Monday, September 8, 2014

Cruise into the Sàmi culture

The energy efficient catamaran has a capacity of 120 passengers

Inari is a small town of 6700 inhabitants in Northern Lapland surrounded by Finland's second biggest lake which counts 3300 islands. The town has a big importance for the Sàmi people, the local indigenous people. Inaugurated in 2012, Sajos, the Sàmi cultural center, is also the home of the parliament. In Finland, three different Sàmi groups are living in the large and wild area: the Northern Sàmi (Northern and Western Lapland), Inari Sàmi and the Skolt Sàmi (smaller community that comes from Russia).

Next to the Siida museum which is dedicated to the Sàmi culture, there is a white catamaran that offers a trip into Sàmi culture from a different angle, twice a day in summer time. The almost 3 hours long cruise brings the passengers to the mystical island of Ukonkivi (Ukko's rock) located at 11km from the city. The boat itself is different from the usual touristic boats. It is brand new with an electrical and a diesel engine. Efficiency and silence are combined which is very appreciable. No black smoke nor annoying noise. The boat is so silent that it is easy to imagine being a swan admiring the breathetaking landscape from the blue water. The other advantage of the catamaran is that it is very stable. There is almost no movements due to the waves.

Slaloming between the rocky islands

On board, interesting explanations about the region, city, lake and Sàmi sites are given in Finnish, German and English. But in the boat there are also booklets in Spanish and French. The commandant is driving the boat from the upper deck and passengers can have a chat with him. At the ground floor there is a bar serving a few drinks and snacks. But what is very nice is the door giving access to the front of the boat. As it is a catamaran and not a traditional boat, the front is straight and not pointed. The view is amazing but it's windy and a bit cold. Watch out for your hat!

The sacred Ukonkivi can be seen from far away

For 50 minutes the boat slaloms between rocky islands born at the ice age. Only a few cottages are hidden behind the tall trees and only a couple of boats are sailing. The lake Inari is like the rest of Lapland: wild and deserted. Ukonkivi is very special. It looks like the teeth of a giant mystical creature looming from the quiet water. It is also an important sacred site in the Sàmi culture. It was a place where the Sàmi have worshipped Ukko or Äijih, the god of Thunder. Sàmi people belived that Ukko protected their life and health, and chased away evil powers, which could threaten hunting and fishing luck.

Panoramic view from the top of Ukonkivi

The boat stops for 20 minutes. Just enough time to climb the 144 wooden stairs (if I've counted them correctly) to the top that is at 30m above the lake and admire the panoramic 360 degrees view. The rock is covered by birch and pine trees plus small bushes. On August 6th, it was a hot summer day (25°C). But as it was hot for a long time, the horizon was a bit foggy and it was difficult to see very far away. The place is absolutely quiet: no wind, no birds, no flies nor mosquitoes. It is said that Ukko doesn't like noise. During the old times women were not allowed and men had to paddle quietly to reach the island. At the top, it is important to look where to walk as a fall would be fatal. 5 minutes before the departure, a sonor signal rings out.

Beautiful sandy beach of the cemetary island

The boat continues to the North in direction of another interesting island with a beautiful sandy beach. It was used by the Sàmi people as a cemetary. People were burried there to protect them from predators. On the lake there are two of these islands. The boat makes an extra stop if someone is interested to have a walk (10km) to an old church and comeback later with the second boat.

The trip costs 22€ for an adult and 11€ for children under 14. It is free of charge for children under 4 years old. It might sound costly but when thinking that the trip is almost 3 hours long, with a stop in a sacred island and with comments in 3 different languages in a hightech boat it really worth the price. The only bad point were the WC out of order. But the commandant warned the passengers in Finnish and English before the departure.

This cruise is definitively a journey in the Sàmi culture!

More info
Inari Sàmi

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