Where am I? And why have all the mountains disappear? Why is that people all of a sudden look strange – somewhat grim and where have all the brand new 60th Anniversary Land Cruisers gone?
There answer my fellow readers is that I’ve crossed the border from Norway and into Finland. And when God was creating Scandinavia he’s created Norway… then Sweden… and then he sneezed… and so came Finland.
They don’t smile but they are very… VERY sociable compared to Norwegians, they aren’t afraid to look you in the eye… or, in fact, to stare at you if they find you strange or amusing and believe me, unless you’re born in Finland they will find you amusing and will stare at you.
Clean streets? Forget it! Modern clothes? Hah!
You’re now a Finn, take off your Bad Balance baseball hat and get you all-black coats and bean hats.
Everything is strange! Everything is just… not Scandinavian.
They like sedan cars…. I don’t know what needs to happen to a Norwegian so that he does not buy an estate… a mid-life crisis! But in Finland a sedan is the way to go… and then they try and carry stuff on the roof because it does not fit in.
That morning I woke up in winter wonderland. The 11th of October had just as many degrees on the dial of my frozen car, -12, everything has been chained into ice, it felt as if summer has never even been to these places. And the main reason why I am writing these words is because I found a way to keep my car’s living quarters at above freezing line through an electricity feed which powered my heater.
I’ve decided to run for my dear life, I estimated that it’ll take me 1000km to get back to Autumn so I hit the road. I was not meant to make the 1000km drive however, as I was passing by a lake I decided to have a look around, the place looked like a perfect spot for taking photos of the Northern Lights, what I wanted was to have some water between me and the horizon in the right direction so I’d get reflection of the lights in water. It is by this lake where the story of Serge’s Finland really begins.
The lake had a shallow waters, was close to a road and a forest, the banks were full of rubbish and rotten fish which must have been pulled on shores using a net. Rubbish is what differs Finns from the rest of Scandinavians the most. It is everywhere, piles of it. When in Norway you feel like people have only been around for a few days and all the houses been build by the Creator himself while in Finland – make no mistake, this stuff is all man-made.
Next to the lake I noticed a small hut. It was the size of a London’s studio flat, probably 25 square meters and I could not connect it to being a living home, after a quick look around I concluded that no one used this hut for a very long time, this finding created my entire Finnish adventure.
A Hut in the Woods
The hut was tiny and ran down, it greeted me with an open door and a lot of broken glass. I knocked on the door and when I finally stepped in I saw what was basically a long-forgotten 70 or so years old Finnish Sauna. From that moment I knew exactly what I was going to do next – I was going to make my place a temporary home and use its proximity to a near-perfect Northern Lights photography spot to wait for my perfect Northern Lights display.
Tidying up took four hours. Gone was the broken glass, bottles, cigarette buds and left-overs from someone’s attempt to make it back into a sauna, the wood burner was fully functional and there was even some left-over wood I could use to test it. Soon, creaking fire was roaring in the burner and the hut started filling with warm air. After days of sleeping in three sleeping bags in a damp car I could not be more excited.
The best thing was that the hut was also in a spot of very good mobile internet reception and I used to to quickly identify my location in relation to the nearest town with its supermarkets. I needed to go shopping.
Candles, matches, food, a dust brush and a smoke alarm have been sourced same day, I could finally drop my clothes off, light the candles and enjoy spending an evening in an upright position. No longer did I have to be just laying down at the back of my car, the change was so striking that I did not even bother checking for Northern Lights that night.
The night came and brought with it something that I did not expect to experience.
Every night brought with it fear. I do not know if I am unique in that but something about the hut just radiated insecurity. The door had no locks, passing cars would shine their hi-beams through broken glass of one of the windows, I was constantly afraid of someone coming in while I was asleep. Not breaking in because the house did not belong to me but coming in. I was somehow afraid to be told to leave in the middle of the night.
It is a city man’s worst nightmare. You see, in big cities, people won’t think twice before exercising their right to anything. Such as you know that if you parked your car in a wrong place you will receive a fine – unconditionally so being in a hut which you know does not belong to you makes you fear of being unconditionally expelled by someone who may come passing by. This is what would always happen to you in a city:
Ah, you are sitting here – this table belongs to the cafe and I can’t see you having our coffee, please leave.
This is private property and although you’re not doing anything wrong we know you are not supposed to be here – please leave
This pier is for sailing club members only and no, you can’t spend 30 minutes here enjoying the sunset – please leave.
All of the above makes you feel in vulnerable positions where you should really have nothing to worry about. I really realised how fucked up my city mind was. Staying in this hut had helped me to become a lot less paranoid for my actions, to not have false fears so meticulously planted in us by the society and which serves no other purpose to make us needlessly compliant with all and any rules that may be thrown our way.
First night I spent holding a knife in my hand and when at 3am a stone fell off the stove I woke up with a battle scream pointing my knife towards the darkness of the night. At least I knew I could respond to a situation.
Needless to say that I barely slept that night. Something needed to be done.
First of all in the morning I sat down and analysed the reason for my fears. I knew that mostly I was afraid of people and not animals although all locals were in the woods hunting bears. I needed a way to lock the door. I used a rope and a stick which helped me securely block the door. It could still be opened from the outside but it’d take some time and I was hoping that the noise made in the process would give me some leeway to wake up and brace myself for… what I needed to brace myself for I did not know but at least I had time to mobilise.
The coming night revealed another problem. When I finally managed to get a better sleep I would wake up to terrifying cold at 3am, this is when the fire was long gone together with remaining warm air and I would wake up in cold darkness.
Try setting up your alarm clock for 3am and then get yourself to make a fire – take a piece of birch tree bark or paper, get an axe and split a log into kindling then wait for it to light up and put some larger logs in. I tell you one thing – what’s not a problem during the day is a huge issue when you’re half awake in the middle of the night.
I will tell you in advance that I still did not solve that problem and all my stay I had to wake up at night and re-fire the stove. I tried everything – from wet wood to unsplit logs, although it would yield me some extra time I have not manages to keep the fire going all night.
On the final night at the hut I was woken up by dreadful screeching sounds, I was sure that it was a bear trying to force his way into the hut, I grabbed my knife, lit the head torch and was waiting for my final battle, the battle which I would give my life a fantastic ending, I’d never get old and I would not to have to worry about my place in the world ever again. The screeching lasted for 15 minutes and then stopped. I sat awake for another hour and when I finally stepped outside the hut with first lights to see the damage I have met the one who kept me awake:)
I sent a photo to my friend and she called him Gregory:
Greg was living inside the wood chippings insulated walls of the sauna, he was very friendly and always came to see me when I was standing at the doors enjoying the cold sunny day. I miss him a lot now.
Waiting for the Northern Lights… in Muonio
I was battling for my survival in the woods with one goal in mind – being close proximity to a place where I could do my midnight photography but every night heavy frost would bring icy fox down into the valley and by 8pm one could not see a single star in the sky. I somehow realised that I’ve seen the final Northern Lights of the year 100km up North and that I won’t see them here. The next days I lived in hope but just as I thought, the weather never let me enjoy stunning views of the lights near my reclaimed hut.
I used my days hunting for wood for the night and writing this blog at a Swiss Cafe in the town of Muonio – a tiny and a really boring place.
A walk around Muonio would take an hour, it’s a place to a church, a few supermarkets and three boats on the river. Most people here test cars for a living. Car brands bring their creations to this region in order to see how they perform in extreme cold. This is all top-secret stuff as I was unable to even figure out where the track was, it’s a place which you can’t see on the map.
After a week of life in the hut it has become a little warmer and I decided to flee towards the South. A friend waited for me in Budapest but something was telling me that Budapest was impossibly far, I learned that on at my own expense when I started driving.
But it was time to say goodbye to the hut. I threw a final look at what’s been my home for three nights and shut the door. Inside I left a notepad with a welcome note and I’m hoping that someone will find this hut as useful as I did and I also hope to come back there one day and see many more noted in the notepad.
And of course, I hope that Gregory is doing well there.
Towards the Southern Finland
After a 10 hours drive I was still in Finland. Having quickly checked Torino – a place where the Swedes and the Finns wage a shopping mall war and where all of Finland seemingly comes to buy stuff I took a photo of a beautiful sunset and drove a little further to spent a night at a camp site near the town of Oulu.
Finland just wasn’t exciting to be at the time. I really tried but it was vast and just not as exciting as Norway or even Sweden. I mean in Norway you have mountains, in Sweden you have Swedes but in Finland… in Finland I guess you’d better like fishing. And fishing for me it was not.
The next day it was finally Helsinki and after a quick walk around the frozen city I took a same-day ferry to Tallinn, something was drawing me back towards the Soviet Empire.
Serge Fog (11-16 Oct 2016)