Savannah Grace

From Tourist to Tour Guide

11106279_451004135062045_995670892_n[1]We left Alkmaar around 9:00 am right as a nationwide power outage hit. “That’s strange” I thought as Kees yelled from the shower, “why did the light just go out!?” When Mom came over, ready to be the chauffeur for the day, we quickly learned that her house was also out of power. (For those who don’t know, there are two houses on our property. Kees and I live in the front. Parents live in the back. I love living together as a family and wish all my siblings were here too!) When we arrived at the first street light we knew it was more than just our house. The drivers in our tiny village instantly became disoriented and lost, like ants when you put a leaf in their path. Without those simple yellow, green and red dots, the whole world  amusingly becomes lost. It was so interesting to see and gave us the tiniest insight into the fear and chaos that could instantly hit in the case of a disaster. I quickly jumped on Twitter hashtagging #Alkmaar, only to realize that it was reaching a lot further than just then our area. Many major cities were out of power, including the main airport, Schiphol in Amsterdam. Perhaps I’ve become a total geeker, but I seriously love how connected we are and how instant news travels with Twitter. The intersections resembled those you’d find in India, with no structure or rules, everyone fighting (or worse, not fighting!) their way through, and yet…. traffic jams in India lack the apparent struggle and panic that ensued here. Despite the appearance of chaos in many Asian and African countries, there is definitely a functioning system, one that we are completely inexperienced with. Without direct and clear rules to lead us in our everyday life, it’s almost as though we are losing our ability to think for ourselves.

With Kees sleeping in the back, Mom driving and me reading, we made it to Antwerp, Belgium in about 2.5 hours. Kees’ friend has a Segway company and asked if we would like to join and help out for the day. They had a group of 80 people, all employees from the ABN Amro Bank, that would take turns going on the 20 Segways and 4 super-fast RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) boats.

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Having only ridden a Segway twice before, once on an off-road Segway in Mauritius, Africa, the other just a few weeks ago in Brugge, Belgium, I had to pretend to act like a confident professional when it came to Segways.

We needed to power up, give instructions, and get each rider onto their Segway. The whole group stood around laughing and cheering at their colleagues, especially those who wobbled back and forth out of control when they first stepped on.

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Doing my utmost, I managed not only to help out and put them on the Segways, I gave instructions entirely in my Canadian accented Dutch. No one complained, no one looked at me like, “who the heck are you and what kind of strange planet did you come from?!” The best part, they didn’t convert into English when I spoke Dutch which means I came across confident in my speech. I may have been at an advantage because the group was from Holland and we were in Belgium where the language is almost the same but the accent is entirely different!!! I had the absolute hardest time deciphering the Flemish accent in Antwerp and even had to ask one lady to speak English because there was no way I could understand what the heck she was saying.

Everyone was well humoured and we only had a few small accidents. The most memorable was one of the men joking and waving back to his friends, when he looked back at them laughing he crashed into one of the bike path poles and went flying over it. Everyone had a good chuckle, including the pole victim who smiled and got right back on his Segway for another circuit in the park and up along the seawall. Luckily, Segways are basically controlled by your brain and after a few moments, riding becomes second nature.

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While Mom and I were busy on shore giving the group turns on the Segways, Kees went as the fourth captain and took two groups out for a literal spin in the RIB boats. Though the boats are tough and sturdy in nature, the other captains warned Kees not to lose any passengers with his fast spins and wave jumping. They wanted to give these office folk an exciting ride, but not a wet one. From land I could tell that Kees must’ve had the most enthusiastic group as he went back and forth at high speeds and jumping over his own waves in circles.

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Afterwards, he told us that someone from both rides said with a humoured sarcasm to the rest of the group, “Haha, don’t worry! You don’t have to be afraid when he goes fast, this is his first time!”

I could only so easily hear Kees’ thoughts. “If only they knew!” Luckily for them, he DOES have his boating license, but this was literally his second time driving that particular boat, his first time EVER being the captain of a tour group.

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When we were done, Kees, his friend and I took the boats back while Mom and Connie the Flemish girlfriend picked us up on the other side.

Although there are no sharks or killer whales like at home, apparently the canal way we were in is notoriously dangerous for it’s strong current pulling people under. This news didn’t come to me as a great comfort when on the return trip Kees wanted me to come and do a photo shoot of them racing like a maniac in the boats. You may be surprised, but accidentally someone else went off with all the life jackets and I was left without one… As the actual “boater” expressed his fear of going on the water without one, I was feeling comforted that this meant we wouldn’t be able to go “flipping” crazy!  Facing backwards on my seat, wind blowing all around, I braced for impact, as Kees did circles and jumps around us. When the boat picked up speed my chest was forced into the backrest, giving a rollercoaster like thrill as we took off. I couldn’t resist the smile beaming on my face as we accelerated across the water as the midday sunlight made everything shine.

Afterwards we enjoyed a delicious fish and chips dinner in the water front marina restaurant, laughing at  poor Connie for all the “strange” things they say in Flemish compared to Dutch.

 Savannah

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