Foggy, windy, wet feet and muddy paws (of my dog Vanja). And still, these were six days, five nights in the hiking heaven! In the National Park Pallas-Ylläs of Lapland, Finland, you can experience the total digital detoxing (if you switch your mobile phone off, so please dare!), pure walking and breathing. Yes, the freshest air in the world, explained here.
We travel professionals are never really on holiday, are we? And we constantly take note of what´s not good, what could be done differently, how does a place keep what it promises? Where ever I go, I catch myself looking at things and circumstances with my comparing, caring, developing, educational glasses on. This time it all turned to admiring my home country and learning from it for others. No, not everything is perfect, but here are some of the things I found really, really good:
1.The peace, the cleanliness, the wilderness ethics. Zero motorized activities. No garbage anywhere. Human waste treated properly (bio composting toilets). Rest areas and shelters are like a wilderness walker loves them: rough, natural, while functional and clean. Leave No Trace principles are plain and simply the common understanding how we move in the nature and enjoy every season of the year. Plus, the silent rule that if you use wood at a fireplace, you replace it with fresh firewood (provided by Metsähallitus). Did you know, in Finland there are no entry fees to cover all this? Instead, there is a mechanism to help small businesses work and participate.
2. The Finnish National Park Visitor Centers, above all this one of Pallastunturi. No wonder that this Park was among the 2017 Finalists of the World Travel and Tourism Council´s Tourism for Tomorrow Destination Awards. I know that competition very well, since I helped take the Peaks of the Balkans project through to winning it 2013. It is a tough and thorough one! Here in Pallastunturi Visitor Center I loved the architecture, the friendly atmosphere, the local produce on sale, as well as the highly competent personal advice (along with that steaming cup of coffee on a cool day!). After an hour of getting dry and well informed, I couldn´t but buy …
3.…the extraordinary map in 1:50.000 scale. No frills, just very exact and useful information. Made of Tyvek®-material, 20,000 folding times are guaranteed on top. No, I won´t put it into the washing machine, although it is 100% waterproof too. Producer: http://www.calazo.fi/
4. Fellow hikers and local entrepreneurs. Never too many, never too talkative, always helpful and reliable. A bit like Finn-Matti. Everyone just appreciated who´s there, what´s behind and ahead of us. In conversations with local tourism entrepreneurs, I felt that there is good practical understanding why cooperation is essential and that the public side of tourism works well for them. In my daily microscale – arriving after an exhausting 25km hike – the best surprise was a perfectly heated sauna at a lake with 4 degrees Celsius…no way I wouldn´t go and swim. Thank you a million to the host of Tunturikeimiö.
5. The nature around: 360 degrees, 24 hours a day. Honestly, is this called “off season”? I found this a perfect time to be here and share the fells and forests with the occasionally appearing reindeer herds. After the Lucifer heat months and bush fires in the Mediterranean this summer, the “cool rainforest” air was a relief. In these last days of “ruska” the sparkling yellow leaves, all the oranges and purples you can imagine, lime greens and the hundred shades of grey appeared softer than usual. No power bars needed, by the way; blueberries and lingonberries along the path did the job.
Lapland may never present the super drama that you might know of other places. (Unless you are lucky enough to see the dance of the northern lights.) However, the wilderness can turn dangerous, if you don´t prepare well, follow the signs or read your maps right. That same week, a couple disappeared in the Savukoski area. The man was found dead, she has not been found yet. Hypothermia likely. With the extremely thick fog around and strong winds, I was very happy to spot the marking poles along the fell trails like good friends from the past. Thank you to all those who have put them in place and keep maintaining the network!
More on where, when and how to experience the Finnish outdoors: