Saturday, 17 April 2010
Road 93 to nowhere
The road 93 goes through the town of Kautokeino (population 2,000), where the Sámi University College is located, and that is literally all the little we knew about our destination. In our modern times of street-level world mapping, little is left to the imagination; Northern Norway, though, is still part of the barely charted world.
We got on the train in the evening in Helsinki, only to step off on the next day, in the late morning, at the northernmost station of the Finnish rail network. Coffee kept me awake for the better part of the night; the proximity of the North too, to some extent, sweeping away the exhaustion like pure energy running in my veins. My childhood was filled with tales from the winter lands, from the Snow Queen which I could retell years after I read it to Lyra's journey to the North in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass. I yearned for snow. The first days I spent in Finland were graced by the most enormous and ubiquitous Sun, though, and the following winter made its prominence in the Northern civilizations even more obvious. The opportunity turned up to travel to Sápmi, land of the Sons of the Sun who bear the dual Sun-Moon symbol on their flag, a chance not to miss; so I signed up, and ended up in the night train to Kolari, staring with eyes wide open at the ceiling of the cabin.
We rode past Oulu in the early morning. That was the most North I had ever been.
The light more intense, first glimpses of a different landscape.
In Kolari, Odd Henrik was waiting for us with the rented minibus. A three-hour drive through the tundra and the soft valleys, spotting some reindeer herds on the way. We drove up to the Diehtosiida (literally knowledge community or house in Sámi language), a brand new building hosting the Sámi Allaskuvla and the local division of the Sámi parliament, also the largest in this part of the world, and tried to locate our coordinator, who was somewhere in but no one knew where.
It seems that Sámi people are considerably more relaxed regarding administration than the very efficient Finland, planning little in advance, but in both cases it also seems to turn out for the better.
Further up the street is our home for the next six weeks. Half of the top floor is ours; the ground floor is home to a kindergarten, from where small feet awake us in the morning.
Norway is considered as the most expensive of the Scandinavian countries; on top of that, Lapland is about the farthest you can get from fresh goods. The prices and the desolate condition of the greens in the nearest of the two grocery shops of the town turned us away immediately; the other store was a little better stocked. Knowing some Scandinavian helped to deduce the meaning of Norwegian words from their Swedish and Finnish counterparts; how much the alien currency was worth I had no clue of.
The place could literally be ravitaillée par les corbeaux, which are everywhere in their grey coats, even bigger than the ones you see in Helsinki. People do smile and act kindly, though; drivers slow down as they pass by our group of unusual-looking foreigners, and youngsters sometimes greet us on the way, shouting Hejdå! from a distance and trying to engage conversations with the little English they know.
Downhill side, our view.
The sunset from my bedroom's window.