Ben is on the last leg of his long drive through Denmark, Sweden and Finland. He met a lot of characters along the way, but his aim was to meet the most famous man on earth Santa Claus. It wasn’t that easy and he had a few diversions along the way.
Porvoo is a beautiful medieval town, just 50 kilometres east of Helsinki. It has a historic church and several good museums, cosy cafes and cobblestone lanes. Not far from Porvoo is Kerkkoo, venue for the annual village sports carnival.
As people from this part of the world spend much of the year in complete darkness, they make the most of the long summer days and enjoy some rather different activities, including toe swimming, knee swimming and mould carrying. Other options are swamp soccer which has a following around the world, wife carrying, mosquito killing and jetty ice fishing.
The games in Kerkkoo have been going since 1975 and are run by Matti Poho. One of the major events is running backwards something which takes much concentration. The premier event, though, was invented by Matti’s grandfather 30 years ago. The goal is to throw a size 43 Wellington boot as far as you can. The World Championships were recently held in Estonia, and competitors take this sport very seriously indeed.
Completely exhausted by competing in the games, Ben and his Saab boarded the Arctic Express train to Rovaniemi, just eight kilometres short of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures of -50 degrees celcius are not unusual! Soft snow was falling as he arrived.
Finnish Lapland makes up around one third of the country and most of it is Arctic wilderness. Summer sees most locals very busily farming their land, but one local, Matti Koukkula, spends his spare time perfecting the art of log rolling. This particular pastime came about late in the 19th century when felled trees were transported downstream to sawmills. To make the long days more interesting, rollers perfected things such as handstands on the moving logs. Staying out of the water is important, even in summer months.
After covering 2000 kilometres, at last Ben arrived at Santa’s headquarters to meet the man face-to-face. Santa and one of his elves were making last minute arrangements for December 24, but he was happy to spare some time to grant Ben a childhood wish: Mustering reindeer.
Off they went in the Saab to visit Jari Heiskari, a second generation reindeer farmer who was rounding up some new season calves for ear marking. 36 percent of Finland’s surface area is made of reindeer farms, so there is a good selection.
Every year Santa receives more than 700,000 letters from children all around the world.