Norway – August 2010

Going to Norway was my first time travelling alone, first time out of the country, I was leaving my career of being a fireman and stepping into the unknown. I had been a fireman and EMT for four years, and truly loved the occupation. Excitement, brotherhood, and getting to save lives. When I started training at 16, I had recently left my families church. The church I had spent my entire life in and where almost all of my friends were. I had left because I felt in my heart that rules imposed upon me were not truly understood by the people who had authority to uphold them. After leaving the church I was lost and confused, never before had I cried in loneliness. To top it off, I had not been selected by the lottery for the level two carpentry class, which I had thought would be my career, so I chose Fire science on a whim. In Fire Fighter school I was made fun of everyday for having long hair and being skinny. The following summer I put on 25 lbs. and cut my hair to join the next level class the following year. I became stern and  hardworking, learned to stand my ground and join in the crude jokes. This transformation led to me being promoted to an officer.

In college I started taking philosophy and humanities classes. I began to spend a lot of time with artists and dreamers. I would go to work at the fire station in uniform and leave to join my friends putting on wild clothing and face paint for concerts and parties. At the Fire house, I climbed the ladder and kept secrets. I felt like I had split personalities, I was an artist and a gentleman, a man of society. Wondering why I couldn’t be both tore me apart and led me to search for a higher truth. I didn’t want to get loans for college, but I wanted to keep learning. Norway had a free education system even for international students. When I didn’t get accepted I decided I would go there anyways. I figured learning the language and checking out the country would give me a better chance of getting acceptance the next year.

While I was planning to go to Norway I was so afraid to tell anyone. I hid in my car every night for months listening to books on tape to learn Norwegian, constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure no one would catch me. I planned everything on my own and didn’t tell my family until two weeks before I left, like I was giving them my notice. My dad worried I was making a huge mistake, but was reassured because I had already told my Fire Chief, who was extremely supportive, and gave me three months leave-of-absence, after which I could return no problem. My mom took it more personal and cried every time she saw me those last two weeks.

August 2010

oslo

The plan after a month in Norway, checking out the college, was to travel down the coast of western Europe.  I made a huge mistake when I didn’t do what every first time traveler should do, and take a long walk with my fully packed backpack. I realized too late, while in the airport, that I couldn’t walk with my pack more than 30 minutes. I am glad I didn’t make the other mistake many first time travelers make, and plan every detail of the trip ahead of time, because I would have been suffering lots of cancellation fees. Nothing goes as expected when travelling. I pretty much decided within the first week I wouldn’t go down the coast of western Europe. I said to myself it wasn’t as much about seeing a bunch of countries like I originally planned and more about the people, ideas and cultures I encountered.  This was only the beginning of my bag drama, eventually it exploded. In the end I flew home with my things in a trash bag. Once I finally made it to Norway, Irmelin & Jefro who I found on Couchsurfing picked me up at the airport and they led me to their tranquil retreat in the Norwegian back country. While I transitioned to this new world, Irmelin’s motherly warmth kept me from homesickness and Jefro’s adventurous and musical spirit led us to a secluded lake in the middle of the night where a bonfire, wine and drums solidified our friendship.

Irmelin + Jefro

After staying with Irmelin and Jefro for a week I headed to the capital of Norway, Oslo. Thankfully they allowed me to leave half  the stuff in my bag at their house so I could actually walk. Irmelin also lent me a cellphone with a plan for my whole trip for free. On Couchsurfing I had gotten in contact with Ole, an artist and DJ  who lived in Nessoden across the fjord from Oslo. Staying with Ole was my gateway to exploring the art district of Grünerløkka and meeting so many wonderful artists, many of which I ended up crashing with. Anton a British musician lent me his couch for over two weeks in three different stays. We were both broke so to save money for a beer at night we would fish for diner. We went to a chess club on Tuesdays and Thursdays which was actually a cover for untaxed beer and pot smoking. Above the club was an anarchist news paper. Later on the owner of the newspaper would ask me to write an article about shamanism.

Anton introduced me to his spiritual brother-in-law, Anders who brought me to my first Ayahuasca ceremony held in a wooden Viking Tepee for three days. Iremelin and Jefro joined us. The first night I laid in my sleeping bag the whole time. I imaged the sleeping bag was a canoe which was floating down a really beautiful colorful river. Some darkness and pain happen for a while until eventually I puked and felt better. I believe there is a connection between the spiritual center or the health and happiness of someone and the level of terror they face from Ayahuasca. Jefro, who was one of the healthiest, happiest and most interesting people I’ve ever met, didn’t even puke, and he drank twice as much as many people who had been training to be shamans for years. Anyone who meets Jefro can tell that he is really in tune with his sacred self. Some of the people there were regular everyday citizens who had never tried any sort of hallucinogen, and happened to stumble upon the transformation possibilities of this ancient plant. A few of these people faced some very hard realization that first night. The next morning when we talked about it, many of them realized their need to find a healthy life style and lose weight, to rid their lives of so much stress, anger, greed, envy, etc. The confrontation of these attachments and issues during the trip were so vivid and difficult, they could not imagine to continue the bad habits they had built for so many years or to continue behaving in the way they had realized was wrong. Even after the horrors they faced, every single person was ready and knew they needed to go again the second night. For me it was an easy decision.

The second night I was much more interested in sitting up and connecting to the real world. About 25 of us surrounded a big bonfire in the middle of the tepee. I felt like we were all thinking one unified thought. At some point I became frustrated because I felt we were not fully embracing the power this plant was giving us simply sitting in this room. Laying back hallucinating with no purpose is escapist I thought. I felt helpless sitting, watching the spectacle the shaman was performing for hours and hours. We had been told not to leave the tepee. I rebelled and left to go for a walk. I had a revelation of the power of nature while standing underneath a tree listening to the leaves rustle in the wind. I told myself that “this was healing”, I didn’t need all of the fancy showmanship going on inside. Eventually, after sitting on the rocks by the lake starring at the stars for what seemed like hours, I decided to head back in. I walked back up to the viking tepee, where Anders, who had organized the whole event waited outside. I thought he would be upset with me for breaking the rules, but he wasn’t, he smiled as I approached him and grabbed me in a hug massage combo and told me I was a powerful person. We reentered the tepee just as the ceremony ended and a man who reminded me of a lion pulled out a guitar. I grabbed a drum from the collection of instruments and joined in with his rhythm. We grooved together splendidly and several people stood up to start dancing around the fire. When the song ended the lion man came to me and handed me the guitar with a little bow. Now, I’m not what anyone could call a professional musician, but perhaps he could tell I had a flow going by the way I played the drums. A flow that was moving the people, and if he had realized that, he was right. I grabbed the guitar and began to improvise a few chords with a passion and since most of the people in the tepee only spoke Norwegian I sang a made up language. I had never sang and played guitar improvising like that before. The whole tepee came to life cheering me on and danced around the fire. I drank more ayahuasca than the shaman that night, and never puked. I only felt more and more connected to the strangers I had just met the day before.

ferrytreeisland

(chefs pick up couples / families by boat for an exotic meal on this island lighthouse)

My last few weeks in Norway were spent with the students and anarchists of Oslo back in the bustling center of the city. I had been there at least two months and had done nothing more than walk past the university I had planned the whole trip around visiting. I finally stayed at the college with more couchsurfers who at one point had a pot luck with 12 people where six languages were being spoken, and one girl happened to know all six languages. My first experience to such a cultural caliber. Where I got in with the anarchists was the Blitz vegan cafe, one of six or more different anarchist squats in Oslo where various activities are conducted outside of most legal regulations and taxes from the Norwegian government. It was a lively atmosphere and the liberating successes of these radicals was enthralling. One of the anarchists I had started to grow close to brought me to a secret meeting which he wouldn’t tell me much about. After he consulted the group they decided to let me join. It was a meeting to plan where the next squat was going to be. They had maps of abandoned houses all around the city they had already scouted out. This was one of the last meetings in a series, that day they were actually deciding which house they were going to take over. The next morning we met at a central train stop to visit the house, quietly snoop around and plan what would be needed for the actually take over.

squat

I was pumped up for this project, but I began to realize the fun I saw, was quite serious for these radicals. They were risking arrest, living in a house which probably wouldn’t have power or water for some time. I hadn’t packed for the Norwegian winter, especially for a house with no electricity or heat. Besides my visa would be up long before the fruits of our labor would be seen. I did contemplate illegally over staying my visa, but it would be a great risk, since getting arrested at least once was almost inevitable. I informed the group of my doubts and told them I wouldn’t be bringing the five gallon water jug (what I offered to carry on the night of the take over), I gave goodbyes to all the friends I had made. It was heart breaking leaving the possibility of being a homeless anarchist in a squat house. Oh beautiful Norway, your hills and women, the love in each heart of your sour cream and jam covered Vaffles, mushrooms in the cemetery, and head banging heavy metal through the dark winter: Someday we will be together again.

More of my pictures from Norway

Sights from Norway:

Frognerparken

Oslo Opera House (yes its real)

Viking Ship Museum

Oslo Cathedral (almost the tallest building in Oslo 🙂

Royal Palace

Oslo

Oslo is the largest city in size because it is mostly forest

Østmarka (Eastern Forest)

Nordmarka (Northern Forest)

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