Getting on a bus at 3.45 in the morning is not much fun. Especially, if it’s on a monday morning. And to make it worse, the next 16 hours would be spent on said bus. But that’s what happens when around 45 exchange students pack their things and go on a trip to Lapland. And with a lot of stops in between to pick up people the trip didn’t seem that long. Overall it was the best week I had in a long time! So here we go!
My day started at 2. 45 in the morning. That’s usually the time I go to sleep, not wake up. Barely conscious I somehow managed to drag my luggage to the cab that was outside waiting for me. Arriving in Helsinki, most of us were still halfway asleep. Except for our Dutch girl, Lou. She was as surprisingly awake, considering the fact that she didn’t sleep at all. At first we tried to get some sleep as long it was still dark outside, but when the bus stops what felt like every ten minutes and the lights turn on every time, you won’t get much rest. All in all the bus ride was quite dull, except for the evening where we had about half an hour to meet Santa. Apparently, the middle of march still counts as Christmas time in Finland. But who am I to complain. Christmas is great.
Our first proper day in Luppo. Breakfast at 9.30am so we could leave as early as possible. From 10am to 4pm we we’re at the skiing area but not everybody went skiing. Some of us went crosscountry skiing and my group went hiking. Five hours of hiking are fairly exhausting, especially if it is windy. And let me tell you something. Walking up the top part of a red slope is even less fun. But once we reached the top of the hill, hot chocolate and waffles were waiting for us. Upon arriving back to Luppo we had dinner and went to Sauna and that was it. We hung out in the basement where we had a stereo and a small bar but around twelve most of us were so tired we went to sleep.
Wednesday started early. The bus left at 8.30 so we got up around 6am. The excitement was huge since we were going to visit a husky farm first and later a reindeer farm.
The husky farm
Arriving at the farm we had to split up into pairs since we were immediately going to ride the husky sleds. Everyone was chatting about how this was on their bucket lists and how people back home would react to this awesome experience. As it was our turn, me and Lou couldn’t stop smiling. It was such a unique feeling – straight out of a movie. By the time everyone had taken their turn we went to where the dogs were kept. Some of them looked nothing like huskies and some looked like actual wolves but they all had one thing in common. Being incredibly cute. We even saw a dog that had two eyecolours in one eye. The left half was blue whereas the right half was brown. We even saw puppies. They were born on Valentine’s day and it was only the second day of them crawling out of their box.
The reindeer farm
As if the husky farm wasn’t exciting enough, we also went to go on a reindeer sled tour. What we found out was that reindeer aren’t the brightest animals. Actually, they’re quite dumb. Most of us almost crashed with their sleds or ran into a tree because the reindeer simply wouldn’t care about anything except for getting back to where the food was. We then got to feed the other reindeer and had lunch. It kinda tasted ’like barn’ as my friend described it. Afterwards we saw a presentation about people living with the reindeer in Lapland and learned about their culture.
After that we went sledding on a nearby hill. It was quite funny to see a bunch of 17 year olds roll down a hill because they lost their sleds. Some even drove into fences or snow hills but nobody got seriously hurt except for the occassional bruise on your butt. Me and Alexa for example took quite the jump as we didn’t see a bump on the ground. Losing your sled in the middle of the air is not that bad, even though the landing was a little painful.
This was the day almost everybody went skiing. And also the day we found out that getting up in the middle of a forest is a fairly big challenge. Sadly, it was a very windy day and the lift going up to the top of the hill was closed. But we still had a lot of fun racing down with people who have never skiied before. (He still won every single race!) After a small lunch which consisted of chocolate and ice cream we continued skiing. In the evening we visited the Northern Lights centre near Sodankylä. A few of us had seen very faint northern lights in the night before but most of us had never seen them.
Our last day in Lapland. Me and Amy went hiking together for about 15 km. Somewhere along the way we found a small cabin where we attempted to make a fire – and failed miserably. We still had lunch and talked to two ladies that also had found their way to the cabin. Continuing our walk we we met a guy with three very adorable dogs; one of them happend to have the same name as I have.
It turned out that hiking in finnish forests is a real challenge when you get stuck in snow up to your thighs with every step you take. But in the end, this was probably my favorite activity of the week.
In the evening we went to go ice swimming in a nearby lake. Those of us who had done it before just stepped into the ice cold water, dipped in and came out again. And then went in a few more times. But those who had never done it before were a whole different story. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a high pitched scream before. But it was definitely a great experience for the around 40 of us that actually went there.
After dinner and packing our things we all had a small party in the basements where we played games, danced and just had fun. But around midnight we had a very special party crasher – Northern Lights! Lasting for about half an hour we even saw the active, dancing lights and smaller, black arcs in between. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this moment. Even the volunteers, who had lived in Finland their whole lives, got incredibly excited to see this nature phenomenon.
Lucky for us, the bus left at 8am so we actually had the chance to sleep a little. Most of the bus ride was spent reading, talking or listening to music. Lunch consisted of ice cream again. On our way back we visited the Snow Castle in Kemi, a breathtaking sight. The intricate details in the snow and the beautifully carved ice sculptures were absolutely magnificent. Even though we only had about half an hour to explore the whole castle, it was a great time. The last few hours of the bus ride were especially nice because only about 15 of us were left and we talked a lot about our home countries, how it is to grow up in different countries and about history and politics in those countries.
When former exchange students told me that this trip would be the highlight of my exchange, I just smiled and thought ’what could they possibly know about MY exchange?’. But in retrospect, they were completely right. It was the highlight of my year. Four days full of things I had on my bucket list, four days full of laughter and joy, four days of being together with others. Four days of happiness. If anyone asks me where they should travel to next – it’s Lapland. A hidden paradise far up north.