Excerpt from my next book ‘Overlanders’ By Rensina van den Heuvel
Our small Aeroflot Russian aircraft landed into a cold, wet landscape of Finland. After a quick grab of our luggage, we whizzed out of the airport building, just in time to miss the bus to Espoo by 2 minutes. We would have to wait for another hour. …in a grey and wet Helsinki.
Allen and I had only been awake for what seemed like a million hours and had travelled from Mongolia via Russia…which is ALWAYS an ordeal. ‘Oh let’s get a taxi…hang the expense’.
Allen trots off to get a price and comes back saying it would cost us 70 euros (about $110 AUD) for the 21 klm trip. What?? Must be a mistake, surely. But even after I tried the taxi booth phone in the terminal, I got a man with an accent telling me, “Twenty seven euros to Espoo, Maam but we don’t go out to that area.” Mmm! Great. This is all not looking too promising at all for a weary traveller.
I try another cab in the rank outside and the bloke says, “Mmmm… Espoo? Zat coult be about Vorty euros but it coult be more than that….but meybe less.” Yeah right I thought. Welcome to Europe.
“Let’s bus it,” I said to Allen. “They are just pulling out prices from where ever!” By the time we get back to the bus stop, pushing our 54kgs of luggage around on two BIG trolleys, we only have to wait another 15 minutes till a luxurious bus arrives to whisk us off to Espoo. At about $2.50 each , it was more in our price range.
Arriving at Espoo Central, which turns out to be a railway station, the bus stops in the rain. The driver drags our bags out and drops them into small puddles on the wet pavement…thanks bloke! Such a considerate man when ten metres further up there a huge area under cover. Bus has got to drive right past it…wouldn’t you think? Is it just me?
You know, in poorer countries they just wouldn’t do that.
Well, I am very sleep deprived and right now feeling borderline cranky but one more creep like that and I could become murderous. Now we do need a taxi? “How do we find that?” I am wondering out loud.
Suddenly, like magic, a small taxi appears right in front of us. And the young male driver is the best dressed taxi driver I have ever laid eyes upon. A well cut three piece suit, no less. Navy blue with a gorgeous, sky blue shirt underneath and a navy tie to match. Has he mistaken us for part of a wedding party? No, he hasn’t.
Mohammed is from Kurdistan, he’s a student and speaks a little English with a charming accent. He moved to Finland thirteen years ago with his parents. He’s an absolute treasure and within a few minutes of conversing with him, totally restores my faith in Finland.
Mohammed drives with care as he takes us on a windy, road out to the address we give him. ‘Leningrad Autos”, Straddenstretie 5, Espoo. The road is in a country area filled with green fields with wildflowers, forests, lakes, quaint homes and cottages. It’s just divine and the extreme opposite of where we have flown from, in the wee hours of this morning. The Mongolian Desert.
Mohammed looks at us through his big, dark brooding eyes with more than a look of suspicion. “Dis is not place,” he says with disbelief, casting his eyes over the masses of military vehicles, the huge old wooden barn and the freaky looking, tall brick building, with bars on the tiny windows. Looks like a Polish movie set from the 1950’s.
‘Yes, this is it, alright’ Allen says reassuringly. “No, no surely not. You hev phone number?” says the Kurd, casting his eyes around the wet, grey truck yard. Allen hands him the phone number and he feverishly dials the number and has a quick brief conversation in the strange language of Finland.
Now, while we are on the subject of Finnish. You know, I have been exposed to many, many languages in my life and I can usually pick out the odd recognisable word from amongst the chat, but Finnish? No! It sounds as foreign as anything I have ever heard and to see it written, well, that my friend, is another story!
Just who developed this language? Who decided that it was okay to put so many letters of the alphabet into every word? It appears to me that someone a long, long time ago grabbed someone else’s language and said, “Right…lets make Finnish” and then ADDED a whole lots of letters which weren’t really needed.
Or maybe they did it to confuse an enemy they had at the time.
But really, who puts two aa’s together in a word. And how do you get ‘cooling system’ from Jaahdytysjarjestelman or the word ‘clear’ from tyhjentaminen. More about this odd language later.
As we offload our bags, Mohammed tells us, smiling now with relief, that “It is indeed the right place, Sir and that Matti, our Finnish truck dealer has assured him that he will arrive in fifteen minutes” and Mohammed is probably also thinking, that the foreigners will be okay and are not being tricked into some weird Russian espionage ‘plot’.
We wave a cheery goodbye to our lovely Kurdish driver after instructing him to come and ‘visit’ Australia in Winter. I give him a card with our contact details and an invitation to come stay with us, if and when he ever gets to Australia.
Matti arrives in a yank tank, which rumbles into the driveway. Big shaking of hands and he speaks to us with a booming, heavily accented voice. He’s a huge fella, about early forties with a happy, open face and a long ponytail. He’s an enthusiast. Old cars and trucks are his passion. He’s got lots of them in the shed, in the yard, at his house and even some more down the road in a museum. “ I hev many. I love dis vehicculs”, he roars in his Finnish accent and pointing. “Dar is your truck.”
And there in front of us… she is. The GAZ 66. Our ticket to freedom and adventure.Yay!!! I fall in love immediately!
We spend the next seven very wet cold days in the car yard.
Across the road is a heavily wooded forest with all sorts of unfamiliar trees and bright colored mushrooms. There are fields with cows on three sides around us and the old three storey, orange brick building sits like a spooky sentry. Yes it has history alright.
Matti tells us that in the top floor they used to lock up Russian prisoners. The tiny windows have bars on them.
A bit spooky at night as Matti has put a skeletons head in one of the windows with a light inside it. I did not know that, the first night we stayed there and I saw the light in the middle of the night when I ventured out for a pee in the dark.. Freaky!
Matti doesn’t live at the yard and he has given us the keys to the huge shed so we can use all of his tools to get the truck ready to travel in. We also get to use the internet, anytime and I get into Matti’s office for a while each day, check my mail and research travel information.
Mattie’s office is in the back of a massive Russian Zil truck. It’s all painted in camouflage on the outside and has the inside windows blacked out. It’s cosy in there but it’s full of guns and cupboards with BIG padlocks.
There is also a big sticker on his wall which says, “The more I learn about women the more I like my truck.” It’s a blokes truck.
In the dimness, I tap away at a keyboard on a small wooden desk with a small patch of diffused light from a battery lamp. I feel like a spy in world war two, sending coded messages.
Armed with a screw driver and crawling around on my hands and knees, my next five days are filled with dismantling and dragging out a lot of really heavy, old radio equipment from the inside of the back of the truck. Big filing cabinet looking things made out of steel, pine and aluminium. There are bits of steel railing and all kinds of weird looking hooks and holders with clamps. Nothing is recognisable to me.
I am pulling out all the bits we don’t need and am transforming the back into our living space while Allen has the cab tilted and works on the engine. It continues to rain…day and night….drizzle! Yuk!
At night we cook on a little gas burner and sleep on the floor rugged up in sleeping bags.
The Gaz 66 is a Russian built truck, which was used by the Finnish Army, as a radio truck. If this truck could talk, I bet she would have some stories to tell. She’ll have plenty in the next few years as we begin to travel the 3571 kilometres south to Jordan via Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Syria.
To be continued…. Part two here