Day 1: Getting to Abisko
We fled the hostel in Absiko at local time sparrow’s fart o’clock, running for the 6:50am to Abisko. Our trolley bags made heavy going over the gravel road, waking up any resident not already woken by the blaring morning sun. There’s a reason people go backpacking, and not trolley-bagging.
The bus driver was in keeping with Kiruna’s Wild West (actually Far North) outpost city vibe: a wiry and fiery beard of chest length the colour or iron ore, which has been popular in Kiruna since about 1898.
His bus music selection for the hour-long trip was an unmixable but not unpalatable blend of Swedish folk, death metal, and teenage angst rock.
But looks can be deceiving; his look was hard, but his heart was soft. At one point he swerved the bus wildly to avoid a witless pigeon that was otherwise destined to become feathered tartare on the windshield. At another point, he slowed to trotting pace to anticipate the erratic decision-making of a herd of deer by the roadside.
1hr and 12 minutes later, Abisko! We checked the weather forecast. It was late July and Europe, especially Sweden, and particularly its furthest northern reaches, had been burning up by a definitely not climate-change related heatwave.
As for Abisko? 7 days of rain and max 23°… Forget the pisco sours of Brazil last month, this was Absiko showers.
What to make of Abisko? What I saw of the town from the bus window was a lolly shop/supermarket, and the tourist centre, where we disembarked, which sits next to the steely blue -grey lake that runs for several kilometres on either side of the town.
I checked my phone for the last time before turning it off for an enforced 7-day digital detox. Not only does the Kungsleden have no mobile reception, but I would have to keep the phone off anyway to preserve its battery life (and who said you can’t make an iPhone 6 battery last a whole week…).
Just the one message I had received. Malmsfalten hostel in Kiruna, asking if I could pay for the night’s stay before 9am. In our rush to get up and leave, we’d successfully left nothing behind, including not even our credit card payment details.
By the time we got the message, we were 60kms away and on the doorstep of the remotest part of Europe. “Just email through the card details or ring us,” the friendly message demanded.
Out here you can hike, but you can’t hide.