Monday, August 31, 2009

30th of August 2009

Getting out of Svolvaer was pretty easy and the first car to pick me up had once picked up Isabelle also. Another two rides and I got picked up by this awesome Norwegian couple Tommy and Nadine, almost immediately after I got into the car they asked me if I could drive (doesn’t happen very often). We drove to their home and had some sandwiches and after chilling for a while they decided that they should go to Abisko where I was heading because Tommy knew the owner of one of the hostels. So once again I drove, crossing the border into Sweden and arriving at the hostel where a bunch of guys and one of the owners was having a few beers in one of the best Saunas I’ve been in (ok, being from Skåne that doesn’t say too much, but still) so we joined them there for the rest of the evening. The next day Tommy and Nadine went home again and I asked the owner Thomas if I could stay at the hostel another night which was ok (thanks Thomas, Tommy and Nadine!). I was originally planning to hike 110 kilometres down Kungsleden which is supposed to be one of the best hiking trails in the world, but being a bit exhausted from being on the road for a month I decided to just hike up onto a mountain in the Abisko National Park that day to enjoy the amazing view. The hostel also offers dog sledding tours during the winter and they have 55 Siberian huskies that I the following day got to help out feeding, would like to come back here one day during the winter to try dog sledding. I hitched a ride to Kiruna next.

Kiruna once used to be the world’s largest city by area before the definition of a city got redefined. It also has the world largest underground mine digging over 1000 meters deep and exporting tons and tons of iron pellets every day. They are even planning to move half the city of Kiruna just because the mine is expanding. This was also the first time that I really felt that not having any money to spend hurt me, because I really wanted to go on a tour into the mine. Oh well, some other time I hope. It was starting to get dark so I got the great idea to walk up the ski hill just outside the city so I would get a great view of the mine in the morning, only to wake up with a view range of about 10 meters because of the fog. I gave up after waiting a couple of hours and started hitching south.

In Kiruna all the mountain birches and trees had already turned orange but as I was heading southwards the trees started getting more yellow and eventually turning almost fully green. If you look at a map you notice being this far north is about the same level as Greenland, northern Siberia and the most northern Canada. But because of the Gulf Stream we do have a much milder climate here. I hitched through Gällivare which is another city that exists just because of the huge mines and further south to the National Park of Muddus which is within the UNESCO world herigate area of Laponia, the last European wilderness. Muddus also lies within the Jokkmokk municipality which is about half the size of the Netherlands and has a population of about 5000 people, the Netherlands has about 16 500 000.

Muddus National Park is a pretty large area covered in primeval forests, large bogs and plenty of ravines. It’s supposed to have a large population of animals but of course I didn’t see a single one first hiking in 7 kilometres to a cabin and another 20 km the next day. But at least I found me some cloudberries which I never seen in the wild before, and also saw two big waterfalls. From the parking lot I got picked up by the same guy that drove me in there the day before (10km of the main road on a small dirt road leading nowhere else but the National Park).

I hitched south through Arvidsjaur where I had a look at the Saami church village. Then another 30km and the rain started pissing down on me while standing by the side of the road, but I saw a sign about a bird watching tower which turned out to be quite big so it saved me from the rain that night. The next day it still rained but I pretty fast got picked up and got my longest ride this far, all the way to Östersund and there the driver bought me a McDonalds meal for lunch :D After that I hitched west to the ski resort of Åre where my childhood friend Anders lives. Today we have just been chilling and tomorrow I will head out into the mountains with Anders and a few friends of his and stay there until Wednesday, sadly the weather forecast isn’t very promising.

Edit: *sigh* another stressed out entry, always wait until the last second to write them (just finished it and we are leaving in 10 minutes) so I don't have the time to edit and re-read it properly before posting it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

24th of August 2009

The further away from the cities and the more desolate it gets, the more I like it the general rule seems to be. Was the same thing while hitching in Australia, loved it the most when I was alone in the middle of the outback.
I left Nils the next morning and had a real good day of hitching, came to Haparanda which is on the border to Finland and went north from there following the Torneå river which seperates Sweden from Finland. Did a shorter stop by Kukkolaforsen and watched the fishermen catch whitefish (Sik) using just rakes! Now that’s an unusual way of fishing and apparently they have been doing it here for a very long time. I continued further north and started noticing how far away I actually am now, people are getting a lot harder to understand and I had to speak real slowly and listen closely to have a conversation. An older fella gave me a piece of dried reindeer meat after telling him I never tasted it. I would be buying some myself it wasn’t so darn expensive because it’s full of proteins and weighs very little. That night I had my first frost night, it was cold. The next day the hitching was the complete opposite and in 12 hours hitching I got about 50km, of which I walked about ten. The last couple that dropped me off invited me in for tea and told me about a small free unmarked cabin some 8 km up the road. I walked up to the cabin with a total of 4 cars passing me in 90 minutes without anyone picking me up. So I decided to spend the night there having the best sleep yet on this trip, just a little too smoky after my not too good fire starting skills.
I should have stayed on the Finnish side instead because the road is much better and has a lot more traffic on it compared to the one car every 20-30 minutes on the Swedish side, but eventually I did get a ride next to to Karesuando, Sweden’s most northern town.
I have started to see a lot of reindeer now also, it's still late summer so they should be up in the mountains but there are always a few stray reindeers down in the forests and those are the ones I’ve been seeing by the side and on the road while hitching.
From Karesuando I walked over to Finland and hitched further north until I got to the town of Kilpisjärvi. Coming into the town you get an awesome view of Saana, the holy mountain of the Samis (the native people in northern Scandinavia). Sadly I was in the back of a car so didn’t get any pictures until I was in town. From the town I hiked west 11km through Finland’s oldest nature park Malla, over some mountains with real beautiful nature and lots of reindeers walking around until I came to Treriksröset. Treriksröset is the spot where Sweden, Finland and Norway meet so you can stand in all three countries at the same time.
Once getting there, which was the main goal of this whole trip I celebrated with a beer that the last guy, a Norwegian on his way to a Sami festival, had given me.
I slept in a free cabin that night sharing it with 3 Finnish guys. The next day I hiked back the 11km and decided not to hike up on Saana because the weather was quite bad and walked into Norway instead and hitched further north then west.
This is my first time ever in Norway and I start to understand why some people I met claims it’s the most beautiful country in the world. The fjords are just amazing and while I was heading west and finally got to Lofoten it just got better, slept on a hill by a bridge in my tent that night and continued out on Lofoten the next day to the town of Svolvaer.
I also noticed that hitching in Norway is a lot easier then hitching in Sweden, but I guess it's partly because the E6 road is basically the only road going through the country so everyone has to be on it.
In Svolvaer my friend Isabelle lives and works, she is a Swedish girl but I can understand why she has moved to Svolvaer, the beautiful nature and of the way better salaries then Sweden makes it worth it. I know Isabelle because she is also a hitcher, one of the very few, so it was real fun getting to chat to someone that knows what it’s all about :)
Isabelle works at a hotel so I got me some real breakfasts twice and could wash and have a shower. The first day I came to Svolvaer there was also a food festival so I got to try me some whale meat, both raw and cooked. I also tried dried fish and goat cheese and some other food.
The next day we went with a friend of Isabelle further west on Lofoten and did some hiking to a really beautiful beach, and while hiking back across the mountain we could see whales breaching the water out in the ocean so the visit in Lofoten has been an awesome experience, I am thinking about coming back here next year to do some season work.
And oh, Isabelle says she will challenge me next year and do a hitching trip for even less money a day then I do on this trip. I don’t think will be too hard for her because she got two very important things that I’m missing, boobs! Being a small blue-eyed cute girl is a lot easier getting things from people then being a 193cm long unshaved guy. I just wonder if she has the discipline to never spend any money on like an ice cream or a souvenirs or something =P
Today I am heading east, back into Sweden!

Monday, August 17, 2009

17th of August 2009

The view from Skuleberget was pretty awesome, I was also lucky because they have one guided tour up there each week and I just happened to time it perfectly.
As I mentioned in my previous entry The High Coast is another UNESCO World Heritage Area, it is so because it has the highest “rebound” in the world. After the ice age 9600 years ago the land has risen 285 metres and keeps on rising almost a centimetre each year. So it has the world highest coastline. Walking on the top of Skuleberget which is 296 metres high they have marked where the coastline used to be and you can actually see on the surrounding mountains and area where the coastline once was because how the trees are growing and shingle fields being so high up.
After hiking down the mountain and packing my tent I hitched to Skuleskogen National Park which is also in the High Coast area and hiked in some 5 kilometres. Walking up on a mountain I had the most beautiful views I have seen in Sweden so far, after that I hiked through a huge gorge (Slåttdalsskrevan) and then continued to this really idyllic place. It was a small cottage (free for everyone to use) next to a really quiet lake. The lake was 180 metres over the sea level despite the sea just being some 500 metres to the west. Made a fire here and talked to a couple that also camped out here that night. Drinking water I could take directly from the lake. There were also black-throated divers on the lake having this real eerie wail which just added to the whole experience. Have to say Skuleskogen is by far my favourite place in Sweden so far, the views and tranquillity of the place just made it all so magical.
Next morning I hiked out of the national park on the north side (started on the south side) and then started hitching north towards Luleå, it’s some 400km but I was starting to get in a hurry to get north. So 8 rides later I showed up at my friend Nils place in Luleå.
I slept the night there and the next day suddenly my girlfriend showed up surprising me! (She lives down in Skåne).
This all put me in a difficult situation, first I couldn’t keep on going because she was there and second it wouldn’t be very fair to leech on Nils and Veronica for 3 days.
So after much thinking I’ve come up with the only way it can be done is pretending as these 3 days haven’t existed on this trip, so I won’t include them in the budget (and of course I haven’t bought any food to bring with me during these days). It almost feels like cheating but not much I can do about it.
This morning Veronica caught a flight home again and I am preparing to leave myself, can already feel its starting to get colder out though and the upcoming nights it’s supposed to be about 1-2 degrees Celsius where I am going, but my next goal is the very top of Sweden!
I do have to mention that I and Veronica went to the Church Village of Gammelstad which is another World Heritage site in the city of Luleå. It’s the largest and best preserved church village in the world. A Church Village is a place in northern Scandinavia that were used by people living on the countryside on Sundays and big holidays, they went to the village and stayed the night there in their own little house because it was to far to travel in one day. In total there is 424 wooden houses surrounding the 15th century stone church.
So big thanks to Nils for letting me stay here and Veronica for surprising me, now I’m just going to have some breakfast and shower and I’m off.
Edit: It took me a bit longer then expected to do the laundry and get ready yesterday so decided to stay another night, which also gave me time to visit Marie, a friend from Australia that lives in Luleå and gossip about old memories which was fun.
But today im off!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

12th of August 2009

Standing on the side of the road hour after hour really does give you time to think about things, the past, the present and the future. You plan future trips, think about what you will do when you get home, remember good old days and come up with all kind of ideas; it’s just too bad I almost never write anything down.
The next morning the sun was shining again so I packed my tent when it was dry and got going. Had 3 days of rather bad hitching, especially around the Sollefteå region, first I stood 2 hours just outside the town then 3 hours trying to get out of it, sure I stood 4,5 hours in a place some 30 minutes outside Sveg but that was a really lousy place to stand while the Sollefteå spots were as good as it possible can get when hitching, and still so many cars just drove by without stopping. Really makes you wonder what goes through people’s heads when they see me on the side.
Had one of the oddest rides ever on the first day (3rd car in the picture) and also got a ride with a bus which is really unusual. On the second and third day I got my first two rides with trucks.
So I didn’t get as far as I expected the first day but on the following day I got to my next goal, the Dead Falls. The Dead Falls was known as the Great Falls before 1796, it was this huge waterfall along the river Indalsälven. They wanted to do logging on the river so they could get the timber to the coast but it was just impossible with the falls because is smashed the wood to pieces. So they came up with the great idea to re-route a small stream via the lake west of the falls around the falls into the river again, the work started out pretty well but on the 6th of June 1796 the spring flood came and broke through the locks of the stream which ended in disaster. The 25 kilometres long lake was emptied in the less then 4 hours, 1 000 000 000 cubic metres of water washed down the river taking houses and sawmills and farms with it and the Great Falls went silent forever and became known as the Dead Falls after that. And now you can walk around in the area where the falls once were.
The weather was pretty bad with lots of rain that day and also yesterday, but luckily I succeeded to get under a roof every time it started pissing down.
My next goal was this Thai Pavilion in the middle of nowhere. The last ride there a guy named Reine picked me up. I told my usual story about what I was doing and he invited me to his place, he had some houses just next to the Pavilion. So I did get a private guiding of the place, the Pavilion is the only one of its kind outside Thailand. It was built in 1997 to commemorate the 1897 visit of King Chulalongkorn of Thailand to the town. It’s pretty bizarre seeing a place like this in the middle of the Swedish forest, kind of the last thing you would expect.
Next I had a shower and washed my clothes and had a proper dinner with Reine and his daughter and then I had a proper sleep in the sofa. After not being able to have a shower in over a week and not having any clean clothes to wear this was like a blessing from above, made me feel like a completely new man. Also as I mentioned in an earlier post I just love to see that we do have these kind of people also in Sweden.
Reine is by the way also a musician in the band Allgott & Villgott, haven’t heard of them myself before but think they are well known at least on the west coast.
So after another day of dodging the rain I put up my tent just next to Skuluberget by the High Coast, another UNESCO World Heritage area (Sweden has 14 in total, a few too many if you ask me). So once I had my breakfast (grows raspberries and blueberries where my tent is setup) I’ll walk up the mountain and have a look.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

8th of August 2009

Forests, forests and forests (and mosquitoes!), Sweden is just covered with pine forests except in the far south where I’m from. It isn’t too exciting to drive through all these because you don’t see too much. But once you get a bit further north in the country (I’m not even halfway through yet) the forests starts mixing with lakes, rivers, mountains and fens which almost make the landscape magical riding through. It also makes you daydreaming about having your own little cottage by a lake here somewhere.
The next two days I started hitching pretty late but still covered the distances I wanted to. First I went to Falun which has the Falun copper mine, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one because they have mined for copper here for over 1000 years, they have found that they were getting copper from here already in the 8th century and its been a major copper mine all until 1992 when it closed. During the 17th century it was the biggest workplace in Europe and supplied the western world with two thirds of all it copper needs exporting to countries all over Europe. It was this mine that supported the Swedish war effort and made Sweden a major player during that age. Back then it didn’t grow any trees for 5 kilometres around the mine and no plants at all for 2,5 km because of all the toxic smoke and Carl von Linné called it hell on earth when he once visited it.
Also both Falu Red which just about all wooden houses on the countryside in Sweden are painted with and Falukorv has come to be just because of this mine.
After Falun I hitched to Leksand and set up my tent there just by the southeast part of lake Siljan, today I went to a lookout tower of the lake which is quite impressive, this lake and couple of lakes around it is actually a huge meteor crater, the biggest one in Europe.
After that I started hitching north to cover a greater distance and I am now in Sveg in my tent, it’s raining currently which I really don’t like.
Rode with an old wise man today that walked several thousand kilometres through Sweden, and actually slept in Abbekås, the town where I’m from. We discussed why people don’t pick up hitchhikers. I usually tell people that it’s because in today’s society people are either too busy or too afraid to let a stranger into their car. His theory was that people see no gain, just risk in picking up a hitcher. Which I think there is some truth behind and the sad reality of today. If people can’t gain something from doing something, they don’t do it, not even helping a fellow human being out. So most people that do pick you up are the people that once themselves stood there on the side of the road trying to get a ride because they know what you are going through.

Friday, August 7, 2009

7th of August 2009

Sweden is just packed with ancient monuments and grave mounds, medieval churches and castles and old mine shafts and industrial equipment. There seems to be something worth looking at just around every corner. Think it’s like this with most countries though and you just have to make a selection to see a few things if you are ever going to make it home again.
The next morning I got a quick ride to Berg´s Slussar which is a part of Göta Canal, a canal constructed in the 19th century which made it possible to cross Sweden by boat. There are 7 locks at Berg where I went and they lift the boats a total of 18.8 meters. Really interesting to see how the locks work.
After that I tried to hitch north via a not very active road so it took me quite some time to get anywhere and when the sun started to set and I was walking down the road to find a place to put up my tent the last car passing by picked me up and drove me at least some distance. Camped out just outside Statoil (a petrol station) and they were closing for the day just when I was setting up my tent so I walked over and asked if they had any food they were throwing away for the day, I ended up with 4 donuts and 3 danishes! I’m such a bum :D
The following day I hitched to the Sigurdristning northeast of Eskiltuna, it’s a famous stone carving made during the Viking age and ordered by a woman reciting the legend of Sigurd, which is quite alike the Nibelungen story actually. After that I hitched around the lake Mälaren (with some awesome view of Strängnäs from a bridge) to Anundshögen just east of Västerås. I was quite lucky because this guy Tobias drove me there even though it was 10km of his way home and despite he was in a hurry; actually the same thing happened when going to the Sigurdristning with another guy.
Anungshögen is Sweden’s largest grave mound and they think it was created sometime between the 3rd to the 6th century. They usually burned the person (most likely a king when it’s this big) with all the belongings the person (both women and men) was supposed to bring into the afterlife, and then they covered the remains with these huge piles of dirt.
In the Anundshög area there is several other grave mounds, 5 ship settings that were used during the Viking age for unknown reasons and a big cryptic rune stone, so it has been quite an important meeting place in the past.
After walking around the area for a few hours I got a call from Tobias which had been away at a birthday party and he asked if I wanted to come and have a shower and sleep at their place, so I started walking there until he picked me up. So that night I had a few beers and a shower and slept in a blue bus, it just makes me so happy to see we have all these kind people I have met the last couple of days also in Sweden! (wish I could mention everyone by name here but the entries would just be way to long then , but at least all of you are in the picture of people that pick me up and I’m very grateful)
In the morning Tobias partner Anki (whom he is getting married to on Saturday) drove me into town and we went to have her car checked. Then I hitched northeast to Uppsala which is the fourth largest city of Sweden (130 000 people living here, Sweden isn’t a very populated place!).
Uppsala has Scandinavia’s oldest university founded in 1477; it also has the Uppsala Cathedral which is the biggest church in Scandinavia. Went for a guided tour in the Cathedral and I was majorly impressed by the whole building, it's just so beautiful and big and has got so many old things in there, it's 118,7 meters long and 118,7 meters high. Construction began already 1287 but it took about 160 years to finish. From there I walked some 6km northeast of town to Old Uppsala which shows that the area has been a very important place for a very long time, Old Uppsala has the 3 king graves (3 huge grave mounds) and several other old monuments including the old Uppsala Cathedral. The mounds were made about 1500 years ago and they think they contain the bodies of 3 kings (hard to find out exactly because the corpses and their remains were burnt.)
Then I hitched north to this nature reserve Florarna, it’s a pretty unknown area of 50 square kilometres covered in forests and fens. Got a ride 10km into the nature reserve by this nice family which also gave me some food, then I started hiking some 5km through the reserve. Hiking through the forest was just horrible, felt like I was getting eaten alive by the mosquitoes! But on the Fens at least I got away from them and also saw my first European Adder, the only poisonous snake in Sweden. I was lucky and by the end of the hike I found some cottages that you can rent and one of them was unlocked, so I spent the night there away from all the horrible flying things outside!
Next day I had to hike about 9km out to get onto a road with some traffic and then I hitched west. Went pretty well until I got to Gävle where I was stuck for 4,5 hours, but on the plus side the guy that dropped me off there, Alex, gave me bread and cheese so I had some free lunch. But I finally got out of there too and got a ride to where I’m now, a rest stop just next to a beautiful lake, so yesterday I did some washing in the toilet and I just went for a morning swim a couple of minutes ago, so nice to get rid of all that sweat I have been accumulating the last 2 days from hiking.

Monday, August 3, 2009

2nd of August 2009

I got up pretty early the next day only having to walk almost 10km before I did get picked up by a car getting a short ride into Eksjö. From there I hitched north on smaller and smaller roads until it was just a dirt road, but eventually I got a ride even on that road and got to Rökstenen in Rök, which is the longest runic inscription in the world.
Researcher still aren’t sure exactly what the stone says because it's full of poems and cryptic runes and from what I’ve heard they just came up with a new theory about it, but it was probably carved in the 9th century.
From the stone a couple turned around in their car and picked me up just because I had the same backpack as the guy driving (he was selling them). They were heading to the same place as me, Omberg. Omberget is a mountain covered in a protected forest (an ecopark) just next to Vättern which is Swedens second biggest lake. I hiked with the couple to a camp where we set up our tents, during the hike we realized that we actually knew each other/had met before! Me and this guy Björn did our military service together 9 years ago, he lives in Linköping which is closer to Stockholm and here they pick me up on a road that they never usually drive and that I never been on before, small world isn’t it? After setting up camp we went for a swim in Vättern and they barbequed some hotdogs and shared with me :D
Next day I had to walk a couple of kilometres before getting a ride but eventually got one and arrived in Vadstena which is one of the older cities in Sweden with a lot of history. It has this huge Vadstena Castle which was built by Gutav Vasa in the 16th century. It also has the Vadstena Monastery that was founded by Saint Bridget of Sweden back in 1350. Walking around both the castle and the monastery is something everyone that visits Vadstena should do. After looking around Vadstena (also has some really old houses and streets) and stocking up on food I headed east until this kind of crappy rest stop where I am at now just by the E4.
I have started to get blisters on both my feet and I can feel my hips aren’t used to the weight of the backpack. Also my enthusiasm is really low most of the time, but whenever there’s a dip it always comes straight up again with things like Björn and Anna happening. And there is no such thing as giving up! Just thought I would be a bit further up north by now but I still have plenty of time.
Note to self: stay away from the E4!