We're falling into a nice routine with Finland. It goes something like this: swim in the morning, tear down camp, drive through beautiful pine forests, swim before lakeside lunch, enjoy said lunch, drive some more, set up camp, swim before dinner, have dinner, sleep, and repeat. Interspersed throughout: fighting our way through vicious bloodthirsty mosquitoes swarms every time we set foot outside.
Today, in the middle of the "beautiful pine forests" portion of our routine, we passed a large sign pointing to an Amethyst Mine about twenty kilometers off our path. It seemed like a worthy detour, so we turned to investigate. A few minutes later, we reached the parking lot of the site, situated about 3 kilometers from the mine itself.
Excited, we geared up for a short hike and followed the trail, Tara stopping to photograph some baby ferns and trees along the way.
When we arrived, we were dismayed to learn that it would cost a whopping €14 per person to visit. Ugh. Finland is expensive. A little bummed, we were about to turn back when I decided to poke around and take some photos first.
In the process, I discovered that the place was actually pretty cool! So, I trudged back down the stairs leading to the mine and told Tara it might actually be worth the entrance fee. Instead of coming along, she nominated me as the designated visitor.
Lately, when one of us is unsure of (or uninterested in), a touristy destination, we've been saving money by going alone while the other waits. If by some stroke of luck the attraction proves to be outstanding, we can always return to fetch the the waiting party.
To fund my jewel mining experience, we used a donation given to us by Louise Fuller, a friend of my mom's. Thank you so much, Louise!
The next tour didn't leave for nearly an hour, so Tara decided to return to the car to get some work done. Ominous clouds were rolling in as she departed; it was obvious a downpour was on the way. So, with a quick peck on the cheek, she sprinted off in the direction of the parking lot on her second run of the day.
Tara gone, I found a chair on the porch of the tourist shop, set up the recorder, closed my eyes, and waited. I love a good thunderstorm. As I sat, peacefully listening to the rhythmic patter of rain overhead, I was contentedly awash in with an "in the map" feeling of joy and incredulity about my place in the world.
As the shower picked up steam, the other mine-goers bought plastic ponchos from the gift-shop/cafe. One part cheapskate, one part nature geek, I abstained, instead looking forward to a walk in the rain. I was so engrossed in listening to the storm that the forty minute wait was over in what seemed like moments.
As the tour got underway, I was surprised to learn that amethyst was considered to be even more valuable than diamond until sometime in the 18th century when massive deposits were found in Brazil. The newfound abundance of the stone (and unethical practice of using cheap child labor to mine it) doomed it to relative mediocrity.
Frankly, the only thing of note or value to me about any gemstone is the interesting process by which it is mined.
Because the Lampivaara amethyst mine cannot compete with Brazilian wages, they've remained a small company of seven employees, including one jeweler. They produce a relatively small, but unique set of pieces every year. Here is a sample of the polishing process, which takes about an hour for a piece of this size:
After our brief education, the rest of the visit was spent hunting for amethyst ourselves. We were told it would be particularly easy for our group because the rain had washed away much of the dust which generally obscures the gem from easy identification. Sure enough, it wasn't difficult at all to find them shimmering in the sunlight among the rocks and dirt.
Over the course of thirty minutes or so, I found several pieces, all of which fit the sole criteria for keeping them: you must be able to close your hand around them. Apparently this rule had to be created because some years back an Italian man discovered a very large, nearly perfect, six sided geode. There was some controversy when they made him hand it over, as it was easily the biggest find at the site that year.
Anyway, it was a lot of fun! Louise, if you'd like one of these, please send us your address and I will mail one to you.
On my way back to the car, storm already come and gone, I stopped to capture some artic wildlife.
When I made it back to the parking-lot, I found Tara dry and happy, she'd made it to shelter in the nick of time. She reported that she ran the whole way, garnering strange looks as she went, and hopped in the car as the first drops began to fall. A few minutes later, everyone else came running, already drenched.
Tara finished off the last bites of her late lunch sandwich, and started making one for me. Meal consumed, she drove us back onto the main road, headed ever northward. There were plenty of reindeer to keep us company along the way:
We've officially reached the Arctic Circle!