During the year that you are training yourself to become a wilderness guide, there is a lot to do every day, and besides the trips, there were so many activities that we practiced, here I will mention a couple of them, the ones were more meaningful for me.
I remember the first time I heard here about orienteering, people were talking about finding some flags, for me, that was completely unknown, I didn’t get in the beginning what it was, and I didn't pay that much attention either, but then the time came and we needed start to practice, so the teachers explained about how to use the compass and how to read the maps, until that everything was fine because I knew how to do it, but in theory, the story is completely different when you have to try on your own. First, we started with the practices in the forest all the group together, and after few days we needed to start doing the orienteering by ourselves finding this “famous” flags, the whole thing about this, is finding some flags in different points that you have in your map and doing it in a determinate time, so you need to use your compass and your map to find them and then return to the start point with all the marks in your map that shows that you found them. It sounds easy, but it wasn't that easy for me in the beginning.
In Finland, this “orienteering” is a big thing, they have several competitions during the year about orienteering, in some others countries in Europe is a bit common as well, but I´m from Chile, and we don’t have anything similar like that, of course, you can learn how to use compass and map and more when you are working as an excursion guide is needed, but competitions about it? never heard before I got in Finland.
I must admit that I wasn’t that good in the beginning, actually, if I have to choose one thing in the whole program that was the most difficult for me, I have to say that was orienteering, I remember the first practice I found just one flag, I felt terrible, so disappointed of myself I didn’t want to come back to the return point because I felt so embarrassed, but I gave up and went back because I couldn’t stay whole day trying to find the “famous” flags, so I went back there and I remember I got to the classroom where Henkka (my favorite teacher ever) was and I said: I didn’t get them… I wanted to cry and just go away, but Henkka looked at me, smiled, and said: “you will get them next time, is normal, you will have time to learn, hakuna matata!” and he was right, we have a lot of practices, and every trip was a practice as well, everyone had their own day to be a guide and orienteer the whole group, so at the end is not even necessary sometimes use the compass, is about read the landscape and I can tell that is possible, although I thought that I will never get it, but is just about practicing, like everything in life.
When I saw in the program that we will have cooking class, I was really excited about it, because I love cooking and have the possibility to learn how to cook in open fire it was something that I was looking forward to, we learned how to cook so many different dishes, things that you don’t even expect that is possible to cook outdoors, and at the end, you realize that you can do everything in there, even bread and it tastes awesome!
Besides the cooking lessons, there was a special teacher that makes the learning process even better, he is an amazing guy, Un crack! We could say in Spanish, he has so much experience, and while he was teaching how to cook, he was teaching about life in the forest as well, he got so many good stories, and I enjoyed every moment that I spent with him in those cooking weeks. I’ll always remember how you can use almost everything in the forest to cook, and the plants that help you when you get sick, “who needs medicine if you have the forest”, that he told me once.
When I thought that all the challenges were done, there it was “the survival night” stay in the middle of the forest by yourself, without any gear, just the clothes you were wearing, matches, and your knife, so you needed to build your shelter with all you find in the forest and survive. My god, I was cold that night, about -8 degrees, that is not too bad if you are sleeping outdoors with the proper gear, but if you don’t have anything, you really feel the cold. I didn’t sleep at all, I tried, and I think I got 45 min sleep and that was all I could resist, so went out of my shelter and try to find anything that I could burn to make fire, I just have my knife, so not that easy chop wood just with a knife, but I did it anyway and I survived that night, but it wasn’t enjoyable at all!
Rescue from the cold water
In Wintertime lakes in Finland are completely frozen, nearly everything freeze here, but when the snow starts melting in the spring, is a possibility that you can fall into the water while you are skiing in a frozen lake, so before our solo trip, we practiced what to do if that happens to you, we made a big hole in a frozen lake, where you had to jump in and try to get out by yourself. The idea was to simulate a real situation, so you needed to wear the clothes you used to wear when you are skiing, which makes it even more complicated when you try to get out of the water because that sort of clothes wet is not that light.
I still remember the sensation, not too easy to explain with words, but once I got my face out of the cold water I was swearing in Spanish really badly, so maybe that it can tell the feeling that I got at that moment.