Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Travelling camp, Finland and Lapland- Summer 2003

My volunteer project in Finland was split into two parts, the first week in a small town called Nivala and the second week hiking in Lapland. The other volunteers came from all over Europe and within a surprisingly short space of time we had all got to know one another and made good friends. There was always a good atmosphere in the camp which made the experience really enjoyable.

Our task in the first week was to repaint one of the buildings that belonged to the Nivalan Museo. This involved scratching the old paint off with wire brushes and painting on a new coat according to a traditional Finnish method. The working hours were not too demanding, allowing us to do a wide range of activities after work.

For the locals, the arrival of 12 young foreigners was very strange and we attracted attention wherever we went! We competed in a rowing competition on the lake (we came last but were awarded a bonus trophy for effort), watched a Finnish baseball match, explored the local nightspots (all two of them!) and, best of all, experienced a traditional Finnish smoke-sauna followed by a swim in the river!

Having never done a volunteer project before, I didn’t know what to expect of our accommodation but a youth hostel complete with kitchen, TV, radio and electric sauna suited very well indeed. Food was cooked each day by a team of three and throughout the project we were treated to a wide variety of European cuisine, all of which was surprisingly comfortable but, in truth, the first week was just preparation for our amazing trip to Lapland.

We hiked along the banks of the Ivalo river in northern Lapland. This really was a wilderness experience – the only other people we saw were lonely gold prospectors! This region of Finland is well known for its beautiful scenery, thousands of reindeer and of course Santa Claus! But it is also a gold mining area, with many thousands of Finns trying their luck at panning or sluicing each year. Our task was to clear up any rubbish left by the less considerate gold prospectors as we progressed.

Carrying our week’s supply of equipment meant that our equipment our backpacks certainly weren’t light and I was thankful for my good pair of boots.

Each night we stayed in wilderness huts or tents and spent our evenings around the campfire. There were no hot showers here- washing oneself was done in the river and the water was cold but definitely invigorating! One of the strangest things about the experience was the incredible 24 hour sun.

The best part of the work camp was definitely the people. The project would have been nothing without the great leaders and volunteers that I was privileged to meet on the camp. And the worst part? I’m afraid that came at the very end of the fortnight and that was going home!

Andy Hancock, Finland and Lapland.

Click here for a country profile of Finland

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