The midnight flight to Oulu was on time and we arrived at 1 am. The first surprise was that it was actually dark. It was not supposed to go dark here. As we walked down the steps to the tarmac there was a light drizzle and the ground was very wet, but it was very light rain and certainly not a problem walking to the terminal.
The rest of the group comprised a couple from Norfolk, Andy and Sarah, Gretal, an Aussie, now from Devon and Peter from Derbyshire. The other two we still had to meet. Peter was the unlucky one. His bag did not arrive! We did what we could to console him, but he was convinced his holiday was ruined.
Our guide was waiting outside the baggage hall and the bus was waiting outside, complete with Nick and Alix, the other two people. They had managed to get on the six o'clock flight, but they wished they had been with us. At least, in Helsinki, we got a meal. In Oulu airport, there were no facilities and they had been sitting waiting in the bus all that time, starving hungry.
Finally we were on the road. It was supposed to be daylight for this part of the journey and I had been looking forward to seeing the Finnish countryside. Apparently, it was darker than usual because of the rain and cloud, but it didn't make much difference. I was soon asleep.
I was awakened to the sound of "Moose! Moose on the road ahead!" at something after five (I had been aware of daylight for a couple of hours by then) and a couple of minutes later we pulled into the lodge. What a beautiful place! But there would be time to look at it properly later.
Breakfast was to be at 8am (available until nine) and we all agreed to defer making the decision about the scheduled bird watching trip until after that time. I was awakened at 9am by the guide, making sure that we weren't missing breakfast by design. All of us had overslept and they let us eat breakfast after nine.
We met our naturalist, Mika, and left on the bird trip at 10 am. Finland does not have as many birds as I expected, but the countryside was beautiful and we saw reindeer. The lodge, Martinselkonen Wilderness Centre, is located at a place called Suomussalmi, just a few kilometers to the west of the Russian border and just south of the Arctic Circle. The weather was beautiful, warm and sunny with blue skies.
We returned to the lodge at 1 pm to be met by one of the staff with Peter's bag. Now everyone was happy!
After coffee and pastries, I had a little time before the 3 o'clock lunch to explore the grounds. There is a nice little lake, lovely woodland and many mosquitoes. Thank goodness for my tropical strength repellent! I saw and photographed plenty birds during the next hour at the bird table in the trees, woodpeckers, blue jays, lots of little yellow ones and also red squirrels.
Lunch was excellent with reindeer stew, veggies and a very unusual cloudberry dessert, after which it was time to get our gear ready for the trip into the forest. We drove for about 5 km, parked the vehicle and walked the last 2 km into the forest in the direction of Russia. The idea was to talk a little en-route, so that any bears in the area would hear us coming and move out of the way.
The last few metres, to the hide, were uphill and as we arrived, Mika pointed out movement in the trees on the other side of the clearing. We went straight inside and picked our seats and even before there was time to get out any gear, bears had started to appear in the clearing. Within minutes, there were about twenty bears and it was amazing to think that we had been out there just minutes earlier.
What a wonderful experience! To be so close to 20 wild European brown bears, which are now extinct in most of the continent! As with all animals, the babies were irresistible. The cubs ranged from a few months old "only child" to two year old triplets. Mika was a mine of information, but it was easy figure out hierarchies and rivalries etc. It was totally fascinating!
By 10.30 pm, the light was getting a bit low for photography and after so little sleep last night, the bunks looked very tempting. At that same time the bears started to drift away, one by one. And within minutes, everything was quiet, both inside and outside the hide.