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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Hacktreks in Holland

Where Am I Again?
Samantha Derrick

'I have absolutely no idea where I am going. I am trying my best not to get worried. Trying my best to ignore that little voice in my head that constantly asks what the hell I think I am doing'.

Oh shit my foot has gone to sleep again. The shot of pain reverberates in my right foot. It feels as heavy as lead, and is weighted firmly against the train floor like a block of cement. I stamp my foot around in front of me. I am trying my best to look inconspicuous. I just want to shake it out in big swooping motions, but am restricted by the geeky Dutch couple that are sitting directly opposite me.
I glance out the window, trying to remove the obscure couple from my eye line. I hate sitting in the opposite direction from where I am going. As exciting landscapes come from behind me and shoot past I feel as though I am missing out, as though things are passing me by. An old man on a pushbike cycles past.
"Oh sweetie, you’re travelling on your own, oh honey" my mother’s ignorantly sympathetic words ring in my ears.
"No but mum I want to travel on my own" I protest with a hint of excitement I hope she recognises. I replay the conversation out in my head. Why is it so hard to believe that I want to travel on my own, discover things on my own, discover me?
"I can organise for you to get a tour" my travel agent father has joined in on the conversation. He finds it difficult that I can travel and be on the other side of the world without his help, advice or travel agent discounts.
"It’s ok, Flo will be there". I surrender. It is a lie. My Dutch ex-neighbour from Sydney is only there to meet me and then he leaves me for a conference in the country with the keys to his apartment in my hands and the Amsterdam world at my feet. This comment just saved me further hours of interrogation and a 775K email listing the must see’s of Amsterdam.

The train slows. I briefly catch what I think was the word ‘Amsterdam’.
I step onto the platform. Flo is there to meet me. But no sooner had we dropped my backpack off at his, were we back at the station, bidding our goodbyes as he boards the train for the country.
"You should really get a bike Sam while you are here". He adds before hopping on the train.
This notion seemed ridiculous at first, an unnecessary expense that my poor student, Australian dollared, crackers for breakfast budget really doesn’t need. But now as I wait for the No. 20 tram outside the train station, and wait, and wait, and wait…this option is looking better.

You would have to be either blind or constantly have your eyes behind the lens of a camera, not to notice the billions of bike riders in Amsterdam. Whether you are young or old, in a suit or in high heels, you ride a bike. Car parks don’t exist here; instead layers on layers of parking levels are full to the brim with bikes. The combination of steel bars near steel bars makes it look like an orderly and arranged scap metal yard.

That’s it. I find the nearest bike rental place and pay my deposit. Unfortunately that hire place is the local store around the corner. The shop seems a bit dodgy with its small size, yellow walls and its owner who speaks broken English. He has his shirt buttoned only up to the navel, revealing a heavily haired chest with beads of sweat making their silent but painfully noticeable way down his chest. My travel guide tells me of the best places to get a bike, but I have no idea how to get to them and I am too impatient to work it out. The sweaty man wheels out my bike.

Super! Sure it doesn’t look like much, its metal is a bit rusty around the edges, they have obviously tried to paint it red but age and constant wear has caused it to flake away leaving only patches of colour but then at the rate that bikes are stolen in Amsterdam, fashion really is of worthless value.
My tummy vibrates and lets out the earthquake grumble telling me it is time to go home and eat.
I suddenly realise I have no idea where am I or how to get home. Better still… where home is!
In all the excitement of arriving I had forgotten to look where we went to go home. The whole of Amsterdam, the tall old buildings that surround me, the cobblestones that mosaic under my feet and the crowds and masses of faces, cornering every section of my vision (none familiar and without a single hope that they could be), suddenly spin. My vulnerability, my weakness and my sense of being alone, all cyclone as tears swell in my eyes.

No! I can still be that strong, assertive and independent traveller I thought I was. I rip the city map out of the travel guide. Now I knew that the tram we took was the 20, and do remember taking it to its last stop.
The street in front of me has a tram stop a few meters ahead. I check the tram plan, my confidence growing. So 20 ends in Stadium Plein. Unfortunately No 20’s left from this stop. I point to where I need to go on my map, and then find where I am at the moment. In between lies a web of circles, curves and canals.

Do you think we should go right or left – I replay that typical, rhetorical question one usually asks one’s travel partner. Usually you know the answer when you ask it but are just seeking confirmation. I search my instincts for that same confirmation…Left.

I take to the road cautiously. BEEEEEPP!!!! Oh sorry, entschuldiung, I mean, eexc…. Shit! I hysterically yell out as a car is forced to swerve onto the other side of the road to avoid me. A distressed and scared look masks my face. My foreigner presence is unveiled. I had hoped to seem like a local. But my lack of riding ability, my snail pace and my refusal to run red lights like the five billion other bike riders on the same path as me, has exposed my non-citizenship more than placing my passport for all to read on every billboard in Amsterdam.

I have absolutely no idea where I am going. I am trying my best not to get worried. Trying my best to ignore that little voice in my head that constantly asks what the hell I think I am doing.
I try to look like the Dutch. There is a red light in front of me. I psyche myself up. Do it Sam, you can do it. I cycle my little legs out, faster, faster. I look right (a natural instinct, even if they drive on the other side of the road here in Europe) then left. Coast is clear, and aaaahhhhh, I speed out in front of the red light. The leather studded goth looking Dutch man on the right of me has decided to follow. I raise my bum off the seat as I see a car to my left heading straight for me. I push a little harder, making sure my feelings of fear and terror are not reflected in my face. The car zooms behind me, not bothering to even beep but I can tell from the short glance I had of his face, he wasn’t happy. I, on the other hand, feel unbelievably happy at this small act of bravery.

I ride over yet another canal. The sun shines on the water, causing every ripple to glisten. The canal is lined with tall, cardboard looking houses and chairs and tables from the waterside cafes are scattered throughout the distance. It has such a rich and trendy presence.

I ride on taking in my surroundings. I notice the sleeky black, dressed man in leather leaning by the canal bridge. He observes all who pass him and reaches into the inside of his jacket only when some young, cute or potential chemical searching person crosses his path. I also take into memory the old thin drunk; his beard is long, tangled and dirty. His face is lined and aged. He holds onto a bike with one hand and holds out the other as he attempts to sell it in the middle of the street. He seems accustomed to the ignorance, supposed invisibility of his presence from all who pass him. He is not frustrated. A professor looking man, with greying white hair and a tweed suit is talking to a dread-locked funkily dressed young girl at the lights. Both are still sitting on their bikes as they chat in depth in Dutch.

I pass over another canal with what seems to be the same view of café tables and glistening water. Am I going in circles? I consult the map and it seems that regardless of my hour on the bike, I am still miles from my destination. Still completely unsure whether this destination is home.
I turn left and see a narrow side street. It curves to the right and so I cannot see where it goes. The buildings canopy overhead. Letting minimal light in but to it optimal effect. My bum vibrates on the seat as I ride over the medley of hand-laid cobblestones. I am too intrigued by the beautiful architectural beauty surrounding me in this new European world to see where I am going. The street narrows as I approach a T-intersection. Left or Right? Right, then left, then right, I care not where I am going as I start to feel less like a tourist until…shit. A dead end. Lost again. A mixture of panic, stress and worry starts to catalyse in my head once more but this time I stubbornly refuse to let them even boil. I turn around, determined, allowing my bearings and instincts once again guide my path.

It starts to subtly grow dark. Old street lamps light my path. They look like forks with glowing circles of white on each spike. Nouveau patterns of flowers circle and strangle its posts, giving it a classic European appearance, far removed from the alien probe metal like lights that shoot unaesthetically from the streets back home. Everything here has a responsibility to be beautiful, no matter how seeming less.
My cycling now has taken on a completely different persona. The once arthritic, slow-paced, in need of training wheels rider has now become a speedy, automobile teasing, law breaking cyclist. I stream through the red lights, zip in and out of the cars and am even brave enough to overtake turning vehicles as if it was the most natural practice in the world. But finally my legs are beginning to ache and my bum starts to feel as though it has had two steel metal rods attached strongly to it all day. It is time to ask someone where on earth I am.

An old couple are sitting outside their house drinking tea. I am in the burbs now. Well, what Amsterdam regards as the burbs. It still has the tall building and metropolitan appeal but the presence of flowerbeds, letterboxes and old couples drinking tea on their doorstep, gives it the suburby, community allure. "Eiiss dass hhiieerr" I don’t know Dutch so I try to combine my English and German in the hope it is understandable. I use hand signals and a form of sign language, which when combined with my slow paced speech makes me appear like something in between a child reciting a play school song with actions and somebody trying to communicate with a deaf Japanese tourist.

The couple look to where I am pointing on the map, the man looks up places his hands on his hips as he arches his back in a thinking stretch pose. He says something to his wife while pointing up the road. There is something about the sound of Dutch that always makes me think I am in trouble or am being yelled at. The tone, the deep gargling sound, I think I am looking scared. The lady argues and points in the opposite direction. The two start squabbling. I am intrigued. Eventually they stop and my thoughts jolt back into the present. The lady, whose face, is aged with wrinkles, and the heavy makeup falls deep into the lines of her face, points up the road and holds two fingers up, then points to the map. Could that mean I only have two streets left?

Suddenly things look a little familiar, I cycle past the grocery store where Flo told me I could get the food. To the right of me there are the tramlines and a tram stop, could that be the No. 20 line? I ask myself as a hint of anticipation and excitement start to fizz inside of me. The buildings look the same but their presence is somewhat recognisable. Suddenly I see the sign Stadium Plein, I take a right hand turn and I just want to scream when I see what I remember as Flo’s street.

A smile reaches from ear to ear; it is so huge it is starting to hurt the sides of my mouth. I feel so silly smiling so much, but nothing can possibly make it go away. "how on earth…" I choke to myself. Everything starts to happen in slow motion now. It is as if the narrow street is lined with an audience each standing and cheering, patting me on the back as I cycle through. I hope off my bike, and stare up to Flo’s house in wander and amazement, as if I was seeing the Colosseum or the Louvre for the very first time. My bravery has caused my insecurities to subside and my independence to shout determination and gallantry from my eyes. They are wide open with valour and my face radiates with a sense of self-pride I haven’t felt for a long while. I just want to shout out to everybody that I made it, on my own. The mere knowledge that I had done it and the enjoyment of this wide range of feelings I am experiencing at this very moment are enough for me.

I go to the door and pull out my keys, my hunger suddenly hits stronger than before as I begin to hope that Flo has left some food in his apartment. I am fumbling with the keys, trying each one in the lock, both upside down and right way up, but with no luck. Perhaps there is a trick involved, I ask myself as I try the collection of keys for the third time.
Just then in almost freakishly coincidental timing my mobile rings. It’s Flo. He is back at the station. He has just discovered he has given me the wrong set of keys.

© Samantha Derrick November 2003
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Samantha C Derrick

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