Hey there! It’s been a while but we’re back and firing on all cylinders. We spent an extra day in Kautokeino after our hosts told us there was to be a wedding at the church and all the guests would be in their traditional Sami finery. The little church was packed and we and one or two other tourists wedged ourselves in at the back. Nobody seemed to mind. The costumes were splendid with fine embroidery. The women wore their tall red hats and the men had high collars and brown reindeer leather strides. Otherwise it was much like a UK wedding with kids running up and down the aisle and babies wailing. We’re told the party would go on for three days afterwards. They’d ordered 20Kg of reindeer meat but bought it over the border in Finland where it’s half the price.
Kauto wasn’t much to look at but it got under our skins a bit and we were sad to move on. However, the riding was fairly easy and we were soon crossing the border into Finland. We spent the night at a pretty little campsite at Enonteikio (a.k.a. Hetta) next to a tiny river before pressing on to the Swedish border at Karesuando. First impressions weren’t good as four young tearaways demonstrated the art of throwing a bicycle off the bridge into the river. However, we were soon settled in at the local Hostel, run by the owner of (and sole member of staff at?) the hotel over the road. He cooked us a delicious meal of sea trout and mashed potato and when we’d scoffed it all he brought us the same again.
From here our road took us deep into the forests on a long-cut to Pello. We camped wild in an old abandoned iron quarry one night, drinking water from a bog lake (we boiled it well and it wasn’t too bad actually). No sign of any bears but what we later identified as elk poo aplenty. The next day was a short (30km) hop to Vittangi, another one horse town without the horse. We had a Swedish lunch menu of meat stew and spuds in a little cafe where all the local workmen ate (good value!) then visited the Elk Park, run by a man with a real enthusiasm for these particular beasties. They were very tame and well cared for and the babies were cute. We enjoyed it very much.
Now there followed more cycling through the dense birch and pine forest, with nothing more than the occasional farmstead carved from the wild landscape. Junosuando gave us a chance to shack up in one of the little huts the Scandanavians go in for as an alternative to sharing a tent with the mosquitoes. It was a good choice as it poured with rain all night. But it cleared up the next day as we headed back towards the Finnish border. The highlight of this stretch ( and possibly the whole ride so far) was a giant mitten surreally mounted in a glass case on the roadside, along with its certificate from the Guinness Book of Records.
We followed the signs to the Snickerbackens Hotel and Wandrerhem (hostel) in Pajala (pronounced like a spanish rice and seafood dish) and what a fine choice this turned out to be as we found ourselves in a beautiful new flat with fully fitted kitchen, shower room, living room with widescreen TV and bedroom. We celebrated with a pizza from the supermarket and 2 bottles of beer from the Swedish state-owned off-license.
The next stretch took us along the river Torneå, our companion for the next three days. The riding has been flat and very easy and the scenery pretty without being too showy. In fact we haven’t broken a sweat on the bike since we left Kautokeino. We put in 100km that day to a little village called Svanstein where we thought there was a campsite but we were wrong. There was however a hut complex next to a sports centre and we rang the manager and asked if we could pitch the tent in the grounds. He said yes, of course, and even turned up to welcome us. Then the manager of the sports centre arrived, told us we were welcome to use the showers and turned on the sauna for us. There was nobody else there so we had our own private sauna and swimming pool, all for free! Let me tell you here and now that the Swedes are the most generous and helpful people.
On Saturday we arrived at the arctic circle where we stopped for the obligatory photos and a celebratory lunch at a rather expensive restaurant on a beautiful spot on the river. Now we’re camping at another super-plush site by some rapids – a local attraction with a fish museum (if we can ever be there when it is open we’ll give you all the thrilling details). It’s our first full day off for 9 days and we’ve been happy to catch up on some laundry. We caught a bus to Haparanda/Tornio at the northern tip of the Baltic. Two days of lovely sunshine have given way to cold and rain so here we are in the library talking to you. Fine old buildings, streets bustling with life, pavement cafes and tempting restaurants – Haparanda and Tornio have none of these. We can’t remember ever having travelled so far for so little. Hey ho.