hello! I am back from Lapland now, with a gigantic load of things to write about. I have my diary open here, and will be reading off of it as I go, I can´t remember all the things we did. To put it into one word, the trip was amazing. But you can´t possibly find much to interest you in that one word, so I will elborate :)
We left about 10:30 am on Sunday, July 5th and drove over 6 hours (!!!) to Oulu, on the western coast of Finland. It was a grusome drive... the camper shook and rattled so much when we drove that I felt quite ill for a while. The girls entertained themselves for all that long time with food and games... I might note that during this trip I have 1) learned about 4 or 5 new card games and 2) gained a few pounds!! They would often play the games in Finnish though. They played one alot like Madlibs, except that they wrote them themselves.... they laughed pretty hard. Something I found very nice was how every time another camper like ours pased us on the road, Simo and Marjut waved respectfully to them. Marjut told me that this is the custom in almost all European countries! We camped that night at a large campground... it was very close to the sea and we went for a walk there, which was really lovely ( although VERY windy). During our walk them Marjut asked me if I was unhappy with them or didn´t want to be there with them. She thought that because I had not been talking alot during the drive that I was sad! I quickly assured her that no, everything was fine, I just didn´t always talk constantly! I explained that sometimes when I was in an unfamiliar situation, I was shy and reserved. Anyone who knows me can back me up there I think! I felt really bad that she had been worried about my happiness!! The next morning it rained. Then it stopped, but everything was soaked! This proved to be a pattern the whole trip!! :) During the next leg of the drive ( which I will tell about in a minute!!!!!) we had a near disaster and a really lucky break! We had just gotten on the main road, when Ilona noticed that there was a window open somewhere. Soon it was discovered that the window up where the girls slept was MISSING! It had been left open and had BLOWN AWAY when we started driving! We pulled over, and Marjut and Simo got out and walked back the way we had come looking for it! Us girls were all quite and grim... we just sat and waited for a horrible length of time. We watched in the mirrors as they started back... but we couldn´t see if they had the window! If it was broken, we would have to go back home! Ella, looking through her binocculars annouced that they didn´t have it. A long, grim silence. Then she said, ´wait, yes they DO´!`The mood liften at once and everyone was sighing in relief and laughing. It was all in one piece, with just a tiny corner chipped off. Simo managed to tape it back into place with duct tape, and we continued on. Phew, close one! The adventure reminded me how much life is like a movie sometimes! NEXT STOP: YOU`LL NEVER GUESS WHERE! I now have been in four countries in my lifetime: the USA, Germany, Finland and SWEDEN!!!!!! We went to a town just over the Swedish border that same day!! There was no need for a passport, you just drover over a bridge and there you were! We went to a huge Swedish chain store, which was IMPOSSIBLY BIG! Imagine this if you can: A Kmart, a big carpet store, a furniture store, a kitchen ware store, a garden store and a toy store, all combined and multiplied by two. That was IKEA! We also went to a Swedish supermarket.. all the prices looked really expensive because they were in Swedish krones! For exmaple, a loaf of bread was priced 29.45 krones... which was only a few euros! We bought some food and ate it in the car: cold meatballs, two kind of swedish bread, potato salad and coconut and chocolate balls! Yum. Next stop, Rovaniemi, the unofficial capital of Lapland at the Arctic Circle! We went to the Santa Claus post there. The Finnish santa is called ´Joulupukki´! You had to walk through an alborate maze of bridges, fake glaciers and earth-rotation-monitors to get to his office, where you gave your names, your hometowns and your ages. Then we went in a sat next to the Joulupukki! He asked me if I was a lady all the time and made me do an American dance, haha! An elf took a picture of us there, and I mailed one card home. The next day we went to the Ranua Zoo ( in Rauna). It was fun, although VERY COLD... but that was to be expected at the arctic circle! I was a bit put out by the cold summer I was having, but then I´d remind myself that I in was Finland for pity´s sake and get over it :) We then drove to another camping pace in the mountains ( the Valtavaara range, which means ´power hill range´). Wednesday was a good power day: We hiked part way up a mountain as a trial run for the next day, when we planned to make it to the top. I was tierd and sore and not enjoying myself for the first few minutes, but then suddenly my whole view changed! I was so full of energy that it was all I coulddo to keep from running up that mountain! It was a hard path, loads of ups and downs, but I was somehow loving it. It helped that if you stood still for too long the mosquitoes would descend on you in clouds, so the best thing was to keep moving. I felt so good! After lunch we went white water rafting(!) near Kälyä. We put on big water proof boots, a water proof jacket, rubber boots and a helmet. Then we crammed into a yellow van for a 25 minutes ride to the starting point. Then you sit in an inflatable raft and paddle through a maze of rivers and lakes. Sometimes our guide would put on the motor when we had to go along way to the next set of rapids. The actual white water part was really really fun. Scary as anything, but fun. I was always afraid that I would fall off the raft, because you had to sit on the very edge, and your feet were the only things keeping you there ( you pushed them into the cracks). I loved it actually. Just like hiking, at first I hated it, but then I started to really enjoy it. That day really taught me that I like outdoor activies more than I ever thought :) There was something in the quality of the air there that made me feel so good, it filled my lungs completley and tasted so good in my mouth. I also tasted some water straight from the lake as we went... it was that clean! We saw some goregous scenery, and even a mother reindeer and her baby! Throughout the Lapland portion of the trip we saw herds of reindeer along the side of the roads and eating near the camp grounds!!! They are all owned by someone, but are allowed to roam free. It was now July 9th, and we went hiking again on the same mountain in Ruka. This time we took an easier route, and it practically flat, with wooden brdiges over the swampy bits. When we reached the summit, it was the strangest thing. If the weather had been nicer, we could have seen all the way to Russia from there, but it was not fine. All that could be seen was white fog, thick as anything. The trees stopped, the ground stopped and there was just whiteness!!!! There was a little hut at the summit, and all four of the walls inside were carved with the names and mesaages of those who have been there. I carved ´USA´ inside a heart there... I was so proud of it! There was also a book, in which all the hikers had written their names, the date and their hometowns. I wrote: ´Megan Yeo Stafford Springs CT USA´. Be proud all you Stafford citizens, your hometown is recorded in a book in hut on the top of a mountain in Finland!!!! We cooked sauages ( makkara in Finnish) in a traditional Lapland hut a little bit down the mountain. It had a fire in the middle and hole in the top for the smoke, with wooden benches all around. That was it. Then we drove about 2 and a half hours to yet another camping place in Vuokatti, which was right next to a ski and snow board place. We then went snow tubing (inside), which I thought was hilarious, seeing as it was July! I have now been sledding in the middle of summer! We had a sauna that night at the camping place, Ella, Heli and me. We went swimming in a little pond in between trips to the sauna, which made me feel all sleepy and nice. The next place we went to was like a little peice of heaven. The Haanpää´s grandparents summer cottage in Kaatamo. There was a little blue cabin, where I stayed with the girls, which was close to a little red cottage, where Mummo and Pappa slept. There was beautiful garden all around, and a beautiful lake just there. There was an underground celler, an outhouse, a smoke sauna ( more about that soon) and a regular sauna. There were trees all around, flowers all around, and a feeling of contentment all around. The day we got there ( Friday) it was warm and sunny, and the sun intesified the beauty of the place. I loved it at first sight. It reminded me alot of my great grandparents cabin in New Hampshire, except it was much smaller. The red cabin was almost fairytale like, full of little trinkets, an old brick oven and many woven rugs. It was clean, neat, everything in it´s place. Marjut´s parents only knew a few words in English, and by a few I mean about 5 each. Nonetheless, Mummo greeted me warmly in Finnish, and Marjut translated. This was often the case during our stay there, as she was the only really strong English speaker. But Mummo said something like ´Welcome to Eastern Finland, I hope you will not feel uncomfortable here and that you enjoy your time with us.´ During dinner ( which was amazing, Mummo is a wonderful cook!) they asked me what my picture of Finland is now. I had to think, but I said that was beautiful, clean, healthy, unique, modern. The people are friendlier than I expected, and more beautiful too. Finns take excellent care of themselves, their possesions and their country, it is something that I admire and respect. During this trip, and during my stay so far I have noticed something about people in general. Wherever you go, in whatever country and whatever culture, people do not differ that much. Their customs may differ, their clothes, their food, their language and their ideas. But when it comes down to it, they are all the same. We all love and laugh and hate and cry, eat and sleep and dream, no matter who we are. Before I came, I imagined myself in Finland like from a bird´s eye view, clearly showing me in the middle of a foregin country. When I got here however, I found that the view wasn´t that different after all. I felt the same as I did back home. I hadn´t changed at all, not the way I imagined. It´s like that quote `wherever you go, there you are´.
I did find it extremely challaging that everyone spoke Finnish all the time. I stopped trying to talk really after I while, because it was so much effort to translate everything. I think my vocal chords almost forgot how to talk! It made trouble for me, because during the weekend Marjut asked me ( again) if I was happy there, because it looked to them like I wasn´t. She said that Ilona especially was upset, she had said that I kept answering her questions with only one word, and she thought that I didn´t like her! This mortified, horrified and dismayed me. I was very upset... because I hadn´t noticed at all that I did that! There I was, trying so hard to do everything right, that I did everything wrong! I had been prepared for the typical Finnish silence, but this family had a more talkative fmaily culture! I do not talk alot when I am taking in a new situation and learning about people, but they took it as unhappiness or just not caring! How horrible! I tried my best to explain that this was typical Megan behavior, and tried extra hard to talk to Ilona. She had been waiting all spring to be my friend, and I was totally messing it all up. Another bad thing: I was a total idiot and accidentally deleted ALL THE PICTURES FROM THE ENTIRE LAPLAND TRIP FROM MY CAMERA! Luckily, Marjut and Ilona had taken many of the same pictures, so I will have some to post here ( when I get to it haha). The same day that I deleted the pictures, I had a really great experience. The smoke sauna. It differs from the regular sauna in that there is no chimney, and when it is heating the smoke is let straight out the open door. When you go there there is no smoke, just the smell. You sit and hit yourself with a bundle of birch branches and then run out into the lake! I didn´t like it as much as the normal sauna because of the smoke smell, which got into the back of my throat and felt strange. Still, a sauna is a sauna, and it was lovely. Washing my hair in the lake was also fun :) I also had a very interesting conversation on that day with Marjut ( Äiti) about homeschooling, the differences between American and Finnish education, culture, and people. I tried to explain everything in the best true light! We had another upset the next day, while making smores. They had never made them, and so we had to improvise with the crackers, the type of marshmellows and the fire ( we used the grill). Everyone was enjoying them, until Heli dropped hers on her hand, where it stuck and burned her! No one wanted smores after that. Heli held her hand in cold water for a long time, and I felt horrible! The burn is looking better now, and they all want to try smores again, with better luck next time! Tuesday night I went night fishing. I don´t think I´ve ever been fishing properly before, out in a boat on lake with pole. But I found that I really enjoyed it ( just like the hiking!!!) I caught the first fish too! All together we ( me, Ella, Simo and Pappa) caught 19 fish! Mummo made fish soup for lunch the next day, which was very yummy. Another mishap: ( btw, these are all out of order, but the 4 days we stayed there all blur together in my mind so it doesn´t matter!) I woke up one morning to find that I had been bitten by something in the night, and my upper lip had swollen to three times the normal size!!! It was awful! We put medicine on it, and by evening it was almost back to normal size, but still, quite depressing! We also went in a rowboat to an island across the bit of lake... I have dubbed it ´Ant Island´. Not becuase it is small, but because it is inhabited be a large number of nasty red ones! Imagine us all hopping and jumping around... ;) The lake and the islands in it reminded me strongly of Three Mile Island ( in Vermont) where my family goes in the summer. It was especially strange because that was the same time of month that we are usually there... so it felt right somehow. I also bought some things from a ´storebus´which comes for the people staying in thier summer cottages there. Very funny. It looks like a bus outside, but like a one-aisle store inside!!! I went with Simo and Äiti to her cousins house one evening... the house was lovely and the cousin laid out a goregous table of typical finnish treats... pastries, cakes and tea! I tried to be lady like, the set up was so lovely. I hope I didn´t seem quiet and boring! So many little things happened too, that are really amusing. Like the girls and I have a running joke about the mud at the bottem of the lake! They didn´t know the word ´mud´at first so they told how the bottom felt by wiggling their fingers and saying `bleeeeeeegh` now we do it just for laughs! I must remember now that no one can read my thoughts, annd that my actions might not be seen by others the same way I see them. I will try to be a better sister and exchange student, and open my eyes to the wonderful place I am in.
In closing ( yes I know I should have stopped typing long long long ago, you are probably snoring over there) I would like to write down some lyrics that I made up during the trip. Here goes:
Wake up little person
Open you eyes and see
There´s a whole world just waiting
The universe is your playground baby.
If the key opens the door
And the window´s open wide
take a chance and make a leap
You´ll find all of the answers outside.
Broken dreams and shattered hopes
Fill the path that lies ahead
Those that have gone before have left them
Made a river of tears they have shed
But where there is winter, bring the sun
Coax the flowers up out of the earth
Make a garden from a desert
Find the answer to what life is worth.
And when that window´s open wide
And when that flower begins to grow
Just remember all you ´ve seen, Love
Just remember all you know.
Pictures soon, I promise! Love you all, Megan