Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holland and back in 24 hours visit to the deGroot compound for Granddad’s Birthday

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Some of what you are about to read is true and some is not. (pictures are at the bottom)

I thought my traveling was over for 2008, it was 6:00 am on Friday December 26, 2008. I heard a loud banging on my trailer door. I woke from a deep sleep to find Margarite not looking very happy explaining we had to get to Amsterdam, Holland, and we had to be there by Saturday morning, yes in 24 hours. Still groggy from being woke from a deep sleep, I asked why? It was clear Margarite was upset, but I still asked why.

Margarite explained tomorrow December 27, 2008 was her father’s 75th birthday. Being in the U.S. for several weeks really backed her up with her responsibilities at the orphanage and she just plain forgot about her father’s birthday. She went on to explain her mother had put together a huge family reunion for her father, and Margarite had to be there no matter what.  There are not many flights out of Botswana, and on such short notice it was going to cost a fortune to get to Holland. I explained this to Margarite and to my surprise I found out something I would have never guessed, Margarite’s family was not just rich, but mega rich. Apparently her great, great, great, great grandfather on her mother’s side was involved in one of the most famous market bubbles of all time, which occurred in Holland during the early 1600s when speculation drove the value of tulip bulbs to extremes. At the height of the market, the rarest tulip bulbs traded for as much as six times the average person's annual salary.  Margarite’s distant grandfather was on the right side of this bubble and made enough money that most of her family has never worked since the 1600’s except for investing their small fortune.

Margarite went on the explain most of her mother's brothers had private jets and her Uncle Fred was sending his jet down to pick us up to take us to Holland. We needed to get packed and be at the airport by late afternoon. I could not believe what I was hearing, the lady that got upset with us when we took a private car to the airport for our trip to France instead of a bus, was now talking about taking a private jet from Botswana to Holland. I had no idea what this would cost the family, I had only priced using a private jet once, it was $10,000 an hour. Botswana to Holland had to be an 8 - 10 hour flight. I still could not believe what I was hearing I pinched myself to make sure I was not dreaming, the pinch hurt so I must have been awake. I was not one to turn down a trip, there was only one issue, I had a meeting with the elders on Monday to report on my status of the village master plan. I explained to Margarite I had to be back for Monday and found out this was not an issue as we would be flying back in this same private jet Sunday.

The jet was going to be at the airport at 4:00 pm we found out we would then fly to Paris where Margarite’s Uncle Fred and Aunt Pat would be, we would pick them up and continue on to Holland arriving at around 10:00 am.

I had several things to do in the morning so we decided to head out to the airport around 10:00 am. It was normally a 3 hour bus ride to the airport, we had gotten some bad rain Friday night and it was still raining so we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time as not to hold up the plane.

The bus ride out to the airport ended up taking 5 hours, the road is half dirt and half paved and when it rains it gets very slick and it is slow going and somewhat scary. Once at the airport we found there is what is called the corporate jet hanger. This is where all private jets come in. You would not think there are many private jets in Botswana, which there aren’t but 2 of the neighboring countries Zimbabwe and the Republic of Congo are very corrupt and their dictators and their families keep (hide) there private jets in Botswana. Also several of the owners of the gold and diamond mines in those countries also keep their jets in Botswana. I could not believe I have never noticed this part of the airport before, this hanger was more like a high end first class lounge you might find at some of the largest international airports in the world. When we checked in they asked us for the call numbers of the jet that was picking us up. Margarite and I found a nice area to sit and relax. There was a large television with a map of the world on the map were a couple of dots with numbers next to them. What we came to find out was each dot represented a plane someone in the lounge was waiting for. We could actually watch as our plane got closer and closer to the airport and then finally landed.

I do not know much about jets let alone private jets, but this jet could hold about 8 people, it had a small bar and small kitchen they called a galley. There were two pilots and one hostess. Three of the seats folded flat into beds, the restroom had a full shower.  The hostess explained to us it would be 8 hours to Paris landing at 3 am and then 2 additional hours to Amsterdam.  We would hang in Paris until 8:00 am when Margarite’s Aunt Pat and Uncle Fred would be arriving. She went on to tell us she would be serving us dinner at 6:00 pm and then after that we could turn the seats down and go to sleep. Because of some safety features I did not understand she said we could sleep through the landing and she would wake us a little before Fred and Pat arrived. The jet flew as smooth as could be, the pilot explained we could actually fly higher then commercial jets and slightly faster which gave us a very smooth ride, and unbelievable quite. I asked the pilot what a jet like this cost and he said about twelve million dollars.  The flight was uneventful except I got a great night’s sleep as the bed on the jet was a lot more comfortable then the one in my trailer. I was a little nervous as this is the first time I would be meeting any of Margarite’s family. Fred and Pat arrived right on time and we immediately took off for Amsterdam. We arrived in Amsterdam at 10:00 am. A limo picked us up and we headed out to the deGroot estate. I could not wait to get alone with Margarite she was going to have a lot of explaining to do.

The deGroot family estate was massive for a European estate, the main house or should I say palace must have been 30 rooms. The ball room where the dinner party was held was massive. I was put up in a small house that had 4 very beautiful decorate rooms.  Margarite’s father’s party was all family members expect for me. Everybody was very friendly toward me, but I got the feeling I was not the first stray Margarite brought home and that they did not think I would be the last.

The family was clearly a Dutch family I think this might have been the most blonde haired blue eyed people I had ever seen in one family, plus a couple of red heads thrown in for good measure.  Almost all the grand kids were there, as the newbie I was responsible to keep the children occupied, or should I say the kids quickly saw I had no intentions of disciplining them for any of their bad behavior, so they decided to keep me occupied. I had very little time to speak to any of the adults so I was not able to get any more of the deGroot family history then the brief story Margarite had told me before we left Botswana.

The party was a very nice dinner and celebration, it was clear that Margarite’s father, Hans, was very happy to have his family all at the party, he seemed to be especially please that Margarite was there. I over heard him talking to Margarite about her work at the orphanage in Botswana, I also notice during the conversation, Margarite’s mother was rolling her eyes. This gave me the impression she did not endorse Margarite’s work.

The party wrapped up about 11:00 pm and we all retired. In the morning the family limo took us back to the Amsterdam airport for our flight back to Botswana. There was some fog so the flight was delayed a short period. To my surprise there was a casino in the Amsterdam airport, so I played a little black jack to kill some time. We left Amsterdam around at 10:00 am. The flight home was very delightful and Margarite filled me in on the entire family history. It was 2:00 am by the time we got back to the village.



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