This afternoon I arrived in Turnhout (northern Belgium) to see my friends Stef and Annick, who are half of the original Belgian Front. As with seeing Regine in Cologne last night, this was a reunion with 2 of my 10 amazing companions from the Salkantay hike, that I did in Peru back in April. Stef was there, waiting for me at tiny Turnhout train station when I pulled in; and soon after, I also saw Annick, as well as the couple's little niece Karlijn (who they're looking after for the weekend). Good to see that The Front is as crazy and as fun as ever.
Belgian Front + 1. Left to right: Stef, Annick, Karlijn.
It's been a long time since that insane day at 4,600m, and a lot has changed in the interim. Stef and Annick were engaged back when I met them in Peru. As of Oct 21, they've been happily married (the wedding was 1 day before I arrived in Europe — if only I'd known!). However, although they're now "official", they still don't have a house of their own: they're still living alternately with each ones' parents. This weekend, they're living at the house of their brother (-in-law), who's gone down to Nice for the weekend with his wife; hence they get the place to themselves, but they have to take care of their niece Karlijn (who's a very sweet girl — hardly a chore to babysit).
Then again, there's also a lot that hasn't changed. Stef and Annick are still a hilarious couple (Stef in particular is a shameless clown), and they still love to drink in Belgian quantities — boy, can they drink the pants off you or anyone else, any day! That's why tonight, for my first night with them (and my first night in Belgium — yes, they're kindly letting me stay with them at the house), the main activity was beer-drinking. Actually, it was a fairly quiet night: nothing more than a warm-up, in retrospect. Early in the evening, we drove Karlijn over to her netball practice, and then drove her back home; in between, we stopped at a bar, and I had my first introduction to just a selection of Belgium's staggering 500+ beers. Later on, we just settled down back home in the lounge room, with a movie and some snacks... and more beer.
The other half of the Belgian Front — the also-Flemish couple Stijn and Ellen — live fairly nearby to Turnhout. Stef and Annick contacted them, to see if they were also free to catch up with me: but unfortunately, they're rather busy at the moment, so it looks like we won't be seeing them this weekend. Anyway, as long as I can at least see some of my Belgian buddies while I'm here, it's all good.