It was September of 2017 and I was on my last month of pregnancy when we got a request on Couchsurfing from a German couple traveling in Greece by their camper van. Our first thought, of course, was „wow, they travel in a camper van, what a dream! “So, we immediately agreed to host Reinhild and Robert at our house in Thessaloniki. They stayed with us just one night, but it felt like we knew each other for ages. Both at their 50s, full of energy and intelligence, passionate travelers and nature lovers, with decades full of adventures. We had a traditional Greek dinner and were just talking, talking, and talking until very late at night.
We knew this meeting would not be the only one. We kept in touch and in December 2018, the 3 of us visited their house for several days, while exploring German Christmas markets. Reinhild and Robert live in a tiny village of 350 inhabitants, 5 minutes’ drive from Forchheim and 20 minutes drive from Nurnberg.
Reinhild is always smiley and full of energy. She is one of those multi-talented people with a wide range of interests. She is a great cook and her Christmas cookies (12 types every year!) were just a piece of art. Reinhild loves music and plays in a string quartet and a cello quartet in their village. Every week she sings in a choir, and every (or almost every) morning she is going for a run with a good friend of hers. Reinhild told us that her best moment of the day, now that her two grown-up children have left the house, is to enjoy her morning coffee with a daily newspaper.
Robert leaves at 7.30 a.m. to go to work. He looks like what German people should look, in my opinion. Always calm, unflappable, and with a reasoned opinion about everything. He likes drinking beer and loves delicious dinners that Reinhild prepares when he is back from work. Moreover, he is a hunter, and we were honored to taste deer meat that he brought home upon our arrival.
Being parents of a 1+ year old, there are not many options on how to spend the evening, since our child goes to bed at 7-8 p.m. At Reinhild and Robert’s house, we found our peace talking about their life, habits, and German traditions.
Robert got a chance of a 2-month internship in Johannesburg (South Africa), when studying at the university. At that time, he saw several places in Botswana and Namibia and this is how he fell in love with traveling. Until now he has been in more than 15 African countries, among many others all over the world. Reinhild, in her turn, was passionate about traveling long before she had a real chance to go somewhere. Being a little girl, she used to go to the public library and borrow books about other countries, dreaming of being there. On her 3-weeks-language course in London, she got in touch for the first time with non-European cultures: walking in Chinatown, tasting real Indian food, meeting people from all over the world.
It is not surprising that, when they met each other, they started exploring the neighboring countries together, going hiking in Alps and planning, planning, planning big trips.
‘’Οur first big trip was 1990 a 3-month-tour through South-East-Asia, starting in Thailand, including Malaysia and discovering many Indonesian Island like Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi, Java, Bali, Komodo. “
Those good old times
Even though we do not feel any age difference when talking with Reinhild and Robert, each time we hear about this or that trip, 20 or even 30 years ago, so many questions come to our mind. How traveling was back then? How much more difficult it was? How did it change?
Robert: “Travelling has become so easy now! When we were in China in the mid-90s, nearly nobody spoke English. We had to learn some phrases in Mandarin to manage the basics like ordering food, staying in a hostel, traveling by bus or train. To buy a ticket at the railway station you had to queue up in a very long line in front of a counter. Of course, the name of the destination was written only in Chinese letters. And then you had to communicate in Chinese to get the desired ticket. Bargaining at the markets had to be done in Chinese, too.
Nowadays you can organize most things via the internet. Many people in the tourism industry speak English, even German. On booking.com or Airbnb it is so simple to find suitable accommodation. In the first years of our traveling we had to go from hostel to hostel and ask personally if they have a room left. We had no mobile phone and no foreign SIM cards …and – incredible – it worked, too!”
Reinhild: “We do not mind that it is easier now, maybe it is a little bit less adventurous than 30 years ago. On the other hand, the internet offers new experiences like “Couchsurfing” which, of course, did not exist 30 years ago. And this is still exciting! “
Traveling with kids
Some people tell us that traveling with a child is a dangerous, unnecessary, strange, new fashion, or whatever. Maybe they would be surprised to learn that 30 years ago people used to travel with their kids too (and back then it was way more difficult, I suppose). Anyhow, traveling with kids is neither new, nor unusual. Reinhild and Robert even did hitchhiking in Turkey. Twice!
Reinhild: “We were traveling by public transport and missed the bus from Milet to Didyma. Although our children were very young (1 3/4 and 3) we decided to try hitchhiking. And one of the first cars that passed, stopped, and gave us a ride. The driver was extremely friendly and even had some sweets for our kids.”
Robert: “Second time, our children were a little bit older, we were in Anatolia and needed transport, but there was no bus at all. We hitchhiked too, and the driver spoke German very well! He asked us where we come from and when we answered “Bavaria”, he wanted to know which town. Then we said “Nürnberg”. He asked if we are exactly from this city. We said “no, we live near Forchheim”, then he started laughing and told us, that he is from Forchheim, too! He even knew the little village where we live! It was so funny that we met him in the middle of nowhere in Anatolia.”
Articles about fascinating once-in-a-lifetime experiences flooded our world. So we often ask our fellow-travelers, if they have any unforgettable horrible stories. Definitely people associate traveling with some extra uncertainties and risks. In our experience, most trips are just fine, without any serious complications. But, sometimes things get out of our control.
Two strangers robbed Reinhild and Robert’s family in Namibia on the very first day in the country. In the middle of the day, the scene that we sometimes see in the movies became their reality.
“It was a classical robbery in a lonely area in Windhoek. “ – Reinhild explains to us excited and nervous in the same time. „There were two young guys that robbed our camera-bag exactly the moment I entered the car. I tried to resist, but they both grabbed and pulled it, so it was impossible for me to keep it.
When our son tried to help me, both guys took out their knives and threatened him and me. Then everything went very fast.
In the end, they had our bag and ran very fast to their escape-car. The unbelievable fact is, that we ran after them and tried to catch them, but they were faster. Our camera was gone, but also our tickets, our passports, a credit card and about 100 € in cash. Luckily, we still had a second camera and one more credit card. We got back our passports from the German embassy in Windhoek.
The first impulse of our kids (15 and 16 at this time) was that they wanted to go back home. But we told them that we still have 4 weeks of holidays. „Do you really want to spend all this time at home, without having watched the Namib desert, elephants, lions, zebras and Victoria falls? “- I asked them. “Should we accept that the thieves spoiled our desired trip to Africa?”
Thus, we tried “pushing the reset button” and, eventually, it was a wonderful trip. Everybody was happy that we did not go back home.”
Reinhild, Robert, and their kids spent 4 amazing weeks in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe with fantastic wildlife experiences in beautiful nature. And they met very friendly and helpful people, too. For their family this was extreme, but connecting experience.
„Of course we were thinking and talking a lot about all this, during the whole trip, but nobody was hurt and this was the most important thing.“
Later, Robert told us that he has been in Namibia twice. Once during his internship and then 25 years later with his family. Though it is a real luxury to visit the same country several times, we find it very interesting, especially when there is significant time span between the visits. So, we asked for his opinion, how the feeling was during the second visit.
„The country has really changed. When I was there for the first time there was a small white colour minority ruling a big coloured majority, and the government was very much dependent of the apartheid system of the South Africa. Nowadays Namibia is ruled mostly by natives, there is no apartheid system anymore, black and white people live side by side mostly without problems. That is a very nice change to see. “
Nowadays, Reinhild works as a volunteer in an association of hospices. Such volunteers take care of people that are supposed to be in the last period of their life due to their age or their illness. When there is no therapy left to help them and doctors can just give palliative medicine, Reinhild visit patients and spend time with them.
“Most people during this time don’t want to be alone, but there is not always a family member or a nurse who has spare time for them. So, we go there.”
Reinhild did not work there her entire life. Now, that her children grew up and everything is stable in her routine, she thought to do something meaningful for society. She went for a 6-months course, where she was prepared for such a difficult job, including some weeks of practice.
“What I do there can be so different, depending on the person. Some of them want to talk, maybe complain or just to review their life, tell stories from the past or about their children, whatever.
If I visit people who suffer from dementia it can be difficult to talk with them. So, in this situation, I realized that it can be helpful to sing with them or to read fairy tales. Or just hold their hands… It is a challenge for me to find out what is best for every person to create a pleasant atmosphere. And all of them are so thankful!”
Life of each person could be a book and there is never enough time to discuss everything. We spent hours talking and found out so many fascinating facts about these people, their family, German traditions, and their life path.
What we wanted to share in this article is that traveling is not something new. It is just something that became easy and affordable for many people in developed and some developing countries nowadays. Traveling is not necessarily about going somewhere far away, but it is definitely about curiosity, love for knowledge, and readiness to open your mind to something different. Traveling is mostly about acceptance.
Since the old ages, traveling connects people who may look different, speak different languages, believe in different gods, but in the end, we are all afraid and impressed by the same things. We all love our families and build our own small universes around them. And when we get old one day, all we need is someone by our side to hear our stories.