Trip Journal - Jokkmokk




Jokkmokk - 27 June 1998

On Friday, we dawdled in the morning: took showers, packed, worked on the website, and answered email. Then in the late afternoon, about 6:30 p.m., we caught the night train to Luleå. We had two reservations in a Liggvagn (sleeping car), which sleeps six people together, no gender or age distinctions. There are three bunks on each side, and the middle bunk can be folded down to the bottom one so that they make seats. The pillows can be Velcroed to the back of the seats for headrests. It's all very cleverly designed. There is a little ladder that connects to the table so you can climb up into the top bunks, and everywhere possible, there is some sort of storage space. We were hoping that we'd meet some interesting people, which we definitely did. But we realized that next time, we'd have to be a little more specific with our wishes. Four men got on at Örebro. All of them were big, burly men, with beards and moustaches, rucksacks, and guns. Erik, who was quite nice to us, told us that they all worked for the Swedish Railroad (he as an engineer -- the kind that builds not the kind that drives -- he does track and tunnel design in front of stations) and were headed to Umeå for a skeet and moving target shooting competition. It was for railway employees only, and there were 8 people, all men, that we knew of on the train going to the competition, maybe more. They all wolfed down sandwiches and whole chickens their wives had probably packed for them. They all wiped their mouths and cleaned up the floor with toilet paper from the WC. And they all drank extremely large quantities of beer. At 11:00, our group left with their beer to join the other group in the next compartment and had a great party. We got into bed to read, since there was no way we could have slept anyway. At about 12:30, our group came back in and the party next door went on for a while longer. It was quite loud but it was nothing compared to one of our guys who fell immediately asleep and began snoring like a chain saw. Although several attempts were made, we couldn't wake him, and there was no change in the noise level no matter what position he was in. We found out the next day that this man is famous for his snoring and that there had been straws drawn to see who would have to sleep with him. Presumably, one of the reasons all that beer was consumed was so that no one would have any trouble sleeping over his noise. Paul and I hadn't been warned though. We were up on the top with the guns, and I considered using one of them. It was amusing at first, but after hours of sitting up listening to this ridiculous man, I started getting angry. Why should he have the pleasure of a good night's sleep when the rest of us had to suffer? Even Paul couldn't sleep, and he generally manages to sleep through anything. I finally fell asleep about 20 minutes before the conductor came in to announce that we were nearly to Umeå. And to add insult to injury, Paul and Erik saw a moose while I was sleeping. No one else seemed very upset. I thought Mr. Chainsaw owed us all breakfast at least. When we got to Boden, where we would get a bus to Jokkmokk, I was still angry, an angry zombie. I couldn't shake it. I felt near tears every other second. It was awful. The tourist information was right at the station, so Paul went in to try to get a place to stay in Jokkmokk and we found out about the bus. It didn't leave until 2:30, so we had four hours to wait. After what seemed like a long time, Paul came out and announced that he had gotten a woodcutter's cabin, that Agneta, the woman in the tourist office, had said was "primitive" and "special". There had been four or five phone calls to secure it, and in the end, he didn't know how much it would cost, or where it was in relation to town and supplies. Agneta said that we would have to ask the man who was going to pick us up at the Sámi (Lapplander) Museum. We figured we'd give it a go. I was worried that it would be 10 km out of town and that all the stores would be closed, but Paul pointed out that if it didn't work out, the worst thing that would happen would be that we would have to stay in the vandrarhem in the middle of town. We decided it would be an adventure.

We sat on a picnic table outside tourist information with all our gear, which was fine with me. There were little bugs, which were annoying, but at least they didn't bite. But Agneta came out and told us we didn't need to sit there the whole afternoon, we could go into town and see the festival. She said she would keep our packs for us. So we headed out. I was miserable and admittedly not very good company.

Boden is on the shore of a beautiful lake, and there is a fountain in a little bay that reaches out into the town. We walked out to the festival the long way, through the center of town. Agneta had pointed out a cafe we might want to stop at along the way, but we had brought our own lunch. The festival turned out ot be right on the lake, so we decided to find a place to sit down and have some chocolate. The first spot we picked was up in the trees, with a nice view across the water, but it was bug paradise and people hell. We moved to a small rock in a sunnier spot which was a bit better. Then the couple and their baby who were occupying the bench by the water got up and moved out, so we grabbed the bench for ourselves. However, the spot was dirty and littered, with trash floating in the water (very uncharacteristic for Sweden) so we didn't stay much longer and so headed toward the Festival. It turned out to be a cross between the Howard County Fair (Maryland) and a russian market (Poland). There were the usual carnival rides and games. The bobsled ride played terrible pop-techno music way too loud, just as they do everywhere. There was popcorn, spun fleece (cotton candy), godis (assorted candies), and various games for prizes ranging from small stuffed dolls to mountain bikes. On the outside, away from the rides, there were many booths and stalls selling clothing, jewelry, and one stand that was selling everything from souvenirs to socks. After we got tired of looking, we headed off and walked back along the edge of the lake, crossed the bridge that led back toward the rail station, and found a nice bench near the fountain where we could have lunch. It was again bread, cheese, lingonsylt, and fruit. I was very tired of bread and cheese, but its cheap and portable, and you can eat anywhere anytime. After we ate, we sat and watched people come and go for a while, then headed back to the station. We had about an hour before the bus was due, so I read "Daniel Derma", by George Elliot, while Paul indulged in a Star Wars book. We had given Agneta our card and encouraged her to check out the website, and to our surprise, she was attempting to look at it right then. She came out to our table and said, "Do you have a minute? I can't look at your wedding pictures." So Paul went in to figure out what was going on. It turned out out to have something to do with the way her browser was set up to prompt for a password before accessing any new page. This caused the frames on our site to get screwed up. We couldn't do anything about it then, as our bus was about to arrive, but later on the bus, Paul created a no-frames version of the site so that Agneta and others with similar problems could still view the site. The bus took us through some beautiful country with white birches, huge firs, lichen and moss. It was a beautiful sunny day. Crossing the Arctic circle was pretty anti-climactic though. I expected a sign or a marker of some sort, but there was nothing but a rest stop with a sign that said "Polkrisen - Jokkmokk" on it. No brass band, no special ceremony, no certificate, no photo-opp., no nothing. Oh well. Anyway, we got off the bus at the museum, where Caj, the man who was meeting us, had said to get off. He was there waiting for us, and turned out to be a lovely man, tall and lean, with thin, greying hair. He was waiting with his green 1973 Saab coupe which ran pretty well, considering its age. He said he was planning on buying a new car soon, but we got the impression that he had been saying that for a long time. Like all most of the cars we've seen in Sweden, it had comparatively few kilometers on it but sounded terrible. Caj drove us out to the cabin, which turned out to be about 2 km from town. I thought at first that it was a group of cabins, but it turned out that the others were all outbuildings for the main cabin. There was a one-room cabin, a storehouse, a small Sámi dwelling, a bastu (sauna) down by the river, and an outhouse, all out in the middle of the woods. That's all we got to see, though, as Caj didn't have the right key so we couldn't get into the cabin. So we carried our packs back up the trail to the road where we had left the car and headed back to town so Caj could make some calls and find out where the keys were. Caj explained to us that the regular caretaker was on holiday, and he was just filling in, as he worked at the botanical garden that was in the woods nearby. We had him drop us off at a Stadoil, a gas station with a little "everything" store attached. We got some bread, cheese, chocolate and drinks while he made his calls. He picked us up about a half hour later and took us to a different cabin, which had a little office set up at one end. It had cold running water and electricity, but that was the extent of its charms. There were papers everywhere and it felt like a dusty basement office. We were looking for the keys to the other cabin here, which I eventually found, hanging on a peg right next to the entrance right where you'd expect them to be. Caj told us that if we found the woodcutter's cabin too primitive, we could stay at this cabin for the same price (70 Skr per person per night) but we were pretty sure the cabin in the woods was the way to go, so off we went.

The main cabin is over 100 years old, and it's basically one big room with bunk beds built into the outer walls - two sets of double-width bunk beds - two tables in front of the two large shuttered windows, and a huge open fireplace with a metal hood right in the center of the room. The fireplace is built just like the cabin, with big square wood timbers stacked with rough dovetail joints at the corners. On top of the square wood base is a big pile of rocks, upon which the fire is built. The metal hood is hung from the ceiling and narrows to a stovepipe that goes through the roof. There was a little room built into one corner with a narrow shelf bed inside and walls that didn't go all the way to the ceiling or floor. Another small room was built off the NW corner with a bunk bed and a little table in it. Along one wall was a rough cupboard and a long shelf that served as a kitchen. The two windows didn't let in all that much light, and you certainly appreciate that when it's light all night long. The windows had big wooden shutters on the outside that you could close up to shut out nearly all the light. It was so cute and snug, but it never felt small at all (well, maybe if a family of eight were living in it, or something like that!). There were pegs along the open south wall for hanging things and a couple of long benches. Both of us felt like we had lived this way before. It was so comfortable, even though by any normal standards it was very primitive. We had to carry water up from the river and the outhouse was pretty far away, but nothing ever felt hard. It was as if I already knew beforehand how to do things. There were mosquitoes though. Hundreds of thousands of them. They didn't really bother you if you kept moving, but it gets tougher if you're waiting for the bus, eating a meal, or trying to enjoy the scenery. They swarm around you, wrestle you to the ground and then eat you alive. They're very tough. And then at night it gets worse. I think maybe they all come out to "sample" you on the first day, and then after that they know you, and leave you some room. Maybe they have some sort of conservation effort in place and have imposed rules that prohibit over-harvesting. In any event, it wasn't quite as bad the next day, and certainly not bad enough so that we didn't have a great time. After we settled in, we walked back into town because we had forgotten to get some tea. The town is nice - it has a movie theater and shops, but really it's just a small town of about 3,000. It looks like something you'd expect to see in Alaska. There aren't all the lovely gardens with chairs to sit in as there are in the South - presumably because of the mosquitoes. I did see a couple of screened-in gazebos though. The old church (Gamla Kyrka) is a lovely old building made entirely of wood. I had hoped that it would have wooden timbers in the ceiling the would end in carved dragon heads - I'd seen a church like this in Växjö and the train station in Boden had them on the outside - but there were no dragons here. The new church (Nya Kyrka) is a green and white lattice work - very whimsical. We walked back to the cabin and made a fire in the outside pit so we could eat our dinner outside without being annihilated. We had bread and cheese and pear cider. We'd also gotten some Pripps Beer and a bag of popcorn to have later that night after we saw the midnight sun. The evening seemed to go on forever - it was as if time had stopped altogether, or we had stepped out of it. I was so tired too, because of the Snoring Trainman, but was valiantly trying to stay with the whole experience. At about 11:00 we walked up to a spot Paul had scouted out earlier (while I was attempting to nap but was thwarted by a small squad of mosquitoes that had broken into the cabin). This time, we took the hard way through the moss and bog. It was very hard going and you never knew when you would sink in the muck beneath the moss. The huge boulder that was our destination turned out to be right next to the road. It was 11:30 by the time we got there, not nearly late enough for sunset, but we couldn't wait on the boulder. I was being overwhelmed by hordes of mosquitoes. Paul had a hat, so it wasn't so bad for him, but I had mosquitoes in my hair, on my neck and in my face, demanding pints of blood. We walked back to the cabin by the road at a rapid pace, with the mosquitoes following close behind.

A little later we went back out again. We had an idea that there was a cafe a little farther up the road from our boulder, so we thought we would go and check it out. It turned out to be situated well up the ridge on a large knob that jutted out over the valley below with a good view to the North - a great spot for watching the sunset. The place was called Storknabben (Big Knob). We paced back and forth along the fence along with a few other tourists (German and Swedish) who also hadn't had the intelligence to come up in their car. Most of the conversations that I could understand revolved around the best methods for deterring mosquitoes. We had some awful smelling stuff called Becköljestift (Beck Oil Stick) which we had acquired at the tourist office in Boden for 52 Skr. As far as we could tell, it only succeeded in repelling other people, the Jokkmokk mosquitoes obviously hadn't heard of this stuff yet. The sun went behind some clouds a little before midnight and we started taking pictures. We were afraid that pictures taken directly into the sun wouldn't come out very well. I was getting eaten alive and had to keep pacing and swatting, but it was quite something to experience the midnight sun. It dipped below the clouds and skimmed along the ridge line on the other side of the valley. The sky was infused with a coral-pink glow. Pretty soon we were blinded from looking directly at the sun to determine how close it was getting to the horizon. There was a wooden platform outside the cafe so we took a few minutes to dance in the soft, red light, then took a picture of our midnight shadows against a wall there.

What is really most amazing about the midnight sun isn't the fact that the sunset and sunrise are at the same time, it's that the evening lasts and lasts, and the sense of timelessness brings a great sense of peace and tranquility to your soul. The light is soft because it never rises overhead. You feel like there's no hurry and no stress or pressure. It's wonderful. We walked back to our cozy cabin and built a fire in the fireplace in the middle of the room. We toasted to the midnight sun with the Pripps and ate the popcorn. Its was almost 2:00 am when we climbed into our little bunk and drifted off to sleep by the light of the fire (after paul went out to close the shutters to block out the now rising sun).

Jokkmokk - 28 June 1998

Sami Flag The next day we went into town to get some food and go to the Sámi Museum. I was getting pretty sick of bread and cheese so we decided to attempt making pasta over an open fire. The Sámi Museum, called Ájtte, which is the Sámi word for "storage hut" is meant to be a repository of the Sámi way of life. The Sámi are indigenous to Sápmi, which covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and a bit of Russia. There are roughly 100,000 Sámi by official estimates, although the Sámi themselves say that figure is low. Twenty percent of the Sámi live in Sweden. They have their own common flag and parliaments in each of the Scandinavian countries. However, these parliaments are subordinate to the National Parliaments. Historically the Sámi were nomadic and followed the reindeer herds through their seasonal migrations. They believe that the Lapplands, which in 1993 were deemed to be a World Heritage area by UNESCO, belong to them. They have no written laws because they never needed them and they now feel that what is theirs has been wrongfully taken from them. Timber cutting and the flooding caused by hydroelectric dams are the two worst offenders. Sweden has been putting settlers in the Lapplands since the last century however, so there has been a gradual influx of non-native people into the area. The Sámi believe that they and the Swedes can use the area to mutual benefit. They just want to have the area recognized as theirs. Nowadays (since the 1950s) the Sámi are no longer nomadic, though many families still spend the summers in the mountains with their reindeer herds. The reindeer are marked by their owners, but are allowed to run free for grazing. In the winter they move back to town and bring the reindeer in and pen them up. The Sámi leader was a shaman (Noajdde) who used a drum with images painted on it to divine answers to various questions about the past and future. He used a triangular marker made of bone which was placed on the drum head. When the drum was struck, the vibrations would move the marker, and whichever image it stopped on would contain the answer to the question.

The traditional Sámi huts are shaped like squat beehives and the top part is made of round poles while the bottom is more like the traditional Swedish houses with the dove-tailed timbers. Inside, there is one tiny room and the wood plank floor is only around the doorway and the circle of stones where the fire is lit in the center of the room. The rest of the floor looks like it's cut away, and birch branches are laid down to make the beds. There's a hole in the roof for the chimney and things are stored by hanging them from the walls. It's incredibly efficient and probably very easy to heat, but I think that my siblings and I would have killed each other if we had all lived in one together. The Sámi dress is blue v-neck tunics with red woven designs sewn to the cuffs and collar. The woman's tunics are longer than the men's. They also wear leather pants, and fur boots. The exact designs vary from region to region.

The Sámi have eight seasons all tied to the movement of the reindeer herds. There are 250,000 reindeer in Sweden today. They believe that there is an invisible people who also inhabit their land, people very much like them, living in the forest and herding their invisible reindeer. The people are never seen, but occasionally one of their reindeer will appear in the forest. Bad things will happen to you if you stray too near their camps or make your camp in the way of their path. I may have seen one of their reindeer. I was sitting in the cabin reading by the table near the back window (Paul was taking a nap) and I happened to look up and see a reindeer making its way down the slope on the other side of the river. I was stunned. There was no good reason for a reindeer to show up there; there are houses on the hill where it came from. So maybe it belonged to the invisible people. I was so excited I woke Paul up to tell him and then we went outside and built a fire to wait and see if any more would come, but none did (at least none that we could see). Paul played his recorder and talked about walking out to the boulder to play. I told him that I would stay at the cabin and let him know if I could hear him from that far away. No way was I getting eaten alive. Later that evening, we had a sauna in the bastu by the river. Paul built a fire in the little stove. It has lava rocks (actually, they look like ordinary rocks) on top of it and you heat water to spoon over the rocks to produce steam. So unless you have slaves jumping up every five minutes to create more steam, you have to do it yourself. Still, it was very relaxing and felt like a pretty decadent thing to do while practically camping. The early Swedes didn't really have it so bad...

After the bastu, we made tortellinis with four cheese sauce over the fire pit. This was about 10:00 at night. Both the pasta and the sauce were the dry kind, but it tasted wonderful.

29 June 1998

We got up early to catch the only possible bus that would ensure we caught our train from Boden back to Stockholm on time. It got us into Boden at 10:00 and our train wasn't until 5:30 in the evening, so we had the whole day to kick around in Boden. There isn't a lot to do there, from a touristic point of view, no interesting historical sites. Maybe it's a bit far North for that. But it's a very nice place to live. There's a pedestrian area lined with restaurants and cafes. There's a playground in the middle of it. Parents can sit outside with friends and drink a coffee while they watch their children play. The playground is paved with a soft material that won't hurt as much as concrete if the children fall. Boden has nice parks and the aforementioned lake. All in all a very nice place. Boden does have a military facility (Daniel did his military service there, I believe), but we never saw a single soldier. There's also the only hospital for miles around. We did see a lot of elderly people with really cool walkers. They are on wheels, have handbrakes and a basket to store groceries.

We spent most of the day loafing somewhere. It rained in the morning so we sat in a gazebo in the park in front of the Folkskola. Later we wandered around the pedestrian area, had tea and coffee at an outdoor cafe, picked up some food for the train, and stopped into the systembolaget (the government run liquor store) to pick up a bottle of Romanian wine. We were very surprised to find out that you cannot buy alcohol with a credit card. Cash or bank cards only. It seems very Big-Brother-ish to my American sensibilities. The wine is displayed in glass cabinets, so you find the wine you want, read off the 6-digit number, and then go to the counter when your number is called. You have to ask for what you want and then they go back to the shelves behind the counter and get it for you. Yuck. But we figured it would be nice to have wine on the train, and it would be our best defense against potential intrusions on our sleep. So we bowed our heads and submitted to the Swedish government's judgement. Then we wandered back out to tourist office to tell Agneta how much we enjoyed the accommodations that she had arranged for us. We also borrowed her phone line and uploaded the new "no frames" page and checked our email. Paul commented on how "homey" the train stations are beginning to feel, and the same it true for the tourist information offices. Angeta and her crew were especially nice. Then it was time to board the train, so we said our goodbyes and headed out to the platform and onto the train. Much to my chagrin, a woman and her son were already in our 6-person sleeper compartment. The boy was about 6, and very immature and over-active. Doom. The mother was very tired and was letting the boy do anything he wanted. I tried to ignore his antics, which included climbing up in the bunks and then repeatedly demanding that his mother catch him when he jumped down. Paul tried to make friends, and then of course he went all shy. Paul and I had our dinner (bread, cheese, apples, and chips that were something like Doritos) and then settled back with the idea that the lights would probably go out in our compartment by 7:00. A couple of stops later, our little group was completed when a young woman and a guy boarded the train and joined us. The girl was quite shy, and she must have been 18 or so because she was studying a very thick driving manual. Our other cabin-mate, however, was just what we were hoping for. Friendly, interesting, and good English language skills. His name is Stefan Eklund and he is studying to be a drama teacher, but was heading South to Norköping to work with autistic boys for the summer. We had a great time talking with him, and by 10:00, the exhausted mother finally convinced her boy to get into bed, so the three of us headed out to the next car for drinks and chocolate and some more chatting. We finally went in to bed at 11:30, and I slept great and woke refreshed at about 7:00 am. We had just enough time to brush hair and teeth before the train pulled into the station at Stockholm.

The exciting adventure continues in Birka...