Well, well, well…don't now where to begin. This trip was fun…no doubts, very tiring…again no doubts, and in its own way truly UNIQUE…yes, that is definitely a “no doubts”!!!
For when have I been on a conducted tour, where its me, a traveler, shouting Yalla Yalla (hurry up, hurry up in Arabic..something I picked up in Egypt) and not the guide herding the tourists around!!!
And where have I experienced this convoluted communication pattern…so the Driver is a Sudanese who speaks Finnish and Arabic, the Helper with him speaks some Arabic, Tamil, a bit of English, the Guide (also, the helpers wife) speaks Finnish, Tamil and some English, and finally the Tourists – 3 Indians speaking English and Hindi and 3 Chinese speaking English and Chinese!!!
And we had 2 GPS which didn't work!!! Ummm…maybe they worked only in Finland and since we had somehow landed in Sweden. Whatever!
And a guide with no money and no change!!! Always borrowing from us!
And finally where have I met a guide who says…we don’t know the name of the hotel we are going to, or doesn't have addresses or names of the points where we break for coffee etc but just a small 3 inch by 2 inch photo of that place and searches on the highway for that place using the picture, or asks the tourists to read the map and tell them how many kms are we from point x because we are running out of diesel!!!
But I guess after several years of travelling, I have finally matured to a good traveler, one who takes all these things in their stride and learns to laugh at this rather than getting irritated.
To begin at the beginning…Friday 25th was a holiday here. We started around 1:30 from the city. Since bus service was restricted, the organizer had provided a pickup for us. It was a long trip…nearly 2500 kms up and down so I was glad to see our luxury Ford mini van. We could have started earlier, it being a holiday, but for some unknown reasons that was not the case. But like they say…every cloud has a silver lining. So we started late and then got lost, and so instead of reaching our destination at 8:30 PM, we were driving through the night and reached only at 2:30 AM and so I got to experience the midnight sun!
On the way we picked up our packed salad at Haukipudas and packed Chinese dinner at Kemi. The salad was devoured sitting by River Torne at Haparanda Tornio. 2 countries, 2 towns, 2 currencies and 2 time zones. Yet one city. That is Haparanda Tornio for you. Nearly half of River Torne forms the the border between Sweden and Finland.
Barely 30 mins later we were told we are stopping for coffee break. I thought that odd…were they planning to feed us after every 30 mins or what. The place was Kukkolaforsen. We got out and started clicking snaps and generally hung around for nearly 30 mins….but no coffee. Then we were told…this is the wrong place!!! But no matter, it was a beautiful place.
Kukkolaforsen is in Sweden…we were supposed to travel on the Finland side along this river…how we managed to get to the Sweden side…I don't know. None of us realized it then…including the driver and guide. It was only later when I was looking at the map and our planned route and actual route I realized that we had got on to the wrong side of the river!
In Sweden on Midsummer, family and friends get together and decorate a huge maypole with creepers and flowers and then raise it. This is followed by traditional dancing around it. Many wear crowns made of wild springs and wildflowers on their heads. Because Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest, it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future. Young women pick bouquets of seven or nine different flowers and put them under their pillow in the hope of dreaming about their future husband.
As we were travelling, I noticed that most of the houses had the Swedish flag fluttering. Was it because of the holiday or do they generally have their flag up in their houses, I couldn't figure out. Also noticed that, across the river, very few houses had the Finnish flag! I had heard from the Finns that Swedish is compulsory for them to learn in school. At our next stop I learned from the Swedes that their is no corresponding mandatory Finnish learning in their country! I don't know why I got upset! I guess I am getting fond of Finland…4 months and am getting possessive. Never felt like that in UK, even though I was there for 2 years!
We stopped again and started looking for our Coffee place…no name… just using a small picture and comparing it with the buildings there to see if it was similar! There weren't many people around too. Then we saw a sign…the Arctic Circle - Polcirkelland and a small cafe. So we decided to stop there and while we clicked snaps we thought that the guide and driver will get some directions. They did talk to the cafe owner, but still didn't realize that we were on the wrong track!
While our Chinese friends slept peacefully in the last seats, the 3 of us in the centre seats realized that something was wrong. Then Mohammad and myself decided to take over the map. And we realized that we were moving towards the interiors of Sweden. So we would have to take a detour and return to the main highway! It was already 10:30. We should have reached our destination – Sana mountain at Kilpisjärvi by 8:30!!!
But like I said in my earlier post too…no harm..we got to see Sweden and experience the Midnight Sun.
Finally we reached Kilpisjärvi at 2:00 AM. After going round and round for a good 10 mins we finally found our cottage. But it was worth the trouble. It was beautiful – the cottage and the place. I finally got to stay in a traditional Scandinavian Cottage. The view of the Sana mountain was awesome. That made me get up at 6:00 AM…and while many slept, I took a quick shower, a hurried breakfast and went for a good 40 mins walk. It was AWESOME!!! I wanted to stay on for some time but Nordkapp was beckoning and so off we went.
10 mins later, we realized we are entering Norway and our guide realizes that he should have filled the diesel…you see diesel is very expensive in Norway and it is recommended that we fill the tank up in Finland itself. Only god knows why they didn't do it in the morning while everyone was getting ready :-) I would have thought that they would try and save time considering our experience of the previous day.
Norway…awesome, beautiful, out of the world. The fjords were beautiful and it was a really, really enjoyable drive. Made the whole trip worth it.
Finally without any major adventures, we reached Nordkapp via the tunnel that goes under the water from mainland Norway to the island around 8:30PM.
The plan was to go the cliff around 11:00. On our way we stopped at a Sami camp and then rain struck. It started pouring and became so foggy that it was impossible to see even a few meters ahead. So we decided to return and revisit in the morning. Anyway there was no chance of the sun!
Early morning, knocking on my door. Bad news...Nordkapphallen didn't open till 11:00. We had to reach back because all of us had to go to work on Monday and this meant that we would not reach at the planned time of 1:00 AM Monday morning!
But come all that way and not visit Nordkapp…we decided that we would go and somehow not take any breaks on the way so that we can make up time.
But even at 11:00 AM there was too much fog and freezing cold. Still shivering in the cold we somehow managed to visit all the touristic places.
Left Nordkapp at 1:00 PM. 10 mins before we reached the tunnel I warned the guide. we need to take money out as we need to pay the toll at the tunnel. I would have thought that they would know this. Its something that every website screams about…how expensive Nordkapp is, how they overcharge for everything etc etc. But she maintained that they had paid the toll the previous day and it was not required today. I decided not to argue. When we reached the point, she realized that she needed to pay the toll. But she had only ONE 500 euro note. And that fellow was going to return the money in Norwegian Krones, which also was not acceptable to the guide. Ufffff... Patience...I collected money from everyone and made her promise she would return it to us in Finland after getting change for the 500 euros.
Several hours later began the story of the diesel. We were running out of diesel and they wanted to avoid filling up in Norway. I guess this was the only time I got cheesed off. If we had got stranded, what would they have done, I DONT KNOW.
They asked Mohammad to tell them, how many kms was it from where we were to Finland as we had diesel for about 100 kms. I mean...should they be reading the map or us!!! I wanted them to fill up a bit, but they were like, we’ll manage. Yes you will..provided you stay on the right track. We reached this junction. In the map there were 4 roads, at that junction I saw only 3. So I was just telling them that are we sure we are going the correct way, and I was overuled with a "this is correct..its Highway 92 that we have to take". So i kept quiet. But 92 in the correct direction is what I wanted to say! I had my doubts and so kept looking for some road sign telling which city and looking for the same in the map. 25 kms later…I screamed…we are going in the wrong direction…into Norway instead of towards Finland! U turn and back!!!
The Chinese still slept peacefully while Mohammad and myself got totally jittered.
Finally some diesel in Norway and off we went. I wouldn't take my eyes of the road and the map till be reached Inarvi...where we had some nice hot Mushroom soup even though we had planned for dinner in Rovaniemi. We actually reached Rovaniemi only at 2:30 AM and Oulu at 5:15AM.
What a trip!!!