Meeting inspiring retirees was a recurring theme during our trip. I traveled extensively as a student, thinking it was my last opportunity before starting a career and a family. I embarked on this family world trip thinking it was a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity. Our encounters around the world demonstrated that you can embark on a new adventure at any stage of your life, and it doesn’t always have to involve travel. I wrote about the lessons we learned from the different au pairs we hosted, about observing my brother’s life in The Netherlands and about the journeys of our dear friend Bart, which still shape his life thirty years later. But most of all, we were in awe of several of the retirees we met along the way, such as the couple we met in Beijing, who travel nine months out each year, and the gray birds we toured with throughout Australia.
The last week in Brazil we spent near Braganca Paulista. There we added two retirees to our inspiration list; both of whom were called Joannes. The first Joannes was my uncle, who moved to Brazil forty-two years ago and recently retired to a coffee farm. He is growing and roasting his own coffee, aiming for a ninety plus score in the world of boutique coffee. He is even thinking of hosting coffee tours for businessmen from Sao Paulo. His enthusiasm was contagious.
During our stay, Seven became a fully trained coffee farmer, as my uncle showed us the entire coffee making process. We witnessed the harvest, saw how beans were dried, and helped to sort, roast and package the beans. We sent a couple of kilos home with Bart. Seven also got to eat the best Picanha yet, grilled to perfection by my uncle. Needless to say, Seven didn’t really want to leave the farm.
Nine was in his element during a visit to Holambra, which is a Dutch colony settled directly after World War II. Hol-am-bra stands for Holland-America-Brazil. In the late 1940’s some Dutch farmers emigrated rather than rebuild their farm in a country devastated by war, that didn’t have enough land to begin with. Holambra today thrives on the cultivation of flowers. There is a museum telling the story of the colony. There we met the second Joannes, who went by “John”, and came to Brazil on a boat as an eleven-year-old in 1953. John told stories for two hours and Nine never left his side. “I love the olden days,” Nine said.
We asked John how he felt about emigrating at such young age. “I have always been curious,” he said. “In Brazil, I found all these new wonders. Nobody ever told me about fireflies, for example. I wanted to share the new experiences with my Dutch classmates back home, but of course, that wasn’t possible. I guess I could have written letters, but it took three weeks to send and another three to get an answer. So, we just forged ahead.” We were in awe of his positive attitude, now and as a boy more than sixty-five years ago. Our adventures paled in comparison to the hardships he faced when coming to Brazil. More than anything, we felt blessed that he was willing to share his life lessons during a two-hours chance encounter in Holambra.