sábado, 24 de abril de 2010

Hithchhiking Chronicles: Savonlinna-Mikkeli

I actually didn't use them as much. Offroad the sound of nature is the best, and hitchhiker's etiquette wouldn't permit me to do so in the car.

When I went to sleep, there was still sunlight outside; for those not living in Finland, you should note that that still means it was 9 PM, 3 hours before my average sleeping time. Having set the alarm for 5:20 AM, things couldn't seem more like a school day at Dowal. When suddenly I found myself in my house at Honduras, where everybody were very concerned about the horrible earthquake that was happening. I can't remember very well, but I knew I was happy when the alarm set me off my nightmare. 5:20 in the mornign, so early, and I really didn't think twice about not doing my plan, I had my breakfast and took my backpack, already prepared from the day before.

On the road I was, with my Google Maps printed route, and a set of simplified instructions in Spanish I had written for myself. There was not a lot of traffic at the time, and the few times I tried to get a ride, I was not able, but I didn't try much, because I also wanted to walk a little. Following Google Maps reccomend route, I had to leave the main road for a pair of kms, where I saw two woodpeckers, got my feet wet on a frozen puddle (not very frozen), and got my only wrong deviation for about 300 m, but was able to realize and get back on track. After leaving this side route and returning to the main road, I found myself in a gas station. I have just made it I thought. I went inside, bought myself some coffee, took out my ICYE carnet and the copy of that time I was in the newspaper. At first I felt shy, something a hitchhiker can't be, so I overcame this, and aske around. No one was going to Mikkeli or Juva. I stood outside the station for a while, where a woman came, waved hello, went into the sotre, bought some beer, said good-bye and left. I was starting to feel a little annoyed, and having already been 4 hours walking, I said that if I didn't reach Juva before midday, I'd just turn around and get back to Savonlinna.

Horrible moment when realizing how much I had done in hours of walking.

I continued walking, stopping every two bus stops, and waiting there for a while, when not so far away from the gas station, a car actually stopped. The guy was not going to Juva, but could take some kms in that direction, because he was going to Rantasalmi. This guy had lived in ENgland for over a year, and he played guitar and backing vocals in a rock band, one which I have searched for its name without results (so if someone can help me, I'm supposing they're from Savonlinna and had a release on 2010 on an Indie Label. I read both the label and band's names on a CD he showed me, so although I don't remember them, I would surely recognize the names if I saw them). He explained me how there use to be more hitchhikers some years ago, but that I was the first one in a long time he had seen. He also told me about an urban legend which tells that after the dissolution of the USSR, there was a story of the Russian who asked for a ride, killed you and buried you in the woods. Of course, this kind of thing never actually happened, but people certainly believe in it.

We departed ways on Rantasalmi, and from there it was another long walk for me, until eventually, while being hit by a snowstorm, a guy stopped at my sign which read "Juva" (I had to constantly be changing the signs, to prove which ones worked better). His car, an old Mercedes Benz, the heating system seemed to be at maximum, and there was a horse smell, which normally associated with the hitchhiker and not the driver. However the guy was a nice person, although he didn't speak English, it was a good practice of my Finnish skills. He thought I was Japanese, and that HOnduras was in Africa, we talked about my trip, and he confessed never to have ridden an airplane.

Contrary to what you might think, snowstorms are quite a good happening. People are supposed to take pity on you. Not cold Finnish hearts though.

He left me at another gas station in Juva, where there was a children's birthday party going on. I went inside to try my luck, but since there was nothing I wanted to buy, I returned outside, and set my sign reading "Mikkeli" up. Then came a guy to the station, got off his car and read my sign, we exchanged some words in Finnish which I completely understood and went inside the store. He said he was not going to Mikkeli, but that some 3 kms away, there was a place with a better chance of getting a ride. So I had to wait 10 minutes while he went to the store and I had my lunch (homemade sämpylä). We left for this 5 minutes ride. "Everybody speaks English in Finland, but bad English" he said after noting my "American" accent in contrast to the common British accent found in Europe.

So he left me near an ABC gas station, on a bus stop on the main road, which at least was covered and a lot of cars went through. Not even five minutes after that a big gasoline truck stopped, but I don't know if out of pure "humour" or maybe 'cause he hadn't read my sign, he started off again. Snowstorm started to hit again, and there was no other car stopping, until after some 20 minutes, a car stopped. I got in, it was a Russian mom with her two kids and two sacks of grain in the front passanger seat. I sat back and this was the most silent ride, since she didn't speak English, and I don't speak Russian, plus talking from behind to the front seems a little uncomfortable. Hithchhiking etiquette says "read a book".

This woman left me already on the outskirts of Mikkeli. I was there!!! The clock read 4PM, almost twelve hours after my departure. I might as well just had turned around and head back home, since I had no place where to sleep there in Mikkeli. But that was not the point, and I found my way to the center of Mikkeli, where there was supposed to be a market place, but just a big construction hole on the ground remained. As I was to learn later, they are constructing an underground parking lot there. I walked around the city, saw all what I needed to see, observation tower, the church, museums (all from the outside), and my final goal, Mannerheim's carriage. I asked some young clerks at the store, and none of them knew what I was talking about. "Mannerheim? It must be in the museum". I reread my notes taken from Wikipedia, and saw that it was on a side-track at the station, although the pictures of Mannerheim's meeting with Hitler were nowhere to be seeing (maybe they're not so proud about it).

Mannerheim's Carriage! Mission Accomplished!

Then I started scouting my possibilities of where I could sleep. Not on Elisa Partti's, Tilman Bauer's, or Emma Juvonen's places, cause they never answered my Couchsurfing requests. Fuck You! I couldn't died frozen yesterday, if you don't have time for Couchsurfing (just replying and saying no), then delete your account. So, with those options out, I found a nice place outside the library, which would had been my last scenario. Then I started calling friends back in Savonlinna, who could find me a sleeping place with relatives/friends. Things didn't seem very good, when I saw a bus leaving to Savonlinna was standing there. I approached, asked the driver some questions, how much to Savo? How much to Juva? Is this the last bus? What time first bus tomorrow? Having those questions answered, I realized I was 1 € short of going to Juva, almost half the way there. "One last question", I said and explained my situation. THe driver, very kindly, told me that it was okay. I went inside and was on my way to Juva, where I actually expected the driver to let me stay all the way to Savonlinna, but he didn't, anyways he was a nice person.

On Juva, I saw the cemetery (reccomend place for rough sleep), and tried my luck near the gas station where my second ride had left me. I noticed two more roads joined a couple of meters ahead of were I was standing, so I decided to walk to the next station, hoping the people from those crossroads were more generous. I did had to wait a while under a snowstorm, but I finally got another ride. Unsurprisingly, this time again, it was a Russian woman, and not only did she drived me 60 kms to Savonlinna, but left me at my frontdoor at SKO, where she had actually worked for two years teaching Russian language. We started speaking in Finnish, and I understood, but then we switched to English, and I talked about what I was doing here in Finland, which happened to be related to her work, since we both work with immigrants. Also, without any second intention, I spoke about my economic situation, and my problem in Helsinki with the Metro, and I was more than surprised when actually gave me some money. "NO way! I can't accept this, I should be paying you". "It's just money" she said.

And thus ends my first hitchhiking adventure, which I can't but call to have been completely successful, and which only but motivates me into the big adventure which awaits me in May. Hope everything runs as smooth.

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