Heeeeeeellllllllllllooooooooooo Holland! I’m back for a while…

The way people react to the tractor…

One final glance at Nairobi, before I return to Holland.
Just for a little while, but I’m really looking forward to it!

The tractor is safely parked at the tractor company in Nairobi.
The morning of the day I was taking it there (see pic above), I discovered that my front left tire had gone flat.
Lucky me, all I had to do was reinflate it with my doctored little bicycle pump (alas, no electricity on my tractor), after which it was up to the tractor mechanic to solve the problem! Hoooo-oooh!

Kosovo can’t come with me to the Netherlands, there’s too much risk of a quarantine, which i can’t afford. I’d love to bring him to show him my home, meet my friends, my family…
Now he’s lodging in a garden, together with loads of fellow dogs he can play around with.

It took a bit of strong language and a lot of sighing, but in the end they allowed me to go on the plane. before I mount the stairs, and enter it, I notice, wide-eyed, that there’s a tractor in front of the plane. My suitcase and all other luggage for the trip loaded upon it!

And that’s it:
“takes over a year of sweat to get about 17.000 kilometers down the road, takes one day to get back where i started!”


I’m coming, I’m so happy!!!

Mum and dad come to collect me from the airport, we have a cup of coffee and move on to visit my twin sister. She’s really, hugely, massively pregnant. For all I know she’s giving birth right this minute. My initial days back here are family days, I promised my parents. Quite a relaxing, nice sensation.

My sister is pregnant!!!! Have I arrived yet?

WOW, that’s one giant belly! As for the rest, she looks exactly the same as always. A bit fatigued, but also radiant. We eat the walnut cake she originally intended to bake at the start of her first contractions. An afternoon in the garden, and I get to feel the baby’s dynamic antics.
I’m staying the night, and I’m thinking: ‘something might happen’. Very late at night i need to make a trip to the bathroom. As I’m tiptoeing past Kirsten’s and Pascal’s bedroom i’m hearing: “Manon, it has started!”
I nudge the door, and I see two persons sitting up in the bed, in the light of a night lamp. For half an hour, my sister squeezes my hand to pulp, ‘sparing Pascal the same fate for a little while longer’. After which I get to have a little more sleep. It’s kind of incomprehensible that I’m able to, but I’m reeeeaaaallllyyyy tired.
Next morning, I enter the living room only seconds after the midwife came in. “it’s going to be a while”, she says.
When mum and dad come to pick me up, around 10.30 am, contractions are already setting in every three minutes.
Pascal is having his shower and I help sis out, ‘dealing with the contractions’. At first, this isn’t working out the way it should at all. ‘boy, I should have gone on a course or something’
But my sister is a real heroine, she remains calm. She probably considers the situation to be ‘way too early for a real panic’.

Three hours along, the baby’s there, about ten times faster than estimated. She’s a girl and she’s called Nienke!
My parents and I get to have a look into the cradle. My mother has tears in her eyes and says:”how beautiful, how beautiful”
Then I get to have my peek, and there’s this marvelously cute doll of a girl under the blankets. She makes the impression of someone who totally failed to notice the excitement of having been born very recently, the way she’s sleeping soundly.

I’m visiting my grandmother the day after. Her first words are: “you haven’t grown any uglier… but you haven’t grown more beautiful either”. I suppose that was meant to be a compliment.
Later on she says: “It’s as if the last time i’ve seen you was only yesterday”. “That’s how it should be, grandma”, I reply.

After that I get to go to Amsterdam, time for real ‘culture shock’ to kick in.

Amsterdam Central Station: Reineke comes to collect me, on a bike!

From here on, it’s all a bit hard to recount events. I was trying to take it easy, even though many things were happening simultaneously.
There’s so many things that need to be taken care of, but tomorrow it’s my birthday and I will celebrate…!!!!
Two months ago, I didn’t know I’d be celebrating here, and if it’s up to me, there will be a campfire. That way I’ll have everyone with me, with every future campfire along the way!

By the end of this month, 28 of september, I’ll be meeting Matty mc Nair, an arctic expedition guide, in Paris, after which I will swiftly return to the point I left off!

Manoooon, where are you?

Kooooooooos, I miss you!
Hope he’s allright.
The lady running his kennel in Kenia says he is, and also that he’s befriended a lot of other dogs…

originally published sept 1 2006

Where have you been ?

The legend of The Lonely Gorilla

During my stay in Mwenza, I was sent on a ‘secret mission’.
I’d been told of a small island near the shore of the little town, visited by tourists in small boats, who go there to see a rare gorilla. Supposedly, it was sitting there in a rather small cage. An outrage in these modern times, especially in a country where such a thing is totally unnecessary. Some of its remaining peers are enjoying a tranquil and protected life in the forests of Uganda. The tiny sloop was easily and swiftly located, as was the island.
Officially, this island is named a wildlife reserve of the ‘Tanzania Wildlife Protection Fund’. But here it’s tourist humans that move around the territory freely, and it’s the animals who are caged.
The gorilla is deceased, it passed away at the start of the year, 30 years old. I’ve been told that gorillas can get a lot older than that. That it looked very unhealthy, before it died.
On this abandoned island, with its marvelous environment, I mostly found empty and broken down holding pens. There were only two inhabited cages. One holding a lion that spends its days pacing its few square meters’ habitat. And there was this hyena. Perhaps that was the one i pitied most. It’s little cage was really, REALLY tiny and its bars heavy. it peered at everything with sad eyes. At a Chicken and its chicklings, strolling freely outside the pen.
Is there anyone out there who can free these creatures?
I should revitalize my contacts with the Tanzanian Tourist Board on my return to Holland (thanks HKU-guys!). Maybe I can make a difference that way.
Such a wonderful island, such possibilities for animals to run free. Why not create a walk-through cage for tourists there? Should be a piece of cake.

On a Safari

I trek back for Kenia along the Serengeti and Masai Mara National Park, which I haven’t seen yet.
Everything is fine at the border. “Nah, we don’t do road taxes on tractors, thank you very much”.
The roads are awful, mostly sand tracks and huge rocks, but the people are nice. I’m doing this snail-paced 7km/h through a hilly landscape.
Eventually, I need to pee, rather urgently. As I’m squatting down in the bushes, this big Landrover comes to a halt next to the tractor. A big, darkskinned man steps out of the car: “Lady, please don’t venture too far into the bushes, there are wild animals out here.”
Apparently, I have made it to the wildlife park.

Before i know it, I’m eye to eye with 2 giraffes. I halt the tractor in surprise. For minutes, I observe the two impressive beasts, so huge, so beautiful. Alongside the tractor, a buffalo’s head pops up from out of the long grass. It looks at me, curiously chewing.
Perched on its bum, there’s a tiny bird that occasionally jumps up and flies around for a bit. One of the giraffes swings its tail and stares at the tractor in sheer fascination.
Kosovo is getting agitated, he’d like to leap off and play with these new animals. “Sorry chap, that’s not allowed here. These guys are protected, just like you are in your little basket”.

At night I sleep at an improvised camp site near Oolololo Gate.
I’m invited for diner by a group of Spaniards, who are on safari in a big truck. a three-course feast around a campfire! With wine and Amarula…
Then one of the men jokes about the dog:”Maybe you’ll only find a collar on your tent floor”. There wouldn’t be any lions around, would there? I decide it’s better to make a quick retreat to the solitary tractor, parked under a tree. Kosovo is sleeping peacefully. I stir up my own campfire and observe the dark, frosty sky. This extreme cold isn’t what you would expect in Africa.

Kosovo’s subdued grunts wake me in the morning: “Kos, go back to sleep, the sun’s only just come up!”
But the dog keeps grunting. I lift the mosquito screen, and sleepy-eyed I’m staring beyond the remaining embers of the fire, right into the eyes of a giant male elephant, a ‘lonely bull’.
I’m holding my breath, stunned by the sight. Slowly I rise, heavily impressed. For minutes I’m eye to eye to this gigantic elephant and its rather huge tusks. It observes me, quietly, curiously?

Suddenly there’s a male voice calling out, anxiously and agressively: “Get out of there, you morons, move back!”
I see a small group of people emerging from the high grass,
ten meters away but moving my errrr ‘our’ direction.
They’re changing direction quickly.
The man’s voice keeps calling out, and I’m getting upset with him. quietly. ‘you stupid &*%#, don’t you know what you’re doing? That elephant hasn’t spotted them yet. So far, it has only seen the tractor, and now it’s flapping its ears’ (obvious omen telling you to be very careful).
Atmosphere is slowly turning to the less peaceful side of things, elephant is looking at me in a more piercing manner.
meanwhile, I’m behind the tractor in just my underwear, standing on my toes (this is very definitely not the moment to worry about elegance).
Next to me, a young bloke appears. He isn’t eyeing my bare legs either. He has eyes for the elephant only, looking tense and anxious. I suspect he is a Park Ranger.
Fortunately, the old man ceases his screaming. Things quiet down, and I’m still very impressed by the splendour of nature around and before me, standing on bare toes.
Next, there’s the sound of an engine and an ancient, little red tractor moves into sight, taking on the elephant. “you go and graze elsewhere, maestro!”

The elephant slowly turns around and takes off for the wide, open plain. This is the day I learn that Masai Mara National Park is run, and protected , using tractors. old tractors.

Every morning, this view, these smiling and waving children, observing the sight of this weird tractor, from a distance…

Three weeks ago I traversed the South-Kenian steppe, doing a pace of approximately 10 km/h. I usually camp ‘in the bush’, since at this rate, one is not likely to reach general camp sites on a daily basis.
Currently, I’m back in Nairobi. I have returned here to deal with some unfinished business, about which i’ll elaborate later.

I’m preparing for my return trip to the Netherlands, where I’ll be staying for a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to culture shock and Dutch Chocolate. And most of all, the sight of my twin sisters’ huge belly (she runs my web shop!), and with that, the birth of my first cousin or niece!!!
I’d like to thank my mum and dad for giving me the chance to return, you’re heroes! (in every way)
I’ll be reorganizing my home support team and thank them, for it’s incredible that they are still there for me.
Kirsten, Martine, Joost, Jeanine & Edzard, Herman and Ans (my parents) Hester, Renee, Marco & Emmy and Pien!
I’ll be talking to the publisher of my book: ‘De Geus’.
If all goes according to plan, volume one of my adventures will be released in Holland at the start of next year (more ups and downs, struggles and tribulations).
Kos will stay here in a kennel to make new friends, sad huh?
I’d love to show him his home, the place where he’s to live after all our travels. But there’s just too much hassle with quarantine to bring him now. I’m happy that I found him a nice place to live, for a month. After that, we’ll be back on the move, back on the tractor!
My plane takes off next sunday… How awkward. how fast!

original post at 08/15/2006

mmmyes… I COULD have traveled like that…!

Sleeping on a cargo ship… Lake Victoria

Kampala Harbour..

Right, guys. Here I am again. Feeling like a brand new person.
I started a new stage of the voyage. A stage of rest and reset. Soon, I’ll make the big leap into the unknown.
Though I know what it is that I want to accomplish, time will totally reshape the next part of my trip. I will spend a whole year extra in Africa, gaining more time for personal encounters and stories. I can’t keep looking at events from the outside. I need to be part of them. Though I used to do that before regularly, now I’ll have to do it without the safety net. I’m choosing freefall, and that’s quite exciting.
But before all that, I’ll return to Holland for a short time to “touch base” for a bit. (made possible by my parents). Sort stuff with my home support team, finish a book, acquire more sponsors for the expedition to Antarctica… And after that:
show a leg, feet on the pedal, tractor below me and an obstinate, tail-wiggling dog beside me…

Left Kampala behind after weeks coloured by the warm people on the Red Chilli Campsite.
Saying goodbye was almost like parting from family.
Shedding a special tear for the gardener that Kosovo and I befriended, a gentle quiet lad, of whom I was told that his Illness is quite more serious than just the malaria I expected… Aids is stupendously present everywhere on this continent, there is no way around it.

Likewise in the children’s home i visited, a project founded by Piet en Pita. They take care of the many kids found abandoned on the streets. ‘throwaway children’ as they are called. They are found behind bushes, on landfills… and not necessarily diseased. Sometimes they’re just unwanted. (because of poverty, but also sexual abuse… It’s not easy elaborating too much on this website, but i will do so anyway in the near future. These are the ominous dark facts of life you also encounter on this continent). All children i encountered at ‘Noah’s Arc’ were looking tremendously sweet, healthy and happy. because of the received love and attention, obviously.
(I’’ try and post some piccies soon)
I’ve been walking around with one of these poor little kids for at least 90 minutes. Slowly, he started to relax, and in the end he finally fell asleep. Fun Observation: “Ah, so that’s what women have hips for! Heehee, makes it a lot easier to carry kids around…” *giggle, funny how I never even wondered about that…
An unforgettable day.

I crossed Lake Victoria, on a cargo vessel. (a rather more illegal way of travel than I suspected.)
Load tractor, sleep in an empty cargo container. Stars floating by…
Dog snoring on the tractor seat.

On my arrival at Mwenza, Tanzania, a 4-meter Crocodile was loitering on the shore… welcome to Safariland!

originally posted on 07/28/2006