Noah’s guests arrive two by two. Some come in four-by-fours. Some come on foot. And some on wheels.
They pour into the Ark by the boatloads. Not to escape from the floods, but to take a gander at the panda. And to browse among the cows. And to stare at the bear.
Not since our visit to the flying chicken restaurant in Bangkok have we found anything quite so, shall I say, out of the ordinary – a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark floating on the river in Dordrecht in The Netherlands, looming 50 feet tall and visible from miles away.
And if it weren’t for a carpenter having a dream, it wouldn’t be there at all.
No, not Jesus. The other famous carpenter, Johan Huibers.
“Who?” you ask. Read on…
In 1992, born-again Christian, Johan Huibers, dreamed that The Netherlands was submerged in a flood. Apparently his dream was followed by even more signs (not sure what) so he planned to do what everyone would after having bad dreams: build an ark.
I can’t help but wonder what he’d have done if he’d dreamed about an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse (become a survivalist and move to Nebraska?) Or if his reverie specified the ark should be located in the heart of an industrial zone surrounded by chemical plants and factories. Regardless, Johan created an attraction that Skip and I felt compelled to visit since we happened to be in the neighbourhood.
Not only was it an obsession for Johan to build his ark, it was also important he build it to the exact specification of the Bible which was 300 cubits long by 50 cubits wide by 30 cubits high. A cubit is about the distance of a man’s arm from the elbow to the fingertips so this vessel looms large at 459 feet long, 82 feet wide and 50 feet high (four stories tall).
It’s so big, in fact, that it’s classed as a building by local zoning authorities.
The product of Noah and his family’s efforts back in Biblical times was an ark made of gopher wood and big enough to hold 50,000 animals. So there are a few diversions in Johan’s version since it’s built from pine (there’s no longer any such thing as gopher wood) and houses mostly plastic animals (such as bears carrying tree stumps, which I believe they do, and disembodied giraffes in various parts of the boat). At each end, there’s a life-size giraffe keeping watch over the craft and there’s even a handful of live animals scattered throughout (we spotted peacocks, rabbits, wallabies, goats and Shetland ponies).
Hang on, that makes four giraffes (or more, since a couple of them were disembodied). Would Noah be concerned that his latter-day replica doesn’t contain the obligatory pair of each beast? And would he care that Johan’s elephants were actually larger than zebras on this 21st century ark
And how about the bizarre combination of creature combinations? Did Johan’s dream contain vivid images of plastic dogs sitting among live rabbits? Or lifesize replicas of panthers looking down onto live peacocks strutting in cages. In real life, they’d be chowing down on their cage mates but here they seem to co-exist quite happily.
This isn’t Johan’s first stab at building an ark. Back in 2004, his original inspiration gave birth to a “miniature” version which he floated on the canals in The Netherlands then sold it so he could get his teeth and awl into this whopper. He built it himself with the help of his son and some mates and unveiled it to the public in 2012.
Taking four years and costing $1.6 million to build, the ark was made from 21 transport barges and 12,000 Swedish pine trees and weighs 3,000 tons. Considering the hefty $17 admission fee, it probably paid for itself pretty quickly.
On the top floor is a huge restaurant (and a vending machine for Noah and his family to binge on Pringles and Mars Bars). A couple of movie screens show religious films and Disney cartoons, all contributing to the authenticity of the experience, along with CCTV cameras, conference facilities and a lift.
But one of the strangest among the strange is the presence of a full Nativity scene inside the stern of the vessel, complete with Mary, Joseph and Jesus and the wise men.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought Noah built his ark on the instructions of God, not so that the Saviour could take his family along too.
Did Noah know?
More to the point, did Johan?