Dirk Jan Roeleven en Hester van der Vliet
De laatste reis van de boswachter
Van Amsterdam naar Tokyo, zonder kinderen maar met elkaar
An adventure-packed travel memoir about love, happiness and raw grief
It is an absolutely insane project: a couple, both in their late fifties, together for decades, decides to take their old banger, a third-hand Japanese Subaru, back to the place where it was manufactured. Spontaneously, because they don’t feel like dumping the car at the scrapyard after so many years of loyal service. And what’s more: ‘The lack of a reason is a good impetus to do something, I think. Futility as meaning.’ Friends respond with admiration, envy and disbelief: ‘Everyone dreams of doing something like this, but you go and do it.’ And off they go – driving their 17-year-old Subaru Forester back to the factory in Tokyo.
With 500,000 kilometres on the clock and music blaring, they drive through rivers, cross mud flats and sand dunes, on Russian asphalt, Kazakh steppe highways and Mongolian desert roads, all the way to Vladivostok, where they take the ferry to Japan. The distance totals over 23,000 kilometres, without air conditioning or any real knowledge of car maintenance. The hero of the story is, of course, the Forester, who drags them through deserts, even if there is no road at all, who sometimes splutters during heavy downpours, but otherwise takes all of it on without any problems. Sometimes everything comes together and fortune favours them, as it does upon arrival in the city of Khabarovsk. ‘The weather is mild and sunny, the road is approaching perfection, the rolling countryside is covered in birch forests and there is hardly any traffic. Life smiles at us.’
But there is more at stake. If two people find themselves side by side in the car for days upon end, it provides the opportunity to address long unspoken grievances. In this case, their involuntary childlessness. Dirk Jan’s sorrow has been gnawing away in the background. They did want children, but not at any cost, and gave up after three failed attempts at IVF. They moved on and enjoyed a good life, with travel and interesting jobs. Their circle of friends split, the people with children dropped out, the friends without children remained. On this road trip, they can finally have a long-delayed conversation and address latent regret. The journey not only provides new vistas, but also closure: by bringing home and saying goodbye to their Subaru in Japan, they also bury the trauma of their childlessness.