Destination Polmak, Norway (5)

Dearvvas Ustit!

At the end of instalment four I was writing about my experience in the Nuorgam post office, or Njuorggán Poasta. While there I picked up a Nuorgam patch to add to the future quiltwork that will appear on my backpack. I had also picked up an Utsjoki patch on Saturday.

I rode to the Nuorgam Information stop, housed within a sporting goods store, Matti Junttila Ky. While there I picked up the sole pamphlet on Nuorgam (in Finnish) plus a few on travel in northern Norway (in Norwegian). The information stop was staffed by two teenaged girls and we spoke in Finnish, although one of them wanted the opportunity to try out her English. I asked them if they learnt Sami or were taught in Sami in school. If they were of Sami heritage, they would have had the right to receive Sami instruction. Both girls were Finns and they did speak Sami, but they did not learn it in school. In fact they wondered what use it was that they had to learn the country’s second official language, Swedish. (All Finnish students receive compulsory Swedish instruction.) They thought that having Sami, or Norwegian, on the curriculum would be more worthwhile. While in this shop and in others, prices were always given in Finnish markkaa and Norwegian kronor [1].

The rain in the forecast never came, but the mist did, again and again. Dense mist hung low and riding through it provided the same result as a rainstorm: I was soaked. I dried off quickly as I rode, so I was never pedalling in soaked clothes for long.

I have fallen in love with the Lonely Planet travel guidebooks and spent a good portion of my rainy afternoon yesterday in Helsinki’s Akateeminen Kirjakauppa engrossed in reading the new edition on travel to Korea–travel to the Democratic People’s Republic to be exact. As a Canadian citizen with a passion for personality cult dictators there might not be a problem with them letting me in 🙂 I even bought a North Korean flag pin from a Russian/Soviet junkstore for penniä. The Lonely Planet guidebook on Finland disappointed me though in its unflattering review of Utsjoki, although one thing about Nuorgam they got dead-on: in Nuorgam they really do sell “tacky clothes” to Norwegians. As I rode through the village I kept looking for these clothing stores but they were located a few kilometres outside of town. It was almost as though the local townspeople refused to have them within town limits. As you near the Norwegian border you see several textile shops with the clothing on display outside on racks. This stuff is yesteryear’s bargain basement buck-a-pound castoffs. These stores are unfortunately the last you see of Finland before you cross into Norway. Turquoise polyester stretch pants may be your last loving memory of the Isänmaa (Fatherland).

The Finnish/Norwegian frontier was unstaffed, but that was expected. No one was staffing the border when I crossed from Utsjoki over the Saamensilta either, although there was a customs office on the Finnish side. What amazed me most about the land frontier was the fence which stretched from the southern shore of the Teno River, stopping at the road, then continued south, as far as the eye could see. There was perhaps a four-metre-wide clearing cut through the dense forest with the fence running down the middle. This stretched forever–all you could see was forest on both sides of a gap with a tapering thin rail of a fence down the middle as your eye approached the horizon.

There was a marker stone on the southern side of the road, marking the “northernmost point in the European Union”, which was a geographical inaccuracy. A more appropriate sign on this monument would have been “the northernmost point in the European Union for a decent photo op”. [2] The real northernmost point in the EU, or Finland, is actually across the road on the southern shore of the Teno River. The fence continues north of the road and you can follow the fence, through the forest, to the shoreline. It is only on the southern side of the road where there is a clearing flanking the fence. I poked through trees and bushes to get to the shoreline, which meant having to scramble down a steep sandy cliff. While I was hiking through the brush I got worried that some customs agents were going to approach me suddenly at any second to tell me to get lost, but fortunately that never happened.

When I got to the rocky riverbank I saw Finnish/Norwegian boundary stone Number One. Right on the shore, with a fluorescent yellow-painted base. I did not need to get my feet wet to stand on either side of it 🙂 Absolutely fascinating to stand at the point which demarcates the beginning of a thick red line on a map. At that moment I was the most northerly person in the EU, but it’s only Finn frontier freaks like me who really care about these things innit?

I biked into Norway, which is unspectacularly introduced by two small yellow-and-black signs, flanking each side of the narrow road saying just “Norge”. After a ride of two kilometres I arrived at Polmak village limits. Once I arrived at Polmak church the heavy mist fell again; Norway’s greeting to me was a soaking.

I saw the church and Polmak museum, and rode to the end of the town limits. It would have been a pleasure to meet some Norwegians, but perhaps because of the precipitation, no one was outside. Polmak is just a dot on the map, smaller in size than even Nuorgam.

I considered riding 23 km north up to Tana Bru, in order to cross the next bridge over the Teno (after the Saamensilta in Utsjoki). However any trip to Tana Bru and back would effectively double the length of my return voyage. I did not have the time to cycle an additional forty-six kilometres, so I decided to head back to Utsjoki. I wanted to bike further north, and perhaps if I had more time, plus accommodations waiting for me in Tana Bru, I would have. There’s always the option of returning to the Finnish/Norwegian north. After my first visit to Finland last August, I knew that I would be back sooner rather than later. And I can make this cycling trip to Tana Bru and on to the Arctic Ocean happen as well.

When I returned to Utsjoki, it was 22.30. I had been on my bike for eleven hours. I needed to sit down and have a tall glass of Finnish Lapin Kulta (a brand of beer). In my hotel room I looked at my face and underneath the cake of dust that covered my forehead to my chin, I saw the biggest bags under my eyes that I had ever seen. I could not believe the size of them!

I attempted to write more postcards while in the hotel dining room, but was too tired to finish even one. I>met a Skolt Sami gentleman, Niilas, and his friend Saana, who spoke both Skolt and Tunturi Sami. Saana proudly told me that she shared the same name as a tunturi (“fell”, or treeless mountain) in northwestern Finland near Kilpisjärvi. We talked for a little while and I managed to get some Tunturi Sami out of my mouth that sounded pretty much right for a change.

The postal bus was scheduled to arrive at Utsjoki from Nuorgam the following morning at 05.05, which meant that I had to get to bed pronto. I knew that I would be sleeping on the seven-hour bus ride back to Rovaniemi; there was no chance I would be able to stay awake and look at the scenery after being on my bike for half a day and then getting less than five hours’ sleep afterwards.

When the bus arrived in Rovaniemi I used the Internet at their central library to reply to many of you, although I did so while still much in a daze.

On the train ride back to Helsinki I wrote some Utsjoki postcards, wherein I wrote that I regretted having to mail these cards from Helsinki. The train though did have a half-hour stop in Oulu. I saw an orange letterbox outside the train station, so I ran out and mailed these cards from Oulu, in spite of me saying that they’d be mailed from the capital.

Yesterday in Esplanadipuisto I wrote postcard number eighty. The best stamps are for last my friends. I have exhausted the available 3,50 markkaa stamps (in my strive for a unique stamp per postcard) so I’ve now raided the Posti’s lower denominations!

[1] Here’s where I need my OSPD. Is the plural of the Norwegian currency kronor? Kronur? Krona? [Edit: it’s kroner.]

[2] Throughout my trip in northern Finland I saw much travel literature on trips to Nordkapp, Norway. Nordkapp may bill itself as the northernmost point in Europe, at 71 degrees 10′ 21″ N, but just west of the cape is Knivskjelodden, at 71 degrees 11′ 08″ N. I have seen travel maps of Nordkapp and there is even a hiking trail to Knivskjelodden, so it is accessible. As I was looking at this EU northern marker I kept thinking of Nordkapp’s dubious claim to fame.

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