My best Arctic trips, Part 2

So, there I was, driving and driving, more than 1,000 kilometres, watching out for reindeer as I took the long road north. I was in a strange state of mind during that summer of 2006.

I was grieving and was happiest alone when I could feel happy or sad or nothing at all. So my road trip to the Arctic Ocean off the top of Norway was a perfect voyage of recovery.

I arrived in Kirkenes to stay at this hotel which my friend had reserved for me. The room was small and dark and I was happy to have a window to open.

In Canada’s eastern Arctic, I couldn’t have driven to a place like Kirkenes, Norway, and even today that wouldn’t be possible due to the lack of roads. But Kirkenes, with a population of about 3,600, was then—and is now—a town built and maintained by transportation.

See the Russian sign on my hotel? One in 10 people in Kirkenes were Russian, I learned. That, too, was due to from transportation.

And the Russians also came to spend millions of dollars on shopping sprees in Kirkenes, while Norwegians travelled to Russia, where they shopped for cheaper gas, booze and food, and received better medical care than at home.

Up to 800 Russian fishing vessels also visited the port in the centre of town every year. Sailors poured out into the streets, which mostly had Russian names.

Coastal ferry boats also brought passengers up from southern Norway to Kirkenes, and they came up on bargain flights from Oslo, which is as far away as Montreal from Kuujjuaq—for less than $100 each way.

Or you could even drive all the way to Kirkenes, as I did, watching the scenery change from lush fields and forests to tundra.

Good transportation meant Kirkenes had a bright future in 2006. But its prosperity came from the ashes: in 1944, during the Second World War, Kirkenes burned to the ground. Then, through the 1960s, it thrived, mainly through its giant iron mine, which brought in 1,200 workers. Kirkenes had paved roads before any other community in the Norwegian Arctic as well as a swimming pool, a hospital and an airport.

Before that, the region of Kirkenes was a centre for the eastern Saami who called it “Akkalanjarga.” But the Saami traditional lands were broken up by the setting of the border between Norway, Russia and Finland, then by the development of the iron mine and all the people who came into the region…

The main street of Kirkenes: all ready for the partiers who would arrive later that day. It was in the 20Cs: every seat filled.

So I walked around town, visiting the Barents Secretariat, talking to a big fishing company owner and to a guy who worked at a corner store, for a Nunatsiaq News story that I would call, “Like Nunavut, with roads.”

I was feeling sociable because no one knew me enough to ask the questions I didn’t feel like answering, like “how are you?”

Throughout the day, I heard more Russian than Norwegian, and, although I was less than a hour from Russian border, I couldn’t cross to the Kola Peninsula and head to Murmansk. I would have had to send my passport to the Russian Embassy in Canada weeks before for a visa.

On my second evening in Kirkenes I sat at one of the outdoor patio bars with a Saami friend who had come to meet there. And the next day we headed off to the home of her parents by the Tana River which Saami call Deatnu.

I’ll let my photos speak for me here…you know. Some good times in the midnight sun, with lots of cloudberries (akpiq in Inuktitut, lakka in Finnish) and salmon, you want to keep for yourself.

The Tana River

And then I continued my drive….

The road I didn’t go down.
And I couldn’t drive fast.
And there were more reindeer.
I hit the coast and had to invent a selfie by these rocks.

And I kept on driving down the coast to a place called Havøysund with its Arctic wind park….

To be continued…

Miss Part 1? It’s here.

Or if you are interested in the links between Inuktitut, Saami and Finnish, here’s my take on it.