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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!
The free-boat-tour crowd
Read the full story here: https://gijsbos.com/its-payback-timeDutch actresses
Macedonian guy bonding with a Latvian kid.
Gay Columbia -Dutch gay couple talking to au pair girl from Peru. Next to Italian couple.
Indian family from Germany
Nice overview picture on the Amsterdam canals
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 Fortunately, all thoughts were superseded by a “fuck it, let’s do it”.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
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.
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.
New year on Cape Verde
It was a new years celebration I won’t easily forget, as Cape Verde showed itself from its best and worst side.
Let’s start with the good stuff. New year at Cape Verde is pretty amazing. Sure, the great weather helps, but the nicest part are the real and big smiles on the faces of the people. The setting was amazing. I had met up with a French guy, who’s writing a book and making a documentary at the same time. Both of us had dinner at the humble place of a new Nigerian friend. We decided to walk back to the city center just before midnight. Many people were out on the street and the atmosphere was buoyant. Everybody was walking the same direction as ourselves and slowly, but steadily everybody picked up their pace. It wasn’t before long until literally everybody started running down the hill towards the harbor. The reason was immediately clear when we arrived: everybody and their brother was out there. It seemed like literally the whole population of the island had united on the small boulevard. People jumping in the ocean, (but this isn’t as brave as doing the same in The Netherlands). I’ve rarely seen people so delighted at a fireworks display, nearly every explosion was met with joyful cheers. Everybody was having a great time and the happy party in the street continued into the early hours.
I woke up early for unexplainable reasons. After taking a quick shower I heard the drums and other instruments in the distance. I decided to head out onto Mindelo’s streets, deserted like they should be during an early morning after a new years eve celebration. I had no difficulties locating the music. It was a marching band followed by a small group of around 60 people who all were dancing to the same 15 second repeating sound. As (again) everybody was happy and smiling, I decided to join them (except for the dancing, as I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself). Slowly the size of the group increased, but we were never mo than a hundred. I ran into some locals and time passed quickly and happily. After we had been walking around for a couple of hours (still to the tune of the same 15 second music loop) we ended up at a big fence. I asked what it was and my friends quickly pointed out that it was the local hospital. We marched onto the terrain for a truly amazing spectacle. The drums and other instruments started playing louder and louder and everybody really was giving their best. Slowly, but steadily, tired faces started appearing in front of the hospital windows. The nurses came out and the crowd waved at the ill people. Smiles appeared on their faces and some of the patients even managed to squeeze out a couple of dance moves, which motivated our crowd to give even more. When we left the terrain, I asked one of my friends to explain the spectacle. She told me that it is a tradition to come the hospital and to dance for the ill people. “We know they can’t be with us now, but through our music and dancing we show our desire and hope that they can be dancing with us again next year.” Happy shivers down my spine.
Little did I know, that I would return very soon to the hospital. Every day seems to be a party day in Cape Verde, but New Year really is a two day party here. For the second night I met up with a couple of Capeverdian friends and before I knew it, I was the only white guy at a 1.500 people party. Great people, great music and when they discovered I was Dutch I had to listen to many a story about uncles in Rotterdam, dreams about moving to The Netherlands and the eternal friendship between people of Cape Verde and The Netherlands. Despite my “traveler reputation” I’m really not used to wild celebrations anymore, so I decided to head home early. Outside the gates taxis were stormed by groups of people eager to catch a ride home. I was watching the spectacle with a smile, which quickly disappeared when I noticed I had missed out on a car driving up behind me. To late, and the car drove over my right foot. I went down to the ground screaming in pain. I noticed people walking up to me. Instead of helping me up, they sat on top of me and grabbed my mobile phone from my trousers. Shouting and screaming, I managed to get away. Unfortunately not for far. A guy walked up behind me as I was struggling to walk and pushed / punched me down to the ground. I felt my wallet being taken from my other pocket. They ran of. As the robbers had taken my room keys as well and the spare keys were locked away, I had to sleep on a chair in the lobby. The following morning I headed out to the hospital. The diagnosis was unambiguous: a broken foot/ankle, 4 weeks plaster. I was devastated: I don’t have four weeks! For one of the very few times during this trip I had a deadline. Reason being that the season for crossing the Atlantic by sailing yachts is coming to an end. And no way that I can cross the ocean with a broken ankle.
After the initial depression, I decided to make the most out of it. Learn some Portuguese, do a programming course, and work a bit on my website project. Today I moved out from the hotel to an appartment.
Life might seem “terrible”, living on your own in a strange city in a country where you don’t speak the language (Creole is tough!), but I made some good friends here. Might even stick around to see the famous carnival here. Hanging out with a group of very talented and friendly Capeverdian musicians isn’t a punishment either. This really is making the *best* out of a bad situation 🙂
Boat hitchhiking, a dummies guide
Q: what on earth is “boat hitchhiking”?
A: similar to a car hitchhiking. Somebody asks for a ride and another person takes him/her along. Only this time it’s with a boat.
Q: what kind of boat?
A: typically sailing boats, but anything afloat will do.
Q: who does something as crazy as that?
A: students, people wanting to make a profession out of it (earn money), Internet entrepreneurs. Anybody, really.
Q: why would I want to hitchhike on a boat?
A: it’s fun and cheap way to get somewhere and meet nice people along the way.
Q: what am I supposed to do on a boat?
A: typically, you’re supposed to work. The most frequent is watches, where you have to look out for other boats or things floating in the water. Other people get around by cooking or cleaning or just being a companion.
Q: do I get paid for this?
A: depending on the time and location you could be asked to pay for food, drinks and the running costs of the boat. Or everything could be offered to you by the captain. And if you’re good, you might be able to make a living from it.
Q: let me get this straight: I might have to pay in order to work somewhere?
Q: that’s insane. I work to get money, not to pay money to my employer. Again: why would I want to do this?
A: it’s a matter of supply and demand. In some locations there are a lot of people looking for a ride on a boat. Sometimes it’s the other way round. Having a boat is expensive. If you look at it as a floating hotel, the concept of working and paying becomes more bearable.
Q: ok, I might be willing to consider this. But what kind of people will I find on the boat?
A: again, it totally depends. I’ve seen captains that worked on particle accelerators, ex-criminals, lonely captains looking for love. And really average people too (these are the worst).
Q: ok, This looks like fun. How do I find a boat?
A: the holy grail of boat hitch hiking. Let me start by telling you how not to find a boat. There are several paid websites, I hear mostly negative stories about Findacrew and Crewseekers, so don’t use their paid options! The are several free online fora (see bottom of this post) that could be helpful. The best way is to just go to the harbor where you know many people will start their trip and ask around. Ask a lot. No really, a lot. Days on end. The good news is: this is the best part 🙂 Some people have reported success by swimming to boats that are at the anchorage and simply knocking on the hull. Asking a friendly captain to borrow his dinghy for an afternoon might be easier and cleaner (water in harbors typically is pretty filthy).
Q: wow, this looks difficult. How can I make it easier for myself?
A: The following people get boats easier than average:
- experienced sailors
- beautiful women
- people with skills in repairing engines or woodwork
- people who can prepare a decent meal
- people who speak multiple languages
Q: can you give me more tips?
A: – Most importantly: think about why should anybody want to have you on their boat (which very often means their house).
- Try to have a short trip on the boat first. You can asses the rest of crew (and the other way round). If this isn’t possible, try to spend at least a night or two on the boat before you leave on a long trip.
- Arrive early if you need to be at your final destination by a certain date
- Be flexible on timing and destination.
- Balance what the captain is looking for in a crew with what you want to do
- The captain is the boss. Always. If you don’t like him/her, you leave the boat. Do not expect it to be the other way round.
- Dress up nicely when you meet the captain for the first time.
- Stand out of the crowd of other boat hitchhikers
- Languages: French is a definite plus for an Atlantic crossing due to the large number of French boats. Spanish and Portuguese are handy for helping the rest of the crew at some destinations.
- Women need to extra careful for crew with undesired amorous intentions.
- Try to spot captains with alcohol problems. They are rare, but you really don’t want to be in a storm when your captains is not capable of making solid judgements.
- Learn “crew speak”. Not only how things are called on a boat, but also take a genuine interest in what’s going on in the harbor. What is happening at the destinations etc.
- Be nice to your fellow boat hitchhikers. Eventually one of you will find a boat and you might be able to help each other.
- Never-ever “steal” the boat from a fellow boat hitch hiker. Karma is a bitch.
- Enjoy! Finding a boat is as much part of boat hitch hiking as sailing and lying on beautiful beaches.
Q: What is ARC?
A: Over 200 yachts starts crossing the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to Saint Lucia (Carribean) on the same day. Beware though: the event attracts many people looking for boats.
Q: I’ve never sailed on a boat. Can I still do this?
A: yes, you can. But make really sure that you’ve read the ‘who shouldn’t do this’ section.
Q: are there any routes that boats sail?
A: yes there are. Due to winds and currents the route looks something like this: By the end of October everybody from Northern Europe wants to be (at least) past France. This means Spain/Portugal or more south.
During October-November, boats tend to go first to the Azores, then to the Canary Islands. One of the most important meeting points is the ARC challenge. Adventurous (French) boats might go to Morocco before Gran Canaria and to Senegal afterwards. However these are relatively few.
A first “wave” of boats (no pun intended) wants to arrive in the Caribbean for Christmas. They leave before the 1st of December from the Canaries (typically Gran Canaria). Another wave leaves after Christmas.
Most boats going from Europe to Brazil typically stop at Cape Verde. Quite a number that go to the Caribbean stop at Cape Verde as well in order to cut the trip in half.
From the Caribbean boats tend to cruise up until NY and cross from there back to Europe by April – May.
The good news is that many boats do things differently. They go to Asia, Antarctic, Cape Horn and god knows where.
Q: water is nice, but can I see something of the lands I sail past as well?
A: it all depends on the captain and whether you have any say in that. Typically people don’t sail the world just for the sailing, but also to see the land as well.
Q: will I be surrounded by obnoxious filthy rich people all the time?
A: most likely you won’t. Quite a number of the boat owners have saved long and hard for this trip and sold all their worldly possessions in order to make it a reality. Therefore, treat the boat with the respect that a substantial
financial and emotional investment deserves.
Q: , but what should I wear?
A: it all depends on the location and the season. If it could get cold and you have your own sailing gear: bring it along. Most boats have a spare lifejackets (and if they don’t it? a good reason to look for another one). Just don’t bring a suitcase. Please.
Q: isn’t this very dangerous?
A: if you’re careless or stupid many things are dangerous.
Q: who shouldn’t do this?
A: you should definitely not boat hitch hike if you have a problem with any of the following:
- you get sea sick easily (seriously, no “perfect” beach can make you forget puking for 3 weeks)
- Small spaces
- No swimming skills (duh)
- Not being able to wash / shower for a couple of days
- Having people around you that are precise (most things have a fixed place on a boat for a reason, or some things are just done right in one particular way)
- If you have loads of luggage (some boats might be a able to accommodate this, but most won’t)
- If you have a problem taking orders
- a skippers’ point of view on people looking for a boat
- the Couch sailing group on Couchsurfing
- Desperate sailors
- The Float Plan
If you’ve got any tips: please share them below.
Loads and loads of very bad things are written about Iran these days. Nearly all of them rightfully so.
However, few of them take the particularity of the Iranian situation into account. Let me quote myself:
Iranians like jews, they even guarantee seats in the parlement specifically for jews. Admittedly, jews don’t have the same rights as Muslims. Iranians don’t agree with the current situation in Israel.
Iranians like Americans. The Americans I’ve met in Iran were extremy positive about their reception (even at the border).
American products are cherished by Iranians. Both are a miracle as the USA overthrew the legally elected government in Iran in 1954 (headed by the Times man-of-the-year Mossadegh), categorised Iran in the “axis of evil” when it had its most pro-western and peace loving government in decades, the Iran-contra affair, shot down of the civilian IranAir flight 655 (290 people on board) by the US navy most advanced warship. Surprisingly, you’ll find amazing similarities between the ideas of American Christians evangelicals (and tea party movement) and the current situation in Iran.
Iran is not agressive: it hasn’t attacked anoyher country for centuries and its military budget is only 2,7% of GDP. As an indication, the USA spends every two weeks in Iraq alone what Iran spends in a year. This despite that Iran has been occuppied by Russians, British and was under attack of Iraq and had operations on its soil by the USA.
Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons (yet). The  region’s main countries (India, Pakistan, Israel, Russia and USA) all have these weapons. Moreover, Iran is an importer of fossil fuels (they lack refinery capacity for their oil), therefore nuclear energy really is important to them.
Some of the kindest people I’ve met on this trip are Iranians. None of them support the atrocities of their government. Actually, very few people in Iran do. Just like in almost every major country around the globe: 2012 is an election year in which light recent developments should be seen. The past has consistently shown that the stronger the foreign pressure on Iranian politics, the stronger the Iranian extremists become. Let’s all be smart this time.
If you’ve got some spare time please read the original 1, 2, 3 stories on Iran. Much better still, read these truly great books The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the paradox of modern Iran and it’s terrific follow up: The Ayatollah’s Democracy: an Iranian challenge
For more travel stories, please have a look at www.gijsbos.com