The Boat

Trip Start Jan 01, 2000
Trip End Jan 01, 2020

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The Boat

Flag of Norway  , North Norway,
Sunday, December 30, 2012

Writing anything with a hangover is generally ill advised. My words, ambiguous with gruesome gothic images and depressingly dark allusions, paint a world of malevolence, its iniquitous people like vile worms set to torture, showing my poor, lonely mind, zapped of energy and desperately trying to recover with the help of copious cups of coffee, crawling towards, yet blind to, the direction of the end to this alcohol-induced tunnel of hell.

You could say that this is my world today.

However, I know with a deep certainty that this is just my mind playing tricks on me and later, I will be my normal happy self again. I'm only ever like this when I'm alone. Normally, someone else will be available to assure me that I will be fine in a few hours. I think back to a weekend a month or so ago where I roused my friends from their slumber at 8.30 for breakfast which allowed us to piece together what I (and they!) had done the night before. Luckily, last night I was simply a little merry. I am actually doing well at being a model of propriety, limiting my drinking and moving past this preoccupation with alcohol that really isn't good for anyone. Sadly, I still feel ill the next day, but that comes with mixing my drinks. It is all stopping from 1st January, well, perhaps the 4th when I head homeward...

So, at 4AM during the first night on the boat, I wake up to extreme rocking, as if I am on a pirate ship in a fair ground, wantonly swinging not just back and forth, but pitching in every direction, casting me around like a lifeless rag doll that lacks even a shred of autonomy. I wonder how I do not fall out of bed and start to feel a little sick. Last time I experienced this level of boat-related fear, I was on a small passenger craft to some Thai islands surrounding by puking tourists, while I, recovering from food poisoning, had with out-of-character forward planning consumed some sea sickness tablets and ironically didn't feel sick at all. Today however, the serious rocking gets me just slightly concerned, convinced the boat is ready to topple over. Learning that the ship that left one day earlier nearly capsized and its trip cancelled, does not provide any reassurance. However, while I do not wish to die, it is exhilarating, this crazy jumble of gravity in the pitch black of night, with winds sweeping over, the keening gale of a mourner polluting the air.

Again, I feel like a passenger on the Titanic and can only hope I will not meet a grisly end. The boat is not quite as big, it only takes 4 minutes 23 seconds to walk the circumference of the deck. Why I feel the need to calculate this I'm not quite certain, apart from a way to understand the size of the vessel, given I don't really make much sense of units of distance. Time is a lot easier to comprehend, as it disappears through your fingers like sand, impossible to save from impending doom.

This second day on the boat, I feel completely at home. We arrive at Alsend, a smaller version of Bergen with the same pretty streets and picturesque buildings. Every town we come to is very much like this. I chat to a fisherman who gives me some absolutely massive shrimps, bigger than a lobster. After spending some time de-clothing it of shell, I find that this is perhaps the most amazing fishy-meal I have ever tasted. The meat of the shrimp is so large, so full of flavour that I am impressed.

I think I could live here forever.

The two hot tubs atop the boat under the freezing polar skies are a great source of entertainment and the hub of social activity. I meet a huge variety of fellow explorers, whose stories I listen to and whose lives we dissect. Everyone knows everything about me by now, being my usual open book and with my own transparency, people tend to share their lives with candid abandon, under the knowledge that they will never meet me again.

So, first there is Joe, a bright haired Austrian who is travelling with his Grandmother, paying both their passages as Grandpa did not want to come. He spends most of his time in the bubbling jacuzzi, only leaving sporadically to visit the sauna and eat his meals. He is in love with a girl who has a boyfriend and while she flirts with Joe mercilessly over text message, has not shown any indication that she will leave him. He is trying to play it cool. I suggest that he just has a talk to her away from the silly games. He kicks himself, she has asked him round in the past, but in an effort to not look too keen, he declined. How much sand people waste. I have imparted advice on a plan for his return and he feels happier in the knowledge he can woo her away from this other guy, portrayed as unworthy.

Next there is the crazy Swiss dude, who has left his girlfriend at home. It is him that gifts me the remarkable 'Hunting the Lights' hat, of which I'm so very proud. Confused as to how he can leave her at Christmas, by way of explanation he shares that he is the creator of software programmes for wheelchairs, a job he is very excited by which befuddles my mind. He seems to suggest that because he has lots of money, he can come away whenever he wishes. His crazy eyed stare unnerves me, so I try to get to the bottom of him and learn that in fact, his girlfriend is working and he is not the callous man he likes to present himself to be.

Pleased that another mystery has been explained, I turn my attention to Lisa and her gaggle of Californians. She is a biologists, fascinated with all things nature, constantly taking pictures of birds, which all look the same to me. She is travelling with her Mother and family friends and we share a bottle of champagne as we cross the Arctic circle at 6AM. She casts quite a sad, lonely picture but probably no different from the one I, myself present. If I am happy walking the world alone for now, then so should she be.

Next, is a lovely story, of a man and his Norwegian wife. They met in Germany five years ago, a short-lived affair before she disappeared back to Norway and her life. Two years later, they have had no contact, he, living his life as before in Germany, she in Norway, quite forgetting him apart from the few wistful moments of memory. One day out of the blue, the man has a dream. He dreams this girl as his wife and they are happy. With resolve, he sells all his belongings, his house; quits his job. He moves to Norway, where he finds her. They get married and three years later they are still happy.

So, despite evidence to the contrary, romance isn't dead. I watch Joe as he considers the story and it fills him with hope, his eyes alive with the secret wish that destiny will subscribe to his dream also. Behind this fire though is the hedgehog's dilemma of hurt, that with closeness comes pain and he worries he must stay aloof.

"It is difficult," is all he can muster.

So, we all chat for hours. Sometimes, other people join us in our protective cocoon of bubbles. We drink red wine from cartons and beer cans scatter the surfaces around us. We watch as ice-covered mountains pass us by, almost like icebergs threatening our sanctuary. Rain and snow fall unnoticed like sand and I know I must leave this ship soon. For the time being, I am happy with my transient friends and my book, which is so very nearly finished. The hangover vortex dissipates allowing me to return to my hot-tub, determinedly oblivious to the falling snow around me. One more day to go.
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