Donnerstag, 20. Februar 2014

day no. 29 - awakening

Somewhere in Kuusamo, warm...??

Last night, last toast, last game and breakfast at 13 o'clock...
My very last day arrived much to fast for my taste. I had such a great time here that I didn't notice the days passing. When you enjoy what you do a month becomes a fleeting moment.
Now I have to pack my belongings- easy, I decided to get rid of some stuff, last souvenirs are bought in the Erä-susi Souvenirshop, last fotos, last wishes, last sauna, last promises and my first tears...

We were invited to dinner that evening by Mr.Wolf - really kind of him! (That's how I got the chance to taste elk meat. It is a bit softer in taste then the reindeer meat, but one can still clearly figure out that the meat was growing wild-taste like game. Delicious!)
At that point I want to thank Mirja and Mr. Wolf for having me hosted in such a kind and friendly way. I'm grateful for your support and patience, ideas and stimulations and your generosity. It was a pleasure to work at your farm and I feel like having learned something for life.

the next generation - Keira's puppies
Later that evening I was out with some of my team mates and I learned about the Russian-Finnish hospitality. I had a great evening full of unexpected surprises. I laughed a lot and enjoyed really touching moments. Thank you guys for that fabulous last evening together! I hope it hasn't been the last time...

I've fallen deeply in love with that place and I have the feeling that my planned "once in a life time wintry fairytale" is soon becoming an at least " twice in a life time Lapland experience" if not a "life time lasting icy love"! Special thanks to "the storyteller and Master of disaster", who has been a good teacher and eyes-opening companion.

traditional tent

To sum up  it was a comprehensive and intensive time for me. I learned about limits, communication, future, loyalty, power,integration and silence. A team is as strong as its weakest member and as weak as its strongest. I'm convinced now that one can learn (nearly) everything with the right motivation and a strong will, but if you should ever feel like needing a helping hand don't be afraid of asking for it.

Handling over 200 dogs and 7000 tourists per season is a challenge and an hard physical job; one can just do that for longer if he/ she feels inspired by what he/she does and if one has a family or good social network behind him/her to fill the dark evening hours. It's not a job for everyone, but an experience that is worthy to be made. For my part, I really enjoyed the work on the Huskyfarm, it was one of the best jobs I ever had, even though it is convenient to train body and mind for working under that extreme conditions before coming and to bring yourself food for your brain.

with Tintti
I can hardly say what was the best part: 
The dogs? It might seem impossible to recognize everyone of them, but in the end I did. They are so colorful in appearance, attitude and character with own stories, own spleens, own life and their power and their even nature is really remarkable. In the end I had my clear favourite: a young female dog, not even 2 years old, who is yet running in front position with the potential to become a great leader one day...named Tintti. 

The nature? Mind-blowing! I could escape out there from my inner restlessness, suffocate my woolly thoughts in the pure icy white and finally calm down. Breathing the frosty air clarified my mind. In an urban daily life we are so distracted from many strange sounds, lights, images...information overload!  The civilization is omnipresent, even in the green zones such as bigger parks. Benches, trash bins, warning signs and information boards indicate the human sovereignty and regimentation of what we call nature; often you can still hear the traffic noise standing in the middle of the forest. Out there in the middle of wintry nowhere I got to know silence and got finally the timeout I urgently desired (and not even once I had an headache as I'm used to get often after a long day in Berlin's urban djungle). 

The people? I got to know the Finns as charming, cheerful companions who are ambitious and hard working. They are always happy to crack a joke and have been really hospitable and caring for me. Having an own opinion and being able to express it seemed to be an appreciated ability, as authenticity, too. Live and let live, be and let be and the most important thing of all - keep smiling!

I guess the worst part of this experience is the sad fact that it is already over! So see you, Lapland! Next time maybe in summer...?!

Knowledge of the day: Giving and receiving...
Spontaneity is the key to the best experiences.
Never ever say never.

Dienstag, 18. Februar 2014

day no. 27/28 - Viva Italia! ...overnight Safari

winter wonderland, -3°C speechless
Pasta, Mafia, temperament, a lot of fun- Italians are supposed to be quite loud and chaotic, charming and cheerful; a reputation which at least partly seems to match the truth. But “dolce vita” at any price? …for sure not if the dogs have to ‘pay’ for!

I had my first and so far last overnight Safari (‘so far’ because unfortunately my time here is going to end in a couple of days):  30 dogs, 5 Italians and annoying surprises.
I was looking forward to that trip since it was mentioned that it is going to happen. Since I was the only one able to communicate with the Italian guests I was invited to join this Safari. I didn’t wonder at all that seemingly I was the only one who was really excited about that challenge. I love Italians! I would even say that I spent my best years in Italy, learning, laughing, loving, eating, feeling the sun on my skin and joy in my heart.

My 5 elder Italian gentlemen arrived later than expected, no trace of enthusiasm or motivation in their faces and of course at least 2 cell phones per capita. Actually I thought a lot about how to do the riding lesson-the easy-going attitude, that empirically is a characteristic our Southern European neighbors have in common, requires to lay the emphasis on security issues ,which at least seemed to be obvious to calmer nations, but according to our experiences often turn out to be a problem  with our more sultry guests . To be clear everything that distract from concentrating on the dogs such as taking pictures, doing strange stretching that should look funny, answering phone calls etc. while riding the sledge leads in 98 % of the cases to avoidable complications and not anymore funny crashes and accidents. The main problem seems to be the braking. It doesn’t require a lot of practice or mental qualities-all you need to do is to step on the brake. Actually even the lightest adults are theoretically able to stop a sledge in a minute without bigger problems, but still …there is always one in every group who did not get it.

Riding lesson . foto: Mirja/Erä-susi Huskies

But to come back to my Italian group-knowing about the difficulties I focused even more on all the things they should NOT do and even offered to take pictures of them myself sitting on the snowmobile in front in order to avoid stupid incidents concerning the distraction because of the usage of electronic devices. My plan didn’t work. It happened one thing after the other. Chaos! They lost their dogs, fall of their sledges and felt even angry, when we told them at least the tenth time to stop calling, to remember to brake and to make sure that they won’t lose balance and team again, holding tight with at least one hand on the sledge.  It was ridiculous! It could have been funny, if it would not have been dangerous for our dogs. One managed to strangulate one of the dogs-both, dog and tourist, survived (I have never seen  my companion so angry before). We were both happy when we finally arrived at the cottage where we were planning to spend the night.

Did we forget someone..?!
Actually the trip can be great. We went first around 18 km to get to the traditional tent and have lunch there as like we do on 30km Safaris, too. It was a light grey morning with the potential to become even sunny and the new snow fallen over night covered the big pine trees and birches and made them become snowy sculptures of an abstract icy beauty. Under the load of the heavy snow their branches bent themselves forming tunnels touching nearly the ground.  I love to go out there following the snowy paths deeper and deeper in winter wonderland. It is mesmerizing-I felt so small in that wide whiteness!

wintry art
After the break we continued for another 10km climbing up slowly some hills. The panorama is spectacular and the world looks from up there so peaceful and somehow timeless, nearly eternal. The sight over the gentle hills covered with dark forest and staying in contrast to the bright white of the snowy flat valleys fascinates me and makes my mind wandering. I'm getting better and better in daydreaming...

Rela needs to cool down in the snow
The first day ended on a place in the middle of nowhere. Three cozy cottages and a nice restaurant with indoor fireplace and comfortable sauna were waiting for us. A tasty dinner was already in preparation.
But before relaxing in sauna we had to take care of the dogs. All guests were invited to help if they are interested in, but in that case we remained unassisted-maybe it was better like this…
The dogs spent the night tied alone a long chain which has to be tensed between 2 trees. Everything including food and straw for the dogs, equipment to clean after the Huskies, tin bowls, firewood, additional ropes and snap hooks to repair eventual damages on the sledges, first aid kit etc. has to be packed in a sledge and to be brought in the sledges there. So we arranged everything for the night, fed the dogs and checked if they survived that busy day unharmed. Among our Huskies we had a lot of young dogs; for some of them it was the first night spent in a totally new location with their team mates who are not necessarily also their fence mates back home. It seemed that they enjoyed it. They were tired after that long day and so after dinner they rolled up on their straw beds and slept.

survival sledge 
We, instead of going to sleep, too, as I wished I could have done, went first to sauna and then we had dinner with our Italian guests. Not standing on the sledge they were really nice and friendly. To my surprise soon a lively discussion developed, almost all cell phones were shut down and we enjoyed the dinner together.  But still I was worrying about the next day.

in the heart of the winter
The next morning began early-the dogs had to drink, a breakfast had to be prepared, a cottage to be cleaned up a little and of courses we had to clean after the dogs and put all our stuff back in the sledge. It was my last harnessing dogs for this winter and that was a sad morning for me. We took a shorter route back home as originally planned according to the customers’ wish. They had learned from their mistakes and I guess I had earned their respect the evening before, because finally they started to realize at least partly what I was yelling at them whenever we had a tricky situation.
We arrived in the early afternoon with everyone and everything in good conditions. What a trip!
But I want to mentioned that according to my personal experiences most of the Italians I got to know are not like those gentlemen…and despite of some unbelievable stupid annoyances I had still a lot of fun and thanks to my nice companion I could enjoy it.
happy dogs
I had the pleasure to guide another group this afternoon. Some really smart and interested Germans came to try the sledging and learn about the dogs. It was the biggest contrast ever-from “thanks God, it’s over!” to “yess, I love my job!” in just a few moments…:)

Knowledge of the day:  Trust your eyes and your heart! 
Never underestimate cultural differences! But I’m sure in this extreme case personal ignorance is not necessarily related to the cultural background.

foto: Mirja /Erä-susi Huskies

day no. 25/ 26-belly landing

Erä-susi Huskyfarm, cozy -2°C 

Free days are really...what? ... nice?! 
Working hard everyday requires from time to time a timeout- sleeping as long as you want, relaxation, breaking out of the daily routine and maybe going elsewhere just to feed the brain with new impressions and ideas. Yess, that is definitely nice and necessary, but most of the time free days are kind of boring. Once been to Ruka, twice been to Kuusamo I had already seen everything one could visit in the closer surroundings. And than? My books are read, I watched so many films and stupid American tv-series in the last weeks that for the first time I would be easily able to participate in this ridiculous discussions about characters, stupid jokes and mainstream films I was always so bored of. On party always someone comes up with that kind of topic...But anyways... Brainwashing ?Dulling the mind? Probably. But I guess if one is just bored enough it helps to forget about the boredom...

Four Winds hat
When I  started my lazy morning with an uncommon breakfast at around 11 o' clock, the team was already since hours in the snow keeping dogs and tourists in line. It was a busy day with rare guests. Since I'm living in the Safari house I see the tourists coming for putting a needle on our guest-map and leaving with bags full of souvenirs. Most liked are the plush Huskies, magnets and sundry odds and ends, but you can get their some really nice things, too. I always like to have a look on the colorful offers. You can find their colorful handmade socks and scarfs, reindeer hides and adornment made of reindeer horn, handmade ceramics. Today I had the pleasure to listen to a Spanish guide who explained a story about a traditional Sami headgear. He told that the 4 edges of the hat represent the 4 winds: the Northern, the Southern, the Eastern and the Western wind. The Four Winds hat is called čiehgahpir  and part of the traditional Sami costume. It is framed with traditional very colorful patterns. The ones you can buy in the shop are additionally decorated with 4 streaks in blue, green, yellow and red, the colors of the Sami flag. I learned that Rovaniemi is the capital of the Sami society although the biggest Sami community in Finland is living in Oulu.

reindeer hides
Sooner or later every tourist find his way to the Safari house. We had also an Estonian group today. Since I left I haven't spoken Estonian at all. I enjoyed to hear the language and tried to remember a few words. It could have worked somehow if the friendly, elder guest wouldn't have tried continuously to answer in Finnish. So we talked happily at cross for a few minutes, both in a language we had just rudimentary knowledge of and laughed together about our failing. I have still no idea what he was trying to tell me. 

The 13th of February was a painful day for our Miss Sunshine. She was bothered by a uncomfortable headache. It must have been really terrible, because after the feeding she just fall asleep on wooden, really hard bench in the guide room- much to the delight of us trainees. It was stressy for most of us. I had to work with 6 sledges-freeing them of their harnesses by my own. I had to hurry, the next group was about to arrive. Actually it should be no big deal to do that on my own, but I was tired and daydreaming a bit. Trying to move one team a bit forward, as I have done at least 50 times in this month without problems, I lost the team and rolled into a snowbank. I was suddenly awake. I was working the whole time alone, but obviously in that moment I had a really amused public. He got my sledge and laughed with me. 
But it was not the last time I ended up in the snow that day...Just an hour later I found myself in the embarrassing situation to grind on my belly and legs over the snowy trail holding tight the sledge with my hands and trying desperately to bring my feet back on the runners. 100 meters further my pants and shoes were full of snow, my arms having carried my whole weigh seemed to be 1 meter longer and I had to be rescued. I finally let the sledge go falling in the soft snow right in front of Miss Sunshine, who laugh with special delight about my somehow unusual way to ride. I guess I made her day!

Sarpik & half of Mimosa
Knowledge of the day: There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,  a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. [Eccl. 3:1-8] ....and a time to daydream, but maybe better not during work time.

Dienstag, 11. Februar 2014

day no. 23/24 - how a sledging puppy becomes a sledging dog: first riding lesson for the little ones

Erä-susi Huskyfarm, 0°C misty, foggy

When the puppies are about one year old it's time to let them run! I recently described the preparation of the youngsters for the work with the sledge. First of all we train to put the collar on and bring them to the trail to give them the time to check everything out and get used to smells and surroundings. There was nothing difficult or surprising about it, but I was wondering how the real training with the sledge is done. How do they learn to pull a sledge?
Yesterday I had the change to find it out: we got one step further and put them for the first time in front of a sledge, but that isn't that easy as it might sound! you can't just put them randomly in a team. First of all you need a good team to pull the sledge: It is important to have the most calm leaders in front who won't do unexpected  movements and won't even bark or jump as soon as the sledge stands still for a moment. Furthermore we put just a team of 3 dogs and not as usual 5 dogs where to integrate the puppy in, because less dogs means less power and it is just more secure and easier to control since one can hardly predict the youngster's reaction- if it doesn't start to run with the others we could have easily drive it over. So every avoidable source of  disturbance or danger has to be eluded to create a less scaring atmosphere for the puppy as possible. We had to avoid to scare the puppy of us and the sledging activities. The first challenge is to separate the puppy from its fence mates and put the harness on. The other dogs have already checked that some of them are going to run and jump excited, bark as crazy and make a lot of noise which is actually not helpful for the training, because the puppy gets nervous, too. So we took it out of the fence and brought it to the now quite  and empty trail where the sledge with just one 3-dogs-team was already waiting to put on there the harness. The puppy was put on a middle position next to a seasoned and calm dog after they got the chance to say hello. Then you try to entice the puppy and encourage it move towards you. You have to stand not directly in front of it, but it needs to see you and the dogs in front. It is quite evident why: the youngster has to learn to run without having the beloved human in front of it (even thought in the very beginning it is necessary to have a supporting person it likes) getting used to the view of the running dogs in front of it it is suppose to follow.

We moved half a meter forward inspiring the puppy moving towards the front man while one companion is driving the sledge stopping it immediately if necessary and the others runs in front of the leaders  in order to hold them on the trail, since the speed is so low that they get bored soon. You can't do that alone! And you need a lot of patience...
So we moved meter per meter taking 30 minutes for about 50 meters trying to make the puppy move in the right direction by itself. We trained 4 puppies that day, one after another. The first one was terribly scared of everything. He panicked right in the beginning and if young dogs are really really scared their muscles get stiff. They can't move anymore. They are in shock. So the training was over before it could really start. The second puppy started well running a little bit, but was confused, too, and seemingly overstrained because of all that new impressions. He will need one or two other tries to start running properly. The last two puppies instead were unstoppable! The first 10 meters they marched to a different drummer, but then they fit perfectly in the team and just followed the other dogs. We went with them about 2 km before they were send back home. I was told that normally the team takes them out to run in the same constellation the 5 km trail after the first successful run. If it works without any problems they can be integrated in a complete team and start running short distances leaded by our guests. They learn fast, but it always depends a lot on the young dog's nature. Our first 2 puppies were a little bit spooky, whereas the last two ones weren't scared about anything and very very curious. The gender of the puppy is not telling anything about its attitude or braveness. It can happen that they start running directly the first time, but sometimes it takes much more tries. So far every new dog started running more or less as wished. 
Actually this experience was a good proof of the fact that this dogs are born to run- they really want it! Even the so far untrained youngsters start running with the other dogs after short time not being threatened, but shown patiently HOW and not that we want them to run. They run in any case...:)  If you get them to run with the team most of your work is done. Most of the things the puppy has to learn concerning the sledging it learns by doing it from and with the other yet proper sledging dogs. They learn fast and you can imagine soon which them brings the qualities a good leader is made of. One of the youngest dogs running on a front position is not even 2 years old (by the way, she is my absolute favourite..).
The only thing which could be problematic is the collar. They really don't like to be pulled at their collars. All of them started to fight against it before some of them got the point and understood that as far as they keep moving everything is fine and nothing is pulling them anymore. I don't know how one could explain it to the youngsters making this experience easier for them. I guess they just have to get it themselves, but my heart was bleeding for compassion seeing them fighting against the initially unloved collar.

Huskies are amazing dogs. Perfectly adapted to their living conditions they can brave a real winter feeling best when it is about - 20/-25 °C cold. The most funny attribute of their adaption are in my opinion their feet! Why? Even the sole of their foot is covered by long fur growing out of the space between the typical balls of paw protecting them. Some of them have such a thick fur under their paws that they don't even leave the recognizably typical dogs' footprints.

Miia's paw
Something else happened: famous, international known VIP's visited our farm and did a, especially for them arranged night Safari on Sunday evening (normally we don't have customers on Sunday at all...).
It was funny to observe the change in the team. We got to know who it was 2 hours before their arriving. Suddenly the relaxed happy hour atmosphere changed into wide awake excitement, tired faces started to glow and the most absurd stories and possible upshots of this trip were invented. We laughed a lot that evening imagining most embarrassing fauxpas to step in handling our famous guests. We had to prepare just one team, a work one or two persons could do easily, but in the end we have been 6 waiting for our stars who have been late. In the end two small, suntanned, young and pleasurable guests in ridiculously warm jackets found their way to the farm, entered the sledge and vanished in the night. They have been really friendly and shy, but really interested. And that was it!

the guest book
I guess North-Finland is one of the best places to make holidays if your face/voice and your story is well-known all over the world and you want to spend some undisturbed days. Since nobody lives here, nobody will disturb you. Based on my limited experience I can say that Finns are really calm people, who don't really seem to care about other people's private life and respect one's privacy. I was rarely asked about my family or background and it passed more than 2 weeks before people started to tell me more about themselves than their names. I tested carefully the reaction to questions about more intimate issues and noticed that you'd better don't ask. If people respect you and appreciate your presence they start to tell about themselves when they got to know you better. It takes time to warm up with the Finns, even though I've been always treated more then friendly and obliging since my very first days here. But one has to proof that one can be trusted.
In Italian surroundings I would know already a lot about my Italian team members life and family including most probably really intimate details.

The days are running and still every day offers new challenges and chances. My last week in nowadays melting icy wonderland has already started and will pass much to fast! 
But before I leave I will have the possibility to show what I have learned on a two days Safari with 5 Italian drivers and 30 dogs. I'm really looking forward to that nice trip and I'm glad and grateful that I've been chosen to assist the guide (my language skills might have been once again a convincing argument to offer me that great possibility, too-my hint to everyone: learning languages is never a waste of time!)


Knowledge of the day: Shit happens! And still every day some has to clean it up, even though the warm weather make it become a disgusting concern. I really don't want to imagine how that must be in summer...

Sonntag, 9. Februar 2014

day no. 22- blind-date with Hugo

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, - 3°C

I was invited once again to join a 30 km trip with a group of 4 sledges. Doesn't sound so many, but there are the nice, attentive type of tourists and then the ones a guide fortunately meets just once or twice a year. The second kind does not listen at all and does not care, too. They drive over you and the dogs, loose continuously their teams taking pictures leaving the brake. A forenoon full of anger and unnecessary, avoidable contretemps. Not easy at all to keep calm and try to be diplomatic. It was chaotic, at least on the way to the shelter. But they learned and it got a bit  better after 10 km... But despite of this, that trip offered a new challenge for me. This time I had not just to sit on the snowmobile enjoying the trip, but we carried with us a big sledge full of food, wood and extras, because the group has booked a meal which had to be prepared by someone. In the middle of nowhere you can hardly find a restaurant, so that we planned to lit a fire and warm up the reindeer soup directly in the tent. I have made fire before, but I was still a little nervous, since I really wanted to make it! One who wants to live in in the middle of nowhere should at least know how to make a good fire! That's such an essential skill and should actually be easy to do, even in the snow!
But you never know, that's why I ask google for help. They are hundreds of ways how to make fire, even if you don't have matches. I found a website on which a video is posted how to make fire by help of a lens formed of clear ice. The only tricky point is, that one need sunlight to make it work. (The same with the help of an condom filled with water...) The last days it has been always grey and kind of dark. Then there with the commonly known friction-based methods drilling fastly a wooden stick between your hands and similar techniques. (For my German readers: I found an interesting website about what kind of fires exists and tips and tricks about which one is suited best for different undertakings. click here!)

remants of my cooking fire
Lucky me I had matches and about 20 minutes to light a fire and warm up the soup while the tourist group was driving some more km. My professional companion told me, leaving me and the sledge at the shelter, that I should just try and do what I'm able to do. He would help me as soon as they were back. But I didn't want help. There was no limit to my ambition. I really had to be successful; otherwise that would have been a damaging blow to my pride. :) The trick is to make it burn really well, if you don't want to have the tent full of smoke. It worked perfectly and the soup was already warm when my group arrived. 
Warming soup for 10 people on the fire is an annoying activity. Set directly over the fire you have to stir up the soup continuously to not burn it and it is so boring sitting in a tent respiring the smoke of your fire for seemingly hours.

On the way back one of the dogs didn't go any further and decided to just sit on the trail holding up the whole group. We had to take Hugo of and rearrange the teams. Hugo was tired that we decided that I should sit in the sledge keeping him somehow there balancing somehow on  the thermal boxes. With one hand I tried to hold down strong Hugo and with the other I kept us both in/on the sledges which was jumping   continuously over the hills and hollows of the uneven trail. When he felt better he started to jump out of the sledge. Once we fall both from the sledge in a snowbank. I had fun, Hugo not so much. We tried to reintegrate him in his team, after he has had some km to recover, but it didn't work. So I stayed with him in the sledge the whole way back. He got noticeably nervous getting closer home. And then he decided to walk the rest of the way home and with the attempt to jump over me he crashed into my face and damaged my glasses. I was 'blind'. Not cool! But it took me time to realize how practical glasses are. While I was sitting in the sledge I didn't care that much. Now I feel captured in a milky fog. everything is white, like before, but my clear sight finnish after about 5 meters. GREAT!  ... time for a change

Hugo and I ( last stop with my glasses)

We arrived so late, that I was already too late to participate in the Safari in the darkness. A pity! 

Knowledge of the day:  I wish I would not have to leave so soon. Tape can't fix everything.

Onnittelen sinua syntymäpäivän johdosta, Erä-Susi Huskies!

Freitag, 7. Februar 2014

day no. 20 /21- reflection

Erä-susi Huskyfarm, -8°C 
Communication. Variety. Growing together. Values. Commonality. Interpretation. Coexistence. Tolerance. Compromise. Learning Process. Mutuality. Listening. Feeling. Observation. Differences. Interchange.

Integration is a tricky thing. Becoming part of a group is nothing one could compel, but anyways efforts and compromises have to be made on both sides. 
Initially I though that my lack of  language skills is just a disadvantage that leads to isolation, a burden that makes it nearly impossible to become part of  the Erä-susi community. I have to admit that I had hard days feeling sad about not being able to get the full content of their conversations, jokes and anecdotes. But I got something else instead- I learned to observe and to identifies people's nuances. My picture about my surroundings and my team is grown by experiencing them differently then I used to do ever before. My impressions are grown absolutely apart from what some would have told me if I could understand, apart from stories or comments told about certain team members. I got to know them most of all visually and listening to them. Listening not to words but to nuances. I see and hear respect, friendship, provocation, trust, goodwill and fun. I see wonderful personalities: their is 'Miss sunshine' with the rare talent to enlighten the mood of everybody even when the sun doesn't shine; the storyteller fascinating people with a sharp sense of really dry humor; 'Mr. Dynamic' and the 'all-knowing memory', who does more or less its own business etc.... Since I didn't get what people are talking about I learned to be aware of changes in speech melody, mimic and gesticulation, appearance, attitude and habit of everyone and in interaction among each other. I'm already able to recognize their destination noticing the way they prepare for reaching their destination. It is incredible what the lack of milk for the morning coffee can tell about the daily dynamic of the team. I feel the group more than I really know them, but I guess in that way I got to know them already better than it would have been possible ignoring most of my perceptions and focussing almost just on words and stories. Nevertheless nothing can replace the spoken word and directly connected to that the ability to perceive and interpret its meaning. 

People like to tell stories, they like to laugh and to listen. I would love to not just enjoy the great atmosphere, but be surprised, amused, astonished, satisfied, sometimes embarrassed or confused together with them.

Since I don't understand work instructions in Finnish, I have to learn differently than the Finnish trainees. They learn by listening what is told among team members about the difficulties and joy of their activities. I always have to please somebody to repeat and ask for information. I rarely go my own way, but I'm told to follow. This is a good lecture for me, but I guess for the team, too.
I will keep this experience in mind thinking of integration and teaching myself.
I felt a stranger among friends initially shifting between being a tourist, a passing through worker, a curious German girl and an Anthropologist, but I actually have already found my place without knowing it- I'm the 'silent observer'. 

Tulva has the overview.
But to come back to the Huskies...I was wondering what those mysterious, circular hollows one can find in the fences are good for. The surface of the interior walls is much to smooth and even to be caved by the paws of a dog our a spade. They are inside covered with a thin ice layer and about 5 up to 30 cm deep. I observed the appearance of this holes for a couple of days-they became more and more during warm nights, none of them vanished, but after really cold nights rarely some new ones appeared.

the mysterious holes
One of my team mate disclosed the secret and destroyed my not all too serious far-fetched conspiracy theories I could come up with ( mentioning inter alia extra-terrestrial flying objects and laser eyes). His explanation was not as cool as my abstruse ideas, but still remarkable:
The huskies like to sleep in the snow when it's warm enough. They lay totally rolled up in the soft snow melting the subsurface with the warmth of their bodies and sinking deeper and deeper into the snowbank. This is actually very clever! These suitable hollows fit perfectly the shape of the dog's body and keeps the icy wind out. When it snows the dog gets covered totally from all sides with snow which keeps it warm like a blanket would do. That's how they survive even snowstorm on long trips when there are no doghouses available.

Tomorrow I'm going to have my first night- Safari! Start at 17:15 , when the sunlight will be already changed to complete darkness. :)

Knowledge of the day: A blueberry-muffins a day, keeps fretfulness away...

*in memory of the sun enlightened, beautiful frosty days*

Mittwoch, 5. Februar 2014

day no. 19 - a reindeer story

Ruka/Erä-susi Huskyfarm -3°C gloomy and grey.
The story of a youth who went forth to 'hunt' a reindeer-a Lapponian culinary delight!
Obviously I did not shot the reindeer myself, but I was always curious how reindeer taste! Since I had a day off I got my warm clothes on and walked to the 8 km far Ruka, a little village that consists actually of 2 souvenirshops, a supermarket, ski renting companies, loads of ski slopes, 3 big hotels and some restaurants and bars. It takes you 10 minutes to see everything which Ruka village has to offer, but still it was a nice change. Actually I felt quite strange- the village is enlightened with loads of fairy lights and blinking decorations, but the village seemed to me quite abandoned. I saw just a few people in the streets and the ski slopes, but the restaurants, bars and shops were devoid of people. Sitting alone on a little red bench waiting for the bus home I heard unsettling alpine folk music. The voice of an old gentlemen singing  in German about his love to the beautiful, green mountain world accompanied by brass band and accordion resounded in the empty square from the loudspeakers somewhere behind me. I was sitting in front of a place called 'alphut' (German 'alp cap')... It was so weird! 

But to come back to the reindeer-story...In Finnish Lapland live around 200.000 reindeers (more than humans) which are running free almost all over the year. In spring the reindeer fawns are born in freedom in the forests and during the summer month the breeders round them up in order to count, cure and mark their own animals. Every breeder cuts his personal cutting pattern in the reindeers' ears, some of them use ear tags, too. Then they are released again until wintertime. Because winter is really rough out here they get encaptured again and are fed with some extra fodder. Obviously you can train them to pull a sledge, too. I was told, that normally for pulling a sledge are used just males, because they are stronger, look nice with their big horns and the females are pregnant yet. Sooo...the males have to work to the delight of the tourists who are the main asset of the region. 

Reindeers are quite shy and not like cows or horses fully domesticated. At this point is remarkable that the reindeer is the only cervid specie that was tameable at all. The reindeers are semi-wild living in close contact with their few human neighbors. During my first trip to Lapland in November 2013 it often happens that reindeers crossed the streets and highways. My guide at that time have told that reindeers tend to lick the gritting salt from the asphalt to provide themselves with minerals.
Even if they are no dangerous, aggressive specie one should take care of the reindeer horns. When a reindeer feels threatened or get spooked it might throw its head suddenly around and catch accidentally what is in range of their sharp pointed horns. The fur is really thick and isolates really well. A reindeer has 2700 up to 3500 single hairs per cm2.  I guess the reindeer is even more connected to Lapland than the dogs; the reindeer is Lapland's true mascot!

Reindeermeat is quite expensive, even in Finland the price for reindeer meat tops already the costs of cow meat.Since the demand, especially during christmas and new years festivities, is huge due to the many tourits who want to try the traditional Sami dish. You can buy it in every supermarket and it is exported all over the world.I recently read an article (click to read the German version!) about a trading agreement about Islam-compatibly slaughtered reindeer meat between Finland and Katar-the market for halal-reindeer meat is expanding.

The reindeer meat is rich of protein, vitamin A.B.C and PP having at the same time a really low fat content. which makes it unique! Since the animals spent nearly their whole life wandering, always moving and eating what they can find in the relatively untouched nordic nature, their meat is a high-quality, biological, really healthy source of nourishment. And as such the reindeers are admired and protected by the Sami, who followed their herds for centuries through their animals' peripatetic routes and became an essential element in  Sami folkloritic and culture. Today just 5-8% per cent of the Sami still subsist on the breeding and raising reindeers, but they don't adhere to a nomadic lifestyle anymore.

Today I wanted to taste this 'wonder-meat' myself, but since I don't even know how to prepare and cook it, I decided to order myself a nice reindeer fillet in a restaurant I've been before. (Last time I was invited to have dinner there I had an grilled salmon which was simply fantastic! -Ruka-Colorado)
I got 160 g grilled reindeer fillet on red wine-cranberry sauce and red currant jelly with roasted vegetables and oven-baked potatoes with house made garlic-herbs butter decorated with fresh thyme. Sounds great and tasted even better! 
The meat was medium cooked and very delicate, not rubbery at all. It's characteristic, rich flavour game meat use to have, is quite strong and might not be everybody's taste, but I hardly recommend to test it at least. It is worth, even though I could have easily survived two weeks in Germany with the money spent for that
dish.  It was really tasty and the service was really friendly and attentive, too! I would order it again, if I could affort that!

Knowledge of the day: Tipping is not compulsory in Finnish restaurants.

Dienstag, 4. Februar 2014

day no. 17/18 - in the first 30km Safari!

Erä-susi Huskyfarm -2 °C some like it hot...the dogs not that much!

Today was one of the 'big' days, one of those which are rare, but full of good experiences that will last as good memories for longer... 

I did my first driving lesson on my own!

 Every tourist group is introduced to sledge, equipment, dogs and shown how it actually works to go sledging with the huskies before they even meet their team. It is not really difficult, but still there are a few things one has to remember in order to fully enjoy this experience not risking one's health or the welfare of the dogs.They put up a little stage in front of the Safari house on which a sledge, equal to the ones that are used, is placed. The guide climbs up on the stage and shows how it works in a little driving lesson, answering questions and taking away fears and misgivings. I've joined a couple of times the riding lessons of the professional guides who have done that already for years- they are really good entertainers! People laugh a lot and arrive in a cheerful mood the starting point, maybe still a little nervous, but not afraid anymore. After the trip the guide accompanies our guests to the cozy guest lounge where hot coffee, tea, juice and some snacks are already waiting heated up over the ingel. Then the guests have the possibility to have a tour at the farm, cuddling a lot of adult dogs and puppies and of courses they will sooner or later find their way also to the souvenir shop...
 I learned that the puppies see about 7000 people before they ,in the age of about 1 year, start running themselves. That why they are so handsome to every kind of human no matter where they come from or how they look and smell like. Actually this is really remarkable! Among each other the dogs can act very rough and I can fully understand that people might feel afraid of them seeing how they threaten each other. But they would never ever do something else to people then showing trust and affection without any exception. They love people and are quite jealous if the neighbor gets more attention then one itself. From the beginning until the end the guide is always around ready to answer questions, tell stories, make the guests stay as comfortable as possible and most of all being proud. :) The people who work here seem to really love what they do and one can easily notice that just listening to their experiences and their anecdotes.  

Today I was invited to try the guiding myself and  taught a small German group the most important to know. Afterwards I could accompany the group, too- this was a real surprise! So far I've been always working on the farm never leaving the closer surroundings. My maximum distance I did so far driving myself was a trip about 5 km and today I was shown the 30 km trail, since I'm not ready yet to accompany groups with the safety snowmobile unassisted. Everyone of the guides loves the 30 km tour, because it is actually like having a day off. Since the group is for at least 4 hours on the trails, the guide misses all the hard work that have to be done on the farm and can ride through ice and snow, sitting at the camp fire eating sausages and having a chat with the customers. Obviously it is still an tiring trip, especially if something happens to the dogs or one might fall from the sledge. (Fortunately everything went perfectly!) But in any case it was quite a cool experience! 

The weather was unfortunately not perfect. Covered with grey clouds sky and underground looked quite the same,so that it was hard to identify the following sledges at the horizon. The warmth in these days bothers the dogs. They need about -20 degrees to feel really good. Working hard in these days they feel really warm and try to cool down whenever possible rolling around and burying their heads in the cold , refreshing snow until they are  fully covered. Dogs cannot sweat so they have to find other possibilities to cool down. 

snow white 
I was placed on the snowmobile sitting back watching all the time what was happening behind us while a seasoned guide was driving the snowmobile. We always drove much faster then the dogs could ever run leaving the tourists alone with the beautiful white and silent landscape only heightened by the sound of the dogs' paws hitting the icy surface and creaking of the wooden sledges. It's a wonderful experience! 

touris on tour
 We stopped after a several hundred meters waiting for them in order to make sure that everybody is still ok and following the track. We were the first ones using this trail this morning and in front of us lay the untouched forests and fields. One might think that it could be boring to see all the time for hours just white and trees,but it is not! First of all it is not just white, the landscape is coloured in hundreds of different shades of grey, blue, white, green and deep purple, although the sun was not shining. Every tree looks different and after every curve another great view is offered to your eyes. The air is frosty clear out here. (Obviously not that much sitting back on the snowmobile...). I liked riding the snowmobile looking in the 'wrong' direction. I had the perfect view on our running dogs and actually it was quite a challenge: Not seeing where we were going every turn and every hill came as a surprise. It reminds me a little bit of riding young horses- up and down, jumping suddenly in an unexpected direction...

After 18 km we had a break in a warm, traditional shelter. My professional companion lit a campfire in the tent and we grilled sausages and had some hot beverage. Inside it was really cozy and soon it became warm.
Even though is was a warm day sitting for so long time one gets cold easily, since the cold airstream is continuously cooling you. On the farm I'm really ok with my pullover and a thin cap, but for that trip I put over my pullover, my thin Erä-susi sweater and the heavy Erä-susi outdoor jacket, covering my head with a fleece beanie cap and a heavy helmet. My hands were protected with leather mittens keeping really warm because of the wooly lining.It was really necessary. 

The trip ended far too fast, but I can hardly recommend to everybody to make this experience! Driving through this spectacle landscape with a dog sledge must be even more amazing than with a snowmobile! For those who don' t like dogs: I found out today that all over North-Finland there are hundreds of kilometers long snowmobile trail marked with a blue cross which usage is free of charge. We tried to avoid those tracks because unfortunately the snowmobile driver don't drive really carefully and often much to fast. Some time ago one snowmobile has seen the sledge to late and crashing in the team it injured one of the dogs. It can ends really badly and that' s why the Erä-Susi team prefers to use private trails, but sometimes it is inevitable to drive through those public ones. Around Kuusamo and Ruka seems to be much traffic on that kind of trails, that's why the longer trips about up to 5 days Safaris are not started from here but from Rokua which seems to offer more quiet surroundings. 

I had a really remarkable day, admittedly among a lot of remarkable days..But still this one was very special. Thank you all for that really nice day ! :) 

Knowledge of the day: 
If your blade is to small to brave effectively the winter...
...have a bigger one!