The couple moved from the equator to the Arctic Circle. Now they invite guests from all over the world to experience what we call local life.
The forest road ends abruptly as if swallowed up by nature.
A steep slope drops down to the river and two cone-shaped buildings are framed by a large wooden deck. They look like two windowed space capsules similar to the ones the astronauts landed with during the Apollo program. However, the cones are only a small part of the couple’s workplace – Aurora Safari Camp in Sörbyn, about 40 minutes outside central Boden.
The whole area has been built by hand over two years. 100s of meters of decking have been screwed together to form walkways between the buildings. Almost all the wood material from the old business has been reused in the new one.
Trees and stones have determined the size of the steps, or the angles of the paths, and the buildings are supported by pillars.
– In the back of my mind there are always plans on how we can develop the business, but I’m quite tired of carpentry so that part of the development will not be prioritized in the coming years, says Jonas Gejke and laughs.
The inspiration for adapting the building entirely to nature comes from Kenya, where Naila Cherono Sher was born and raised, and where the couple lived together for 25 years before deciding to move to Sweden.
– It was Jonas who pushed for the children to experience Sweden. He tried to prepare me for what it would be like to live here in the winter, but I think it is impossible to explain the feeling in words. It’s a sensation you need to experience yourself,” says Naila.
They laugh together at the memory of Naila rushing back to the house and complaining that she couldn’t see out the windshield of her car because of the ice that had formed.
– It was the first time I experienced ice and did not understand what had happened. The changing seasons here are amazing, but for someone who has lived a lifetime of two seasons, drought and rain, the difference is huge. Especially in winter. It is special.
Family and friends in Kenya often ask what it is like to live in northern Sweden.
– I usually explain it as extreme. You don’t just come here, get on a snowmobile and go. You must have local knowledge and expertise to do so. At the same time, nature is very close and accessible. “Few things beat standing in the middle of the forest in total darkness and experiencing the northern lights with your own eyes,” says Naila.
But moving from the equator to the Arctic Circle has not only meant that the family has had to learn to navigate a new climate. The culture and interaction between people is also completely different.
– If you are sitting with a stranger on a bus in Nairobi, it is considered rude not to start a conversation. Here, people avoid talking to people they do not know. Nairobi is also a city of three million people. But if you go to the same place and shop five times, you are addressed by name and they ask how the family is doing. In central Boden you are a total stranger after five years. That part is a bit difficult,” says Naila.
Things are different in their home village of Gunnarsbyn in the countryside. There, residents open up their homes to new people – literally.
– Sometimes we take our guests to dinner with someone who lives here. It is much appreciated both by our visitors and those who invite them. This often leads to many interesting conversations well into the evening,” says Jonas.
– The villages in the area have quite a wide variety of people coming from other countries and cultures. It also makes people here more open and has helped us feel at home,” says Naila.
The Kenyan open attitude is also something they work on when their guests visit the facility. This could be anything from calling them by name, trying to find out if there are any foods they particularly like or things they want to do.
– We don’t want it to feel too commercial to come here but more familiar and that’s also the feedback we get,” says Naila.
– The funniest thing that can happen is when we have guests who say that they heard about this place from a friend and that their experience was so good that they decided to go here and experience it themselves, says Jonas.
The concept the couple is working on is called glamping, which can be described as a luxurious form of camping.
Jonas has worked with the same genre in Africa and saw the potential for tourism around the Råne River already 20 years ago when he visited his friend Fredrik Broman who founded Aurora Safari Camp in 2013.
– It’s easy to take your surroundings for granted, but I don’t think everyone understands what an amazing area Norrbotten is. We have midnight sun and warm temperatures in the summer and a severe winter that completely transforms the landscape,” he says.
Last winter, guests came from 25 different countries and often from big cities. In search of a real winter.
– Yes, the colder and snowier it is, the better for us, says Jonas and laughs.
So what is it that attracts people from all over the world to something that some of the people who live here resent?
– This is exciting. Many of those who come here may do so with the hope of seeing the northern lights and snow, but they leave with something much more. The experience of silence and desolation, says Jonas.
– Indeed, they often describe it as making them feel and think differently. Especially those coming from larger cities. It will be like an inner journey. I think it’s great to hear them talk about that,” says Naila.
The camp with its home-made buildings and luxurious tents is the material heart of the activity. They have also built a raft with kitchen, accommodation and sauna. When Närhetsliv visits the area, one of the guests is actor Stefan Sauk.
– I have been here in winter before and there is a reason why I am coming back. A great place to really relax,” he says, putting his hands behind his head and sinking deeper into his chair.
The floating camp has only been up and running for two months, but bookings have been pouring in. In fact, the fleet is already booked for part of next summer.
– I already said that 20 years ago. This is something people will want to pay to experience. Summer and winter. We know we have a good product and now we will work hard to make the most of what we have managed to develop here,” says Jonas.
– It’s wonderful to be able to live and work so close to nature. I can cycle a few kilometers in the forest and during that time I pass rapids, lakes, berries and mushrooms that can be picked or I can jump into clean water and swim. For me, it’s amazing that I can walk out the door and experience everything in a few minutes. This is community life for me,” says Naila.
TEXT: ANDRÉ SAMUELSSON