Finally the real adventure in Finland began last weekend.
I had found some information on the net about the various Safaris and wanted to do so many things but had loads of apprehensions as I had read someone’s experience on Trip Advisor on how some of these safaris were a big rip off.
On top of that when I finally spoke to the lady in Kemi who was going to organize something for me, she said that the safari company offered a pick up from the railway station for 34 euros, which to me seemed a rip off. When I checked on Google maps, the distance from the railway station to the meeting point was only 800mts!!
So with fingers crossed, I finally decided to first try the Husky Safari - a dog sledding safari in the snowy nature. This safari takes you to a genuine Husky Farm where the mushers, Mrs. Ulla and her daughter Mrs. Paula live with their Siberian huskies. A quick training session on how to drive the husky team which typically consists of 5 or 6 dogs and off you are to try your hand at being a musher.
The train was supposed to reach at 9:09 AM, the tour departed at 9:15 AM from 800 mts away…. I was looking at a very, very brisk walk!
Luckily train reached at 9:00 AM and with my Google map printouts I made it to Hotel cumulus just in time. Changed into my gear - thermal clothing, gloves and winter shoes and set off with our cute guide, Mikhail in a van towards the farm about 20 kms away, when my 2nd apprehension started. The deal is that there are two persons in a team who take turns in driving the team and sitting in the sleigh as passenger. There was just a couple and me. They would be a team, so I may be with the actual musher and may be forced to be a passenger all the time and not get to try my hand at actual driving :-(
However, my apprehensions were baseless. After the training, Paula asked me if I wanted to take a sled out on my own!!! I would be driver all the time!! Yippeee. But at the same time I was a bit nervous. What if I cannot manage? She removed 2 of the dogs to make it easier for me.
With her warnings that the dogs would be quite fast initially, off we were….the dogs more eager than us. In fact the moment we entered the farm, they got all excited and starting barking like crazy. They were just raving to go and in fact every time we stopped in the middle for even 1 min, they would get all impatient. They looked ferocious but were such a friendly lot. Loved to be pet and kept jumping on me. They gave me a feeling of confidence that they would take care. Still I guess I was a bit nervous because I forgot to put the cap of the thermal suit on!!! I realized as we sped off when the cold air blasted on my face and head.
Paula was ohhh so right. The first 5 mins were crazy…so fast and 2 really sharp turns. Ulla was in the lead, followed by me and finally the Belgian couple. When I went down hill it was so fast, more so because I was the only one on the sled, the huskies too found it easier. In fact they kept trying to overtake Ulla and did not maintain the 200 mts distance that must be maintained. We could use the brakes to slow down the sled, but that realization came only after 15-20 mins, once I got the hang of it all. Till then I just let them be, do what they wanted and concentrated on using my weight to turn the sled, so that I didn’t fly off in a different direction.
We had been told to help the dogs when it was uphill by kicking with one foot on the snow. But my fellows hardly needed any help. They were brilliant. At one point only, the turn was 90 degrees and uphill. That was a tough turn I guess because the Belgian couple overturned!!! The passenger was left behind and the sled with the driver kept running. Such a funny sight, the lady scrambling after them!!!
The landscape was amazing, through snow forests and ice fields. I, being my adventurous self, decided to get my camera out of my pocket and try and take some snaps, all this while I was still moving…coz the babies had slowed down a bit. Gloves came off, camera came out and snaps were being clicked. But you never know when they are going to start speeding again. Luckily one hand was firm on the sled. But this is what happens to your snap when they suddenly start speeding.
After about an hour of this, we stopped for a break, where Ulla gave us hot berry juice. Though the name doesn’t sound interesting…hot and juice somehow don’t go too well in my head, it was yummmmmy. But the 10 mins break was one helluva noisy time as the huskies were just going beserk. They DID NOT like us stopping!
When we stopped we had moved quite close to each other. Ulla had tied the sleds with ropes to trees. She untied mine and her own sled, the idea being that since I was alone I had to keep my foot on the break while she untied the rope. For the couple, the driver puts the brakes while the other person goes and unties the rope. I don’t know what they were trying to do, but next moment I felt the huskies from their sled all over me!!! I turned around and the sled was driverless and passenger less! One of the dogs managed to scramble between my legs and from where I hold the sled, move onto the passenger seat of my sled. And the others were just trying to push ahead trying to take me and my sled along. It was tough holding on to the brake and at the same time trying to push the huskies back.
Ulla had moved on and I was like screaming…Ulla help!!! I don’t think I mentioned this before, while Paula spoke English, Ulla didn’t! I was like wondering… she had not realized our plight. What am I gonna do. In the meantime the Belgian couple had taken their position and was trying hard to pull the huskies back but with not much luck. I thought maybe if I let go of the brake, I would move forward and we would get untangled. But it seemed too much of a risk because of that one husky sitting nicely as my passenger!!!
Finally she listened to me and got off the sled. Slowly I let go of the brake and we were offfff….they had been standing for too long I guess, because the energy was amazing! At the corner I saw Ulla had stopped and was trying to tie her sled and come and help us!!!
And so after another hour of dog sledding we reached the farm. We were led to this really cosy place…a leather wigwam with fur covered benches and a nice warm fire. The farm puppy came to visit us there. It’s a different thing that he was a BIG puppy. Later over coffee and biscuits Ulla told Mikhail to tell us that we had been very good and in the 1st hr we had been too fast and overall done about 30kms!!!
After playing with the huskies for some time, we had to leave. Luckily all my apprehensions were baseless because the whole experience was awesome and worth every penny that I paid.