Storyteller Karin-Marijke | Notes On Slow Travel Blog

Karin-Marijke in Bushcamp, Vietnam

Today’s Culture with Travel interview is with Karin-Marijke Vis, the founder of 

Tell us a bit about yourself! Why do you love travel? How do you think travel unites us or teaches us more about the world?

I had a deep down curiosity about the world when I was little; Tibet and Machu Picchu were on my list at a very young age, I remember. However, those dreams faded away as I grew older. Then I met Coen. We lived 200 kilometers apart and saw each other the weekends. The relationship did not have much of a chance and he decided to travel the world.

Fortunately, he asked me if I wanted to join him. I said yes and on a whim decided to sell all I own, give up my job and so-called securities for a life to the unknown. The travel bug hit fast and steadily. After 14 years of living and traveling in Asia & South America in a beat-up Land Cruiser, we’re still going strong.

Karin-Marijke swimming with Dolphins in Brazil’s Amazon
Karin-Marijke swimming with Dolphins in Brazil’s Amazon. Photo by Coen Wubbels

While I believe ‘the’ media often depicts real images and true stories, they tell one side of the story. The one about misery, war, terrorism, violence, poverty, cruelty; about how different ‘the other’ is (whether persons, culture, race, continent, etc). This is negative energy that creates unkind and very selective thoughts.

Travel, I believe, is the ultimate way to see there is another side to each coin. That we, as humanity, share more than that we are divided Click To Tweet: The majority of people in the world want peace, happiness, stability, shelter, food, access to health care, education, and a better life for that kids.

We come across these common denominators in all 30+ countries we have traveled to, including the ones that in the western (my) world are perceived as dangerous: Iran, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela, for example. While sightseeing gets you far in teaching you about other cultures, the way to see – and especially FEEL – how united we are, is to go out and meet people. Chat, ask questions and respond to theirs (curiosity is often mutual), share a meal.

At one point I started a series on my notesonslowtravel website, about Acts of Kindness, which give a feel how small gestures can be so big and contribute to sharing and seeing the beautiful and good in each other.

What surprising aspect of culture do you love about where you’re from that travelers may not be aware of?

My city is not of interest to travelers, but the region – Twente – is not on the travelers’ radar and I believe it should be. Twente is the eastern section of the Netherlands, bordering Germany (two hours of driving east of Amsterdam), and it is mind-blowing beautiful. Very green, even a bit hilly (very unusual in the Netherlands), beautiful old farms, well maintained villages with centuries-old architecture and some with cobbled stones, Medieval churches. It is a great region for cycling and biking. Add it to your list!

Which dish do you feel best represents where you’re specifically from? Share a picture and tell us why you love it!

Traditionally the Dutch are potato eaters: a plate consists (I’d say largely consisted) of boiled potatoes, boiled vegetables and meat/chicken. That type of dish has largely disappeared from the Dutch household, and pasta and rice often have replaced the potatoes.

Traditional meals that are still very popular, especially in winter, are boiled potatoes mixed with sauerkraut (stampot zuurkool), kale (stamppot boerenkool), raw endives (andijvie stamppot), or onion and carrot (hutspot). All are eaten with gravy.

In my memories these meals are part of dark, cold winters with short days, of getting together for dinner and enjoying a good family meal. For me eating these meals are about gezelligheid. It is a Dutch word for the type of atmosphere which sort of, but never adequately, translates as coziness / warmth / pleasantness Click To Tweet.

The first 2 are my favorites and traditionally eaten with rookworst  and bacon. However, since I don’t eat animal foods I’ll replace those with fried bananas or pineapple (with zuurkool) or mushrooms (with boerenkool).

Rookworst. Photo by Coen Wubbels

When I return to the Netherlands for a visit, it’s generally spring or summer. No kale available anymore but sauerkraut is. I insist on eating stamppot zuurkool at least once, no matter the outside temperature.

Share about a custom/tradition you observe, and talk about the role of family in your life. What does family mean to you?

My family bond is strong, which is why I return home at least once a year for a couple of weeks, during which we will stay with my parents (Coen’s parents live 10 kilometers away, so that’s easy). We are very much a traditional family although that has nothing to do with observing customs or traditions. I (we) don’t have any of that. But when our family likes something we just keep on doing the same thing (call it lazy if you like). E.g. we’ve eaten the above-mentioned zuurkool or boerenkool for second Christmas Day (Dec 26; yes we have two Christmas Days) for decades. We have eaten the same appetizers, which we make ourselves, for special occasions for decades as well. Now that I come to think of it, I should do a blog post on that 🙂

Art and dance can tell a deeper story about local culture. Tell us the story of a specific artwork or dance that has a meaning for you. Share a photo, if you can. (i.e. street art, festivals, paintings, architecture, woven artwork, a family heirloom, etc.)  

Across the world we have seen many beautiful artworks. The woven cloths of the Andes come to mind and embroidery at a hacienda in Ecuador come to mind, but also how a Frenchman goes through great length to make the best chocolate by hand (read about it here). What is there not to like about chocolate, right? But to see a man being so dedicated to making the best of the best was very touching and added emotional value to the product.

Languages not only give us the power to communicate but also can unite us across cultures. Share a favorite saying you have, or teach us something in your native language. 

I love the Thai saying (or at least I remember Thai people saying this a lot): “Same, same, but different.” It relates to what I talked about in the beginning. We have different cultures yet are very similar. In discussions about this topic I find myself often using this say, “Ah, same same but different.” Which resonates.

Words you will come across in the Netherlands that are very much part of our culture:

Leuk. Many things are leuk – fun, nice, great, Your clothes can be leuk, an activity can be leuk, going on vacation can be leuk, starting a new school year can be leuk.

Gezellig/gezelligheid. I mentioned it before. We LOVE gezelligheid. A bar, dark and full with people chatting and having a drink can be gezellig, having a picnic in a forest can be gezellig, going shopping with friends can be gezellig. I guess it has to do with an atmosphere in which people come together (they may know each other but don’t have to).

Have you ever met a stranger during your travels who made an impact on your life in a certain way, or maybe it was you who helped someone else? Share the story! 

When we were in Iran I got an email telling me my father had had a heart attack. Obviously I wanted to go home, but couldn’t. Credit cards and ATMs being a no-go in Iran and we had just sufficient US dollars for our 3 month-travel there. A stranger offered to pay our fare, which was 1500 dollars or so. On our return, when paying it back, we learned the money was the equivalent of a 6-month salary for him and he had borrowed in from 20 people!

That is the story in a nutshell, but you can read the full story in my book soon to be published, so follow me on or our Facebook page.

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