Kayaking from Sweden to Africa: 1001 Ways to Fail (Part One)
Why did I start to paddle? I have always been interested in water. I have been crazy about fishing since I was 2 years old, I think, and I learned to swim and build rafts early. Rubber rafts were excellent for fishing raids on the ponds of Jamtland, where I come from. My first kayak was a self-made white-water kayak that I bought when I was 15 years old. Some years later, I made long trips through the jungle areas in Honduras and Nicaragua on balsa rafts that I learned to tie together.
The sea and the element of water continue to somehow to be with me in life. I agree with a friend of mine whose answer to the question: How is love then? “Well,” he replied. “It is good. She never fails me… the sea!”
As I said, I bought my first kayak, a self-made white-water kayak when I was 15. During my time in forestry school a few years later, I felt my first longing to paddle a great distance. Iceland intrigued me.
In 1993 I bought a caravan in Ronneby, a small town in the southern part of Sweden, and then acquired a car to pull my caravan. I lived for a year in the caravan, refusing to dip into the unemployment fund of the Swedish government. Instead, I hitchhiked to Poland and bought amber to support myself. It was during this time of hitchhiking that I met Ingvar Ankervik, the owner of Vittudens Kanotvarv, which makes world-class kayaks. I went to his warehouse in Västervik to check out a particular kayak and see how it worked. It was exactly what I wanted a kayak to be: big with plenty of room for storage and for me to sleep in, yet easy to maneuver; it had an ice rudder and came with stabilizers that you can attach for long crossings. It was the perfect kayak for long expeditions, almost like a very small boat. I planned to raise money so I could buy it by summer of ’94.
Life doesn’t always work out the way you plan it. Instead, I got a job escorting refugees in Guatemala and, at the same time, I fell in love with a girl. I ended up living part-time in Stockholm and part-time in Central America until love took a different turn.
In the autumn of ’98, on one of my trips as a school photographer, I passed Västervik again. I thought of Ingvar as I swung past the small town. That autumn went by. I completed my photo assignments. And, after four months of living in Rinkeby on a borrowed air mattress, I finished my mission in Stockholm.
In November I finally had enough money saved up to buy the kayak that I wanted. One evening I hopped on a bus in central Stockholm and rolled in to Västervik, where Ingvar awaited me. He handed over my shiny new kayak, along with a few extras that would be useful on my expedition—stabilizing pontoons for rough waters, a kayak trolley, a tarp, and a specially designed paddle. After the visit my new Seagull Offshore and I got a lift to Malmö, where my kayak found a temporary home at the Malmö Canoe Club.
This expedition was by no means a well-planned trip. The kayak was the heart of this journey and the only real piece of equipment I had. The rest consisted of stocks plus a camping stove, a new Helly Hansen jacket, a used Gore-Tex tent, and a European road map. I did not want to inform anyone, nor did I want to make a big deal out of it. I just wanted to embark on a voyage that would allow me time to think and do something that I enjoyed: to paddle.
The goal? I would try to get down to the Black Sea through Europe, paddle through the Bosphorous to get across to the Aegean Sea, cross the Mediterranean to Egypt, then paddle down the Red Sea, until I finally reach Eastern Africa. Little by little. Somewhere along the way I planned to take a break and get a job in the Mediterranean as a diving instructor because my economy was already very shaky.
From Sweden, the idea was to start in Malmö then cross over to Copenhagen, down to Travemünde, and then travel inland via the Elbe-Lübeck Kanal. In Malmö, my friends Stefan and Amanda had arranged a place for me to stay for a couple of weeks so that I could organize my gear before I left.
On December 13, 1998, the day of Lucia, I began to pack my things in the kayak. It was a lot of stuff and my kayak got very crowded so it was already late afternoon when I waved goodbye to Stefan and Amanda.> Chapter Two