
Finished off our drums. Rang home a bit late.
Rum in my cabin.
Thurs 6th February
Set off just after 10.30 and snow shoed by ourselves to the frozen waterfall and could see Castle Rock. Very glad we hadn’t paid an extra charge to walk this in a group. It was a lovely walk but perfectly manageable on our own. We ate some nuts and choc but the Picnic bar for Chris was rock hard and my water bottle froze. Got back to Basecamp for a clothing change and then onto the minibus taxi with Eileen and Jack to go to Ruka which is small tacky looking ski resort to pick up those who had been doing snowmobiling and skiing there. As we waited I looked out the window and the skiers appeared as if they were in mid air.
Then to the reindeer farm, which was quite high and much, much colder, I put on all my layers (5) which was only just enough.
Mika took us to see 2 reindeer and the sleigh. Chris and I got in and our reindeer was hooked in and off we went on a very small circuit at a very gracious pace, more stop than go and the complete opposite of the huskies. Everyone had a twirl round doing this.
Then we went into the female reindeer pen to feed them moss which looked more like lichen. They liked this alright. Mika showed us to a little barn with a blazing fire. We took our boots off and put our feet on reindeer skins. It was very dark in the shed and smoky. First Mika gave us reindeer sausages already cooked to warm on the fire. Delicious and good with mustard. Then a cup of kettle coffee and a pastry made by his partner Satu’s mother. Needed spices or at least sugar. He told us the work of the reindeer farmer’s year which is hard and how reindeer farming operates in a commune type system. Then he sold us some crafts and the bus came to take us back to Ruka. We picked up the rest who had waited nearly half an hour in the cold for us. Back to Basecamp. Dinner of rainbow trout, mixed roast veg. Salad. Ice cream and berry sauce.
We sat around with the rest of the group in the evening for a change.
Back to Chris’s cabin for rum.
Fri 7th February
Terrible night with nose dripping all night meaning I had to blow it about every 15 mins. Finally managed about 3 hours unbroken sleep. Chris also hadn’t slept well.
We decided not to build a quinsee and joined the snow shoe group plus 2 other couples who had opted out. Norra led us on the whole of the Little Bear trail. Fabulous walk through the forests and across frozen lakes. 10 km in 5.5 hours total which is not bad on snow shoes with lots of stops for drinks and photos. We stopped at a woodshed for lunch. Chris and I had made a small sandwich from the black bread and I had an egg which we added to our copious supplies of sweet things. We didn’t pay for a packed lunch as we didn’t feel it was worth the price. Norra quickly lit a fire using firelighters and matches she had brought and wood from the shed which the government provides for free. Some toasted their sandwiches. On the return section we went up 252 steps which was hard work as they were mostly snow covered but some had been reduced to ice so the bear claw part of the snow shoe was very necessary.
Back for hot choc and a doughnut. Then we went to the hot tub for C and sauna for me. So hot I couldn’t put my feet down.
I have had 4 showers today!
Dinner of elk stew with rice and barley, salad and quark pud with fruit basically a creamy fruity dish and v good.
To my shed for rum and hot drink and early to bed to sleep more and get better.
Sat 8th February
Early start but our taxi was late. Drove for quite a while to Jaksamontiewhere Lauri, Marika and the 60 dogs live. First we togged up in their home which was quite old fashioned Scandi bling and reminded me of the B&B in Koenigstein. I got to model an all in one snowmobile padded boiler suit suitable for Everest. We met some husky puppies. Then to our sleds. The solo sledders set off first with another quiet handsome man then Lauri, then us, me in the sled with Chris driving then 3 more doubles behind us. I was wrapped up with a duvet and a reindeer skin on top. We set off at the usual cracking pace through the forest and on up into Riisitunturi park. I was glad for all my 5 layers top and 3 bottom. Chris was a good driver. She had to push the 8 dogs up a hill and pulled a muscle in her groin doing this. At halfway to lunch we stopped for a drink and swopped over. Our dogs were pretty good although one seemed constipated and we had frequent stops to deal with his poo non events.
A complete stop for lunch at a forest shelter. The soloists had arrived some 20 mins before and helped to carry the pots and pans and light the fire. We sat on our reindeer skins, used the compost loo and warmed up. Lunch was a long, slow drawn out affair. First elk stew with lots of cheese in it. Then bread with cheese on it. Then hot berry desert with cheese sounds bad but it was very, very good. Then coffee mixed with a splash of water in the dessert cup. Back into the sleds, this time with a thicker longer reindeer skin over me, sorry to whoever got my little one instead. I took some videos as we went along on our 8 dog open sleigh. At one stop John and Eileen’s 2 front dogs came up alongside me. The nearest sniffed and licked my reindeer and then ripped a huge chunk out of it. I tried to stop him and Lauri said doggo mustn’t eat anything but he started growling at me so I gave up on this thankless task.
We swopped over again putting the headlamps on and skated back to Lauri’s dog farm. Very magical whizzing through the snow by torchlight all spread out.
Back to Basecamp for shower, return all the kit, dinner of salmon and fried potatoes, salad, sort of Bakewell tart pudding. Paid our bills. Bjorn gave us a slide show of what it’s like there in the summer and a film of our week which he will send us.
To Chris’s room for a last hot rum, then packing then sleep.
Checked out, last breakfast and Bjorn took us to the mill to convene with silence, stillness and nature.
Bus arrived and Bjorn said we had arrived as guests and left as friends which felt very true despite the cynics!
Lisa with her broken arm said goodbye as not allowed to fly. Any excuse to stay longer.
To tiny airport, one tiny other plane there. Smooth procedures, no nagging about weight allowances, my case now lighter. Chris’s heavier. Eloise had 2 v small bags, I must look into lighter packing and holdalls.
Some small shopping and a coffee and onto plane.
I loved Finland, the food, the plumbing, the peace, the quiet, the wilderness, the people. And for Carol I did not see one single piece of litter all week.