Our journey started in Rovaniemi. We went grocery shopping, then we headed north.
Our first house was to be an AirBnB in Sassali, near Sodankylä. We had a few hours to reach it and still arrive before dusk, so we took our time, and stopped in the Arctic Circle Hiking Area, walking a few kilometers in the forest while miraculously avoiding the rain (well, too much of it at least…).
We received a warm welcome from our hostess, but did not linger too long after dinner. In the morning, we met the dogs, including a grey, loud but cuddly massive beast and a female with its 9-puppy litter. Adorable ❤
Then it was time for us to hit the road. Our target for the day was Tankavaara, one of the three visitor centers dedicated to Urho Kekkonen National Park. I had a contact there to ask about birds. On the way, we found a little piece of paradise by the side of the road, a yellow plain where a creek flowed and reindeers roamed. When the sun appeared, all seemed to glow, and we enjoyed it to the fullest.
On that same small road, we saw a Short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) hunt. When it perched, we could approach it with the car, for a few moments of intimacy, before it continued its roadside wandering and eventually fled behind the trees.
In Tankavaara, Kristiina presented herself as a non-scientist, but she had built an exhaustive list of all the birds of the park. She directed us towards the nature trails that left from the center, telling us we would have good chances to see the infamous Kuukkeli, or Siberian jay in English (Perisoreus infaustus). This was a boogey-bird of mine; Marci and I briefly saw a pair in Varanger, but I was expecting much better from a curious bird said to feed from people’s hands whenever possible. None came during our lunch (we couldn’t make a fire because we had no match…), but as we walked among the spruce, discovering military remains from the Lapland War spread out along the trail, I heard a cackle from the treetops nearby. I played their call with my phone, and immediately they were around, at least three noisy birds that came to check us out, gliding above our heads lower and lower. This intense moment lasted only a minute, for when they saw we had nothing for them but curiosity, they flew a bit further. One followed us for a while, and I managed to capture it as it inspected a low branch.
The rest of the walk was bird-less, but the colors in the bushes were astonishing. The water droplets magnified the spectacle. In addition to the constant drizzle, we had ample evidence this was a land of water, with running streams and slippery duckboards.
However, looking at the weather forecast, my mood worsened: how were we going to see northern lights if it was to rain during our whole trip?
Our accommodation for the two following nights was a cabin in the woods of Kilopää, found on AirBnB as well. It was super cozy, so cozy my two friends refused to go out again, diving into the sauna instead. Despite the fog and the rain, I headed out again, and climbed up the hill that gave its name to the settlement. I broke a sweat on the ascent, after enjoying more brightly-colored vegetation. Then I turned, and realized I could barely see where I started my hike, somewhere down there, behind the low-hanging clouds.
I had hoped to see some Rock ptarmigans (Lagopus muta), but the barren land held nothing for me. I snapped a few pictures and went back to the cabin.
Our third day in Lapland saw no change in the weather. We walked in the footprints of the gold miners of early 1900’s, with information signs giving us good insight on those endeavours that never lasted long. The call from gold still resonated until present days, and we saw two men digging and filtering. It was raining again, and it seemed there was no hope left in this deranged place, yet they dug.
When I travel, I usually do not care much about food, and eat simply. My friends would have none of this though, and they decided we would make pizza that evening. So there we were, looking for pizza dough in a small supermarket hundreds of kilometers past the Arctic Circle. But it was delicious!
Before that, Sylvain and I drove a dirt track along the northern edge of the national park in the direction of Aittajärvi, to walk a bit there and along the Suomujoki river. It didn’t look that long on the map, but those 30 km on a bumpy, muddy road took their toll on the driver. The weather was still awful, so we didn’t stay long there.
Still, it was worth the ride. In the sky, 4 Common cranes (Grus grus) flew in formation. On the lake, Black-throated divers (Gavia arctica) dived. The best attraction was the group of hikers fording the river, using for this the rope handles hanging from a cable.
On the way back, we were cresting a hill when I saw a dark spot in the sky ahead. “Sylvain, slow down”, I said. The silhouette approached us, somehow following the road. “Sylvain, stop now!” I got out of the car, and had rather good views of a Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) flying by. See a pattern here? The exact same thing happened in Hortobágy few months before ^^
Soon after, we were back to our cabin in the woods, where we enjoyed a sauna and a pizza.
Previously in my Lapland series