|Friday, June 09, 2006
I spent a night on the lovely Dutch island of Vlieland, and I don't know why. How brilliant! I must make an important point about this...
On "Coincidental Travel" - or "the art of always being where you are supposed to be".
We stop "travelling", by which I mean stopping sensing, exploring, experiencing, searching, falling into patterns and habits etc. in the places we live for many reasons. One of the reasons is that we always do whatever we are doing for very particular, rational reasons. We go to work, we go out to see friends, we go shopping etc. We very rarely do anything for no particular reason!
If my journey is a quest for the true value of living / life / being alive, it is interesting to look at reasons behind actions. As I have stated elsewhere on this website, I don't believe life / the universe can be entirely rationalised. If so, there is no need (or at least not always a need) for rational reasons behind actions, other than to support our own survival and that of others. So I am not going to jump off a cliff to see if I can fly (though I nearly joined the flamingos on my rooftop safari in Amsterdam), and neither am I going to push anyone else off the cliff to see if they can fly. Other than that, I am free to do things for no particular reason. Having a determined reason for an action is determining for your entire being. Just like subjectivity is inescapable - everything is filtered through our senses and everything is coloured by our selves - reasons for actions or reasons for being narrow our minds and our experience of the external world; things that are not related to our reasons are more easily under-prioritised or discarded altogether.
For me, two examples of this type of behaviour stand out: Where is your focus when you are late for work (and you actually care about work)? And how easy is it to have an "adult" conversation with a woman who has recently become a mother for the first time?
Somewhere around Brussels, I started giving up reasons and following chance instead. And strangely, everything started making more sense. Perhaps I am just very lucky, but good things started happening. I have begun to think that simply following chance and the coincidences that happen open up for a wealth of experiences I would otherwise have missed out on. I do NOT claim that "everything happens for a reason", but I DO claim that, sometimes, a coincidence is as good a reason as any other.
Here's my recipe on how to "achieve" this...
1. Always think that wherever you are is exactly where you are "supposed" to be.
2. Always think that there is nothing more important in life than what you are doing right now.
3. Meet people. I have come to the preliminary conclusion that meeting new people has value in and of itself and cannot be, or does not have to be, rationalised in any way. Some people will find you weird, but that's ok.
4. Say "yes" to everything. Seriously. I think a book has been written on this, do a search on Amazon for "yes-man" perhaps.
5. Start hitchhiking!! The most rewarding way to travel...
Hitchhikers are a dying breed, I haven't seen another hitchhiker so far. Some people dislike hitchhikers, some are indifferent, some actually want to pick you up but are too scared, whilst others really WANT to meet you and help you out. There are more people in the latter category than you can imagine. Hitchhiking, I've been told, only works in a few areas of the world, so choose this as your means of transport wherever you can!
Dos and don'ts of hitchhiking.
DO find a suitable road. Hitchhiking on motorways can be both illegal and dangerous. Instead, find a slip road going onto the motorway in the direction you're heading. Even better, go on a "national road", the highest classification of a road below that of "motorway" - you'll see more, it's easier to get off whenever a place tickles your fancy, and chance may take you further away from your intended destination than on a motorway... which could be a good thing!
Whichever road you choose, DO find a suitable spot. Cars or trucks must be able to pull over safely. The slower they are driving past your spot, the better.
DO choose a petrol station as your spot! Hitchhike near the exit, or even better - just talk to people! It doesn't hurt to ask. If you start by asking "where am I?", they will probably laugh and feel sorry for you, and try to help you out.
DO look as smart and clean as you can, be alert, active, stand up, DON'T lie down, DON'T wear sunglasses, let them see your eyes. Smile, smile, smile, get eye-contact, wave, show them a bit of your personality without going over the top.
DON'T use a cardboard-sign. Or DO, whichever you prefer. If you do you will probably end up where you want, and you are sure to at least attract the attention of the people who are going there. If you don't, you never know where you might end up, which could be a great thing! Some people unfortunately won't bother stopping if they don't know where you are going. So another solution would be to write something vague but short on your sign. "A7 NORTH" worked wonders for me, for example. Always include a "smiley" on your sign. In the future I will experiment with writing the local word for "smile!", only, on a sign, and see where it takes me.
DO find out the local way to hitchhike, if there is one, particularly if you don't have a sign. "The thumb" is not universally understood.
I guess I should finish off with some advice on security, but... I don't really feel like it. Who's more scared, the hitchhiker or the driver? Who should be more scared? It might not always be such a great idea to hitchhike as a woman on your own, sadly, but women do it, and they even survive doing it. Most people don't want to harm you. Oh, here's a piece of advice: Try to avoid putting your backpack in the boot / back seat FIRST, and THEN getting in yourself - they might drive off with your pack and leave you behind. Doing it this way is sometimes unavoidable, but you could try dragging the backpack AFTER you as you enter the vehicle.
So what happened to me as I left Amsterdam?
I left thinking I was heading for Hamburg, but not caring too much about the exact destination. I knew I wanted to head north, that was it.
On a map I found a train station, just outside the city, that seemed to coincide with a motorway heading north. Good enough. Outside the station I found a traffic jam going onto the motorway - cars driving slowly, even better. After ten minutes, Ang (spelling?)...
...originally from Vietnam, pulled over and gave me a lift to a place I'd never heard of - Purmerend. It was in a northerly direction - good enough.
Simon and Art celebrated the end of the working week with a few beers on their way home; I joined their celebration from Purmerend to Hoorn.
The notorious Dutch "Crocodile Hand" appeared out of the blue and ate Art's head. I luckily captured it on camera.
Disappointed by the lack of horn in Hoorn, I continued hitchhiking north. On the www.viamichelin.com website (brilliant European road maps), I'd seen a peculiar road in the north of the country seemingly floating on water as it crosses that main portion of sea 'inside' the Netherlands. "Dike", I thought, and I was right. Berry picked me up in Hoorn - it was the first time he'd ever stopped for a hitchhiker.
We got on well, and I think his first experience wasn't too bad! He will hopefully continue making hitchhikers happy! We took the funny road across the dike, and we even stopped to get a sense of the difference in water level on either side of the dike. This is the big "closing dike", I can't remember the Dutch name.
Notice the difference in water level.
It was easy to see how the Netherlands would be devastated if it ever were to burst. Berry was going to Harlingen, on the west coast - quite the opposite direction from Hamburg. He told me about the ferries going from Harlingen out to several of the islands that lie like a necklace around the Dutch coast. "Ok, let's do it," said I. I made it just in time to catch the last ferries of the day, asked the cute girl in the ticket window for a ticket to an island of her choice, and ended up on the idyllic Vlieland a couple of hours later. Berry went home to plan for his wedding in a couple of weeks' time - I hope he has an amazing day and an amazing rest of his life with an amazing girl!
On the ferry I met Marlous (spelling?), shame we didn't find back to each other on the island.
Arriving in Vlieland.
This seagull was going there too.
I hired a bicycle (not bought for 10 euros, and it was definitely a bicycle, not a figment of my imagination) and hid my backpack in the forest. After a nice evening in the main (well, ONLY, really) town on the island, I went back to my pack. I didn't break Dutch law in the end - hearing voices from the different camp sites all around me didn't make me too comfortable, so I ditched the plan of pitching my tent in the forest and slept instead hidden away in a field of long grass, seperated from the gorgeous beach only by a big dune, with the clear dark sky as my roof.
I was awoken by the sun at around 6am and decided to get up before ramblers started walking on my head. My hide-away looked a lot more hidden in the dark...
Very tired, quite pink (my shades have created a white line across my temple...), very greasy hair, still smiling.
Had some breakfast and started riding around on my bike. The bottom half of Vlieland is just a big beach, the rest is largely made up of bird sanctuaries, except the forests, the town and the camp sites in the north. I went all the way to THE beach in the south and back again, probably around 20 km.
Serenading Vlieland. The beginning of THE beach in the background.
Before heading off on the last ferry to Harlingen, I heard and spoke to a local folk band. They may contribute to the GMC...
Back in Harlingen, it was already getting late, and I couldn't find a suitable spot for hitchhiking. Sitting on the WRONG side of the road, I felt I needed to make it easier for drivers to see where I wanted to go by making a sign. I remembered that the town Groningen would be on the way to Hamburg, but I didn't remember how to spell the name. Luckily, Jan turned around and came back to me to let me know that "Groeningen" was wrong! He was going nearly as far as Groningen, and I hopped in. It didn't take long before this very generous man invited me back to his home, a beautiful converted farm in the little town of Marum. Children of the 60s, Jan and his wife Hendrijke welcomed me with open arms. Hendrijke's mother was simply a bundle of joy and energy. After a much needed shower and a delicious dinner, the only reason I didn't beat them all in the traditional Dutch game... er... "schull", or something similar (sliding wooden pieces into narrow openings), was that they deliberately didn't explain the rules properly to me!! :) I demand a second chance!
Jan and Hendrijke, if you are reading this, I just wanted to say that I've tried emailing you to thank you for your hospitality, but I can't quite figure out the handwritten email address. You are welcome wherever in the world I may be!
The next day I "overslept"... I woke up at around noon! After breakfast, Jan drove me back to the motorway where Johan and Karin gave me a lift to Groningen, just in time to join a load of crazy people dressed in orange to see the Dutch team beat the Serbs in the world cup.
It was hot... only a liberal application of sun lotion prevented my skin from getting more than just a pinkish hue... As I was hitchhiking towards Germany, something quite amazing happened. Maris (spelling?)...
...a doctor working in the only remaining Dutch hospital without air conditioning, pulled over. I would have accompanied her to the BBQ she was going to if it hadn't been work-related... Commenting on the fact that she was so far the only woman on her own that had picked me up, she replied, and I quote: "I trusted you." Driving by at probably 30 mph? "So you easily trust people?", I asked. "Er... no, I don't, actually," she said. Strange. I must be doing something right. :)
The accommodating German soldier Torsten brought me just inside the German border...
...and then Rolf, the shipping financier, drove me 200 km to the heart of the Reeperbahn in Hamburg!
The harbour in Hamburg is the second biggest in Europe, if I remember correctly. The sun sets as Rolf and I arrive...
What is a rich life and what is important? Rolf and I shared a bit of an inner journey as well as an outer one, in the course of the two hours or so we spent together. As he left me, we were both thinking how lucky we were to have met each other. And I'm not just talking about a 200 km ride...
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Friday, June 09, 2006