Dressed to chill and stripped for action
Having bundled up warm to explore
winter landscape, Jeremy Atiyah finds himself naked in the snow
The whole point of Finnish Lapland (I thought) was its purity and innocence
and virginity and freedom from human pollution. But flying up from
08 December 2002
Anyway, this holiday (I have been told) is for people who like being outdoors in the snow, but who do not want to race down hills with competitive people in designer outfits and sunglasses. That is why we have got sedate-sounding activities such as snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, snow-mobiling, ice- fishing, reindeer-sledging and dog-sledding to get through. And when we have done that, we are going to get naked in saunas, and roll in the snow, and sing karaoke in the hotel bar. That is all. And if after all that I still insist on skiing, then I need not worry: Finnish Lapland does have its mountains.
And unlike the
Mind you, I am not hopeful about the alleged purity and innocence of
Considering we are in the
But enough on the cultural incongruities of
One thing I soon find is that no matter how well dressed I think I am, the Finns want to dress me better. During my visit the weather does not seem particularly cold: daytime temperatures hover between 0 and minus 10. Nonetheless, huge, soft, padded boots and Mika Hakkinen-style overalls are provided to accompany our every activity.
I like these safaris. First is the snowshoeing, which is similar to walking along your local high street, except that the scenery is more picturesque here. Traditional snowshoers looked as though they had tennis rackets on their feet. These days the footwear has elongated itself and acquired an upturned tip. Once suitably clad, we shuffle off into a deep forest, up and down the sides of a steep valley. The activity is barely more strenuous than walking, until I find myself at the bottom of a snow hole looking up at the sky.
Our guide Mika is a little fellow with a pixie face who seems to love snow and trees as other men love houses and pubs. He points out fluffy Siberian jays and elusive snow rabbits and birch trees with tufts of moss hanging from their branches like goats' beards ("nourishment for the reindeer"). Then he causes everyone to stop in their tracks by admitting that his major interest in life is surfing. "It is true," he concedes. "
Next it's off on the snowmobiles. These are to
Meanwhile, of real reindeer-herding Lapps we see not a sign, except for a man called Hanno with a huge knobbly nose and a comic-book strongman's square chin. According to Mika, he speaks in a strangely accented, peasant-dialect of Finnish. His name card is a piece of engraved fire-wood and he carries a traditional wooden cup and a knife strapped to his belt, next to his mobile phone. But Hanno's business does not involve herding reindeer. His business is giving tourists rides on his reindeer-drawn sledge, as we now prepare to experience for ourselves. It is all over in minutes. Customers sit huddled on the sleigh under a reindeer skin, while the reindeer belts off round a short track through the snow. "Hanno's reindeer is an on-off reindeer," explains Mika. "He runs at top speed, or not at all."
It is the same with the huskies, who we meet the next day. On the husky farm we are greeted by two hulking men in furry waistcoats who (according to Mika) eat, sleep and live with their dogs. The huskies themselves range in appearance from sweet fluffy puppies to wiry wolf-like creatures with fangs and yellow eyes. They are reasonably friendly, except with dogs on other teams, whom they try to maul and kill at the slightest opportunity. And when they feel a ride is in the offing, they set up a barking and a howling to wake the dead.
Driving a husky team is not difficult. The sledges all carry two people: one reclining like royalty, and the other standing behind, ready to jump on to the brake with force at a moment's notice. Once the dogs are unleashed, five to a team, they tear off as fast as their little legs can carry them, hoping to overtake, and perhaps massacre, the team in front. On uphill stretches, the driver is requested to help the dogs by pushing with his feet.
It's all such fun. And to cap it all comes a pre-dinner sauna followed by mandatory naked cavorting in the snow. We won't bother, afterwards, trying to spot the aurora borealis. Instead we'll get drunk and sing karaoke songs. The Finns round here will love us for it.
Jeremy Atiyah travelled with Inntravel (01653 629010 www.inntravel.co.uk), which offers a seven-night holiday from £640 per person, based on two sharing, including return scheduled flights with Finnair from Heathrow to Kittila via Helsinki and half-board accommodation at the Yllashumina Hotel in Western Lapland, Finland. Alternatively, a three-night break costs from £490 on the same basis. There are reductions available for children aged under 16.
Finnish Tourist Board (020-7365 2512; www.finland-tourism.com).