Interview with our Norwegian guide Torjus Gaaren

Elements Expeditions: Who are you?

Torjus Gaaren: I’m a man who likes my freedom.

EE: Wat do you do?

TG: I’m living a fairly ordinary life, except for the fact that it is in relative basic conditions. I have no water nor electricity in the house and I hunt and fish for the majority of my food during the year. I’m practicing ancient crafts, such as skin preparation for making clothes.

EE: Can you describe Fyresdal?

TG: Right now in April there is a bit of snow left, but spring is here and we’re burning the lands to rejuvenate them. We haven’t gotten any leaves yet.

EE: Why do you do what you do?

TG: When I was trying to live in the city, I always found myself looking back at what I had here, in the valleys of Fyresdal. It suits my freedom and my visions of the future.

EE: What is your connection to Fyresdal?

TG: It is best described by comparing it to a tree. You can dig up a tree and replant it somewhere else, yet the tree would suffer and take a long time to acclimatize. It’s a case of having all of my roots here. And by now the tree is quite big and so it is quite difficult to move.

EE: You have 2 daughters living in the city. How is that?

TG: It was a difficult choice but it was necessary in order to preserve my sanity. It didn’t make me a good father to live in the city. I have tried it for 6 years.

EE: What happened. Why didn’t it work?

TG: It doesn’t work, because the shallowness tends to get to me. That is one of the things. City people tend to engage in shallow conversations and shallow relationships in order to protect themselves from the chaos of mass society. This is something that I don’t deal with very well. It is not inspiring to me and the world just seems cold. And I couldn’t practice my interests there. Since I knew the amount of freedom here in the valley, it was hard for me to accept that I couldn’t hunt, fish, burn or do whatever I pleased without it costing money in some way. I was missing the freedom that I have here.

EE: It seems to have a lot to do with freedom, correct?

TG: Yes, freedom of action. Apart from that, I know everybody around here. There is so much opportunity here in so many ways. You could say that there is a lot of opportunity in the city too because there are a lot of jobs there, a lot of career positions, a large customer base. The trouble is that everything costs a fortune there. So even if I make less money here, it takes me less time here to get what I want.

EE: How has your connection to nature developed over the years?

TG: When I was a child my connection was much more similar to what it is now than what it was when I was in my early twenties. As a child I was really seeing the magic in nature. But for the period of time that I was an atheist in my early twenties, everything was bleak and materialistic. However, there is an important difference between my childhood connection to nature and my current connection to nature. Now I look upon nature as something that is ever changing. There is nothing you can do to nature that will create a disaster. We’re allowed to make mistakes and for sure that is what will happen. As a kid any change seemed horrible. That is the difference.

EE: What is the value for people to be in nature?

TG: To me being in nature touches upon every level of our existence. I think that people are used to living a life where everything is fast and shallow. Where you don’t listen, you just say. Always trying to do the best you can do. In a way it is a stressful situation and many people are in some kind of constant survival mode. You create ideas in your head to justify all the shit that happens and you’re creating personality flaws in yourself to protect yourself, like anti-social behavior. Once you step into nature, you can step out of all of these disconnections. Nature doesn’t show mercy. She doesn’t care how much money you make. If you don’t know how to fish or hunt, she won’t spoil you. It is especially important for people who are economically successful in their lives to go into nature and challenge themselves, because nature will humble you and put you back into your place and to what you really are, which is essentially nothing.


EE: That sounds like a daunting value proposition. Why would a successful man want to do that?

TG: Because humility is important to successful people. The reason for that is that their success is dependent upon healthy relationships in their lives with customers and partners. Without a good connection to yourself that is impossible to achieve. The humility that nature provides you enables you to get a reality check. Arrogance can be your downfall. Humility is the antidote. It will make it more easy for a person to achieve his vision, whatever that may be.

EE: What do you typically see change in people when they join you on one of your programs?

TG: It is hard to generalize. The differences seem to correlate with the type of people that join. Some people are very empowered in their daily lives. Those people tend to get a reality check. For some people it becomes too much for their ego as they might be used to having everything go their way. It can take a long time for them to step out of it. But in a week’s time most people succeed in doing so. For a person who is humbler in life and is not having such an easy time it can be quite empowering, because achievement is not so complex in nature. It can be as easy as getting a few fish. In nature you can live in a tent and build your life from scratch without all the complexities and worries of a normal civilized life. So, I think it is as important for people who are currently successful, as for people who are not successful, as for people who are now experiencing a downturn in their success. All of those people have great benefit of spending extended times in nature.

EE: Wat does nature teach you about fear?

TG: If you’re going to get your food and everything you need out of nature it is probably more a matter of what it teaches you about trust. Because without trusting that there will be food, that things will be alright, that the weather will get better or that the summer will come your life will be hell. And I think this is just as important in daily life. When it comes to challenging your fears, it is in essence about establishing trust. Looking upon something as fear is just focusing on the negative side of something that is really a matter of trust, which is a positive quality.

EE: What advice would you give to the younger version of yourself? Perhaps the atheist that was disconnected the most.

TG: The most important would be not to try to achieve something. Because as long as your trying to achieve something that is beyond your passion you are running the risk of ending up in the wrong place. I would tell myself to accept myself and follow my dreams, because there is no one who can know exactly what the future brings and your dreams might be just as good as the dreams that everybody else has or society is trying to impose upon you.

EE: What does it mean to be a man?

TG: To be a man is a matter of responsibility. And that is what separates the man from the boy. The man is taking responsibility for something outside of himself. The boy is not yet secure enough for himself to do so.

EE: How is it for you to host Elements Expeditions?

TG: It’s awesome. What I get out of it is that I’m not meeting tourists. I’m meeting people who are passionate, who are driven, who are interested in getting somewhere in life. They’re not here to just sit and relax. They’re here to get the most out of the experience. That is what I love about Elements Expeditions. 

Interview with our Albanian Guide Gent Mati

EE: Who are you?

GM: Gent Mati, living mostly in Tirana, Albania and often outdoors in the world.

EE: Why do you do what you do?

GM: I am an 'outdoor bureaucrat' at Outdoor Albania - our company organizes 'Journeys in the Albanian Nature and Culture'. Outdoor Albania's mission is to provide unforgettable and exhilarating holidays to guests from the entire world, that trust in us for such important experiences.

EE: Can you describe your connection to Albania? To nature?

GM: I was born and bred in Albania, and was lucky to grow up in a family that had a strong connection with nature, especially with the sea and the mountains. As a matter of fact, Tirana - where I live, sits in-between the two. In the early 90’s, during my teenage years, the country entered its teens itself, transiting from dictatorship to 'developing country' or something of a rather unique kind. For both parts it started an interesting 'learning curve'. It is not always easy, but where on earth can you say that during your entire existence? Life here is full of contrasts - like it tries to mirror the incredible wild landscape diversity that Albania withholds. I find this combination mysterious, theatrical and irresistibly attractive. Throw in some good fresh food, cheap drinks and plenty of Mediterranean sunshine, and that 'seals the deal'.

EE: What is the difference for you between being in the city and being in nature?

GM: To be honest I like both, but I only truly love nature. In the city I consume energy at work, meet people, roam Tirana's endless cafes, terraces, restaurants and bars, and gather at home with my family. In nature, I mostly 're-charge', refill with energy, think quietly or do not think at all, and share with friends on the same trip. It often resonates, and I love it.

EE: In what way has your connection to nature evolved over the years?

GM: My connection with nature started to evolve and grow deeper when as a teenager, I was lucky and privileged to explore Albania with some of the very first international outdoor guides that came to discover the No.1 unknown country of Europe. Soon, active elements such as mountain-biking, backcountry skiing and white water kayaking became my strongest personal allies. Growing up, no matter what was going around me or in my life, while charging a virgin slope or descending wild rapids, I always found inner peace, clarity of mind, flow, and connection to a larger reality. In good moments (and occasionally in bad ones), I sometimes brought the ride to extremes. I carry these with me as truly mystical and life- enriching experiences. Now, with my 30’s almost behind me, I find myself to listen and pay more attention to nature and the elements, rather than just demand and shout to them. I am becoming a better partner, I believe.

EE: Why is it valuable for people to be in nature? A week in nature, why should you take the time?
GM: Because it is good. The more you will detach yourself from all that you leave behind, and focus on being in the corner of pure nature that you chose for that time, the more the

experience will benefit you and your dear ones. Life in town is often too loud and busy, and suppresses parts of our senses and fine instincts. We all need a break every now and then to remember.

EE: Do you see changes in people when you take them on a longer journey in nature?

GM: Often. Especially if they forgot about it for a while.

EE: What do you learn from being in nature? From being in nature with a group?

GM: Respect for nature, myself and the others. A group can grow in nature as well. By bringing out our best values and sharing common passions, our experience in nature can expand considerably.

EE: What does nature teach you about fear? About life? About love?

GM: About fear: that you should listen to it. Not always obey it, but ignoring fear, or pretend that it does not exist it is not wise.

EE: Which advice would you give your younger self? (e.g. Gent at age 20)

GM: Make the most of it! (like a good older friend of mine advised me back than) Your 20’s are a precious treasure! And, try to drink responsibly...

EE: Wat does it mean to be a man?

It brings the burden of responsibility to the lightened up soul of a boy. So train hard, get stronger and learn to live with it in the best of your own ways.

EE: How is it to guide an Elements expedition?

Special. I love it! It means to switch off from routine and turn your inner self on (with no malicious intentions I mean:-))), for yourself and other man, in the consolidating expedition tribe. Although I guide on this trip in my own country - that I know very well - I learn so much from the colleagues and the participants, and I feel spiritually rejuvenated at the end of the expedition, with great memories and a good load of positive vibes in stock. 

Elements Expedities

Henk uit huis: #33 'Ik voel zoveel liefde. Voor mijn ex, mijn zoons en, verdomme, ook voor mezelf'

Henk van Straten (35) is schrijver, columnist en vader. Hij woont sinds een paar maanden op zichzelf. Op LINDAnieuws schrijft hij over zijn leven. (foto Dim Balsem)

Dinsdag, 7 juli 2015, 15:51 uur

Dag vijf van mijn reis door de bergen van Albanië. Een georganiseerde mannenreis. Terug naar de natuur, naar wie je bent, zonder telefoon, zonder werk, zonder vrouwen. We hebben eindeloos gewandeld, wild gekampeerd, in de bossen gepoept, op de vloer gelogeerd bij arme families, schorpioenen ontweken, samen naakt in een zweethut gezeten. Al de tweede nacht, toen ik wakker lag in een te kleine tent op een te schuine helling, wist ik het zeker: Dit is niet voor mij. Maar toen waren er de bergen. De wijdse luchten en de ruimte. De zinderende leegte. Langzaam liet mijn geest die dingen toe. Langzaam begon ik iets los te laten.

Zoals ik al zei: dag vijf. Met z’n allen op een krakkemikkige boot, op een kraakheldere rivier. Ik zit achter de stuurman, op een gemonteerde autostoel. Hij heeft de boot zelf gebouwd. Het roer is het stuur van een Ford personenauto, met airbag. Aan weerszijden doemen bergflanken en bossen op. Het einde van de reis komt in zicht, maar het einde heeft zijn aantrekkingskracht verloren. De zon valt op mijn gezicht. Hetdoekdoekdoek van de motor trekt me steeds dieper een trance-achtige mijmering in.

Ik kijk naar de andere mannen. Ze staren naar de bergen, of kletsen zachtjes, of lachen, verloren in de overweldigende ongrijpbaarheid van hun eigen levens. Hun pijn, hun angsten, hun liefde. Nu zijn ze hier op zoek. Op zoek naar wat? Naar contact met iets diepers. Naar henzelf. Koers gezet naar een fata morgana. En in dat streven ineens een groep. Een tribe, zo noemt de gids ons. Ik glimlach bij de gedachte aan de dingen die we hebben gedeeld. Twee keer per dag een sharing, in een cirkel op de grond, zo ver uit mijn comfort zone dat ik mijn comfort zone niet eens meer kon zien.

Het is voor het eerst sinds mijn scheiding dat ik weg ben. Écht weg. Het gekke: ik mis niemand. Dat ik mijn telefoon moest inleveren vind ik prima; ik heb geen behoefte om iemand te bellen, zelfs mijn zoontjes niet. Het is goed zo. Het is alsof niets me hier kan raken. Niet omdat ik me er niet bij betrokken voel, maar omdat ik zie dat al die dingen die op ons drukken, die ons neertrekken, in feite helemaal geen gewicht hebben. We géven het gewicht. Hier in de bergen kan ik het me haast niet voorstellen; de somberte die ik bij me droeg, alsof het van buiten kwam en niet van binnen.

Het is goed. Ik voel zoveel liefde. Voor mijn ex, voor mijn zoons, voor mijn vrienden, familie, schoonfamilie, deze jongens hier. En, verdomme, ook voor mezelf. Ik gun mezelf wat ik hen gun: dat we het niet aldoor nog moeilijker maken dan het al is. Dat het leven wat vaker is als varen op deze rivier. Geen wrok, geen spijt, geen verdiet, geen woede. Zelfs geen melancholie, en dat is voor mij nogal wat. Hoe gek, dat ik even niets echt belangrijk vind. Dat er alleen de zon op het water is, en de kinderlijke grijns op het gezicht van de stuurman wanneer hij gekke geluiden maakt met zijn piepende radio. En wat mooi dat ik hier ben met deze mannen. Vederlicht zijn we. Verbonden in eenzaamheid. En onderweg. Altijd onderweg.