During the Swedish Hitchhiking Scavenger Hunt in early September, three kindly plump-faced twelve-year-old boys passed by me on their bikes. I stood under the fresh, cool sky in the interior nowhere between brisk blue lake and Swedish forest.
A blond-haired bike-rider greeted, "Liftar du?" (Are you hitchhiking?)
"Jo," I said yes.
He tapped the frame of his bike as he peddled. "Finns plats!" (There's room for you!)
He sounded sincere. If only he'd been going my way ...
Hopefully, I was going to come across more friendly people like that boy as I began hitchhiking out of Sweden last week in late September.
The four-hundred-and-fifty miles south to Stockholm took me only nine hours. I was going a lot faster than that boy on the bike! ha ha, even faster than a passenger on a train.
The last ride was a tight squeeze but much fun. Thirty-seven-year-old Luis and fifty-two-year-old Roberto came from Chile. We spoke Spanish in their old white work-truck. Stocky, moustachioed Roberto was excited and demonstrative, and we got along like old pals. We took turns singing songs by the 80's rock sensation, Soda Stereo from Argentina. Roberto had taken three hitchhiking trips down to Chilean Patagonia, two more than me.
Roberto told me how to teach my shy girlfriend, Elaine, to be brave enough to dance salsa with me. "Primero, uno escucho la musica. Despues, servéla un copito de ron. Despues, otro copito de ron. Despues, se bailan!" (First, one listens to the music. Then, you give her a little cup of rum. Then, another little cup of rum. Then, you dance!)
Roberto and Luis had come to Sweden as political refuges like many Chileans during the 80's. Roberto said that, while Pinochet was Chile's president, anyone who complained about his job was branded a "communista" and thrown in jail.
"What took you so long, you slowpoke!?" I met Elaine and the train she rode the next morning at Stockholm's Central Station.
I and she stayed in Stockholm with Jere, a friend who'd studied with me in Australia, and his girlfriend Kaisa. Elaine and I had a really nice night there.
We had dinner at Jojo's. Six-foot-nine ex-basketballer Jojo made a buttery crab-meat soup which vegetarian Elaine abstained from. Jojo's girlfriend Karin, a blonde like Jojo, brought out a delectable chocolate ice-cream-cake. Jojo told us about the ergonomics supplies his just-begun business sells, including an air-freshening device which is a tiny rainforest and would cost an office $8000. Karin asked us lots of questions and said, "That's fantastic!" in her royal, happy way. Jojo and Karin are humble characters who really like people. Karin wore a bright red-and-black-striped fuzzy-fluff shirt with a thick ruffly collar. Elaine said of her, "I think she's the most beautiful girl I've seen in my life."
Back at Jere's apartment, a night of socializing at the kitchen table began at midnight. Clean-blond-haired, small-spectacled Jere and scarlet-headed, lightly-freckled Kaisa come from Finland. We drank from Finnish beers, red wine and champagne, and shots of Irish Cream.
Kaisa told of loving to snowboard on the hills near her home north of the Arctic Circle. She said that each spring when the ice finally breaks on frozen northern rivers it's a loud and magical event, and everyone leaves his house to watch. Jere told of the joy of Finnish saunas, of relaxing in the sauna then doing a shot of vodka then snow-wrestling his friends then ice-swimming then relaxing in the sauna again. Jere also told us how all the macho guys in Finland insist all Swedish guys are gay, because Swedish guys have such high fashion. Elaine and I laughed.
Jere cooked us some bread. We fixed ourselves delicious sandwiches with Swedish cheese (which Elaine says is great), spicy pepperoni, cucumber, and orange peppers. A great night ended at four a.m.
It was mainly Elaine's desire when she and I broke up the next day.
I just want it to go down in writing that, if I called her a "slowpoke" at any time during our relationship, it was only a joke! That's not the kind of boyfriend I am - picking on poor, little Elaine.
No. Elaine and I had dated twice before, and both times had ended because I went off to travel. It's sad when that happens, and Elaine didn't want to have that have to happen again. It's a shame we can't be together, because it's always so great when we are.
Italian-blooded Elaine traveled off with her EuroRail Pass. But, we'll meet up later.
I traveled off on a ferry. My boat made its way beneath castle-like, old apartment buildings, along the biting-blue waterways of the Stockholm archipelago. It took me to a quiet, deer-inhabited beach where I could camp.
And, now, I helpfully present to you MODERN ODDYSEUS' HELPFUL CAMPING TIPS (learned during a life on the road):
1. Once you've found a camping spot that's to your liking, quickly pee somewhere nearby. This lays claim to that spot as your territory.
2. Stomp down on the ground while turning in a circle. This will make you a soft bed.
3. Never pee directly into the wind.
There. That was very helpful.
Monday morning, I left Jere and Kaisa and Stockholm for good.
Maria, a blond lady with a silly-friendly-look, told me, "Jag latsade om det var jag sjelv som stannar der." (I imagined if that was me myself who was standing out there.) She picked me up and drove me a small ways.
The following morning, a Polish trucker carried me for an hour. Buzzed brown hair, a geometrically-sided moustache, and the vest he wore made trucker Roman look like he was out of the 1970's. Naked girlie pictures decorated the truck's insides. Three more rides and a $3 ferry ride got me into Denmark before night.
The next day was and is today. A Danish guy, Sami, and a Romanian girl, Kristina, drove me over a fifteen-mile bridge and for two hours in their rented moving van.
Thin Kristina's average brown eyes looked forward most of the time - perhaps because we were seated so close - and seemed innocent. Her nose and chin were wider than average but otherwise average, and she swooped glances at me. Her accent sounded proper like a no-nonsense Romanian countryside housewife. Her straight appearance served to conceal the mischievous sense of humor she thoroughly enjoyed. She was a lot of fun. The most we laughed was when I asked her if nightclubs in Romania involve people holding each other's hands in a circle and stepping around and around: Romanian folk-dancing - the least cool thing you'd want to dance in a nightclub.
Kristina was a visitor of Sami's. Sami was about thirty. He sported a brown pony-tail and fu-manchu-style goatee. He'd briefly been a member of the "Naver", he told me. The "Naver" is an elusive society out of Germany. Each member is a licensed carpenter or brick-layer. All agree to make three-year travels before age thirty. They're given the addresses of hotels and private persons they can stay with or work for. They wear black clothes and big black hats always and carry almost nothing. They're not allowed to own cell-phones, to have debts, or to go within fifty kilometres of their hometown during the three years. The "Naver" have been doing this for five-hundred years. Sami didn't complete his big trip, though, because he fell in love with Kristina's sister and got married.
The last interesting ride came from Gunter. Gunter was little and eighty years old. I spoke Swedish, while he spoke Danish, and we understood each other a bit.
Gunter took me into Germany. He's a member of the Danish minority living there. His town has belonged to Denmark, Germany, Denmark, Germany over the last century and a half. He made an "elbowing" motion to suggest Germany often tries to take more and more land. He called World War II the "idiotiska kriget" (idiotic war). He'd fought and been injured in it, and he's been handicapped and unable to work since.
We stopped at the grocery store while he drove me. So, what does a WWII vet buy when he gets groceries? Nine half-gallons of milk, and a purple orchid to stand on the door-step. 'Couldn't make that up!
So, now I'm in the Hamburg, Germany airport. About to catch a free night's sleep on this comfy leather bench ...
zzzz - Modern Oddyseus
Thanks to Niklas; Luis & Roberto; Tomas & "Salu"; Maria; Leif; Daniel & "Lida"; Maria; Peter; Roman; Kele; Mikael; Kenneth; Kai; Sami & Kristina; Jen; Gunter; & Han for the rides!
Much thanks to Jere & Kristina for the place to visit!
FINAL SWEDISH HITCHHIKING STATISTICS: 64 rides. 39 from single males. 14 (22%) from mostly-female cars. 6 from couples. 5 from 2+ males. 0 from males with kids.