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Joining the Georgian olympic team in Otepää

Posted: 2008-02-21 02:00:47, Categories: Travel, Estonia, Hospitality exchange, 583 words (permalink)

Reinforcements holding the Georgian team sign. The first weekend of February I traveled to Otepää in Estonia to participate in VastlaCamp, a Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing meeting. With a few friends I ended up joining the Georgian team in Winter Olympics which were not even part of the camp. :) See the photo gallery.

Vastlapäev is the Estonian name for Shrove Tuesday, or laskiainen in Finnish. Traditions of the festival include building sledges and sliding downhill in them. Some might aim for a long slide, but at least among students nowadays it's more about style: the funnier the better. That was also the plan at VastlaCamp, but because of small amount of snow and lack of equipment the sledge building part of the camp on Saturday was cancelled.

I went for a walk with a few other people and noticed a group of people marching in a formation and shouting something. They were carrying signs reading "Armeenia", "Georgia", "Kreeka" and "Nigeeria". It looked fun so we immediately joined the procession and the Georgian team got surprise reinforcements. Olympic rings were formed and flag hoisted, and the first event was a skiing competition.

Later it turned out that the "olympics" were part of a teambuilding event for the Delfi company which maintains a popular news website in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. First they actually thought we were some Latvian employees who were expected to arrive late. The reality was soon revealed but it didn't matter, they kindly welcomed us. So we got a chance to try sledging after all, both downhill and on flatland.

After a couple of hours we headed back to the camp which was at the Otepää high school. Pea soup and special buns were waiting for us and before evening sauna we still had time to go snowtubing. There were also a lot of social games both Friday and Saturday evening. One of the most interesting ones went like this: Chairs were put in a circle and participants sat on them sideways, knees as close to the chair in front as possible. Next everybody leaned back on the lap of the person behind. Then the chairs were taken away one by one... against all odds it actually worked and didn't result in everybody collapsing down! Other games included air guitar competition, button spinning, and writing a folk song in 5 minutes.

Saturday night ended in a costume party and dancing. My favourite costume was a cardboard television set which had enough space for another person to join in order to create a tv program. I dressed up as a Japanese in festival outfit which matched my habit of going around and taking photos of all the others.

One of the classrooms of the school was reserved for the party and next three for sleeping, the closest to the party room being labeled for "party animals" and the furthest for "sleepers". The party animals room wasn't quiet but not too wild either. A few people who didn't want to dance all night gathered there in a story telling circle. Vivid descriptions of bus travel with chickens in Bolivia and hitchhiking experiences all over Europe were just some of the topics.

The total number of participants was about 40 which felt just right for that kind of meeting. About half were from from Estonia and other half from neighbouring countries. Estonians have been very active in Hospitality Club and the HC Eesti spirit was certainly there! It was my first HC/CS meeting in Estonia but probably not the last.

Internet censored in Finland

Posted: 2008-02-19 00:42:47, Categories: General, Finland, Politics, 131 words (permalink)

Freedom is important for me. Freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, right to receive information. The two last ones have been recently violated in Finland. The Finnish police has been maintaining a blocklist of web sites allegedly containing child pornography. Now they have added a Finnish site criticizing the censorship on the same blocklist.

Instead of trying to describe the matter further, I'll point to an excellent summary of what it's all about.

My Internet operator doesn't use the blocklist, at least not yet. However, it's a sad moment when censorship is seen as the official way of silencing critical voices. I certainly hope this farce is going to end soon and the law which originally enabled the creation of the blocklist will be overturned.


Posted: 2008-01-28 23:16:29, Categories: Travel, Ecology, Cycling, 482 words (permalink)

On board a sailing boat with a worn out sail in Jaitapur, Maharastra, India. A Californian girl asked in a message on CouchSurfing how to see the world in an environmentally friendly way. As she said, there are eco-tourism companies out there, but traveling IN nature is not the same thing as treading lightly ON it. I've gathered some of my ideas below and I'd be happy to hear some of yours, too.

Be slower, be smarter. If you take your time when moving around and don't have a tight schedule, you probably end up consuming less.

Travel at least partly by foot, bicycle or other non-motorized transport. Not only is the method of transportation ecological, it also gives a positive example for others who see you travel. When cycling in rural India, locals would often ride their motorcycle beside me and ask why I don't buy a motorcycle. I happily answered "Ah, because the bicycle is better!", which often left them a bit surprised. If they were interested, I explained more.

Eat local, buy local. Don't be fooled by eco-labels: vegetables bought from the local market or directly from a farmhouse are probably much more ecological than an imported product in a supermarket marked as "organic". It may be difficult to know how much dangerous pesticides are used on the local farm or how they otherwise treat the environment, but at least I still generally prefer local stuff. The question becomes more complex when the climate is hostile for plant life: tomatoes grown in a greenhouse in Finland during winter might be healthy but their production is certainly not energy efficient.

Inexpensive is often also ecological. Especially in less wealthy countries, being green is still surprisingly well connected with money. Vegetarian food in India is half price compared to a meal including meat. A cheap guesthouse in Cambodia is not going to have superfluous light installations, because electricity is expensive. Even low end hotels might offer air conditioning and hot water, but they are options which you pay for separately. Unfortunately, for proper waste management the rule doesn't apply — cheap places often do poorly, but expensive is no guarantee for better.

Make people think. People often ask why and how you travel, where did you go, what you liked and how do you live back home. That's a splendid opportunity to bring forward some ideas which you consider important. I believe it's best to avoid commenting negatively on others' actions, but rather spread positive thinking and personally set a good example. If you want to be more active, you can of course systematically promote your ideas, write articles and participate in environment related events, but that already goes a bit beyond simple travel.

Thanks to Päivi and Santeri for the private correspondence on responsible tourism which influenced this article. They've also raised the issue of social footprint, which is even more difficult to estimate than the environmental one. I might write about that later.

Christmas and New Year greetings

Posted: 2007-12-21 12:03:24, Categories: General, 188 words (permalink)

My Christmas card 2007, English version. You can read my Christmas and New Year haiku in English, in Finnish or in Japanese. A haiku is a poem consisting traditionally of a pattern of 5, 7 and 5 Japanese language sounds, or syllables. More recently poets have taken liberties of deviating from the pattern, especially in languages such as English which are not so clearly based on syllables. Finnish, on the other hand, fits rather nicely in the traditional format.

In addition to the electronic card, I did send a fair number of Christmas and New Year greetings also in old fashioned paper format. Otherwise I rarely send letters — email has replaced them quite completely in my life — but at the change of the year I still find it nice to send and receive some, especially hand-made or otherwise personalized ones. Mine were variations on two simple origami (paper folding art) themes, photos, plus a few commercially sold cards which were still lying around from previous years. I didn't buy any new cards this year.

I hereby wish all the readers of my blog happy festivities, in whichever way you celebrate them. May peace be with you in 2008!

Article on crossing Romania by bicycle

Posted: 2007-12-21 11:48:30, Categories: Travel, Romania, Moldova, Cycling, 75 words (permalink)

A while ago a friend from the Finnish-Romanian Friendship Association asked if I could write an article about my bicycle tour in Romania for their magazine Viesti-Veşti. The article was published in the most recent issue and it's also available online (in Finnish).

I haven't actually seen the printed version yet, but as far as I know it was published unedited in full lenght. My visit to Moldova is also included in the article.

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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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