|Tom Monfrooy points out the routes that he has taken around the world. He began traveling at age 11, and here at 81, he is recalling the 155 countries he has visited in his 70 years of traveling.|
The National Geographic magazine has long been a source for entertainment and information for people who are interested in remote countries or interesting adventures. As I walked through Tom and Lucy Monfrooy's home in north Price I felt as though I was walking through multiple editions of National Geographic. The 81 year old Monfrooy grew up in Holland and started traveling at 11 years. In his lifetime he has visited 155 countries and traveled on 61 freight liners, and been around the world four times.
His home may resemble a history book or a museum with souvenirs and memorabilia that he has collected, but his mind never turns off. Monfrooy remembers exact dates and times, people and instances from trips to remote Africa, Cambodia, Russia and Australia. He has floated down most major rivers in the world, hitchhiked remote countrysides, traveled by train over miles of tundra in Siberia, survived 70 days in the Sahara Desert, and been aboard some of the most prestigious freighters that forge the oceans.
"My dreams have all come true," says Monfrooy, his eyes lighting up as he shakes his head and talks about the impossible. A poor boy growing up without a father in Rotterdam, Holland, the biggest seaport in the world. Monfrooy says that a ship enters or leaves the Rotterdam Harbor every six minutes.
So what is his secret? How could a man be a world traveler all his life without being rich? His secret is his desire, his determination, his interests and his incredible imagination. "I have always wanted to be active and create things," he said as he explained his theory about traveling.
"Most people think you have to have money to travel, and people with lots of money seldom travel because they don't have time. Some people plan and save all their lives for the time when they can retire and by that time their health prevents them from doing the things they could have done when they were younger.
A person needs enthusiasm. So many people waste time and money doing things of no interest or no value. I decided early on to work hard, save my money, and go to the places I only dreamed of. Most people lack courage, or have safety issues. I have traveled the world to remote places, always cautious, a bit courageous but took calculated chances and have been well taken care of."
Monfrooy admits that he could not have traveled this extensively today. "Back then it was cheaper to travel on the ships than it was to stay home and maintain a home and a vehicle," he says.
Monfrooy's father died when he was 11 years old and that's when he decided he would take his own summer vacation. Jumping on his bike he peddled through Holland and went on his own to the beaches, sleeping by haystacks, swimming, walking and picking berries. He continued his bike trips as he grew into his teen years through Belgium and Holland.
At 16 years old he finished school and joined the Dutch Merchant Marines. Holland's education system is far advanced from Americans, going to school six days a week, no summer vacation and advanced classes.
Once in the marines he traveled to North and South America and the West Indies. He started as a deck boy doing hard galley work and after two years he jumped ship in Hoboken, New Jersey and hitchhiked west with a buddy heading to San Francisco.
That's how he got to Utah. This was in the early 1940's. They were traveling through Salt Lake City, arrested and accused of being German spies. This was during the war and they were looking at guns in a shop. The young men weren't even German, but they were foreign and the Salt Lake authorities didn't have a clue the difference between a German youth and a Dutch youth. However, Holland had now been taken over by the Germans so in a way the young men were in a foreign country, but without a country of their own. They were released but had to stay in Utah and report to the authorities every month.
Monfrooy did a variety of jobs in Salt Lake those first years including painting, farming, washing dishes, but the most significant job was the beginning of a career as a baker, a job that would allow him the opportunity to work anywhere in he world. Besides being a baker for most of his life he also studied accounting, was a machinist, and writer.
Monfrooy prefers traveling by ship and often selected freighters because he could travel a long way very inexpensively. But to earn money for his extended vacations he would often work over 80 hours a week, saving as much money as he could without a day off for over a year and then would travel on a shoe string for the next six months or year, doing a little writing or baking along the way. He planned his voyages very well and often traveled when the American dollar was strong. He slept in dormitories or with locals.
Monfrooy speaks Dutch, German, Danish, Spanish and English. He admits that he does not speak these languages fluently.
|Tom and Lucy Monfrooy pose in their comfortable home in Price.|
One of Monfrooy's adventures was completed back in the late 1950's when he traveled 40,000 miles, visited 38 countries, suffered hunger, dysentery, desert heat and alpine cold to take pictures of three mermaid statues. Living in Salt Lake City at the time Monfrooy started his quest for the mermaids right in the Utah capital. He became acquainted with the first mermaid statue in the Danish section of the International Peace Gardens in Jordan Park. This was in the summer of 1955 when the Danish ambassador unveiled the statue.
Monfrooy resolved then to search out the others located in different parts of the world - the original in Copenhagen, Denmark; and two other copies in Hong Kong, China, and Bern, Switzerland.
In April of 1956 he set out on his journey. "On a beautiful April morning I began my long journey. First by bus to San Francisco, where I boarded a liner for Australia via Honolulu, the Fiji Islands and New Zealand. There I transhipped on a freighter that would take me to my second mermaid, the one in Hong Kong," Monfrooy recalled.
On the way to Hong Kong he stopped in Japan, Borneo and Manila. After he arrived in Hong Kong, he a difficult time finding the statue. Finally after a trip back to Japan he returned to Hong Kong and found it near a Danish yacht club overlooking the harbor. "She was a sight for sore eyes and ideally situated, overlooking Hong Kong's teeming harbor packed with junks, sampans, liners and freighters from all parts of the world."
His next statue was located in Bern, Switzerland. On the way there he made four changes of ships, rode trains, buses and flew airplanes. Over the Himalayas he narrowly missed a plane crash. In Djakarta, Java, a native chased him with a knife.
In the Middle East he ran out of money. One night, on a train to Bagdad, the particular car he was riding was packed with Arab pilgrims. He had just managed to fall asleep on a suitcase rack when a fight broke out among the passengers. "Apparently it must have been just to kill time because nobody got hurt," he recalled.
He related that when he went through the Arab countries, the Suez crisis was at its peak. "I consider myself lucky that I got out alive.
While boarding a ship at Beirut, Lebanon, for Istanbul, Turkey, the traveler nearly lost his suitcase containing his film. A porter dropped it into the water but he dashed down the gangplank just in time to retrieve his suitcase. He considers the rest of his of his journey quite uneventful. He took pictures of the mermaid statues in Bern and in Copenhagen.
It took 10 months to reach Copenhagen and visit the original statue there.
To the best of his knowledge he was the first to have visited all four mermaids.
Monfrooy has hundreds of similar stories. Like was mentioned at the beginning of the article, His adventures and voyages could fill several volumes of National Geographic magazines. His 104 day trip around West Africa, his 35 day adventure to St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean. "The island is rich in history, its landscape varied and the people friendly, unspoiled and kind," he recalls.
Monfrooy's trip through the West Indies up 2300 miles of the Amazon River to Iquitos, Peru took 37 days. Cambodia, Naples, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Congo, Siberia, Persian Gulf, Sahara Desert, New Zealand, Babaloyn, Alaska, Rome, and Austria, the list could continue for pages and each destination comes with a story. His last big trip was three years ago when he boarded Isadora, a Holland ship and toured the Great Lakes between United States and Canada for 23 days.
But its Price that Lucy and Tom call home. "This is the best place in Utah and we love it here," he says proudly. "We moved here 10 years ago after looking throughout Utah and California for places to retire."
"The diversity of the people, the clean air, getting away from any rat races, nice people, great neighbors, reasonable cost of living, " are all high on Tom and Lucy's list of while they have made Price their retirement community.
Tom Monfrooy contains more knowledge than most history books and his life has been filled with memories from every corner of the world.
After all, its not everybody that can say they have spent 70 years, traveled on 61 ships to 155 countries and remembers almost every person they have ever encountered.