Through The Finnish Forest on a Ski
After a few days experiencing so many activities in Rovaniemi area, we finally drove up north near the Russian and Norwegian border. Cant remember whats the place called since the town (in Sami language) is hard to pronounce with my Malay tongue. But Finland map looks like a woman raising her hand, we actually went to almost the top of the woman’s head. We visited a Sami school, looks like an ordinary school but when we came inside, its very quiet, probably only around 20 students or less in the whole school combined. The facilities are awesome… it really looks like a university! Each students were holding iPad and the teachers are using computers to teach these kids. Besides, they have other complete facilities with musical instruments, climbing gym, a hall with indoor basketball court and all. I felt lucky to be able to witness it firsthand and able to film it. The students also performed some modern and traditional Sami song and dance for my camera lenses and we had fun playing football on iceskate. After some 2 hours of the visit, I gave each of the students and teachers some small souvenirs from Kyrgyzstan, just some small keychains with the shape of a bozui, the Kyrgyz yurta. Here in Finland, I wasnt only representing the Malaysians, but also the Kyrgyz people. So I shared both the Malaysian and the Kyrgyz cultures to them.
After the visit we then drove back down towards the south, passing by Ivalo and Inari, looking for a nice place in the forest for us to practice skiing. This is the main reason why Im here in Finland, to learn forest skiing. The Finns are great skiers, well, perhaps every Finnish people can ski well. To them, skiing is just like walking. Skiing in the forest is probably just a little harder than walking in a shopping mall for the Finns. And here Im travelling with Heidi and Petri, they have years of experience skiing in the Finnish forest and Im gonna learn from the best people.
So after a few hours of drive, we finally found a nice cabin in the middle of the forest to leave the car and as our base. Its a bit tricky to travel at this time of the year… we reached the place in the morning when the sun rose but once we were ready and just started skiing, it was already sunset. We were far above the Arctic Circle and at this time of the year, the daytime is only about 30 minutes. So we just moved through the forest with our skis in the dark. It doesnt really make much difference between the day and night anyway, since the sunlight is so pale due to the sun is just below the horizon. We even joked that we are not so sure whether its actually sunrise or sunset. Night time can even be brighter than the daytime, especially when the sky is clear… when the clouds were giving ways to both the fullmoon and the northern lights to shine in the nightsky. And with the thick white snow all over covering the ground, it really looks bright at night, like in a fantasy world.
After years of travelling the world on a bicycle alone, this is actually the first time Im traveling in a group. It feels much easier and instead of cooking and eating dinner alone outside my tent normally, this time I found myself talking and laughing with Heidi and Petri while waiting for our food and having our dinner. It feels great. We have been travelling only for a few days but since we always travel and camp together, I feel so closed with them. And maybe too because I always spend my time alone in the wild and so used to not seeing humans for days… so I really appreciate having a companion. I sometimes joked with Heidi when she shouted “Harizzz… come here! Your food is readyyy!!” and I simply answered back “Yes mom Im cominggg!!”… and we burst into a laugh. Heidi has a characteristic of a good mother. She cares for everything and very detail. Shes a good planner. Petri on the other hand is a bit like me… we dont care much about anything. I guess if theres a blizzard going on we might just sit comfortably on our sledges in the middle of the blizzard discussing about cameras and quadcopters. And to change my travel mode from cycling to skiing is something very challenging. Skiing is something totally different and it uses totally different muscle system and my body wasnt used to it.
I was so happy that I picked up the skill of skiing quite easily. A big thanks to OAC company in Finland that provided me with the forest ski. Its a really good ski and float well in the soft snow powder in the forest. At first it was quite tough and I got tired faster because I was struggling. But after a few days of training and practicing with them, I found that its really fun to slide on the snow and pulling a heavy load on a sledge doesnt seem to bother me much. At some point, I was thinking that skiing maybe even easier than cycling. The memory 2 winters ago while I was struggling on my bicycle in this same terrain on the Swedish side is still fresh on my mind. I still remember it was very tough to move with my bicycle and my 60kg load through the thick snow in the forest of Sweden and the mountains of Norway where the snow sometimes can reach my hip. But it is still very difficult especially when I have to go through thick forest between trees where my sledge or my skis sometimes get stucked on a tree roots or branches. And this is just a training, the real challenge will come soon when Im back in Kyrgyzstan, where I plan to travel on this same ski in the big and wild mountains of the Kyrgyz, from where the Khan Tengri dwell in the east near the Chinese border all the way south, as far as I can get… towards the border of Tajikistan. I hope that I can do at least 20km a day in Kyrgyzstan, since the day is much longer there compared to here in Lapland.
We had to come back to our base, back to the car once in a while since I have problems with my camera batteries. I dont usually have problems with electricity since I have a solar panel and charger given to me by Goal Zero Malaysia all these while but this time, the solar charger is totally useless, since there is no sun at all here in the Arctic on dark winter. I carried 4 batteries for my camera and it would be sufficient if I only take photos. But shooting videos in subzero condition without any solar charger, I think I need at least 12 batteries to last for 3-4 days. A battery can last me only a few minutes shooting videos in subzero condition. And since Im filming on raw mode, I have to keep transferring the file from my CF card to my laptop and the laptop battery is also another issue. Good thing I faced the problem here so that I know what to do once Im back filming my journey in the Kyrgyz mountains. We also had the chance to visit a group of Sami reindeer herders in the nearby forest, not so far from Ivalo. There we had the chance to experience reindeer sledding, which is totally a different experience compared to dog sledding. We were lucky too when one of the Sami reindeer herder offered to sing a traditional folk Sami song in front of my camera lenses.
After a few days of training and practicing skiing in the forest with them, we finally split temporarily as Petri need to get back to Tampere, Heidi to Rovaniemi and I wanna stay in the forest in Lapland region to keep practicing skiing and hunting more northern lights with my camera. I then spent rest of the days in a nice, quiet and peaceful hostel in a small town of Akaslompolo called 7Fell Hostel… located in a nice location. Its actually in the middle of the forest! It was there where I met a Malaysian girl who are studying in Moscow and now in Finland for a short break. It was great to see someone from the same country after for so long and she cooked me nasi lemak… my favourite Malay dish! I ate everything and almost ate the plate as well since it has the sambal smell on it. I spent a few hours a day skiing and snowshoeing in the forest near the hostel on the “Finnish winter daytime” and hunting the Aurora Borealis for the rest of the days when the sky is dark. I spent the last few days traveling back to Rovaniemi to catch up with Heidi again and had the chance to give a short one hour talk sharing my experience living my nomadic life to the students in SantaSport in Rovaniemi. I also had enough time to show some of the short trailers of my film to them. I hope to keep in touch with these people since theyre great people and I learned an important Finnish word from them, SISU which means stamina+endurance+bravery combined. This was the thing that has been taught to the Finnish army and I need it to cross the big mountains of Asia. After the short talk, both Heidi and me drove back to Tampere, leaving the Lapland, crossing back the Arctic circle to the normal world…