2016. During the two brightest week of the summer there was enough light to paddle through the nights. I borrowed a friends kayak and packed all the essentials for a kayaking trip around Lake Saimaa. 21 days of paddling through the midsummer nights in Finland was a challenging experience. Quite often the lake was calm and quiet. Other times the winds and waves kept me on constant alert.
To explore and see the lake and to get strength from it.
To loose oneself into the nightless night and marvel it’s mornings
Why paddle through days if the nights are cooler, calmer and more quiet?
Few cameras and pens so I can remember the calm and the rush won’t take over.
Summer here is short but it’s not yet Juhannus (mid summer). There is time.
Yesterday I paddled for the first time with a kayak and already today I wanted to start heading north. I guess I should first find a map. Then again, it’s a lake so there are only dead ends. Every shore has an opposite so worries be gone.
Today I could practice falling with a wetsuit and tomorrow some more paddling. By the end of the weekend all preparations should be done. Then only the decision to go remains.
Decisions can be prolonged so it’s nicer to just go. Perfect moment does not exist.
Now I’ll go and try how long it takes to make coffee with a camp cooker.
15.6 Morning kayaking and eskimo turns
I woke up earlier than usually noticing the lake was mirror calm. I filled the thermos with strong dose of chaga mushroom tea and did a trip around Mustasaari. I tried not to strain my body too much. From past hobbies I remember not to push it too much at the start of something new.
The plan was still to paddle around Lake Saimaa. I had some friends in Kuopio who I hadn’t seen in ages. Say hi to them and come back. It should take at least few weeks.
This evening I practiced falling and getting back up while still sitting inside the kayak. It didn’t really work out. Luckily I had a wetsuit because the water was still cold and after several failed attempts I gave up.
As I was warming up I watched some youtube videos how to do the turn back up. Tomorrow I’ll try again.
16.6. Lists and practice
Writing down a shopping list for the trip felt repulsive. Perhaps a watertight bag for camera was worth the euros. Previous bags had lasted 7 years of traveling.
Strong wind from the east was creating foamy waves on the open lake. As soon as I had finished up cleaning I would test the kayak on stormy conditions. Perfect!
The storm held and the empty kayak didn’t flip. Next to the shore I practiced more falling. No way! Impossible? Have to ask people with more experience.
17.6 Seven year cycles
In radio man talkes about seven year cycles. Sometimes the cycles last longer and sometimes less. Seven years ago I started buying one way ticket that would unintentionally turn into a habit.
Mosquitos flying inside the house remind me of freedom to choose. Intentions turn into actions and the faith of the mosquito depended on the force that closed around it. Today that fist sees no path, occasionally closing into a trap without any hope for the mosquito to survive.
Soon this warm shelter would stay behind. Traveling through nature with a kayak and a hammock would turn killing mosquitos pointless.
4 days pass with more preparing.
22.6.2016 Camping close to Liittokivi
The night had been a new experience. A friend had borrowed his kayak. I had taken it for a cruise with midnight sun to Lake Saimaa. It´s the biggest lake in Finland and full on nature. It´s also filled with summer cottages, saunas, and silence.
Last nights scenery wasn’t anything new, yet. But the combination of birds, colors of the sky and water made it quite exciting.
I had flipped the kayak while practicing an eskimo turn. I never made it. Not even sure how to do it. The water is about 16 degrees celsius and all my camera gear is with me in the sitting space. I don’t really want to flip this silently sliding magic bullet.
My breakfast fire is only smoking. Need to act.
Gear for next trip:
+ Rubber boots
+ Thicker / warmer sleeping bag
– hiking shoes
Idyllic cafeteria at the harbor of Puumala has electricity. The coffee is good with a hint of cacao. The batteries are charging. It looks like it might rain.
It´s early midday, the town is full of people and the weather is still warm and sunny. It´s midsummer week and everyone seems to be preparing for the weekend. This weekend will be the liveliest, most hectic and all the other superlatives you want to cram into one long holiday weekend when everyone wants to relax. Most of Finland will head out of the cities, get drunk and burn huge bon fires. Or maybe that was in the past.
Last night I spend on a popular camping ground, Rokansaari, few hours south From Puumala. I arrived there late at night and met a young family at fireplace for cooking. They told me I could crash at their floating Sauna once I was in Savonlinna.’
24.6 Camping at Ruunasaari
From Puumala I started heading towards Savonlinna. The rain kept falling and few exciting moments were experienced during a crossing of an open face of the lake. Several kilometers of accumulated wind across the lake rocked the kayak.
I had to take a pee break next to a ferry called ’Nestori’.
Some kilometers later I arrived to a camping site. I cooked dinner in the misty rain and ate around 2 a.m. After 3 a.m I fell a sleep in the empty island. The symphony of mosquitos on the other side of the net was loud.
Today is Juhannus eve. It will probably be sunny, cloudy and rainy, a typical Finnish summer day. Time to pack up and start paddling.
26.6 North of Savonllina
Yesterday I spend the day in Savonlinna just walking around the city and getting burned by the sun. I had slept just outside the city arriving there when the sun was rising. Day before that I paddled for quite a few hours stopping only to eat on one campsite. The site was pretty but it wasn’t even midnight so I kept going. It was Juhannus eve after all and I wanted to find a big bonfire called ’kokko’.
I did see one Kokko in the distance on an island called ’Kokonsaari’, literally called Bonfire’s island. It looked great but I was sure there was more on my way. For three hours I was looking around, no fires. Slightly disappointment I was about to arrive to Savonlinna. It was time to pitch the hammock into the forrest and head to city the next day.
The goal in the city was to find a new map. The old one I had ended here. It was national holiday so I had no luck. I was left to navigate the remainder of the trip with my phone.
The next night I slept inside a floating sauna after taking a bath. After few cold nights of shivering it was nice to sleep in warmth.
Now it’s time to head north. The day ahead was going to be warm.
28.6 Taipale canal, Varkaus
Yesterday took me from Savonlinna to Pieni Virkasaari. it had been more or less smooth paddling apart from few ruff crossings. In the evening I came face to face with a wind that was too much. Feeling tired I didn’t want to push it. The risk of falling was real.
I wasn’t sure if you are allowed to camp inside a National park but I had no choice. By midnight I was already asleep. Untouched island with it´s forest was impressive. One could tell it was’t raised in straight lines with even spacing between trunks to optimize growth . It was also full of mosquitos.
At 5 a.m I woke up to coldness. The wind had turned and was now blowing through the thin hammock fabric. 6 o’clock I was ready to start the first of many ruff crossings. The lake had calmed down put I didn’t feel like waiting. I was cold and my body wanted to move.
The waves were waist high. Not a big problem when you go straight towards or away from them. I was going on a 45 degree angle toward and away for longer than I would have liked. Sometimes I had to go around capes. That meant turning 90 degrees while the waves were maxing out after traveling straight for several kilometers across the open face of the lake. They were hitting the shore cliffs and creating counter waves. All that made the reading of the waves a challenge. Falling down wasn’t an option since it would have meant crashing on the rocks. I could take a beating to my body and pride but the kayak was made of glass fiber.
Turns took a lot of concentration and careful timing. Eventually I got to calm bays. I set up my hammock and took a 5 hour siesta.
When I woke the wind had calmed a little. On the campsite I put my shorts to dry on a log which turned out to be a large bee hive. At the end of that day the horse flies and mosquitos were closest to tipping my balance.
Before midnight I had reached Taipale canal. Now I’m charging my phone on a peer and soon continuing up north.
30.6 Arriving to Kuopio
From Varkaus I continued to Leppävirta. I slept in a small patch of forrest I found next to the town, ate too much at a local buffet, did some shopping and continued towards Kuopio.
Leppävirta was a peaceful place. The approach through a narrow and long passage was very beautiful. It gave perfect shelter from the winds. As I left the narrow pathway the wind had died and the sky was red.
Due to almost perfect conditions I ended kayaking 11 hours all the way to Kuopio throughout the night. Around 3 a.m a dense mist surrounded me and rocky shores made me slow down even more. It looked like the ice age had really left it’s mark the shores of this part of the lake. I was approaching a ferry at Puutossalmi which I could hear through the mist.
6 a.m I was so tired I had to listen to music with my phone on an otherwise perfectly quiet lake. A bit of a shame really but luckily the beats were good.
Old friend provided me with a roof in Kuopio. Resting day 1.
3.6 Metsä-Rajo fireplace
Last night I left Kuopio. The sun was already setting and I was pushing against a strong wind. Waves rolled over the kayak as I crossed open water between islands. At Vehmersalmi I was too tired to continue. The local harbor was to be my campsite.
On the beach I exchanged some stories with a local young man who came to talk to me. He and he’s friends were drunk and spending the early summer hours next the the lake. He told me I would have to cross a big open face of the lake. It was created by two asteroids that had landed right next to each other. Unique place, he said, globally.
Today I hardly moved. The rain and thunder kept me moving cautiously until I was soaked. I found a great shelter. Fire is drying my clothes and smoke keeps of the mosquitos away. Looking back it was great to see so many old friends in Kuopio
7.6 Fireplace at Kolovesi National Park
From Metsä-Rajo I went to Valamo Monastery. Slept under a small picnic hut in the wind. In the morning I visited the monastery spending the day at the buffet. From Valamo I made my way to Heinävesi and slept on the beach. Both nights were freezing. The open lake crossing just before Heinävesi was anything but boring. The waves kept me on my toes.
Now I’m in a national park that is filled with these wooden shelters, Laavus’, with fireplace for cooking. A holy place for my liking. The weather has been quite ruff but luckily the wind has mostly blown from behind, North-West.
Body is feeling tired mostly due to lack of proper sleep.
Today I’ll probably explore the park and spend the day cruising and making a long loop.
10.7 Kolovesi to Sulkava
On the 7th of July I made a tour around Kolovesi and walked in the forest trail for 4km before going to sleep in Pitkäsaari. The whole day was bit of an exercise. I did meet an older couple who had kayak their whole lives in the ocean and gave me few new tips and ideas.
8th of July. From Kolovesi I paddled straight to Savonlinna. It was a long journey and the weather wasn’t too bad. I had to wait 4 hours at the porch next to a canal for the storm to pass by. Paddled around 14 hours that day.
9th of July. From Savonlinna I paddled through the night to Sulkava. On the way, just before ferry of Vekara, a police jet ski came to check that everything was OK. ”Do you speak English?”, were the first words out of his mouth.
Now it’s sunny Sunday afternoon. I missed the rowing competition and after party but the ice cream is always sweet and cold.
Next towards – Puumala – Anttola – Ristiina.
During nights shoulder muscles hurt.
12.7 Yövesi, end the the trip
From Sulkava I traveled through the night to Rokansaari, south of Puumala. The journey took about 12-14 hours. I stopped at Linnavuori to check the sight and cooked dinner at Kylmäsaari. In Puumala I refilled the water bottles and with the sound of ’Living is easy’ continued south.
Rokansaari – Anttola – Astuvansalmi – End. The last leg of the journey was 13 hours of flux. There were strong winds, broken steering line, painful tailbone, calm, mosquitos, dinner break, joy, conversation with the lake, mist, rain, rock paintings and the cessation of everything but the essentials.
At around 6 a.m I put a fire in the sauna, ate porridge and went to sleep.
The world of organized connections where you have an unlimited amount of choices to act does not exist in the nature. Nature being out in the open and exposed to the elements. There every move takes you somewhere concrete. There is only direct action. No interpretation or filters what the consequences to each decision will be. The present exists due to unchangeable choices made in the past. The future depends of the conscious choices made through experience and intuition.
There are no windows to reflect on and rest. The moments waiting for food to cook are the moments of reflections and assessing on where the world lies. Survival comes through respect for nature (and on this trip from quite a few supermarkets). As you flow through it you are always in the right place even when you are not. This meaning that you have to ground yourself to this spot on this particular time and now you can either accept it or fight and perish.
On calm waters one can practice staying calm. On stormy waters one must storm through it by staying calm. By matching the challenge there is no need for finding superiority over it, since that would be madness.
All this is much more obvious once you are out there. In the comfort of distractions awareness faints away into the background.
At the end the feeling you find is so fleeting that one can burst in tears not knowing what just happened. It is the feeling of a kayak effortlessly floating through the lake while the next moment a heavy swamp surrounds you where no force you apply seems to take you anywhere. It is all that and more and accepting it as it is.
Filipino friend invited us to come surfing with him. Why not, so few weeks later we were sitting outside a small bus station somewhere in Manilla. An overnight bus took us next to the ocean. We walked with our bags to the beach. It was flat so all that was left was to wait for the city to wake up and have some breakfast.
This First Part is based on my memories of the time. The next two parts are from sketched notes.
I do remember that right from the start we were welcomed as part of the family. The local guys and girls were sleeping in storage looking place that had a small kitchen, toilet and a smaller room at the back. They had been the first in town to start teaching surfing for local and foreign tourists. For the coming months I was always welcomed to this space and offered a place to sleep and a plate to eat.
We had come here because there was this wave that was suppose to be good. The plan was to camp in front of it and just do service runs to town for more food and stuff. Before stretching our legs the adventure was already on it’s way and would not stop for some time. We rented a tricycle motorbike, packed it full of food and surfboards in the hopes that it would not break down on the way to the spot. It broke down right there and then and on several future adventures as well. On the maiden voyage we blew a tire. Small delay was like a short pitstop. Shops for fixing bikes are behind every corner.
So we surfed, and surfed some more. Our new local friends had many skills and cooking was one of them. A shared banana leaf was our plate and fingers served as forks. The first time in my life I got slightly fat was in Philippines. Rice and fresh baked white flour with sugar was the foundation of our daily diet. The base for our camp was right next to the beach.
About 100 meters walk through mangrove forrest and reef was a wave that held any size swell from 3ft upwards getting harder like a hockey stick curve.None of us had a Gopro or any other device or interest to take surf photos. In hindsight it’s a shame but at that moment no one cared.
I can’t remember how much time passed but one day there was a rumor that a Taifun was coming. Taifuns are the best source of quality ground swell for surfing in Philippines. The average is something like 25 taifuns at Philippines Sea per season. We were stoked. Unfortunately the more accurate weather forecast would estimate the Taifun to hit the exact spot where we were. So we had two choices; either return to town and close the storage door tight or we could stay on the beach and ride it out.
On the beach there was a abandoned house build on concrete legs on top of the ocean. We figured it would serve as our shelter. The place had definitely seen it’s best days but the floor was mostly still there. We set up our tents inside the building, piled the surfboards in one tight pack and started cooking dinner. Before midnight the storm had definitely picked up several knots. We were inside our tent playing cards while the other tent had started snoring. One of the guys was outside the tent but still inside the building trying to cook some late snack. The wind made it practically impossible.
At some point the roof started making loud noises and parts of it flying away and falling. I got out of the tent to see what was happening. The storm had gotten very strong. On top our tent was old pieces of plywood attached to the roof. They looked soaked and heavy and ready to fall at any moment. Everyone got out of the tent and we had a shouting meeting over the wind. At the end we decided to bail and seek shelter from solid ground.
The problem now became to get back to land without getting swiped by the rising swell. On low tide you can easily walk to the building with dry feet but now the tide was almost peaking and the taifun made each set of waves wash anything and everything and drag it to the ocean. So we had to wait for the moment when the reef was sucked dry before the next wave. That was the easy part. Next we needed to find shelter from the falling coconuts, trees and power lines.
Eventually soaked from head to toe we shared 3×4 meters concrete hut with an old man about 50 meters inland from the shore. There was 8 of us sleeping in every position possible. The roof didn’t fly off and eventually the sounds of the storm put us to sleep. Early morning I woke up to the strongest noise of bullfrogs I have ever heard. I couldn’t fall asleep again so I went walking with my head torch. There was no wind. Mystical night was coming to it’s end. In an hour the sun would come up again and we would find our boards exactly where we had left them without a ding.
End of part 1.
Part 2. Road trip to Nomad’s Point
“Priorities are meant to be re-prioritized”, that was the almost unanimous decision of us the Trojans as we saw three Ford Focuses full of Roxy stickers pass us. We waved at them frantically. They drove by without stopping.
We could have really used some help pushing our van. Moments earlier we had started our road trip to north. We had made it 40 meters into our trip before hitting some low hanging electric wires left behind by the taifun. The wires ripped off the whole roof rack of our rented van and all the stacked boards along with it. Few minor dings could not be avoided.
While the rest of us were trying to figure out where the Roxy girls were heading RamGyver (Rambo + McGyver in one man) was already cutting down some big branches from a palm tree and making a new roof rack. 15 minutes later we were chasing the Roxies for some wax.
It turned out they were not the international Roxies. We didn´t know them but they had heard about us. We were the guys who camped on the beach when the taifun hit the shore. We got 2 small pieces of wax smelling of roses and started driving north.
We could no longer drive further without closing our eyes. As the sun rose a passing boy selling white bread and sugar woke us for some breakfast. After dozens of hours driving over, under and through the jungle our van finally got stuck to a rocky sand dune. We had not arrived anywhere in particular. The road had simply ended and we could´t push any further. What we saw from the top of the dune was named as Nomad´s Point or something similar.
It was time to throw away the worst smelling fish from the ice box. The cook assured us the octopus could stay. The brotha was right, and few hours later we were eating delicious octopus -caldereta from a longboard turned upside down.
We surfed the Nomad’s Point. It was oversized and the local fishermen warmed us about the bay. After all that driving to find a wave no amount of rice could satisfy everyones hunger. Some of the locals went surfing. Next session everyone got in the ocean; fat slow rolling monsters.
The end of an airstrip was a hot place to camp. Local boat captain and owner of two fishing boats found us there and offered us his beach house. That night we slept like kings while the rain was singing against the roof.
Someday that airstrip would be a fast way to reach the break but for now the foreigners of our brotherhood were the first outsiders to surf this spot. We were not the first foreign explorers here. A mining company was here first. The indigenous community living on the beach had been here a bit longer.
The snack before dinner was the biggest sugar OD so far. Young ferns and other grass as a meal from the forest was a valiant try to balance out all the condensed milk and baked white flour we were consuming.
The energies were shifting. We were no longer Spartans running under an oath. Everyone was still repeating old truths and phrases but new ideas and thought patterns started emerging. There was an awareness beyond words whispering to us of future events still to come.
Simultaneously all indicators were maxing out and senses were on overload. All of this was neither good or bad. Everyone was pushing it in so many levels that at times we were truly free from all that had been left behind. Nothing happened by force, it was more like rising lump under your chest which with awareness you could turn into a moment of bliss.
The stillness was subsiding. Different plans started flooding the air. A guidebook presented itself, maybe due to the fact that it was the first day without surf in over a week. Some had the itch to surf and others to know what happens next.
What had happened was not a story with a start and an ending. Describing the people in the van made no sense. They were spirits reaching for freedom with some ever shifting knots inside. The path that felt never-ending kept unfolding in and around us. It was slowly merging into one; the crickets, ocean and the homeless nomads, spartans.
“Never surrender, never retreat, just relocate!”
End of part 2.
PART 3. Surf and Nipa Hut building
The time of tribes, gangs, groups and brotherhood was over. From the co-existence the urge for solitude had arisen. I had fallen into the trap of writing about something I enjoyed. Where is the friendship when you try to describe it? The surf had connected us at the beginning and turned us into friends. So we surfed again. At times the wave felt overwhelming. The smiles in the lineup proved it wasn’t so. As the swell picked up the spot turned into a slab and then for me into something you watch from the side. Lack of wipeouts without consequences meant more cuts and bruises. Time in the water was getting scarce.
First night under the hut
After the road trip many went their own ways. I stayed with the locals and we started building a Nipa Hut. Basic materials needed to be purchased but some of the stuff we got from the jungle. The roof of the hut was now ready and soon some of the walls as well. Mangroves protected from seeing the wave but you could hear when it was good.
The sun felt strong even under the roof. Two dogs started growling over the leftovers on the banana leaf. The smaller one backed down after a stone landed next to the argument. Guys under the Nipa Hut were motionless after a heavy meal. It was hard to feel anything except the bite of a feisty ant and the stinging of the parts of flesh where skin was missing.
There I was building a hut to some Australians land with local guys. No one really talked about tomorrow but the idea of it would not let me go. I was missing my health and the antibiotics were not really working. I might have to get back to searching. That idea seemed funny. My belly was full and instead of stability what I hoped for was purpose.
The momentum was gone. Waves rolled but it wasn’t enough. The Nipa hut was not getting finished. Like projects so often we had underestimated the costs and the amount of work. We were missing bamboo to build the second floor. Then the neighboring family came to our rescue. They let us saw blanks from a tree that was about to fall on their hut. Hired man with a long chainsaw did great work and before the sunset upstairs was ready for overnight guests.
As the Nipa Hut was getting the finishing touch the place started coming alive again. People came from close and far and a new group was forming. The sketches on the paper had become real. We had made something beautiful with no doors. The pot was full of rice and we were all eating together. People were planning to do a boat trip. I was mentally and physically exhausted. Tropical climate had never been kind to me. I stayed behind while boat filled with rum and laughter took of. They had an adventure with close calls as I enjoyed the DIY electricity connection from the neighbors. The Hut was ready. It had kitchen, 2nd floor, garage style door, space for about 8 people, slack line and a pull-up bar, all in front of a crazy wave.
What else could you ask for? Health.
My friend wrote me from Nepal. I knew I needed the cold air to heal.
As I left my friend told me,
“When you make friends in Philippines it is for life”.