Scandinavia Summer 2008 travel blog

Polar Bears Romping

Paul going to enjoy the Bothnian Sea

Third day feeling like a kid again? Why not! A visit to a zoo and then swimming in a sea sure can make you feel childlike!

An hour south from Rovaniemi is the small town of Ranua with its only claim to fame, an arctic animal wildlife habitat. Other than that, it consists of two gas stations, a small convenience store/souvenir shop and a few houses. The zoo in this town, however, was well worth the visit. The park exhibits all of the animals one finds north of the arctic circle, including the moose (which we have yet to see in the wild...despite the promises by brochures and roadsigns) and polar bears. The zoo's ad read that there are “up to nearly 200 satisfied animal-individuals living in the wilderness-like natural circumstances under the care of animal professionals.” How can we miss seeing that?

The layout of the zoo consisted of wooden walkways looping around the various categories of animals. The entire trek is only 2.5 kilometers, but the way it is set up, you feel like you have traversed a lot more.

The first area dealt with the small mammals. Here were we are able to check out the mink (as in mink coat). He looks very soft. We had a hard time imagining using him for coats since he was such a cute little guy. The other critters in this part were more elusive. We did not see any of them, except the house mice and the voles. The rest were probably keeping cool in the unusually warm weather. There was a beaver sleeping on his tail, and the river otter was having a great time gliding through the water in his nicely set up enclosure.

The next area was the bird habitat. Neither one of us are much into birds, but we were delighted that we actually saw every bird that was supposed to be there. We were, however, truly impressed by the large owls (especially the Arctic and Snow Owls) as well as the Golden Eagle. There were also some rather large Ravens and a bird called Capercaillie (looked like a really, really big, black chicken) that used to be caught and eaten by the Sami.

The next exhibit past the wild boars (yummy!) was our true favorite: the polar bears. There were two enclosures, one had an older male polar bear who basically just stood there, while the other one had two young cubs who were having a grand old time playing with their large blue ball in the water. They would body slam into it or just hold on tightly to the ball and roll with it. A crowd gathered and the cubs became curious. They regularly stretched out their necks and looked at us or smelled the air. We soon figured out why the crowd grew in numbers: feeding time!

A zoo keeper arrived with apples (as appetizer), large chunks of frozen salmon (main course), and carrots (dessert). As he tossed them throughout the enclosure, the crowd oo-ed, ahh-ed, and giggled with glee as we watched the siblings chase the food and jump for it into the water. (Although they were cubs, they were standing taller than I am, by the way.) When they received the salmon, they would chew it and look at us as if bragging about the delicacy they received. We spent a significant amount of time watching the young polar bears frolic around their habitat, who were much more lively than their old man next door!

Eventually we moved on to the brown bears who dwarfed in comparison and then the wolf enclosure. Since we have seen wolves up close at the husky park, we were not as excited as the other visitors, but still appreciated their regal demeanor as they wandered around their territory. The lynx was sleeping lazily under a bush, but the wolverines were having a great time chasing their shadows and entertaining us onlookers. Strange creatures wolverines. Their feet are too big for their bodies (to be able to move swiftly across snow) and their faces look bear-like. Yet, they seem so cuddly despite being ferocious little critters.

The Arctic fox was also sleeping, while the red fox was busy grooming himself. We casually passed the reindeer and fallow deer on the way to the moose habitat. As mentioned before, there are road signs all over warning drivers to watch out for moose and brochures tell you to keep an eye out for them. We were hoping to actually see one of them in the wild, but to no avail. Unfortunately, finally seeing them at the zoo was very anti-climactic. They laid way on the other end of the enclosure. Even their antlers were barely visible. I used the zoom on the camera to get a closer look, but not much luck with that. Maybe some other time.

The final part of the path led us past the diminutive musk ox. A strange looking mountain goat/ox mix-looking animal, named thus because of their smell exuded when alluring the ladies of their species.

We enjoyed wandering through the zoo and learning more about all the animal inhabitants of Finland. It was also fun to watch the families with children truly experience all the attractions the zoo offers. Scandinavia is very children-focused throughout their countries and many of their attractions make it easy to bring children along. One surprising item, however, was the lack of a petting zoo, which seems to be a standard at home. Nevertheless, the kids had a great time.

Content with our visit, we continued driving southwest to a city called Oulu. It is a large city of over 120,000 people right on the coast of the Bothnian Sea. Although it was earlier in the day than our usual time for calling it a day at campsite, we were tired of the drive and felt like taking advantage of the sunny weather to sit on the beach.

We found the Nallikari campgrounds and checked in. Interestingly, the ENTIRE city of Oulu (including the campgrounds and beach areas) are set up with free wireless internet. So, one can sit anywhere in the city and use the internet as much as one wants. Many establishments also have computers set up for people to use for free, but with a time limit.

After pitching our tent we headed down to the beach. The sun was still pretty high in the sky so we figured we could get in a couple of hours of rays. We finally learned that around here you must take advantage of the sun when you can. We are glad we did, for now it is raining heavily as we are sitting in the common area of the campgrounds. However, just as quick as the rain comes, it also moves on.

The beach was filled with people enjoying the sun, sand, and small surf. We found a spot near the water where Stephanie read and I took a nice, long nap. I was, unfortunately, suddenly torn out of my comfy sleep, by the screams of teenage girls being carried to be thrown into the water by their male friends. I forget how loud teenagers can get sometimes.

Since I was up and Stephanie was deep in her book, I dared to tread into the water of the sea. At the campground office a sign read that the water temp today was 16 degrees (about 64 Fahrenheit). I began the walk in and kept going and going before the water barely reached my knees. Once again a shallow shore. I finally took the plunge and after a quick shock to the body, the water felt very refreshing. I splishy-splashed around a little and now can claim that I have taken a swim in the northern Sea of Bothnia! Stephanie did walk into the water up to her calves as well, but he water was not quite the right temperature for her. The frigid waters did not bother the kids, however, who played in it as if it was a giant, warm bathtub.

Suddenly thunder rolled in the distance and large, ominous clouds loomed on the western horizon. Having learned our lesson at Lake Siljan, we grabbed our things and headed back to camp. Just as we arrived, it began to drizzle. Crackers and cheese were had under the hatch door of the Volvo. Then it cleared a little while we had dinner. Then it began to pour! So, we went over to the common room with a bag of all-sorts licorice for the evening, wrote this blog and watched the sport of Orienteering on TV with the Finns. Apparently that is a national pastime here.

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