In this latest blog post, you will find the following sub-posts: Yes, Virginia, Santa lives in Finland; They served salmon after the reindeer ride, we ate reindeer the next day; Realization: the ice in Jyväskylä was my training ground; and One Flew Out of the Husky-Pulled Sled. WARNING: There is an obscene amount of optimism in this post.
Yes, Virginia, Santa lives in Finland
They served salmon after our reindeer ride; we ate reindeer the next day
Realization: The ice in Jyväskylä was my training ground
After sweet reindeer dreams, we caught a tour to the Ranua Wildlife Park with four lovely people from Malaysia and our awesome Finnish guide. The park is about an hour outside of Rovaniemi, and the drive was lovely - forest and feet of white, fluffy snow. The park was wonderful with owls, otters, wolves, bears, moose, reindeer, eagles...in large, well-kept areas. Our guide was knowledgeable and fun company for the day.
My camera battery ran dry and I forgot to pack an extra, but that was not my challenge for the day. It was the ice. Oh, the ice. Every inch of every walkway and trail was covered in inches of ice. See this photo to the left? -- that's ice. But I was prepared - I had my spikes! I knew how to walk like a penguin! And I walked with a new sense of confidence after training on the mean, icy streets of Jyväskylä for 5 weeks. I watched other tourists slip and slide and if I could have wiggled my nose and produced spikes for them all, I would have. At the same time, I felt ridiculously like I had passed a test of sorts.
To save 100 Euros, we'll walk up that hill
I'm nothing if I'm not determined. And I signed us up for another excursion to see the Northern Lights. We would be picked up at our hotel at 9pm and driven an hour into the forest to a spot where there is a hill. One option was to ride a snowmobile up the hill, ride around a bit, then, if the gods were good, marvel at the aurora. But there was another option - one that would save me 160 Euros -- we could walk up that hill (around 1,000 feet.)
We could not have asked for a more beautiful night - gorgeous, clear, star-filled sky with a late rising, nearly-full moon. At 10pm, we were suited up, and while the Spanish husband and wife duo learned to ride their snowmobiles, Sarah and our guide and I began the trek up the hill with our tiny flashlights. The snow was packed well in most spots, but occasionally I'd step and sink into thigh-high snow. Listening to my labored breathing, Sarah leaned over and said, "It would have been faster on the snowmobile." In a clearing, we happened on three people set up with tripods, hoping to see the Lights. I took my final steps towards them, turned around and in the low sky we began to see a green glow. My photos are highly imperfect captures of a nearly perfect experience (we lost sight of the aurora when those blasted snowmobiles rumbled up the mountain, shining their lights directly in our eyes.) After 20 minutes, the lights dimmed to a light, white glow and we moved into the teepee to warm up with tea and sausages. I peaked outside again to see another few minutes of flare. Our confident, cautiously-optimistic, salesman-esqe guide said that the lights had gone away for the night.....we were lucky to see what we did, but, well, they were gone. I pointed to the northwest sky and said, "Well, look at that!" I don't mean to be annoying that way, it just sort of happens.
At 1am, our Spanish friends hopped on their snowmobiles and we stumbled down the snowy hill. An hour later, we were back at the hotel, tired but happy and even willing to wake up 4.5 hours later for our next adventure.
One Flew Out of the Husky-Pulled Sled
Don't worry - I did not drive and shoot; no camera was operated by the driver of the sled. Thanks to Sarah for capturing our lovely morning.
I was excited about this excursion, and I was scared. I'm not adventurous in body - my spirit (or, maybe it's more of my imagination) - yes! Body, not so much. I was intent and studious while our guide gave instructions on how and when to use the brake on the sled, how to lean in to curves, and how to never let go of the sled even if we fell off. Being under 15, Sarah was destined to be a passenger so she settled in under a green blanket. I stepped onto the sled and as the teams in front of us pulled out, I nervously waited. A small jolt and off we went.
It was glorious. Within a minute, I was feeling free and confident and just so happy. Sarah and I talked about how awesome it was. She was a good, appropriate front-seat driver, advising when to brake and ease up. We were laughing and sailing over the snow. The group stopped periodically, giving me a little break to stretch out my hands. The handle was a bit too big for my hands; I could not wrap my hand around it entirely. I'd stretch and kick off the snow that had accumulated on the running boards and off we'd go again.
We'd just rounded a corner and I was feeling sassy when our team headed up on a bank, revealing a tree right in front of us. I pulled left - left, left, left, LEFT and then I flew left, left, left, LEFT (and there was no way I could have hung on to that sled.) I flew and I bounced and then I thought about being trampled by the team behind us so I rolled, rolled, ROLLED into the trees. The team, the sled and Sarah kept on going.
When I landed, I heard a definite crunch/ pop from my left shoulder. When I stopped rolling, I lay in the snow taking stock -- what's hurting? what is that........ok, it's my shoulder. I went from flat on my back to kneeling in the snow, reassessing -- yup, it's my shoulder. I got to my feet - shoulder! I struggled to get my hat off when one of the guides got to me. I relayed that I hurt my shoulder. Did I need to get to a hospital right away? No....I could do that after the tour, I was sure. Could I drive the sled? Um, no, thank you. I got a ride on the back of a snowmobile (when you fall, you don't have to pay the 80 euros, it seems) to catch up with Sarah and the group. They added some dogs to our sled and one of the guides drove us back. I had been driving for about 45-minutes and we had a lovely 30-minutes left through the forest. I had wanted to be a passenger, but I didn't expect to do that under these circumstances.
A few hours later, while we were at the hospital waiting to see a doctor, Sarah and I talked about her experience....after that turn, she, too, saw the tree. Right in front of her. And she thought, oh sh*^.! She banked left and braced herself while the sled bumped back onto the trail.
"We did it!" she exclaimed before realizing that the sled felt...different....lighter.
She wondered if she'd lost the camera. No. That's around her neck. Her phone? In her pocket.
Then she started to count the dogs -- maybe we lost a dog....
Then she turned to ask me and...aha! Mom's gone! And the team was going full steam ahead until the guide on the snowmobile chased down the sled, jumped on the back and hit the brakes.
We laughed about this for hours! For days! By then, I had ingested codeine to relieve the pain. I was in and out of the exam room and for x-rays and I was just done -- done putting my clothes back on; so I put my shirt and my sweater and my bra in the clear bag they gave me and hung out in my coat in the waiting room. Add to this image my cackling while listening to Sarah explain, over and over, how she thought we lost a dog!
Our tour guide stayed with us for those 5 hours at the hospital (and the company picked up the bill.) I left with an initial diagnosis of a rotator cuff injury and a referral to visit a doctor in Jyväskylä. While we were inside, 4 inches of snow fell and I wondered, how long were we in there? Our guide, a kind Kiwi who recently moved to Finland, drove us to our hotel, at one point turning into oncoming traffic. After getting into the correct lane, I queried, "So, they don't drive on the left side here in Finland?"
My shoulder is sore, and I am fine. Waiting to see a doc. And even after the fall and the hospital and the near-death experience of having been driven into oncoming traffic, it was one of the best days of my life. We were in Finland, in the forest, with a team of dogs. I had the wind on my face and felt so happy. I was with my girl who kept me laughing and who carried all of the luggage for the rest of the trip.
We'd missed the tree but we didn't miss a moment of joy that morning.
You can read my capstone project - Global Learning: Fostering knowledge, attitudes and skills for global citizenship - here
This blog represents my point of view only and is not associated with the U.S. State Department or the Fulbright Program.