It started as a twitter chat, as many of Juno Kim’s (the voice behind RunawayJuno.com) adventures do. “You should come up to see the northern lights with us.” The tweet read.
Any opportunity to see the northern lights and Juno will be there, lugging her 20 kilos of photo gear behind her. But now we were sitting at our work desks, in a far less glamorous local, behind our laptop screens. She looked up at me. “Is there any way we can go?”
I typed ‘Utsjoki’, a village even a geography buff could be excused for not knowing, into Google maps. “Woah!” I shout out loud. ” That’s really far up there!”
Utsjoki is really far up there, and it is remote. But to Uisjoki’s 1,200 residents this is home, and they have mostly everything they need here. The one important exception being a hospital. “When I was pregnant, I had to go down to Rovaniemi to have the baby. That’s six hours from here” Tiina tells us.
Tiina is from southern Finland, near Turku. “Well how did you end up here?” We both ask in unison. “Like all stories. For love”
When you fall in love with a reindeer herder, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to end up wherever the herd is. You can’t exactly move a reindeer herd 1,000 km south. When she made the decision to join her partner up here in the north of Lapland, her father told her, “I’ll drive you up there (22 hour drive), but when you decide to move back home, you’re on your own.”
Ten years and two children later, she’s content calling Utsjoki her home.
This is reindeer country. The traditional Sami (indigenous people inhabiting the Arctic area of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia) economy revolves around herding this circumpolar deer species and fishing for salmon. The Salmon run also drives the tourism industry around here in the summer. In winter it’s all about the northern lights, dog mushing, snowshoeing, and other winter fun.
That’s the reason we’ve come. Tiina has just started her own tourism company. For the past few years she’s been hosting guests in her four cottages (decked out with their own kitchens and saunas!). But this winter she’s gone the final step, taking her guests out to chase the (not so elusive around here) northern lights in Lapland as well as the natural and cultural highlights of Utsjoki and the Sami.
Tiina’s Lapland experiences go a little something like this: Stay in beautiful cabins for five nights, go out and chase after the northern lights for three of the evenings, and poke around the village of Utsjoki one afternoon. Maybe get to taste some reindeer meat and see some random wildlife along the roadside. Extras include snowshoeing, a Sami dinner and cultural experience, and a dog mushing trip.
Your chances of seeing the northern lights are better here, due to the northerly location. Viewing locations further south are not as consistent. So I hope to show you some great photos of the northern lights in the coming days!