It doesn’t get much more authentically Finnish than waking up in Lapland in a cosy log cabin overlooking a misty lake in the middle of nowhere, having a breakfast of rye porridge, salmon and cheese and heading off for a walk along the attractively named Small Bear’s trail, the 12km Pieni Karhunkierros.
The path in the Oulanka National Park snakes over winding wooden boardwalks, three rickety rope bridges stretched across rushing waterfalls and down seemingly endless stairs built into steep hillsides. On the four-hour walk we stood on the edge of enormous canyons, dipped our feet in lakes and caught glimpses of the cold black Kitkajoki river through the trees.
As we trekked, we watched for the green and orange markers, painted at intervals along the way. Our lovely guides Janne, Andri and Johannes had informed us that it is very easy to wander off the beaten path along a tiny trail and find yourself alone in the wilderness, at the mercy of bears and moose and with only cloudberries for nourishment. So we kept an eye on the markers and nervously scanned the forest for moose-like shapes, which was not easy as a certain South African and a certain Frenchman in our group decided to hide behind trees making disturbing reindeer-like “aruuuuga!” noises at intervals. Thanks guys.
The air was heavy and humid but the going was mainly flat, so we weren’t too exhausted when we eventually arrived in a secluded little clearing, where open-air shelters and a Sami teepee were arranged around a big fireplace. Our guides lit a fire and served us a traditional Lappish lunch: salmon soup with cream, followed by coffee made in black pots on the fire, eaten with spicy sugar bread. Food and a rest after four hours of trekking is one of the best things in the world, so it didn’t seem like things could be improved upon – until we looked up and saw a reindeer in a bright red collar and her baby watching us curiously from the top of the hill, like a scene from a Lappish folk painting.