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Holland, 5 January 2003
When I was a student, I wrote the following line in my (sorry about the nerd-speak) dot-plan file: "To visit every country in the world before I die." At the last count I visited 57 countries. Still quite a lot left to visit in other words. But it's more than a silly plan, there's a fundamental desire to see and experience the world.
You only live once, and it's the only chance you are going to get to see the world! So if you have the opportunity (or should I say the privilege) to do it, you'd be a fool not to!
I consider myself lucky, everything came together at the right time. No long term or expensive obligations nor any commitments to keep. During 7 years of hard work, I managed to save enough for at least a year of travel or more. Maris, my girlfriend, was going to graduate, so the only thing I had to do was quit my job and get rid of most of our worldly possessions.
In April 2002 we started with preparations. The first of which was to figure out which vaccinations we needed. We got ourselves more than 200 EUR worth of vaccinations: Yellow Fever, DTP and Hepatitis A and B. The latter consists of 3 injections over a 6 month period and an antibody test 2 months later (which we got done on December 31st, unfortunately we don't know the result yet).
In October 2002, we followed a most interesting "First aid in the tropics" course at the Travel Clinic of the Havenziekenhuis in Rotterdam. Amongst other useful things we learned how to give mouth to mouth re-animation and heart massage on human sized dolls. I still have the impression that pushing that hard on a real person's ribs, will get them broken, but then if you don't, that person might die and have no use for those unbroken ribs anyway.
During the course a radio reporter came to interview us. But the only one he asked any questions was me, it was broadcast 2 weeks later on national radio. The program it featured in is called "Weg met BNN", ("away with BNN"). He basically asked me why I wanted to travel and if I wasn't scared of all the dangerous diseases and animals (the course also treated snake bites).
Interestingly, the number one cause of death of western tourists in tropical countries is traffic accidents (much like at home), and drowning is a good second. Dying of tropical diseases seems to be rather rare (this might be thanks to all the preventive measures, such as vaccinations, that are used).
So much for the risk parts. In September I gave my notice at work and would quit my job by December 1st. Maris had graduated in July, and our apartment had been put up for sale at the beginning of August.
December, my first month of "unemployment", was extremely busy. Not only did Sam and Nadia decide to get married in London, but we had a bachelor's party in Bucharest...
A friend of ours Christian, who is a refugee from Africa and now lives in Hungary, had entered Europe through Romania. He had once said about Romania that it was "worse than Africa" he therefore quickly moved on to Hungary. However, I found that Bucharest was not all that bad. We weren't mugged, and even walking on the street in the middle of the night we never felt unsafe. There is no real city center to speak of, things are scattered about the city, so you generally grab a taxi to go from one place to another (no problem at prices of sometimes less than 1 EUR per ride).
At such times the advantage of the Euro becomes clear. A year ago it would have been difficult to exchange my Dutch Guilders for a good rate, let alone to pay anywhere with it. But with Euros, no problem, everybody accepts them and the exchange rates are really close to the central rate. It's good to have the world's second biggest currency in your pocket.
For the wedding we flew to London City airport located on an old dock. The runway is short, so engines are put on full throttle for take off, and full breaks are used for landings. Sam and Nadia had also organized a wonderful excursion through London starting at the London Eye and continuing by boat over the Thames to a delicious dinner in the Conrad Hotel near Chelsea Harbour. But I wouldn't advise the Conrad Hotel to Budget travelers, one night set us back 300 EUR, of which 50 EUR for the couple of drinks we took from the minibar.
After the wedding came a two week period during which we had to empty our apartment. The big things (bed, couches, desk, dish-washer, washing machine, etc...) were either sold, given away, or trashed. We were successful at getting rid of all the big things and many small things. The smaller things that we planned to keep would be moved to my parents house were we would store it. We thought we could just move them with a van. We were wrong! I never knew how much stuff we had, we filled a whole Ford Transit van and still our house was not empty. We though that what was left would fit in our car on the last trip, and again we were wrong.
It was getting close to Christmas, which we were planning to spend in France on the Côte d'Azur, with my parents. So we left the rest of the moving for after Christmas and drove to the south of France overnight on December 22nd. Things didn't quite go without a hitch, two days earlier I had a flat tire. At the garage we inspected the tires, and thought they were not good enough for a 2600 km ride, so we had new tires put under it. An expensive investment for a car that you will no longer use in a couple of weeks!
Because there was still so much stuff to deal with in Holland, we only stayed in France for one week. Something extra to arrange, came rather unexpectedly, as of January 1st, my company, which had nearly no activity before, was going to have one employee again. I had to arrange things so that I could manage them from any Internet Cafe worldwide. I arranged that my accountant would take care of the administration and mail me every month how much salary I had to pay him, and how much tax I had to withhold and pay to the state. Theoretically it should work, Internet banking after all works worldwide, now let's see how it works in practice.
Just after midnight on New Year's day we had a spontaneous party with some friends who also happened to be in Delft. During the party we tried to finish the alcohol that was left over from our farewell party a month before. Even though many people had showed up for our farewell party including visitors from New York (Erik), Paris (Eric), London (Sam), Istanbul (Kaya) and Italy (Michele), there was apparently even more to drink. This is a general problem with all our parties, we worry that we might not buy enough for all the guests, so we buy too much, and then many guests show up with more to drink! This way we generally end up with more alcohol than we had before the party! Which in turn serves as a good excuse to throw a new party...
There are now only a few days left before our departure to Central America. On January 9th we are flying to Guatemala, with a four day stopover in New York to visit Erik and Chisako.
I wonder what the effects of September 11th are on the city, since our last visit was in May 2000. At the time I particularly liked New York because it is a place where the entire world is represented, and I don't mean in the UN, but the population of the city. Manhattan, I think, is the whole world on one island. It's also a very tolerant city. I hope New York hasn't lost its charm.
On January 13th we should arrive in Guatemala were we are going to follow at least one month of Spanish lessons. If I can learn to speak some Spanish it will become my 6th language after, Dutch, English, French, German and Estonian. Spanish is a beautiful language, and the little I have already learned has made me excited about the prospect of learning more. I guess learning a new language gives me a kind of satisfaction that I had as a child. It should feel great to be able to communicate with local people in Central and South America in their own language.
That is all for now. We've got to continue with our preparations. We will write more about the trip once we are in Guatemala. If you want to be notified when we write more about the trip, just send us an E-mail.
e-mail Otto de Voogd
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