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.
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.
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.
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!
– 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.
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.
The next two weeks my schedule was:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
At first the road went through a pine forest, after we had to climb a hill. Beautiful views and only shining snow around.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.