It was a cool and windy afternoon when I arrived at Noordpolderzijl, the smallest sea harbor in the Netherlands located about a half an hour to the north of Groningen. I met up with a group a friends who had all been convinced by our friend Joke (Yoka), the trip organizer, to take part in this Dutch pastime called wadlopen, or mudflat walking in English.
The Wadden Sea is the shallow, narrow part of the North Sea and it lies in between mainland Netherlands and the Wadden Islands. Some of the Wadden Islands are populated and others are uninhabited nature preserves with restricted access. Our walk took us near Rottumeroog, one of the uninhabited islands.
We took a short bus ride with the rest of the group, which consisted of about 45 people, including 4 or 5 tour guides, to the starting point of our walk. After walking over a dam and seeing the large expanse of gray water, and not a lot of dry land, we all started wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. But before we knew it, we were ankle-deep in slick mud, trying our best to keep up with the pace of the experienced guides.
Professional guidance is key while mudflat walking because the walk needs to be perfectly timed between tides, and only highly trained guides know which areas are safe and shallow enough to cross. There were times during our walk where we had to stop and wait for the tide to recede more, and it was during these pauses that we took the opportunity to eat the snacks we had brought along in our backpacks. Apart from a handful of pauses, we had to keep up the pace so we could reach the boat before the tide started to come back in.
The first hour of the walk was the muddiest and after that I would say that we were walking in at least shin-deep water the majority of the time. At one point we were up to our bellies in water and the current was so strong that it seemed to take a million steps to make it through the dip. About 3 hours into the walk I started regretting my choice not to wear socks under my Converse All-Stars and my feet ended getting pretty cut up by sand and shells. Next time I will definitely wear socks.
After what I think was close to 4 hours, we reached our destination, which was a boat that would take us back to the mainland. The boat was anchored in a bit of water next to a large sand dune. Not long after climbing aboard, however, we were completely surrounded by water as the tide had begun to come in. It would still take 3+ hours, though, for the water to be deep enough for the boat to be able to get us back to shore. While waiting, we changed into some dry clothes, warmed ourselves with soup, and played games to pass the time. We also enjoyed the scenery, which included a couple hundred chubby sea lions.
At just under 9 miles, this is not the longest I have walked but it was certainly the most challenging. I am feeling it today in my leg muscles, and in my beat-up feet. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
Below is a video my wadlopen experience.
This week's walk:
Distance: 8.6 miles (14km)
Time: Around 4 hours
Weeks Left: 7
Amount Left to Raise: $603