We are already well outside the traditional territory that the Sami people occupy in Finland but, for reasons unknown to reason, Sami is the name of the two guides who pick us up from Merihovi and guide us to board the Sampo icebreaker. Since the end of the short day before, we have been staying in this 50s revivalist hotel in the center of Kemi.
In scenic terms, Kemi doesn't take anyone's breath away. It's not just any Finnish city either. It stands at the height of the Gulf of Bothnia, next to the only place where Sweden and the Suomi nation meet on the seashore, a mere hundreds of kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.
Kemi is industrial in a subtle way, with the added value of its deep-water port, precious in these long-frozen latitudes.
The harbor would be of little use if the upper meters of the offshore sea remained solid through the long winter. That's why one of Kemi's two main attractions, the icebreaker Sampo, entered the stories, in the Finland and in ours.
Caring for a Sami Duo
"Are ready? Did they bring everything?” do the Samis inquire of us? We thought so. "Have you ever been on a snowmobile?" It was the third time we had explored different parts of this northern region of the Finland. In all of them we had this opportunity. “Great! That way they save us some time on briefings and instructions because, it's nothing serious, but we're already a little late.”
Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Kemi's semi-frozen dock, and in the vicinity of its other great curiosity, the great ice castle of Lumilinna. There, a troupe of eastern outsiders was having fun clowning around in the snow, and filming them with the monument in the background.
In Finnish austere and pragmatic good manner, one of the Samis interrupts the fun. The morning program and the bikes had to be started. And his priority had no recourse.
An Icy But Dazzling Expedition
From one moment to the next, from amazed admirers of that glacial immensity of the Gulf of Bothnia, we started to traverse it in caravans and at great speed.
We advanced a good fifteen kilometers over the frozen sea. And, returning to land little or nothing distinguishable, along a winding coastal path, among shrubs and spruces, some of them transformed into elegant natural chandeliers by the compacting algidity of the night.
The boreal bikers ahead of us stop. Motorbikes park at the entrance to a property with three large conical snow-covered tents and an open corral which, at that time, held only three or four reindeer. Two Lapp cattle breeders emerge from the middle of the tents to welcome us.
Wear attire to match the condition. Reino Niemela and Jani Lammi, as they are called, invite us to enter the highest tent, which most resembled a North American Indian tipi.
Visit to the Nevado de Meri-Lapin
Happier dealing with their families and reindeer than with outsiders who said little to them, the duo fulfills their role with a coolness befitting the climate. To compensate, they restore the strength of the fire in the center of the tent and serve us coffee for everyone.
Taiwanese talk to each other. We were already used to pulling the most introverted Finns. We took the initiative again. “But you are Sami?” we asked them genuinely confused by the apparent similarity of the costume.
Reino, the elder, speaks in the well-inspired way (pushing air in his lungs), paused, spared and slow that characterizes the Suómi's speech: “We are not Sami, we are Lapps. here at Finland, Lapps are all those who, in Lapland and for several generations, have had and raise reindeer.
You don't need to be sami. We are next to the village of Meri-Lapin. You Sami are higher up there."
The warmth of the wood-burning heat, the encouragement of strong coffee and the conversation with the hosts – however, already less annoyed for being annoyed in their role – kept us immersed in that stuffy sub-arctic refuge.
Soon, the Baptism Samis again snatch the group from the comfort of the tent to the inhuman coldness of the outside. “Come on guys, there's nothing new about coming.
Only when we approach the icebreaker Sampo, is that I'm going to slow down a lot. Do the same. The boat may have left some failures. We don't want to fall into them.”
Towards the icebreaker "Sampo"
And there we went, again in a caravan. Back to those along the coast and meanwhile in a straight line along the vast icy highway of Bothnia.
The sky remained a purplish white. It emulated the terrestrial surface and made the entourage even more insignificant in that unfathomable all or nothing.
After twenty minutes and a few dozen kilometers, we detected a black shape on the horizon. As we approach, we confirm the expected icebreaker Sampo. We stopped the bikes a hundred meters away, and completed the presentations. we went up to the deck through the service hatch.
By that time, the boat already had dozens of passengers on board at the original departure point, in the vicinity of Kemi. Behind him, well marked, the channel he had opened to reach it was filled with small blocks of ice that grew and strengthened as time passed.
Soon, the “Sampo” resumes its navigation into the Gulf of Bothnia, always opening up the very compact ice, and extending the channel it had formed until then.
Across the Gulf of Bothnia
Rafaello, an Italian who had worked on the ship for many years, presents himself in the warm and seductive way that lines the soul of almost all Latinos. It takes us on a tour of the most curious corners of the boat and regales us with information to match.
“They know that the “Sampo” is 76 meters long but weighs three times as much as a passenger ship of the same size. Why? Because to break the ice it has to be a lot heavier.
Right around the time of construction, apart from receiving a hyper-reinforced hull, 100 tons of water were added to allow it to do its job. Funny isn't it?”
Almost everything was funny here on board. Starting with being an Italian guiding, in English, Portuguese passengers on a Finnish icebreaker. Afterwards, we had come from a few days at the Hailuoto island, near a city further south, Oulu.
Yeah, in Hailuoto, one of our cicerones from a local farm was also called Sampo.
When we wonder about the abundance of the name and investigate, we find ourselves on a dizzying journey into the domains of Finnish mythology.
The Mythological Origin of Sampo
According to this, Sampo was a magical artifact of an indeterminate type that benefited those who possessed it with good luck and wealth. It had been built by Ilmarinem, a blacksmith and hammermaker god, eternal artificer and inventor par excellence in the “Kalevala".
Now, the "Kalevala”, in turn, is the respected national epic poem that compiles Finnish folklore and oral mythology and the Karelia region, that Finland saw, in large part, lost to the USSR after the Winter War between the two states.
It is no coincidence that the name of this mythological artifact was attributed to the powerful vessel in which we were following.
For a start, throughout the ages, the mythological Sampo was interpreted in all ways and shapes, from pillar or world tree, compass, astrolabe, treasure chest, Byzantine coin, coat of arms from the Swedish Vendel period (prior to the Viking Age), Christian relic, among others.
With such an abundance of chances, why not an icebreaker.
At the time it was operating at its fullest, that peculiar marine contraption proved miraculous to countless shipping companies, exporting and importing companies and, of course, to the inhabitants of both sides of the Gulf of Bothnia.
And how we delighted, from the bow, to see it break the ice ahead, while respectful of the results of measurements of its thickness made and communicated to the commander from time to time by a crew member.
The boat was already in its old age. It was just common sense to avoid getting into too challenging areas.
“Sampo”: 30 Years of Hard Icebreaker
This one "Sampo” now also winter cruise was built between 1960 and 1961, in Helsinki to succeed another homonymous icebreaker that operated between 1898 and 1960, the first in Europe with both bow and stern thrusters.
the icebreaker Sampo surrogate transporting us maintained navigable lanes in the far north of the Gulf of Bothnia for nearly thirty years.
Worn out by the time of use and surpassed by technological evolution, it was purchased by the city of Kemi for around 167 euros.
In 1988, he began his career as a shuttle tour, on the same itinerary and “party program” that we enjoyed. As an inveterate icebreaker that was assumed, it was immobilized during the arctic summer, when on calm days, even inflatable boats navigate the Gulf of Bothnia.
Several nautical miles later, most passengers had searched the boat and many had lunch on board.
The "Sampo” stopped again. The ship has long been crushing and breaking open the ice under its hull. It was time for the passengers to bathe in the “pool” thus created.
Another crew member approaches us. Secure us with full red wetsuits and gloves to match our sizes. “Squeeze everything well, don't leave slack.
Time to Test the Icy Waters of the Gulf of Bothnia
If for some reason they let some of this water in, believe me it is much worse for the water heater at home to stop working.”
On the other such trips through Finnish Lapland, we had dived without facts into the almost sacred Suómi avantos, the openings that the Finns create in frozen rivers or lakes and into which they dive after a while. soaking in the saunas.
We were, therefore, somewhat intrigued as to why its use was mandatory. We wouldn't be long in thanking her.
Already equipped in the style of Martian polar-cap astronauts, we descended the hatch and approached the course opened by the ship. Rafaello, give us an OK, and we descend not with a simple stimulating dive, as happened in the avantos, but slowly and carefully to match.
Fragments of ice also abounded in that section of the channel. At the 23rd negatives that were felt, they were renewed and increased in size continuously.
The crew had no way to contain or fend them off. The thick suits that turned us into cartoons served not only as thermal protection but also as a cushion against the sharp edges of such mini-icebergs.
A Comic Float
Therefore, we had fun doing what the costumes allowed us to do: float – preferably on our back – practice short geriatric swims and ask them to record the moment that, every second that passed, beyond singular, if it tasted more idiotic.
Luckily, the TV team from Taiwan, did not wait for us to leave to enter the scene. Producing contents with an admittedly burlesque content, he tried to continue our essay with characters specialized in the genre.
With all passengers back on board, the ship reversed toward Kemi.
Upon arrival, already disembarked, we still spent a good half-hour on the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, circling and photographing that earthly icebreaker, even real, with its mythical touch, in the Finland.
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