Returning to Sweden from the tropics: culture clash and future plans

Photo by Yannic Kress
Flying to Stockholm from Vanuatu is not an easy business. One can fly via Australia, Fiji, or New Zealand. But I had no Australian visum, and I had already been to Fiji, so I booked a flight to Auckland. There, I spent 1 night, and flew to Stockholm via Hong Kong and Frankfurt, this part of the trip having 35 flight hours, not including transfer waiting time. I am afraid to think back to how many days the trip took... but it was surely the long way, as they say. 

Arriving to New Zealand, I had two choices. I had been awake for about 48 hours, and quite buzzed from the airport beer (that I spent some of my last pennies on) and the stress. So: either go sleep for like 20 hours, or have a stiff drink, a shower, and hit the city. I chose the second alternative, and did Auckland by night, pubbing with my newly met hostel buddies. By some lucky coincidence, I kept getting free drinks and free food – and even managed to get a free ride home, as a bicycle rikshaw was feeling sorry for my aching high-heeled feet. He had lived in Sweden for a year so he thought it was great fun speaking Swedish with Kiwi accent while driving me home.

The day after, I booked a full day tour through NZ, before flying off at midnight. I think I did as much as most people do in one week - but in one day. I visited the huge underground caves with absolutely beautiful stalactites, had a boat tour in the underground cave lake, in full darkness and the glow worms shining above like the starriest sky. Then, I visited a sulfur spring spa, with hot pools to soak in, and then the geothermal activity center with boiling mud pools and geysers. I passed a lot of classical NZ landscapes with grazing sheep, and the hills that look like the hobbit village, wine and kiwi plantations. I saw some enormous trees (2,5 meters or so in diameter). In the evening I visited a Maori music and dance show, had a lesson in indigenous weaving handcraft.

The day after, I was to spend 7 hours of transit in Hong Kong, so I once again decided to hit the city. The shops did not open until 10 or 10:30, and that was about the time when I had to go back to the airport, but I had some real Hong Kong food. The Michelin-star restaurant at the airport (that serves smoked geese and pigs) had to be given a miss, and similar smoked-geese places too, since I was almost late for the flight and also did not have the budget. However, the lovely Asian couple (who of course did not speak a word of English) that sat beside me on the plane had some smoked goose neck with them, and it was absolutely lovely while extremely spicy, so I spent some good time indulging in the taste but agonizing over my burning mouth.

Visiting Hong Kong, after months of sailing South Pacific with its deserted islands and paradise-like nature, made me feel like a bug trapped in a huge 1990s pinball arcade. Sounds, blinking and strange language signs everywhere, and everything goes so fast, and you don't really understand the rules of the games but realize that if you also rush just enough (and push all buttons in the same time) you might just accomplish something.

Frankfurt airport was stunningly cold after the 25+C Hong Kong, and smelled distinctly of Sauerkraut. People were paler, immaculately dressed, but all looked very angry and stressed, and every each one looked down into their smartphone or laptop. Smartphones picked up during the time I was away, and it was chocking to see the impact they have made on the people’s behavior and postures. I was hit by this tsunami of magazines and wall posters advertising new electronic devices that guarantee you better connectivity and functionality, and surely making you a much happier person. Thinking back to Polynesia, I doubt that. Throw away a few appliances instead, that would be the more likely way to get happy.

Sweden... What can I say? The Giant Fridge. It's so cold. Everyone is stressed, and has a very angry face expression (however, everyone is distinctly trying to look very self-important). And did I say it was cold? That’s the contrast to the tropics. I spent a lot of time inside, sorting stuff and writing notes, but even inside I have to have a jacket to keep me from shivering so I can continue writing, and my besocked feet go almost numb. I cannot stop wondering how people can live like this, when there are so many warmer countries in the world? Countries with coconut trees and friendly people? Oh well. I guess I will, too, get used to this again. I give myself a couple of days - then I will also run around looking self-important, and saying that 9+C in November is extremely warm and should be enjoyed. Until then, I am employing the Polynesian tradition of smiling saying hello to everyone in my way. People look very scared when I do that. Some stare to figure out if I’m drunk, some seem to be thinking about calling the ambulance - I must be a nut case talking to strangers and smiling like an idiot.

It did take me some time to get re-integrated into Sweden. That winter and spring were tough, because of the darkness, coldness and realization that pausing the sailing was a mistake. At the end, I did not even have the boat left. But I slowly started to build up my life again. By the time the roads were somewhat dry, I bought a used motorcycle and the world finally smiled at me. I went to a long road trip to Siberia, and then a roadtrip across the US, where I among other things crossed Death Valley with a Harley in July. Somewhere during that summer I did a life-changing agreement to start mountaineering. And so the mountaineering part of my adventures started. I went back to sailing after a while, and moved on to Arctic sailing, giving sailing lessons and lectures. The circumnavigation lives on, and moves on – just in smaller parts, and with longer pauses in between. Also, I have decided to take a slightly another route, and went back to Fiji to continue to Auckland, so I could go from there to Australia and further. More about the circumnavigation will be posted in this blog as it comes!