Our Sleep Storyteller-in-Residence, Phoebe Smith talks about the adventure behind her latest Sleep Story, Wild Sweden.
Not many people brag about how basic their hotel is. The lack of running water or central heating is generally regarded as something that would see most guests clambering to write a scathing review on Trip Advisor. And when many hear the words ‘no wifi’ it’s enough to make them cancel the trip altogether.
But for me – a writer who lives my life defined by deadlines and relies on being connected in case a story breaks or an opportunity comes up – the idea of stripping away all the ‘comforts’ I thought I needed when I travelled had a sort of inexplicable and slightly scary thrill to it.
It was not a case of wondering how would I cope being offline, rather it was a question of could I cope with it?
As soon as I knew I would be spending two nights at Kolarbyn, known as Sweden’s most primitive hotel, I contacted the owner to ask about the (albeit slim) possibility of getting some kind of internet connection while there. I had work to do, I explained, and would definitely be bringing my laptop. They said it wasn’t really available but that they would look into options for me.
On arrival I was given the tour by the manager. Within minutes I had been shown the composting toilets (actually really pleasant to a seasoned camper like me), pointed to the part of the stream suitable for washing pots (with enviro-friendly cleaning products, naturally), undertaken the 1km round-trip walk to the fresh spring to collect drinking water, been given a handy demonstration about how to chop firewood then build the perfect fire, and been taken to the best places to pick mushrooms and bilberries to add to my meals.
At the end she handed me a basket and said: “That will be yours for the duration of your stay.” She smiled. I looked at her quizzically wondereing why on earth I would need a basket.
I was soon to find out.
The problem with all the amazing technology that we have developed as humans is that we so often take what it does and how quickly it does it for granted. Take a rather simple invention such as the kettle. At home we walk in the kitchen, fill it from the tap, flip a switch and, like magic, within a few minutes we get boiling water.
I admit that the idea of a kettle is not a romantic or particularly remarkable invention to many – indeed it wasn’t to me either, but at Kolarbyn – where kettles are not an available – I suddenly realised the value and time saving it brings to our lives. It went like this. I decided I wouldn’t mind having a quick cuppa. First I had to go and find some firewood, kindling and tinder. I couldn’t possibly carry all that in my hands, so I used my basket to gather it in (suddenly justifying its presence). Once some suitable specimens had been found I then had to chop them. Once done I needed to collect some suitable herbs for the tea, then I had to walk the 10-minute trip to source my water.
Next I had to build and tend the fire, wait for the water to boil (it takes a lot longer than my kettle at home) and, finally, 45minutes after I decided I wanted a hot tea I finally got to drink it.
After that experience more usually easy tasks suddenly began to pop into my head that I would now need to prepare for. I would have to gather even more wood and chop it ready not only to cook dinner but, also, to heat my room at night. I needed to go and collect candles for my hut (from the outdoor store) otherwise I would have no light. Plus I didn't want to walk the 1km to source water in the dark, so needed to make a few trips (with basket in tow) to get enough for both drinking and using to cook with, not to mention pick up supplies to cook (thank you again basket) and prepare my meal.
“Good news,” called the manager to me as I returned from my second trip to get water, “if you walk about 20mins up the road you will get a signal and be able to check your emails!”
Right then I got it. There I was worrying about the very basic necessities of human life – sourcing clean water, foraging for food and keeping warm – and she was talking about me accessing the internet. It all sounded so ridiculous. I didn’t have time to worry about emails, I wanted to ensure I would be warm that night and not run out of water.
This is the power of a stay at a primitive hotel.
It makes you realise that the best things in life aren’t actually things and that sometimes, just sometimes, a hotel without running water, electricity and wifi can fulfil our needs in a way that a five star offering never truly will.
Well, at least for a couple of nights, anyway…
Feel what it’s like to be tucked up in the forest huts at Kolrbyn with Phoebe’s Sleep Story – Wild Sweden.