Soon I will be heading back to Finland…. to cycle the Finnish/Russian border while heading north, along the eastern section of the Iron Curtain Trail.
I’ve actually had almost a whole year filled with Finland. Holding public talks and writing about last years journey, has kept the memories as fresh as yesterday, and I’m truly captivated with everything Finnish. Their stunning flora and fauna, their never-ending forests, their inviting lakes, their lovely people, their twitter news, even their ‘tar sweets’ and bitter arctic weather!
So as a refresher, here is another Finland story that so far has only been divulged, to the lucky few who come along to my talks!
The above photo is of a holiday camping park close to the city of Vaasa, on the west coast of middle Finland.
After many days of plunging into cold lakes and losing my soap, I was in dire need of a warm shower! Cycling over a long busy bridge down a hot dusty lane, I followed the Finnish signs to the campsite, or so I imagined. A wooden barrier appeared on the right. Ducking under the barrier, it lead me to a closed office and a small empty shop.
”Surely it can’t be closed?”…… ”Dammit, they blooming well are closed” was my next sentence muttered out loud, to no-one.
Wandering around the deserted site was somewhat surreal. Spread out over the acres, were close to one hundred empty cabins, many vacant designated camp spots, looming shower blocks, a large forsaken bar and a forlorn looking cafe. The whole place had a lurking ghostly feel. Pushing my bike along the narrow gravel paths around this confusing maze, I suddenly felt enormously relieved. In retrospect, I probably would have turned right around and cycled away, if this monster of a place had been full of people and noise!
Turning a bend, I spotted two smartly dressed women sitting on the right, casually chatting together as though the restaurant was open and they were waiting for their meal to arrive. As I approached, they looked rather surprised to see a dishevelled foreign cyclist, appearing out of the shadows. Fortunately the younger of the two spoke some English, explaining that the Park was shut for at least another two weeks, and they were just out for a walk. As my face fell, she suggested that I could probably put my tent up anyway.
So, I wandered around the uninhabited cabins feeling slightly nervous, but resolute. There was no possibility of cycling onward to find a wilder camp the city was too close, it was several miles to a forest and I was exhausted. The tent was definitely going up here….somewhere.
It never ceases to amaze me how events can unfold, when travelling by bike. Scanning the buildings, revealed an open side door swinging in the breeze. On further exploration, the door led into a tiny bathroom with a proper toilet, a sink with running hot water and soap!!. Hallelujah! Hardly able to believe my luck. Here was an opportunity to have a decent wash in warm water and a chance to rinse through some filthy clothing.
The next surprise was almost as good. On closer inspection, Cabin number twenty-nine where my bike was parked, had an open door too. Someone had been working on the electrics and left, leaving the whole cabin and its contents…. bed, fridge, kettle and curtains all ”blowin’ in the wind”
This discovery presented me with a conundrum. Should I shut the door and ignore it? Or sit down and make myself a brew?
It felt rather out-of-bounds, yet at the same time being able to make a cuppa without cranking up the stove was very, very tempting. Rather too tempting I’m embarrassed to admit. Quietly I filled the kettle, and waited for it to boil….whilst sitting out on the deck, with my tired legs elevated and face upturned blissfully, basking in the warm evening sun.
Then…oh dear, a vehicle appeared about thirty metres away. A shadowy man wearing what looked like overalls, got out of the driver’s side and disappeared into a long low building.
Oops, now what? After a short reflection on the merits or negative consequences, of declaring my presence to the workman, I decided honesty was best for my peace of mind.
So I sidled over, banged on the open door. A tall skinny Somalian man in his late thirties sporting a huge grin, emerged from the building. He kept on smiling, despite his obvious surprise at meeting a lone middle-age cyclist on his otherwise empty campsite, and my own obvious surprise at his black face and huge grin.
We had a lovely conversation in English. He was the caretaker, he’d lived in Finland for two years, was very happy here and especially enjoyed his work. Which he must have done, as at this point it was almost eight o’clock in the evening. It transpired that the establishment was expecting in about ten days time, an invasion of around five hundred merry campers and cabin dwellers. I glanced around finding it hard to imagine such an event, it was so peaceful! This friendly man then offered me the use of the facilities and kindly rang the Boss, for camping permission. The answer was an affirmative and no charge.
Once again Finnish hospitality had turned up trumps. Don’t believe anyone that describes the Finns as dour or unfriendly. In my experience they were always friendly, extremely helpful and welcoming. Clearly loving their country and pleased to help a foreigner. In fact Finland for the second year running, has topped the World Happiness Chart. Their refugees/immigrants are the happiest in the world too.
Even the campsite hares, the size of small dogs, looked amazingly upbeat!
Totally validated on the campground and with a clear conscience, I set about drinking green tea, eating rye bread and washing a few clothes. Hanging them out to dry in a colourful row, along the cabin rails!
Despite the rather eerie feeling of being on the empty film set of La La Land, a peaceful nights sleep came. I awoke the next morning, refreshed and ready to roll forwards to Kristenestad and beyond.
Footnote; My next public talk, ‘Lapland to Helsinki’ is to be held at the Alpkit Shop in Keswick during late April/early May….. so if this little story has whetted your appetite, feel free to come along it would be wonderful to see you!