It's midnight. It's been hours since anyone has been on the streets of Kuusamo.
Despite the city's lack of guests and clientele, the Sokos hotel's strange bar opens a new night of karaoke. A barista on duty encourages her, singing Finnish folk songs in the impenetrable Suomi dialect.
The lyrics of the songs follow one another on the screen, full of repeated consonants and umlauts. The melodies attract two or three lost souls in the rooms of the building.
They levitate themselves from the tables and move in slow motion, a technique developed over the years to mask the effects of alcohol. Gradually, they earn at will. They join the interpretation of the latest hit and choose what they will sing next.
In order to prepare for the theme in line, they chug out yet another vodka or the trendy alternative drink, Valkovenäläinen, a semi-sweet blend of Kahlua 228 with vodka and milk.
This dubious spectacle repeats itself. Middle-aged couples migrated from the adjoining Torero restaurant, where Hispanic imagery is served in industrial doses, enrich him.
Until bar hours force it to be postponed.
Towards the Frigid Vastness of Oulanka National Park
The next morning we moved to the Finnish countryside. We settled at the entrance to Oulanka National Park with plans to walk part of Finland's most famous forest trail, the Karhunkierros.
Clouds pass gray. Cools before our eyes and the snow that falls slowly reinforces the white of the scenery. The path winds through the conifers of the Finnish taiga. It follows the homonymous river that resists freezing due to the strength of the dark waters.
We crossed it, somewhat unsteadily, on suspension bridges. We walked back through the trees and found areas conquered by vast frozen swamps.
The Solitary Enchantment of Juuma
Juuma appears as a tenuous civilizational reward in the surrounding arctic immensity, with its core of wooden houses red on the shore of Lake Ala-Juumajarvi, next to a boarding ramp where a service boat rests on ice.
Four or five cars are parked nearby, but the village's Kavhila Cafe never seems to have opened and we only detect signs of life in one of the houses.
In prehistoric times, the territory of Finland was trampled and smoothed by waves of gigantic glaciers.
Contrary to what one might think, it turns out to be flat, pockmarked by countless lakes left behind by the thaw.
Ruka: Alisada Finland's Possible Snow Resort
A few dozen kilometers from our base, Ruka (Rukatunturi) is only 500 meters high but has become the main snow sports center in the region and one of the most important in the country.
As it had happened again the previous weekend, the resort frequently hosts competitions from the world championships in cross-country skiing, jumping, and other sports practiced on the snow.
It receives more than 65000 outsiders who flock there to participate in the competitions or support the competitors.
We investigated the village, explored its curious commercial area. We climbed to the highest point aiming to enjoy the view painted in white around.
The Patches That Russia Brought and the Reindeer Finland
From there, we contemplate Russia and the Paanajarvi National Park – the extension of the oulanka – in the image of much of the territory suomi taken by the Soviet Union to Finland because Finland aligned with the Axis forces during World War II.
This loss is, even today, the great national frustration. Finns of all ages speak of her, without any great complexes. It is even common to find establishments with maps of the original territory or photos of its emblematic places.
On the way back to Oulanka's camp, we pass more villages and frigid roadside fields where herds of reindeer graze.
A Finnish existence of these deer it has little to do with what is foisted by the Christmas imaginary. All specimens have owners and identify colored collars and plates.
As used to their owners, reindeer almost completely ignore the human presence. There have been no wild reindeer in Finland for decades.
Arrived at the comfort of the base, we dined on reindeer stew – on other days moose meat – a Lapland specialty little appreciated in southern Finland. “Some kids from the south come here and make tapes because they don't want to eat Rodolfo” vents Satto.
Others make their parents miserable because they notice the difference in flavor compared to beef.”
PN Oulanka and Paanajarvi, in Also Finnish Times
New day, new incursion into the region's remote domains. The temperature plummets. The roads are once again covered with dangerous ice.
Sari Alatossava drives us at ease, but despite the special winter tyres, full of piercing spikes, she is surprised twice when the Land Cruiser skidded and nearly reversed direction on the road.
Scare is relative. We quickly recovered the dialogue in which the hostess explained her unlikely relationship with Portugal.
Now, as he tells us, in 2001, Sari did an Erasmus exchange at the Faculty of Arts in Porto because he wanted to do it in a small country and he liked Saramago's books a lot.
He ended up dating Portuguese with a Madeiran family spread by South AfricaBy Malta and by Finland.
Already on foot, with snow falling more abundantly than ever, Sari guides us along a new forest trail. The path is smooth and short. Even so, it reveals to us the wild and wild scenery of the Canyon of Oulanka that the River Oulankajoki continues to deepen.
Once again, we see the Russia from a distance. Sari complains that now the Finnish expeditions from Rafting they have to be careful with the position of the border so as not to cross the big bear's territory.
And that the Russians are like most people in large countries: "they always have to get what they want and, for that, they overlook everything and everyone."
Back at the starting point, we head north and cross the Polar Circle arctic. Salla is waiting for us “In The Middle of Nowhere".