The country that gave the world ABBA, Volvo, Ikea, Bjorn Borg, Absolut vodka, Pippi Longtocking, Hasselblad cameras, the Nobel Peace Prize, and let’s not forget Swedish Fish, what’s it like? Come with me to the northern and western part of the country for a small taste of Sweden. I’m here in part to attend the Adventure Travel World Summit in Gothenburg. Nu går vi!
Like a roller in the ocean, life is motion, goes the ABBA song. Here I go (and you’re coming with me)! IAD-CPH-ARN-LLA-GOT
Copenhagen (CPH) is a great airport—cool design and even cooler that it’s carbon neutral this year and working towards being emissions-free—but I wish I could get out and spend some time here, and visit my cousin Rica and her baby Isabella.
Going to Lapland: From Stockholm it is another hourlong flight to Luleå and from there a four-hour drive by lakes and through pine forests to Ammarnäs (pop. 70) and the Wardshus lodge, not far from the border to Norway and just south of the Arctic Circle. (My finger points out where we are off the map.) A lovely meal of cured reindeer, pan-fried Arctic char, and apple sorbet closes out the day. Good thing, I’ve been awake for 32 hours.
The pace of life in this area of Lapland is slow and Swede, hewing close to the rhythms of nature. Centered around the undammed Vindal River, the region has water so clean you can drink straight from the streams, air so fresh finicky lichens drape from the birch trees, and such species biodiversity that it became the centerpiece of a newly designated UNESCO world biosphere. Ammarnäs, Swedish Lapland.
Seeing red: If the Swedish flag is blue and yellow, then why are so many houses, schools, and churches claret-colored? It harkens back to the 18th century when the resourceful Swedes used a byproduct of copper mining mixed with starch and water to create a durable paint for houses. And thus Falu red was born (named after the town Falun which had many of the mines). Around Ammarnäs, Swedish Lapland. With Björk Experience.
Lapland, or Sápmi, is the homeland of the Sami people, and crosses the borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Like many indigenous peoples, they have been historically persecuted and marginalized for their nomadic traditions and animist beliefs, though in recent years there has been a cultural revival. At her crafts store in Ammarnäs, Margareta Grahn keeps Sami customs alive, weaving baskets of tender birch bark root, preparing secret herbal potions of protection, and embellishing reindeer leather bags with ancient and powerful symbols of Sami cosmology.
Still with me? From Ammarnas (pop. 70) we head to Geunja (pop. 2), where Sámi couple Mikael and Anka Vinka open their hearts and home to only 12 small groups of guests a year. The only way to get there is by boat or snowmobile or on foot or skis. We’re taking a traditional wooden motorboat. Despite the lack of electricity or modern plumbing, it is luxurious. But beyond the secluded setting and accommodations, it is a rare opportunity to participate in a way of living that is so attuned to the rhythms of nature it feels magical. Swedish Lapland.
A boat ride and day hike deep in the Vindelfjällen with reindeer herder Mikael Vinka is revealing. Just as the cultures in the North American Pacific Northwest revolve around the salmon and those of the Plains around bison, the reindeer is at the heart of Sámi culture. Its meat provides food, skins warmth, tendons rope, antlers tools, hooves wax, and the list goes on.
Other animals are important too: moose, Arctic char, bear (a sacred animal), and the Arctic fox (today highly endangered and protected). And helping the herder is always a dog (or two). Dajjo and Dallvi are white Swedish moose dogs (or technically elk hounds), intelligent, loyal, and protective. Swedish Lapland.
What the world needs now: Modern society seems to have made a mess of this planet in only a few hundred years. The Sámi people have been careful stewards of their borrowed patch of Earth for more than eight millennia. “If the reindeer disappear, we disappear,” notes Mikael Vinka. He’s referring to Sámi culture, but could just as well be speaking about all humanity.
A place like Geunja is a window into another way. Here you can get woke. Already woke? Get woker. Swedish Lapland
Today we’re on the boulder-strewn island of Ramsvik on Sweden’s western coast. It’s a little windy, but the sun is out and the sea air is refreshing. I’m hiking with David Ekelund, CEO of the Gothenburg-based Icebug, and we’re testing out the company’s signature grippy, non-slippy footwear. “We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors as much as we do, says David. ”And the right gear can change behavior.” Making sneakers is a dirty business, but the company has made strides in all aspects of the production chain. “We use new technology and recycled materials to minimize the environmental impact; then we offset what’s left, with a surplus.“
A couple of months ago I met Doug Scott—the first Brit to climb Everest—in Nepal. Today I meet British climber/explorer Leo Houlding in Sweden. He does crazy death-defying things like scale Spectre, one of the most remote peaks in the world. (To do the epic ascent, he had to first kite-ski thousands of kilometers through the ice dragging 500 pounds of supplies.) There are lessons for all of us from those who push to the edge of human limits. “Climbing mountains ultimately isn’t about reaching the summit but about getting home again,” says Leo. The expedition also served to raise awareness of Antarctica, the center of the climate crisis. He was the featured breakfast speaker at the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund reception. Marstrand.
The gathering of colleagues from around the world around a common purpose is always inspiring. It’s hard to call it work when you’re surrounded with friends (too many to tag!). Let the words of Talib Rifai propel the adventure travel industry forward. “There’s no future for travel and tourism if you’re not welcome and embraced by the local community,” says Talib, the former Secretary General of the UN’s World Tourism Organization. Thanks to the ATTA team for the great programming and to Sweden for modeling how
to put on a sustainable travel conference.
Your friendly Adventure Travel Conservation Fund Board at work. Honored to be part of this group of industry dynamos who volunteer their time and expertise to steer this new nonprofit. There is much work to be done still to ensure maximum impact but in three short years the ATCF has funded 12 worthy conservation projects around the world. We typically meet up online but since everyone was in Sweden already, what a treat to gather for a deep dive and outline the way forward. Want to help? Ask me how. Marstrand.
End of season laidback vibe in Marstrand, a resort island in west Sweden. King Oscar II was a regular.
This is what got me through two weeks of travel without single-use plastic. My flights were carbon offset by the conference hosts. I’m nowhere near perfect but I’ve made a big effort this year to reduce, reuse, and recycle, take fewer trips and stay longer (not always possible with work), and support local organic farmers. While it’s debatable whether these kinds of individual acts can make a material difference in the face of such overwhelming problems, that’s not really the point. As climate activist Greta Thunburg told BBC News, "The point is to create an opinion.... that sends a signal to other people around you that the climate crisis is a real thing and that’s what helps push a political movement." Gothenburg.
Photos © Norie Quintos.