Monday, January 31, 2005

“Among the elephants you learn to put things in perspective” – Column by Pieter van den Hoogenband

After a safari of almost three weeks in Africa, I returned to normal life. The traffic - driving on the right side of the road again – wasn’t the only thing I had to get used to when I got back.

I’ve been in a completely different world. No television, no newspapers, no cell phone… It was really strange to see that Feyenoord (= Dutch soccer team) changed half their team when I got home. I didn’t know any of the new players.

When I travelled in South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana I noticed they follow Dutch football closely over there. The young tour guide from Botswana turned out to be a huge fan of the Dutch national team. He was very enthousiastic about players like Van Nistelrooy, Davids, Seedorf and Kluivert. He was also very impressed by Arjen Robben, who he watches on TV every week in the Premier League.

It was quite bizar to be in the middle of nowhere and have a conversation with my tour guide about sports. I was there for the wildlife and nature, which I really enjoyed. My experiences in Africa left an unforgettable impression. In such a completely new environment, you also have a chance to self-reflect and put things in perspective.

I camped out and drove around in a jeep to observe wild animals in their natural habitat. It’s really impressive to see 150 elephants at a river bank drinking water. When you’re only a few feet away from those giants, you realize how tiny and vulnerable you are as a human being. Those elephants could easily deroot a tree with their trunks. Imagine what would happen if they had pushed over our jeep.

In such an environment, you need a reliable guide. He took us to the most beautiful places. We could see up close how two lions were eating their prey. I was astonished to watch these two impressive predators which looked like giant kittens.

The tents we were sleeping in had an open shower. The guide told us that not too long ago, a lion had chased a zebra into one of these showers. When he returned from a safari with a group of tourists, they found a trail of bood leading to the half eaten zebra. A story like that is impressive.

A story like that comes to mind when you hear a terrifying scream in the middle of the night from one of the other tourists. But nothing bad happened… A Swedish tourist had almost stepped on a scorpion. A colleague of our guide had stepped on one of those earlier and had to be taken to hospital immediately.

On the day before we left, there was a big electric storm. The border river between Botswana and South Africa burst its banks and we had to be transported with a cable cart across the water. When I got off, the cable installation broke down. A friend of mine and two other tourists were stuck 10 metres above the raging water while 10 men were repairing the installation. It took half an hour before they were rescued.

Only when I was safe and sound and flying back home, I realized that some adventures could have taken a wrong turn. Of course you shouldn’t dwell on that for too long, though. I’ve had a great vacation and am recharged to start the season.

Source: AD newspaper, January 27th, 2005

Also read other columns by Pieter van den Hoogenband:

- "Three beautiful blond women as a source of inspiration"

- “During the season, eating is work to me”

- ”On safari Crocodile Dundee was watching over me”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Pieter is great, but he is beginning to sound a little too full of himself. I mean to brag about being noticed over other people isn't very nice. I mean i'm sure there are places where other olympic medalist are noticed and not him. I think he shouldn't think so highly of himself. It is nice to be a champion but even nicer not to let it get to your head. Anyway, I still think he is great swimmer.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But then again... you and I and millions of other people don't have a clue what it feels like to be an Olympic Champion...! So it's easy to say how he should behave, but if I were him... I'd be worse! Why shouldn't he be proud he's recognized in the middle of nowhere? He's just stunned at the fact and expresses that. Not because he thinks he SHOULD be recognized, but the fact that he IS recognized over there.

12:18 PM  
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