Day 209 - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 am, in a low lit living room. It’s densely quiet and dark outside. No barking dogs, traffic, sirens and other sounds that disturb the nights in the Mexican cities I was staying during the past few weeks. I’m in my brothers house in Waalwijk, The Netherlands. He picked me up from the airport, I hadn’t seen him in almost a year. It’s Christmas day and he had prepared a good meal for us together. He knows how to cook and the stew of deer and swine tastes well. In the evening we watched ‘Dunkirk’ together. Tomorrow we will drive to our parents house for a surprise visit. My three brothers will be there too. They don’t know yet I’m in the Netherlands for the holidays. It’s going to be nice, I’m looking forward to it. But now I’m here, sitting behind my laptop at this dark hour, waiting out the night. I woke up after two hours sleep and felt a bit like a flu. Usually I don’t suffer much from jet lags, but this time it gets me. My body feels like a flower ripped from the ground, not used to the cold climate. 

What to write? A few months ago I was so much looking forward to visit home, talk with my brothers, my parents, my friends. Touch ground and put perspective to my goings. I was in California then, in the midst of all the amazing trips with Rachel, living in sort of an American dream. A bubble of high life which took its turns and ended abruptly. Then I got back on the bike again and spend days on end in the deserts of Baja. There was a lot to process and let go. Now I hardly feel anything. I feel in balance, in the right place. I don’t feel a longing, I don’t feel much adventure or excitement either. It’s stable, maybe even a bit boring. Work goes well, I’ve been pretty busy the last weeks redesigning a beer brand from the Bahamas. A new look, new packaging, the whole thing. A long term project which I’ve working on during the entire trip. It’s the reason why my social media feeds are somewhat slow at the moment. From Baja California I took a ferry and busses to Mexico City to be on time for my flight to Amsterdam. No time for cycling. If I have work to do I rent an Airbnb apartment, as long as needed to finish the work. I send out the pdfs, do presentations via Skype and then I move on again, until I get feedback, then I’m grounded again. 

It really turns out to be a good rhythm for this journey. Travelling by bike is already slow, but working on the road makes it even slower. Still, this life feels fast. Because there are always new things, places and people around me. I wrote about it in my book. “The slower I travel, the more I experience.” It gives more opportunity to make local friends, create deeper connections, explore neighbourhoods a bit. Live locally instead of being on holiday and visit just the hotspots. Travelling like this feels more real, you get to experience a country in more detail, and you realize how much diversity of culture there is. Renting an Airbnb is not travelling anymore, it’s establishing a home in between the travels. I always look for something cosy. A good table and chair to work. Preferably a good coffee machine, but that’s hard to find. A little bit of a view, a nice neighbourhood. Luckily lodging is a lot more affordable in Mexico compared to the US, where I camped more often to stay on budget. Here I have to worry less about spending too much.

2nd Christmas day my brother and I drive to Zeeland, the southern Islands in the Netherlands. My parents live in Krabbendijke, a conservative little town where the majority of the people visit church twice a Sunday, wearing black and stark faces. My father is a pastor in a smaller, more colourful, protestant community. It’s quiet on the roads. The fields rush by under a flat grey sky, which absorbs all the colours. When we arrive the sun shines. I jump in front of the window. Behind it everyone sits in a circle, sipping coffee. There are noise and cheers, we’re grateful to see each other after nine months. For a moment Krabbendijke is happily unsettled. Then quietness returns and we celebrate Christmas like we always do: sharing stories, making old jokes, gourmetten and sjoelen. It feels warm and safe. Every year is the same. When I look back at pictures the only nuance are the clothes we wear, and sometimes a brother brings another girlfriend home. It’s been a while since I have brought someone home, my girlfriends are usually far away.

The next day I go for a walk with my father over the dike along the Oosterschelde. It rains a bit. The wind sweeps in our face over the low tide lake. Typical, miserable Dutch weather. The view reaches far into nothing. It’s hard to describe how I feel being back in the Dutch countryside, the old home. It’s not far from where I grew up. Where I went to a Christian high school, and to church every Sunday. Being back here, I feel contained, a bit uncomfortable maybe. It probably has to do with that everything is so familiar, while the nature of my travels is constantly being in unfamiliar places. Here, I have the feeling I can’t be anonymous, something I value so much living in big cities. Where I can reinvent myself, without being judged. 

Despite the rain we enjoy our walk and the good conversations. About life in this small community in Zeeland and life spend around the globe on a bicycle. We are worlds apart, but there’s enough legacy to understand and value each other. Later I take the train to Amsterdam, where I’m staying with friends for New years eve. My own apartment is rented out on Airbnb. We eat oliebollen at any given time of day. In the meantime I have a lot do. Visit my tax adviser, run errands for my apartment and purchase outdoor gear which I can’t find in Mexico. In the evening I catch up with friends in de Olofspoort, a historic jenever cafe in Amsterdam centre. It feels like I’ve never been away. Outside it’s still cold and rainy. It’s good to see that everything is still the same. I feel at peace to leave again for a long period of time.