Roland picks me up outside of the Lapland View Lodge for the hour-long drive south to the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia. All I know is we’re spending the day out on the water. But Roland enlightens me on his spiel during the ride.
Like most of us, Roland has a day job to pay the bills. But he’s building a side business––Storöns Fisk––where he takes tourists out to his childhood (and adult) stomping grounds along the archipelago islands he partly owns, which I did not know was a thing someone could do.
Arriving at the docks, there’s a small cabin that dates back to his great-grandfather. We head inside for a snack. It’s flat bread with butter, onions, and the local delicacy of Kalix Löjrom––roe from the Kalix river. It’s once-upon-a-time poor man’s food that now goes for 50-some euros for a small container, and it can only be called “Kalix Löjrom” if it’s truly from here, much like champagne needs to come from the Champagne region of France.
I try a few bites. It’s slightly salty with a bubbly texture. It feels like a million microscopic air bubbles are rolling against my tongue. Quite the contrast from the smoked reindeer meat of the Sámi I had a day earlier.
Roland is also selling herring out of publicly accessible fridge. It’s on the honor system. Just roll on by, open the fridge, take what you want, and pay through an app.
The Labyrinth of Kastören
We speed out into the open waters, bouncing and smacking against the waves like a football players doing contact drills. There’s no other way to say it: My ass took a pounding.
But before my backside is completely tenderized, we slow to one of the islands that’s (partly) in Roland’s back pocket––Kastören. There’s a labyrinth on it he wants to show me.
“One day a seal took all of my catch,” he says. “I walked through the labyrinth and I caught a ton of fish next time.”
So apparently there’s an element of good luck from this thing. I don’t believe in such things, but I also believe it doesn’t hurt to walk through a round maze for a minute to pause in the center and make a wish. During my exit from the labyrinth, I accidentally dislodge a stone.
“That can’t be good,” I say. Roland laughs, returns the stone, but doesn’t say anything to clam my fears that I’ve done more harm than good by tampering with the labyrinth.
Filmjölk and Sour Herring Sandwich
We then move on to a second island with a peaceful cove where we can gingerly drift ashore and prepare lunch. After starting a fire, Roland has me lay out the herring side by side on the grill, alternating heads and tails up, and placing it over the fire. While that’s cooking, we start with a bowl of filmjölk. This is essentially Swedish yogurt with a slight resemblance to Greek yogurt. So, erring on the fatty side.
All you do is fill up a bowl with some of the fil and break up some of the thin bread into it like you might saltine crackers into a soup. Oh, and don’t forget the sprinkling of sugar, or a small handful if you’re like Roland and want it on the sweeter side.
When the herring is browned and crispy, we take four a piece, put it on our plate, and start sifting out the good meat from the rest of the body to place on top of another piece of thin bread. Next, Roland brings out the big guns, opening a can of his sour herring or lightly fermented herring. The smell assaults you as soon as he breaks open the tin can. I’m standing a few meters away when Roland pours the preserve in the water and I’m wondering if this is verging on pouring nuclear waste into a water source. (It’s not, but damn that’s some stank.)
Now it’s time to build our final ‘sandwich’ with a layer of butter, smashed boiled potatoes, onions, crème fraiche, and torn up pieces of the sour herring. Roland admits with an almost sadistic grin that most don’t make it through this part. But I power through, eating nearly the entire thing before having to succumb to a full stomach, potentially exacerbated by the fact that “this stuff can make you gassy,” according to Roland.
A Mossy Hike
Feeling gluttonous, we put a pause on the food and head out for a short 50-minute hike around the island, traipsing across a mixture of man-made paths, animal-made paths, light brush, and mossy stones to different vantage points on the island. You could film something here. Don’t ask me what. But definitely something. Ask a director or location scout.
Back at the boat, we load everything up and make a beeline for the mainland with a quick five-minute stop at another island where Roland has a cabin. He convinces me to stand at the front while holding a rope for a bit of the final stretch, which quickly turns into a tremendous workout until I bang my knee against the hard plastic seat. I got relegated to a seat in the back for the rest of the ride.
Filipsborg, The Arctic Mansion
Again on the mainland, Roland drives me a short ways over to the Filipsbourg, The Arctic Mansion where I’ll be spending the night. I meet with the owner who doubles as the local paper’s editor-in-chief after a 25-year career in the business of journalism before he pursued a dream to herd reindeer. “My kids call it my mid-life crisis,” he laughs.
First we head out through the dense forest, walking through “plants that aren’t so nice to touch because the burn” on our way to the pen where they keep hundreds of reindeer over the winter. Unfortunately for my reindeer-hungry camera lens, they’re all up north for the summer and I’m just looking at an empty field. I’m told they load them up into trailers to transfer them because there are too many roads for them to make the trek on their own as they would’ve historically done so. Humans ruining things again.
But our next stop is at a nursery where they take care of injured or orphaned reindeer. There’s a leader with a bell around its next so others know where to find him. Another is limping after surviving a run in with a car. The rest seem to be busy running about the forest and fields within the fenced-in property. Here at the nursery I’m able to stand amongst these majestic animals as they cautiously observe me, sniff me, run about and drop massive shits freely in the safety of this domesticated slice of forest. I’m content.
Back the hotel, I take a quick shower and meet my host again for dinner. We have carrot soup with a side salad and some garlic bread followed by rhubarb pie for dessert. The soup comes from his 20-some-year-old son and the pie from his wife, both emphasizing simple, local ingredients.
Wrapping up the day, the conversation comes back to where the morning started––Kalix Löjrom. As much as the local delicacy is prized around here, I have to say, I preferred the soup and the pie.