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

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.
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.
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.
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:
10:00 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.
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.

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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.
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.
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.

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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.
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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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