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Catnapping

One night, a couple of days ago, I arrived home late. Upon entering the hallway I heard a sound from upstairs. My blood froze in my veins: burglars!

I shouted: “who’s there”?. 
No answer. 
I tried again: “HELLO!”. 
Silence.

Looking around each corner I made my way to the first floor. I quickly dashed for the kitchen drawer and took the two biggest knives I could find. Armed, hyped up and scared shitless, I went up to the second, third and fourth floors. I carefully checked everywhere, but found nothing. Not a trace. I assumed I must have imagined it and didn’t give it anymore thought.

Today was an exhausting day. To give my mind some rest I decided to do some cleaning. I had only just started vacuuming when a cat jumped out from underneath a drawer. For your info: no cat lives in this house. The cat ran away and hid deep underneath the staircase. I decided to clear away some stuff in front of the cat, open a garden door so she could go outside and continue cleaning. When I returned downstairs the cat was gone.

Later that day I decided to take the boat for a sail across Amsterdam’s beautifully lit canals. I was packing my keys and some warm clothes (after all, it’s summer here) when I heard somebody putting something in the mailbox. I didn’t pay immediate attention to it, despite the odd hour (22.00). When I was about to leave the house I immediately noticed a letter with an image of a cat in the mailbox. The letter described that the cat had gone missing several days ago. From the picture I could clearly see that it was the same cat that I had seen this morning. Surprisingly enough, the address from the owner was the address from the neighbor. The owner was quickly localized and turned up, equipped with cat food and the cat cage.

We looked for 20 minutes for the cat in the garden, but found nothing. When shaking the cat food box (I thought that only worked in commercials?), a different cat turned up. With mixed feelings we gave up. The owner was very happy that the cat had been sighted today, but sad it was no longer there.

The friendly owner was just about to leave when suddenly. We heard a sound. We thought it was the other cat that wanted to “steal” the food. But (again) I was convinced that it was from inside the house. We checked underneath the staircase and very very well hidden we saw a little ball of black hair: THE MISSING CAT! The owner was almost moved to tears and ceaselessly embraced the cat. That cat must have been the burglar too. I apologized for the unintended Catnapping. After the neighbor went to her own house, I could hear her saying nice things to the cat through the wall for a long time. 

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The free-boat-tour crowd

Read the full story here: https://gijsbos.com/its-payback-time

Dutch actresses

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Macedonian guy bonding with a Latvian kid.

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Gay Columbia -Dutch gay couple talking to au pair girl from Peru. Next to Italian couple.

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Indian family from Germany

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Nice overview picture on the Amsterdam canals

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Read more stories here: www.gijsbos.com

It’s payback time!

Mostly my “fuck it, let’s do it” decisions don’t turn out to be great. As mostly there’s a very good reason why I’ve been doubting so long. This time, it turned out great.

Today was one of the first warm summer days in a a long overdue summer in Amsterdam. I was enjoying some quality time in the beautiful Vondelpark when suddenly an idea dawned upon me. Loads of if’s and but’s followed quickly. Fortunately, all thoughts were superseded by a “fuck it, let’s do it”. The big idea was actually quite simple: let’s take my boat and offer people free rides through the canal. The trip would be totally free and there would be only one condition for entering the boat: you can’t leave the boat without finding other people to take your spot on the boat.

Pretty happy with the idea, I set sail for the center for Amsterdam, convinced I’d have a full boat within minutes. Upon approaching the first spot that I had deemed to be great, my doubts got the best of me. Many many excuses came up for not asking people: these people looked to boring, that couple is very much in love, that group is to old, a girl alone would think it was a pickup trick etc. I sailed past loads of people puffing next to the canals on this sunny day without asking a single one to join me for a free boat trip.

Once I had sailed past the center and entered a quiet spot, I reviewed what was happening. Was I scared to be turned down? Wasn’t it a good idea anymore? Just when I thought I was going to park the boat and return home, I saw one elderly guy and two girls in their twenties. I shouted to them from my boat “You speak English? You want a free canal tour? It’s really free!”. The girls looked at each other and shaked their heads. The guy was sitting on a bench and jumped up and indicated “yes, I’m joining”. The girls looked surprised when he jumped on board. Suddenly, the prospect of free canal tour didn’t seem so crazy anymore. They turned out to be Spanish and said they would maybe call me later. The guy was scruffy looking and a Macedonian living in Northern Germany. He was in his late fifties and had a big belly that obviously came from a lifetime of drinking beer. However, I felt strengthened by my “success” and started asking other people too. 10 minutes later and after a lot of rejections richer, I again started wondering if I had made the right decision and how I could get rid of the Macedonian guy (who seemed quite content with his spot on the boat). Then things slowly turned out for the better. A young German couple hopped on board. In front of the Hermitage Museum we picked up two friendly Dutch theatre actresses, a group of heritage students from somewhere east of Berlin (they came from Columbia, New York, and The Netherlands). 2 olderly couples from Northern California. Minutes later a Dutch-Latvian family with kids joined us. We then picked up a Dutch-Spanish couple whose boat plans for the day had been cancelled. We dropped of the Americans and Latvians near central station. They were replaced by a big Indian family (8 people) living in Germany who we picked up near the “Nemo” museum. Later in the Jordaan we were joined by a random guy of whom I know nothing except that he was reading a book about writing scripts for theatre and TV. We kidnapped a Peruvian au pair from a bench (who started singing with the Colombian guy). And we finally picked up a group of lazy young Italians in front of the Anne Frank Museum. Needless to say that we had an amazing time together on this sunny day.

Inevitably people asked why I was giving them this free trip. I repeated the story nearly a dozen times: “I’ve just come from a long trip around the world. During this trip people have been extremely kind to me. This is my way of paying them back.”

Let’s go outside

<most of this piece was originally written several months ago>

After 17 days at sea, spatial dimensions changed completely upon arriving on land. From observing a near endless ocean from our cramped boat, I was thrown into a bustling French-Caribbean marina. My occupations changed completely too. From a neatly organized 2 hour watch system on board our ship, to the continuous chaos of traveling in an unknown foreign country. Guadalupe was strange as well: technically speaking it is France, the big shops (Carrefour, Intermarche etc.) are French too, but it is in the middle of the Caribbean, thousands of miles away from Europe.

Amidst these changes, I sensed that the end of my trip was approaching. I therefore seized the opportunity to experiment with a new “lifestyle”. Different accommodation, different food, different thoughts.

I ended up spending the majority of my nights in the Carribean (Guadeloupe, Dominica and Curacao) sleeping under the stars in a hammock. Mostly on secluded beaches, sometimes on mountains surrounded by impenetrable forest. I stopped eating fish and meat, not out of any particular strong belief or conviction, but because the combination of my personal health, animal health and ecology felt good. And last, but not least, I started having different thoughts.

Sleeping outside in a hammock in the Caribbean might seem the logical thing to do to some, and totally crazy to others. At the start of the first night it felt crazy to me too. “what if a big black guy with a machete turns up and chops my head off”. And how sure was I that there weren’t any dangerous animals? (especially after walking past a living 2+ meter long boa constructor in the forest). Fortunately these feelings subsided quickly and I immensely appreciated every part of living outside: cooking simple meals, preparing the hammock, and seeing uncountable numbers of stars as the last thing before I closed my eyes. The even better best parts of sleeping outside were the slow halting of animal sounds at night and literally waking up next to the beach. Early morning yoga and exercises at the beach followed by snorkeling or just a regular swim in the ocean didn’t hurt either.

If this reads like I’ve been traveling to long or heard one rendition of “Rastaman vibrations” to many, please rest assured. Despite having traveled a bit over 20 months, my analytical mindset hasn’t been replaced by hippie bliss, but has been extended (or should I say “completed”?) by something that feels new and familiar at the same time.

Once I return home I’ll see what sticks. I will look for a solid roof and walls. I most likely will eat meat once in a while. And surely my ambitions, projects and fully loaded calendar will get the best of me from time to time. Will all be lost then? Definitely not. A way of living contently with less “stuff” has been deeply ingrained in my lifestyle.

Crossing the Atlantic in a sailing boat

It had been a long time coming. My original plan was as follows: fly from Madrid to Gran Canaria, join a  (to be found) sailing yacht that participates in the ARC rally, arrive on the other side of the Atlantic ocean by the 20th of December, spend Christmas in the Caribbean. 

I arrived safely and happily at the other side of the Atlantic ocean on the 10th of March. A near three months difference. Finding a suitable boat departing from Cape Verde proved to be surprisingly easy, despite that “everybody” warned that the season would be over. A friend and I had the chance to be able to be picky and select the nicest yacht out of 3 without making any boat-searching effort. Two German gentlemen, my friend and I were the entire crew for the crossing of the Atlantic ocean in an 11 meter sailing boat.

The captain had never crossed the Atlantic ocean either, so everybody was tense and nobody knew what and how much we needed to buy. As a safety measure we decided to “overstock” a bit on food. Thijs weer hectic, and the day after carnival I literally had to run towards the ship in order to be on time for our departure.

I guess it took several days to realize what I was doing. The first two days we still saw land and other boats, but then it became quiet. Just the ocean, the sky and the four of us. Once a day we were joined by a single bird, we saw dolphins and a whale, loads of flying fish, but nothing else that indicated that the world around still existed. This lasted for 13 out of 17 days: total Zen.

We were four persons and had 2 hour shifts. This means that you’ve got to steer the boat for 2 hours and then have a 6 hours break and that for the entire day. After sunset we rotated the shifts so once every 4 days you’d have only one shift in the dark.

Experienced sailors warned me that crossing the Atlantic ocean can be boring. In addition, my iPad (also my eBook reader) ran out of batteries during the second day. Without possibilities to recharge (nor printed books) I feared for the worst boredom ever. Fortunately we had a great time, despite/because the ship was “dry” (no alcohol on board), except for one bottle of wine when we were half way. We sailed by hand, meaning no autopilot and only used paper maps (with GPS). The night shifts were especially amazing: full moon, up to 6 meter high waves and alone at the rudder with the rest of the crew asleep. For the entire trip we had the wind exactly from behind, which to the inexperienced ear might sound like a good situation, but this means that you have to watch continuously for dangerous jibes, which is tiring and exciting at the same time. Fortunately, I didn’t get seasick, which was a big relief, as the trip would have been very long otherwise.

Inevitably, during each of my shifts, I’d have at least one of them: a “freak” wave. Coming out of nowhere, a gigantic wave would pick up our tiny boat and do with it as it pleased. It served as a reminder that the ocean, and not me was in charge of what was happening.

I have some experience in steering small open boats (none, with the ship size we were sailing), so I especially enjoyed the sportive sailing parts with stronger winds and high waves. Facing backwards, trying to steer as little as possible and anticipate the waves and wind was my favorite part. 

Those of you who are familiar with my cooking skills might be surprised that I participated actively  in the cooking (no, not just doing the dishes). It is surprisingly difficult to cook on the ocean and more than once we had to pick our almost ready dinner from the floor.

Crossing the Atlantic in a sailing yacht proved to be one of the highlights of my trip. Highly recommend for anybody with an interest in sailing or a ‘different’ kind of holiday. The cost? 75 euros for the entire 17 days trip (food, fuel, etc. included). Just do it.

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Tough love

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Cape-Verdians robbed me of my cash, credit cards and telephone after driving over my foot (and breaking it) with a car. Which meant I stayed on an island of 16 * 24 kilometers for 10 bloody weeks. Cape-Verdians stole my mobile phone (again) during Carnival. I paid near European-level rent for an apartment in a country where the average income is 100 euros per month. I made friends with a local guy, who then ripped off two of my other friends for hundreds of euro’s (they borrowed him interest-free money for moving his street vending business into a store and he didn’t reimburse). My other friends had their stuff pick-pocketed too. People lied multiple times to my face, and loads of other bad stuff. And I loved all of it (except for the robbing). Some of the best time of my 16 months trip (until now) was in Cape Verde. The warmth of the people was amazing. Nowhere on the planet (except for Iran, maybe) have I been invited into as many local homes as here. I felt embarrassed when people with amputated legs apologized on behalf of the entire country when they heard the story of the robbery and my broken foot. Similarly grandmothers with probably not more than 1 year to live from the looks of them looked at me with compassion filled eyes when they saw me walking with crutches through the streets. People offered me rides in their car even when they knew I had less than 200 meters to go.

Surprisingly enough, the bar scene in tiny Mindelo (the capital of the island where I stayed) was amazing. For example a late night Jazz Bar with great indie music and an amazing crowd. Or what do you think of a Berlin-style hidden place (you wouldn’t know that it’s a bar if you stood in front of it) filled with French literature, a roof top terrace, topped off with regular music improvisation sessions by the “resident” artists? Sure, I am a foreigner in Cape Verde and will always remain a “white guy” to the locals, but few things in life beat being in a “hurry” and walking 500 meters in an hour due to cheerful conversations with the friendly locals you meet on the street. I’ll always cherish the “live at Laguina” sessions, where incredibly talented musicians played guitar and sang in the living room of my appartment.

And then carnival. Sure, Rio de Janeiro’s carnival is bigger and more glamorous. But it will have a tough time beating Mindelo in authenticity. Thanks to a great friend (who’s writing a book and decided on the spot to make a documentary) I was fortunate to get a behind-the-scenes look and experience parts of the preparations of the groups. All of these groups created amazing art projects with (near) zero budgets. One could really witness that passion for what you’re trying to achieve will beat financial incentives any day of the week. And last and definitely not least: the foreigners in Cape Verde. I can truly say I made friends here, which is a rarity as all of us are traveling. The foreigners I encountered were all fellow boat hitchhikers and really special people. We did amazing things together, we saw beautiful sceneries and had thought-provoking conversations.

And then I left it all behind. A window of opportunity opened to cross the Atlantic ocean just after carnival. The right people, the right ship, the right destination. But I’ll return to Mindelo to experience Cape Verde once again, that’s for sure!

Found a home

It was one of those nights of which I’ll think back later and say to myself: “I wish I had more of these”.

Due to my immobility, I decided to move out from the hotel. I had strong doubts: from my hotel’s balcony I had a great view on the main street of Mindelo. “Everybody” paraded there each night. Several friendly bars were near, ever the cash machine and the supermarket were literally around the corner.

Still, it was a great decision to move. I’m currently living in an apartment. Meaning I’ve got a living room, an en suite bathroom and a kitchen (which I’m actually using!).

The best part of the appartment is that it’s a “home”. It’s a place where I live, not just spend a couple of nights because it has the best price/quality ratio. For most of you it isn’t special to have a “home”. Even the poorest people of the planet have a home. Only refugees and people traveling around the world don’t have a home. Moving in here made me realize that the longest I’ve stayed somewhere is around 10 days. This only happened 3 or so times during this (until now) 15 months trip.

If having a (temporary) home made me happy, having great people in there delighted me. Thanks to a French friend, (who has been amazing), I got to know a couple of great Cape Verdian artists. Super cool: they gave an impromptu “concert” in my living room! They’re also working on a project for carnival, which should be a great experience!

I guess it’s universal to feel at your happiest around people who create.

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