Havana, Cuba. First day of my world travel

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Sometimes I look at the person and feel that he will cause my adventures.

Flight Moscow-Havana filled with cubans. I clapped my eyes on a guy with a funny hair for some reason. I looked out for people to talk to and solve a problem that was disturbing me for many hours – how to get from Havana airport to the city without paying 20$ for the cab.
I like to find a stupid reason to worry about. I guess, in these worries I was nervous for the whole trip in general. The first travel around the world, alone, even with a huge travel experience, is very exciting. More freedom, more responsibility for myself, improvisation every day, every minute, necessity to speak Spanish which I already forgot…

Standing by the baggage claim in Havana, I met a Russian guy and a Bulgarian living in Cuba, one who rushed into my eyes on the plane. They were friendly, and I shared taxi with them. Since that time we were always together until I left the country.

Improvisation began. It’s when all plans crash, situation gets out of control and I rely on other people and the chance just to bring a little chaos into my life. I love when things happen unexpectedly, love to plunge into the whirlpool of events and go with the flow.

 

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I tried to refute the legend that couchsurfing in Cuba doesn’t exist.
I checked more than six hundred profiles of hosts, 590 of which offered rooms for rent, 5 were men who offered naked massage and 4 did not respond. I did my best but accomondation still wasn’t found. I wanted to experience cuban life from inside, not like a tourist and really wanted to find a host or any project with locals.

It is difficult to travel on budget in Cuba. Especially because I plan to travel for some years and for that reason my budget is extremely low. Platforms like couchsurfing and workaway not popular here, hostels on the whole island can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and even an idea of ​​allowing tourists to save money does not get along in the cuban mind.

The answer from the host came in May. Silvia, a 60-years old afrocuban woman, approved my request and offered me to stay with her daughter, Anita. I carefully read her profile again to make sure it’s not an another crap with rented appartment. All reviews about that host were so nice that it gave me a hope that couchsurfing on Cuba is not completely dead.

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Despite the fact that I had to get home first as every normal person will do, me and my new friends decided to go to the beach. We left things at Bulgarian guy’s place, in the district looked like a ghetto, and we went to the city’s muddy beach. I had pictured in my imagination a slightly different scenery when I thought about “beaches in Cuba”, but on that hot and sweaty day that beach was perceived as a revelation from above.

Suddenly the sky, that spewed out the burning sun all day, became murky. A tropical downpour began unexpectedly, blurring boundary between sea, send and sky. I could see only a wall of water. Only we could do is laugh and wipe our eyes every second to be able to see at least each other.

I’m in Cuba, swimming under a tropical downpour, with people I’ve known for a couple of hours, and I do not care that I still don’t have a place to stay. This moment when the large drops crashed down on sea and skin will be one of the greatest memories of this journey.

We ran home, although there was no longer any need to run. All our clothes got completely soaked. The roads turned into the rivers. Waves poured inside the bus. It seemed like an apocalypse, but everyone laughed and joked about it.

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Despite the weather I had to go to search for my host’s place. She didn’t give me a direction by public transport, only the adress and advise to take a taxi. I had to figure out a way by myself. From one ghetto on several buses I moved to another. I had only an address, not the most accurate one as I realized later, and I had to ask hundreds of people to find the place. They helped me a lot and finally directed me to the ugly 12-floor building. Through the yellowish-greenish bad-smelling water, swearing in russian and hoping that at least my laptop will survive under the heavy rain, I reached a place. I got lost in the maze of dorm rooms but eventually found an apartment B10.

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Nobody expected me in that apartment. I tried to explain in poor spanish “Anita-Silvia-couchsurfing-I’m your guest-hello-do you know me,” but the man in his underwear just looked at me weirdly, shook his head and sent me to another building.

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At the second place woman recognized me. She gave me a separate room, we talked for a while as it was possible with my knowledge of spanish. Life was getting better.

After this crazy day I wanted to relax. It was a bit late and still rainy but me and my new friend decided to go to the center, take a walk around, drink mojito or two. Spending first evening in the ghetto was not an attractive idea. Moreover, my host didn’t seem very interested in talking or sharing some time together. Probably she was tired.

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Central Havana was deadly empty. Our bus stopped near the Capitolio, the main traffic hub and center of the city. We walked around trying to find a cool bar. On the 20th round we got tired. I wanted mojito, but all the restaurants in that area were too expensive. I remembered about Malecon, the night heart of Havana, the legendary place where people drink and dance.

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We went there but the rain washed away all the fun.
In the meantime, another problem has fallen on us. Bulgarian guy did not answer our calls. My friend didn’t have place to stay and he left all his stuff including money and passport at the place of that men. We started to be nervous. It was so stupid to lose money and documents on the first day in Cuba – not the best way to start a holiday. We called and called again, picturing in our minds criminal stories from cuban ghetto’s life, but in a couple of hours the guy picked up the phone.

Relieved, we decided to celebrate it at the bar on Malecon. We took a couple of mojito and cuba libre, chatted about everything and … realized that it was already midnight. We still needed to return to our ghettos. What made situation worst is that our homes were on opposite sides of the city.

We had to take a taxi – the first day in a new country is always quite expensive. We were singing ‘Despacito’ in one of this beautiful old cars and life was beautiful. The adventures of my friend did not end there, he didn’t find a guy, his phone died and he had to find another place to stay in the deep night. Fortunately I left him 50$ just in case so he survived that night. But this is not my story. When it was happening I was already sleeping in my lovely cuban bed.

“I will not leave you alone” – such simple but important words when you’re in trouble. Maybe the problem is not as big as big your fear of needs to solve it alone. When people are together, all the shit turn out to be fun and we take it easier.

Turku on a bike

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It was my second day in Turku and last one of all Finland’s trip.

“Coffee and shower – the best way to start a day” – smiling, said my friend. Smell of  fresh-made coffee spead over the room. I sat on the mattress, inhaling coffee aromas and watching birds bustling near the window.

There are a lot of birds in Turku in the heart of the city. Instead of roars of cars and other city noise I surprisingly heard plenty of different bird’s songs. I have never seen so many birds in the big cities. Ecology here is pretty good.

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Day was sunny, so we returned to the library to rent a free bicycle. During 2 months I unsuccessfully tried to find a company for cycling trip to the Turku archipelago, but no one supported my idea. When I came and saw the weather here at the end of April, I understood why. Nevertheless, it was very desirable for me to ride a bicycle even for a one day in the city. Finland for me is a country of bicycles and it was my little must-do here.

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Turku is a Finland’s oldest port city. Here was a trading post since an Iron age. For the centuries Turku was a Finland’s gate away to the Baltic sea. River Aura crosses the city, along its bank everyone bikes and drinks in the summer. On the boats moored in the port you can find dozens of restaurants, bars and even a karaoke kebab. They are quite overpricy but nice.

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We biked to the Abo Castle, which was built by the Swedish king in the 13th century, at the time, when these lands belonged to Sweden. Name ‘Abo’ it get from the Swedish name of city of Turku – Abo.

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Turku is a small city. We biked around all the center in a few hours and decided to explore its outskirts. We went to the local cave, located among the huge boulders in the forest. The place called Luolavuoren luola.

I love such mystical landscapes with stones covered with moss, when only a creak of trees breaks the silence.

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At this weekend we explored almost the entire city, although we were not in a rush. Turku gave me the impression of a calm and quiet city, green and clean. Of all the Finland’s cities I’ve been to Turku is my favorite.

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Evening we spent doing typical finnish “kalsarikanni”, that means “drinking at home in the underwear”. Yeah, they have a special word for this! We drank gin and watched travel program called Madventures. It is quite old, but, in my opinion, these guys are the most desperate of all I’ve seen before.  They have a the real spirit of the traveler!

The next morning was the Most Early Morning In The World. We got up at 4 a.m to catch a bus to Tampere. I had to say goodbye in front of very first Hesburger in the world. As usual, sincerely and with an endless desire that the said words will come true one day, I had to say classic ‘See you soon again’.

I met a lot of good persons on that short one-month trip to Finland. As someone travel to see beautiful buildings, monuments, museums, landscapes, food, as I’m searching for the beautiful people. Again and again peer into their eyes, smile, learn from them a simple wisdom of life, discover the world in a new colors. The eyes of kind people and the smiles of the happy ones are just as beautiful as the most magical sunsets and the silent outlines of the mountains. This world is infinitely wonderful.

And now it’s time to leave again.

One weekend in Turku

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Exhausted 9-hour driving from the north of Finland to the south left behind. Finally I arrived in Turku. After 3 weeks of the silence and loneliness on the north pole, I needed dynamics of the city, its night lights, fun and ambience.

The main rule of my trips is to communicate with locals as much as I can. No boring hotels or even hostels, only friends from all over the world, couchsurfing and various projects with staying with locals. This way I can plunge into the local culture and learn from the people.

My host from couchsurfing was waiting for me at the bus station. For the following weekend student campus and a mattress on the floor became my home.
It was a Friday evening. Vibrations of the city, crowd, noise of bars and neon lights attracted me. I had a feeling that I came back if not at home but at least to the usual life.

Quick shower, estonian cider for the road – and we went to the city center.
In Finland you can drink legally on the street, without looking around nervously for the police. It was such a relief from strict rules in my country and I enjoyed walking and drinking beer without feeling like a criminal.
Cider was Estonian for the simple reason: in Estonia alcohol is cheaper and everyone goes there to buy it.

We went to the bar called Bar (Baari Baari in Finnish). Absolutely crazy place – instead of boring tables and chairs, you can sit in the bathtub and drink beers for 5 euros (good price for Finland, especially comparing to the pricy Lapland), or you can chose a swing or a car in the middle of the hall.
The local pop-punk band performed there that evening. Finnish quality, although a bit boring. In Finland you can come to every the concert without worries and get a good quality rock music. Rock culture here is very strong, all year around tons of concerts and rock festivals happens in this little country.

On our way home at night a giant rabbit crossed the road. “Finnish beer is pretty strong” I thought, but the rabbit did not appeared only to me but also to my friend.

How varied is our world! In Russia you can not step without kicking a pigeon, in Canada thousands of squirrels rush through the streets, paying no attention to you, in Finland rabbits the size of an elephant scare boozy passersby.

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The next morning was the happiest morning in the world, Morning Without An Alarm Clock. It’s so precious to meet a person who also likes to sleep until noon! Furthermore the weather did not inspire to go out.

In the pouring rain we went to the library to print some documents. The first Turku’s monument appeared right in front of the campus. A huge duck in the form of a penis was proudly looking at the campus from the hill. “This is our Dick Duck,” my host said. Nothing unusual, just a giant pink dick in the middle of the city.

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There was a bicycle race in the city center that day. Finnish people don’t give a fuck about the weather and bike all year around in any weather conditions. Bicycle in Finland is a most popular transport. Hole country is covered with a network of bicycle paths.

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Caught by the rain we went to the Cathedral. It is over 700 years old and it’s considered to be one of the most valuable architectural monuments of Finland. My friend whispered me a history of the church, in which he easily elevated the bishops buried in chapels to the rank of kings and then he brought me to an ancient corner where ancient prints of the ancient cats were imprinted on the ancient floor.

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During our visit there was a bunch of teenagers inside the cathedral. My friend told me that at the age of fifteen finnish kids can get a special permission for a wedding from the church. In honor of this event relatives make a big party and give them an amount of money. Lots of people do it even if they don’t plan to get married.
There is also a tax of 200 euros each year, just to be able to belong to the church. That was quite surprising for me.

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The weather in Turku is similar to St. Petersburg. In one hour you can live all kinds of weather – the sun, the heat, the wind, the rain, the snow or the hail. Only one second ago I was smiling to the sun, enjoying it’s soft rays and began the thought “oh, what a lovely sunshine…”, but suddenly big cold hailstone knocked me on the nose.

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Nevertheless, we decided to try our luck. When the sky took 10-minute break and stopped showering as hell, we climbed fast onto a large stone in the center of the city. There we found a wonderful view there on the Cathedral and city landscape.

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However we had to pay for our adventure mood and run super fast to the nearest city market to hide from sudden hailstorm. We stopped there for the coffee in an old train cabin. People in Finland are good in adapting old things to the interior items. Coffee (‘kahvi’ in finnish) here is very soft and you can easily drink 5-6 cups a day.

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At the end of this cold windy snowy crazy day I went to the sauna. It’s the best thing finnish culture brought to the world.
The sauna for students was free, and my host booked it for me. Sunset view from the top floor and another estonian cider was an addition to the pleasure of the sauna by itself.

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For some reason we didn’t go out that night. Instead of it we did a typical finnish thing – “kalsarikannit”, that means “to get drunk at home in the underwear”. We stayed at home, talked about everything and listened to radio from around the world. There is the cool website called radio.garden, where you can make a trip around all the world’s major radio stations.

 

I love to meet new people. With some of them I had a good connection at the first moment, shared this talks, beers, ideas, experiences, was inspired by them and sometimes (hopefully) inspire them with my thoughts. With the lifestyle of traveler you have to open yourself to this connection, friendship very quickly. Live the moment with this people like they are forever in your life and not going anywhere. And through away thoughts that they are actually just passerby in yout life. Some of them are simply awesome and I always want so badly to put them in my backpack and take into my life. And they are my Friends at least for that moment.
Live fully the moment – is one of the most important skills I got in my travels.

From time to time I feel really lonely on my never ending trip. I meet people and at the first moment I know that our friendship have an expiration date. Soon, regardless of whether I want to or not, I’ll have to say, looking at their eyes, “see you soon again”. But I’m grateful that I had chance to spend any time with them. So many wonderful people in the world, so thoughtful, intelligent, adventerous. They all will stay in my heart matter if we will meet again or not.

 

Workaway. A New Way Of Traveling

WORK AWAY

What is it?

Workaway is a cultural exchange. Five hours of work a day in general in exchange for accommodation, food and the opportunity to live and communicate with the locals and integrate into their culture. You will see the country from inside like a local, not like a tourist.

Almost all countries are represented on the workaway (although the only Cuban host left the project the week before my arrival, but this is an exception).
Hosts are local people or organizations who asking for a help. Requirements for each project are different and depends on the host.  Workaway only gives us opportunity to find a project by giving a list of hosts, their profiles and other volunteer’s feedback about their experience with this host.
Through the website you have to contact host directly if you like a project  and accept their rules. If they like you (your profile and message), they will accept you. Nothing else is demanded – no paper work, documents, etc. You just go straight to the project.

How to start?

First step – registration and payment $ 29 a year (not too much for the great travel opportunity you’ll get.

Create a nice profile. Take your time and make some effort to fill it out nicely. This is your face on workaway, it’s a kind of CV, but I recommend to pay attention not only on your working skills but also describe yourself as a person. Make your text warm and friendly.
Both parts of workaway take a risk by inviting strangers at their home and going to someones home without knowing each other. Let your profile tell the most about you to not let misunderstandings come between you when you’ll start working.

If you are vegan, wake up very late, allergic on cats or you can’t live a minute without wifi – write down everything that is important for you.

Describe yourself: your skills, experience and what kind of job you are interested in. There is a list on the website where you have to chose types of work you want to do – if you do not want to play with kids or work on the farm – leave this space empty.

Write what languages you speak (and how fluent you are). Point out any additional skills, like photography or diving courses you finished, if you want to try yourself in this field.
Your diplomas and working experience are not that important here, it is volunteer work. More important is the desire to work, your curiosity, ability to learn quickly and smile on your face.

Search for a host. Mostly there are hotels and hostels represented on the workaway.  There are also many farms – there you should be ready for physical work outdoors, but also for fresh vegetables and fruits every day. There are also unique projects like national parks, coffee plantations in Colombia, banana farms, diving centers or a shaman village in the jungle of the Amazon.

In the Host list section select the continent and the country. You will see a list with a lot of different projects that you have to check carefully and choose the most interesting ones for you.

You can search by specific word: by the name of the city, a specific place or a type of work – for example, diving, so you won’t need to scroll all the list of 400-600 hosts.
You can also use the interactive map.

Read carefully host’s profile.

Usually, host asking for 5 hours of work a day. But it is just a guideline.
It could be 2-3 hours a day, but in this case normally food is not provided. On the other hand you will have more free time to explore the surrounding area.
4-6 hours are the standard. This way work is not exhausted and  you will have enough of free time.
You can find projects with 6 or more hours or difficult physical work. It all depends on you and your interest in the project. But keep in mind that there are could be people who just  looking for free workers and not interested in a cultural exchange

Weekend. Usually it is 5 working days and 2 days off per week. Specify in the message to the host, whether place to stay and food are also provided on non-working days – some hosts require a fee on days when you are not performing work duties. Read reviews – there you can find this information too.

It’s Work away, not a Play away and not a Slave away. Let’s be honest to each other. Work your best and don’t be lazy but don’t let people use you as a free worker

Read feedbacks. Pay attention to the reviews that left by other volunteers. There you will find whether the host was interested in cultural exchange, helped to learn about his culture and improve your language skills, helped to organize your free time, etc. Communication with the host is an important part of the exchange

How not to get in trouble

Even if the profile of the host in a special section indicates 5 hours of work (which is 90% of the profiles from my experience), be sure to read the description of work and feedback of previous volunteers. They will tell you the truth – if work was honest or hard, if they overwork often or maybe that their stay was enjoyable and interesting.

Ask questions!  Ask your host about your schedule, working hours and days off,  special diet and whatever is important to you to avoid misunderstanding once you are actually there with them.

Some hosts do not provide food. For 2-3 hours of work food is usually not provided, but for 4-6 hours I think it is honest to have meals included. Have in mind, in some places like Galapagos islands or national parks food can be pretty pricy. Some hosts give money to buy food but don’t cook themselves for you.
Pay attention to diets – host may not accept vegans, or the opposite, provide only vegetarian or vegan cuisine, with a ban on self cooking meat in the kitchen.

Some hosts can ask for a fee, about $ 5 per day. You can find it at the end of profile, orange line with a text “this host apply for a fee”. If the price includes meals and the country you are going is very poor, I think, it is quite fair and I will give it a go. However, in most cases just close the page – the idea to work and pay for it is weird.

Be careful and use your intuition. If you don’t trust the project – choose another one. There is a good host for every volunteer, just keep looking for it. Life is short and we don’t have enough time for shity job and bad experience.

Contact the host

Write a good  detailed message – why do you want to join the project, how you can help, what languages ​​you speak, what experience you have or what do you want to learn.
A good letter is a guarantee that you will be accepted quickly.

Choose few interesting projects. Do not expect that all hosts will respond – about half of them ignore even beautifully written letters. Send several letters – but don’t copypast them. Host will appreciate more an individual letter and it gives you better chance to be accepted. Do not send dozens of messages but also do not count on the only project.

Check the calendar – you will see it in a host’s profile. If the month you plan to go for a trip is marked in red – don’t contact a host, he is unavailable  for those dates. If the color of the month is yellow, you can try to write a message – but point that you saw the yellow mark, this way host will see that you’ve read his profile carefully. Green color means that host are ready to receive volunteers.

A respectable host will respond within a week (do not forget, on farms and at some countries Internet is limited). If the answer took much longer –  ignore them, this host is not interested in volunteers.
Important! Respond also quickly, show yourself as a responsible and organized person.

Let’s go!

Documents. Tickets, visa and insurance are paid by the volunteer. In most countries, a normal tourist visa is enough to participate in the Workaway, but some European countries like France, require a working visa. You will find this information on the Workaway website after selecting the country you want to go to.

Come prepared. Ask the host if there is anything in particular you need to take with you – like raincoat, rubber boots or a sleeping bag. It is your responsibility to came prepared. A good host won’t let you in trouble but don’t expect them to provide everything you need like suitable clothes, cosmetics, etc.

Stay in touch with the host. Write down his number and contact him a couple of days before the arrival to clarify that nothing have changed. Always have a second option like a nearest hostel to don’t stay on the street if you won’t meet your host for any reason.
If your plans have changed and you can’t come – warn the host in advance. Respect others – and they will respect you.
Yes, and if you won’t come without warning, host will leave you a negative feedback, which will make your future searches more difficult.

At the place

I don’t think I need to remind that you must be tidy, polite, honest, trustful, etc. Be responsible, credible and hard working at work; open minded, cheerful, funny, easy going all the time. The rule is simple – be a guest and a worker you want to see at your own house.
If something goes wrong and you are not happy with a host – don’t stay silent. Your host can’t read your mind, so talk to them and explain yourself. This exchange is a team work and you both are able to turn it out in a great experience.

Why WorkAway is a great option for travelers?

 
It covers main expenses of travel – accommodation and food.

It gives the opportunity to communicate with locals and join their daily life, become a part of the family and  the community and make new friends.
The majority of workaway hosts located on the off beaten path, not in a touristy areas. You will integrate in a normal local life. However, you will be able to see some must see places on day trips on your weekend or find some projects in a popular area (usually it’s hostels). You can see part of a country that you may not have even considered before – why not to explore new traveler’s paths?

You can stay at one place longer. For short stops it’s better to use couchsurfing  (where it’s polite to stay maximum for a week. Although I had situations when I came for two days and eventually stayed for two weeks, because they did not want to let me go :))
The usual term for Work away is from two weeks to a month, sometimes two. On average, it is better to choose 3-4 weeks.

During this time, constantly being among the locals, you will understand the culture much better than on the excursions to the sights and museums. Local people are interested that guests love their country. They will recommend you what is worth to see around. You will discover unknown for most tourists wonderful landscapes, hidden lakes, remote villages, artisanal markets and plenty of great things that not written in any guide book.

Learn the language. There is no better way to start to speak foreign language fluently than to practice it with native speakers. Daily work and communication at workaway will help you to speak freely.

You will try the local cuisine. Usually volunteers dinner with a host family, so you will eat like everyone eat at this country. Maybe you’ll even bring home a couple of recipes?

Try a new job. In a hotel, on a farm or butchery, in a diving club or yacht – why not to try something new? You will learn, for example, how coffee grows, how to take care of rabbits or how to get honey. Treat your curiosity and be open to the world, there are plenty of interesting things that you’ve never thought about.

Moreover, you will take inside look on the business like running a hotel or a restaurant, or maybe coffee plantation or operating a diving center. Maybe one day you will end up having a little guest house in the middle of a jungle?

My First Experience On WorkAway. Lapland. Life On The North Pole

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The best time to travel is NOW. Travels became available for everyone, in various forms. Last few years appeared dozens of projects  that help tourists become travelers. Now you can easily meet local people, learn or improve foreighn language, learn a lot from other cultures, not just from books. Cook the best pasta in the world, dance tango, speak french or drive a snowmobil?  Step out and go at the place where this traditions came from. You will learn it by doing it in the heart of it’s birth place. You will not just learn how to Do but actually how to Feel it.
Now it is possible to travel longer and more adventurous by saving money on tourist trap and meet a real life with locals.  You can google picture of Eiffel tower from every angle you can imagine but the most preciouse experience is the life story of fisherman in Sri Lanka on the beach while cooking fresh shrimps or salsa classes in Colombia where people were born dancing.
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Everyone heard about couchsurfing at least once in their life. But there are many other interesting ideas for travelling. HelpX and Workaway are very famouse platform to find volunteer project abroad. I decided to try Workaway just because it has user friendly website and it is more modern.
Although the idea of ​​both is the same – 2-6 hours of work in general in exchange for place to stay, meals and cultural exchange. More about workaway in my post here.
This way of traveling should be the basis of my next long term trip around the world. I decided to test it near home, in the neighboring country – in Finland. I had 2 month before the flight to Cuba and it seemed boring for me to stay at home for so long time.
So, the letters were sent, and one of guesthouses in Lapland accepted me.
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Adventure started.
A small plane from Helsinki, shaking, brought me to a forest. In the middle of it was a tiny airport the size of a garage called Ivalo. I felt I came to the land of giants, people suddenly became so tall and big.
I looked around for a man with a sign with my name on it. He was already waiting for me at the exit. He smiled and said something that logically meant “Welcome to Lapland.” Then he said something else. And more. And then I realise that he did not speak any word English. However, he understood somehow that I’m the right person and we went to the car.
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Ones of you who knows me better know that often I don’t check tickets, names, dates, so I had a very poor idea of ​​where my guesthouse is located. The word Inari stuck in my head. But soon Inari winked at me from the window with rare lanterns and we plunged into the deserted forests. One lake was replaced by another, man talked and talked in Finnish. Sometimes we had this kind of dialogue:
– (passing by the restaurant) Bar. Drinking! (Sly smile on the face). Ooh, drinking is good!
– Moscow.
– Well, I’m from Moscow (even if I’m not, I nodded, glad that I understood at least one word out of a hundred)
– Yo. Tupac.
– (I nod again, guessing whether he is a fan of 2Pac or he talks about going to the parc)
Finally, left behind all signs of civilization, we came to a nice little hotel by the lake. The hostess, her husband and another girl, volunteer from Switzerland were waiting for me there. They, fortunately, spoke good English.
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So, where did I get to?
To the small guesthouse 14 km from the village of Kaamanen, in the province of Inari. In addition to the rooms in the main building that are rented in winter, there are summer cottages by the lake, also a sauna, a restaurant and a bird feeding station.
I lived in a separate cottage by the lake, I had internet, sauna and unlimited cookies. Lady who hosted me by the program, Agle, even gave me her winter boots, cotton pants and mittens for me to don’t freeze in a severe climat.
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The next two weeks my schedule was:
10:00 breakfast
10:30 – 14:30 work
14:30 lunch and free time
19:30 dinner, board games or chatting with the guests and the hostess.
On a nice sunny day Agle sent us for a walk, announcing the day off. If she and her husband were traveling to the city, they also took us with them. When I came back late at night from local party, the next day she let me sleep longer which was very nice from her.
As a result, it turned out 5 working days and 2 days off per week.
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The work was very easy. If guests stayed at the hotel, I had to clean rooms,  roll towels beautifully, change flowers in vases, make the bed and run from the storeroom to the room and back with the mops.
Some days we worked in the kitchen, washed dishes in a noisy dishwasher, served tables, left fingerprints on glasses and washed them again, brought beer to the customers and rejected a dozen offers to marry.
Some broken hearts till night wandered under the window of my cottage, growling “snowmobile … drrrrriver … goooo”.
My favorite work was in a separate cottage where I had to do laundry and iron sheets. There was wi fi, so I could watch movies, winding sheets on the ironing machine. Relax.
I liked this work. The idea of ​​making the place cleaner and more enjoyable for others was nice. There was a sense in this work. I’ve been before on the guest’s side, slept in these rooms, ate at these restaurants. I wanted that our guests also had good impressions of their trip and our place.
Therefore, for me were not much difference between working hours and hours of rest, I equally enjoyed both parts of the program.
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One of the days was an Easter. Instead of the usual work at the hotel, I was sent to help on a celebration in the town of Kaamanen. In this region there is an Easter tradition to make a large bonfire, bake pancakes and fry sausages.
I had to learn Finnish urgently. There were a lot of people, and also a lot of sausages, and I had to manage to fry and sell them quickly. From everywhere came “yuksi makkara”, “kaksy makkara” and hundreds more incomprehensible words. As a result, I quickly got used to picking out word “makkara” from the noise and learned to count from one to three. The village was happy, sausages were eaten, the holiday was a success.
It was interesting not only to came to the village celebration, but also to part in the conduct and become part of the community for a while. As a bonus – unlimited pancakes and sausages and new friends.
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The religious significance of Easter in Lapland is mixed with the feast of the spring’s coming. We were visited by children dressed in witches, read little poem and waved a willow branch, decorated with ribbons, in exchange for sweets. The poem was short, and translation is “I swing a branch, let the year be healthy and clean, branch is for you,  treat is for me!”.
In the evening of the same day, I was invited to a local party. Several times a year for big holidays in the town’s only restaurant they play live music and the whole village gathers together. Of course, there were almost no youngsters, and the party turned out “over 70”, but people were very friendly and cheerful. Finnish people nowdays still learning in school how to dance valse during 2 years, so the young people danced with the old. All joked, had fun and treated me with local liqueurs. One of them, Fisherman’s friend, with the taste of famouse Finnish candy, became my favorite.
It was not boring at all, as it might seem at the first glance. Many of people spoke English and remembered me from the morning sausage place.
There is life over 60, dances and love – dancing couples were so cute!
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On one of the days off we got to Saariselka. This is a ski resort near Ivalo with a lot of hiking trails around. We chose the longest, 8 km trail. Our walk ran through the national park Urho Kekkonen, the second largest in Finland.

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At first the road went through a pine forest, after we had to climb a hill. Beautiful views and only shining snow around.
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I like winter hiking, nature is beautiful at any time of the year. And finally, we slided down the hill. One and a half kilometer fast slide, my childhood dream!

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In the late April Lapland is still covered with snow. After lunch, I often went for a walk on ice-covered lakes or forest near by, following the snowmobiles trails. Emptyness, whiteness, and no one around, no sound. For a few hours of walking I did not meet a single person, except a drunk Finnish guy who once passed by me on a reindeer rig shouting “Hey hey!”. I enjoed a lot this solitude.
The forest was also good. I did not go far, because there were a lot of snowmobile tracks and I was afraid to get lost. The forest was replaced by a lake, the lake by a forest. I loved these landscapes.

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The main advantage of Work Away is the opportunity to stay at one place longer, to observe small details of everyday life, to relax and not to cross the country in rush, trying to see as many famouse places as possible. When weather was bad, I often just chilled with a book and a cup of coffee or did some handmade.
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One morning they took me for a snowmobile ride. One more different transport in my list. It was surprisingly funny, I even caught myself thinking that instead of a motorcycle it would be nice to buy a snowmobile. No traffic, no rules, go wherever you want under aurora’s light. Sounds romantic, isn’t it?
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We crossed the whole forest searching for reindeers, but found only their prints. I had no great hopes of seeing the deer, except if it was a deaf one – we were rushing along the lakes with such a roar that it could cause an untimely deer’s migration in the region who would run away to Norway in fear.

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On warm days, when it was hard to walk on the snow, and my feet fell knee-deep in the melting snow, I discovered a new hobby – birdwatching.
In wadded pants and a cup of hot tea I was sitting in a snow, waiting for birds.
This Work away actually was more like Eat Away. I haven’t eaten so much and so delicious for a long time. Norwegian smoked fish, meatballs, curd pastries with raisins, potatoes with mushrooms and tons of Easter chocolate.
In the evenings we sometimes drank wine, and in the mornings – liters of coffee. Finnish people are real coffee lovers. Coffee here is not that strong and you can easily drink five-six cups a day.
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On Easter we ate the Easter pudding called Mammi. It’s a Finnish dessert, which is eaten usually with cream and sugar. He looks unattractive, but very tasty. This mess in my plate taste like  a black bread soaked in cream, with the flavor of dark beer.
Another strange taste of Scandinavian tradition is to eat meat with a jam. Honestly, I tried out this unusual union a lot, but didn’t understand it.
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I came to Lapland, expecting to see northern lights and kiss a deer in the nose. Neither the auriras nor the deer happened to me. At the end of April the night is quite short in Lapland. It was about 1-2 hours of darkness. Every day night became shorter and shorter as my chances to see auroras. But every night I put an alarm but only stars were shining in the sky. The deer season also ended, and they went to the mountains for summer.
However I wasn’t upset at all by not seeing what I expected. This trip was really interesting. And I proved again that it is better to not to plan and not to expect anything from life to not to be dissapointed and enjoy fully what you actually have.
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There was no more planes to the south of Finland in the end of April from Ivalo. The owners of the hotel gave me a lift to Tampere (they themselves also went for a trip). Even on the way, this beautiful woman, my host Agle did not stop taking care of me. We drank coffee in the village of Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi and ate tons of  donuts. She even gave me a gift before leaving, a T-shirt and a few souvenirs.  I admire kindness of this woman. I’m so lucky to meet on my way people like her.
Two weeks ago I went here in the car, looked out the window and tried to imagine how this trip would turn out. And now again Finnish landscapes outside the window, again the road, and the feeling that everything turned out simply amazing. And this is not the end.

Birdwatching. Guide to the world of dinosaur’s relatives

What is it?

Birdwatchers are people who like to observe wild birds in their natural habitat.
You don’t have to open your school books again or be an ornitolog to do birdwatching. Lot’s of people just simply enjoy watching wild life.

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It is boring.

No! You never would have thought what a busy bird life happened every day around us. However we don’t pay attention to it in a daily rush.

You can make a list and put there every bird you found. The mateur birdwathers can have on their list thoughsands of species. On the list of world’s #1 birdwatcher John Hornbuckle there are 9435 of them (of about 10500 known in the world nowdays).
There are different competitions when you should photograph and identify birds as much as you can in the limited time.

There are only pigeons and ducks in my city.

You would be surprised how many species of birds living in the city! Wherever you live, there are about hundred of different species in your area which are easy to find.
At the first time all birds seems the same. We recognize only pigeons or ducks just because they are familiar to us. When you will start to observe birds, you’ll find out that there are much more beautiful birds around us every day.

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Why should I try it?

For fun and self-education.
Birds are almost the only connection of a modern urban man with a wildlife.
Living in the cities, we are increasingly moving away from nature and forgetting that there is life beyond our stone jungle.

We grew up on the books about animals, authors like Gerald Durrell, Ernest Thompson Seton or one my favorite when I was a kid Vitaly Bianki. Somehow, we’ve grown up and nature doesn’t interest and fascinate us as much as before.
There are about 10500 species of birds in the world. And more than 10% of them may face extinction in next 100 years. There are plenty of reason for it, most of them are human’s fault. The first step to prevent a tragedy is awareness.
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It is healthy.

Birding push you go out for a long walks, be on the open air, outside of dirty streets with traffic and noise. Birdwatching is very catching, and you probably start to travel more, spend more time outside.
I find it more life-affirming to observe wild life around us than to waste time in front of the television.

New hobby brings people together.

As every new hobby, birdwatching can help you to make new friends. You’ll be surprised how many people sharing the same hobby and willing to talk and share their experience with others. Same hobby unites people across different countries and generations and it’s great!
It’s also a perfect reason to spend time with family, enjoy walks, weekends together. If you have kids – they will be happy to learn about new world of nature that will stay with them for all their life. Paying attention on nature will make you think more about enviroment, be more careful with a world where all of us live.
Why not to invite you friends to discover something new? New experience and exploration of wonderness of the life will make you friendship stronger.

…Or enjoy solitude.

On the other hand you can also go alone and enjoy time all by yourself. It gives you perfect opportunity to think and reflect, put things in your head on the right order, meditate and relax. Your mind settles down while communicating with nature.
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You’ll learn to pay attention.

Attention to the life around you in general. Start observing birds makes you pay more attention on details. To identify the bird you’ll need to spot this little creatures in the huge area and notice details as their color, habits, etc.
You’ll bring soon attention skills to you daily life. You’ll start to pay more attention to the people in your life, your family, friends, neighbors.
And it’s very important, isn’t it?

How to start?

Just step outside and start noticing this little creatures around you!
You don’t need special equipment for the first time. However, field guide (hand book that helps to identify birds) would be helpful.
You can also need a binoculars. Don’t buy something professional – any binoculars would be better that nothing. Ideal binoculars for birdwatching –  8 to 10 fold increase, light and compact.
Camera, if you would like to take photos as well. You can both take a camera with a long focus lens or use you smartphone camera. You can use the technology ‘digiscoping’, photographing through the lense of binocular or a telescope. Special adapters for digiscoping (average cost about 30-40 $) also exist.
Make a list! It will give you more motivation. Write down every kind of bird you have spotted. While I try to identify the bird, I also learn more about their difference, inviroment they live, their habits. It encourages you to observe carefully.
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Where can I do it?

The best thing about birdwathing – you don’t need to go far from home. You can do it in your city on weekend in the nearest big park or you can have a trip out of the city.
On you travel. Wherever you go, there always will be birds around. You can explore new country in different ways, some species of birds are simply amazing.
In every country you’ll find birdwathing tours with a knowlegable guide who can show you specific birds you won’t find by yourself.  You can enjoy walking in the national park as well – its healthy and lovely.
Birdwatchers who are really into birding do special trips only to spot specific birds. Some birds are really cool and rare so this trips are totally worse it. Check paradise bird, crowned crane, harpy eagle or golden pheasant! Its simply beautiful.

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Get inspired!

Check out most famouse movies about birdwatching:
A Birderʼs Guide to Everything by Rob Meyer
The Big year (2011)
Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012)

First Steps In Birdwatching. Lapland.

 Birdwatching wasn’t my idea of fun before. It seemed to me very boring and specific hobby for specialist. My knowledge about birds included following facts: birds can fly, some birds are chicken and some are pigeons, they can poop on my head in the forest.
Last April I went to the Finnish Lapland for the Workaway project. It was a guesthouse near the lake, few kilometers from the nearest village and about 100 km from the nearest town. Beautiful wild nature around.
This guesthouse is famous for the bird-feeding station, one of the most important in that area. Lot’s of people with big cameras and binoculars came every day to spot the birds. They were standing outside motionless, with their cameras ready, for hours, staring at the top of the trees. Pretty boring hobby, isn’t it?
However day by day while working near the station I observed different birds that came there every day in the morning. I realized that they are various and have different attitude. Colorful birds were always chilling around the window, but there were also timid little ones.
I decided to try a new hobby, inspired by others. The reason was simple – why not to try something new, that you would have never thought about before.
I got the list of most common birds feeding on the station, checked their appearance in the book in guesthouse’s library and went with my camera for the photo hunting. I took lots of pictures of most common and friendly birds called Finnish parrots.
List of the birds became a challenge. I wanted to have pictures of all birds from it. I had to look more carefully at the birds, check how they act in the wild – for example, some of them always feeding on the ground, some chill closer to the lake.
Capture on the photo fussilly moving creatures wasn’t that easy – but it made it more interesting. I got plenty of time to relax by my own, to listen bird’s songs and sound of wind in the top of the trees, moreover to listen to myself and reflect a bit.
Paying attention to the small details made my time full-filled and fascinating. I began to see birds and wild nature everywhere around me. World became little bit more beautiful than it was before.
This is my super-tiny list of birds I saw in Lapland. Everyone starts from somewhere.
Finnish parrots.
The real name is less intriguing – Pine grosbeak.
Red are boys, green are girls. In the first days at the station I was excited to see so colorful motley birds. It is a best bird for a beginner birdwatcher because they are not afraid of people. There were so many of them at our station and they scared away more timid birds with their bustling.
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Green finch
More shy little green bird. In the whiteness of snow they were like drops of rainbow. One wrong movement – and they fly up immediately and disappear in the top of the trees.
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Siberian Tit
Among the large colored birds there were cute ones, looks like very fluffy sparrows. This sweet birds are Siberian tits. Despite the fact that they are very tiny, they are not afraid of cold and settle in Siberia and Lapland. If you are small and cute, this doesn’t mean that you eat a little. This bird feed their nestling 500 times a day! I want to be a chick of this bird in the next life.
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Siberian Jay
In the guesthouse where I worked, there was a huge window in the restaurant. The window is equipped with feeders. From there you can observe almost all the birds that live in this area. Jay came rarely, I saw it only twice, from the window. This bird is like a well-fed sparrow (yes, at first time all birds looks like sparrows). In fact this bird is a relative of raven. Jays are quiet and enclosed, moreover, they often attack smaller birds and eat carrion.
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Great Tit
Did you know that a tit can turn into a woodpecker? I was surprised when this little bird with a yellow belly suddenly began chopping a tree furiously, just like a woodpecker.
By the way, tits are not that peaceful birds as they can look like. At hungry time, they can turn into ruthless killers, attack weaker birds and hollow out their brains with their strong beaks.
Another kind of tits, Blue tit, drove me crazy. In the last days of work at the station find this bird became my idee fixe. I checked every tit hoping to find just a yellow belly without black stripe on it, but unsuccessfully. I was a bit offended. I was waiting for them in the snow. At least one could come.
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Three-toed Woodpecker
This woodpecker appeared from nowhere. Ok, it came from exact place – from the forest. However he wasn’t on the list of birds feeding on the station so I had to open books in the library and look for it’s appearance. I found a similar, black and white one, very beautiful. This was the only woodpecker without a traditional red cap. Book said it is a three-toed woodpecker. I did’t see his toes, so actually I did’t see the main difference which makes this bird special. However, let it be three-toed woodpecker.
Arctic Redpoll
And the final bird in my list. I noticed it at the last days. This phlegmatic bird picked up food from the ground,  ignoring everything around.  It went over the whole area around feeding station with a fine-tooth comb, thoroughly checked every corner and went away.