You inspire me! Peter Hvidkjær: From unhappy desk work to adventures travels

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I met Peter in 2015 when I started taking salsa classes. I still have the joy of dancing with Peter and today we have this internal “concept” we call “The association for tomfoolery” (in Danish: Foreningen for Tant og Fjas) where we basically make sure to go out and have fun and spread joy and happiness. Peter left his job in the age of 44 and has since been dancing, travelling around the world and has been working as a volunteer in a project for orphans in Tanzania. Peter does what many people only dream of: he´s living his life. Taking responsibility of own happiness, his stories and seeing him being passionate about life is something that inspire me a lot. Let me introduce you to my dear salsa friend and man of the world; Peter.

¡Hola amigos! I’m Peter Hvidkjær or Pedro Blanco when my (last-) name causes too much trouble abroad. I’m 46 years old, born and raised in a small town in the Danish peninsula, Jutland, but I have lived I Aarhus, The City of Smiles, for the last 25 years. I have a master degree in economics and have been working within this field for 15 years – missing out all traditional values such as wife and kids.

 

From fat and lazy to a 280k walk: The preparation for The Camino

Until 2-3 year ago I just did what my surrounding expected from me – educating myself, working, making money, bought house etc. with just occasional actual fun and never actual happiness.

In spring 2013 a saw a documentary about El Camino de Santiago in Spain – an 800 km long walk (or pilgrimage), and perhaps that was my necessary kick to do something new in my life. I was not able to do this walk in my two weeks of summer vacation, but I came to think of Hærvejen (old main transportation route now marked with signs for “tourist” purposes here in Denmark), a 280 km long walk – that ought to be possible, but I was fat and lazy – but determined, so one weekend instead of using my car to pick up movies at Blockbuster I actually walked 2,5 km – and wow I actually walked all the way back home (having taxi as a backup plan).

I was determined and walked increased distances during my working week and two months later I did it. I actually walked 280 km in two weeks from Viborg to Padborg (simple math 20 km each day) carrying my backpack with clothes, food, and sleeping bag staying at hostels or hotels. This accomplishment made me believe I could walk The Camino and I planned to do this trip in 2014.

 

The first flight for pleasure: The atheist in a monastery

In 2013 I also had my first flight for pleasure. Before that I had only been flying for business purposes, which created a kind of anxiety for travelling, but a friend of mine, a priest, talked me into going to Athos – a Greek peninsula, a self-governing monk society where only men have been allowed entrance for the last 1.000 years. That trip was really crazy, and I have never been in such a weird place ever since. Me being a hard core atheist travelling with two priests, a theology student, and a young agnostic in probably one of the most secluded and least known places on our planet, where only a few non-orthodox Christians are allowed entrance. Beside the fact that the group was a very special combination of people it was somehow anxiety provoking for me being out of my comfort zone; my anxiety for travelling was put on a test and I had moments where I just felt like escaping this weird place – which I actually did; I went back to the mainland of Greece one day earlier than the rest of the group. I just had to. Thinking back this was one of the most special places I´ve ever been. But this trip was a good challenge for me and one big step forward in my personal journey of a new life.

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On the ferry from Ouranoupoli to Dafni wearing the hammer of Thor (symbol from old Nordic mythology)
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Simonopetra Monastery, one of the places I stayed at Athos.
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Another monastery at the Athos.

Second time on The Camino: The first time of  really feeling happy

As mentioned earlier I planned to do The Camino in 2014. I went on the guided tour on El Camino de Santiago (The Camino) in Spain; I walked selected stages, and stayed in hotels. When I came home, I knew that I had to go back for myself; I skipped my holiday plans about walking Hærvejen again, and went back to The Camino – my first ever solo trip, but the most important.

Second time on The Camino the magic started. I read a quote in my guide book, which described the feeling: “I am doing the camino once again, looking for something I left behind or perhaps never found. It’s like coming home” (A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley). Arriving in Pamplona totally lost I asked a beautiful girl for directions. She, a Mexican doctor in philosophy, walked me to the hostel (albergue) I was looking for, and I offered her a drink to show my gratitude, and we had the most interesting talk for example about cosmic coincidences. Later we met again, and we kept on e-mailing about life. That first night in the dormitory at the albergue I felt more alive than ever before – I was in the very middle of an exciting fairytale. I did not sleep much that night.

I went by bus to St. Jean Pied de Port in France, the starting point of Camino Frances, and started my walk. I went into the habit of walking, meeting interesting people, sleeping in albergues, but I had to fight my unwillingness to connect with people – a promise I made myself while staying in an airport hotel in Hamburg on my way to Spain.

I teamed up with Valentina and Constanze. Valentina – a true Italian charming highly educated beauty with a great sense of humor and Constanze – a German self-employed strong woman taking time off to consider how to do business while also being human.

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Valentina and me at Alto del Perdon (12k west of Pamplona). A perfect place to reflect on whether there´s anything you regret you never did or maybe did in your life.

A few days later Valentina, Constanze and I arrived in a little village after a long walk. Right after checking into the albergue, we went to sit on the bank of a stream chilling our feet in the refreshing water. At that point I realized that I discovered truly happiness – a feeling that I have never really had before. Sad but also amazed. I knew then that I wanted more of this “drug”. During our walks and talks my mind gradually changed towards my new way of living/thinking, and I could write an entire book about all the magic I experienced on this trip.

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This picture means a lot to me since it was the first time I felt really happy and in peace 

 

The decision of selling the house: “I´ll rather go dancing salsa in my weekends than weeding the garden”

Back in Denmark, working behind a computer screen, my life was split between the urge for being happy and the ever-increasing pressure from my employer. Later that fall we agreed that we had to split up.

Now without a job, I decided to sell my nice house in the nice neighborhood. I did not need that house – it was actually a burden. When I bought it at the age of 33, I imagined that my house and garden should be the perfect home for my future family, but things turned out different, and now it was all about maintenance, cleaning and keeping the garden. I started dancing salsa and to be honest; I´ll rather go dancing salsa in my weekends than weeding the garden. Moving from a big house to a small rented apartment I gave two thirds of my belongings to charity. Making my life simpler.

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Comment to picture above: I looked through all my pictures to see if I could find any good pictures of the house and this was the only one I found. Seems like it wasn’t´that important to me since I could´t find any other memories from it.

At this time my travel activities increased and I experienced so many new things; I celebrated Christmas in the Sahara desert in a Bedouin tent in Morocco, I danced salsa at Cuba and I visited my friend Valentina in Sicily. I went to Tanzania on a one-way ticket where I went on safari, climbed Kilimanjaro and was volunteering at an orphanage. I wanted to see Victoria Falls on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, but now it was more important to come home to all of my salsa friends. Like many others I don’t have a wife and kids to come home to, but suddenly my salsa friends were my new family and I always missed them when I was away.

People have sometimes asked me why I continued coming back home again and not continued travelling around. This travel-thing was still quite new to me. It has only been two or three years since I had my first non-business flight. Looking back I now see that it has been a kind of therapy where I have been exposing myself to increased levels of courage (in my mind). Going further away, for longer periods of time, with only a one-way ticket, not knowing where to stay, and trusting my instincts etc. This all went on while I met more and more friends from my salsa classes and social dances, and it felt nice to be missed back at home. That’s why I always return to Denmark.

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My sponsor-child in Tanzania on her first day at school

 

A personal journey to discover what really matters: What makes me happy

I’ve seen a lot, exposing myself to all kind of adventures. I have killed the travel-phobia. So lately I have gone back to my favorite places. I’ve just returned from Tanzania. I went back to Tanzania to sponsor a child from the orphanage, so she has now started in a good private school, and I expect to be visiting her in the years to come.

My future dreams are simple; I just want to be happy and do things that make me happy. Being surrounded by interesting and loving people. Keep on dancing. Having money, cars, houses, earthly belongings in general doesn’t matter at all to me. Making people feel good gives me energy and makes me happy– whether it is sponsoring a child in Tanzania or being a mentor for ex-cons (also a volunteering project I participate in). These are things that matter to me. I am still not sure what the future brings since I am still on a personal journey. But there is definitely going to be a part 2 where I hopefully have found my niche so I can continue being a happy person with a joyful life. I will never go back to the old Peter again. Life is too short for not being happy with what you do.

 

Peter´s advice for others: The questions you should ask yourself

My advice for people would be to have a close look at their personal values and ambitions. Do you want to be known for what you own or for who you are? Do things really make you happy or are they just a burden? I see things as bricks in a wall between me and my surroundings (cars and houses increases your demand for money – consumption, maintenance and taxes). Do you truly admire a guy with a Rolex? Do you want to wait for life to start (when retiring!) or do you want to have exciting memories? I assume that being without a job for most people is considered a mayor crisis, but in most parts of the western world, we will still have a place to sleep and food to eat – don’t be scared.

 

Thanks to Peter for sharing his story with us!

The concept of “You inspire me!”: These guest blogs are made by people that inspire me and I hope you get inspired too. They dared to take responsibility of their own life and go for their dreams and sometimes that takes a lot of courage to do. You know, it’s always easier not to do anything! I hope you enjoy reading their stories and please leave a comment if you like it and get inspired too 🙂

Do you know an inspiring person who could be interesting to feature on my blog? Please, send me an e-mail via the contact form.

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