As we approached the campsite last night, we passed a sign pointing even deeper into the forest, towards “Japanitalo“. With our limited Finnish knowledge we already knew this is not something like a dealership of Japanese and Italian cars, but a “Japanese House”. This, naturally, piqued our curiosity. This part of Finland already looked a lot like rural Japan, complete with half-abandoned accommodations run by single elderly people… so we drove another few miles down an unsealed road. The house was closed that day, but from the outside it looked indeed very Japanese, surrounded by a soothing garden in several styles, with zen stones and a trickling stream. A brochure we found later explained that this was, in fact, the northernmost Japanese house in the world, and the northernmost place to experience Japanese culture like tea ceremony or Zen meditation.
Being this near Arctic, we’ve passed a lot of these “northernmost” places, including the northernmost pottery factory and a novelty coffee cup museum in Posio. We turned right just before Kuusamo, to visit Ruka. Finland being mostly very, very flat, it is not as keen on winter sports as its neighbours (except jumping), so any “mountain” (Rukatunturi is less than 500m tall) is turned into a massive ski resort.
As we were leaving the Japanese house, we were stumped by an appearance of a strange deer-like animal on the road. It vanished before we could tell what it was, but pretty soon, as we approached Kuusamo, we stumbled on another one, and then still more – there was now no doubt: these were reindeer. We were in reindeer pastures; all animals had tagged collars, and were not in the least bit perturbed by the cars which had to stop to let them pass. By the time we left the pasture area, we’ve seen dozens of reindeer, and the novelty wore off, replaced by the worry that our brakes might one time prove not up to the job…
After a night at another nearly-empty lakeside camping, we entered Karelia – the land of Finnish bards, poems and songs, Finland’s most celebrated area. The landscape changed little – the woods grew a little wilder, the marshes a little boggier; but the houses grew a lot prettier, decorated with intricate details in painted wood. In Kuhmo, we stopped to visit the Kalevala centre: a modern building constructed using old Karelian methods. Kalevala is Finland’s national myth, an epic tale comparable with Illiad and Odyssey, painstakingly gathered in 19th century from songs sung by old bards in Karelian villages hidden in the deep woods.
Far from abating, the heat wave is rising, so we stop for the night simply on the beach in Nurmes, spending the rest of the day in the cool (though not very) waters of the beautiful Lake Pielinen. We began to make use of the electricity poles which in Finland stand on virtually every parking; we were yet to discover their true intended use, but they served well to power our tiny fridge, struggling valiantly with the heat.