Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oulanka Logbook

My name is Nichole Fraser and I am from North Carolina, USA. This is a documented logbook of my trip to the Oulanka Research Center, 13 September – 16 September 2010. My Guides were Leo Koutaniemi and Erkki Mäenpää.

Day 1-Monday 

            The day was cloudy and raining but slighter colder the more North to Oulanka my group went. Our guides were Leo Koutaniemi and Erkki Mäenpää. The first stop that day was at some sort of ancient beach. We saw our first close look at the dark-red blackberries. Evidently the berries found all over Finnish soil is a great source of revenue for those families with extremely large families (in comparison to American families). The sand and gravel found at this site is also used for the foundations of Finnish houses and bases for the roads we were driving on. In fact, it seems the dirt roads of smaller towns and villages consisted of such sand and gravel. When I first arrived at this spot all I saw was a flat expense of sand, gravel and a few trees but leaving I saw the livelihood of Finland all around me. This kind of reminds me of home (North Carolina), when the town I lived in had a couple of grocery stores and a gas station. Most of our income came from farming and the growth of tobacco.
            The next stop on our way North to the Research Station was at a place where the land consisted of peat bogs. It looked more like a swamp to me but in the parts of the U.S. that I lived in, the swamps that I past by had some trees here and there. This area just had the trees surrounding the bogs. Our guide Leo said that the bogs found here are sometimes used as insulation for Finnish homes against the cold. Again I ended up looking at my surroundings through different eyes. Leo even said we could eat the
bogs! I passed on that opportunity but the feel of it had a meaty quality to it.

            After, we began to come across more and more reindeer. We then stopped again and followed the reindeer into the forest. Leo then stopped and shoveled some of the soil. He then explained to us that only the topsoil (a small dark layer at the top of the soil) has the nutrients to grow plants and trees. Whereas in America most of our soil is nutrient causing more and more of our trees to grow abundantly until they become tall, old trees, while Finnish trees are barely growing in such abundance. This is the first reason I came across that explained the slow loss of forest in Finland.
            The last nature stop was at Ruka. It was once an open area for locals to go ski or snowboard during the winter. But like all areas it seems, the world caught up with them and new construction for a ski lodge along with a very small amount of commercial stores and restaurants were built. This, I believe, is another reason Finnish forest have lessened. Not to mention the constant use of the land for skiing and like activities have destroyed the land entirely. I couldn't even see as much moss or lichen on the ground like one would see elsewhere in the area. This sadden me because I thought since I already came from a country losing most of its’ nature to industry, that Finland would be the last place I would find such loss. 

Day 2 –Tuesday 
Today we went on the Hiidenlampi nature trail, which wasn’t too far from the station. We first, though, made a stop by a tree that was standing next to the student housing. We noticed that some of its bark was pulled off and Leo asked the group whether we knew what did it. We named a few animals but we never guessed right. Evidently, it was a bear! Boy was I staying inside at night!
We then headed on over to the Visitor Center to watch a video as a sort of intro to Nordic nature. Let me just say the video made me wish I could stay in Finland and live on a lake and just see nature change from beauty to beauty. If that were a class, I would sign up quickly. When the clip ended, we roamed around before we set off on the trail. I noticed right away that there were a lot of people, both young and old, walking the trail. Watching them made me feel like I was such a lazy person. I never really went outside while growing up because I had major phobias that mostly consisted of insects, snakes and dirt. So going outside was a big no, no for me. I guess one would say that this whole trip was about me facing my fears and actually getting dirty for once.
As we entered the trail, I felt like I was entering a whole other world, a glimpse into the past per say. We saw the different textures of the hillside next to the lake/waterfall, reindeer eating different edible species in the grass (over 200 species to be exact), and even more berries. Our guide, Erkki then went into detail about how these berries are produced and how most of the berries found there were mostly Northern berries since they were able to reproduce easily. However, due to the increase reindeer population, the berries along with most of the vegetation there have been majorly reduced. I didn’t see how big the impact of reindeer in Finland until the next day. We continued on past some sort of reindeer shed to a little hill. The climb up was very difficult to say the least. It seems, according to Leo, that the Russians called that sort of trail a certain Russian name I couldn’t catch but essentially in English it is considered a Tiger trail. This sort of trail has to be difficult to manage, something not easily reached. I would say that description was quite accurate considering how Erkki was walking along an easier trail right next to it. We were laughing at out idiocy for choosing the difficult path but Leo’s explanation made me pause. By taking the more difficult path I would feel  an higher accomplishment and learn from my mistakes faster than taking a much smoother path already laid down by past travelers.
In the end, though I couldn’t completely remember all that was said, I felt I learned more going out of the park than when I first came upon the trail. 
Day 3 –Wednesday
            Today was the most challenging trail of the whole week. We were going to traverse the great Juma area. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be in the beginning but as we steadily traverse onward I knew I was in for a treat. Don’t get me wrong it was fun and a great experience, but boy was I tired in the end. We saw more evidence of animals on the ground and by the bark of the trees there but of course not many animals present, being as us humans were stomping all across the trail. Pretty soon we had to go down this very steep incline that included me holding onto trees, branches, dirt, basically anything I could hold on to for dear life so I could get down as fast as possible (I did not want to end up caught in the current of the river below us!).  After getting across the river we saw some Finnish people who had some sort of summer home not to far from where we were standing, picking berries from the ground. Let’s just say that there were a lot more in abundance here than at the place we were at yesterday. It also seems that there were a lot more of those annoying little mosquitoes here. They just popped up everywhere we went saying "Here we are" and "Don't forget me"! Crazy psychos!
Another major difference to the trail today to the one yesterday was the gravel on the trail. It seems the gravel was harder to traverse than regular dirt trails. I really don’t know why they put it down anyways but I guess it would be easier to see at night with moonlight than dirt. Anyways, we stopped a little ahead to get a clear picture of clear cutting. It seems Finnish people do this just to bring up nutrients in the ground for growing things and also I guess for the lumber.  Surprisingly so we came across a very unnatural trashcan sitting in the midst of the forest. Leo then went into detail about how Finnish people were gradually losing land to the park for preservation but if one were to have a summer home nearby they were required to take out the public trashcan like the one we came across. It seems though, the matter of lands and home lost is a very sore issue here. I wonder if the government pays back for resident’s loss appropriately?

  So we continued on our trail and came across TONS and TONS of stairs (I wouldn't need a stair master here!), the cleanest water one could ever come across, more stairs, and this amazing view. After that it was all down hill from that. I guess that could be taken literally because the trail came to an end and found the bus waiting for us. Afterward we stopped at a research experiment location on the way home. It was just another piece of evidence how the reindeer have affected the vegetation dramatically. I guess I couldn’t believe it until I actually walked in the controlled environment.
Day 4 –Thursday
Today was a little less arduous. We had some lectures on the Northern lights (which was very informative on the myths and science of it) by Thomas Ulich and also more on the forest and forestry in Finland by Erkki. After lunch we got on the bus and drove by a small village, that was so small you could fit the whole population on a bus and stopped at a few of the Russian borders in the area. At the first border there was some sort of border lodge that travelers use to stay on their way across the border. It seems that there was once a time when places such as these were in abundance but now not so much. Most of them have been bought and renovated into homes since they sell for such a cheap price, which is smart if you like being isolated. At one of the borders there was a in your face kind of evidence of moose activity. Instead of clear cutting there was massive carnage to all young trees that left a whole area looking like some major disaster hit this one spot at the border. Who knew that animals could be so destructive? Of course man has done his part by chopping down tons and tons of trees just for the likelihood of money in their pocket or walls for their summer home. One such evidence of the use of trees for these summer homes is a sort of log cabin getaway that Leo took us. It had the usual sauna (but a more rustic kind) with a lake that one could jump in. How much more relaxing could you get. Though I don’t think I would want to stay there being how isolated it was. I don’t do isolation very well, unless I have tons and tons of people coming with me.
After this little trip along the border we came back to rest up for our trip home. This was a great experience but I was ready to go home. Maybe I will come back one day and walk the trail just to see if anything has changed. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010


So I head over to the grocery store.
          I got my list and
   My meager money :(
You know I should have expected it, but give me a break! This is the first time abroad for me. In fact, the first time I went to the grocery store I was in a such a daze. "I'm in Finland" just kept repeating in my brain. Good thing my kummi, student tutor, was there to help me out or I would have been standing at produce section trying to figure out how the system worked. I mean how was I suppose to know that I was suppose to weigh my lemons and get a sticky for them? In America we just put our produce in bags and the scanner at checkout has this sort of weighing scale that calculates what to charge. Though I kind of like the Finnish way since you know way ahead of time how much you are going to pay.

About the store.
    Let's just say it's like a mini Walmart. It has clothes, stuff for your home, stuff for fishing (?) and fixing things, makeup, bath and body supplies, and then finally food. The name of this lovely establishment is Tokmanni. You can get basically everything you need at this store and it's only a minor walk from the apartment and university. There is also this other bigger Walmart-like store called Prisma that is a good ways down the road. This one is actually nicer and you can find more American products (though very expensive: like why would I want to buy soda for what seems to be 5 American dollars? I rather drink water!). However, it seems everything whether Finnish, Swedish, American and so on is actually cheaper here. But if you know me well, I (of course) head to the closer store and pay a few cents more than walk in the cold to a nicer, cheaper store.

Now about the FOOD!
      So for those who love food with less preservatives, less amounts of sugar and fat, more varieties of bread (some literally taste kind of like they came out of oven fresh), tons and tons of alcohol, yogurt, meat and milk. Then Finland is the place to be. Oh and did I leave out seafood? I'm so sorry, but maybe it's just me and I never notice it in great quantities or maybe that's why there were fishing supplies at the store (?) I don't know.  
      Anyways, to live in Finland one must try the porridge. I know ewww, but it's not so bad when you put some fruit or jam and just stir it around. It can be very filling and make you feel very warm inside.
     My personal favorite is a tomato and cucumber sandwich. Since I am not sure about the meat market, I have been holding back on buying anything meat related unless it's clearly states it's from a cow or chicken. So the T and C sandwich has been my main meal here. I absolutely love it. It has swiss-like cheese (it's very big here, not a lot of cheddar going around), the usual tomato and cucumbers and buttered bread. Then after, I would have some peach yogurt and be content until tea time. Then out comes the cinnamon cookies. Can I just say yummmmm!
   That's another thing here. It's seems Finnish people are very into there coffee and tea here. I mean when you go to the restaurants (no school cafeterias here, they serve real food to students!) they give you a choice of milk, water or juice. No soda unless you want to pay extra. Then when on break there are so many places on campus where one can get coffee or tea. I guess one must keep warm with the constant winter days here.
    Salad and beets is also a big portion of the meals here. It seems the Finnish way of eating salads is to eat lettuce with A LOT of carrots and cucumbers. Their salad dressing is the BOMB though. In addition to salad in the Finnish addiction is fruit. At every meal or throughout the day it seems a lot of people are eating fruit and don't forget yogurt. I mentioned it earlier but I was talking about eating an American known brand rather that the usual Finnish brands. The Finnish brands taste kind of weird but I learned later there are no preservatives and very small amounts of sugar in it. Not tasty. It took me forever to figure out what I liked by trying everything available but I did and I am paying extra weekly for the taste.

   Now I can't end this without talking about the bread quantity. It might just be me since I'm American and never seen such a variety but at every meal there is bread and butter available. It's like there is a need to add as much carbs as possible to the daily diet. But don't get me wrong the bread here is way awesome. In other words once you go Finnish you can never go back. Maybe that's a good thing in comparison to the average American diet...but I don't think I would go so far as to acquire a taste for milk and add great portions of meat to every meal though I do love the bread.

I might just have to write another blog on food here because there is so much I left out. But from one bread lover to another I say goodbye until next time.

My trip to Oulanka Research Station will be next! Expect it in the coming week. :)