”On safari Crocodile Dundee was watching over me” – Column by Pieter van den Hoogenband
On vacation in South Africa I’m enjoying every single minute. I’m having one adventure after the other, or shouldn’t I call an encounter with 39 elephants an adventure? At a wildlife reservation I got up close and personal with them.
I love being in such a natural environment. I realize that these are my last few days of leasure. When I get home, I will have to train my ass off again in preparation of the World Championships. But for now I can relax.
Even in South Africa I’m reminded of my Olympic success. When I arrived at the airport of Johannesburg two little guys were taking care of our luggage. They weren’t exactly beggars, but not much more than that either. When they put our suitcases next to a taxi, one of them said: “Could I ask you something? Are you Pieter van den Hoogenband?”
This is something that wouldn’t happen to Roland Schoeman, the South African swimmer who won the silver in Athens, in The Netherlands. Of course he is not an Olympic Champion, but I would bet anything that Michael Phelps wouldn’t be recognized at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam). When he doesn’t wear his six gold medals around his neck, he could walk around our country anonimously. People would think he was just another American tourist and show him the way to the coffeeshops in Amsterdam.
Things are different in South Africa. On safari in the reservation our tour guide is a Crocodile Dundee clone. On our way to our camp, he took a good look at me. He took me aside and asked me: “Are you by any chance that Olympic Champion?” Who would expect something like that in the middle of nowhere?
This 'Crocodile Dundee' was watching over my girlfriend and me. He would wake us and the other tourists in our group at 5AM, so we could watch the animals at the water hole. Getting up so early in the morning made me take a nap in the afternoon underneath a tree. When I woke up, ‘Crocodile Dundee’ told me he had taken out a snake which had been twirling above my head in the tree. A poisonous snake. Like lethally poisonous. If I had been bitten, so I was told, I would have had to purify my blood within 24 hours.
In The Netherlands this is not something you give any second thought. Just like we don’t realize how well kept our highways are. In Africa the roads are in very poor shape and are full of dangerous holes. After the rain you don't see the holes and you bounce all over the place. I’m driving around in a beat up rental car and I can’t wait to get back to my own reliable Volkswagen.
But I'm not complaining. Life over here is quite relaxed and the food is great. I feel at home here and I’m even getting used to an unusual custom in traffic. When you take over a car, the other driver will move to the side of the road. When you’ve passed him you have to blink your lights twice as a way to say thanks. He will blink back twice with his beamer. Can you imagine if we’d do that back home? The highway would end up in total chaos.
Source: AD newspaper, January 17th, 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”
- “Among the elephants you learn to put things in perspective”