Speeding off to the south again after a dreadful period in Rovaniemi anticipating and waiting for our holiday to start. The southbound train was our ticket to warmer and more summer-like regions far away from chilly- and mosquito-Lapland where summer feels like autumn. The backpacks were lighter than before because we hadn’t bought any food yet. In fact we were sort of penniless and had only been eating salads grown in our own vegetable garden some 4 kilometres from home. My money would come in the following day but it was a risk all right; who knows maybe my money would not come in or be late. The money should be available from my account after 12 o’clock tonight. The train stops in Oulu between 0:07 and 0:20 hours so we’re contemplating of running to the nearest teller machine and buying a small bottle of wine each at the train’s restaurant car, which is open until 01:30. That would jumpstart our trip real well.
I had unplugged all the electrical appliances including the refrigerator. My chilli sauce would survive without cooling. I didn’t care so much about the few leftover onions, but the chilli sauce is important. That’s one thing I’ll miss on the trip, that and cigars.
The train left Rovaniemi at 21:15 and we left from home at –typically– 20:47. By cycling we surprisingly still made it in time. Hope that our bicycles will remain at the station so we won’t have to walk back when we ever do come back. The train was pretty full; sitting in front of me were two Belgian women who looked like lesbians. From their faces we both determined at once that they were from the ‘Low countries’, such typical faces. It gave me a pathetic sort of pleasure listening in on their conversations.
When the train stopped in Oulu I had 20 minutes to run out and get money. After which I ran to an all-night-shop and bought Merja a pack of cigarettes. I was generously back in time. We had some money now and at once went to the restaurant car, bought two beers and sat down. Opposite us sat a longhaired skinny drunk trying to make conversation, which didn’t work. We bought some more beers even though we considered it rather expensive at 24,50 marks a pint. One can buy a litre for 22 marks in the shops. Ah well, it’s holiday. The restaurant car is an area where people sit, look at the scenery, and buy another beer. Another drunk sat down next to the longhaired one and together they had a conversation going. After a while the new one started a conversation with us and said that he had a bottle of the national spirit koskenkorva in his bag and would offer us some later.
Merja and I got tired of them and went off to the smoking section. Unfortunately I didn’t have any cigars, so one of Merja’s menthol cigarettes had to do for me. The spirit-promiser came as well, but he was so damned drunk that he forgot to offer anything. I was determined to hang around the smoking section until he produced the bottle. Eventually (I didn’t mind a sip) I just asked him and he cheerfully replied that we would have to go to the intermediate section of the train because he was afraid that the conductor would see him or something. There he offered me the bottle and he made me drink quite a lot of it. It was hard to swallow it all down, but I made it and it was damn good. He drifted back to the smoking section and I drifted along. We continued on the bottle and were eagerly helped by a member of the Finnish equivalent of the Chippendales. He was on the train on his way south and as drunk as one can be. The three of us talked, talked, and finished the bottle after, which I went back to our seats and slept.
Early in the morning we arrived in Tampere, jumped out, and jumped right back in again. ‘Let’s continue and go on to Hämeenlinna,’ Merja said. ‘Ok,’ I replied. It was yet still early when the train pulled into the clean Hämeenlinna station, but at least it wasn’t 05:00 anymore. We walked to the town’s centre to find the outside markets just coming to life. I bought us a cup of coffee each just as the rain started to pour down on sleepy Hämeenlinna. We bought our groceries and since we had visited the town the previous year it wasn’t hard to remember which way to go—unlike last year. We bought enough that would last us for a couple of days.
On the trip back we couldn’t help but feel negative towards busy Tampere. But when the announcer said that the train for Pori would leave from a nearby platform, Merja’s eyes began to shine as she questioningly said ‘Let’s go to Pori, I’ve never been in Pori’. Once again I just replied ‘Ok.’ The trip to Pori took an hour and 45 minutes; thinking about this I wanted to find out as soon as possible everything about trains back to Tampere and connections to Turku. No problem it appeared to be. We could spend at least 3 hours in Pori before a train to Tampere would leave that would be there in time to meet the last train of the day to Turku. Now we wouldn’t loose any “days” on our holiday-pass train tickets. These allow the owner 3 days of unlimited train-travel in a 1-month period of time. A day however starts after 19:00 the previous day until before 11:00 the day after (if the journey began before midnight the previous day). So if one were to leave Tuesday evening after 19:00 then you can travel whole Wednesday and if an onward journey would begin before midnight, even until 11:00 Thursday morning; and that 3 times for 500 marks.
Pori has an annual Jazz-festival and everywhere was still enough evidence of this year’s. Dying for a toilet to clean herself, Merja suggested going into McDonald’s for a 6 marks hamburger. I ordered three of these hamburgers while Merja was busy; my hands were “train-stained,” so I would go as well, but later. Surprisingly 3 times 6 marks added up to 15 marks here.
Following the maps along the centre of Pori we came to the harbour-area where the Jazz-festival seems to have its centre every year. Workers were still clearing the place of podiums, stages, and beer-stalls; I guess we missed the festival by just a day or so.
In a park I used the toilets to clean and relieve myself. The McDonald’s one was free but others were already cueing when I had only just washed my hands! Merja was walking through a little animal park, where I stood watching 2 peacocks will full stretched feathers. Back in central Pori Merja sat down on a bench and guarded our packs while I went off in search of ice cream. We were major in time for the Tampere-bound train. As it pulled out of the station I started talking of musta makkara, “Black sausage” for which Tampere is supposed to be famous. Not many seem to eat it though, its main ingredient being blood. We had an hour time in Tampere and thus enough to eat one of them, with some cranberry-sauce it was damned good again. Just as last year I promised myself to buy these sausages back home when we would get back.
The trip to Turku took well over 2 hours and we arrived there in darkness. From the previous year I remembered a nearby gas station where I could get water and gasoline for my stove. From there we walked 4 kilometres to Ruissalo, Turku’s famous island. Tired and sleepy I –luckily– remembered where the nature trail starts and we entered it in pouring rain armed with my flashlight. We pitched the tent behind a large mansion, close to where we had camped before.
As usual we woke late, packed, and found the mansion under re-construction. But that didn’t stop us from making our soup, bread and coffee-breakfast on the porch, though. We walked to the international harbour to make use of the terminal’s clean toilets. Where I needed less than 10 minutes to wash and freshen up, Merja needed 45. Finally we walked along the central canal, filed with boats, to the town’s centre. We both agreed that the canal looked like one of those dirty canals Amsterdam is so proud of and couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying it.
Our plan was to take a bus from the bus station to Kustavi, where we could catch a ferry to Brändö-island, in the northeastern part of the Åland archipelago. The last bus of the day had left nearly an hour prior to our arrival, which for us meant going back to Ruissalo for the night. We took the bus this time and rode it to the end of the island where there’s supposed to be some beautiful beach and a spa-resort. The spa was there all right, but only guests from the camping-ground could at this time, only just 21:00, reach the beach. On to a nature trail we walked and found a soft spot to place our tent. It was still light and we made our dinner on some rocks situated somewhat higher than our tent. We were finished as darkness had already fallen, found our way back to the tent, and slept undisturbed until the next morning.
It was a beautiful sunny day and we found a nice spot along the nature trail to prepare our morning-coffee and eat some bread. From afar we could hear an American coming. In his typical loud voice he was explaining some Mormon-history to the silent ones in his wake.
The spa was a must-see for Merja and since they would have toilets I couldn’t disagree. Merja went first and I waited and waited and waited. According to Merja it was a good place to use the toilets, clean and good smelling soap. Armed with my washcloth and 2 lightweight towels I went in and washed myself as well.
Since we were in the neighbourhood and it wasn’t too late we went to check what the fuss about the beach was. Nothing apparently. Unkempt and I was glad to be on the bus back to Turku’s centre. There I bought us 2 soup-dishes because I didn’t want to continue eating and finishing soup prior to a cup of coffee from the same cup. The coffee and tea always have a taste to them and sometimes I would just like to have both at the same time. I got a good deal at only 4,80 marks apiece. Now we finally had normal plates, soup-plates and coffee cups with us, that along with my stove makes a regular kitchen.
We had an hour to spend before the bus for Kustavi would leave and spent it drinking a cup of coffee from the station’s cafeteria. The bus took us to Kustavi and we hopped off. Unfortunately we weren’t too sure where to get off or where to go to, so we ended up 8 kilometres from the ferry. But this gave us enough time on our hands to have a look at the Kustavi area. At a local holiday-centre I filled the water bag and after just 2 kilometres of walking from Kustavi’s unnoticeable centre we came to the first ferry. In lieu of a road it only took us over to the next island, less than 500 metres away. On the other side of this island we would finally be able to catch a ferry to Brändö. That was however still a 6 kilometres hike and it was getting late, so we made camp with about 3 kilometres to go. I started making food just outside the tent, which is sitting cross-legged inside the tent and attending the stove outside in front of the tent-flap. Rain started pouring down and some came in as well; I draped my poncho around my feet and shielded the noodle soup a little from the downpour with the tent cover. I slept without my sleeping bag that night trying to keep it from getting wet, but it was rather cold.
Because of the rain I had left our dishes outside so that they could fill up, which would clean them better than me. One of the pots contained but a little amount of water whilst the others were nearly all filled to the top, so I guess we had had a visitor. I had spot a deer the previous evening and I heard something breathing and rumbling through the bushes during the night. Maybe the deer had gotten thirsty.
According to my calculations we were just 3 kilometres away from the harbour; after a short walk my calculations proved to be right. But we would have to wait nearly 2 hours for the next ferry and Merja took advantage of this by washing herself in the sea. I sat on the rocks and needed no more washing than splashing some seawater on my face.
In about 35 minutes the ferry took us over to Brändö. Unfortunately it started to rain again and we decided to make our dinner right there in a shed at the harbour. Many cyclists waiting to catch the next ferry the other way around came by, but we were the only ones making food, we were also the only ones on foot. It appeared that we were also the only ones continuing on Brändö in this terrible weather.
After about 4 kilometres we came to Brändö’s landmark, a set of many bridges connecting just a few of the 1000 islands that make up the Brändö municipality. On one of them we pitched our tent for the night. Unfortunately –for me– the mosquitoes seem to thrive well on Åland. I had hoped to have left the buggers behind in Finland and preferably in Lapland, but alas nothing of the kind. Where they seem to be a problem the whole day at home, here they only come out during the evening and when dusk falls. Daytime troubles however are various species of flies, wasps, bees, and mites.
We got out of bed around noon again and made a combined breakfast and lunch in the grass while waiting for our gear to dry. Today we would look for a place to swim or rather to wash ourselves. The opportunity arrived 2 kilometres outside “Brändö-village,” where we refilled the water bag and our two water bottles at a fuelling station for boats. The map indicated this site as a “Swimming beach.” We changed clothes, jumped in, washed our hair and bodies, all just in time before a group of people came for their Sunday-at-the-beach.
Merja had washed our clothes and towels, and as they dried I made us a dinner on potato-and-corned-beef-soup and coffee—of course. Lazily (the sun was shining) we continued doing nothing but sitting around, reading, and relaxing. We ate the last of the corned beef on toast and drank freshly brewed Camomile tea. We pitched our tent a 2 kilometres further, in the fields behind some rocks and bushes.
I didn’t sleep too well due to an uneven distribution of grass underneath me, and perhaps some piles of mud or so. Still I rested well. According to Merja it was too warm in the tent and she started to do some stretching exercises outside. She had let the door flap open and consequently flies swarmed inside; it was time to pack. We saw a snake of about 70 centimetres in length cross the street. It nearly got it’s head cut of by a boy’s bicycle, but the snake’s reaction was so quick that it saved it’s own life. After a trip of about 3 kilometres we came to a small settlement where we stopped to buy ice cream, tomatoes, onions, bread, and apples. Groups of young kids were standing outside the shop enjoying ice cream as well; they were on cycling trips of Åland. According to them the next ferry was due in half an hour time. But when we came to the harbour we still had to wait about an hour before it finally came. I promised myself to start learning to read the timetables before asking others again. Once it was there it took another 20 minutes for everyone to board. Actually we were one of the first on board and had nice sunny deck-seats once the ferry departed.
Since all the ferries are free of charge for passengers (you’ll have to pay for a car though, if you have one), we hadn’t yet decided where to go. Eventually we got of at Kumlinge and walked to the village in the centre of the island in search of petrol for the stove and some water. We saw two more snakes on the road, which was a clear reminder that Finland and Åland have a specie of poisonous snake. Something to remember when searching for a place to pitch the tent! The water we found, but we were too late for the petrol; the shop had closed at 17:00. While walking back to the harbour Merja picked some fresh peas along the road and we had just finished eating them (raw) when a car stopped and offered us a ride to the harbour, which we gladly accepted. Waiting for the ferry to Enklinge we ate bread, Merja cooked some noodles as well and we drank freshly brewed coffee.
A family with car and we were the only passengers to Enklinge. Once arrived we just wanted to quickly find a place to spend the night. The map in the harbour indicated a beach not far off. We found it deserted and after checking a few places pitched the tent behind some bushes.
This was the first night that it hadn’t rained at all. The only event that woke me during the night was Merja’s toilet-call, but apart from that I slept soundlessly on this quiet island. The other islands seem to have some traffic, but Enklinge was completely silent.
We now faced the problem of still being without fuel and whilst Merja would stay on the beach washing clothes and herself, I went off searching for fuel. For the first time in a long while I could walk without the burden of a pack. It was wonderful. After about 1,5 kilometres I came to the –apparently– only shop on the island, which doubled as a gas station. Unfortunately it was closed between noon and 13:00. I spent the time walking around and eating wild strawberries, which grow in abundance here. They are a lot smaller than the cultivated ones and not as sweet, but very tasty none the less.
Back at the beach the first ting I did was taking a swim in the sea. Well, I more like walked through the water since it was so damned cold, but it helped wash myself. While drying up on a rock I lighted the stove and brewed us some coffee after which I started on our brunch: macaroni, an onion, two sausages, and some herbs all cooked up in the same pan at the same time. Tasty—everything is tasty when hungry.
The boat to Hummelvik, on Vårdö-island, was due a half hour after our arrival back at the harbour. I could already see it docking at Kumlinge across the sea. It brought us to Hummelvik in just about an hour. We spent that time sunbathing on deck again. Hummelvik harbour is the end of the line for the northern ferry route and has road connections to Mariehamn, the capital of Åland.
After we had checked our maps we set out for Vårdö’s church. The church is a 4 kilometres hike from the harbour and from this point onwards we hadn’t decided on which way to go: left to Töftö or straight on towards yet another island. We didn’t visit the church because it was closed, but roamed the graveyard a bit. Across the street was a resting place where we sat down and ate. After a while we decided to go to Simskälä, the island where Anni Blomqvist lived and wrote her books. Hiked about 6 kilometres before we made camp in a pine forest. Away from the tent in the sun we made a tasty dinner on rice, herbs and –again– coffee.
The next morning didn’t see as much sun as had shone the previous evening. After our breakfast we went on towards a ferry, which would take us to Simskälä. Unfortunately we didn’t really have much of the water left, which I had taken from the graveyard yesterday; graveyards always have an open tap for water. I saved as much as I could by not drinking any, but letting Merja have it. I was confident enough to believe that we would run into a fresh water supply along the road. I wasn’t really thirsty anyway, at least not yet.
The road was rather boring and uneventful. As we neared the ferry the road changed into a series of small islands connected by low land bridges. The ferry was waiting for us to hop on and had us, and a car with Dutch tourists, soon hopping off on Simskälä. From the ferryman’s cabin on the island we gladly took water. By this time the sky was cloudless and the sun shone warmly upon us. Time was about 14:30 and we both didn’t mind having a cup of coffee and something to eat. A boulder of rocks looked rather inviting to take a rest upon.
I took advantage of the spot, changed into my swimming trunks, and stepped into the surprisingly cold seawater. Where the boulder of rock we were on slipped silently under water, slippery mosses made walking a difficult task and we had to be careful not to fall and get a quick cold dipping. In spite of the cold water I washed myself anyway, even my hair. I draped my large towel around my waist like an Indonesian sarong and let myself dry in the by now burning sun. Merja went through the same routine, as I prepared food and coffee. A group of clouds shaped like a skeleton’s hand flowed above us; a bad omen as it proved to be.
About 3 hours later we finally set off to the other side of the island where –at least that’s what we thought– a bicycle-ferry would take us to the main island. Taking a break from our hike, we sat down at the island’s only café, halfway across, and had an ice cream each. The thing I noticed about this island was the fact that there were absolutely no asphalt roads, just dirt roads all the way.
The bicycle-ferry’s dock was small and deserted. According to the timetable only 2 ferries per day travelled between here and the main island, one at 12:00 and the other –or probably the same one on a second journey– shortly after at 12:50. Consequently we were at least 8 hours late or 16 hours too early. Furthermore, this ferry was not free; it came with a person-price of 40 marks. That would set us back 80 marks and that could also give us food for a few days. The clouds were a bad omen after all. Finally we took the decision to walk back to Hummelvik and take the ferry back to Kumlinge and from there on go south, across the island to the harbour on Snäckö, a small adjoining island to Kumlinge, from where we could catch another ferry and visit some more islands in the southern part of the archipelago. We would do all this before using the free transportation by ferry and landing at Långnäs in the southeastern part of the main island, from where we intended to walk to the capital Mariehamn.
Halfway Simskälä we made camp and had a delicious dinner on rice, herbs, bread, and tea. This place was jam-packed with mosquitoes; they seemed to be dancing above our heads in the hot air rising from the stove.
Our breakfast and the last of the coffee that we had left we took on a group of rocks just behind where we had made our camp. After that it was off to the ferry again. As before it was quietly waiting for passengers and ready to go when we hopped on.
Our food supply was down to a few items and we set ourselves the goal of reaching a shop before closing time; would we miss this then we would have to wait until Monday morning, 2 nights away. The closest shop that we knew of, or that we presumed to be, was a stiff 10 kilometres hike back to Vårdö’s church, follow the road to the right and then somewhere near the nearest village. We noticed a road to our left shortly before we reached the church and a roadside sign indicated ‘Vårdö by’, or Vårdö village. I followed this road and Merja went on towards the presumed shop. It turned out that I was unlucky, but Merja wasn’t. Borrowing a bicycle that was left unlocked at a bus stop opposite the church she made it to the shop with about 5 minutes to spare before closing time. We had agreed on meeting at the church, which is exactly where I waited for her, after having refilled the water bag with fresh cold graveyard water. Upon nearing the church I saw the –presumably- caretaker tug something away behind a rock in the fence, which was made out of flat rocks piled about a metre high. I just couldn’t help taking a look behind the rock she had placed back. It was the key to the front door of the church! If it were to rain this night, I know where we’re going to stay dry. I laughed inwardly at all the people who were in vain trying to enter the church and pulling at the door, and started walking down the road towards where Merja should come from. In the distance I saw someone on a bicycle, who appeared to be wearing a backpack and whose T-shirt resembled Merja’s. Surprisingly I realized that it was Merja and she told me the story about borrowing the bicycle from the bus stop. We quickly walked to a bench and table and started on the litre of ice cream she had bought. It had to go down at once, since we don’t carry a freezer along. Which, by the way, wouldn’t be such a bad idea as it sounds; food doesn’t stay well long in a hot pack. Ice cream, cookies, bread and cheese and –finally– fresh coffee.
A quick look at the ferry’s schedule and we regretfully noticed that we would have to spend another night on Vårdö. We walked the 4 kilometres to the harbour and dined on potato-sauce, vegetables and tea in the waiting room for ferry passengers. Where I also charged Merja’s mobile phone; she wanted to have the thing with her on holiday! Merja –of course– was also washing herself in the toilets.
After the sun had set we set of in search of a place for the tent. This didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, since most of the grounds here consist of big, large rocks. Eventually we found a far of spot and slept on a bed of soft –but on certain places hard– undergrowth.
We boarded the ferry bound for Kumlinge the next morning and noticed that the toilets on board are cleaner in the mornings. After washing ourselves a bit and a cup of coffee we arrived fresh on Kumlinge in just over an hour later. First thing was to go to the shop in the centre where I could buy fuel for the stove, which wasn’t empty yet, but it had to be filled now with the weekend starting tomorrow, when most shops would probably be closed by the time we came around. Furthermore if you walk, next shops are harder to reach in time, they also seem to be further apart.
I tanked the astonishing amount of 0,38 litres petrol and after shopping for food we walked towards the local church. Before entering we rested a while on a nearby bench and just looked at it. It is said to be one of the oldest churches around, rebuild once in a while, but with original 14th-century frescoes. A crucifix of about two metres in length hung from the ceiling with original –also– 14th-century painted roses on the back. Supposedly blood ran from the Jesus-figure’s nailed hands and feet, but it looked more like a bunch of grapes to me. A pond with floating flowers enriched the graveyard (with bad tasting water this time).
We took a meal on a boulder of rocks just next to the church fence and hiked on out of there as soon as we had finished. On our way towards the ferry harbour on Snäckö we couldn’t resist settling down at the local beach, which by my calculation was no further than 5 kilometres from the dock. While Merja slept in the sun, I washed myself in the ocean, everything except my hair that is. We spent enough time at the beach to justify spending some more time making our dinner on potato-sauce, herbs and –what I had been dreaming about for many days’ now– white beans in tomato-sauce, with bread and coffee aside–of course. The local swimming-class opened and children of various ages took their lessons in the water that I had used for my bath, while we two foreigners were watching and eating.
It must have been around 20:30 when we finally left the beach and in the late sun walked towards the site where the ferry would leave, knowing that it would be tomorrow before we were on it. I bent over into the side of the road often to gorge on wild strawberries and my favourite raspberries. About an hour later and less than 1 kilometre from the docks we tried to find a place for the tent as quickly as possible. The mosquitoes however were obviously of the idea that we were intruders in their surroundings and didn’t belong there. They did everything they could to make our presence as unpleasant as possible. It was apparent that we had to find a site quick and jump into the tent at once. I had even gone to wearing my wet long-sleeved shirt again, which amongst other things I had washed at the beach. They were stinging on every possible bare piece of skin and even through the clothing where possible. Merja got into the tent, I handed her our gear, took a quick leak, jumped in the tent, and zipped it close. We still had to swat a large number of mosquitoes that had sneaked in though.
We woke early only to find the sun burning through the forest, through the tent. While I waited outside with all my gear packed and ready to go, Merja packed hers. She jumped out, grabbed her stuff, and nearly ran to the roadside, all in order to avoid the mosquitoes. I however stood in the forest still with the little stingers swarming around me. My –still wet– long-sleeved shirt on and a T-shirt knotted Arab-style around my head; I packed the tent and ran to the roadside as well, hauling everything on my back and being followed by a gigantic swarm of bloodsucking creatures.
It was near noon as we arrived at the ferry docks and with 2 hours to spare before departure to Föglö-island, we took a morning dip in the sea, Three stingrays –small ones– passed by; they were beautifully purplish of colour. The sun dried our clothes and swimming gear, while I cooked eggs and baked two with some vegetables and boiled water for coffee. We had bought the eggs from the shop in Kumlinge, but the smallest pack was a 6-pack. I cooked all of them at once so as to avoid risking that they would break while being rough-handled in our backpack.
Two O’clock came and after sunbathing on deck we debarked at Överö on Föglö an hour later to wait for the ferry to Kökär, our final destination for this day. Merja walked around a bit in Överö whilst I sat and read. It would take nearly 4 hours before the Kökär bound boat would arrive; a long wait. We ate all the leftover eggs that I had cooked earlier. The stove gave me some troubles again, hope that it will work fine after a little cleaning.
A grasshopper blocked my way to the sea for washing the dishes. A snake swam in front of where I did the dishes.
It was an hour and a half sea-trip to Kökär. Our biggest concern was getting water, this place looked so deserted and there wasn’t any tap anywhere to be seen around the harbour. After less than 500 hundred metres walking we saw some battered, weather-beaten shack and found a –working– green coloured water pump hidden between the tall grass. I had to pump a few times before clean water appeared. We now had enough water to last us through a meal, coffee, and the night.
We were on the island with no plan on where to go. We walked into the direction of the church, one of the few places in the vicinity of the harbour. It was still a 4 kilometres hike, though. The problem with walking is that the sights of interest are always on the other side of the island and thus more difficult to reach. We crossed a small bridge onto Hamnö-island, where the church would be at the end of the road. It was getting late and we were getting tired; the water bag added about 6 kilos extra. A few cars passed by and after they –or we– were out of sight we jumped to our left, ran up onto the rocks and quickly hiked on to the other side where we were out of sight of the road. There we found a relative flat area with some undergrowth for our tent. We heated coffee and sausages for a late dinner on a small bonfire.
While pitching the tent, one of my tent poles cracked over its full length. Now the tent wasn’t nicely dome-shaped anymore. I had to add two lines of rope that I somehow attached to the ground to keep the tent in shape. I was in urgent need of some good duck tape if we were to use the tent another week or so.
The sun woke us after the wind had howled during the better part of the night. Or maybe it was the flies that had sneaked into the tent last night that woke me. They buzzed around my ears, mouth, and nose whenever they were not slapped away.
Contrary to our normal routine, I got out of the tent first and laid my gear out to dry and catch a bit of the fresh wind. The stove had troubled me and I wanted to get it working again while Merja was still asleep. Also I wanted a cup of coffee. I had to take the whole stove apart before the fuel would flow clearly, but at least I got it working again. I will have to get a repair-set though. I was so hungry that I made an enormous pan of rice with some herbs. Together with bread it made a decent breakfast. Of course I had also drunk about four large cups of coffee by now.
The church was closer by than we had anticipated. Some sort of service for youngsters was going on, but that didn’t stop me from washing myself under the graveyard’s water-tap. This whole area in an archaeological site; an old Franciscan church has been unearthed nearby and is freely open to visitors. That’s where I took the matches we needed by now, for lighting the stove. No one would notice a few less matches for burning candles.
We had decided to take the 17:35 boat to either Föglö or onwards to the mainland (eventually we choose for the later option), so there wasn’t much time left to explore the area we were in. Some other, supposedly Bronze Age, archaeological site was our next goal. We had to climb up over large rocks to get there, but saw nothing of it. Walked a bit more along the road; saw a butterfly the colour of a tree’s leaf, a camouflaged butterfly and we were back at the harbour with about 15 minutes to spare. The boat was late though.
It was so crowded on board, so many passengers without cars that we quickly ran upstairs to the salon to secure us some seats. After that I went back downstairs to the car-deck with my broken tent-pole. I asked a ship’s technician for a roll of duct tape and he showed me where to get it. In no time the pole was fixed and I could go back and relax in the salon.
So many people were eating and drinking on board that we –quite naturally– got hungry and thirsty ourselves. We bought 2 cups of coffee, I had a beer later, and we shared a kebab-burger. We topped it all with some sweets later on.
The boat was over half an hour late by the time we got off at Långnäs on the mainland and according to my Garmin gps we had about an hour of sunlight left. This is supposed to be a place with amongst other things shop and a bank, but I saw nothing of the kind. We were walking along the road; cars passed us in both directions at 100 kilometres per hour. We weren’t on slow-going islands anymore! To my pleasure I noticed that mainland Åland, if you can say “mainland” when talking about an island, had a lot of raspberries growing everywhere along the road.
It started to rain and we pulled our –cheap and weak– ponchos over our heads and packs and stayed dry. Behind an information-sign we hiked into the woods and saw a deer cross our path. According to Merja it ran 25 metres in just 2 seconds. I don’t know if it was that fast, but it sped away pretty quick though. We found a nice spot for the tent and made our dinner and coffee a few metres away in the darker part of the sunset. An old tree trunk looked like a watchful wolf from afar.
We like making our breakfast in the burning sun and close to, or at a place to wash ourselves. Or actually where Merja can wash herself. After a 2 kilometres hike we came to a place where potato-sauce cooked with a little bit of French onion soup, made just such a breakfast. My fuel bottle was about running on empty again, so it was necessary to find a place where I could refill this. Unfortunately it proved to be a long walk, far ahead of Merja. At 17:40 I finally found a gas station and bought Euro 95 for the highest price I ever paid for fuel on this trip, 3,20 marks. With 15 minutes to spare I entered a food-shop and bought bread, cookies, tomatoes, ice cream for Merja, some meat, and a frozen pack of potato-slices with onions. Merja had been saying something about needing vitamin-C and so I bought a litre pack of orange juice and for me a half litre pack of milk. By the time Merja had caught up I had downed the milk and we prepared us a dinner on a bench and table in the village’s outside market. We checked the local church and found that it was closed. We usual go to churches, not for the religious part of it, but because the entry is free. Most of Åland’s churches date way back to the 14th century and some parts are even older, making them interesting archaeological sights. Merja however has a macabre interest: she likes walking over graveyards and checking the deceased’s names. A bunch of fresh flowers from an obvious fresh grave, smelled nicely according to her! I don’t go bending over and picking flowers but I do like reading the dates on gravestones: the older, the better.
It took a long time to find a suitable place for the tent, but where a deer crossed our path again we followed its road and pitched it in a field of blueberries.
The gas station where I had tanked the previous day would provide us with a good place to make breakfast, or so I thought. We got a lot more than we had hoped for. Just behind the gas station was an area with clean toilets we had used yesterday. There was also a sauna and the door was open. We checked it yesterday and noticed a coin-machine for the use of warm water for the shower. Since no one said anything and no sign indicated otherwise we entered with two 5-mark coins. Merja started to wash her hair in the washbasin. I simply tried the shower only to find that it did indeed run warm water without paying. We both showered and washed some of our stained clothes. Never paid anything and we were clean and shiny when we walked out towards the same outside market as yesterday for preparing our, by now, lunch. It was windy and it looked like it would rain; we sat inside a booth and had a fine lunch. After which we entered the church, according to a sign outside some parts even date back to the 12th century. I took a small booklet and read about its history. A door in the back stood ajar and it presumably led up to the bell-tower. I walked up the stairs to check on this presumption and found nothing but old –who knows how old– wooden bars, and of course the bells! I refrained from banging on them, but the view from up there was spectacular. Back downstairs; with old frescoes looking down upon me, I explored the to many holy area. An old chest caught my interest. Since I was alone –Merja had no idea where I was and she was probably roaming the graveyard again– I opened the chest. It contained old coins. Two of which are now in my wallet as lucky charms. One of them I can’t read yet, but the other is dated 1749, 251 years old! I filled my box of matches here again.
After having spent about 21 hours in this area we continued on our way towards Mariehamn. It was closer by them we thought. A boring road took us there and at a local beach we made our dinner on rice mixed with the leftover French onion soup, bread, and coffee. Mariehamn seems to be dead after 21:00. It was getting late and would get dark soon; it was time to pitch the tent. We had walked a long way again and I was dead-tired. My shoes –especially the left one– were beat and torn, shattered and tossed and worn, too shocking to see, too shocking to see. I am going to get rid of them, throw them away. Maybe I will toss them over the side of the ship we plan to take from Mariehamn back to Finnish mainland. We walked for what seemed like ages, but finally found a spot in the forest, as close as 50 metres next to someone’s home. I make it a rule not to disturb nature as I pitch a tent in the wild, but Merja had already used my lightweight saw to demolish some bushes that were in the way—unfortunately. I slept well; the only thing that woke me once in a while was Merja turning over under my sleeping bag, which we had zipped open and spread out over the both of us so, that way she would be warmer; not necessarily me.
No beach or other place close by to have our morning-wash. But since we had decided on spending two nights at a camping ground in Mariehamn, we went to have a look at our first of two options. It was less than a 30 minutes walk from where we were. Clean, new and expensive. Our goal would be the one at the other side of town, the cheap one. We washed ourselves here nonetheless. The cheap camping was 5 kilometres from the town’s centre. After a very long 5 kilometres we found it to be very quiet, but at only 9 marks per person and per tent, in other words 27 marks per night for the both of us, we hadn’t much to complain about. This was the cheapest place I have ever been at. But if one wants some service, it costs extra (hot shower 5 marks per 5 minutes).
After we had pitched the tent and finished our two bottles of white wine, we hiked back to town again. We sat down at an outside terrace and I bought us a beer each and three cigars for me. I was pleased to hear the troubadour in the next place sing Cat Stevens’ song “Wild World.”
We woke to a beautiful sunshine and made our breakfast on the camping’s beach. Walking around the place all we saw were elderly people weirdly looking at us walking around in our swimming gear. But we didn’t care. We had another spin of the town and found a cheap bar, where they luckily served Guinness.
The next morning I woke up when it was still dark, around 5 o’clock. I had to relieve myself and while doing so I noticed the fog hanging over the camping. It was like an artsy postcard, real beautiful and chilly-looking.
We had to leave the camping today and had a vague idea about walking to the south of the Mariehamn peninsula. Around 19:30 we finally did set off from the centre, direction south. We had spent most of the day in the local library (another good place for washing oneself and using toilets for free; the invalid toilet is usually the cleanest anywhere!), where some art-night would continue until after midnight.
After what seemed like tens of kilometres we noticed to our irritation that the area between the road and the sea was rather thin, which makes a suitable wild campsite hard to find. Furthermore most of the land here –perhaps all– is privately owned and rounded by fences. Due to my shoes my feet were hurting like hell now and I couldn’t go on much longer. The shoes were real throwaway material by now. Everywhere there seemed to be cottages, but tired as we were we made camp on a small, thin, rocky island between the road and the sea. While clearing a spot behind some bushes for the tent, I noticed an old shoe and at once my mind raced off and images of some terrible crime speared through me. Would some leg still be attached to this shoe? How long has the body been buried here? The shoe turned out to be empty, but I still saw a body buried deep below our tent—or at least I imagined so.
With my feet still hurting –I should have taken the shoes off– we made our dinner on the rocks, just in front of the tent. I took the shoes off and let my feet hang free in the cold, very cold water. We were sitting in the dark eating and looking out over the sea, camping in the wild and enjoying the views of a millionaire.
This was the most terrible place we had slept at throughout the whole of the trip. Even though we had cleared the site, hard things still troubled our backs during the night. Merja had gotten the better place and still she had had a hard time. We made our breakfast, packed, and left realizing just how close we were to the road.
The road was long and boring due south, but I noticed a rather nice thing when we neared the end of the peninsula, which is about 12 kilometres from the centre of Mariehamn as the crow flies. A retarded man tenderly attended to the lawn of a beautiful house; he proudly rode his electric lawnmower. The name on the mailbox was B. Borg. Maybe the Swedish tennis-champion does own a house here somewhere.
There was no point in hanging around and so we turned and started on the road back north. There was no alternative and thus it was the same boring road, with the same cottages and the same cars, only from the other side. Ever since we had left our campsite this morning I had taken to wearing my sandals, but I had my worn out hiking-shoes strapped to my pack, just in case.
We found a nice spot for lunch on a table and bench next to a nature-reserve. I made us potato-sauce with a real delicious chantarelle-sauce. One thing I am in need of though are those ‘non-sticking’-pans, I am tired of scraping my pans clean after usage. There is a book out ever since 1989 by Kathleen Meyer “How to shit in the woods.” I noticed that I have to master this technique further.
My crude map indicated a public swimming place just behind, or next to the horse-riding school. A local protected park was the entry to this place; along its roads grazing sheep watched us from both sides as we went along. At the end of the road the swimming place was to the right; there appeared to be a house to the left. It consisted of a short stretch of sandy beach, which is a rarity where everything else seems to be made up of stone, with the inevitable log-fire place and a few bushes. A gate in the back separated it from paths, which were clearly frequented by horse-riders; there was horseshit everywhere. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a suitable place here, so after a rest we strapped the packs back on and continued once again.
On our way south we had noticed a long, very long fence to our right. Someone must own a lot of forest around here. Now that we were at it again we were determined to enter it somehow. ‘If the fence is so long, how is the owner going to spot us during our short stay’? We asked ourselves. We followed a grassy road to our right, which led along the fence into the woods. We continued following it in search of a crossing-point into the fenced forest, which was very thick indeed. After what seemed like a long way we came upon a crude gateway; opened it and entered. We walked for 200 metres in a straight line away from the fence only to realize two children playing on the other side of another fence next to a nearby house. We don’t think that they had spotted us but left anyway and ducked away just in time before a woman walking along the road behind the gateway could see us. Finally we walked back to the main road and continued our search for a suitable place away from –probably– angry owners.
Our search brought us right back in the southern part of Mariehamn again, opposite some smelly dogshit as we later realized. Sitting in the tent working on my stove just outside of the entrance I made us a nice dinner on pasta with cream sauce. We had covered the dogshit though.
We were close to the centre and not far off from the camping ground we had omitted a few days earlier. No one noticed –or minded– that we cooked our breakfast in its kitchen and that the both of us took great warm showers. I finally washed my hair again, with some expensive shampoo a Dutch camper must have left behind at the camping we were at before; the container’s writing was in Dutch.
It was Sunday and the library was unfortunately closed, but we enjoyed ourselves by walking around the old houses in the harbour and peeking into the expensive nautical-museum. Wearily we sat down at the beach and while Merja slept I went out searching for water and fuel. I thought I needed the fuel, but the charge was only 1,80 marks, so I guess that the bottle must have been about half full. We walked to another beach for our dinner and hiked out into the woods of a nearby residential area to make camp. We found a nice spot, or so we thought: ants everywhere! I had placed my pack against a tree; I usually do this so that it won’t fall over—or only one side will get dirty. They were all over my pack, my sandals, and my socks and even in my hair. We ran away, slapping around us trying to get rid of them and dropped everything at another place. Camp we made at this new site and even though there were ants as well, they were not as much as a problem here. We still had to kill about ten of them anyway, that had crept into the tent somehow. They are very difficult little buggers to smash. Later on in the evening I went out of the tent to relieve myself and I heard something doing the same thing close by. Merja thought she had seen a big deer or perhaps an elk here earlier and we both heard it run away, but by now it was so dark I couldn’t see anything anymore.
We woke early and made our way back to the beach for our morning-wash and breakfast. I spread out all our gear to dry and clear of ants. We had to hurry though; our boat would leave at 14:30. We had bought two tickets to Turku the previous Friday and had waited this long because today (14.08.00) the low season would start and tickets are only 60 marks per person then. In the high season they cost 204 marks per person, a difference worth waiting for.
On the road to the international harbour I noticed that I looked like some old Chinese bhikku, sandals, baggy trousers with the pipes turned over, shirt hanging over the trousers and hauling a heavy pack on my back. We picked up some groceries and went on board. Close by these ships look a lot bigger; ours was 10-storys high.
Poor as we were, we couldn’t stand the smell of food; it only made us hungry. I enjoyed myself with my gps and was eagerly looking out over the deck when we neared a port where we had been and which bearings I had taken and plotted as a waypoint in my gps. We finally spend some money on two bottles of wine in one of the Tax-free shops. From the harbour in Turku we boarded the train for Tampere; we had decided on taking the night-train to Oulu where we could spend the day before going back to dull, boring Rovaniemi.
According to the timetable a 23:50 northern bound train would leave Tampere and arrive before 06:00 in Oulu. The railway station’s schedule-board however showed something different: 01:07. In other words we had an hour and a half to spend in dark, nightly Tampere. Decided to cook a meal in a nearby park, but it was like a dark dangerous spot, probably filled with dangerous drunks. One swayed onto a nearby bench to sleep. There was a church nearby that we knew of and that’s were we went instead. We made our meal of noodles on the church’s porch. Boarded the train and zoomed off to Oulu.
I slept rather badly this time; the train’s lights kept bothering me, and the seats were too short. Had but a few dognaps. It was about 07:30 when we debarked in Oulu. All we wanted to do at this moment was sleep, so we filled the water bag and found a place to pitch the tent next to a spot we had camped at before. We had some noodles again and a cup of coffee before we actually went to sleep.
The tent is always hard to spot as a man in a nearby-parked car noticed later on. He hadn’t noticed us at all until we started packing about 15 metres away from his car. Surprised he drove off.
We washed ourselves in the library and Merja called her son so that we could meet there. He would come later and we used that extra time to buy two pizzas with salad at 15 marks each. From the library Merja, her son and me went to a viewing-tower, where I brewed coffee and we ate cookies.
At last we boarded the 20:32 Rovaniemi-bound train and were pleased to see that both our bicycles were still waiting for us to use.
After three weeks away and enjoying the wild, freedom way of life on the road, the ugliness and cold of Rovaniemi chilled us down to our bones again, determining us towards another spin away from home.