I was only 3 months old when I first fell in love with the world, a trip across the Atlantic to the Dominican Republic in North America.
I come from a family filled with travelers. People who throughout their lives felt a pull outward, who after each trip just wanted to see more, who believe the meaning of life is to experience the world. And I think so too. Or I know.
I have visited more than 20 countries and been in every continent apart from the Poles. I have seen the most beautiful places with high waterfalls, waving palm trees, colorful coral reefs, rainforests, deserts, metropolitan cities, savans filled with animals, mountains and valleys … and also miles of beaches. But also terrible living conditions around the world. I have visited orphanages and townships, stuck in typhoons and seen fallen cities after massive tsunamis.
I have had the opportunity to so many interesting people. As the old French couple we hired a house from on the small island Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. They didn’t speak a word English but luckily my aunt had some knowledge in French. So when the couple on Christmas Eve insisted on inviting us to “Christmas table” with the main course as a bloodsausage, it was my aunt who was telling them in french how good we all thought it was. And we others just sat there and tried to smile and give thumbs up even though we discreetly spitted into our napkins. And I’m not lying when I say that it has been a traumatic topic on almost every family dinner since then.
Or the little man at the noodle restaurant in Hong Kong, with a wide smile he served us our ramen soups with beef and noodles and when he heard that we spoke a strange language he quickly ran to pick up pencil and paper where he with Chinese letters wrote down “sweden”. He proudly told us how he had many international visitors but that we were the honors of the week, he had apparently never been visited by any Swedes.
Typhoons in the Philippines
Last winter we visited the Philippines in Asia and I remember what little I knew about the country before we got there. I had never ever thought that we would go to the Philippines because of all the disasters and typhoons that often happen around the islands. I also thought that there were pirates everywhere and certainly there is, but itsn’t something you see as a tourist.
The Philippines has to be one of the most beautiful countries I have visited, many islands are just pure paradise. In the town of Oslob, we stayed for a few nights to fulfill the goal I had for the trip and a dream I’ve had for a long time – to swim the 13-meter-long whale sharks. It is the coolest experience I’ve ever done and those majestic, huge, harmless giants are the most beautiful animals I’ve ever seen. It must have been one of the best days of my life.
We visited three islands – Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor. In Cebu City we caught a typhoon and had to wait three days before we could take the ferry to Bohol. It was a big typhoon, then named Tembin and it killed around 200 people. I remember how we sat in that stable hotel with typhoid safe walls and good pancakes on the breakfast buffet and we just saw how the rain and the wind outside took a lot with it in its way. Wires wandered and on the news we were constantly informed about boats and ferries going underwater with full passengers. It was very scary and I’m not going to lie, I’ve been with quite a few scary things.
In the winter of 2016-2017 we were in South Africa, my family’s favorite country, which we now almost count as our second home country. That year, South Africa had the most powerful drought in many years and it was estimated that the whole of Cape Town would risk being completely out of water in April 2017 and that 49 million people in southern Africa would be threatened by starvation after the hard drought. The drought caused enormous so-called bushfires, which is when it begins to burn in the woods up along the mountains and you have to water bomb with helicopters.
That Christmas when we were there several houses, mansions and vineyards burned down. The air and sky were full of smoke and ashes blew all over the place. Just a few days before we returned to Sweden we visited a last vineyard just near the apartment we often borrow. In the vineyard they had horses and while my mom and dad sat and ate olives and tried different wines, me and my little brother stood outside and looked at the dark brown horses. Around the horses flew small little pieces of ash around so that both we and the horses caught it in our eyes. It was so scary to be in the middle of where people lost their homes and how we looked at when such a nice area was destroyed by fire.
We knew that we would come back home and everything would be as usual while the victims had their whole life upside down, and I have always been like that – becoming frustrated when I cannot help or do something about the matter – why would I just stand here and watch when they lose their homes or get injured by the fires. Later in March 2017 it was like a miracle when it finally began to rain and they could almost return to the usual amount of water. And you can’t believe how relieved we got when we saw the weather forecast.
Safari trip in Namibia
That same year we visited another African country – Namibia. We had never been there before and chose to go there because it looked so incredibly awesome. We landed in Namibia’s capital city Windhoek where we rented a safari truck with two folding tents on the roof and it became our “home” for the trip. We then drove all the way up to the north past sandy areas, savannahs and bushes, until we arrived at Etosha National Park, Namibia’s nature reserve.
There we stayed at a safari camp. And I remember how cool I thought it was when I saw the pool they had there. The pool had a view of the huge savannah and one could sit on the edge of the pool and look down at zebras and giraffes who walked around and ate leaves down there. At night we sat up on the wooden deck at the outdoor seating and looked out over the savannah where it flashed and thundered and every time a lightning shine, it was as if someone lit a lamp to later turn it off again.
For a few days we went on safari around Etosha in our white safari truck and watched all animals, it was almost like being inside a episode of Planet Earth, absolutely incredible, completely unreal. I remember how my dad drove, everyone had shut-down windows and how we needed to stay and wait for around 20 minutes because a whole zebra flock had blocked the road. We saw giraffes, buffalo, lions, zebras, wildebeest, elephants, springbucks, guardians, rhinos and many more animals. And then also that huge scorpion that mom killed when we stayed at another safari camp to pick up the tents and sleep on the car.
In 2004 I was 1 year old. And it was the same year as my aunt and her boyfriend at that time spent a long time in the city of Khao Lak in southern Thailand. Me and my parents and my grandmother had booked to come down to them in December and my aunt had bought a pair of children’s sandals and a life vest for me as a Christmas gift. My grandma flew down before us and landed in Bangkok. Louise my aunt, went up to Bangkok to meet my grandma at the airport and then planned to go up in northern Thailand to celebrate New Year’s only those two.
The day after, December 26, 2004, the tsunami breaks out, the one who kills hundreds of thousands of people and today is classified as one of the biggest natural disasters in the last century. If my aunt had not traveled to Bangkok to meet my grandma at the airport and instead had waited for grandma to come to Khao lak. They may not have lived today.
On December 27th we should have traveled to Thailand. No one had heard of my aunt or grandmother because neither was able to call to or from Thailand, my parents reported them missing and when my mom finally got hold of them and was told they were fine we got the money back from the airline company and went to Venezuela instead.
When my aunt went up to Bangkok, she left my sandals and life vest in the hotel and did not bring them home to Sweden. And of course, they were the last thing she thought of when the tsunami broke out and when a Swedish friend of her died in the disaster.
The cleaning lady
However, when my aunt a few years later came back to Khao Lak to see what it looked like in the city, in the hotel and if someone who she knew had managed to survive she meet the cleaning lady who worked at the hotel. She showed my aunt how she had saved my sandals through a brutal tsunami and for years afterwards. Those sandals that would have been a Christmas gift to a one-year Swedish little girl on the other side of the world. I can’t stop fascinating and get so much chills from this story, it feels so unreal as something that would happen in a movie. The tsunami destroyed most of its way, yet this woman had chosen and managed to save my little children shoes.
My grandmother always tell me how spoiled I am, not in that “I’ve got it all” way, but I’ve had the opportunity to see so much. There are not as many 15 year olds who have seen as much of the world as I have done and I have to thank my parents for that. I do not have the bleakest idea who I had been without seeing and experiencing all these adventures and this is not even close to half of everything I’ve done ….. yet.