A Love Note to Summer in Saint Anna

Justine sunset

The kayaking season may be over but the memories are still fresh

I’m back in London now. Back in a desk. Back at work. And I can’t help thinking about the season that has just passed. I’m going to use this last blog post as an opportunity to say my thank you’s to all the rad people I met this summer (that includes you). From the guests - to the crew – to the locals of Saint Anna, I truly feel lucky to have been involved in the Do The North kayaking season.

As the title implies this is a love note to my summer in Saint Anna, so here it goes:

I had high hopes of writing the blog regularly and getting out on the water as much as possible, however just like any other job the work got in the way. Regardless, I had a blast learning about how to improve my paddling technique (though I sometimes begrudgingly took criticism), introducing mac n’ cheese (homemade of course!) for a captivated Swedish, Finnish and British dinner audience, and unintentionally building my biceps from transporting double kayaks to and from Mon (using a van for most of it, but I had to lift them on to it). Above all else I loved learning to drive a standard transmission because it meant I got to meet 95% of all the guests this season. It was during those drives that I learnt about the different ways couples meet, how many of you have ended up in your jobs, and the different adventures you can go on around the world. I was endlessly impressed at the places people have travelled, the adventures they have experienced, and the life they have lived that all amounted to them sitting in seat next to me. I now have bucket list that will probably take my whole life to complete (this is in no way a bad thing) and a much greater understanding of the cultures that exist in this world.

Justine portait in sunset

So what’s next for me: I’m not sure, but I’m making mood boards because as a designer I know it’s a good place to start. Visually organising thoughts – check. I’m not sure if I ever told you but I had very little kayaking experience (besides being Canadian and having done it in school) before starting this job and there were quite a few other skills I lacked. Although I went through countless moments of self-doubt and feeling stupid, I learnt more this summer than I have in last 7 years, which includes my university education. I really believe in the over-used slogan “do something that scares you” (I think I saw it first on a Lululemon bag) because we are meant to be silly! And although we live in a world where confidence is currency, laughing at our mistakes is what makes everyday fun.

I hope to return next year for a visit, as Helena (DTN’s better half ;) will be returning to the business and she’s well cool. Keep an eye on this space because she’ll be bringing her Swedish upbringing, culinary genius, and charismatic voice out of the guide book and into the blog. If you need me, hit me up on instagram @janweile where I’ll be pursuing the outdoors as often as I can. Hej då,

Justine :D

Navigating the Night

Justine night cooking

There’s no bad light, only bad planning

It is still warm here in Saint Anna in September but it has cooled off and you can definitely feel it at night. There are some real benefits to kayaking at this time of year, versus peak season (July and August), and those include the beautiful Swedish evening glow, and insanely cool mist or low lying clouds in the evenings and in the morning. The mist might be one of the neatest conditions I’ve ever ventured in. There’s also way fewer people enjoying the archipelago so it feels even more like your own playground. With the days getting shorter and our desire to make the most out of our transition from summer to fall, I thought I’d do a post about the night.

At the end of August a few of us went out to celebrate the end of a great summer with Anna, who was leaving to go back to school in Lund and to formally welcome Junior/the Finn/Thomas#2(T2) to the team. We paddled out from Mon for a leisurely hour and a half until we rocked up here. Using Anna’s gnarly map intel we later found out it has no name, which I think added to it’s level of mystique. One thing we have learnt since our night paddle in early July is to make the most of your time in the archipelago, regardless of whether the sun is still up or not. Possibly it’s just us, but we are really into night wild camping photos, and as long as you are prepared with head torches and/or fire, it can be a really exciting and new way of experience camping or paddling. I recommend you try cooking, chilling with a hot water bottle (if you’re always cold like me), and ultimately enjoying each others company out under the stars and out of your tents. It feels even more unplugged and liberating than during the day. Possibly this is the summer of embracing the night.

Drone Anna

If you’re really ambitious and up for a night paddle, I would recommend doing it like this: First, it’s a good idea to eat a big snack or possibly dinner before you head out because like all paddle journeys you can never be 100% sure it’s going to go exactly as planned. For this reason, pocket snacks and going out with fresh fuel is ALWAYS a good idea. The second is, choose an easy route because unlike navigating during the day, you don’t have full visibility and you can’t use the sea chart in the way it’s meant to be used. If possible, plan you route in the daylight so that you have mentally mapped out where the really shallow bits are and what areas to avoid. Thirdly, set-up camp on the island you are sleeping on and have fuelled up on, so that upon return from your night paddle you can simply crawl into bed. Fourthly (is that a word?!) put all your kayaking gear in easy to find and easy to put on places so that you aren’t searching tree limbs in the dark. Although this can be a fun hide-and-go-seek game if you’re really in the mood. Lastly, remember to turn off your head torches once you are afloat in the archipelago and just enjoy the silence and calm that nighttime can bring.

Made it to Marö Kupa

Maro kupa justine

The look-out point you can climb up and see the geological wonders of Saint Anna

It happened on the fly! We were out enjoying fika in the sun on our day off when we arrived back at the base to find Thomas packing for a kayaking trip. Turns out the man-with-a-plan had to decided today was day we were going to find an island for the festival we are co-hosting in September, with a little detour to Marö Kupa.

Side note: Really exciting this year, we are teaming up with a London based travel company called We Are Fixers and planning an island takeover with DJs, yoga, and of course kayaking. It’s going to amazing! Will blog about it in upcoming posts.

Once heading out, we paddled north towards Aspöja but decided to make camp just before. We found a lush island with smooth rocks just slightly higher than sea level and a back dropped forest. It was divine. Ooooh, I forgot to mention, on our paddle out we passed a group we sent out earlier that day and popped by to say hello (it’s fun seeing where you guys end up and how you like to camp :D).

We had a cool evening under the stars, with minimal but exciting chat about the destination in the morning - Aspöja with a pit-stop to Marö Kupa.

Marö Kupa is located east of the most northern tip of Aspöja on a different island called Marö. This look-out point has been there since the 1700s and sits 20 meters above sea level. With endless hand and footholds, it’s a breeze to climb out and be amazed by the rock wonders of Saint Anna. With a more detailed post about Aspöja, to come in the future weeks, I would highly consider it a trip worth making.

Marö Kupa

It was quite obvious when doing this journey, to spot differences between the two archipelagos. Saint Anna has a very raw but polished aesthetic, in the sense that the islands are often small, sometimes baren, and beautifully sculpted. I kept imagining we were in a dinosaur cemetery, where many moons ago when the dinosaurs left us they came to the archipelago to rest. Since then the Earth has hardened their bodies into the rock formations of Saint Anna. Possibly it’s just my overactive imagination but do let me know what you think when you next visit.

The History of the Hunting Boat

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The word “qajaq” or “kayak” comes from the indigenous people of Greenland and literally translates to “hunter’s boat”

I’m not much of a history person, or one for having a memory bank of facts, but when I read a tweet about the first kayaks ever made - I was intrigued. We are now halfway through the season and although I have used these vessels extensively, I know nothing about them. So why did they come about? Who built them? And how did they do it? I wanted to know . . .

The Why: They were originally designed to help the hunter stealthily stock their prey on the shoreline. This why, when you’re out in the archipelago you can get closer to wildlife than if you were swimming, sea-dooing, or transporting in any other capacity. Kayaks allow the paddler to encounter wildlife without disturbing it or posing as a threat due to their low lying and discreet nature.

The Who: These hunting boats were first created and used by the Inuit, formerly referred to as Eskimos. These people were the native inhabitants of Greenland, the northeastern point of Russia, Alaska, and the uppermost regions of Canada. My soul began to sing when I read that last country, as my homeland has a very modest list of admirable inventions, recognised by the rest of world. As the writer of this blog, I’m going to definitively say that Canadians were the co-creators of the kayak and mentally add it to our list. Woot woot!

EskimoGreyoutline

The How: Created nearly 4000 years ago, the earliest kayak frames were constructed using driftwood or (more impressively) whalebone skeletons - if there weren’t any trees in the surrounding arctic landscape. They were then covered with stretched water-loving-animal skins, such as seals. Additionally, they were unsinkable due to air-filled seal bladders which kept the vessel afloat. The kayak construction was traditionally a team effort between the hunter and his wife, where the hunter would customise his frame for the purpose of his travel whilst his wife would stitch the skins. But their teamwork didn’t stop there. The hunter’s wife sewed an additional skin jacket that was laced to the kayak, enabling the paddler to have as much mobility as possible without tipping the kayak. This seal jacket is known today as a spray deck or spray skirt. It was an absolute must because the majority of Inuit’s could not swim, due to freezing temperatures of the water, and they needed to be able to recover quickly in the event of capsizing. This aversion to water and need to regain posture immediately in order to avoid hyperthermia, lead to the manoeuvre known today as an eskimo roll. Although it has the word “roll” in it, it is nothing like a cinnamon roll :(

I <3 Harstena

Do the north harstena house %281 av 1%29

Pronounced: Harsh-tay-nah/ This is an absolute must-see if you want to truly experience a kanelbulle in a kayak

In terms of an archipelago island welcoming you with open arms (arms made of red boathouses and countless flagged boats) it doesn’t get any better than Harstena. This place is perfect for an energy top up and a small dose of civilisation. Whether you’ve been kayak-bound for too long and came up short in your banter with the birds, or are accustomed to utilising your Right To Roam in the buff, Harstena is ideal for reintegrating you back into society. It’s charming without being perfect, and is an absolute safe-haven for tired limbs.

Naturally, when we rocked up to Hartsena, I bee-lined for the bageri (Swedish for bakery), which always sounds to me like they only sell bagels (alright by me) and had ourselves a feast. Following the meandering trail, you’ll make your way through a paradise of little red homes, big open-plan yards, long picnic tables, and friendly border collies (possibly just the one) that’ll make you wish you were there visiting family. If only . . .

Harstenabulle 2

Once arriving at the bakery we learned many fun facts. The first being that the spot with the red water lilies (which we happen to pass-by as we got lost on our way) is actually it’s own contained body of fresh water. Although it may look idyllic to swim in, it actually has loads of leeches :S The second that the two bakers we met that day normally work at bakeries in Norrköping (where we picked you up from) at Finbageriet Kamraterna or Landerholms. If you received a celebration Princess Cake (yup, the green one!) from us on your trip, it came from Landerholms which is a bakery we regularly use. It’s heavenly. The last fact was that Harstena has it’s own signature “bulle”. Much like the texture of a Cadbury Crunchie which has sponge toffee, the Harstenabulle has a dry honeycomb-like inside with rock sugar on top. It is tied in a traditional knot but is entirely unlike any other Swedish pastry. I recommend you try it and if the texture isn’t your thing, dunk it in your coffee or tea whilst enjoying the view.

Coming up Cloudberries

Dothenorth pancakes

An edible amber-coloured fruit that grows best in arctic tundra and tastes best on pancakes

You may recognise this antioxidant little berry from the Finnish €2 coin or the Scottish Highlands when you hiked ”Beinn nan Oighreag” (meaning Hill of Cloudberries) but . . . if you haven’t heard of it - don’t fret, because neither had I.

This fruit, a distant relative of raspberries and blackberries, is regularly found in acidic soil and is most commonly eaten in cold climate countries. It tends to grow in mountainous regions, and prefers the likes of: Japan, Nordic countries, the Scottish Highlands, Greenland, and northern Canada. Basically if this berry had an Instagram account, it’d be followed by all the major adventure photographers and be the coolest traveller going. Maybe there’s an idea in this . . . (I’ll keep you posted).

As the most sought after berry in Sweden, this delicacy is used to mark special occasions in Swedish culture. Because cloudberries are so coveted, and not to mention faffy, Swedes tend to buy them frozen or as jam, known as Hjortronsylt. Much like cranberries, they tend to be tart in flavour and therefore taste divine when preserved with some sugar, in a jar. A little fun fact for you: when Thomas did a ski season in Fernie, Canada, he took a jar with him to remind of home. That jar didn’t last long, as it quickly made him friends but left him wishing he had brought two so that he too could have had the taste of Sweden.

Hjortron

To properly experience cloudberry jam, we took to the kayaks and headed out for a dinner of Nordic pannkakor on an island, with a Trangia stove. As we do! We had a feast of fruit filled pancakes first, each person having two of those, followed by a savoury creamy mushroom one for dessert. Just cause you can. It’s pannkakor for dinner, do what you want! Nordic pancakes are much like French crépes in the sense that the toppings are the feature and the pancake itself is more of a vessel. Like the traditions of Shrove Tuesday in the UK, where they use all perishable ingredients before their fasting period, these pancakes are great to use up any remaining food. Our recipe uses beer (or anything fizzy) to make them extra fluffy and crispy, but milk works too if you’ve already drank all your booze ;) The batter is measured in deci-litres (dl) and can be simply recreated on your trip using the larger measuring cup provided in your kitchen box, which equals 1 dl. One last tip, Swedish summer can be summed up by two ingredients: strawberries and cream, so don’t forget to order both if you’re planning on making cloudberries pannkakor in the archipelago.

Wildcamping Pannkaka Recipe

2 1/2 dl of any milk

1 1/2 dl of beer

–mix with–

2 dl of flour

A bit of salt

–then add–

2 eggs

Mix in the order above and then pour the batter into a preheated and buttered frying pan. Eat with everything ;)

Hanging out in Håskö

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The island with two special characters unique to the Swedish alphabet and the most authentic homestead in the archipelago.

With roaming cows, random goods for sale in the kiosk and a sauna that operates predominantly on the honour system, it doesn’t get any more Swedish than Håskö. When I turned up during a kayaking excursion, gratefully accompanied by three Swedes, I was surprised to meet a larger-than-life fisherman drinking beers with his family and defaulting to Swedish because his ”international language” hadn’t yet woken up. But don’t let that put you off! The man in charge at Håskö has lived a life of travel (predominantly on a fishing boat as an electrician) and therefore gets unnecessarily excited about visitors who have come from anywhere other than Sweden. Should you meet him and he carries on in Swedish, don’t take it personally and just know that you’ll be the highlight of his day!

Håskö walk

So when should you go to Håskö? When you start to smell because you haven’t showered in days, your water shoes have taken on an aroma all of their own, and your hair has had so much sea breeze that it’s no longer beach wavey cool - head to the sauna at Håskö! From having done this trip with veteran sauna users I learned that if you combine steamy hot rocks in an overly hot room, with a cannonball into the sea, and then up and out for a soapy lather, followed by another cannonball into the sea and finally back to the sauna - you have mastered the art of sauna-ing AND showering in the archipelago. Although saunas are Finnish in origin, Swedes have made them their own by building the same hot room, in much the same way, but heating it differently. According to our hero at Håskö (photographed above) a traditional Finnish sauna is heated to 100 degrees while Swedish ones usually go between 60 and 70 degrees. This makes them much more barable and therefore enjoyable for all of us who aren’t Finnish.

There is a real charm to Håskö, but you can’t go expecting it to be as quaint and as charming as Harstena or even Mon. Remember, it is one of the last remaining homesteads in the area and rather than being pleasantly dotted with picture-perfect summer homes, it’s an honest depiction of what life and working in traditional archipelago industry looks like. And if smoked fish ain’t your thang, enjoy an ice cream instead :D

Pizza in the Pines

Dothenorth pizzagrating

As someone who isn’t Swedish, I never would have thought pizza was an exceptionally Swedish dish . . . but it turns out, I am wrong.

Since living in Sankt Anna, I have repeatedly learnt that Swedes LOVE pizza…and tacos! In fact, there is no greater cliche than a Swede whose favourite foods are pizza and tacos, and so far this summer I’ve already eaten both! Because of their tireless national love for the Italian cheesy pie, we decided our second trip out would be a pizza party on an island using only camping stoves.

Going into the feast, we each had to chose a different pizza recipe and devise a method for cooking them with a camping stove. It was one-third competitive, one-third creative, and all the rest delicious! As the only Canadian in the group, I opted for a recipe featuring maple syrup and fruit on an otherwise savoury pizza (yet it also featured a respectable Swedish cheese: Västerbottensost). While the pizza turned out great, there was much debate as to whether or not it counted as a pizza! Obviously, it did.

After trialling five different pizzas with five different cooking methods, it was clear that flatbread or pre-made crusts worked better than dough. If you go for the gamble and decide to use pizza dough, it is best to cook the base first in a pan with oil and then add the toppings. In all situations the toppings had to be further cooked in more of an oven, so we used the smaller pans as lids, applied foil tops, or built a stove with a fire lid. The fire lid is ideal for more experienced campers.

Wolf and Stove

Thomas, the guy who employs us all and founder of Do The North, was convinced that an upside-down method (discussed only in camping circles of avid Trangia users) was fool proof. Alas, it turned out to be fool-worthy, but tasty nonetheless. All in all, I would go for flatbreads as pizza crusts, toppings of your choice, and then cook over a burner with a smaller pot used as a lid (creating an oven like structure). This method is tried, tested, and true!

Midsommaring Like a Swede

Midsommar hang jpg

Bucket List: One down, One to go!

As of last week I had two things to do on my bucket list: attend Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden like a Swede, and go cave exploring in Gaping Gill in the North of England.

Not much for a bucket list, I know . . . but when I first heard of either, obviously something stuck enough for me to jot them down under the note Bucket List. With only one event left to do, I figured I had better write this post fast!!! :S So here it is: Doing Midsommar like a Swede!

What is Midsummer? It’s a fair question if you aren’t from Sweden or have any Swedish friends. It is their biggest national holiday, coming in a close second to Christmas, but this all depends on who you ask. Some prefer the celebrations of frolicking around a fertility pole in a field to waiting for a Finnish Santa to bring them presents. Yup you read right, I said fertility pole! The point of Midsummer is to encourage the harvest, which is why a symbolic penis wrapped with foliage is erected into the earth, only by men and is the centrepiece of the celebration. Hot fact since many Swedes don’t even know this.

Midsommar picknick

In the small fishing archipelago village of Harstena, where we spent the weekend, the maypole was raised in an old school yard and celebrated by locals and visitors to the island by boat. Festivities included bring your own picnic (click here for what you should make), listening to a live but quite old traditional Swedish folk band, and watching people of all ages leapfrog to the Midsummer classic små grodorna. My favourite part of the field party was the strawberry whip cream cake, but sadly since we arrived by kayak we didn’t bring one with us. It is common that groups attending a Midsummer celebration bring their own homemade cake, which can vary greatly depending on the host, and share it with those in their group. After eyeing up the cakes of others and feeling like I desperately missed out, Wolfgang (another crew member here at DTN) went over and asked a local for a slice of hers. Since I’m a sucker for baked goods, my favourite part of Midsummer was sharing a slice of strawberry cake with friends at a picnic.

Kanelbulle in a Kayak

Bulle

So who is the Canadian girl who left London for a Swedish summer in a kayak?

It’s a me, Mario! Jokes, it’s Justine, and I’m here in Sankt (Saint for those of us who aren’t Swedish) Anna for the summer working for Do The North. To get to the short of it, I left my job in London – as a book cover designer at a publishing house – to spend the next four months of my life living in a shabby-chic red and white farmhouse in the sticks in Sweden. You may be asking yourself ”why not just go for a weekend?” but I’ve been there, done that, even made a postcard of it, and I still wanted more.

After working my job for three years and learning to love the chase of the London life, I realised it wasn’t enough to escape the city on weekends to walk the English countryside, or take a week off work to hike the High Coast (Höga Kusten) of Sweden. I wanted out of a desk job and into a kayak, so I took to instagram and turned a friendly chat into the job I was after.

I met Thomas on Instagram in August of 2016 and after a few friendly exchanges we realised we were both what the other person was looking for. I wanted something with kayaks and kanebulles and Thomas wanted someone with fresh eyes to document the charm of the place he calls home. Equipped with a love of all things Swedish and a FujiX70, I got the job!

kanelbulle in a kayak

For the summer I’ll be picking up guests in Norrköping or Skavsta airport, and bringing them to our launch site at Mon. Once there I’ll go through the equipment, highlights of the area, and see you off on your sea kayaking adventure. On days off and during my fringe hours I’ll introduce you to the locals, share my newly acquired kayaking knowledge, and show you my favourite camping moments of the summer. I am ridiculously excited to get started and looking forward to having you share my Swedish summer with me. Feel free to post questions or comments on Instagram and please mention it if I’m the one picking you up on your trip.

Cheers from Sankt Anna :D

Justine