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Summerjob at Utsjoki hotel

The author is Leena Pohjola (née Tolonen), who worked at the Utsjoki tourist hotel in 1966.

Summergirl in 1966

Yes, it's the same hotel and location as 1966! Everything essential is unchanged, the atmosphere of the dining room and the magnificent landscape visible from its windows, the flowing Utsjoki. And next to it is the familiar giant, the Ailigas fell.


I came to work in the hotel's reception in July 1966. I was 21 years old. My sister had been in the same job for a month and a half, we changed shifts. We were students from Helsinki. Our father Jorma Tolonen was the CEO of the Finnish Tourist Association, so he had a hand in the daughters getting summer jobs from the other side of Finland.

There were many summer workers in the hotel, in the restaurant and in the kitchen. We got to live in Tenomaja. The building is still there, although now light, then red. Tenomaja was and is right next to Tenojoki and it was wonderful to fall asleep to the sound of flowing water in the evenings.

My work shifts were often: morning+evening shift, or evening+morning shift consecutively. That way, there were days off when you could go hiking. We young summer workers traveled to Kirkenes via Nuorgam, for example. Utsjoki had no bridge yet. Paavo, a real Sámi, who worked as a caretaker, was happy to sing for us in the taxi.

Sometimes on my day off, I hitchhiked to Mantojärvi alone to see the church and get to know the residents of the rectory.


Salmon tourists and rowers

It was exciting to be in the reseption, receiving travelers and selling sweets, tobacco and cards. In the evenings, you could watch how they danced in the restaurant. The summer workers had no business going there.

Salmon tourist were a count of their own. Wealthy-looking, slightly older southern gentlemen. In the evenings, they went to the river to fish with a Sámi rower. The next day they glowed with satisfaction or looked disappointed.

The Sámi men were sitting at their table in the restaurant. I got to know them a little. One of them, Jooseppi Pieski, once suggested that I came with him to catch salmon. So we set off in the sun of a nightless night to the mighty Tenojoki. It was a tough attempt, but the salmon didn't catch. Instead, Jooseppi sometimes drove the boat to the shore and served lunch. Made pot coffees with a small kettle and opened snack packages with reindeer meat sandwiches. A great experience.

After that, I heard gossip in the hotel that I was dating Joosep. But we were just friends. Once he went out to show me where to find a bridge. Even then there was no catch, instead the rubber boots rubbed the feet badly, but it was also an experience. I even corresponded with Joosep for a year. He was a good person.

I noticed in June 2022 that the Sámi were still sitting at the familiar table! I went to chat and ask about Joosep. It was familiar and related to some of these younger men. Jooseppi had already moved to that language a long time ago.

That's what these new rowers really hoped for, that the ban on salmon fishing in Tenojoki would end. That the salmon population would recover and get back to real work.

Flyboys and other acquaintances

Two boys in scout uniforms had also come from the south. They had been recruited to do research on insects. They had baits in different places on the lower slopes of Ailigas and they went every morning to check what kind of insects had caught the baits. Once the boys had an obstacle, whether they wanted to go on a trip a little further. They talked me into coming the next morning to check the baits. They gave instructions and a map.


I remember how hot it was and how tiring it was to find baits and mark them. Then suddenly I realized I was lost! With the help of the map, I tried to wander somewhere where there was a settlement. And finally I saw a hut, there were border guards. Fortunately, they showed the way to the people. Looking back, I was really daring.


The manager of the Utsjoki hotel was Aili Alho, a tobacconist and friendly aunt. She ordered clothes from Anttila's mail-order catalog and was horrified when she got a miniskirt. She was sixty after all. Aili Alho took action when needed. One waiter had a bad abscess in a difficult place and was in agony. Aili fetched the equipment and gave first aid, punctured the abscess and the girl was immensely relieved. There was no doctor nearby, but we managed.

New employees came from time to time, such as Sanni, who was a Kolta Sámi from Nellim. Sanni was young, affectionate and unusually shy, I guess she didn't know Finnish very well.

There was a cottage near the hotel, which was called the "riumuliiteri". There, the summer workers sometimes danced with each other. It was Paula, Krisse, Ulla, Eija, Risto, Hanski, at least I remember them. The girls were waitresses, wearing national costumes, the boys were cooks. We all got along well. We were from different parts of Finland.

There were no other accommodation establishments in Utsjoki at the time. The road there was also quite new, previously only the post road had gone there. And one still went to Karigasniemi in 1966. So there weren't very many tourists, there were already foreigners. My sister Liisa was interviewed for a French magazine. Unfortunately, she never saw the magazine.

At Utsjoki, the magic of Lapland caught me. I experienced it again in the summer of 2022. That feeling when you sit on top of Ailigas fell and see Tenojoki and Utsjoki from there, the whole great nature. Or walks along the Utsjoki river in the bright green of the birch trees and watches the swirls of the clear water...

Even if the journey is long, it's worth coming here!

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