Although our compass keeps on pointing North we take a bit of a detour East towards the Russian border, since a couple travelling in another camper has given us a tip to stay in a husky farm.
The place is truly off the beaten track, (even if the dirt track to get there is somehow beaten up), 15 Km away from Russia. We feel curiosity as to how the border looks like, so we drive the 15 Km in a wavy dirt road to discover that the border looks, errr…., like a forest, like the rest of the forest. The trees on both sides look exactly the same. The only signs of a border is a squalid metal barrier in the middle of the tiny dirt road and two boards. One warns you that you should not set foot on the other side of the barrier, unless you have a special permit. The other describes the nomen land along the road separating the 2 countries. No guards, no flags, not even asphalt. Wonderful.
The husky farm, by the name of Eräkeskus, Wilderness Lodge and Husky Farm (www.eraekeskus.com), turns out to be ran by a Swiss woman, Simone, and a German guy, Alex. It´s quite an experience to be surrounded by dogs. Not only huskies, but also malamutes and hounds. Beautiful and friendly animals, very excited to see us near them.
Although remote, the farm is located in a beautiful location, in the middle of a forest and next to a lake. The main building, where the reception and dining room are located, is all made of wood. The dinning room has a big cosy stone fireplace in the middle. When sitting around the table and looking towards the lake through the window, it is so peaceful that one can easily imagine sitting there just watching the seasons go by. The lake freezing in winter, the leaves of the trees yellowing just before the trees get stripped bare by the wind in autumn, and then the return of the green and the blue of the water in spring. Yes, in a different order. We welcome an enjoyable home cooked dinner and a pleasant conversation, where we learn a lot about the dogs and the life in the farm across the seasons. How it is when the temperature is -40 degrees Celsius and there’s more than a meter of snow, or not, and how the dogs feel when it´s too hot. What attentions do the dogs require, how are the relations between the young and the old, the male and the female, what are the teams that work best to pull the sledges.
Christian also has the chance to see a bunch of new born puppies, that are as cute as anything.
Apart from the obvious winter activities the place offers lots of possibilities in summer, like hiking, biking, canoeing, etc. Unfortunately we can not stay long, since we have to move to our next animal experience, which we had booked many months in advance. The bears.
Also located where the streets have no name and also quite close to the Russian border, the experience is absolutely marvellous, even if comfortable it is not. We spend 3 nights locked in a bear hide for two (aka wooden box with little windows and camouflaged opening for the lenses) of dimensions about 1.5m x 3m x 1.5m. Facilities including a tiny bed, a chair and a bucket toilet. Our routine daily routine consists of having dinner at the lodge at 3 pm, being driven for about 10 minutes to the starting point, hiking for 30 to 45 minutes through forests and swamps till reaching the hides, being locked in the hides (a bit before 5 pm) with our camera gear (and a bag with a thermos full of coffee, some cookies, and sandwiches and water), waiting for the bears to show up, taking photos like maniacs when they do, wait again when they leave, have a sip of coffee or bite in between, try a little nap, get excited when they show up again,… repeat till 6:45 in the morning when we get picked up to get back to camp, sleep, repeat. When you thought you could not live in a smaller space than your camper van, here you go, less than half the size. Returning to the comforts of Polaris every morning to catch some sleep is a magical experience.
However the temporary lack of comfort is more than offset by the privilege of having the opportunities to observe the life and routines of the bears in some of their real habitats. Mothers taking care of their cubs, cubs playing with their siblings, youngsters showing off and old males defending their rights and their food.
The first night we spend in the forest, where there are so many bears that is really hard to focus on one at a time. Really there’s time when we probably have about 10-12 bears of all ages and sizes in front of our hut, eating, playing, trying to climb trees, passing by.
The second night, we spend in a swamp, where the landscape is open and beautiful and there are lots of light. And also seagulls, that seem to bother us more than they bother the bears. Curious young bears get very close to our hide, so close that one of them lifts its paws and puts its nose through one of the photo shooting holes. Although we have no photographic evidence because it happens very fast, it is quite intense.
The third night we are next to a lake, which is more quiet on the bear front, but we manage to spot a handful on the other side of the water.
As many of you have asked where is the place you can have a look and find more information here www.martinselkonen.fi
Hope soon we will also be able to document our reindeer encounters, which are actually quite frequent through these northern roads.