It’s not every day you get to venture to one of the most northern places in the world for a swim in the Arctic Ocean. When I was studying in Finland, I went on a trip with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) to northern Finland, also known as Lapland. Lapland, and the area we went to called Saariselkä is a small village located about 250km north of the Arctic Circle line. Saariselkä is a beautiful little village especially when covered in snow like it was when we visited.
Part of this ESN-organized trip was an optional day trip to a tiny fishing village called Bugøynes across the border in Norway. Being this far north already, I just had to participate. Basically the purpose behind the day trip was to go swim in the Arctic Ocean!
We got started early in the morning leaving Saariselkä around 6AM for the roughly 4 hour bus ride north across the border in to Norway. We made a pit stop along the way at a small grocery store for some breakfast and to buy some food if needed before crossing the border to Norway since it would be cheaper on the Finland side than in Norway. Anyone who has ever been to Scandinavia can tell you how crazy expensive Norway is and being this far north only adds insult to injury when it comes to the price of anything. We also made a stop along the way at some beautiful icy river.
The border crossing from Finland in to Norway this far north was something to laugh at. There was no real border crossing, or even a stop for that matter. The road simply continued over the border where there was a small wire fence that signified the crossing from one country to the other. It was definitely the smallest and sketchiest border I have ever seen!
It was nearly 11AM when we finally made it in the the little village of Bugøynes. It was weird, 4 hours and a couple hundred km south of here in Saariselkä there was lots of snow since it was the first week of November. However, up here in Bugøynes there was barely any with only minimal traces around. I guess it’s the ocean and the North Atlantic current that keeps the snow away just a little bit longer up here in the tundra.
After a brief introduction by one of the local residents, we made our way to the beach where there was a couple of small huts for changing in to our swimming gear and another hut which was, as is common in Finnish and Norwegian culture, a sauna! I put on my swimming clothes and rather than heading to the sauna to warm up like most people, I headed straight for the beach and ran in the water!
The salt water was ice cold and just getting in was a struggle! It only took a few seconds before the part of my body submerged under water started to become numb. Mix that with the air temperature of a mere 4 degrees Celsius and it was only a matter of minutes before I needed to get out and head to the sauna. It was nice and steamy and HOT in the sauna as the other people inside continued pouring water over the hot rocks to add more steam. What a relief! After about 10 minutes in here, I went back outside and made another run in to the water for another quick swim before heading back out to the sauna again. It continued on like this for about another half hour alternating between the water and the sauna in brief periods of each.
After the swim and sauna session was over me made our way on the bus to what I assume was something similar to a town hall where we had a delicious seafood soup for lunch to warm up. It was now about 1:00pm. We went outside after lunch to watch the sun set! Yes! That’s right! The sun was setting at only 1:00 in the afternoon and it had only risen a few hours earlier at about 10:00AM. When you are this far north in November, there are only a few hours of daylight. Honestly, it is rather depressing but at least in the summer they get daylight for nearly 24 hours. It just seems so unproductive when you only get a few hours of daylight each year. Our guide told us up here there are two things that occupy peoples time: Fishing and sex and in the winter it is just sex. Seems fitting, with very little daylight and all those hours of darkness!
Overall, the day was an awesome experience! Swimming in the arctic isn’t something i’d want to do regularly but it is definitely one of those awesome once in a lifetime experiences. I will say that i’d also like to experience a polar dip in an ice hole sometime too but like this arctic swim will definitely need a sauna nearby for that too. Combined with visiting one of the most northern inhabited places in the world, this was an unforgettable day and experience!