FALLING IN LOVE WITH FINLAND: THE HUSKY TOUR
I often make decisions based on my gut feelings and going on a husky tour to Finland was absolutely one of those. I had a rough year in 2017, so I was determined to start 2018 head strong. When I saw an ad about husky tours, a little voice in the back of my head started whispering...just do it...you have to do it NOW. Two hours later, the trip was booked. I had an unexplainable craving for getting away from civilisation, looking for adventure, recharging my batteries far, far away from people and technology. After reading more about the trip, that Nature Point Paljakka is in a totally remote area, in the middle of the untouched, ancient spruce forest, my mother started to freak out. She suggested the trip would turn out to be a scene of The Shining and that I should act like a real girl and go to a spa, instead. "No Mother" - I said, booked the trip during Christmas and off I went in January. It proved to be one of the best decisions of my entire life so far.
I received a long list of what to take on the trip from the travel agency, including a face mask, head lamps, neckgator, thermo underwear, etc., so I suspected winter in Finland would be slightly different than I have ever experienced in my life. The weather did not disappoint, it turned out to be -20 degrees when I arrived.
I flew from Amsterdam to Helsinki where I had to change to a smaller airplane, taking me up to North. The trip started off pretty strong, when the flight attendant walked to me during my Helsinki flight, saying the plane was in massive delay and I would have five minutes to reach my next flight. That made me really calm and collected, as you can imagine. I got off the plane and in my utter stress, totally overlooked the transfer area, ending up at the baggage claims. When I realised I have had to check in again, I started to run through customs like a headless chicken, yelling at people to get out of my way and telling custom officers to have mercy on me. They did -kudos to Finnish people-, I experienced nothing, but kindness from their part. I made it to my next flight. Phew.
THE ARRIVAL AT WINTER WONDERLAND
Up on arrival at the tiniest airport I have ever seen, called Kajaani, it quickly became clear that my luggage was not as lucky as me and remained in Helsinki. It had ALL my warm clothes in it, everything. I honestly could not care less at this point, I was happy I made it...off I went the door to check out the snow! Snow that was so frozen it gave a harsh sound when walking on it - I was jumping a bit while staring at the falling snowflakes reflecting light back from the airport, a glittery magic while having a mad grin on my face...hell with the luggage, I thought, really, who cares, when I finally arrived at winter wonderland! Finns looked at me rather understanding, with a "Look at this one, it is her first time seeing snow..." kinda stare, but smiled at me. Finnair gave me a small package that included a comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, a pair of socks, a huge T-shirt, a razor and shaving foam. Of course I pictured myself riding the sled with a neatly combed hair, freshly shaven legs, wearing only a pair of socks and a white T-shirt in -23 degrees.
Our group met at the airport and we were taken to Nature Point with a minibus. There was no road, though, only snowy white lines where the road was supposed to be...and then, we arrived at Santa's house:
DAY 1: FIRST MUSHING
It was snowing all night - while I had my coffee outside, my luggage arrived right after the snow was cleared...just on time! Putting all the arctic gear on and off to get the sleds/dogs!
We "only" went for an hour mushing in the woods, slowly building up the time to almost two hours by the end of the week. It is hard to explain how it feels out there on the sled, surrounded by giant, curved top trees in such a freezing/harsh environment. There is complete silence, you only hear your and the dogs' breathing, it is tranquil and calm, you feel like you are in a different planet, part of something bigger than yourself...sledding is not for the lily-hearted, you need to be in a relatively good condition - it does require constant attention on the dogs, the road, even letting the sled go for once second can result in falling off...and yes, of course I did that (not that I am proud of it), only to end up running in full snow gear, chasing the sled in the woods for almost 1 km.
Day 2: MUSHING AND WANDERING AROUND NATURE POINT
After the morning mushing and lunch, I was walking around in the woods for at least 3 hours, waiting for the blue hour. I have not realised how cold it was until my camera's body turned white from being frozen (yet, the camera was performing as normal, big shoutout to Nikon!). Only after I went inside I felt my face burning...my excitement overwrote my common sense to wear a face mask. I petted myself on the shoulder that evening...luckily the burn went away by next day.
We were told earlier not to use any face creams, especially water based ones as it could freeze on the skin and cause frost bite.
DAY 3: WALKING TO THE SAUNA ON THE LAKE
As the temperature warmed up to hot -10 degrees, our hosts thought it was about time to walk through the forest to get to the sauna on a frozen lake and dip into the hole cut in the ice. We had lunch outside in heavy snowing next to the open fire. I tried fishing as well, staring in the hole for a while, seeing or catching absolutely nothing at all.
More walking back to Nature Point - this time on the "road" or where the road was supposed to be...
DAY 4: MUSHING, LEARNING A BIT OF NATURE POINT'S HISTORY & SPENDING THE AFTERNOON WITH DOGS
We were mushing for 1.5 hours, making the round a bit longer. Days are pretty short during winter in Finland, so it gets light about 8-9am and dark already at 4-5pm. You need to make the best of those precious semi-light hours...during the dark ones going to the sauna is the best option. It's in every house and I am a huge sauna freak, so I spent quite some time sitting around and quietly sweating over the meaning of life.
We also sat around dinner and talked about the history of Nature Point. I learnt it was a family business, the families Schwarz / Vollstedt run this private little hotel. The building itself used to be a school that was transformed into rooms to accommodate guests. There is a common area with a fireplace that you can sit around after a tiring day. The food served is excellent, the family pays special attention to stick to the Finnish kitchen, adding fresh, local ingredients every day.
The family started with only 5 dogs that grew into having 56 and 4 Icelandic horses. Feeding the dogs takes at least 1.5 hours every day, the dogs get dry food mixed with fresh meat. We helped feeding the dogs most of the days, of course.
DAY 5: THE LAST DAY, LONGEST MUSHING THEN OFF TO THE WOODS AGAIN
We worked ourselves up to mushing 22km (2 hours) in the morning, making it the longest ride of the week. The weather was getting a bit warmer, although out in the open, the wind cut my smile in half from time to time.
After the ride, we were taken to have lunch in a typical open wilderness hut that Finnish hikers use to stay for a night. It was optional to walk back to Nature Point (two hours) through the spruce forest or being taken back by car. While I was pretty beaten up by this point, I still chose for the walk and the forest did not disappoint...we also met a local cross country skier who completely blent in the environment and was heading to the same cabin.
The cabin was on the top of a hill, so while descending, we bumped into this view:
DAY 6: GOING HOME
The week passed really fast and it was time to return to reality. This trip did not disappoint, I loved every single minute of it - I would recommend it to everyone who is not afraid of a bit of an adventure and is willing to test themselves under harsh winter conditions.
The trip was booked via HeyHusky , a professional travel agency, their service is great, I can only recommend them.
FUN FACT: I ADOPTED A DOG AFTER GETTING HOME
I always wanted to have a dog and up on returning to my apartment in Amsterdam, it felt empty. I got so much love from those huskies in Finland, that I started to look around pages dealing with dog adoption. The very first dog I saw reminded me one of the huskies in Nature Point, a dog that was so eager to be close to me, that I could not get her off while taking pictures. I took it as a sign and visited the one I saw on www.vershuisdieren.nl . She lives with me now - I named her Lepke (butterfly in Hungarian).