By Four Wheeled Nomad: Words by Lisa Morris, images by Jason Spafford
Right on the edge of the Finnish Russian border, Karhu-Kuusamo Oy comprises a couple that offers bear watching out of a place called Kuusamo, the northernmost part of Finland. Protected from hunting, a magnificent number of brown bears dwell in the forest at Kuntilampi. Incredible – who knew these beasts resided on the continent?
Only pointed out to us through happenstance of bumping into Theo and Bee (The Indie Projects) in an empty car park having just crossed the Swedish border. Like us, they’re a British couple who live on the road, albeit their lifestyle resumed in a cosy Sprinter van complete with Gingery, their, ahem, well-fed ginger cat. Lording over one and all, this cat should run for Gingery President of the Ginger Cat Foundation for the Incurably Ginger. Pot kettle black notwithstanding, I couldn’t deny the chilly wind presiding over us all, I had terrible van envy.
Just a four-hour detour up to the border from our southbound location and a nervous detachment with 120 Euros per person later, we set aside a late afternoon through sunset in the hopes of encountering a sleuth of European brown bears.
But only after rescuing an Indian family of five whose hire car became royally stuck in a muddy ditch near the allocated bear-watch parking. Brilliantly, that’s the second time on the trip to date we’ve deployed the winch to relieve some car-going tourists in a spot of bother.
Baited by a guy I deemed more of a bear whisperer using his quad bike supplies, the guide returned to us in the hide. Casually, he happened to mention some of the bears’ somewhat disgruntled temperaments by his tardy time keeping. Oops. That’d be us assisting the dude and his damsels in the ditch. Scattering bear love around the forest floor – after honey that is – with juicy scraps of salmon.
Situated inside a warm and comfortable hide with big windows on three sides, cameras were soon set in prime shooting position through portholes. Trigger happy fingers poised. As with all wildlife experiences, no guarantees were promised. Nevertheless, it was tricky to stay prepared for scant sightings or none at all.
Lo and behold, a couple of large lone males rocked up within five minutes of our session. “L-u-c-k-y” was a weak term, we’d won the jackpot. Apparently, wolverines occasionally make appearances too. Next up, an ever-cautious mother crested the hilly path with four cubs sidling alongside. More older males followed, some bolder junveniles as well. All were surprisingly comfortable in close proximity to one another, while we feasted on our eyes on watching the bears bathe in the water, practice their tree-climbing skills but mostly chow down their fillet of fish.
With absolute and unfaltering ease, a huge male stood straight up on his powerful hind legs to become the size of a house. He’d spotted a salmon piece speared on a sharp branch, hung above his natural posture. Its shoulder blades gliding like pistons under its fur. The bear’s unblinking eyes were locked on its entrée, main and dessert. Unburdened, flexible and incredibly effortless. Barely believing our luck in seeing 16 big browns over the course of a few hours; they were like flies around overripe mangoes. When nature becomes this limitless, joy is my constant companion. fourwheelednomad