When the time had finally come to fly back to Europe I was nervous: nervous about having a culture shock, nervous about seeing the same people again after all that had passed, nervous about disliking Belgium even more than I used to. Surprisingly, I loved being there. It was great spending time in my home country: I realised I missed having time with my family and good friends and it was so good catching up with them. After figuring out I now knew more about New Zealand than I did about Belgium I wanted to get to know my own country better so PJ and I went on some tourist trips to explore. It took me a long time to admit it (4 years of full-time expat life and numerous more with many months outside of the country), but Belgium is my home, regardless of whether I am there or not. It’s another funny side effect of the trail, this newly gained appreciation for little Belgium, just as my inability to use motorised means of transport for 2 months after the finish.
Lucky for me and for PJ we had become capable of sitting in a car again without throwing up, because we did come home to crazy car country. I also have to admit a part of me was very happy to leave again, away from the crowds and ever present traffic jams to the silence of the north. It was a bit of a shock driving up here, passing miles and miles of once mighty forests of which very little has been left untouched. Having spent all that time in the New Zealand bush we both started to love the forests and we look at them differently now. While Sweden once seemed to be a green lung in Europe, a haven for nature and unspoiled wilderness, it now unveiled itself as a place where too many forests are but their monetary value. What we saw were trees but nothing else. They were dead forests: no undergrowth, no animals, no natural patterns, no nothing.
As we drove further and further north the forests regained strength and changed face. So did the seasons: we left Stockholm by car in late summer, drove through fall for a day and a half, and came to the beginning of a pale winter upon arrival. The colours had gone long before we got here and a bit of snow had fallen just the days before. We were both a bit unsure: the prospect of having a boss again, of not doing our own thing when we wanted to, of staying in one place until April… It felt strange. Though as we drove closer we got excited too. It felt good to be here: close to nature.
When our boss took us to our new home my heart jumped a beat and my inner trail walker sang songs of joy for days on end. Here we stood in front of our little cabin in the woods: a tiny red wooden house in between the trees, on the edge of the beautiful Torne river, with only one neighbour about 100 meters away. We fetch our water from the river and the toilet is outside. We have a giant moose antler hanging on the wall with our beanies resting on. We have 70’s wallpaper and a a stripy couch, all in orange and yellow and brown. It is so simple yet it is so charming.
I had enjoyed being home and being comfortable but longed back to that simple trail life, to those nights in charming New Zealand huts in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly it was all so much closer again and my head calmed down. For the first time I slept as good as the times we were out. Already then I knew this will be one of the most amazing places I ever lived in. Almost every night the aurora’s have been dancing across the sky. We stood on the edge of the river and looked at them. We both know that are living in someone else’s dream right now.
So that is where we are, in our little cabin in the woods, at the end of the road and then a little bit further. When I told my brother, he laughed and said it’s the story of my life. I guess he is right.