In May 2017, when Jane McDonald and her film crew (from Cruising with Jane McDonald) visited Taiga Colors, I told Jane that I intended to kiss Juuso the painting bear when I finally would get the chance to meet him. Well, I have news for you Jane!
In the beginning of September I had a chance to take a few days off from work and fly up to Kuusamo. My good friend, journalist Päivi Arvonen, took good care of me and showed me around. The first day after Päivi picked me up from the airport, we went to Kuusamo Predator Center to meet Juuso and the other bears. In addition to myself, Juuso the bear is the only artist of Taiga Colors, and our mutual JuJu Collection was launched last May.
We were happy to get Sulo Karjalainen, the founder of the Predator Center and the lifetime companion of Juuso and the other bears, as our host during this extraordinary visit. When Juuso saw him approaching he got on his back feet and started eagerly "dancing" back and forth, showing that he was all exited to meet us (or more likely Sulo and the grapes and plums we had with us). But before going to meet Juuso, we went to meet and feed the other bears first.
When we finally got to Juuso, he was very upset. It had taken us too long with the other bears and his feelings were hurt. Talk about a true artistic spirit! He turned his back on us, and didn't care about the treats we had brought him. It took Sulo quite a lot of effort and about twenty minutes to get him relented, but finally he came to meet us.
What an amazing experience! In Finnish language, the scouring pad is called karhunkieli, which means the tongue of a bear. I have to say that the word doesn't give you the right image at all. His kiss was soft and pleasant, and his breath was as fresh as the summer wind! I thought that I will never ever wash my face again.
This meeting happened under the supervision of Sulo Karjalainen, who has raised Juuso and therefore knows him like his own child. If you meet a bear in the nature, please do not try to kiss it. Do not run or climb into a tree either, because bears are much faster runners and better climbers than you. Talk to the bear calmly so you will be identified as a human, and move away slowly keeping your eye on the bear. In Finland there are about 1800 bears in the wilderness, but the chances of meeting a bear are quite slim. They normally smell you way before you can see them, and they stay away in a distance. Observing you.
Next day we went hiking at the most popular hiking route in Finland called Karhunkierros (the bear circuit). The full route is 82 km, but we did only the short version of it (12 km). I love swimming in natural waters, and of course I had to take a dip in the downstream of Jyrävä waterfalls.
We also fed some Siberian jays. They are very tame, another wonderful experience in Kuusamo.