Jan, tell us something about your early years and Jan the non-traveller.
As a kid I loved being outside, building huts and roaming the wild places around the village where I lived in the northwest of The Netherlands. I actually was really into birdwatching when I was around 9 years old. In hindsight quite unusual, I was always the youngest on twitching tours organised by the local birding association (in fact, most were pensioners!). Although I don’t twitch anymore that kid inside me that wants to go out and explore never left me. Currently, I live in Beirut, Lebanon with my wife and two young boys. Our youngest son is 6 months now (born in Beirut) so travel is a bit on hold although we do travel quite a bit as a family. My wife is the career maker and I am a house dad at the moment, mostly writing about the trips that I have done. I just finished the manuscript for a trekking guide to Tajikistan and the Afghan Wakhan Corridor, due to be published in autumn by Cicerone Press.
Tell us a story from your first travels that has a great impact on that who you are today.
My parents took me and my sister on holidays but these were always domestic. The first time I went abroad was at age 15 to Mallorca. This is where I did my first hike to this magical mountain I saw. I never made it to the mountain but the seed for my love for mountains was planted. It did take another 8 years before I went on my first hiking trip to the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. Fast forward, now I work as a mountain professional, guiding groups in the Greater Ranges and the Middle East. Seeing that mountain on Mallorca was definitely a defining moment for who I am right now.
What do you pack first for travelling, besides a toothbrush?
That really depends on what kind of trip I go on. With the family, it’s probably nappies J. On a mountain trip I usually take my SPOT satellite messenger. I tend to go to pretty obscure mountain areas and it offers peace of mind for the people back home. Plus if the shit hits the fan I can trigger a rescue operation. I never had to use it and knock on wood I hope I never will.
Which country makes the best coffee or tea?
A bit of a cliche but the Italians do make the best coffee on the planet. I lived in Tunisia for a while and we would always go to Italy, partly for the food (and coffee). I love the mint teas they make in Morocco, I am a sweet tooth. But the best cuppa I have ever had was in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, made by shepherds in the mountains. It was proper Indian Chai and I was on my way down because the monsoon rains came in that night. Maybe it was because I was chilled to the bone but man that was a good brew!
What’s been your scariest moment?
I went overland from Istanbul to Ladakh in 2005 and passed through Cappadocia. I thought it would be cool to sleep in a cave so I packed a small pack and found a cave at the end of a walking trail. I was alone, great sunset and all. But at night I got completely paranoid that somebody had followed me or seen me. The cave was on a cliff and small so a bit of a trap. I was convinced that somebody would come around to kill me, irrational as it may have been. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night.
What’s the worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
I can’t recall anyone giving me bad travel advice. Sometimes I do get annoyed by government travel advice that seems to lack nuance. I know they have to deal with their nationals who get in trouble but sometimes I have a feeling they don’t really know what the situation is on the ground. A better safe than sorry approach instead of knowing what the security situation actually is. It’s always good to do your own homework as well when you travel to a country with a bad reputation. There are always regions that are peaceful and relatively safe (like Bamian in Afghanistan and Kurdistan in Iraq).
What is the worst dish you’ve tried on your travels?
I really can’t remember. I never had the honour to eat raw gut or eyeball.
If you were condemned to one country for the rest of your life, which one would you choose and why?
Ha, nice one. The first thing that comes up is a country like Nepal. But I’d miss having the ocean near. Perhaps is my answer a little boring but New Zealand really has it all. Stunning mountains, sweet rolling hills with vineyards, ocean and endless pristine beaches. It pretty much goes from sub-tropic to sub-Antarctic. What else could you wish for?
What is the plan for your next destination?
Personal trips are on hold for this year as we may move out of Lebanon. It could be somewhere in Central Africa or South Asia. Moving country with young kids and a cat is an adventure in itself I can assure you.
Finally, our signature question – if you could invite four people to dinner from any period in history, who would you invite and why?
All personal heroes of mine.
He is probably responsible for the preservation of many wilderness areas around the globe. Such a visionary, pushing for the creation of Yosemite to become the world’s first national park in the 19th century, when there was still lots of wild places.
He’s a Norwegian scientist and explorer and probably one of the greatest explorers of all time. He wanted to prove Polynesians originated from South America and as a scientist wanted to prove this by building a replica and sail it across the Pacific. Such courage. He must have had so many good stories to tell.
I’m a Beatles fan to start with. But apart from a brilliant songwriter, John Lennon was such an independent thinker. I’m sure he would make great conversation at the dinner table.
He’s the founder of the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia (still alive). Chouinard is leading the way if it comes to running a business while trying to minimise the impact of that business and its products. Read Let my people go surfing, very inspiring.
The photos in this interview are from Jan’s personal collection and we thank him for sharing them with us at NomadMania!