Monday November 06, 2017

This couple survived six natural disasters during their honeymoon

A calm moment: Erika Svanström poses with her husband, Stefan, and their baby daughter, Elinor, in Australia. The family of three encountered and survived six natural disasters during their honeymoon.

A calm moment: Erika Svanström poses with her husband, Stefan, and their baby daughter, Elinor, in Australia. The family of three encountered and survived six natural disasters during their honeymoon. (Photo provided by Erika Svanström)

Listen 15:31

It all started innocently enough, in Munich, Germany, when Erika and Stefan Svanström missed their flight to Singapore. Not a natural disaster, not a disaster at all – just an inconvenience. But this typical travelling blunder was only the beginning for the Svanström family.

Erika and Stefan met when they were working together on a project in Stockholm, Sweden. They kept in touch for a couple of years through Facebook, and eventually Stefan asked Erika out on a date. It wasn't your typical dinner and a movie. Instead, for their first date the couple went on trip to Egypt... to go scuba diving. 

Erika Svanström scuba diving

Erika Svanström scuba diving in Bali, Indonesia. A few days earlier a monsoon had ripped the roof off the bus she was riding with her husband and daughter. (Photo provided by Erika Svanström)

Their shared love of travel and adventure became a big part of Erika and Stefan's relationship. So a few years later, after the birth of their daughter and their fairytale wedding, it seemed only right that they should embark on a four-month adventure honeymoon. 

Their trip would take them from their home in Sweden through several different countries including Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and China. But Erika never anticipated that Mother Nature had other plans for her family, "We wanted to see and do a lot of things, but that didn't include natural disasters," says Erika.

"We wanted to see and do a lot of things, but that didn't include natural disasters."  - Erika Svanström

It all started with a monsoon in Indonesia. Erika, Stefan, and their baby daughter were travelling along the top of a mountain when the wind picked up. Suddenly, the gale ripped the roof off the bus they were riding on. No one was injured, but the incident set the tone for the rest of their trip.

The monsoon in Bali, Indonesia, was followed first by a bush fire in Perth, Australia, and then by a ferocious cyclone in Cairns, Australia. In Cairns, the Svanströms were evacuated by the Australian Red Cross to a shelter in a shopping centre with "2,500 other people and five toilets," Erika recalls.

Stefan Svanström

Stefan Svanström with baby Elinor wait out a cyclone in Cairns, Australia. The Svanström family, along with 2500 other people in the area, were evacuated to a shopping centre. (Erika Svanström)

"When you're 2,500 people in a small area it's very humid, no electricity. People's emotions tend to be kind of intense so there were a couple of fights in the area. And a lot of kids. So there were guards keeping everything under control," says Erika.  

Australian evacuees

Evacuees in a shopping centre in Cairns, Australia. A level 5 cyclone was threatening the coastal city. (Photo provided by Erika Svanström)

The pattern became one natural disaster after another. By the end of their four-month trip, the family of three had encountered a blizzard, a monsoon, a bush fire, a cyclone, and two earthquakes – including the 2011 Japanese earthquake.

By the end of their four-month trip, the family of three had encountered a blizzard, a monsoon, a bush fire, a cyclone, and two earthquakes – including the 2011 Japanese earthquake.

Erika and Stefan weathered it all with their baby daughter strapped to one of their chests or in a stroller in front of them.

Erika, Stefan and baby Elinor Svanström

Erika Svanström with her husband, Stefan, and baby daughter, Elinor, in New Zealand. (Photo provided by Erika Svanström)

Miraculously, they made it through it every disaster unscathed.

"When you look back on it, it's like we were being watched by an angel." - Erika Svanström

As disastrous as the trip was, Erika says it taught her that she and Stefan can make it through just about anything. "It's nice to confirm that the person you're planning to spend your life with is actually acting in a crisis the way you hoped they would," she says.

To hear Erika Svanström tell the full, gripping story, click Listen above. 


Thomas Henley headshot

Tom Henley

About the Producer

Tom Henley is a freelance radio journalist from England, living in Stockholm, Sweden. He has produced pieces for CBC, KCRW, NPR, BBC, WNYC, WBUR and Sveriges Radio. He has his own podcast called "Saga." You can find him @tomhenleyradio on Twitter.