It was time to leave Kiruna and move up North, as much as I enjoyed staying in Sweden I could not afford spending the rest of summer by an iron mine:) The North Cape was waiting for me. The road was taking me through the seemingly endless Swedish tundra with landscapes filled with small twisted birch trees, neolithic stones and the reindeer. The North started to slowly seem less romantic and more grim.
The Grim North.
There is certainly romance to the North, it’s a beautiful and quiet world where a man can truly enjoy freedom, this is the wild wild west of Europe but it’s also an incredibly challenging place to live. Majority of settlements are built around some form of a mine or an energy producing plant and there is little in terms of entertainment, you’ve got to like wild camping, hunting and fishing… and I do like all those things but it’s here where I realised that it’s no longer something you can have a hobby, it is now a way of life. You wanna eat – you go fishing or shoot tings, you wanna have some free time or entertain yourself – you go fishing or shoot things. You wanna take a lady for a romantic date – you take her to a river to do fishing… or how here how to shoot things. But then the’s just as likely to be able to show you how to do those things.
That afternoon I crossed the border into Finland, the road takes you to a narrow strip of land that belongs for the nation of people more closely related to Hungarians than the rest of Scandinavia.
But what’s most interesting is that this strip of land is Finnish for a reason. You see, the Finns were looking for the flat bits of scenery in the region… and they found it! It’s as if they were making sure there are no mountains in Finland and they fought fierce wars with the Swedes and the Norwegians for those flat bits:) And flat they are! Sand dunes and the absence of rock which have been there just a few kilometres prior to the Finnish border.
I am amazed just how much difference borders between countries make, it’s not like in Asia or Africa where borders are straight lines drawn on maps by the colonists!
Finland was supposed to last a few hours, it lasted two days, I spent a night by a lake battling mosquitoes and emerged incredibly wounded from that battle. But it was worth it since I found a place to bathe Sebastian, we washed the air suspension springs – something that you should don on an air-suspended vehicle once in a while if you want it to last you longer.
The next day I roamed the sand dunes for hours in search or reindeer antlers… which I ended up buying at a Sami village in Norway a few days later:)
I don’t know where I have been but what I’ve been seeing instead were deer bones, whether those were left by hunters, the bears or whether it’s what’s left of deer that naturally passed away I do not know but it looked creepy… and yet, no antlers!
Firstly Norway seemed similar to Sweden with largely empty and abandoned monumental imperial buildings but these quickly gave way to much more down to earth fishing huts and Sami villages.
Back are the old rocky mountains, the wild rivers and fishermen fly-fishing at every turn of those graceful streams. Mind you, just an hour’s drive south in Finland there are warm sandy lakes and none of this!
The rest of the landscape is, I believe, Tundra – short trees, weeds, poor vegetation and few animal species, it is getting increasingly colder, +15 is the new daily average.
For the Boys
Gone are the Finnish scary front lights used to blind moose and deer, enter the world of fishing rods. They are attached to the car! Yes, they have a special cup on the bonnet where the handle slots in and a little t-shaped holder on top of the car! I have never seen this way of transporting fishing gear in my life. And given that most Norwegians drive massive 4x4s I can’t see why not place those things inside!
It is here where after seeing more traces of Sami that I’ve realised that here there is no Finland, Sweden or Norway… it’s all Sami land! White people arrived and fought each other to call these places their names but in reality it is the Sami who truly own these lands. You can feel their presence everywhere, the further up North you go the less influence of the western civilisation and Sami culture revels itself.
Reindeer antlers are on every building, the Tipis are everywhere. It looks a little bit like gypsy settlements but with a completely different cultural background.
The most interesting thing I found is that the Tipis are actually permanent structures. I always thought that Samis carry them around as they migrate but they only keep the skins while wooden “skeletons” are kept in place and they gear them up as they arrive.
This is a lot like the Pilgrims’ artefacts I’ve seen in Southern France – migrating people don’t randomly move around, they have set paths they follow for generations and I’m sure it stands true for Samis as well. I have later spoken to one of them and he described how they migrate North for summers and South for winters, the migration path is around 200km long. He told me how glaciers melt away closing migration maths they’ve known for years but I liked his attitude towards change, he saw it as part of life… I really liked it.
He invited me into his Tipi:
it was a combination of a family lodge and a small souvenir shop, many Samis trade deer hides, antlers and hand-made traditional items.
I waved a goodbye to this lovely place, it was time to go to the North Cape and the weather did not look promising.
(Serge Fog, 24-27 July 2016)