After our long day’s efforts of hitch hiking we finally made it up North. We spent three long hours standing in the negative temperatures, knee deep in snow trying to get someone heading north to pull over and give us a ride. Our couch surfing host who said it was going to easy, was wrong. I was wet, frozen and extremely over it by the time someone finally pulled over to give us a lift. One more car later and we had finally made it in the dark, to Ivalo.
The cabin we found on couch surfing was an old style cottage, run with a wood oven for heating. It reminded me of a cabin an old writer would live in to escape from the world. As well as us there were five other couch surfers as well as the house owner, a middle-aged drama teacher.
To our pleasure the weather wasn’t any colder than we had already experienced, and we had purchased some winter clothes at the op-shop in Rovaniemi to keep us dry.
Our first day in Ivalo we decided it was time we built a snowman. This wasn’t just any old snowman; our snow man took several hours and ended up being a head taller than Tyral. We gathered, shaped and calved the snow into an incredibly big bear-like-thing for four hours. Exhausted and pleased with ourselves we walked back to the cabin to enjoy a night of saunaing, a Finnish tradition. Europeans are a lot more open and comfortable with their bodies then us proody Australians, and it is normal to sauna naked. I felt extreme discomfort at this, not only did I not want anyone seeing me naked I really didn’t want to see someone else naked… So, I sat in my towel and kept my eyes to the front the whole time.
After about 20 minuets when the heat was getting too much, we quickly ran from the cabin out to the snow and drove in. We had watched some oldies on the island in Turku dive into a hole in a frozen lake, and were really keen to try it. We didn’t get the lake experience but the snow was cold enough. Our feet, butts and legs stung from the sudden adjustment in temperature as we ran straight back to the hot room. This continued for several hours.
For dinner, the Switzerland guy staying with us made cheesy fondue for everyone for dinner. It’s been a tradition within my family since I can remember to cook it once a year to honour my grandfather, so it was an exciting thing for me to experience in the north of Finland, and it was delicious.
The next day, our host drove us to Inari, even further north. We looked around the Sami museum, about the indigenous Finnish people, and hired cross-country ski’s. Both Tyral and I had skied before, so we were excited to get back into it. Cross-country skiing isn’t anything like downhill skiing, however. It’s harder, slower, physically demanding and boring. Instead, we found any kind of hill we could, and skied down them.
That night, our host taught all of us how to cook traditional Finnish food. This involved reindeer stew… I am a vegetarian, so the idea of eating Rudolph was a bit traumatising so instead I cooked my own meal. Tyral said it tasted alright, but I was quite content with my grilled eggplant. As well as this we ate Finnish cheese, which tasted much like Haloumi, and a sweet scone with almond paste and cream for desert. We were all stuffed after the meal, and then the Czech couple brought out the homemade alcohol… This was the strongest shot I have ever tasted, similar to the lethal rice wine in South East Asia, only apple flavoured, and stronger.
Still, no Northern Lights. By this stage we had come to accept that we wouldn’t see them, as did the rest of our fellow couch surfers on the same quest. At this point we had two options, to head up even further north to the boarder to Norway, or head back down south and over to Estonia. We had been told about an 18 hour return trek that took you to the most northern part of Europe, and Tyral wanted to give it a go. I was reluctant due to the fact we had no proper hiking gear, our warm clothes weren’t cut out for those conditions and every day we stayed in Europe was an extra day over on his visa. I had to talk a little sense into him, but he agreed we should hurry out of the visa zone as quickly as possible.
So once again, it was time to hitch hike our way down south, this time heading to a small ski village known as Pyha.