Monday, 19 July 2010

The Scandinavian Expedition 2010 - Diary Day 19a

Currently sitting in the laundry room of a campsite in a town whose name I can't pronounce (it's spelled Nordkjosbotn) somewhere out in Norway (yeah, after the short excursion to Sweden I'm back in the country with the most expensive beer in the world). I wrote a lot today and loads of things happened over the past five days, so I'll split it in three posts.
A laundry room isn't the best place for having dinner and giving way to my literary outbursts, but since the nice, warm and welcoming kitchen is closed for the night... Anyway, I'm better off here than in the dampness of my soaked tent (that's right, the weather hasn't been my best friend lately).

I was quite surprised when I realised not to have written anything in five days. I guess even though I travelled some 600km further North, my muse did not feel like emerging from the depths of my grey matter. Can't say I blame her, considering the weather... but let's not start this post in such a disgruntled and sinister tone. It's actually going to be quite nice.
Train trip
After I left the service area near Storuman, where I used pen and paper almost a week ago, I took the Inlandsbanan train and nine hours later I was getting off in Gallivare (prounced Yellivare), far beyond the Arctic Circle. The Inlandsbanan was nothing special, just a diesel train, but it was really nice to sit an old-fashioned carriage after all those modern and airconditioned ones, where you can't open the window and poke your head out, let alone hear the sound of the wheels clicking on the tracks and the rumbling diesel engine as it eats away miles and miles across the country.

Crossing the Arctic Circle
Too bad the train was so crowded I couldn't poke my head out anyway; in fact, I wasn't even facing the right direction, which was pretty annoying. Instead of looking at the infinite Swedish landscape, I was reading a book, while a German couple did the watching. Whenever the girl shouted, I knew there was something out there to see. Apart from this, there was nothing major to say about the journey. Ah, actually there was – we crossed the Arctic Circle. Being beyond the Arctic Circle basically means that it never gets dark in the summer and there are a lot more mosquitos.

Oring mine. Pardon me... mining ore
In Gallivare I went on two tours of the local mines. The first one is the biggest iron-ore mine in Europe, owned by the LKAB company, with over 500km of underground tunnels (of which 300 are paved). The tour wasn't something you would call cheap, but it was well worth the money.

Safety first - they made us wear a helmet, a lovely coat, a pair of sexy wellies and gave us an electronic tracking device (if every person who goes into the mine during the day doesn't show up by the evening, they can't blow up the daily portion of rock and you can guess what that means, financially). After our tourist group was properly geared up, they took us 1000 metres underground with an old Volvo bus and showed us, beside other things, the crusher. The crusher is a tiny little 30-ton metal mortar-shaped monster with one purpose only - to pulverize boulders as big cupboards in a matter of seconds. The boulders are carried by 90-ton lorries with specially reinforced rear tyres, and the overall impression of such a scene is an underground monster truck competition.

Click for more pics.

The mine's final product (magnetised iron pellets) is taken away by train, either to Narvik in Norway or Lulea in Sweden, in wagons carrying over 60 tons each. According to the guide, each train has exactly 68 wagons. Guess why that number. Why not 70 or 150 (the engine could pull them easily). Because the unloading platform isn't long enough. With 68 wagons the colossus is exactly 700 meters long, and not an inch more would fit on the platform. Seeing such a train defiling in front of you in the middle of Swedish wilderness is a really impressive sight.

Copper, silver... even gold
Aitik, the second mine I visited, is also the biggest in Europe, but this one is an open pit quarry, not an underground one. They mine copper, silver and gold there and if I had to describe it with one word, I'd say TITANIC. It's a massive pit that goes 400m down and stretches 3,5km across. Add the huge slag deposits around it and you'll get a site extending on over 25 square kilometres and apparently visible from space. You know those huge lorries the height of five men that use to cruise such sites? The ones with a double ladder leading to the driver's cabin? They look like toys inside the pit.

Ok, I think that's enough reading for one  post. I wrote much more in the laundry room of this campsite in a Norwegian town with an unpronounceable name (either the laundry was so inspiring or I was subconsciously reluctant to get back to my damp tent), but that'll have to wait for another time. Nature lovers should not miss the next post!

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