Jorge is something of an adventurer. He is from Spain and he has been almost everywhere. He has seen pyramids, temples and tundra, the Great Barrier Reef, Route 66 and Greenland’s vast ice cap. However, never before has Jorge set foot in Swedish Lapland!
When he walks through the doors of the arrival hall at Skellefteå Airport, he still doesn’t know what he’s really doing in Skellefteå. At the same airport is Saleta. She waits for
Jorge by the baggage carousel. “Pack your warmest clothes”, she had said. “And swimming trunks”. Jorge found that peculiar. Swimming trunks in the cold of winter. But Saleta has a plan. In two days’ time, the Scandinavian Winter Swimming Championship will be held in Skellefteå. That means a 25 metre swim in ice cold water. The thermometer usually reads 0.1 degrees Celsius, in the water, that is. The air is much colder. The winter swimming is just a part of the challenge.
When they turn off the snowmobiles that have taken them from the airport to a Sami hut with a burning fire and a steaming pot-boiled coffee, in the small village of Bodan, she tells him about her plan, about the winter swimming. Jorge smiles, somewhat hesitantly, maybe. As if he hears what she is saying but doesn’t quite understand. He looks into the fire and thinks,
taking a sip of pot-boiled coffee from his burr cup, strains the black beverage through his teeth and says:
— That explains the swimming trunks.
He begins laughing and Saleta does too. Then they raise a toast with their pot-boiled coffee, to show that the challenge has been accepted.
— You will be gradually introduced to the Arctic way of life, Saleta says with a grin.
It’s no later than 3 PM. Nonetheless, it’s pitch black outside. There is heavy snowfall. The car’s windscreen wipers have to work hard to keep the view clear. Saleta is driving slowly.
— There are plenty of reindeer in the area, she says. Jorge nods.
The whole time, he keeps looking out of the car windows.
— Have you heard of palt? she asks.
Jorge shakes his head.
— Palt, says Saleta is food. But more importantly, two palts, lingonberry jam and a large glass of milk is great start to a winter adventure.
At Lantliv Lodge, Ines is waiting. Ines has reached her palt making prime and has rolled thousands of palts, (Swedish potato dumplings), in her life. She shows Jorge how it’s done. How to cup the hand to shape a little pit that is filled with pork.
— Then it goes into a pot of boiling water, she says.
He is a fast learner and before they know it, food is ready. Palt, clarified butter and uncooked lingonberry jam.
— Jorge, says Saleta as she gives him another palt. I want you to do well. Tomorrow you will be mushing huskies, to a wilderness camp where you will be having a sauna.
She also lets him know that she has prepared a small surprise.
Mushing huskies on cold, newly fallen snow is a bit like walking on clouds. You travel softly, almost silently.
— Hey you, Saleta calls out to Jorge who stands at the back, steering, this is not just for fun. I have sawed a hole in the ice near the wilderness camp, big enough for a full-grown man.
— Bathing in a hole in the ice, in the middle of the forest, lit by flaming torches and the starry sky, is a mental challenge more than anything else, says Saleta. You will grow as a human being. If you follow through.
It’s just a hole. Straight down into the darkness, and the cold. Straight down into the void. At least that’s what Jorge thinks when he stands at the edge. Saleta has lowered a ladder into the hole, so that Jorge easily can climb in and out. Turns out it’s not that easy after all. Jorge looks at the water thermometer. 0.3 degrees Celsius.
— Take all the time you need, says Saleta.
The starry sky is clear. The forest is dark and dead silent. Jorge climbs down and then back up. Shortly thereafter comes the endorphin rush. Saleta is proud, she applauds him and tells him
that the sauna is 75 degrees warm.
On the day of the competition, Saleta wakes Jorge up early.
— We’re going out to sea, she says.
The vast ice cover of the Gulf of Bothnia makes people feel humble. You are struck by your own insignificance.
— It’s important, says Saleta, that you don’t think you are someone special. It’s connected to the way of life up here, it’s called the Law of Jante.
At the sign-up, Jorge is humbler than ever before. He has also found some support from two local winter swimmers, and a Spaniard – Israel. Now, the four of them are on the way down to the swimming lane. The pool sized hole in the ice.
— An average winter swimmer can do 25 metres in 20.4 seconds, explains Saleta. You’ll have to beat that.
— Yes, who wants to be average? Jorge replies.
It would seem that he has already forgotten about the Law of Jante.
As the times are recorded, it is clear. Jorge finished in under 20 seconds. The challenge has been completed. He gives a big smile and hugs his fellow competitors. They celebrate, on the ice. In dressing gowns, flip flop sandals and a light snowfall. Local televisions wants an interview. Jorge is excited about the victory and speaks straight into the camera, about everything and nothing.
In the evening, they eat well at Restaurang Bryggargatan. They toast their successes with other winter swimmers. Before they finish for the night, Jorge says:
— Saleta, I have done many things in my life, but this is actually one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.
— I know, says Saleta, zipping up her large winter jacket.
This is the short documentary ”The Pangea Ice Challenge – entering the dark and cold”, telling the story of the subarctic lifestyle, the dark and cold and a Unforgettable Winter Swim way up north. In Skellefteå and Swedish Lapland.
Wanna experience the same thing as Jorge? The Ice challenge and more unique winter experiences way up north in Skellefteå and Swedish Lapland are offerd by Pangea – The travel store.