Friendship on the Open Road in Sweden
“Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune – I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.”
So opens Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” my personal traveling mantra, 17 sections of the dream, the wisdom, and the good and bad realities of traveling. I carry a copy with me wherever I go, folded up and stuffed into my bag next to my socks and whatever musical instrument I’ve chosen to bring along (last year a harmonica; this year, since realizing I have no innate musical talent, an egg shaker). I’ve carried the same copy from Japan to Greece, Israel to South Africa, New Zealand to Holland — and now to Sweden.
Finally, I’ve made it to this beautiful little Scandinavian wonderland, a haven of socialism and rationality and environmentalists and Ikea and secularism and Swedes (probably the most attractive men and women in the world). I say “finally” because I’ve been trying to visit Sweden since last year, when I met these three Swedish guys in Egypt and caught a ride with two of them to Kenya. My Svenskar were driving overland from Sweden to South Africa (catch their trip at www.2cape.com) for the World Cup, and I had never (and haven’t since) met two guys who could simultaneously throw themselves completely into the experiences around them and still remain so resolutely positive and excited about their home country. Honestly, they might as well have been sponsored by the Swedish government to spread pro-Swedish propaganda abroad, they were so good at it — and after they left me in Nairobi, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would have to visit Scandinavia in the not-so-distant future.
As you may expect, it was more than just the desire to see the country itself (and its beautiful men) that brought me to Sweden. Over the five weeks I traveled with these guys last year, we became extremely close friends. Back to Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”,
“…Why is it I interchange so suddenly with strangers?
What with some driver, as I ride on the seat by his side?
What with some fisherman, drawing his seine by the short, as I walk by, and pause?
What gives me to be free to a woman’s or man’s good will? What gives them to be free to mine?”
I find that when travelers (especially longer-term backpackers) meet on the road, whether for two days or two months, we are able to connect more rapidly and on a deeper level than would be possible in the “real world”. We are given 100% freedom to be ourselves, to be unconcerned with the judgements of others – maybe because you know that you’ll probably never see these other travelers again, or maybe because the number of interactions you get to have with people you like are sometimes few and far between when you’re constantly on the move. Whatever the reasons, I have found that it’s possible to become extremely close very quickly, to tell what were complete strangers things that your best friends don’t know. Most of the time, you don’t even mean to launch into particularly meaningful discussions, into dissections of the major decisions you’ve made in your most recent relationships, into the personal and private reasons you travel, into what you are running away from or to – but you immediately find that you share some of your deepest thoughts and emotions on the road with these other travelers. It’s so weird that someone can echo your deepest thoughts within moments of meeting you; it’s weird to hear your thoughts coming out of someone else’s mouth.
And so it was with the Swedes – we became fast friends, and with one in particular I felt a lasting bond grow out of the intensity of the experiences we shared. This bond brought me to Sweden, for an African reunion organized and executed with Swedish efficiency. Not only was the Amerikanska (that’s me) visiting, but so were two Aussies we had met and traveled with while they were completing a similar overland journey through Africa. One had since moved to Germany, but one was flying in all the way from ‘down under’ to join us for Midsummer’s night, the biggest holiday in Sweden; for a week plus of drinking, kubb (this lawn game where you throw round sticks at square sticks), and epic Swedish mealtime; and for the beginning of the Peace and Love Festival, the biggest music festival in Sweden. MIA, Volbeat, The Strokes, Foreigner, Bob Dylan, Journey, Jimmy Eat World, Looptroop, Deadmau5, Kings of Leon, The Sounds, Mimickry, All Time Low… no, my iPod didn’t mate with that of a baby-booming-born-again punk rocker.
Friendship on the Open Road in Sweden
This is just part of the collection of musicians we saw (with 40,000 of our new best friends) over 5 days of this absolutely epic music festival. Throughout the entire time we spent together, it was like we had never left Africa (except for the level of cleanliness, which was much higher) – we spoke our own language full of inside jokes mixed with new Swed-lish words, laughed constantly as we looked at pictures and relived moments of our trips, and made new memories living on the tour bus that our Swedish friend had borrowed from work for our visit.
The festival ended a few days ago. Over the course of two weeks, we had dwindled in numbers, one Swede returning to his home up north, the German-Aussie returning to his very-pregnant wife, and our friend from ‘down under’ heading to Norway for another music festival. So now it’s just me and my closest Swedish friend, Mikael, and oh! the adventures we have planned! Mikael will travel onward with me for most of the next year – we will make our way to Estonia to visit a university in Tallin; to Istanbul to spend four days eating baklava and drinking the strongest tea imaginable; and by the beginning of August will be in Malawi, where together we will live and work for nine months at a backpackers camp called The Mushroom Farm.
Drawing on our knowledge from last year and gaining new experiences (and a new language), we will run the camp, catering to the needs of backpackers like ourselves, heating showers with wood fires, and getting to know the people and the culture around us. We both loved this country the last time we visited – the natural beauty, the kindness of the people in face of some of the worse poverty in east Africa – Malawian’s call their country “the warm heart of Africa,” and I agree. I can’t even begin to imagine how Malawi will test me, or what I will have learned when I come out on the other end – but with a friend at my side, I am so excited to find out. And I invite you, with one final stanza from Whitman, to join me if you will, on whatever path your imagination takes you:
“Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe—I have tried it—my own feet have tried it well.
Allons! be not detain’d!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
Mon enfant! I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself, before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”
Jess Scott is a foreign correspondent for Pink Pangea. Continue to read more of her stories here and at jpscott.blogspot.com. Friendship on the Open Road in Sweden