A biking & barging trip in the Netherlands and Belgium can be the most wonderful way to see those beautiful and history-filled countries. You have the freedom a bike gives to pursue what interests you might have and the a wonderful floating hotel to return to when day is done. Of course, there is the constraint of having to be where the always moving barge will be at a designated time.
Our bike-master provided each of us with maps of the day's outings and the times we had to arrive at each port. What you cannot control is the staff on the barge. Ape, our guide, was brand-new at the job. He had never guided anyone anywhere on foot, on a bike, in a car—no guiding experience at all. He had been, until a few weeks before, a college professor in Japan teaching mathematics and English language and literature. Having just brought his family home to Holland, he had been unable to find a position where he could continue teaching—not even at the high school level. Something about certificates he did not possess having lived abroad so long. He could ride a bike & speak English: those were his only qualifications for the guide job on the barge.
Ape was a wonderful person, friendly, intelligent, eager to please. BUT he was not a guide. But we had our maps in place on the handlebars and were ready to follow Ape like good little ducklings.
Within the first 400 yards, and just out of sight of the barge, we were hopelessly lost. The map made no sense to any of us and Ape had no clue how to find the route. Map-reading was not his strength - that was clear. We started and stopped at every corner on the roadway trying to ascertain where we were. Ape became more desperate every minute, sputtering in every language he knew: Japanese, Dutch, English, German and some French. But nothing helped. We didn't even know how to get back to the mooring of the barge which wouldn't have helped much since it had already moved on.
A good hour passed and we were no closer to the route. By now we were all a bit anxious thinking we were going to miss the barge this early in the game. But rescue was nearer than we could hope. The bike-master was driving a sag wagon near the route and somehow spotted us blundering around turning this way and that with Ape just waving his hands in the air, gesturing turn left and then turn right and getting us nowhere except more lost.
We were all laughing and worrying at the same time. But then we were rescued and put on the correct pathway. A lovely morning ride ensued. But despite several rides and much tutoring, Ape never did figure out how to read the maps. Finally he was assigned to driving the sag wagon while the bike-master led the next few rides and all went well. Once we had become used to the maps, we could ride at our own pace.
Poor Ap: he turned out to be as terrible driver as he had been an incompetent guide. When it was his turn to drive the sag wagon, he would get lost just as he did on the bikes. But worse than that were his frightening driving habits. People who wanted to use the sag wagon never repeated that request twice. It only took one ride with Ape to convince them that no matter how tired they might be, they should just stay in the saddle. He didn't use proper signals to other drivers, he would just stop in traffic as he tried to figure out where to go next, he swerved in and out of lanes, he drove too fast for the conditions. Horrifying.
We often wondered what happened to Ape after that first guiding experience. He had been hired for several different trips the company was running. How can we believe that they kept him on after the nearly disastrous Trip # 1. This position was not one where the employee should learn on the job! We hope he has happily returned to the classroom!