When we get out of the train in the Kemijärvi station we are overwhelmed by the warmth of the local hearts - we are welcomed by accordion music, bonfires and Santa-clause himself, who by the look of it works here not only in December, but whole year round. The gnomes are offering patties, tea and reindeer soup. It turns out that these festivities are in honor of a truly historic moment - the train that brought us here is the first electric train ever that has arrived in this station.
In a hunting gear shop we have a short meeting with the local hunters, who all as one are assuring us that the bears are still sleeping and we shouldn’t bother them, When asked about the wolves the hunters give us a straight and unambiguous answer - the most experienced hunter hasn’t seen a wolf since 1987. So no worries.
Today we have to get as close to the Russian/Finnish border as possible. While waiting for the bus we are killing time chatting with the boon locals, who are telling us about their ski-trips in this region and note that usually at this time of year the temperature is approx. -11 degrees Celsius. That’s not even close to the +4 we are experiencing now. When the locals ask us if we have ever gone on a multi-day ski-trip with a sledge, we can only smile, because we have never used a sledge before and our ski-tripping experience is limited to a few ski-trips in Latvia not even worth mentioning. This means that we will have to learn fast and on the go. I mean, how hard can it be? It’s just skiing and dragging a sledge. I guess we will see.
The proximity of Russia has a clear impact on the local marketing campaigns - the slogan Низкие цены (Low prices in Russian) is inviting to visit a local shop. On our way from the train station to bus-stop we can’t stop admiring the third member of this trip - our sledge in certain circles called “the pig”. The pig is good today - it’s obedient, drags well and sometimes even goes ahead of us.
The bus takes us to Rukatunturi, where we are friendly and kind of unexpectedly greeted by Martins neighbors from Kemeri, Latvia. The 12 members of Lodini clan feed us wild-boar chops and try to convince us to stay with them, relax in a sauna and continue our way tomorrow morning. Nice try guys. When we refuse the tempting offer, our fellow-countrymen take as as close to the border as their van can go. We are on our own from now.
It turns out that there is a 3 km shelter belt protecting the border, so we wont be able to get to it, but those are just odds and ends. The important thing is the ice and snow covering the rivers and lakes in this region - the surface is safe enough for traveling, so at least for now we don’t have to think about swimming. After getting out of the van we ski for 10 km or so through the night, but there’s no need for flashlights - the full moon is lighting our way.
Karlis (66° 32.89N, 029° 23.66E)