August 8, 2012
We meet Raul, another motorcyclist on the ferry from Finland to Sweden. He’s an English-speaking Spaniard living in Helsinki who’s married to a Swedish-speaking Finn who was working in Spain. The world is a small place.
He and Graham talk bikes and swap travel yarns while I catch up on some facebooking (and then have to go sit quietly somewhere to calm the seasick feeling).
The ferry is nowhere near as flash as the one we caught with the Daskos to Holland. We have to tie our own bikes down and the seating areas are packed.
We arrive near midnight into Umea. No idea why the ferry runs when it does … wouldn’t it make more sense to go late afternoon and arrive in the early evening? Graham and I figure it’s a conspiracy by the two port towns to force people to spend money with them.
We have spent several hours in Vaasa’s McDonalds (free wifi) and must now stay overnight in Umea. We were a captive audience. It is raining when we leave Finland but dawns clear if a bit cloudy in Sweden.
We notice the accommodation has already become expensive and, looking ahead to Norway, realise we aren’t going to find a hotel room for less than $180 a night in this part of the world. We were warned.
Sweden is pretty and friendly and safe, however, which makes it a pleasure to visit.
We noticed in the centre of Vaasa, a sizeable city, that bicycles were left unlocked on the street. There’s very little theft, Raul tells us, right through Scandinavia.
Roadside cafes offer free buffets if you buy a main meal and it all works on an honour system. No one seems to abuse it.
We wend our way up through the hills and forests, dotted with red and yellow and white houses and fields so green they hurt your eyes. Follow an international symbol for coffee stop and happen upon a working art studio with a pottery lesson in progress.
Then on through more forests and fields (even the Swedes joke that their country is boring) and find an international symbol for moose … the sign actually says “moose-kissing”. We’re in. Like Flynn.
The term moose farm is a bit generous. The property has three moose: a 5-year-old alpha male, a 7-year-old female and a young stag who’s just turned one.
But the guide is fantastic and answers all our moose questions. Yes, they are the same animal as elk. Elk is the European term and moose is American. An elk in America is a large deer.
They are typically solitary creatures and roam vast areas to find enough food (leaves and small branches) to satisfy their enormous appetites. The males grow antlers, which turn into bone and fall off after the “rutting” season. The size of the antlers indicates the strength of the beast and it’s the biggest and strongest that have the best chance of mating.
At this moose farm they cut off the antlers each year, to avoid the fighting that could injure or kill their stock. Even so they often have to hunt away wild males that come calling.
Hunt is the key word. Moose could live until 18 or 20 but their life span in Sweden is only 5-7 because so many of them are killed by hunters each year. The government sanctions a cull of 80,000 annually.
Apparently they can be pests, a danger on roads and damaging to forests (that are being grown for timber).
But we fall in love with these gentle giants, part cow, part horse, part camel. We get to feed them leaves and potatoes. Only the big male and the youngster come down to the enclosure. The female, we’re told, is picky and will not show if she doesn’t feel like the food.
The guide leaves us for a few moments to greet more tourists and it’s just Graham and me, alone in the paddock with the moose. This is surreal. Take a photo for Michael and Marita. Bagged it.