Wetlands Safari -- Canoeing in Holland

05/14/2014 06:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

An amazing thing about Amsterdam is that, in 10 minutes (by bike or public bus), you can be in the wide-open polder land -- the vast fields reclaimed from the sea where cows graze, tiny canals function as fences, and only church spires interrupt the horizon. A fun way to experience this is by canoe with a local guide. And that's the mission of Majel Tromp, a friend who runs Wetlands Safari (which I've recommended in my guidebook for many years). In a couple of months, I'll be taking my film crew on a canoe ride with Majel.

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Paddling through villages where front doors face the canal rather than the road is a reminder that there was a time when the main form of transportation in the Netherlands was by boat.

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In July, my film crew and I will be on Majel's tour. So, this month I took her tour to preview what we might shoot.

In this natural preserve, the water is shallow. When you stick your oar into the mud and twist you wring bubbles out of the sod: methane -- natural gas. (You can smell it.) And, sticking a pole into the ground, you discover the "land" is thin -- about a meter thick before you hit the water table underneath. The ground is just a mat of vegetation, and below it is the inland sea -- and when you throw your weight around, the world becomes your own private trampoline.

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There's no dry ground in the polder land, so a Wetlands Safari picnic is always spread out on a plastic sheet.