The International Writers Magazine: Travel Around The World
For Free with Ramon- From our Archives
around the world for free
media all over the world called him the world's greatest freeloader;
others saw him as a pioneer who took full advantage of the possibilities
of the internet. In two years Ramon Stoppelenburg traveled through
The Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Ireland, Scotland,
Denmark, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Spain, Australia and Canada.
Thanks to sponsors
and the media who praised him for his clever thinking and his own website:
www.letmestayforaday.com, on which people from all over the world could
invite him over to stay for a day. Travel companies flown him around
the world for free. Television shows clamored to have him as a guest.
Sponsors gave him gadgets. He was the Internet's first travel celebrity,
according to the British Sunday Times. Hundreds of thousands logged
on to his daily reports and followed the adventures of the 'freeloader'
After more than two years Ramon Stoppelenburg had enough. The same media
that carried him on their hands, made it impossible to be a normal guest
at people's homes: he became too famous - even had to say no to a guest
appearance in Jay Leno's Tonight Show.
In the book "Letmestayforaday" Ramon Stoppelenburg relates
about the fascinating experiences with Spanish night trains, tropical
Australian islands, the cold Canadian North, the madness of the media,
drunken hosts in Ireland, farting South African elephants, but also
about toothache, spoiled tourists and dead kangaroos.
An extract follows
Inverness I traveled through the Scottish Highlands to Fort William.
My host in Inverness, a Norwegian flight courier, took me halfway
down along the water of Loch Ness, from where a primary school headmaster
from Australia stopped along the road to give me a lift to Fort
William. It took me two days to get away from the quaint little
place Fort William is one of Scotlands tourist hot
spots with an image as if the Dutch draftsman Anton Pieck would
have painted it.
A lonely ski lift
on a green hill even makes it one of five places in the Scottish mountains
where you can ski in winter. It had never occurred to me that people
could ski in Scotland! Scotland goes, as worldwide known, with rain,
but in the Highlands this rain turns to snow in winter. The Scots even
taught me a practical proverb: If you cant see the hills, it is
raining. If you can see the hills, it will rain soon.
After one night in Fort William I tried catching a lift south. I spent
more than four hours in the pouring rain and got used to the idea that
no-one wanted to offer me a ride. I gave up for that day and was lucky
enough to be able to spend another night with my host family in Fort
The following day there was hail in the early morning, pouring rain
the rest of the morning and just a little bit of sunshine in the afternoon.
Scotland is a funny country weather-wise.
I was given a lift by a guy from Wales, whod spent the weekend
in the far north. He could use some company during the more than four
hundred kilometer journey down South. Driving though the last bits of
the Highlands, breathing the clean air and looking through valleys of
lakes and rivers, we finally approached Glasgow, where I spent the night.
While heading southbound I was the dreary mountain scenery turn into
the lush green hills of the Scottish Lowlands. That is where I met a
truly fascinating person.
I was picked up from a spot by the motorway by Douglas, whose two loudly
barking dogs didnt allow me to sit in front, so I sat in the back
of the van. From the exit to the old mining village of Elvanfoot we
drove westwards to reach a place which, by Douglas account, was
called Daer. It wasnt on my map of the United Kingdom but, according
to Douglas, Daer used to be a lively market village for the local farmers.
Nowadays, its nothing much, he told me. Theres
one house left, and one school.
Douglas had invited me to Daer, but hadnt told me that he lived
in the school.
Great, isnt it? he asked me while he unlocked the
chain lock on the front door and letting me in. Squatted it myself!
I walked through a long corridor of what had clearly been a school once.
One of the classrooms had broken windows and was filled with junk. Thats
Next, I entered a classroom with pieces of cardboard and carpet on the
walls. Obviously, this was the living room. In the middle there was
a small wood stove. A number of windows had cracks in them, which were
taped over with sticky tape to keep the draught out. There was no running
water anymore, since the plumber had refused to return after his first
visit. Douglas water was supplied by a creek behind the building
and his fresh drinking water came from the single house across the road.
Electricity was generated by a diesel generator outside.
While my host made coffee, I wondered why anyone would want to live
as isolated as this with no modern facilities.
a gold panner, Douglas said, exposing an uneven set of yellow
teeth in his mouth. Very few people know, but theres
lots of gold hidden in the soil of Scotland and Wales.
He told me how every day he takes his dogs down to several streams
nearby. In the middle of small river he digs into the ground with
his hand. Everything he digs up, he studies for traces of gold dust
in a pan.
if I find a tiny amount, I know Im in the right place, he
said. That way I know there must be grains of real gold upstream,
which could lead me to nuggets.
Douglas sipped his coffee. But that hasnt happened yet.
He wore a chain around his neck made of his favorite grains of gold.
These arent worth much, he said, but if the
golds pure enough, I take it to the city, where I know a man who
can keep my findings a secret and he pays me well. The latter
he said in a whisper.
On the walls hung several large, roughly drawn maps of Britain. On them
dates were written parts were colored purple and green as they had been
scratched on by a small child.
Here, Douglas said when I looked at one of the maps, some
really large nuggets were found here! I came to this area because no
one had found anything here yet. I could be the first. And, you know
what? he said pointing at an area colored purple on the map, Here,
off the coast of Wales theres more gold than you can imagine!
If Im ever able to recover it, Ill be very rich!
During dinner I asked him whether he had always been a gold panner.
I started panning gold for health reasons. I had enough of my
job as a secret agent working for MI5 and MI6.
That really surprised me! Was I seriously having dinner with a retired
I started as a sailor with the Royal Navy, Douglas said. And
because I knew so much about the world, I advised the Ministries of
Foreign Affairs of foreign countries, which is how I ended up in the
So you were a spy?
No, eventually I became a security expert, and Douglas got
all his evidence out. He showed me photographs of himself in a uniform
on big Navy ships and in the dessert of Oman. I designed the infrared
defense line around a secret American army base in England. He
then explained the entire system to me, so I now know everything about
this infrared protection that I now only have to find that secret American
base. To make some money on the side, because I wasnt earning
much, I registered myself for medical tests and was paid well for subjecting
myself to several medicinal tests. Eventually the secret service declared
me unfit. They said Id gone crazy, they said. I was sad, but meanwhile
I knew what was hidden in Britains soil and how I could make lots
of money from it. The only thing I needed to do was find it.
I looked at him as though I believed him, but inside I was laughing
my head off. I didnt doubt this all being his truth, particularly
when he told me how the medicinal tests had ruined his body, but Id
never heard such a bizarre story.
Douglas would have loved to take me on his search for gold, but because
there was the Foot and Mouth Epidemic at the time in 2001, the local
police officer wouldnt allow him to go to his work. I would have
liked to give it a try.
In the morning I skipped the cold shower and after a quick breakfast,
I was ready to depart again. Douglas took me down in his van and - out
of affection for the barking dogs - I sat in the back seat again until
Douglas dropped me off at the motorway. I thanked him for hosting me
for a day and his interesting stories.
On my way to my next destination, I got a lift from a man who, when
was young, had hitchhiked through large parts of Europe. He told me
how he ended up in Amsterdam once and he bought a big bundle of cannabis.
After a while he reached the German border where he was told to either
hand it in or smoke it all. He camped several days at the border and
smoked it. My driver laughed out loud for narrating his discernment
in my home country.
Having picked me up from such a remote spot on the motorway, he wondered
where I came from.
I stayed with a gold panner in Daer, I told him.
Oh no! Not that crazy gold panner? Did he tell you about his meeting
with the Pope? Or about his space missions which were cancelled at the
last minute, or about how he ended the Cold War by just in time connecting
the right phone lines in a submarine in the Atlantic? He also seems
to know where Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley are.
(28) studied journalism in his home country The Netherlands, until he
couldn't stop that itchy feeling called 'travel the world'. During his
travels he wrote a great number of travel chronicles for daily newspapers
in various countries. Nowadays he works at a pub, specialized in relaxing
massages and is a hosts of a travel show on Dutch national radio.
To see how it all began: www.letmestayforaday.com
If you have any questions about foreign the rights of the Dutch bestseller
"Letmestayforaday", you can send an e-mail to the Dutch Publishing
house Nijgh & Van Ditmar at firstname.lastname@example.org, or a fax to 0031205511227.
The book is published in Dutch in The Netherlands in September 2004 and
is about to go into third print. Media about Letmestayforaday.com:
Its the flying Dutchman!
The Citizen, South Africa
© Ramon Stoppelenburg
all rights reserved