Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The Hitchhiker's Guide To Atlantic Road

Is it possible to travel to Atlantic Road (about a 4-5 hour drive from Trondheim) living the moneyless lifestyle? The answer is YES! Not only that, but for me it has been the most interesting and rewarding way I have ever travelled to any destination, because it was (naturally) all about the journey; about getting there, instead of just the end result. My friend Laxmi and I only made minimal preparations and just had faith that somehow it would all work out: and it did. In just one weekend, we met people from various parts of the world, all extremely interesting people with some fascinating stories and philosophies about life. It was very inspiring to get the chance to talk with each of them and hear all about what life is like for them. It was like looking through many different windows right into people’s lives. It is amazing how much you can learn about a stranger just by sitting in the car with them for a little while.

The preparations

The first thing that we looked for was accommodation, and we found it in two different places: one in Molde (our final destination near Atlantic Road) and one near Aure, about halfway down, in case we would get stranded or if we would not be able to make it to Molde in one go. We used CouchSurfing to find two wonderful hosts and informed them that we were not sure if we were going to make it, but we would give it a go. Armed with phone numbers and addresses, I felt even more steadfast and on purpose. We had a plan.
The second preparation was that we checked HitchWiki for tips on hitchhiking in Norway. As this was our first attempt at hitchhiking ever (anywhere), we needed some advice to get started. At first glance the information about Norway (and Trondheim in particular) seemed very discouraging, because the consensus seemed to be that hitchhiking in Norway is difficult and not recommended at all. According to others who had done it before, it could be almost impossible to get rides; especially longer ones. However, some people also said it was easy. One tip was to personalize our appearance by carrying a Norwegian flag. Of course we also needed signs displaying where we intended to go. So we printed the names of our possible destinations: Trondheim, Molde and Aure. And we brought a small Norwegian flag to wave at passers-by.
The final preparation was that Laxmi arranged our first ride out of Trondheim, to Klett. This seemed to be the best place to get a ride out of Trondheim, also according to the more experienced hitchhikers on HitchWiki. The girl who drove us (Eva) had picked up many hitchhikers before, so that gave us a boost before trying out, knowing that there are people who stop to offer rides to strangers. We kept our minds open, with no expectations, and no plan B.
Our starting position - Klett (just south of Trondheim)
The journey and the inspiring people we met

At the starting point we discussed our options and what the best place would be to catch a ride. We decided that we would best split up with one person standing on the small road from the shopping center that joined the main road and the other person on the main road. The main road was a highway though and people were driving by very fast. It was also difficult for them to stop. We each held up a sign; one for Molde and one for Aure. That way we would (hopefully) increase our chances. And sure enough, after about 2 or 3 minutes a car stopped already (driving on the small road leading up to the main road). The driver said he could take us to Orkanger, which was about 20 km ahead. Not much, but definitely better than nothing. So we hopped in.
He told us that he was living alone in a cabin and he just got back from visiting his son. He was suffering from a mental disorder, which prevented him from working at this time. He seemed worried to be judged when he told us, because he added quickly that he was not dangerous. I reassured him that we were also not dangerous. He went on to say that he was very grateful to be living in Norway because he got a lot of help from the government to get his life back on track. And I guess the nourishing environment (nature, clean air, beautiful surroundings) also helps a lot when one is facing tough times.
We got dropped off in Orkanger and tried to find the right road to Aure and Molde. Since we hadn’t come that far yet, we still wanted to keep our options open and aim for both towns, so that we could see where we would end up. The previous driver had told us there was a new road to Aure, so we stood there first. But with the sign for Molde, a lot of people kept pointing us in the direction of another road. So we went back and forth a few times, not really sure where to stand. Eventually we found out that the new road to Aure was also going to Molde, but the other road also lead to Molde (so there were two options), which may have been confusing for some people. We decided to aim for the new road though. By that time, more than an hour had passed and it was already starting to get dark (it gets dark here around 4 pm at this time of year). We walked a bit further along the road to Aure so that we could weed out local traffic and we held out our sign and Norwegian flag. And then we got lucky. A car stopped with two very friendly guys, who told us they were going to Aure. That was 113 kilometers of our journey taken care of!

The driver, Kjetil, told us that his wife Kaija would perhaps be able to find us a ride to Molde via Facebook, so we exchanged details, he took a photo of us and she posted a request on Facebook whether anybody could take us back to Trondheim on Sunday. Meanwhile we had arrived at our destination 150 kilometers from home after only two rides with beneficent strangers (and one ride with a friend). 
We got picked up by our host, Adrian, who met with us at the local shopping center, and soon we arrived at his beautiful home in a tiny village (collection of farms) at the end of a road, and we got introduced to his wife Marte and their one-year-old-daughter. We got a tour of the farm and then shared food. We all contributed some dishes and ended up with a tapas-like meal. Adrian’s wife had also prepared a very tasty dessert (like apple cake). We talked a lot about farming, deserted cabins and hiking. In spring Adrian will start preparing to expand productions on the farm and we were both interested in coming back to help out when that time comes. Hopefully we can do so.
We both got our own room and after some more conversations about inspiring topics during an evening walk, with a beautiful view of the stars without the usual light pollution from the city, we had a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we got up early, because we wanted to take advantage of the daylight for our continued hitchhiking adventure. So after a full breakfast, lovingly prepared by our hosts, we took a group photo in front of the house. After that, Adrian gave us a tour of the valley and drove us back to Aure where we could try to catch our next ride. 
We were dropped off on the road to Molde and were hoping for the best. Unfortunately not many cars passed by and not many drivers seemed interested in stopping. We stayed on the side of the road for about half an hour and then we started walking, mainly because there were still not many cars passing by and it was quite cold to stand in one place. 
We walked for about 5 kilometers and by then I also realized that my Norwegian flag was still in my backpack. I took it out and started waving it at the approaching cars. Straight away, we noticed that drivers felt compelled to slow down when they saw the flag, and that made it easier for them to stop also. And sure enough, within a short time, we had our next ride: a very nice man with a woman and baby in the back of the car. We hopped in and he took us to a couple of kilometers further. We got dropped off at a bus stop, which was a perfect place for people to stop. Again, we just waved our Norwegian flag at car drivers until someone stopped. This did not take long at all. Only a few cars came by and we already had our next ride.
We got a ride from a refugee from Syria, who came to Norway 1.5 years ago and had started to rebuild his life here. He asked us whether we had seen the recent reports about Syria’s refugees and we nodded. He told us he had come to Norway under similar circumstances: on a small boat with 200 people, without food, water or toilet for two days. It was a dangerous journey, but he made it. He found a job in Norway and started rebuilding his life. He had lost everything on his way here. In Syria, he was a lawyer. But he could not use his degree in Norway as it is based on French law. He could also no longer leave Norway for the next seven years, until his citizenship is final. So for now, he is doing other jobs. It was evident that this man had been through a lot. His emotions showed in his eyes as he was telling us his story.
We got to the ferry and enjoyed some of the views from the deck. After that he drove us to the next bus stop and pointed us in the right direction, so that we could try and find our next ride.
Again, it did not take long before the next car stopped. It was a guy who was just driving around killing time. He told us he was helping his wife’s father move but he got bored and decided to go for a drive. And then he saw us and decided to help us on our way. Just before a long tunnel (5.1km) he dropped us off and went back. We installed ourselves at another bus stop and waited a little while. Not long after we got there we met Alex, a cheerful guy who was happy to take us along to his destination, very close to Molde. He was Norwegian but his dad was from Chile. He told us he was doing Qi Gong and many other things related to spiritual development. He was told by his spiritual teacher that the revolution of consciousness would start in the middle of Norway, which is where we are. That was very interesting to hear. We realized we shared many of the same views and values and exchanged contact details. I hope we will meet again someday! I was actually inspired to start up my regular Qi Gong routine again.
At the next bus stop it also did not take long before we had our next ride (bus stops seem to be a good place from which to catch a ride) and this next one (a Norwegian elderly couple) took us straight to the city center of Molde; our final destination of the day. There we met up with our second host from Couchsurfing, Maziar from Iran. He was cooking lentil soup for us when we arrived. We got a warm welcome and we decided to go to Atlantic Road straight away because it would be dark soon. Maziar drove us there and back. It was a wonderful addition to our trip, the icing on the cake, because it was the reason for our journey to begin with. We made it! But because our journey had already been such an adventure (with the hitchhiking and meeting so many interesting people), I did not feel as attached to the destination as I may have done otherwise. However, it was great that we could complete our plan in the exact way we had envisioned it.
When we got back to the house, we talked about many interesting things. We talked about dating, politics, religion and cultural differences between countries and people. We also listened to good music while enjoying the flavorful meal.
In the morning we got up early, so that we could enjoy the view from the nearby mountain Varden before we went on our way, and after a nourishing breakfast that Maziar made for us. When we got to the top of Varden mountain, at first we mainly saw a lot of clouds but by the time we left it had cleared up and we had a great view of the surrounding mountaintops (apparently there are 220 of them!). 
Then Maziar dropped us off at a bus stop on the road towards Trondheim and we went on the hunt for our next ride. We would aim to go back via Aure or directly, because Kaija (married to Kjetil, who had driven us to Aure from Orkanger) was driving to Trondheim today and had kindly offered to drive us back. So it seemed like we had a good plan for the day. We just had to get back to Aure somehow (or get lucky with a direct ride to Trondheim).
There weren’t many cars yet as it was early in the morning, so we felt that it might take a while before we would get our next ride. We started a game; guessing which cars would stop for us and which would not before they got to us. We guessed a few times and then saw a taxi approaching. 
I did not even wave my flag because both of us were not expecting him to stop. But lo and behold – he did! I asked him if he would take hitchhikers. We made clear we wouldn’t pay, but the driver was super friendly. He said he wanted some company on his way back to Kristiansund (about 70 kilometers and in the right direction) and we could ride with him. We were super excited! This guy was hilarious. He told us all about his life philosophies, and he had many. For example, he said that marriage is like a castle. And most people want to be in when they are out, and out when they are in. This is not good. People should enjoy where they are. If not, then they ruin their lives. Another great example of the importance of living in the present moment and accepting / appreciating where you are right now.
And on the topic of wanting things to be different than they are: he also did not understand why people wanted to mess with nature so much. He had observed that women in Norway are trying too hard to be like men (in the name of 'equality') and thereby creating their own disadvantages and inequality, because they are not fully utilizing their natural strengths and talents. Men and women (and people in general) have different strengths and if we accept that and make use of those strengths, then everyone is as valuable as everyone else, albeit in different ways. There is no need (and even no point) to fight for equality. It is a meaningless battle. Of course there will always be people who disrespect others for whatever reason. But if you don't believe it and if you know your worth, then there is no need to go into battle. Believing in yourself and utilizing your strengths is how you demonstrate equality. Not by fighting, being forceful or trying to become what you are not. If you believe in yourself, you naturally command respect. You will not accept others' beliefs that you may be less, but you don't feel the need to prove yourself or make others wrong either. You know your worth, as well as others'. So if you want to be equal, act like it!
He also wondered why people wanted to go to heaven so badly. What is all the fuss about? Yes, hell would probably be a bit hot but it will probably also be a much livelier place, with many of your friends there (as none of them are perfect). Heaven may just be a lonely place. First you have to strive to be perfect all your life (a very hard and boring task) and then you get to enjoy the rewards all by yourself. It is much easier to get into hell. And how does one enjoy heaven without friends? So have fun, enjoy your life, follow your own moral compass (instead of others' rules) and don’t aim too high. One mistake and you may end up in hell. But if you are okay with hell to begin with, you can’t fail. For me, this translates directly to life on earth and it represents the most balanced stance on happiness and suffering. Be okay with whatever comes your way and you will be able to maintain equanimity at all times. When times are rough, remember that most of your friends are right there with you. Don't worry about it. Enjoy the company. Life is too short to worry about trivial stuff.
We also learned about life as a taxi driver. Obviously this guy meets all kinds of people all the time and so he had learned to gauge people very quickly. Sometimes people were nice and social and sometimes not. He had learned when to talk with people and when to stay silent. He also knew how to handle rude people. If people want to argue or act in a macho way, he just lets them have their fun. To him it is a waste of energy to worry about things like this when those people are only in the car with him for 5 minutes after which they get on with their lives elsewhere. He just lets them be. It all comes back to accepting things as they are and respecting other people, giving them space to be (especially if you don't agree with them) without losing your own integrity.
Of course we also talked about bigger (global) issues, like religion and politics. He was so grateful that he didn’t have great power or a lot of money, because it tends to corrupt people. Most people who have a lot of power and money, only want more. There is no stopping them. It is an endless game and it usually ends badly. It can drive people to kill too. Power and money are the things that drive people to kill; not religions. There is no religion in the world that promotes killing. And this is why he was happy with his life as a taxi driver; it keeps life simple. No need for fights and power struggles. He would not want to be rich or have lots of power; just his taxi to drive people to their next destination. He could not imagine his life without it.
He was from Iraq but had lived in Norway for 19 years. His wish for the world was that people of all religions would live in peace and get along with each other, respecting each other and stop forcing changes on each other. Forcing others to believe what you believe is a demonstration of arrogance and ignorance. If people can respect each other and leave each other be, let others choose how they want to live their lives and stop judging them or imposing changes on them, then this world would be a better place for everyone. If you want to make changes in the world because you believe things are unjust or need to be improved, then the only way is to educate the people; not just coming in with force to tell them how they should live their lives. People have certain traditions for a reason. It is rude and arrogant to want to enforce overnight changes when you don’t even know the history. It creates friction and conflict. And I couldn’t agree more with this man. 
And if this 'imposing change' makes you think about terrorists or 'people from other countries', think again. Haven't Western societies been doing the same thing? And they have done so for aeons. It is time we stop thinking that one way of living is superior to another. Who are you to decide what is best for others? All we can do is engage in exchange of experiences. Exchange personal stories, such as what we did on our trip. We can talk to each other about the hows and whys and learn from each other gradually, instead of telling others how they should live without any reference or knowledge of where people are coming from. Cultural exchange happens naturally if we are open to each other and just focus on sharing and exchanging ideas.
The taxi man dropped us off at the ferry and wished us good luck on the rest of our journey. As we got out of the car he said: “Don’t forget about heaven and hell!” And then he went on his way. What a wise man. Enjoy life and be present. Yes, that is what life is all about.

On the ferry we met a Norwegian couple who could drive us halfway to Aure. We got dropped off at a quiet road with not that much traffic, so we started walking for a bit. We walked for a while and tried to hitch some rides along the way whenever a car approached us.
Eventually someone stopped again. It was a funny and animated German guy. He did not speak English so we conversed in German. He was on his way to buy cigarettes in the nearest town, which happened to be Aure, and our destination. He told us how he had come to Norway in 2007, but had experienced a lot of discrimination from others in the small community where he was living. It had been a tough few years in the beginning and he really had to fight to be accepted as a person. There was also a lot of resistance towards his ideas to improve the community in the beginning, even though he had many good ideas. (Perhaps he had tried to be too forceful - we know now that that doesn't work.)
But now he was finally at a stage where he was collaborating with other people in the village and they were almost ready to open their first community workplace. It was frustrating in the beginning because people were resisting his ideas without good reasons (according to him). He had read many philosophical books in his time but the people there had not and they never even considered doing things differently before. So it was quite a battle in the beginning. As he talked and explained his views on life he made large gestures and sometimes the car strayed across the road accordingly. Luckily we made it without swerving off the road. He brought us back to the city centre in Aure, where we had first met Adrian on Friday night.
This time we met with Kjetil’s wife, Kaija, and her son for our journey back. We even got dropped off at our homes! Our trip had come full circle. What a journey it had been. Filled with such wonderful people, all different and all fascinating in their own way. I felt very blessed to have met them. All the highlights of this trip had to do with the people we met, even though we saw some amazing and wonderful things on the way too, such as the gorgeous views all around us, the Atlantic Road and the panoramic view of the ocean as well as all the mountain tops visible from atop Varden mountain.

An open mind generates an open heart

Every person has a story to tell, no matter who they are or where they are from. If you are willing to listen, you will find it interesting and you will learn something. Next time you meet someone, find out what their story is if they are willing to share it with you. And share yours if they are open to it. You may be surprised, or you may be amazed. If you are not surprised, inspired, awed or moved in any way, then chances are you haven’t heard the full story.
Self-sufficiency is not all about learning to do everything for yourself. It is also about learning to work together. Having grown up in a very individualistic society, this is something I had to learn through experience. Life is so much easier and more fun when we work together and help each other. Although it is good to have skills so that you don't have to depend on others in tough times, why not choose to work together at other times? Share the skills you have learned so far with others, and be open to learning from others. We all have unique skills and talents. This is how we evolve and grow.
Also, it is good to remember that you just never know what to expect in life. Even a taxi driver could drive you to your next destination for free. You can never be sure about anything until it happens or doesn’t happen. There are no guarantees. And that is a good thing. Another miracle can always be just around the corner.

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