Snorri & Harald: The travelling tale of two Norsemen, one campervan, and a bucketload of determination.
It was night. The moon was shining bright, with a few stars dotted here and there. The palm trees were bathing in the moonlight. Waves from the Mediterranean gently hitting the Catalonian beach of Coma-Ruga.
In a small parking lot, five meters from the soft sand, wedged between two empty resort buildings, stood a 1986 Fiat Ducato campervan. This is where we, the Nordic voyagers, the Icelandic Snorri Sigurbjørnsson (28) and the Norwegian Harald Brevik (32), had decided to spend this particular December night.
Having left our home city of Fredrikstad, Norway on the last day of November, the main aim was to reach the warmer climate of the Mediterranean so we could prepare for the voyage in a more comfortable temperature than the freezing and icy winters of the North.
As the waves softly hit the shore, there was a sense of tranquility as we both drifted away into deep slumber.
Suddenly, the whole car shook accompanied with a loud banging noise. Quiet. Then again. It was followed by a violent grabbing of the door handle.
Someone was trying to get in.
At such moments, one must properly interpret the situation. Some will also take stock of how they ended up in such a predicament to begin with.
One hot Norwegian summer’s day, travelling popped up, yet again, as the conversation topic du jour. Only this time, with a twist.
“Let’s travel to India,” Snorri said.
“Sure,” replied Harald.
“But let’s travel in a campervan.” Snorri exalted with a grin.
“Why stop there? Why not go to the end of the world? Or as close as possible. Cape Horn!” said Harald, grinning even more.
“Then let’s get going!” was the last thing said before we started perusing every classified section and every relatable website for a proper campervan.
“Traveling the Earth is done by everyone. Mostly by plane. We will travel ON Earth. Literally. Discover what divides us and also what unites us as humans of different cultures and traditions. How do people live in places we consider unlivable?” questioned Snorri. “How do people live in cities and areas often visited by hordes on a daily basis? What is their day-to-day like? And how are humans in meeting with strangers? Are they helpful?” Harald kept piling on questions that would frame our quixotic expedition.
Our trusted Rocinante, or mode of transportation if one isn’t too acquainted with Cervantes, would be the aforementioned 1986 Fiat Ducato. A car in such a state we could only help but wonder if it ever had its heyday. We concluded it must’ve been when it was plastic, aluminum and steel, way before being assembled into its current shape.
Food and drink is also a necessity. As is petrol, for such a machine. It would require a sizeable budget. Driving all the way from Norway through India and onwards to Cape Horn. “This is where the locals come in,” we agreed. “We will offer our stubborn selves, limited abilities but eagerness in learning to aid those who need help with whatever they might need help with, whatever fruit they want us to harvest, whatever house that needs paint, whatever wine in need of a proper tasting in exchange for some food, drink and perhaps even some money for petrol.”
With the premise now solidified, we set our wheels in motion from Fredrikstad and headed south.
Not quite so immediately. For the car was a wreck. In dire need of a proper up-check.
The check-up was done, free of charge. The list of items to fix was long. Brakes. Handbrake. Exhaust system. Tires. A mechanic even offered to build a new exhaust system, free of charge.
As we were driving to the mechanic, we approached Europe’s favorite road design tool: the roundabout. This was a roundabout in a busy intersection on the main artery in Fredrikstad. During rush hour. We yield for a car in the roundabout, then, as we enter, a loud whining noise is heard, black smoke is coming up from the hood and the car doesn’t move an inch.
So there we are, in the middle of a roundabout. Cars everywhere. In rush hour. With a car that doesn’t move.
Honking as cars pass by. Smiles and thumbs up. Shouts of “You didn’t get farther than this?”, from a man recognizing us from the newspaper. It was a blast.
The clutch had snapped. And was useless. This was added to the list of things to get done.
A tow truck finally towed the car to the mechanic, and as they started working on it, the mechanics and us would-be voyagers soon discovered it was much like peeling an onion: for every layer peeled there was another layer of things to fix. The list of things to fix grew.
In the midst of all this, the word of our predicament had spread, and many local businesses and people stepped up to aid us on our quest. Every item and most of the work that was needed for the car was supplied free of charge. Some sponsors simply bought advertisement on the car. Money that went to pay for the pharmacy-sized load of vaccines that had to be taken. Even a solar panel system was donated to the voyage.
Things were looking up.
The car was named Murphy No.1. After Murphy’s Law, “what can go wrong, will go wrong”, and Number 1, because it is the first car and it’s the first of what is not unlikely to be a few more Murphys, should it break down.
Finally, we departed the Norwegian stronghold of Fredrikstad, with teary-eyed, flag-waving mothers looking on.
Now we had a plan… of sorts. Initially, the route went through Finland and the Baltics before heading to Southern Europe but the fast-approaching winter put a stop to those plans.
We decided to spend the winter close to the Mediterranean, to properly thaw and prepare for the eastwards voyage across Asia and onwards through the Americas to Cape Horn.
There are still some running expenses, such as cell phone (mobile data), new travel insurances, visas, petrol, etc. So we can’t just go for the umbrella-drinks, we have to generate some income. Additionally, we are looking to explore the area, learn common trades, immerse ourselves in local culture, make videos and content on our websites.
Much like we did when we were invited to visit the Belgian brewery Moortgat’s Duvel-factory in Breendonk outside of Antwerp in Belgium.
THE POST-BEGINNING PRE-VOYAGE VOYAGE
We ferried from Oslo to the German town of Kiel. Along the way we tried to stop at different points of interest, all while bearing in mind that a milder climate would make living in Murphy somewhat more comfortable.
Every night we looked for different suitable spots to park. Sometimes it’s a restaurant parking lot, sometimes it’s outside a school.
In Antwerp, we were in need of a good shower. It had been a few days since the last one. And Murphy is not very well-equipped, let’s just leave it at that.
We contacted the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and they enthusiastically invited us to use their spa facility. (They even rung us up as we were leaving the city; it turned out that the reception staff that day had forgotten to give us a present from the hotel – two bags of Belgian liquid delicacies and some delicious Belgian cookies.)
This turned out to be only the beginning of our encounter with Belgian specialties. The rest of the day was spent at the Duvel brewery. We were invited with open arms, given a tour, and several samples. And gift baskets too.
Murphy was strategically parked a few blocks from the brewery, in the small village of Breendonk. As we walked down the street that night, we stumbled upon a pub. There we met a gathering of locals. They shared their stories, taught us how to play the game of bumper pool and whipped up some homemade frites, or Belgian (French) fries.
This Belgian hospitality would soon be encountered again, in the small village of Achouffe, population 37.
We stopped in this tiny village, close to the Luxembourgian border, on the advice of the generous people at Duvel, the owner of the award-winning brewery there – Brasserie d’Achouffe.
We arrived late in the evening; the town was more or less deserted, except for two brewers working the night shift. We parked on a lot next to the river, a bad stone’s throw from the brewery shop and restaurant.
The next morning, we woke up to a thunderous noise outside. “NORWEGIAN! NORWEGIAN! Any Norwegians here? Time to get up!” That shouting voice belonged to Chris Bauweraerts, the founder of the Achouffe brewery. He was there to show us around. We saw the facilities, the bottling plant, and of course tasted our way through the entire selection.
Chris invited us to lunch at the only open restaurant. There we were joined by Eric Pigneret, a burgundy winemaker. We were offered to visit his vineyard; a visit we might have to do on our way back up from the Mediterranean before heading eastwards.
Next to us two couples were seated. They knew Chris, and so we were also introduced. That lunch turned out to be a long one. We joined them for a few glasses of even more Achouffe, and as evening approached it was shortly time for dinner. They invited us to join them at their rented cottage for a traditional Belgian style meal. That was simply an offer we couldn’t and wouldn’t refuse.
But first, we needed to freshen up. Into the freezing cold river it was. A quick scrub and the two travellers were ready for an evening of Belgian hospitality and a visit to the frites shop.
It was a fantastic night!
Then it was that terrible night.
Stranded in an unfamiliar location, with only a few centimeters of a badly upkept plastic-aluminum hybrid separating us from whatever was going on outside.
Another jolt shook the car.
Minutes passed. Still quiet.
The police were called, and it turned out someone had broken the back window, trying to get into the car.
We know that this won’t be the last time of episodes such as this.
Fortunately, wherever we go we meet mostly generous, helpful and kind people that guide us on our journey. Like the painter Benjamin Carbonne in Montpellier, with whom we shared coffee and a long conversation of everything from art to happiness to life. Or the French truck driver going back to his truck and writing down directions for us. Or the Fredrikstad native, now working in Luxembourg City, who recognized Murphy and stopped by for a chat and some advice.
These are the moments we are after. All of them. The good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. We want to experience and share our experiences with others.
We have a long journey ahead, and we will spend the time here in the Gibraltar area planning, hopefully finding some income, some sponsors, and also learning.
For however long and hard the road may be, we will reach Cape Horn. When we have nothing else, we have determination, our feet and the ability to put a smile on our faces. Much like the two of us in Murphy, on this planet, we’re all in it together.
Snorri and Harald can be followed on their website www.snorriogharald.com.
YouTube and Snapchat: SnorriHarald
BY SNORRI SIGURBJØRNSSON & HARALD BREVIK