THE NOMAD PERIOD – PART TWO
After a week or so in Iceland (the days all blurred into one), we met some girls who told us to cash in our airline ticket and take the “party boat” to Copenhagen. It seems most young Icelanders work in Copenhagen during the summer and getting there is one long party. That sounded great to us (how quickly we forgot our promise never to drink that much again), so we paid $67 for a one-week cruise to Copenhagen, including all food.
As it turned out, we didn’t eat much food or do much partying for the first 48 hours due to an extremely violent Atlantic storm. The “party boat” was an old rust-bucket that was slow as Christmas and bobbed in the heavy seas like a cork. We were sharing a cramped compartment with 10 other people, many of whom were vomiting non-stop. Having had enough of that, we started looking for an empty cabin higher up in the ship.
We found one and moved in. The ship wasn’t full, so we “sweet-talked” the young female crewmember that came to throw us out into letting us stay. She even brought us some food. Once the seas had calmed down, the party began, pausing only when he stopped in the Faeroe Islands, the Shetland Islands and Edinburgh, Scotland. On the boat, we met several Icelandic girls who were curious about the US. They wanted to know if we had something they called “FF” in the US. We asked for an explanation and found out that FF stood for “friendly fucking,” i.e., lots of sex with no strings attached. We both replied with a resounding “Yes,” we have that in the US, too, and the party continued. Life is tough sometimes, but “somebody has to take one for the team.”
To be truthful, the partying never paused – it just moved ashore temporarily. Nobody parties like the Icelanders! Finally, we arrived in Copenhagen and went straight on a tour of the Carlsberg brewery because they gave you all the free beer you could drink. Tired, drunk and hungry, we camped out to figure out our next move. We hardly slept at all that night. It was cold and rainy by Florida and Arizona standards, so we packed up our tent and started hitchhiking back into Copenhagen with an eye on catching a train to “parts unknown” but hopefully warmer. That was the start of many train rides.
We spent the entire summer riding trains in every direction, sometimes backtracking because people we met told us we had missed something cool. Other times, we planned to head somewhere only to change our minds when the sun rose the next morning because someone told us another place was cooler or more exciting. We either took night trains, night ferries, or camped and rarely saw the inside of a hotel room – unless we got “lucky!” From the “Running of the Bulls” in Spain to the easternmost Greek islands and everywhere in between, we ranged far and wide for the next three months.
We returned to Sweden to start university, which turned out to be a lot more fun than we had thought. Thanks to my roommate’s relatives, we plunged into Swedish life and all its customs and quirks. I joined a local rugby club, which proved to be a turning point. After a year in Sweden, I was restless once more and wanted to get back on the road again. One of my teammates just happened to be a diplomat at the Australian Embassy, who asked if we were interested in immigrating to Australia. Hey, why not, we thought. And so, at the end of the school term, we said goodbye to Sweden and set off for Australia!
Our first stop was Cairo, Egypt and a seedy hotel where no one spoke English. The old man at the desk gave us a key with a “squiggly” figure on it that neither of us could decipher. And all my life I called the numbers we used Arabic numbers. Not a chance. These were really “Arabic numbers.” We spent an hour walking around, holding up the key to each door until we found a “squiggly” mark that matched it. After a few days in the chaos of Egypt, we flew to India, where even more chaos awaited us.
The big cities were too much for us, so we headed to Goa, which in the early 70s consisted of a few quiet fishing villages on almost endless beaches. We lived on the beach for about a month, buying fish from the locals and paying a woman to cook it for us. Goa was (and still is, I think) full of hippies in those days. It was about as far away from the beaten track of tourism (even for young people) as you could get. We joined a small camp of Westerners from all over and – drumroll please – you guessed it, started partying.
The days and nights just sort of blended into one long haze of booze, hash and weed. This was getting a bit too much, even for us. (I’ll provide more details about our time in Goa in the next chapter.) We headed back to New Deli to look for transportation onward to Thailand. From there, we planned to travel down the peninsula to Singapore and take a boat to Perth. At least that was the plan. But Mr. Murphy of “Murphy’s Law” had other plans for us. He wanted us to go to Germany (more about that in the next chapter). Murphy’s Law says, “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” The military version is even more specific. “Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you. Friendly fire ain’t friendly. The most dangerous thing in a combat zone is an officer with a map (yes, I was enlisted). The problem with taking the easy way out is that the enemy has already mined it.”
We arrived in Germany with only a few dollars between us and managed to pass through Immigration and Customs despite our shoddy appearance. It was cold and dark and we had nowhere to stay, so we decided to use our tried-and-proven method of hitting a bar to find friendly local females who could give us a place to stay. Funny how well that worked back then. If I had to rely on that method today, I’d probably freeze to death. I got my parents to sell my car and wire me the money so I could return to Sweden and pick up my studies again.
My friend remained in Germany. I finished the program and got a job at an English pub that summer. I was in no rush to return to the US and join the rat race. The rest is history as they say. When I look back on this, it doesn’t seem as exotic today as it did then. Young people travel around the world today, but it wasn’t that easy in the early 70s. Still, it was a fantastic experience with lots of “lessons learned” through life’s school of hard knocks. And lots and lots of stories that will forever stay where they are – in my memory!
Lesson learned: Never let school interfere with your education. Travel, travel and travel some more.