A month ago I had just handed in my resignation letter (more about that shortly) and my birthday was coming up, so we thought it would be good to get out of our small town even for a weekend. Heading south in the car, I felt the weight of the stress from work soon lifting. About 40 kilometers south, there’s a border station to Finland – though it’s all Sápmi, of course – where you don’t need to stop, only slow down and observe the traffic lights that rarely are turned red while passing through. Not this time either but trying to speed up again, the car started acting up. First I thought it was off the gear – the engine wasn’t turning. But that wasn’t the problem. The car just simply died about 200 meters after the border station. After a couple of futile attempts to restart the engine, we realized that we need to call someone for help. There was no coverage for cell phones, so I had to go in the station to ask for advice and to use the phone. We got a tow truck to pick up the car and friend to pick us back to Kauto. While waiting, we were wondering what had happened and why. Maybe it was that you can’t get out of Kauto alive, we joked.
The joke got a totally different meaning three weeks later, when our own car was still at the garage for repairs (waiting for parts) and I needed to catch a bus in Hetta, 80 km south on the Finnish side to get to the airport in Kittilä. There were no rental cars available in town so the only option was to be taken there. Our neighbour lent us his truck and we headed south again, just after 5 am in the morning.
This time we got past the border fine but then, not far from Hetta (as we found out later), the road suddenly became very icy. The truck started swinging on the road to an extent that I soon realized we were heading to the ditch. It all happened very quickly, I saw things flying and I thought, this is it, this is how it happens. The truck came to a stop and we were both alive (this was my first thought). My second thought was to get out of the car as soon as possible. Shocked and shaken, I managed to get to the road, not knowing what to do first. Call somebody, but wasn’t sure who. Ambulance, police, tow truck? A Finnish or Norwegian one? I felt I had hit my head but it took a while to realize I had also lost my glasses. Miraculously, Philip found them on the floor of the truck. Not knowing what to do, I stopped the first car that came. Trembling and sobbing, I asked the woman if she was a local and knew who to call. She didn’t know much either but told me they were in a bit of rush because they had a bus to catch in less than 10 minutes. I was able to negotiate a ride for us to town with them (she wasn’t very forthcoming or interested in our condition) – they were going to the same bus I was supposed to catch.
I wasn’t absolutely sure it was good to continue my trip after such a start but I did it anyway. All day I kept thanking the good spirits that we were both fine. Philip stayed behind to get the truck out of the ditch and find a ride for himself back. After I made it to the bus, he wandered into the local hotel and navigated a lack of people and Finnish. Assuring the nurse on the telephone that he did not need medical assistance (after answering whether he had insurance), Petri, from Auto ja Kone turned up. Apparently, the truck was wrecked and could not be driven to Kautokeino, and he advised that it be towed back to Kauto. Thinking this might cost more than the truck was worth, Philip persuaded Petri to take his tractor and pull the Mitsubishi out of the ditch. Even his tractor was slipping, he explained to Philip in Norwegian and Finnish. It took a while, but with some more help from the garage, the truck was dragged out. It was in a sorry state – a spare wheel had smashed through the back door window and was found in the woods as was one of the roof racks, the rear door was destroyed, the driver side door was bent and had no glass and there was a big dent on the left hand side rear corner. But it was still running. Faced with either ‘hitching’ back to Kautokeino or calling a tow truck, (there is no scheduled transportation in winter) he decided to drive it back, after a careful examination by Petri.
Taking it slow, heater full blast and no window side or rear, and a falling temperature, it was a cold trip back – by the time Philip crossed the border it was -20 C. He had to stop at Galdodievva to warm up (a popular spot for Kauto people to buy cheap beer, gas and meat on the Finnish side) with 3 cups of coffee and a sticky bun. Oddly enough he met an English speaking couple – he was Finnish, she was English but had an Irish father. They had just moved to Hetta and were starting a tourist business. They admired the handiwork on the truck and the Finnish guy told that he had rolled his car over in almost the same place a year previously.
At the end, Philip made it back, cold and only with a minor frostbite on the tip of his nose. The truck was taken, with the owner, to the local Statoil garage, where heads were shaken and grave looks were exchanged. We got our own car back only two days ago (the bill wasn’t quite 10 000 kroner) and now we await the bill for the second misadventure. I’m wondering whether somebody local has cursed us or put a bad spell on us – there are both deeply devout Christians and traditional practitioners who have the skills to do either in this town.