After a long, short travelled hitchhiking day, we found ourselves walking across the Swedish/Finnish border. It was not ideal to be walking but our previous driver had dropped us a kilometre before our new country began as they needed to shop (a common practice by Fins as certain products were cheaper in Sweden). Great, we thought, an even more expensive country! Slow traffic, an amazing amount of cameras and signs indicated we had crossed. A pull in bay, also littered by cameras was where we ate our 5pm lunch then held out a sign reading Oulu, a city 150km away. We had no plans for the nights accomodation and were simply hopeful to travel far south as we were unfortunately rushing through Finland.
It was a short wait before a tiny car driven by a large goateed Finnish guy picked us up. It took some advanced skill in Tetris to fit us and our backpacks in however level passed, we were on our way, talking easily with Jaakko. He lived in an apartment in Oulu with his dog and shortly into the trip after bringing up couchsurfing, he offered we could stay with him as he was a host! Blown away by his trust, and generosity, we happily agreed and an hour later was inside his efficiently arranged, one room (and bathroom) apartment, greeted by Gizmos his jack russell terrier. We felt instantly relaxed like at home, and while Jaakko was on his computer for most of the night, we went and explored the city.
The next morning we hoped to continue our endeavour south and Jaakko drove us 15km to where the highway heading our direction began. He was so extremely helpful, even giving us an unlimited data sim card for Finland and the Baltic countries being a great first impression to the kindness of Finn’s. As we waved goodbye we reminisced on the continuos generosity of which strangers has demonstrated to us. Another short wait and we were picked up by a lady heading 100km along the road. She expressed her empathy for hitchhikers as her son had currently been away doing a similar adventure. The hour flew by and we were dropped at a service station seemingly deep in the Finnish woods, still on the correct highway. We used an oversized turning lane for a hitching location and before 20minutes past another car pulled over. We were told it was easier to hitchhike in Finland and so far it has lived up to that description!
A sleeping hungover wife, Marketta was forced by her husband Ville out of the back seat making room for us two scraggly Australian hitchhikers. They were travelling to the very south of Finland to a best friends wedding, offering happily to drive us towards our destination. We talked freely and conversation as always came easily. Ville shared a strong passion for life, being driven by goodness and we were able to connect on many topics. It was an astonishing 400km hitch and was easily one of our most memorable to date! Thank you Ville and Marketta for continuing Finland’s good hearted friendly nature! We waved goodbye and was dropped off the highway on a smaller road heading into the forest. Our desired destination today was Repovesi National Park.
A bus stop where we were dropped offered the perfection location to thumb. Although passing cars were scarce, we counted 4 cars before and young 20 year old guy on his way to a horse race event picked us up and dropped us 30km to another road junction. This national park was easily our most indirect destination as there was still three road changes to reach it. We then, had to discover where we would sleep the night, as a single photograph of a suspension bridge was what drew us to in this direction. Standing again at a bus stop we thumbed, no sign, in doubt as traffic was less frequent but in 10 minutes another car stopped. A slightly older man got out of the car and our first worried hitchhiking experience began.
In poor english the man asked where we were going. We tried to explain the national park and seeming inpatient, he said ok and ordered us to put our bags in the boot. He told us he needed to call his wife, to which we waited to see if it was okay and once hanging up he angrily pointed for our bags to go in the boot. We were hesitant, stating it is okay if he does not want to take us but he continued gesturing. With the bags and ourselves inside, he drove down the road in silence, giving very short answers until he asked if we would like to “see something”. We asked what it was and he simply replied an old factory. Alarms in our heads began as all the telltale signs of bad movies danced. I was hesitant with an answer, trying to get more information but when he turned off the road we had needed to follow, it seemed we were going anyway. We continuously shot questions at him, getting poor answers until we arrived at a small village where he lived. Driving past an old paper mill factory he became more happy and we felt beyond stupid in our prejudiced ill impression of a friendly man. The rest of the drive was more pleasant and he voiced he was happy to practice his english. He drove us to the carpark where we needed to begin our hike, 20km out of his way, and as we shook hands and said goodbye, we were once again confirmed in the kindness of humanity.
Walking to a large wooden park map, we discovered the bridge we were looking for was only 2kms into the park. We had planned for an unknown night and had all our provision to survive so we set off. It was 4pm and we had plenty of time. The walk took us gently along a large lake, tall pines looming over head while their fallen needles were entwined by moss and other lichen flora. We felt lost as if in a far away fantasy world where one might glimpse a gnome hiding behind a rock. That feeling was slightly eroded once we saw the bridge. A small cue of people stood on the rock waiting to cross and take pictures. On the opposite side we saw some small forest shelters with designated cages for fires and some hammocks and tents. It was still quite picturesque, residing beside the lake and half hidden amongst the tall pines. We waited for the cue to vanish then crossed and looked for a place to call home.
On the other side were dozens of flat areas hidden among the pines where previous tents had sat. We chose our spot, only neighbour to a distant two tents and quickly set up. Surrounding us the was continuous blueberry bushes, consuming the entire undergrowth of which we saw. With our tent set up we decided to pick some blueberries and in the space of 15minutes both had a small plastic bag half full! There were millions of them! We cooked our dinner beside the bridge and once finished, the sun began setting and we took photos before crawling into our tent.The next morning we wished we could spend more time exploring the magical woods of Repovesi National Park however had a couchsurfer planned 50km away in a town named Kouvola. Our musli was filled with blueberries from the previous days efforts and while we set off on the hilly 5km walk towards the main road, the weather was increasingly warm. Along the way we found endless raspberry bushes and our pace slowed as we began picking berries once again. We still had two handfuls left of blueberries and almost filled the bag again with raspberries. It would have seemed easy to live off the land here!
With sweat drenched clothes, the 5km in continuous hot sunlight felt like 10 before we stood on a road with some traffic. Being so deep in the forest cars were again extremely scarce but the third passing picked us up. A young guy driving to a bigger town for a pharmacy, 35km away, offered to drive us there. We happily agreed and once dropped at a supermarket walked a further 5km to its outskirts and 10km away from Kouvola. It seemed now our Finnish hitchhiking luck was running out as it was a 45 minute wait before a Russian mother and her daughter dropped us into town. A short walk found ourselves at our couchsurfers Kaisa apartment, and we were politely greeted at the door.
The rest of the night consisted of going to a nearby super market, cooking large sums of nachos and talking easily with our friendly host Kaisa. She was kind to give up her bed for us and was a very relaxed easy going person to chat with. Close to midnight we fell quiet and sleep stole us into unconsciousness. The next morning a 1.5€ packet of instant pancake mixture and 1€ vanilla ice-cream combined with wild picked berries made our best breakfast yet. It sure was a nice change from our apple and musli! Saying goodbye we walked to the outskirts of town where we began our hitch into the complicated highway systems of the capital city Helsinki. Our mission was to make it to a campsite 10km from the centre as finding a couchsurfer had proved impossible. Shortly after outstretching our thumbs and holding a Helsinki sign, a car pulled into our bus stop and our first highly moving experience for the day began.
A middle eastern family, husband, wife and 1year old daughter, pulled over and kindly asked if we were paying for the lift. We replied we have little money and after a silent pause and the two of us insisting they do not need to take us, the man driving said okay and enthusiastically rearranged his full boot to fit our bags. Introducing ourselves, Khosti the husband and his wife were from Afghanistan, having left 4 years ago due to the uneasiness of the previous years of war. He had come to Finland to study, create a better life for his family, and one day return home to Afghanistan and help make it a peaceful place. In his mind he now had two home countries and talked passionately about both. To the core he was a hard working good person, only wanting the best for humanity and we talked effortlessly about difference cultures and the kindness of which the world possesses. He was driving to a friends in Helsinki and dropped us at the highway intersection where our campsite was only 15kms away. We walked to find a safe hitchhiking place, both agreeing more people like Khosti need to be recognised and portray to the world. At our roots, we are all the same, good natured beings.
We only needed to travel 10km however our next lift, an hour later, was equally as impacting. Two brothers, both from Iran were who pulled over. They had a similar story, fleeing their home country and leaving most family behind. They briefly told us of the devastating condition of which the war brought upon people and how their life is so much better now that they have each other together safe. The youngest brother was studying economics and the older, who served in the Iranian military previous told us; “The islamic state threatened to kill my wife and children, i had no choice to leave, so now that we have had been through so much, we like to help everyone, so we picked you up”. They dropped us at our campground, happy to drive a further 10km and politely wished us the best of luck. That night we simply walked into the campground, past reception and cooked dinner before easily falling asleep.
The next day was our last in Scandinavia and although we felt much too rushed through Finland, we had a eagerness to find different cultures and experiences. We caught a metro into Helsinki, leaving very early as we had only the day to explore the city. Once in, we felt out of place. To be surrounded by large skyscrapers, lost in the tangle of busy bodies doing their daily errands was overwhelming. We Quickly escaped to a park and explored the quieter urban area where, still large apartments, stood out painted in bright colours and mopeds bikes lined the footpaths. Later in the evening we made our way to the harbours where we had, thanks to our previous couchsurfer Kaisa (she had booked it as everything was in Finnish) booked a 28€ overnight cabin cruise to Tallinn, Estonia. Although being 8€ over budget we had spent little money the previous 4 days and could easily afford it. Walking on board was like stepping back into our old travel frame of mind. The only difference was in the past, we may have had hundreds on dollars in our wallet to buy drinks, dinner and entertainment. We now had made sandwiches.. We knew which option we preferred though!
Scandinavia you have been amazing! Beyond kind people, unmatched nature and moving experiences. We would like to thank everyone who made this adventures as fulfilling as it was! 🙂
Now, it’s time for Eastern Europe.
(43km walked, 907km hitchhiked)