Kayaking from Sweden to Africa: 1001 Ways to Fail (Part Two)
The last days of 1998 found me leisurely paddling along a canal. The day was cold, but high above the sun shone brightly in a light blue sky and beneath my kayak the water was as smooth as a mirror. I spotted a buzzard observing his surroundings a few meters away. I stopped paddling and let myself glide towards it.
The kayak was cutting clean, beautiful lines on the surface. All was still. Suddenly, the buzzard took to flight and went after a duck. The buzzard caught his prize in mid-air, bringing it down to the shore with a thud.
From peace and harmony to the sudden drama.
Feathers intermingled with screams as the bait-and-switch played out with nature calmly looking on. While the buzzard was providing the distraction, the paddler crept in and stole the prize for himself. The poor buzzard had to give up his prey, but even more pitiful was the duck who, after being briefly pursued by his predator, got to see the last seconds of his life in the form of a black paddle that came sweeping towards his head. Later in the evening some parts of the brave bird garnered a place of honor in my midnight snack of spaghetti and Brussels sprouts.
New Year’s Eve was not spent entirely in solitude. In search of a restaurant, I met a guy named Horzt and his Polish hip-hop friends, whose mouths were mostly stuck in a silent girl’s lips. Horzt’s dad owned a restaurant, but it had closed up for the night a few hours earlier. I ended up with a Bacardi in my hand, watching MTV until I got tired. Pretty soon I had to go and take my kayak on wheels to a forest so I could devour the rest of my duck.
I started the New Year with the Elbe Seute Channel in front of me, bright and beautiful and covered with two centimeters of ice. A barge went by, and I rode in its wake. I navigated around ice for two days until the temperatures during the nights no longer crept down to 10-15 degrees Celsius below zero. I slept under bridges to avoid putting the tent up.
I reached Mittelland Canal, which flows into the Elbe. Being in the channels is not fun because I could not see out and over the ramparts. It was like paddling in a pot. I passed villages and towns barely knowing it. I understood that I was close to a town if there were people strolling or walking their large dogs along the canal.
The dogs would watch me, and their masters would do the same. Watching and wondering. Sometimes their curiosity overwhelmed them enough to dare ask a question.
“Is it cold?”
“Nah, it’s okay,” I replied, “but it is cold outside.”
“Outside?!” they burst out. “Why, where are you going?”
“Turkey,” I said. I wonder how they would react if I mentioned Africa instead. They looked at me and wondered, and sometimes they would ask again.