At the end of the earth is a small town in Sweden called Abisko. I can’t remember where I first heard of it, but for years it’s been a place I “might go someday.” Someday was apparently Fall Break this year, when I realized there might not be another chance to take Jake and Eli to see the Northern Lights. So off to the Arctic Circle we went!
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but this part of the world was wonderfully different. Mountains, furry boots, isolated houses….sort of what I imagine a remote village in Alaska might be, except with lots of gummy candy and Swedish people.
We flew from Stockholm to Kiruna, a mining town with a little airport that was an hour and a half south of Abisko. I’d booked a van to drive us the rest of the way, which turned out to be a brilliant move because otherwise, there was nothing! No bus, no train, no taxi. We were the only people on the road for miles, and the landscape rolling by outside was bleak, lonely and exhilarating. The sun hung low in the sky, over frigid lakes and leafless birch trees, and pale light seeped in vast splendor over the wide, open wilderness.
There weren’t many places to reserve rooms in Abisko, which should have been the first sign that we might be really off the beaten path. I’m at an age where I’m willing to pay for a hotel with a nice bed, but there weren’t any options like that here at this end of the earth, so we booked a room at the Abisko Guesthouse. It was perfect! Warm and rustic, it was not what I had in mind, but it reminded me of being a backpacker. Our apartment was a converted trailer with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, and living area that we shared with a couple from France. We played cards and ate salami sticks, and cuddled under warm down comforters. The best part was showing Jake and Eli there is another way to travel and see the world, and there is always a way to figure it out.
The weather was cold but not crazy in the twilight of early October. Darkness came early, and a quick run through the grocery store revealed a lot of dry noodles, frozen meatballs and enormous bins of gummy candy. The boys are sort of hungry these days and I didn’t really want to cook, so I signed us up for a Northern Lights and Reindeer Dinner “experience.” Two birds with one stone! All we had to do was wear warm clothes and wait until 8:00.
Our guide was an adventurer/scientist who lived in Abisko to study the wilderness and the area’s indigenous people. We joined a group of Italians and a computer specialist from Australia, and had a wonderful lecture inside a teepee about the science behind the Aurora, the ecosystem of the area, and the Sami, a native group responsible for herding and protecting the reindeer. Much like our Native American tribes, their lives are tied closely to the rhythms of nature and revolve around the changing seasons, the movement of the reindeer, and the snow. They live in teepees and raise their children steeped in stories, and use the reindeer for food and clothing. We gathered around a giant bed of coals to listen as our guide cooked this enormous pan of reindeer meat! It also had vegetables and soy sauce, kind of like a giant Reindeer Stir Fry. The meat was a bit gamey and a tad oily, but overall pretty good. I have never seen such a huge pan.
After dinner, we bundled up in every warm thing we owned to start the Aurora Chase. The Guesthouse had boots, gloves, and winter overalls for people to borrow if they were afraid of being cold, and I said YES. It was cold!! The drivers also brought along thermoses of hot lingonberry tea, which didn’t really make us any warmer, but did distract us a little. Soon we were up in the hills around Abisko National Park, with the Aurora dancing over our heads! If I were a real photographer these pictures would be better, but I’m not, so….
A trip to the far reaches of the earth was what I was hoping for, and Abisko delivered exactly that. Rustic, untouched, completely off the grid and hard to reach, but a community that seemed to take care of each other. Our guides took care of us by calling their friends to make sure we all had rides back into town, and cheerfully let us know that the dogs would be joining us. There was a small neighborhood of houses, with lamps in the windows and kids’ toys in the yard, and a research station where one morning, I saw a man pushing a stroller. People live here, and probably love it, exactly because it is not like anywhere else.
I get it, and I think I could do this too, as long as Jake and Eli came to visit, and there was a steady supply of firewood and meatballs :).