Arrival in Lapland
After touching down on the snowy runway at Ivalo with only a bit of turbulence to grab the sphincter we soon had our baggage and onto the prebooked taxi bus to Inari.
The bus took an hour to get to Inari with the bus driver averaging 70km\hr. Bit scary on these icy roads. After being dropped off at hotel Inari we walk over to Villa Lanca to meet our new bosses for the next 3 months – Satu and Erkki. Satu (woman) is a Sami, a native aboriginal dweller of northern Finland and Erkki (man) is Finnish. We also meet other workawayers Kate (Czech) and Ola (Polish). Then it’s off to the apartment which has 2 twin rooms. The plan – we’re expecting to go to the farm for day farming on Monday. Pick up at 0930hrs. But soon there’s a change of plan (something we’re soon to learn is a constant). Late in the evening a new workawayer arrives – Maria (German). Her luggage has been mislaid so she can’t do more than day farming. So Daz and I will go to farm with Kate and stay for the next 2 nights. The farm has no water or electricity. We have been told that the normal routine is 3 days/2nights at farm then 1 day off back at apartment, one day of day farming and repeat.
Mon 5th Jan to Wed 7th Jan.
Erkki picks us up at 915am. Kate, Daz, Maria and me. So that’s 3 newbies to train. There are 36 dogs, 5 one month old puppies and 5 horses on the farm. The farm is managed by Lucas (Swiss) who lives there in a separate house to the volunteers’ cabin. Also in the house is Heli (Finn) who’s responsible for the horses. They also have no electric or running water. A typical day on the farm consists of (apart from cold and dark!):
9am – have breakfast. (getting lighter)
10am – prepare dogs for sledge pulling. Time involved depends on dogs and number of clients. (daylight hey!)
11am – clients are picked up in Inari and moved to the farm, arriving about 1120am and after a quick brief are brought down to the sleds. We then assist them into their sleds, one passenger, one driver and once everyone is set we then let them away to follow either Erkki or Lucas on the skiddoo. They are normally out for 20 to 30 minutes whilst in the meantime we get the Lavuu set up (wigwam with a roaring log fire built by us and some warm drinks) for the clients to warm up in, and get the dogs some water/bone soup for their return. If there is a big group there may be two runs as we only have enough sleds to take 10 at a time. This entails turning the sleds around, which with 5 dogs attached and not much space can be chaotic!
Some time later… a quick bite to eat, maybe crackerbread with cheese and ham, or just a cup of tea and biscuits and its time for…
2pm – feed the horses and clean up the huge amounts of poop they excrete… we pile this upon sleds which are then dragged under a fence and dumped onto a huge pile at the back of the farm. I am not sure if the fact the severe cold has frozen the poop is an advantage or disadvantage… the smell is gone but it makes digging it up off the frozen ground a much harder job with having to chip it up with a shovel! (however if your angle of attack is good you can dislodge an entire frozen horse shit in a onner – very satisfying. Nearly as satisfying as pluking a good zit).
5pm – feed the dogs and horses in the pitch black, did I mention it got dark about 3pm?! The dogs are v excited by the thought of food, but fortunately they have been well trained and with a few commands it is possible to feed them without getting licked, jumped on or covered in poo! “Istu!” – sit, then we put food in bowl, “Odota” – wait, “Vappa” – go! and boy do they go, it’s like watching Darren and his brother Carl eat! Blink and it’s gone!
6pm – time for cooking tea in the dark dark accommodation with a couple of candles to light the way… have you ever looked at a frozen container (it’s cold in the food storage area (outside in a box)) and tried to decipher Finnish by candlelight… oh what fun we have!
9pm feed and water the horses.
10pm – chuck another log on the wood burner and crawl into your doss bag knowing that by the time you get up in the early dark morning the fire will be out and the log cabin will be chilly once again!
12am to 4am – wake for pee… outside you go, around the side of the building to find a spot in the forest to do your number one. The outside lav (long drop) being reserved for number two’s only as it drops into a bag for collection later! Back to the cabin shivering coz you’ve attempted this feat in crocs, pants and T-shirt and it’s well below zero.
So a typical day is hard, the temperatures are below freezing, it’s mostly dark and the conditions not exactly luxurious. But the pleasure comes in doing something so different from our norm; learning about the dogs and horses and being in such beautiful if not harsh surroundings.
Back to the diary…
Monday Kate showed us around and gave us the tour of the farm and what’s required. There is only one dog sled out today for 2 clients and then the horse sleigh ride so it’s a quiet day to learn all the stuff. When the sled returns we give the dogs some bone soup then take them back to the kennels and clean the sled and tackle for next time. It was cold out on the lake especially during periods of inactivity whilst waiting for the sled to return, but this is our first day and the lowest temperature was -12. Apart from the other chores it was a quiet day. At around 3pm Gaby and Maria get picked up by Erkki. They’re going back to the apartment whilst we spend our first night in the cabin. We’re not sure what to expect! We feed the dogs at 5 pm using head torches (it’s now very dark) and then back to the cabin for dinner – we make a bacon frittata (there’s only a 2 ring gas burner for cooking) which is yummy. Then cards and bed. For Daz this is a 2 wee night and for me just one. The wee spot is outside the cabin and we run round in our pyjamas and crocs. Bloody cold! But overall a good night and I think we’ve lived in worse.
Tuesday, we get up and light the fires, we think it’s a bit colder than yesterday and when Lucas comes in at 8 to go feed the dogs he tells us it is -29!! There are 3 teams needed today and we are busy with that in the morning. Later we take 3 of the younger 6 month old pups out to get them used to being harnessed and pulling a sled! It was Gaby’s idea and the untrained pups were jumping and getting tangled in the sled lines… but we finally manage to get them running across the lake, but to achieve this we have to get them to chase us otherwise they will run all over the place and we are trying to get them running whilst pulling the sled! After 3 runs we are all hot sweaty having sprinted like mad and we think we ran harder than the puppies! Later in the evening we went out onto the lake again and Gaby showed us how to draw drinking water from the lake beneath the ice… basically using a massive corkscrew to drill a hole about 15 cm across then using a manual pump to pull the water up into the containers… more hard sweaty work in the gloom of the early afternoon.
Wednesday, the temp was much milder at -7 and made us all really hot as we did our daily chores. Hels and I woke very early and she lit all 3 fires for the first time… proper little fire starter she is! It was supposed to be a quiet day with one set of clients, but then they decided to go horse sledding as well and then we heard that Satu had sold another run to some more tourists, so we had to change the dogs out and get the Lavuu ready again. Hels got to go on the back of the skidoo with Lucas today acting as rear lookout which mean facing backwards on the seat and giving him a dig in the ribs if something happens to the dog sled chasing. This doesn’t always happen as with big groups they run a second skidoo at the rear. In the afternoon we had to open a new haybale for the horses after repositioning it… they are the big round ones you see in the fields in the UK and sodding heavy and very slippy in the snow!
Shortly after Gaby had another brilliant idea and we took 4 pups canicross running, so we each wore a hip harness with a bungee leash attached that is clipped to the dog. We also had a 1 man kick sled with us so we could get pulled on that too. It was good fun, especially as they kept getting tangled up as we ran along the forest road, then 2 of the dogs managed to back out of their harnesses and we had to chase after them… luckily we were back near the kennels and they just ran around that area until we managed to corner then. But Gaby wasn’t finished there and we dumped the sled and went off onto the lake for a few hundred metres before kicking right into the forest… now on the lake the snow is compacted from the dog sledding and easy going with the dogs pulling you along, but the forest was another matter! The snow was a good 1 to 2 foot deep and very powdery, it was hard work walking through it and even the dogs were struggling as they sank into their bellies at every bound! By this time it was dark and at one point Gaby was a little unsure of the right direction but fortunately before the rescue squad was needed we saw some of the reflective trail markers in our head torch beam and we were able to get backup onto the road and down to the kennels again… all of us hot and sweaty once again.
So that was our first 3 days at the farm, a lot of hard sweaty work (I may have mentioned that a few times, but glossed over the fact we had no running water to clean with!). We were picked up at 6pm on Wednesday and returned to the Inari apartment for a hot shower and warm(ish) nights sleep. We have been replaced by two other workawayers at the farm and will have a day off tomorrow…or will we?!