The missing Hills of my Youth

By Marie Dahl (August 2014)

There’s something about a change of perspective that never gets old. Viewing the same things, but in a different light or from a different angle. It’s like your mind is playing games with you – you know that what you are looking at is the exact same as you have looked at before, but you will never see it the same way again.

I recently spent some time in the country of my origin, Denmark. I grew up there and turned into a young adult, before leaving at the age of 19. I had a sheltered childhood and youth. I never lacked anything; Love, support and opportunities were readily at hand. In addition my family and I had the privilege of being able to travel the world. Together we visited the European capitals, went exploring in Northern Thailand, took ski holidays to Norway, walked on the Great Wall of China, visited the Aztec pyramids in Mexico, and went on charter holidays to Spain and Greece. I was thus taught about culture, history and the incredible diversity of the world. So when I left home as a teenager I thought myself prepared for anything the world could possibly throw at me. Some would argue that I was still an ignorant kid, when I left, and looking back now I would have to agree with them.

I began my solo travels in Southern Africa, a place I had come to love deeply after previous short visits to the continent with my family. I spent the first 9 months of my independence exchanging one adventure with another. Life was a game and I was winning. Travelling with my family had always been planned meticulously, but now I was free to roam, and I loved it. With a few shorter and some longer stops in Denmark I travelled far and wide over the years; South-East Asia, Central and South America as well as more of Africa. Even through my university years I always managed to find courses that either took place overseas or involved a fieldtrip to a new destination. It’s safe to say I had been bitten by the travel bug.

Ever since I left the comforts of my parental home, I have learned and developed continually, but it took a long time and many destinations for me to realize that there are no universal truths out there. Regardless of how much I search and how much I learn there’s simply no conclusion – and maybe that’s the beauty of it all; There are so many different sides to the story that It will keep us intrigued and keep us going.

A few years ago something changed though – I haven’t been to a new country in a long time. And with only 42 countries on my list there are still more than 150 countries left to see. I don’t think it’s age, and I haven’t started a family, but I might just have committed the ultimate crime and killed the explorer in me by settling down.

During my very first visit to South Africa, Africa crept under my skin and in the same smooth motion it stole my heart. I have come to think of Africa as my home and of all the 47 countries on the continent I have chosen to settle down in the second smallest of the lot, i.e. Swaziland. I only visited Swaziland for the first time in 2010, but the little Kingdom managed to sneak into a first place of my destination rank immediately. Here I have made friends, gained a foster-family, started a company, and become involved with several local initiatives that I can’t bear to neglect.

So when I visited Denmark recently, it was just that: a visit. They say home is where the heart is; and my Danish family and friends have now all realized that when it comes to me, my heart just happens to be in Africa, more specifically in Swaziland.

I have visited Denmark on numerous occasions and more than once I have spent longer periods of time in Denmark, but this time was different. I was on a two-month stay with no fixed plans and I spent a great deal of time in the area, where I grew up. When I was a teenager I used to take long walks in the countryside and by the beach, both of which was right on my doorstep. I remember gazing towards the horizon and desperately wanting to know what was beyond the next hill or around the next bend. Whenever I could I just had to climb to the highest point to get a better vantage point from which I could see further. I’ve always had the urge to climb higher and go further, something I did time and again during my many travels.

On this particular visit to Denmark I had plenty of time to explore my old paths and tracks, and I did so eagerly. However, on my first outing I noticed a difference. All the hills that I used to think were tough to climb; some of them almost insurmountable, or really challenging to peddle up on a bicycle were now simply missing! Gone! Disappeared!

I remember one time there was a Danish politician who promised “more tailwind on bicycle paths”, if he got elected. He did get elected, but failed to keep his promise. The thought of something equally silly crossed my mind, as I was looking for the hills. Perhaps someone had leveled all the hills for the comfort of lazy Danes. I investigated the surroundings for evidence of tampering but there didn’t appear to be any visible changes to the areas – other than the very suspicious lack of hills.

Puzzled by this first outing, I thought it might just have been jetlag or my mind playing tricks on me, but sure enough, during further investigations it turned out that all my old and familiar hills had been vaporized. However, the explanation quickly dawned on me. Over the years I had just gotten used to something different; Mountains! My new perspective was changing the way I looked at the hills of my youth. They no longer existed in my objective, although I remember them as very real in my childhood and youth.

During my visit to Denmark, I never really came to terms with the missing hills, and I kind of expected the mountains of Swaziland to swell to Himalaya like proportions, when I returned home. They did not, however, they looked just as I remembered them; Tall, but still accessible. Maybe the fact that I haven’t conquered all of them yet and the fact that I consider them part of my present make them more real to me than the hills of my youth.

On my way to the airport and boarding the plane back home, I thought of the numerous times I had been in that exact same situation, but had been embarking on a new adventure in stead of heading home. I caught myself longing for the feeling of being en route to new and exciting adventures. I longed for the unknown, new acquaintances, new hills and mountains to be conquered. But alas, I was on my way home in stead.

Luckily, the feeling didn’t last, and as I returned to my African home in Swaziland the warm welcome of friends and foster-family made me think I was right where I was supposed to be. I’d like to think that I was always meant to roam, perhaps not the world, but certainly the mountains and hills of Africa. I now look at the mountains surrounding me here in Swaziland with a different perspective, almost as though I’m afraid they too will disappear if I look away for too long. But Swaziland is home to some of the oldest mountains in the world, so hopefully they will still be here, even if I decide to depart on another adventure at some point. Perhaps the hills of my youth are not at all missing, they have simply relocated elsewhere for me to discover afresh.