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Passionate teacher,

‘So Dirk, are you going on holiday again?’ His fellow teachers were happy to tease Dirk van der Wal. They also knew that he was not a tourist, but a traveler. And what a. The geography and history teacher visited all the countries in the world.

When people found out that he had such a wanderlust life, he invariably received three questions. Why are you doing this? What has been your most spectacular destination? And where do you pay for it all?

“Then I ask in turn where they buy that BMW or that house,” he said in 1995 in Trouw. He didn’t care about material things, the furniture in his apartment in Vlaardingen remained the same for years. Moreover, he had no family to support. ‘A family life was difficult to combine with his travelling life’, says his sister Joke.


Van der Wal grew up in The Hague, in a family with two sisters. At the age of 14 he made his first big bike ride through the Netherlands. ‘And of course he went to the Three Countries Point’, says his sister. ‘Just cross the border. That’s how it all started.’

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Van der Wal soon expanded his cycling tours to Switzerland, Austria and Scandinavia. After the bike came the moped, with which he rode to Libya, among other places. In 1973 he booked a ticket to Vietnam to see what war does to a country. It was typical of his curiosity, joke says. ‘He wanted to see everything with his own eyes, to draw his own conclusions. That was what drove him.’ (Passionate teacher)

After completing the breeding school, he became a teacher, a subject that fitted extremely well with his love for travel. Occasionally he came back late from a trip, because he had missed a connection or was in the hospital with malaria. But he was never blamed for that by the school management, says Adrie de Raaf, his colleague at the Marnix Mavo in Maassluis for thirty years, later the Lentiz Reviuslyceum. ‘Dirk understood his profession. He was an enthusiastic teacher.’

And yes, sometimes students took advantage of that. De Raaf: ‘If they didn’t feel like the lesson, they just called it a country. Then Dirk started to tell about it enthusiastically. Before they knew it, the bell rang again.’


Knocked overboard from a dinghy in the Caribbean, face to face with a polar bear at the North Pole, who had ripped open his tent; Van der Wal experienced exciting adventures. But he was just as sweet in Chad to see if it was really as boring as they said. It wasn’t for him to do the adrenaline rush.

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Nor was it a goal in itself for him to visit all – almost 200 – countries in the world, although he became more and more enthusiastic when the final goal came into view. With a visit to Tokelau, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, his collection of visited countries was complete in 2011.

At the hands of his students, he was listed in the Guinness Book of Records in 1994. “Someone special came over from abroad to check whether he really had a stamp of all those countries that he said he had visited,” says his sister. Then he received a certificate.

For the last two years he suffered from Lewy body dementia, which affected not only his brain, but also his body. He ended up in a wheelchair and had to go to a nursing home. Dirk van der Wal died on 2 April, aged 75. The Guinness Book of Records certificate remained in his room in the nursing home until his death.


Passionate teacher who visited all the countries of the world and told contagiously about his exciting adventures



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1 Comment

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