Ben Oude Kamphuis, as you might deduct from the name, is a hardcore Dutch soccer fan. The Hulk Hogan look-alike has been living in the USA for many years now but has not diminished his love for the Orange Dutch National football team (or as the Americans say Soccer team).
He normally drives a big orange 1955 Chevy Truck, named Old Nellie, around the San Francisco bay area where he lives (when he is not riding his motorbike), but for this years Brazilian soccer FIFA World Cup he decided to pimp it up and drive it all the way down South to Brazil.
Oude Kamphuis is not the only one traveling to the Brazil World Cup Kickass-style. A group of English fans is walking there whith strollers and a dog named Stinky J and another fan drove his Vespa with Sidecar from London to Rio while visiting as many football stadiums en route while staging penalty shootout challenges
However, The Hulk Hogan look-alike is easily the most recognizable with his custom pimped orange truck.
“It all started four years ago when the Dutch lost in the [World Cup] final to Spain. That was the third time I cried, the third time we lost in the final. I’m like, ‘You know what? I’m driving Old Nellie down to Brazil. It looks like the Dutch can’t get it together, so I might as well go myself to give them a little hand.’”
So on January 15 of 2014, Oude Kamphuis took time off from his job working with disabled children and adults in a San Francisco city gardening program and turned the key on Old Nellie. He hasn’t stopped driving since, making his way down Baja California, taking a Mexican ferry from La Paz to Mazatlán, wending through Mexico and Central America, sending his car on a boat from Colón, Panama to Cartagena, Colombia (since there are no roads in Panama’s Darién National Park), and then navigating the Andes through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
At the end of May Oude Kamphuis reached the outskirts of Brasília, the Brazilian capital.
From there he explained to Sports Illustrated that his goal is to get to Salvador in time to see his beloved Netherlands play Spain, in a replay of the final of 2012, in the World Cup on June 13. “My birthday is on June 7, and I’d like to have my ass on the beach in Bahia on the 7th,” he said. “That’s what I’m shooting for.”
Oude Kamphuis is a one of a kind guy. Measuring 6 foot 7” he is not to be missed easily. His friends call him Hogan as he has a striking resemblance to the WWF famed wrestler and reality tv star. He’s a Jefferson Award winner who created Project Insight, an organic farming program where deaf and blind senior citizens help him grow the harvest.
“The whole experience has been mind-blowing,” Oude Kamphuis, 52, told Sports Illustrated Grant Wahl via Skype recently from a pit stop in Urcos, Peru.
On his remarkable trip, Oude Kamphuis has delivered donated soccer shoes in towns along the way and stopped to speak in schools about using soccer to fight racism and discrimination. Hundreds of people on the journey have signed their names on Old Nellie, which is modified with a special area, resembling a soccer ball, in the back where Oude Kamphuis often sleeps.
“Today I did a little talk for a school with the kids talking about racism and discrimination through football,” he told me last week. “Going through all the Central and South American countries, my big thing is ‘through football we become one.’”
“Everyone drives next to Nellie and they wave, Stop! Stop! Stop!” he continued. “I’m like, ‘No, man, I can’t stop, or I’ll never get to Brazil!’ It’s been a football experience but with the message of, ‘Hey, we’re all the same people, you know, we’re all in this planet together.’ Hopefully through football we can make the world a better place.”
It’s hard to know which is a more arresting sight: Old Nellie, which still has its original 1955 engine, or Oude Kamphuis, who’s 6-foot-7 and likes to wear a bright orange get-up with wooden Dutch shoes. But there’s no denying that he has a magnetic personality wherever he goes.
“To me, it’s such a warm experience if you go on your own,” he said. “People have an easier way to come up to you. If you’re on your own, you have to talk to people. If I need directions, which I do on a regular basis—I don’t have GPS, just a AAA map, and I get my ass lost in the mountains quite a bit—then I’ve gotta go out and talk. I love it.”
Driving any car through Central and South America is no small challenge, and that’s even more true with Old Nellie.
“There’s no suspension on that thing. It’s just a solid block of metal,” he said. “In Mexico I’d say, ‘Amigo, how far from Mazatlán to Puerto Vallarta?’ And they’d say, ‘No worries, amigo, it’s direct, like eight hours.’ And it takes me three frickin’ days to get there. It’s been like that all along. I thought I’d be in Brazil way earlier. But with the mountains and some of the gravel roads I travel, I can barely go 10 miles an hour, because it shakes. But it’s doable. I’ve just gotta take my time.”
Oude Kamphuis has stopped to take in some famous sights, like Machu Picchu in Peru, but the main things he’ll remember from his journey are the people he has encountered.
“In the U.S., everyone tells you, ‘Don’t go into Mexico, you’re going to get your ass killed, people are bad, blah blah blah,’” he said. “But from the day I entered Mexico from the border, and all the way to here, over four months now, people have been amazing. People have fed me, people have helped me, people say, ‘Come in my casa.’ It’s been a hell of a ride, but all positive.”
What is Oude Kamphuis going to do with Old Nellie once he gets to Salvador?
“I loved the truck already before I left, but it’s kind of become a part of me, you know what I mean?” he said. “It definitely has made more people smile than I can tell you. So I’m going to put it on a boat, I think. Drive it to a harbor town and put it on a boat and ship it back to the Bay Area. I’ve gotta fly back and go back to work in mid-July.”
Oude Kamphuis is a strong believer in the expression of kindness. Giving kindness to others has been his life conviction for ever and “it will always come back to you” he explains. On his trip he has lived according to those same rules.
If you want to know more about his inspiring Project Insight where he gives blind and deaf people the chance to work and be themselves on his organic farm have a look at the following inspiring video.
Kickass trip by a kickass guy!