So yes, this weblog will be in English from now on. The change of language is indicative of other changes, and the fact that, after well over a year of radio silence, the weblog is brought back to life can be seen as a sign of new energy and new purpose.

For those of you not familiar with the history: ten years ago, I quit a highly professional and extremely well-paid job, cancelled the lease on my apartment, got rid of all belongings except for diving gear and essentials such as clothing, a laptop computer and a camera, and wandered off into the world I had left behind when, as a young man, that same professional, well-paying job had beckoned and made me decide to stop travelling. Charlotte had encouraged me to ‘just do it’ and she joined me a year and a half later.

We have done a lot since then. We have travelled by buses, trains and aeroplanes, we have cycled, sailed, skied, dived, taken language courses. All that time was spent in Asia and, to a lesser degree, in Europe. We haven’t even had time to visit other continents yet.

Over the years though, there was a growing realisation that I was trying to connect with a world in which I had travelled for two years, three decades earlier, but which no longer existed. And for all sorts of reasons, in the end I once again found myself owning stuff, shouldering responsibilities and facing obligations that had crept up on me. Almost imperceptibly, life was returning to the way it had been before, to what I had wanted to leave behind.

And so came the time, once again, to shed. This time, even the diving gear, laptop computer and camera have gone. True, I still own a bicycle, although that is stored in the Netherlands and I haven’t used it in years. And I still own some skiing gear, which is stored in France and which I do use when I’m there. Other than that, all that is left is a small backpack, the size of carry-on luggage, containing some clothing, a smartphone and a tablet. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is irreplaceable. And there is no home.

Now what? Find progression, purpose, a narrative. Travel, stay for a while, travel on. No constraints. Possessions form a constraint, you tend to get attached to them. They’re gone, that’s settled, no regrets. No unattainable goals, either. I have wanted to learn to speak all the languages of the world, but found that intensive language courses tend to yield good results only for the first two months or so. Another thing: it had seemed necessary to choose between two forms of travel: being on the move all the time, or do shorter trips and not move at all: two months here, three months there. Why not combine these two, naturally, integrate them harmoniously? Why not find a flow in which both moving and staying have their place?

One of my favorite trips in the past ten years was when we had stayed in the Netherlands just long enough to have touring bicycles made to order and we then set out, in autumn, in a southerly direction, with no other plan than to head for warmer climes. Wintry conditions in Spain made us decide to stay in Valencia for three months, take Spanish lessons and witness what was to become an uncontested highlight: the fallas, before continuing in the spring via Italy and Greece to Turkey. There had never been a plan, we cycled when we wanted and stopped for a while when that seemed like a good idea. Oh, to be able to carry on like that for years!

Then one day, I woke up lying on a country road in central Turkey, unable to remember what had happened and bleeding profusely from a head wound. After I was patched up in the local hospital it became clear that my bicycle had been bent out of shape and carrying on was out of the question. The narrative was shattered.

The full significance of that accident would only become clear over time. We retreated to South-East Asia, started renting an apartment in Penang that was to be a base for two-month, three-month trips in the region, started accumulating stuff, and what had been a narrative turned into a series of short stories.

When returning to Malaysia after a trip to somewhere else, there was always enough to look forward to: the food, the mix of cultures, the laid-back attitude of the locals.

But.

The time we spent in Malaysia led to my fear of motorists, brought on mainly by the accident in Turkey and a few incidents that happened not long after that, developing into a full-fledged phobia.

In Malaysia, like in other countries in the region (with the notable exception of Singapore), people are allowed to drive cars and ride motorcycles in much the same way that a child could be allowed to play with a loaded gun. Whichever way you look at it, the analogy fits.

The country’s lawmakers are unconcerned with road safety matters and the police seldom enforce the laws that do exist. Add to that a general human tendency to be careless when behind the wheel (do we need to remind people not to play with their smartphones while driving?) and a pervasive, endemic sort of incompetence that exists and is accepted in much of South-East Asia, and it becomes inevitable that Malaysia’s road safety record, while not as horrific as that of neighbouring Thailand, figures grimly in the WHO’s report on global road safety.

As a pedestrian in an almost entirely motorised country, I began to feel like an endangered species every time I ventured out to go shopping or get something to eat, and I became acutely aware that there is no place for pedestrians on Malaysia’s roads. (Cue in Anne Robinson: ‘You are the weakest link. Goodbye!’)

I did not want to be there. I did not want to keep returning there. Come to think of it, something had been bothering me for much longer. I looked at the clothes in my wardrobe and started to throw out what I had not worn for a while. Then looked at books that just stood there on the shelf, and gave them to a second-hand bookshop. And slowly, things started to fall into place. By the time Charlotte came back from her dive instructor courses in Thailand, my mind was made up.

I probably should have consulted her. Then again, this was not a matter that could be discussed and adapted, there was never going to be a compromise. This was not just important to me, this was vital. It had to happen. No more apartment in Malaysia. No more obligations. No more possessions. Back to the lofty ideals of ten years ago, with a better understanding of their implications and of the traps that lie in wait.

We flew to Europe to spend two months skiing and hiking in the French Alps. Soon now, we’ll be off to Cape Town, to start a two month trip in a 4×4 camping vehicle through South-Africa, Lesotho, Botswana and Namibia. After that, I may stay on in southern Africa or join Charlotte on a flight back to Europe and tackle a part of European hiking trail GR5, from ChΓ’tel, a bit south of Lake Geneva, to the Mediterranean, while she spends time with her ageing mother.

All these flights are, admittedly, still a long way from a continuous narrative. Short stories again, so soon after the ‘reset’… But we had been promising ourselves the skiing and 4×4 camping for some time. And there are other arguments. The Africa trip is not only likely to be memorable, it will also be a test: we may, one day, buy a 4×4 and live and travel in that. And the prospect of hiking through the Alps, with no cars or other traffic, with nights spent in a tent at altitude and in sublime solitude, with the beauty of effort and scenery and with descents into villages to stock up and enjoy a hearty meal, is… something to look forward to.

Top left: Dents du Midi. Bottom right: Morgins. As seen from the aptly named Pointe de Bellevue.