Come sarebbe il mondo se imparare fosse divertente e non percepito come un obbligo? E se ciascun bambino potesse seguire il proprio percorso di apprendimento senza pressioni? Esistono metodi diversi da quelli tradizionali per insegnare ai bambini e accompagnali verso la scoperta del proprio potenziale?
Queste sono alcune delle riflessioni suggerite da Beautiful Learning, documentario (di cui ho avuto il piacere di vederne un estratto in anteprima) realizzato dalla coppia italo-pakistana formata da Luca Vagniluca e Sameena Hassan. Partiti dall’Umbria, insieme ai loro figli Lusira e Giulio hanno attraversato Grecia, Turchia, Iran, Pakistan, India e Nepal a bordo di un camion 4×4 Iveco che è stato anche la loro casa per lunghi period…….
Finally the T.V. series ‘Breaking Loose’ is on-line. If you are curious just press ‘vimeo’ to be redirected to the 10 episodes..
It’s strange to be writing about India sitting now fully absorbed by Nepal. As usual and rather thankfully the traveling life has got the better of us and somehow photos and digital communication has taken a back seat. Our time in India has been characterized by an infinity of technical and bureaucratic problems in critical moments, a constant reminder that problems can and will be resolved in unforeseen ways, if only faith is present. India has this time filled me with unease, thankfully punctuated with glimmers of hope and positivity enforced by the many beautiful encounters with generous and like minded people .I think my unease came from the acknowledgment that the world is changing much faster than i can imagine, my imaginary time scale is out of date and in just 5 years i have found a very different India, much too fast and much too noisy for my country ears and eyes.
The highlights have been the unexpected and chance meeting of old and lost friends in Pushkar, the making of many new friends especially in Udaipur at Shikshantar (where we stayed as guests for over 10 days) , the unexpected landscapes of the Thar desert and the infinite kindness of our various saviors in Delhi. There have been many uncomfortable moments with our truck: broken clutch bearings, broken springs, broken fan and radiator….and of course the inevitable broken rims, thankfully all behind us now….
For the children, many rich experiences, beautiful Rajasthani forts, small farms with fresh milk, wood carving and puppet lessons, the constant company of cows, rock climbing and camel rides, all punctuated by the happy company of Nils and Theo (their small german teacher)
Ahead the open roads of Nepal and the prospect of one months trek with the children, and a few months of pure mountain air…
India, traffico e musica a tutto volume. Pero’ nei vicoli stretti si trovano posti con anziani che sorseggiano chai. Secondo me l’India senza chai non funzionerebbe neanche un ora, tutto andrebbe in tilt. Per il compleanno di Giulio abbiamo trovato 10 dune, e io e mamma abbiamo fatto una torta di mele. Pero’ dove ci siamo accampati ,vicino a queste dune che Giulio aveva scelto per il suo compleanno, c’era un villaggio , e allora dalle 9 di mattina alle 6 di sera era pieno di persone. Non avevano mai visto una casa che si muove, per cui per loro noi eravamo un teatro. Mamma ha tirato fuori la sua fisarmonica e tutte le signore sono venute a vedere mamma che suonava e si sono messi a ridere. Dopo volevano che Tanja ballasse. Il giorno dopo tutte le signore avevano chiamato le loro amiche per venire ad assistere al ballo di Tanja! Pero’ Tanja non aveva nessuna voglia di ballare. Tanja, Harald, Nils e Teo sono i nostri amici e compagni di viaggio, e loro hanno anche un camion. Alla fine della giornata Giulio e Nils sono andati a casa di un signore del villaggio, e a questa casa gli hanno offerto il latte di bufalo. Giulio dice che non ha mai bevuto del latte cosi buono e cosi pieno di sapore. Dopo siamo andati ad Udaipur a Shikshantar, dove mamma doveva lavorare. In questo posto c’era una bici frullatore, se pedalavi girava anche il frullatore, e ogni mattina io e Giulio preparavamo un buonissimo frullato di banane.
India e fatto di clacson pero’ se vai nelle stradine ci sono i vecchietti che fumano e le vecchiette che cucinano i ‘roti’ e sorseggiano il ‘chai’ e i bambini che giocano con i fiammiferi, invece se vai in New Dehli ce una confusione tremenda. Noi abbiamo trovato un parco che si chiamava ‘Neru park’ c’erano alberi e un posto dove si facevano i esercizi. Al mio compleanno abbiamo trovato delle dune, la mattina del mio compleanno quando mi sono svegliato mamma e papa’ e Lusira erano gia’ svegli e mi hanno cantato tanti auguri e mi hanno detto di andare sul letto di Lusira perché’ loro preparavano il tavolo . Quando sono uscito Lusira mi ha regalato un coltello decorato dei sihk, dopo mamma e papa’ mi hanno detto di andare sul tetto. Quando sono andato sul tetto c’era un scatolone con delle bandierine, io l’ho guardato e poi ho guardato da tutt’altra parte poi ho chiesto a mamma le forbici e ho tagliato le corde del scatolone e poi ho tirato su lo scatolone pero’ non ci riuscivo , allora ho chiesto a papa’ di aiutarmi. Quando ero dentro il camion ho iniziato ad aprirlo, quando il scatolone era distrutto ho visto il regalo ‘UNA BICI!!’ A pranzo abbiamo fato un barbecue, e dopo pranzo Harald aveva preparato dei ‘muffins’ al cioccolato. Dopo quello Lusira e Tania e mamma avevano preparato una torta di mele . Al tramonto siamo andati giù per le dune con la bici e i bambini del villaggio quando dicevo ‘uper uper’ mi portavano la bici su le dune, e alla fine li lasciavo fare un giretto.
India e fata di claxon,
di rumore e traffico,
di musica martellante e tantissima gente
…anche nei posti più vuoti,
di letti di fiume e cani randagi,
e di milioni di mucche, e gente carina.
Our entrance into the small dusty boarder post of Taftan was to say the least dramatic. In Iran on the other side, the morning started early. After 4 hard stressful days on the baking roadside and in noisy, dusty tyre repair shops, Luca leaves at 5 in the morning. We have no more spare tires and the back 2 are ready to give out on us any minute; we hope that the cool morning air will help us hobble over the boarder to Pakistan, where we are told we can finally replace them. The air is still cool and I wake with two naked children slipping into my bed.The truck stops and I imagine Luca ,extra cautious ,checking the tires..but no, a knock on the door. Lusira checks through a small crack in the curtain, and to my horror tells me it’s the Iranian customs officer. In my panic I rather irrationally dart out of bed and grab the violet scarf that has accompanied me over the last 6 weeks, and in one hurried leap am back deep under the covers, I adjust the scarf to modestly cover my head disguising my nudity, as Lusira and Giulio titter uncontrollably beside me with unbelieving eyes when the customs officer climbs in and strides over over to us unperturbed….Yes that’s the fridge, I force a polite smile, those are the clothes cupboards …and no we have nothing to declare! Over the boarder the atmosphere is relaxed, in a small brick room on a rickety bench a soldier smiles “you’re in Pakistan now , you don’t have to cover your head” I free my sweaty hair relieved and smile back. Chai is offered at the customs office, neatly arranged around a plate of biscuits. The customs officers brother lives in Italy and he’s happy to exchange a few words, he’s ready to help us, but the police escort wants us to leave immediately. We are told that our tires can be found in Quetta about 600km away from here, we leave reluctantly ,in this case happy for the police escort, at least we won’t rot in the desert… somehow something will happen.One hour passes as the sun heats the single strip of asphalt on this deserted plain, we hear a familiar noise…. another tire. We mount the only other tire we have left , it bulges alarmingly where the bead is already broken, and I pray to an unknown god. We reach Taftan in a mad race against time hurtling recklessly on the scorching road, the tyre has burst and for the last 500m we skid noisily on the rim coming to a dramatic , lopsided halt in the police compound…our new home for the next week. Mr.Yussef Khan the customs officer, is our much needed guardian angel. He feeds us sweet fruit, cold drinks….breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is a great help as we aren’t allowed to leave the police compound without an escort. Mr.Khan has contacts in Quetta and has promised not only to find us three spare tires, but has incredibly also offered them to us as a gift! .With this knowledge the wait, though tense is much easier to bare. Other tourists come and go and it’s a strange feeling not to be able to move, we sweat inside our 3 wheeled home, sitting on the jack waiting for happier days. Lusira is sick, dehydrated and weak and spends most of the time in the hot 40 degrees shade of the truck , whilst Luca and Giulio try to recuperate what is left of our old tires; swapping rims, sticking patches and watching in amazement as tyre ‘wallahs’ show them new tricks, inflating our tires in seconds with gas choreographic explosions. Darkness marks the ominous moment when the police station is besieged by hundreds of illegal immigrants transported from Iran. It’s a strange moment as hoards of men are silently ushered into overcrowded buses that will deliver them back to their relative states. Some are limping and still wear hospital shirts, but as my children point out to me, not all are long faced, some smile and joke. Perhaps this is the end of a long and frightening saga and they are now coming back to their hometown, and in some cases to their loved ones. With our 3 new old tires probably smuggled from military vehicles in Afghanistan, we reach Quetta in 2 days, with our ever changing police escorts. It’s a strange feeling entering; until now despite the kalashnikovs, the atmosphere has been relaxed, now there is a tightening of security. Police wear black t-shirts with ‘certain death’ written on them, sirens ring loud and other vehicles are ushered out of our way. We are escorted into the police compound with an armed bullet proof vehicle with guns pointed. We get fleeting glimpses of an immense sprawling city, hectic, colorful dusty markets, nomad tents, Afghan and Baluchi men walking hand in hand, and pungent plastic burning on every road side .Our police escort changes every 5 minutes in a well synchronized relay,it takes us one hour to reach the compound. We will have to stay for some time, this is perhaps the only place in Pakistan where we can replace our spare tires. We are parked on the dusty roadside inside this safe area reserved for police and their families. Children run around excitedly, and a tall bearded figure emerges from the crowd. It’s Dos Mohammed our new guardian angel, wearing a wide smile beneath his thick beard.We will freshen up and discuss over tea.“I am a Taliban” he is speaking seriously and tells us what to him this signifies “my duty is to help others” He speaks of his family life contrasting, simple but joyful..no doubts, his road is laid out with simple rules.We spend the next week in his company and warm to his vision, so different to ours. He is a sincere and open man with a harsh past .As head of police logistics he is in constant contact with the huge security problems in this area. He speaks of instability created by the warlords, the drug market and daily terroristic attacks,as well as the newer but growing trade in human organs. I shudder at the images he congers up with such compassion.With much time and patience Dos and Luca find the tires. It feels good to roll away with tires blessed by our new friend.
After the tiring drive in Baluchistan, we spend 4 short but intense days with my family near Islamabad, and with our batteries recharged we head north to Hunza. It is still very hot in this unusual October, and after a week of diarrhea and sickness, we gather our energies to organize a trek in these magnificent mountains. It’s been Luca’s dream for some time,and a good practice ground for our future trek in Nepal next spring. We meet our old friend Bashir and visit his small mine, an inspiring place for the children and intriguing new terrain for the study of things never before considered. After a week of convalescing in the grand field behind the prices residence in Karimabad, we finally head for the snowy peaks. It’s a kind of pilgrimage for us. We revisit the road that collapsed beneath the wheels of our truck 4 years ago. The road is even narrower and just as unsafe, but we pass with ease aboard a small jeep, stopping just for an instance to let the leap in time and spca make its full impact on us. It feels good, I’m ready to create new and different memories for this special place. The first night we battle with thin mattresses anticipating the view over the Passu glacier the next day. Giulio wears his rucksack with pride and races ahead with the three porters we hired to help with carrying food and other provisions. I know secretly he wants to be first and spot a small speck overtaking larger ones in the distance. The porters and Bashir our guide will sleep in the small shepherds huts along the way. As i sleep a tossing kind of sleep, wishing for fatter hips to rest on, i marvel at how delicate i am compared to our new friends snoring soundly just a few meters away. The crossing of the glacier is a truly exhilarating experience.The noise of falling crashing rocks, the shifting ice formations, and cool breath of the glacier make up a fantastic landscape that is hard to navigate. We use no ropes, but Farman, Reza and Habib chip ice steps with ice-hacks and offer steady hands to cross the most critical points. I treat Phaedra with vaseline shoes, but after three hours her puppy feet crack and she is happy to see dry land. To the children’s delight, during the cold night, the tent caves in . It’s snowing and by the morning our summer tent is a strange kind of sprawling igloo. We brush off the ice and wait for the sun with a hot chai’ We have a 5 hour vertical climb to the top of this mountain, one of many in the centre of an amphitheater of towering 7000 to 8000m peaks. The view is obscured in places by new clouds, but i feel privileged to be here, proud of my children and the grueling climb. In the small hut at 4,700m we meet 2 local men and discover to our amazement that one was the owner of the winch that pulled our truck up from our unfortunate fall 4 years ago. Their families were all involved in the rescue operation, and we soon have 2 new friends Murad and Khalid . The last day completes the adventure with a truly awe inspiring scramble up an unsteady slippy slate peak, and a grueling vertical three hour descent on the other side. We feel like true heroes when we reach the hut. It’s time to leave Hunza and move south again. I say farewell to Ramla my new and extraordinary friend with her daughter Sofia, future homeschooler, courageously swimming against the tide in more ways than one. She presents me with a beautiful serpentine bracelet, telling me of its curative properties, I accept the gift with gratitude knowing it will be fixed on my arm for the following years, a nice way to stay connected. Our 3 weeks in the family speeds by in a lazy rush, i enjoy my daily chats with my uncle Shadi, reminiscing of times past, the children play chess, color their hair and learn the many ways of making ‘Parantha’ with sweet Abida. A home away from home that feels good after 7 months of travel. Luca is busy with endless visits to the Indian embassy. Relations between the 2 countries is at an all time low. Embassy staff changes and after a good amount of suspense we receive the much needed visa to carry on our travels. After a last visit to our truck decorators for a new look,we are ready to leave.Pakistan Zindabad! Goodbye.
Finalmente siamo in Pakistan , e’un altro mondo. In Iran c’è l’aria condizionata ed è tutto perfetto, invece in Pakistan c’è solo una capanna, dentro c’è un tavolino e una sedia . Al sud del Pakistan devi avere la scorta armata però può cambiare da un carro armato a una moto con un anziano con le ciabatte aperte e un fucile che quando si ferma quasi cade .Il giorno che arriviamo alla casa dei parenti miei e di mamma e’ la Eid, e’una festa religiosa come da noi la pasqua, però ammazzano una capra. Un quarto della carne e’ per i poveri e metà e’ per i parenti. Stiamo solo tre giorni perché è troppo caldo, scappiamo in Hunza dove l’altra volta siamo caduti .La abbiamo fatto un trekking di sei giorni nelle montagne . Il primo giorno abbiamo scordato il sacco a pelo di Giulio , però il nostro amico Bashir che è di Hunza e veniva con noi , e’ ritornato al camion e ha preso il sacca a pelo di Giulio . Il giorno dopo abbiamo camminato tutto il giorno e abbiamo dormito in tenda ciò’ e’ i portatori hanno dormito nella capanna e noi abbiamo dormito in tenda . Mi e’ piaciuto del trekking quando abbiamo attraversato il ghiacciaio , cerano montagne di ghiaccio ed era pieno di piccoli ruscelli. Bashir dice che i piccoli ruscelli sono delle fatine .Mi è’ piaciuto quando ha nevicato . Dormivamo e la nostra tenda è collassata perché era da mare e noi eravamo sotto la neve. La mattina dopo sembrava un altro mondo, sembrava che nella note avevamo volato in un altro mondo. Phaedra, quando ha nevicato, non voleva entrare nella tenda , non voleva entrare perché ci voleva proteggere , però quando è entrata ha dormito molto profondamente. Quando Phaedra ha visto la neve è diventata pazza , gli piaceva da matti,era diventata bellissima . Siamo ritornati dai parenti miei e di mamma, e’ molto più fresco, alla sera devi mettere il maglione. Phaedra e’ stata molto brava nel trekking, ora è diventata molto grande .Noi pensavamo che sarebbe diventata un cane medio invece e diventata un cane grande . Dai parenti di mamma cio’ e’ Shadi, Abida e Zimran ,abbiamo fatto tantissime cose che quasi non ricordo . Abida ha messo l’henne sui miei capelli ,l’henné era del giardino e seccata nel ombra. Ho giocato tanto con i cani di zimran sopratutto Jimmy un cucciolo piccolissimo, ho insegnato a Abida a fare l’uncinetto, e ho anche imparato a fare delle calze con l’uncinetto, e ho anche imparato a fare dell calze con l’uncinetto. Ho giocato tanto a scacchi e ho imparato a fare 4 tipi diversi di ‘Paranta’. Abbiamo tutti mangiati tantissimi ‘gulab jamen’. Finalmente abbiamo preso il visto per l’India , incontreremo dei amici tedeschi che hanno anche loro un camion, gli abbiamo incontrati quando abbiamo fatto l’altro viaggio, con loro andremo in India.
Pakistan Zindabad…. Grande Pakistan ……. sicuramente grande e’ la bandiera pakistana che sventola immensa nel vento rovente di questo settembre infuocato…..il nastro d’asfalto si interrompe oltre la barriera metallica, un ultimo saluto al gendarme iraniano e siamo in Pakistan. Negli ultimi 7 giorni ho smontato e rimontato le gomme del camion almeno 10 volte tentando di ripararle al meglio incollando pezze su pezze ma la struttura e’ ormai morta e tagli inquietanti si aprono a vista d’occhio, ogni poche centinaia di chilometri costringendoci a ricominciare tutto da capo. La polvere alzata dal vento oscura il sole pallido nel cielo bianco di sabbia e di calore mentre zigzaghiamo tra detriti, carcasse di auto, e mucchi di immondizie, seguendo la motoretta del doganiere che ci scorta alla caserma dell’immigrazione… Il camion si inclina, il sibilo inconfondibile dell’aria che si libera dalla gomma e in pochi secondi siamo sul cerchio, ma le ruote di scorta sono finite e con il rumore metallico del ferro che stride su i pochi resti di un asfalto di altri tempi entriamo nella caserma. Evviva siamo in Pakistan….. e qui resteremo per un pezzo. Siamo su tre ruote e un cric. Comincia una ricerca che si dimostra subito quasi impossibile, qui a Tafatan non c’e quasi niente tanto meno le nostre insolite gomme e in più’, per ragioni imprecisate di sicurezza, non possiamo uscire dalla caserma. Sotto il ventilatore nella stanza dell ‘’Immigration Office’’ un signore molto distinto con la barba bianca curata come il suo immacolato shelvar chemis mi chiama in italiano quasi perfetto. E’ il capo, il grande capo, mi offre il te, mi racconta della sua esperienza italiana negli anni settanta a bordo di una fiat 125 da Lahore a Napoli passando da Kabul e Venezia. Grazie a lui dopo 5 giorni di ricerche e molta apprensione all’ alba sul retro di un pickup sono arrivate in regalo tre meravigliose Michelin XZL gemelle delle nostre defunte gomme. I contatti del nostro Yussef, le hanno scovate a Quetta, città’ di frontiera dove dal Afganistan arriva di tutto, armi, droga, motori, gomme, aeroplani, il grande business del mercato di guerra. Un’altra disavventura che il destino ha trasformato in una esperienza e in un piacevole ricordo….La saga delle gomme si conclude a Quetta, città’ blindata dove la pratica sistematica del terrore sta strangolando la vita civile. Attraversiamo la città’ scortati davanti e dietro da uomini armati di tutto punto con la torretta della mitragliatrice che ruota nervosamente a destra e sinistra. Dost Mohammed responsabile della sicurezza della polizia ci accoglie con un grande sorriso camuffato dalla lunga barba, trova un posto per il nostro camion all interno dell area dove vivono le famiglie dei poliziotti e riempe subito il nostro tavolo di dolciumi per Giulio e Lusira e di piccantissimi samosa per noi. Sorseggiando l’ennesimo te della giornata lo informo della disastrosa situazione delle nostre gomme; ne abbiamo tre buone ma la quarta ha un lungo taglio e scorte niente’, ora so che a Quetta si trovano e ho assoluto bisogno di averne almeno altre due, ma siamo sotto custodia e non posso lasciare questa area cosiddetta protetta. Dost, pensa, sorride mentre ci racconta la sua storia, di mujaidin a 20 anni in Kashmir poi la lunga militanza con i talebani in Afganistan, quelli buoni dice lui, quelli che volevano fermare il traffico d’oppio, e di armi poi l’invasione americana i signori della guerra e del business che hanno trasformato quel paese in un inferno e ricominciato i loro sporchi traffici. Lo ascolto con attenzione , osservo le sue mani che delicatamente fanno girare la tazzina del caffè sul tavolo del camion e provo ad immaginarle serrate all’impugnatura gelida di un mitragliatore pronte ad uccidere un nemico inafferrabile. La sua vita e’ cambiata, il suo credo no, senza esitazione, indifferente al mio ateismo dichiarato, sorride di nuovo, mi da appuntamento per il giorno dopo e si allontana nella notte disturbata dal rombo dei caccia militari che pattugliano il confine Afgano. Nell’aria fresca dell’ alba a bordo del tuk-tuk di Dost, in incognito e contro tutte le regole, attraversiamo la citta’ che lentamente si sveglia e raggiungiamo il vasto quartiere di Kabuli Market. I miei occhi girano vorticosamente tra le cataste di oggetti più svariati, ammucchiati con ordine nei piazzali; enormi turbine di elicottero, generatori elettrici, cannoni di autoblindati, apparati radio, funi e reti , e immensi rotoli di filo spinato, e ovviamente altissime torri di gomme di tutte le misure. Addossati al muro, su un grande tappeto dai colori sbiaditi, sei o sette uomini robusti e barbuti, discutono a gambe incrociate pacatamente, ci fanno sedere e immediato arriva il te bollente e ciambelle freschissime. Accetto, saluto, sorrido e goffamente mi siedo, impaziente di andare a curiosare tra le ruote. Dost racconta la storia di questa anomala e simpatica famiglia che scorrazza per il mondo, io ammicco e con le poche parole di urdu che conosco, ringrazio per l’ospitalità’.Pochi minuti di ricerca e due perfette bridgestone vengono spinte fuori dalla torre di ruote, le controllo con attenzione…. sono perfette….non potevo chiedere di più alla sorte.Un lungo abbraccio con Dost qualche foto e la promessa di mantenerci in contatto sono gli ultimi ricordi di Quetta e del Balucistan dove nonostante la pace sia solo un sogno, la vita scorre normale.Saliamo i lunghi tornanti che conducono a Babusar ben oltre 4000 metri, il caldo di Islamabad e’ un ricordo, qui l’aria dell’Himalaya scende gelida dai canaloni rocciosi, i fiumi sono impetuosi e bianchi di sabbia erosa dal granito. L’orizzonte e’ una corona continua di cime ben oltre i 7500 metri….. il cielo e’ blu intenso e le nuvole avvolgono di tanto in tanto le cime più alte…..Bashir ci aspetta a Karimabad, sono passati oltre quattro anni dall’ultima drammatica volta che ci siamo visti, quando il nostro camion e’ precipitato sul fianco di una di queste montagne. Lo spettro di allora e’ ormai lontano nella memoria, e inaspettatamente ci ritroviamo a salire con Bashir le stesse mulattiere di allora, ma con un altro spirito. Portare Giulio e Luisira su queste montagne solitarie e remote e’ una sorpresa inattesa , siamo solo noi quattro più Bashir e tre portatori, senza di loro sarebbe impossibile. Mentre salgo la ripida morena del ghiacciaio riaffiorano nella mia mente immagini dell’ infanzia, la montagna vissuta a fianco di mio padre, l’odore dello zaino un misto di polvere e di metallo dell’attrezzatura, il sibilo del vento e il silenzio non silenzio delle grandi pareti. Giulio e Lusira avanzano tra eccitazione e timore seguendo la traccia tra i crepacci. Il ghiacciaio vivo e pulsante esplode di tanto in tanto in boati quando i seracchi crollano. Guardo i piedi dei miei figli che ricalcano attenti le impronte e gli scalini tagliati nel ghiaccio verde e ascolto e rispondo alle domande infinite che si accavallano nella loro mente vulcanica. Questo e’ un vero apprendere, una miscela di esperienza e conoscenza che si cementerà’ indelebilmente nella loro mente. Il tempo scorre veloce, i mesi si accavallano ed e’ tempo di lasciare questa valle incantata. Saluto l’amico Bashir con il desiderio forte e determinato di tornare e salire con lui ancora più’ in alto, in cima ad uno dei tanti innominati picchi che fa da sentinella ai tre giganti Nanga Parbat, Rakaposhi e Shispar .
Noi abbiamo avuto la scorta più’ forte del mondo, era un soldatino di 90 anni con i sandali aperti. Aveva un capellino rotondo e la sua motoretta, e quando si fermava, la motoretta ballava e l’omino di 90 anni quasi cadeva. Si e’ arrabbiato da morire quando dovevamo cambiare scorta, perché’ dormivano tutti e allora doveva continuare lui, ma dopo arrivo’ un altro omino, sulla moto. Pero’ mi e’ piaciuta anche Hunza, e’ un paesaggio bellissimo. A me e’ piaciuto anche il trek, e mi e’ piaciuto scordare il sacco a pelo e mi e’ piaciuto passare il ghiacciaio, sempre tante avventure, ma la cosa che mi e’ piaciuto di più’ delle altre e’ stato quando la tenda e’ collassata. Noi stavamo dormendo e la tenda ci e’ caduta in testa ma noi abbiamo continuato a dormire, la mattina dopo, alle 5 della mattina, a papa’ gli scappava la cacca e allora usci’ e sembrava un paesaggio mai visto. Era pieno di neve, ecco perché’ nella notte la tenda era collassata, per il peso della neve e papa’ usci’ dalla tenda e tolse tutta la neve e poi io mi sono alzato e ho bevuto il te e ho fatto un pupazzo di neve e poi abbiamo iniziato a salire la salita ripida. Il giorno dopo noi siamo passati su un sentiero terribilmente pericoloso e allora io e Lusira ci siamo legati con papa’ . C’erano sassi che pendevano e che potevano cadere in ogni momento, come se c’era un gigante che ci camminava sopra, come dei sassolini che cadevano dai passi del gigante. E poi siamo scesi da una discesa tremenda e siamo arrivati ad una capanna dei pastori e un amico mi ha regalato una testa di ibex e abbiamo fatto dei flauti con delle canne trovati, e la mattina dopo siamo arrivati al camion.
Heat and Hospitality
White sugar cubes between tight teeth
Wide smiles, questioning eyes
Open hearts, open houses, flat bread and
Low houses, mud , straw, knitted stone walls,
silver roof tops
Soft fragrant herbs, mysterious grasses
Hand cut hay in neatly wound bundles
Steep slopes, summer harvest
Stark mountains layered grey and rusty
Heavy white heat, hot splintered nerves,
cool whistful breezes
Night visits, torches, worried voices
Do you have enough water, naan?
Come to my house, cool down, clean up
Farsi? Kurdi? Turkish? English no speak!
Wide carpets, bare feet….Share the evening
When people told me that Iran is the most hospitable country, i couldn’t imagine to what extent. I feel truly humbled by the kindness and open heartedness shown to us throughout the country.To thank all individually would need a long list and good memory, so here are but a few of our new found friends: Thank you Maryram and Mojgan two young students who fed us and unexpectedly entertained us with volley ball, shooting practice and visits through hazelnut orchards. Thank you Mayram and Majid photographer and musician, for your bubbling energy and enthusiasm,sweet Persian melodies and passionate, humorous and intelligent conversation, and of course for our guided tour around Quazvin.Thank you to our beautiful Mashad family, who put up with us for almost two weeks! Mr Zarif with his quick humor and efficient practical ways, to Sayareh for her big heart and smile and her many stories and delicious omlettes, and thank you Davoud filmmaker and screenwriter for your good company, exchanges and continuing friendship….we really hope to bother you again in the near future! Thank you Abdol Hoseyn Vahab Zadeh for letting our children play in your unusual oasis in the centre of the city, and allowing us to pry into the daily routine of the Natural school ,thank you too Mahsa and Terme.Finally thank you Ali for your help, for a warm meal and a friendly ear in a difficult moment. Thank you to Ramnaz and her family in Zaidan who heroically stayed by our side under the hot sun and solved our problem with prompt phone calls late into the night.……Marbani
Tutti i giorni
Il cavallo di Allah
Vola su,su,su,su su,su
Con gli uccelli
Ed entra con gli uccelli
Nel cancello del cielo
L’aria e’ fresca ma infinita
il fuoco e’ bollente ma intelligente
e gli umani sono stupidi
Il mondo e’ la testa di un gigante
che cammina nell’ universo
e quando facciamo le strade
gli rasiamo i capelli
Esattamente 20 anni fa sono passato per questa stessa frontiera Dogobaiaz/ Tabriz, che separa Turchia ed Iran, ma in direzione opposta rientrando dal subcontinente Indiano in sella ad una vecchia e rombante Royal Enfield acquistata a Delhi dopo aver venduto il biglietto aereo che avrebbe dovuto riportarmi a casa. La gigantesca immagine di Komehini che brucia la bandiera americana dipinta sopra il grande cancello della Repubblica Islamica Iraniana e’ solo un ricordo lontano nella mia memoria. Ora anche qui il ‘poitically correct’ ha preso il sopravvento e tutto e’ moderno, pulito, ed efficiente oltre modo….. niente piu’ guardie rivoluzionarie in camicia nera e barba curata, niente piu’ slogan anti imperialistici. L’imperialismo del resto ha vinto e la mela di Cupertino fa capolino qua e la ovunque…..
Tutto scorre perfettamente, la rinomata gentilezza iraniana supera i miei stessi ricordi e in poco piu’ di un ora siamo liberi di continuare il nostro viaggio. Il caldo di meta’ luglio in questo altopiano vulcanico, coperto di rocce nere ci spinge subito tra le montagne che circondano la zona e in pochi chilometri siamo a quota 2500 metri. L’aria e’ piacevole il cielo e’ blu intenso e i prati un po rocciosi mi ricordano l’appennino. Sono giorni di riposo dopo la pazzesca corsa attraverso la Turchia…… tutto rallenta e il ritmo del nostro normale viaggiare cala, deviato dai continui inviti che riceviamo. E’ un viaggio tra la gente che incontriamo e ci fermiamo ovunque ci viene offerta ospitalita’: a casa di un tecnico di radiologia da tempo in pensione con pochi denti ancora saldi e tanta voglia di parlare, da due giovani studentesse con la passione del fucile e tanta curiosita’ per il nostro luccicante occidente, da un simpatico contadino con tanta uva e frutta nei terrazzi strappati a forza dai suo antenati alle costole ripide della montagna e da Maryam e Majid che ci hanno accolto come vecchi amici nella loro casa di Qazvin tra meravigliosi strumenti a corda costruiti e suonati con suprema maestria da Majid.Le sue melodie persiane hanno accompagnato le nostre sere fatte di intense discussioni e racconti reciproci. Di queste lunghe sei settimane ricordero’ nel tempo forse solo le tante persone che con sincerita’ ci hanno aperto le porte delle case, senza scrupoli e senza forzature ….. ricordero’ Mr. Zarif e la sua straordinaria famiglia, la risata piena di vita di Sayareh, e il pragmatismo di Davoud che mi ha mostrato un Iran illuminato e moderno purtroppo compresso dal potere dogmatico, irrazionale e miope. Il lungo tragitto da Mashad, la citta’ simbolo dei pellegrini dell’ Immam Reza, e il confine con il Pakistan, nel Balucistan, terra marginale di trafficanti e faccendieri, e’ occupato dal grande deserto di Kevir e di Lut , che ci ha catturato riaccendendo in noi la smodata e incontenibile passione per questi spazi incontaminati e solitari. Per giorni abbiamo girovagato tra pianure deserte di ciottoli e cordoni di dune, intervallati da villaggi di nomadi abbandonati, lungo vecchie tracce segnate solo sulle mappe militari Russe che ci accompagnano da anni, rimpiangendo un po’ di essere qui nella stagione calda, sbagliata per una lunga traversata di questo splendido deserto.La solitudine del deserto ha magicamente imprigionato l’intimita’ della nostra famiglia, senza veli , senza obblighi e senza falsi pudori. Gli ultimi giorni, nel caldo rovente del Balucistan, forse sotto l’effetto di una malaugurata maledizione le nostre ruote hanno cominciato a perdere pezzi, una dopo l’altra in un susseguirsi angosciante di forature ed esplosioni…… rendendo il tragitto alla frontiera del Pakistan un’odissea…..piena anche essa pero’ di piacevoli incontri e sinceri aiuti.
Oggi a distanza di 20 anni dal mio primo viaggio in Iran posso solo confermare che questa antica terra, ricca di storia cultura e tradizioni non ha assolutamente perso la sua identita’ e il suo carattere nonostante le pressioni e le forzature subite.
Siamo finalmente in Iran. Povera Fedra deve tenere la pipi. Dalla dogana si vede il Monte Ararat dove c’e’ sempre la neve. In Iran tutte le donne devono tenere le fasce sulla testa per legge….quante complicazioni!
Ci sono delle cose che mi mancano dalla casa
Mi manca Sukki con i suoi occhi grandi e verdi e il suo muso bagnato, e il suo odore di muschio.
Mi manca il mio tessuto con cui vado su, su, su e da lassu vedo il sole che tramonta.
Mi manca il circo dove imparo tante cose
Cosa penso dell’ Iran:
Mi e’ piaciuto dell’ Iran fare il pane nella sabbia . Mi e’ piaciuto quando e’ venuto un signore abbastanza anziano e ha cominciato a parlare in Farsi che e’ la lingua che parlano in Iran, pero’ noi non capivamo niente , ma, lo stesso, papa’ diceva sempre si,si,si,si. Avevamo gia’ cenato e eravamo pronti per andare a letto quando ha bussato alla porta di nuovo il signore, questa volta con un altro signore che sapeva parlare Inglese, e ci ha invitato a casa suo, pero’ noi eravamo gia pronti per andare a letto. Allora ci siamo rivestiti e siamo andati nella cabina avanti. Alla fine pero’ e’ stata una serata abbastanza piacevole a bere il te’ e mangiare il melone a mezzanotte. Mi e’ piaciuto andare a Mashad ed incontrare delle persone molto ospitali. Mr.Zarif raccontava sempre storie buffe e Sayareh che rideva sempre quando raccontavamo le storie. Davoud che cucinava e che da piccolo pensava che era una cosa che non doveva fare. Ho visto la tomba di Imam Reza sempre piu’ pieno di persone, con persone che lo toccavano e piangevano.
Turkey passed by in a blur. After a relaxing day in Troy, a tense night watching soldiers take over Istanbul on a foreign t.v. screen. The words are incomprehensible but the tone is alarming. A coup? Boarders are closed and flights cancelled, everyone is tense. We’ve taken a ship across to Canakkale and are at the wrong side of this sea to simply drive back to Greece. A sickening feeling of deja vu haunts our sleepless night. Flee as fast as possible or wait, watch and measure? In Syria in 2011 we fled and drove into trouble and unrest. We will wait. It’s quiet here, a village of 1000 people, only the campsite owner makes me nervous. As we gather around the television thirsty for news, he promptly switches it off, turns up the music and walks away. His words are calming but he is visibly nervous and irritated with us. The next morning a Turkish family immigrated to Germany turn back to Greece. We wait with another young couple of travelers heading to Mongolia. I spill out 2 full buckets of lego on our carpet outside and the children sit in the shade making ‘ satellite plane car scooter boats” We feel defeated, it’s more than 2 months that we’ve been trying to move forward and are stopped at the last minute for one reason or another…a message? We hold a family meeting at lunch, eating Turkish meatballs and fried aubergines in the sticky shade of the restaurant. Two vote to go back and two to go forward…stale mate. I try to explain to the children what happened last night in Turkey and what the latest news seems to be showing. Giulio looks in amazement
“ Why are we wasting our spit talking! If the president has arrested all the military trying to take over, there is no more danger anymore. Let’s go to Iran!
The logic is impeccable and in three fast days of driving we are beneath Mount Ararat “Welcome to Iran”
Giulio scrive :
Le Alpi, i libri,
la scrittura e i animali
e le nuvole di forme diverse
Ma dove si trova la liberta’
a mani nude
volando come i uccelli
storie belle e vita bella
Tutti i giorni la penna del mio libro scrive
pagine per pagine le storie finite
nella bocca del mondo
Dopo lo stallo in Grecia , e la fuga sul monte olimpo in cerca di fresco per finire il lavoro di editing finalmente vediamo sventolare la bandiera turca alta sul pennone al confine dietro una lunghissima fila di tir che aspettano i lunghissimi controlli doganali……
RX per il nostro camion ma niente controllo ne a noi ne al nostro carico…. nessuno si accorge che abbiamo un cane…. alla faccia di tutte le raccomandazioni, i documenti necessari per passare le frontiere le eventuali quarantene e via di seguito….solo 25 euro di visto per Sameena con il suo bel passaporto Britannico.
Il caldo di meta’ luglio, la poco voglia di vedere grosse città’ e l interesse mostrato da Giulio e Lusira di visitare Troia di cui hanno sentito parlare nelle storie greche ci portano lontano da Istanbul lungo la costa che va verso sud e con un piccolo traghetto siamo oltre il canale a Canakkale vicino a Troia.
Un piccolo campeggio, una coppia di giovani viaggiatori tedeschi in rotta verso l Australia, due chiacchiere dopo la visita d’obbligo al sito archeologico, e il falso sorriso del proprietario e della sua antipatica vecchia mamma incorniciano questa prima giornata in Turchia……mentre ricordi lontani di oltre 30 anni fanno eco nella mia mente.
Il sole tramonta, il caldo lascia posto ad una fresca brezza serale tutto e’ tranquillo i bambini dormono il sonno dei giusti e sul telefono scorro le ultime notizie…..sembra quasi un “deja vu’ “ del 2012 quando le rivoluzioni ci seguivano o anticipavano di poche ore….. colpo di stato in Turchia carri armati bloccano i ponti a Istanbul aerei militari sorvolano a bassa quota Ankara…. primi scontri, insicurezza paura…. in pochi minuti e pochissimi click sullo schermo del telefono e la nostra realtà’ e’ ribaltata….. da felice famigliola in giro per il mondo per far crescere i figli liberi e spensierati all angoscia di trovarsi in un paese in rivolta….. la notte e’ lunga le notizie frammentarie , gli amici nottambuli in europa ci aggiornano dai divani di casa ascoltando commenti e commentatori europei……notte insonne e piena di incertezze… che fare? La notte per quanto breve porta con se un consiglio, e la mattina decidiamo di non fare nulla, aspettare….. qui a Troia tutto e’ normale le pecore nei pascoli i contadini al lavoro sui trattori nuovi fiammanti e il muezzin instancabile che chiama tutti alla preghiera. Consiglio di famiglia al tramonto con Giulio che suggerisce di proseguire visto che “il presidente ha arrestato quindi che problema c’e”? e Lusira che diplomaticamente dice “si può’ anche tornare in dietro ma in Mongolia comunque voglio arrivare…”.
Due diverse realtà’ una dentro il video della tv piena di immagini ripetute a sfinimento una fuori oltre il piccolo muro che ci separa dai campi che circondano Troia…. dove la vita continua come se nulla fosse accaduto…..
All’alba accendo il camion lasciando tutti dietro e in pochi minuti entro in una bella e moderna autostrada che corre verso est….. perseguiamo in fretta, anzi di corsa ma proseguiamo….1950km in tre giorni evitando tutte le città ma senza motivo perché’ la gente sorride e sembra ignorare ciò che e’ accaduto….. e ripenso alle parole dell’illuminato amico dentista di Ankara che al telefono mi ha sussurrato “non ti preoccupare e soprattutto non cambiare i tuoi piani e’ solo uno sporco gioco del presidente”
Siamo gia’ in Turchia e gia tutto cambia…le signore che fanno il bagno vestiti.
Siamo andati a vedere il sito archeologico di Troia. Era molto bello, abbiamo sentito con le cuffie tutta la storia di Troia, e ho scoperto tante cose. Ho scoperto che Achille e stato ucciso proprio qui su una rampa della città’.
Tutti gli uccelli sono nei alberi che cantano. E’ gia’ Luglio e il cielo e’ sempre piu’ blu, e le giornate sono sempre piu’ lunghe, e l’erba e’ sempre piu’ gialla, e tutte le farfalle che svolazzano fra i fiori.
E’ l’ultimo sera in Turchia. Domani attraverseremo la dogana e entreremo in Iran. Siamo su un campo, Fedra e’ sempre piu’ affettuosa e grande, le rondini sono sempre piu’ in alto.
Sameena : Greece has again embraced us in an unexpected way. We were supposed to stay a short time, just enough to relax and find our traveling feet, but again fate has had other plans. My Iran visa is long in surfacing from the beaurocratic machine (British passport with Muslim name creates suspicion on all fronts) and an unexpected job has kept us here for 6 weeks!! Time enough to savor this beautiful country and contemplate (already!) other routes should my visa not submerge.
Lusira and Giulio say that Greece reminds them of Tunisia; no helmets or seatbelts, loose traffic rules, good yoghurt and free spaces, people are extremely welcoming …and the straw umbrellas on the beach are even free!
Our first weeks are spent with old and new friends (Thank you Nikos and Khara for your hospitality) and in the happy company of my nephew Ben, who came on board with us for 4 days. Luca made the most of his acupuncture skills and Lusira and Giulio, made the most of his infinite energy and patience in games of ball, climbing excursions and jellyfish fights. The last 5 weeks have been spent in the company of two sweet and wonderful people George and Vania. With an urgent editing job to do they kindly picked us off the seafront,and opened their house and hearts to us. Our energies mix and flow, we infect them with thoughts of trucks and freedom and they have infected us with their unselfish love for all creatures….we now have a puppy. A heart not a head decision,it’s for sure a complication to our simple life, but a very welcomed one. I feel she marks a new period.
….So this blog text, is again out of date! We were again stopped in our tracks this time just 12km from the Turkish boarder after having revisited our old friend Giorgo from Epanomei., and now another month has passed. A quick U- turn back to Athens to a recording studio, and then slowly back up north. Whist i yet again stare into the computer monitor with my eyes rebelling against their sad destiny (where have the beautiful horizons gone?) The rest of the family scratch deeper into the Greek culture. The sweet scent of herbs tucked in the cracks of wild boulders mingle with fantastic tales of ancient Gods and Goddesses that Lusira and Giulio have become obsessed with. They collect thyme and capers on the seafront and breath in ancient landscapes in Delphi and the Meteore…Our last stop, the mighty Mount Olympus a fitting place to finish their books and my job. Luca goes shopping by foot with the children in a small village nearby, as i make the most of the sun on our chosen hillside at 1200m, to keep me cool and my computer batteries high (i would of course have preferred it the other way around! me high…) After 12 days i can finally remerge .We all feel victorious, and celebrate with a short trek up to the top of the mountain,with wild goats whistling at us as the clouds rush past in a fantastically clear sky. It’s definitely time to leave, but i already feel nostalgic for this beautiful country.
Luca racconta: L’ultima volta che ho scritto sul blog avevo il mio cappello pastun di lana, l’aria era fresca e con stupore ed ammirazione guardavo i nostri figli sguazzare nell acqua gelida dello Ionio ad Aprile…… da allora un buco enorme si e’ aperto davanti a noi…e al nostro viaggio, e quasi sembra abbia ingoiato, famelico, gli ultimi 90 giorni…. Raccontare tutto sarebbe lungo e noioso ma anche questo buco, come tanti altri che in passato abbiamo conosciuto, e’ un aspetto del nostro modo di viaggiare…. lasciare che siano le circostanze a determinare il nostro progredire verso una meta sempre molto incerta. Dopo tre mesi siamo ancora in Grecia molto vicini alla frontiera turca, ma non ancora altre quella linea immaginaria che separa, sulle carte, terre, popoli, culture, e spesso anche tristemente i destini di intere popolazioni. In tre mesi abbiamo nell’ordine: rimontato l’intera serie di documentari che in maniera un po’ roccambolesca quanto improvvisata finira’ tra qualche mese sugli schermi di mezza Asia, Sameena si e’ trasformata inaspettatamente in doppiatrice di se stessa in un studio di registrazione ad Atene, infuocata dal sole di fine Giugno, abbiamo ricevuto il visto dell’Iran dato ormai per perso dopo 8 settimane di attesa e sbloccato il conto bancario che era finito sotto tutela da un non precisato organo di controllo per aver indicato la parola ”Iran” sulla causale del pagamento del visto stesso….e ovviamente vissuto la quotidiana intimita’ familiare nel nostro camion, in posti molto belli, ma anche in quelli normali, dalle spiagge bianche della penisola kalkidika ai pascoli in quota del monte Olimpo.
Tre mesi di viaggio senza kilometri percorsi, senza itinerari e localita’ turistiche raggiunte, ma con tanti incontri e la scoperta di una terra ospitale e sorridente, la Grecia dei greci, dei continui “ti kanes?” ( come va?), delle cortesie senza ritorni e doppi fini, degli inviti sinceri a condividere una fetta di feta o un suvlaki davanti al mare o sulla cima di un monte.Questi lunghi mesi in Grecia hanno impiantato il seme di nuove e profonde amicizie, e il sorriso timido ed emozionato di Wania, la sensibilita e l’ospitatlita’ esplosiva di Jorgos non saranno certo cancellate dall’effetto sbaidente della memoria.So che in ogni momento potro’ tornare, per un giorno, un mese o un anno nella loro casa e sentirmi sempre parte di essa e non un ospite…..
Tante cose possono accadere in una settimana. Abbiamo incontrato una coppia interessante scappati da Atene, venuti in cerca di liberta’ e a vivere in campagna. Subito diventando amici, ci invitano a cena dove hanno 11 cagnolini trovati con la mamma. Era la prima volta che vedevo dei cagnolini cosi piccoli. Dopo qualche giorno decidiamo di adottare una cagnolina, ero felicissima! Dopo aver provato tanti nomi decidiamo di chiamarla ‘Fedra’ (Phaedra) che vuol dire ‘luminosa’.
Adesso non vi racconto del cammello perche’ sono successe delle cose che mi piacciono molto piu’ del cammello ( il cammello velo racconto un altra volta)
E tanto, ecco dove inizia la vera storia: Noi abbiamo incontrato Giorgo e Vania. Giorgio e’ un maestro da sci nautico ed era anche un campione. Io ho detto di ‘si’ e il giorno dopo io e Lusira siamo andati, e io ero il primo e sono andato prima sul bastone e quando ero sulla corda mi sembrava di volare come una piuma. Dopo era il turno di Lusira e alla fine sulla corda e’ caduta come me.
So we leave again this happy hill in the centre of Italy in search of wider horizons, and this invisible dialogue between us starts up again. Four years older and with our truck rebuilt and restored we head again for Asia to pick up on the many things and places we somehow missed on or last trip . Our route is loosely planned and open, oscillating around 4 fixed points:
Pakistan to visit the family, Northern India for part of our filming project, Nepal for a one month trek in the Everest region and Mongolia probably in the summer of 2017.
This time the blog will be written by four different hands. My apathy has unexpectedly and rather joyfully inspired the rest of the family to take over. I will write in English and the rest of the family in Italian.The timing of our posts will probably be erratic so if you want updates you can ‘follow’ the blog and be updated every time we post. So here goes…
The most confused, disorderly and uninspiring departure we ever made. Undecided whether to leave in modest silence or with fanfares and jingles, engrossed in a liturgy of endless ‘things to do’ heads bowed over growing lists, we definitely missed the mark. Unable to decide whether to adhere to the categoric Italian superstition where one should never leave on Friday or Tuesday, our loading activities finally ceased on Thursday night after a frenzy of activity, leaving us exhausted. Our saving grace an improvised breakfast with Luca’s mother and brother on Friday morning, where ominously the lights in our chosen bar went out along with the coffee machines and the possibility of a last Italian cappuccino.
The ritualistic mental preparation got the upper hand and suffocated the bitter sweet joy of departure..and yet, just one and a half hours down the road, our trip has begun. At the port of Ancona, we decide not to take todays ship, but to postpone until tomorrow and to sail with the same ship that heroically brought us home 3 years ago after 22 months on the road. The symmetry is pleasing and sets the tone for a sweet departure. Symbols ,signs, finding order in the universe of possibilities and harmony in our choices, silently guide our movements. This time the horizon of our return is set far ahead. We have no impelling need to come back, the ultimate official obstacle has been overcome, and it is now almost 2 years that we have been joyfully home schooling our children. I can see no better way to integrate their learning experience than letting them be part of the world that surrounds them.
Io sono in Grecia, e vi racconto di quando ero in Douz (Tunisia)
Io stavo giocando con Lanis che lei mi doveva acchiappare. Io stavo gattonando vicino ad una palma e una spina mi è entrata nel dito , e sono andato all’ospedale e quando sono tornato al camion, Lanis e Lilas e Lusira mi avevano comprato un po’ di cioccolato, e ho diviso il cioccolato e siamo andati a dormire.Nello stesso inverno abbiamo salvato un cammello però questa storia ve la racconto un’ altra volta
ciao ciao a tutti voi
Alla fine siamo partiti, il traghetto ci ha trasportato senza accorgerci in Grecia. Pioggia e sole si alternano rapidissimi ,il mare blu intenso è calma nella baia, e Giulio e Lusira tentano di superare il freddo del ‘acqua di Aprile.La costa è frastagliata e le isole punteggiano questo tratto di ionio, con la macchia mediterranea in piena fioritura che riempie l’aria con il suo profumo selvatico. E’ il compleanno di Lusira e come promesso ci accampiamo in una piccola baia che guarda Itaca, il villaggio è in piena attività, tutti tagliano ,riparano e riverniciano ciò che l’inverno ha danneggiato.
In questi primi giorni di viaggio il tempo sembra non scorrere veloce, ed io lentamente mi sto riabituando ai ritmi del viaggio, ai movimenti misurati nello spazio contratto del camion.Cerco di concentrarmi sul nuovo film, dare ossigeno all’idea embrionale che da tempo mi galleggia in testa ma senza grossi risultati…..arriverà di sicuro al momento giusto l’ispirazione e lo stimolo ad iniziare, a raccogliere quelle immagini prima confuse e caotiche che poi si trasformeranno in un racconto.
Ieri siamo andati al mare. Io e Giulio abbiamo salvato le meduse. Quelle con le teste rosse sono ancora vive invece quelle con le teste bianche e dure sono quasi morte e quelle con la testa morbida e bianche sono completamente morte. Giulio dice che e meglio bruciarsi che farle morire, anch’io sono d’accordo
La serie, ‘Fuori Rotta Verso Oriente’ da noi prodotta, e divisa in 5 episodi, andrà in onda su Rai5 , canale 23 digitale terrestre ogni sabato alle 18:30 e in replica ogni domenica alle 13:15 circa, (verificare gli orari sul sito RAI5.)
Gli episodi si possono anche vedere in streaming e le puntate precedenti su RAI REPLAY, indicando data e canale.
Sul digitale terrestre il numero del canale dovrebbe essere 23.
Just for who ever has access to RAI 5, for the next 5 weeks our 5 part series ‘Fuori Rotta Verso Oriente’ will be shown every Saturday at around 18.30 (or later, they change every week!) and on Sunday morning at around 1:15. The episodes can also be seen in streaming and the older episodes can be accessed on internet at RAI REPLAY clicking on date and channel. I think in Italy it can be accessed on channel number 23.
Russia and Ukraine pass in a blur through the now scratched and dirty windscreen of our truck. We have a limited visa and little time to explore, but the rare moments of reprise are spent blinking confusedly and unbelievingly at the new face of reality. We passed along the exact same route in 1998 whilst on our way to Mongolia, and the transformation is incredible. Where before the cities seemed dull and uninviting, as depressed as the inhabitants in a moment of great insecurity, they are now somehow full of life and colour. Many of the huge heating pipes that vomited strange masses of insulation material, have been removed, the front of buildings have been retiled, repainted and modernised, whilst all around there are well kept parks, playgrounds and flowers lining the edge of the road. Couples kiss unashamedly on benches, and the traditionally or perhaps culturally ‘unsmiling’ population….is smiling. The roads too are smooth and I somehow feel like my route has been reversed, here business is booming and there is an optimism in the air like the 70’s in Europe……the unsmiling faces will perhaps come to me further west in the ‘old’ Europe, along with the holes in the roads!!
In Ukraine we spend two languid days with our good friends from Morpheus….we are again sad to part and find excuses to prolong just a little longer the moment before we must say our goodbyes. Our times together and dreams for the future are sealed in a token Thai lantern that is freed in the clear evening sky with the children’s’ names solemnly written on the thin rice paper, they for their part, jump excitedly, run recklessly and attempt to take flight after it. Good bye good friends.
Bulgaria- high hills, sweet scented woods full of wild strawberries, trekkers, friendliness and….broken tyres. The truck is on its last feet and each day a small piece gives way, oil seals leak, and for some reason tyres are breaking at an alarming rate. We change two in one morning and now no longer posses a spare. As we work on the truck the children play their games in the sweltering, dusty surroundings and return victoriously with two bags full of fruit and vegetables donated by a kind blonde lady…. I do suspect she thinks we are gypsies..but actually we are a little and I accept the gift in good spirit. All along the way since we have entered the ‘Stans’ fruit sellers have been our friends….somehow small dirty kids inspire fruity presents. As we get closer to Europe our status as exotic travellers has slowly been transformed, first to circus performers and now to ‘Tzigoiner’.
As we enter Greece I feel a certain emotion, the Mediterranean landscape with its olive trees, loud crickets and pungent scent of dry herbs feels like home and I embrace it all like a long lost friend. It is here that we close our imaginary circle, and our last few days are spent reminiscing. We track our steps back first to Giorgo who welcomes us warmly and takes us out on a day trip in his small self built sail boat, with promises of fishing and cold beers. Business is bad and he can easily take a day off…around him restaurants are closing and there is an uncomfortable feeling of implosion. Tourists have somehow chosen different destinations this year and there is a certain amount of anger at the bad publicity the media has given Greece….business is desperately needed this year.
We return to ’ Peters’ beach near the port of Igoumenitsa, where twenty months ago we met up with our good travelling friend at the start of our trip. Like territorial animals we park in exactly the same place and I’m tempted to dress the kids in the exact same clothing (now of course much too small reaching knees and elbows..) and take a photo, but I’m dissuaded by the 40 degrees temperature that would melt them in their down jackets…anyway the woolly hats have long been given away and the camera batteries are low….a sign of my apathy towards taking photos, yet another indication that our trip has come to an end. I close another strange circle by loosing yet another silver ring in the Greek sea, the same three layered ring this time from my toe….is it a strange cosmic message that I’m unable to decipher?
I again contemplate the mysteries of the planet where all animals big and small have approximately the same number of heart beat during their life cycle….some beating short and fast others long and slow. There are obviously many things I don’t understand or do not have the sensitivity to decipher…..does travelling necessarily make you a little mystical and superstitious? Maybe…today Friday the thirteenth and we have already changed three tyres….hmmm.
Today we board our ship, across the sea and home. I watch the horizon waiting patiently for its silhouette and feel somehow heroic and misplaced… in the wrong century… ’ANEK Lines’ doesn’t have quite the right romantic ring to it, but it nevertheless arrives in glory, puffing smoke against the backdrop of a mottled orange sky. I hear snippets of conversation in Italian, excite holiday makers chattering about fashion… images of far off lands, momentary emotions ,and unorganised and undisciplined thoughts come flooding all together in to my mind, heightening my sense of alienation.
The authorities don’t really have a protocol for people like us returning to their country after such a long period spent abroad. Our M.O.T expired last year , as did Luca’s driving licence, but our good friends Rodolfo and Felicia come to our rescue and meet up with us to help us slip back, incognito to the safety of our home. After a Hawaiian style welcoming with serenades and flower necklaces, we drive the two hours that it takes to reach our home with Rodolfo scouting the road ahead to avoid any long and uncomfortable discussions justifying our outlawish behaviour. As in the past our cat ‘Sukki’ magically meets us at the gate (seventh sense …or is it nine lives) greeting us with load meows.
Its midnight and the kids are fast asleep in the truck, our curiosity is too great and we tentatively open the front door of our house, around us a strange moonlit garden with yellow-blue grass up to our shoulders. Inside we switch on the light and walk delicately across the floor like two burglars not wanting to disturb the rightful owners. I catch Lucas’ eye and start to laugh, we are strangers in our own house. For a few rare moments I have the chance to look at my house objectively with the cool eye of a stranger, no longer linked to the objects by any memories or emotional ties….it all seems very beautiful….but why so much?? I find a small list of ‘things to load into the truck’ scribbled hurriedly and stuck on the fridge with a colourful magnet, a small time capsule. Many things have changed inside me, but here all has remained static, in hibernation, waiting for our return to be reanimated. It is the load clicking of crickets that brings me back to the present, the only evidence of life invading the privacy and stillness of our house in our absence…..a small village of them have congregated in our living room adding to the surrealness of the situation and my sense of displacement ……we will need a little time.
In the morning Lusira wakes first “We’re home Giulio, look we’re home!!” – “Ah, is it snowing?” he asks (it’s full summer and already 35degrees Celsius, but the last photos he saw of the house was with snow!)
I decide to call Giulio’s bluff; he is the guide and will lead us down the path to our house. He walks confidently, swinging his arms. He arrives at a door.. “Here” (it’s not our s door) “Ah…Sukki !” he exclaims at a cat (it’s not our cat) “Ah yes here’s our car..” (it’s not our car) At this stage I feel a little mean and lead him back to our home, he runs around trying to find his bedroom “Where’s that wooden thing for going down?” he obviously has small snippets of memories independent of space.
The next three days we see very little of our children. Giulio exclaims “Are these all ours?!” looking at a neat stack of toys. The next days are spent going up and down the stairs with books under his arms talking to himself in a low mumble. Lusira tells me “it’s like staying for a long time at a beautiful campsite…but in a house instead of a truck!” and Giulio after some time finally concludes “Mummy, now we will stay, I like my house”
As for me…I am busy emptying cupboards of useless objects and streamlining our house. At times I still feel a volcano of energy and optimism pulsing in my chest which I dearly hope to preserve. The world after all is a fascinating place…..
Remember your projects and keep magic in your life. Do useless, enjoyable things that make you feel good, and fill your house with colour. Celebrate everyday with childish things and don’t get hassled by dust and washing! Don’t work for your objects or possessions. Keep your children close and give them your exclusive time. Let them fly!
Build an Elf house in the woods. Make a hat of leaves and flowers for Lusira. Go on the back roads with your Vespa, all four together and free!
Build a chicken house of mud and sticks, up in the trees like in Ethiopia, and a Nepali stove in the shade for summer cooking .Plant fruit and vines that change colour in autumn. Plant marigolds, hibiscus and hollihops in your garden, wild asparagus under the olive trees and capers in the cracks of the stone walls.
Knit, knit, knit. ..And knit with love. Crochet anything, any shape and colour that comes to mind and gives you inner peace.
Go away, keep moving, and do things for yourself..don’t worry about things you can’t change and don’t worry about the world, it will carry on long after you have gone! Make love to your husband and stay united….don’t let any sourness slip in. Stay light and say sorry. Be healthy and don’t get stuck on the net!!
Wide horizons, emptiness, desert, hotsweatybumpy unfinished roads, rasping boiling air, no sleep, friendly shepherds, easy smiles, the yellow smell of dry cut grass, rainbows following us, camels with dreadlocks, loud crickets and wild flowers on the table, expensive fruit…free fruit, gifts, cool rivers, week-end camping, clean green towns with playgrounds…… white skin, short skirts and supermarkets that mark end of our trip….
Like migrant birds we look west to Europe and home. It’s time to take flight; we have many kilometres and less time than we are used to. No longer will we travel, but transit or transfer.
The long journey will be used to begin to digest the twenty months on the road and to plan new sedentary projects with less spice but hopefully just as much spirit…. A trip is never complete, until, like an old film, you have ran over the many images and moments that have become a part of you but are also hidden inside you, waiting for a quiet moment to come out and become whole, solid; where past, present and future mix in a single thought that is the essence and reason for travel…..
(In my notes I have written ‘self- growth, blah, blah, blah’ which seems to express things quite well!)
So, what now? Do I carry on in what has become a monthly ritual, this pleasant conversation with myself and your invisible eyes?…. Do I actually have any more images or thoughts to share or do I make a dignified exit now while the going is still good?
I will make my exit (as dignified as possible) with the last Post written from home. I am myself curious (and admittedly a little worried) what ‘home’ means, especially for the children. This morning I had my first moment of horror at leaving the truck. I’m happy and full of energy for the future, but I love the intimacy we have, I love meeting new and often like minded people, the freedom of movement and…. our stupid little routines. I love this gypsy life and can’t yet imagine staying put. Giulio too is excited but also clingy, a little unsettled…on closer examination I have discovered that his memory of home is only from photos and obscure unrelated fragments of life , mostly related in some way to food! We will see….
As far as images go, I have every intention of editing monthly video clips from each country, to share a little of what has been shown on the blog so far in photos. So keep tuned if you feel like it or subscribe to the blog if you want to be informed when there are any new posts.
NEXT POST – LAST ‘TRAVEL’ POST
At one stage in our trip we had planned from Pakistan to go to Mongolia, and perhaps Kirgikistan is at this stage a sort of compensation. Out of character, we have chosen the ‘soft’ option, and as much as I muse about our lost route and the high passes of Tajikistan, I feel it is time to bow my head and do the ‘sensible’ thing – stick to the main arteries and return west via Kirgikistan and Kazakhstan. Decision made, I realise the absurdity of my thoughts…..the country is beautiful and ready to be discovered, and savoured. A strange mix of nomadic and sedentary existences, where nomads have cell phones and trailers and city dwellers in their total modernity still can be seen wearing rather comical, tall cylindrical felt hats…as well as felt baseball caps.
For the children it’s a rare chance to get a glimpse of a nomadic culture that is somehow at this moment in time, closer to them. A chance for numerous donkey rides, to witness the milking of horses and the chance (or misfortune.) to see at close quarters in a very natural and spontaneous situation, the slaughtering of animals and the rituals that inevitably accompany the act.
Milk, meat and vodka…. these are the games in the evening. I find Lusira lying on the ground, ready to be made in to ‘Shashlik’ by Giulio the butcher, Gaia milking an imaginary yak, and all three later in the evening united around three small glasses with a flask of ‘vodka’ that they polish off before bed. Everything is absorbed with great ease and stored in their memory for another occasion, where in an association of ideas, it will come floating back to the surface to enrich a different game thousands of kilometres further west.
After sad goodbyes and our agendas fixed with appointments for meeting up in Europe with other nomadic friends met along the road, we relax in the kind company of our friends in the ‘Morpheus’ truck. We will travel together west up to Ukraine where our paths will split. They too must head west in time for the imminent birth of their new child. We exchange ideas and plans, try to imagine our futures. The sweet taste of the end of our trips is savoured with deliberation as we mentally prepare ourselves for a faster pace…. or maybe not. I dream of a similar life at home, where certain little but important rituals are guarded jealously in the confusion of ‘keeping up’. Maybe this time I will really do it!!
For now, the wild cloud formations in this part of the world bring my attention back to the present, the vast horizons makes everything seem close, and I feel exhilarated, as if I could be swept away any minute by the explosive energy hiding inside them.
ON LINE AGAIN…. FOLLOW US HOME! NEXT POST, SATURDAY
China is again a misleading title….more precise would be’ Kashghar’ as it is here that we spent most of our five days in China( its self a very atypical Chinese city). admittedly it’s going to be hard to keep any ones attention after the last dramatic posts, so (thank god!) here goes for just another boring travel story…….
After our exhilarating entry in to China at 4800m, 150km further down the valley we have to officialise our entry into the country. Parked in a new modern ware house complex we perform a strange customs procedure, that involved the children being sent into line to present their own passports, and the filling of bags with dirty washing to show as ‘hand luggage’ ( no hand luggage was not conceivable!). We sleep in a hotel parking lot and then head straight to Kashgar, where some of the group need to prolong their visas and where an M.O.T. is supposedly meant to be done on our trucks (oh dear!!)
The immediate impression after Pakistanand the Hunza area, is of jumping a little awkwardly twenty years forward. Here packed fast food of strange content and beer is sold by unsmiling vendors at the roadside ,the children are mesmerised by the colorfully flashing luminous signs, and it all feels a little strange….perhaps even a little too ‘normal’ like stepping out of a dream. The usual overland softening and blending of cultures hasn’t worked here, and I have the impression of stepping out of a plane. To my surprise the women wear high hats with scarves tied over the top and tight knee-length skirts, looking very elegant in an antiquated sort of way. My imagination stuck in the old clichés of blue trousers flat shoes and bicycles is truly out of date and I even feel a little foolish.
Kashgar centre feels like a well-kept modern city with airy avenues and plenty o f green parks and shopping malls for its inhabitants. It is hard to imagine the old bustling caravan route that it used to be…..but first impressions are often misleading and there is a truly charming heart to be found here.
We park after much discussion and a little haggling, just a few hundred metres from the imposing statue of Mao near the main central square. Here we soon become an attraction for the city dwellers and i’m immediately struck by the curiosity and friendliness of the people of Kashgar. Our evening meal is in a little kiosk at the side of the road. A small t.v. with an old chinese pantomime,and an old steel bed at disposition for the clients. We order fried skewers of mushrooms, soya, pork and something else unidentified but tasty, and celebrate with a bottle of local Chinese red wine. when we go to pay the owner refuses our money.. we are his guests.
The food in China is irresistibly varied, strange and very tasty, the incomprehensible characters on the menu making ordering in restaurants more exciting…will it be fishy, meaty , veggie or maybe even a sweet….or are we maybe ordering drinks ?? On the side of the road strange salads with white wobbly cubes and tangy sauces are sold, chop sticks are still the only tools for eating, and to my surprise our children get a good technique in noodle winding . Slurping is definitely permitted, so no problems fitting in.
Our priority before visiting the town is to try to get a proper windscreen for the truck. In the morning a Chinese man with a canon 5D
camera gets friendly and wants to take us to a workshop he knows. He doesn’t speak a word of English but phones his friend that does, the three-way conversations are effective and we find just what we need ..a little workshop that will work on the truck immediately. We tell him he has until evening, and to our joy he not only fits a Perspex window but also somehow gets my window winding up and down, even spray painting the welding with a perfectly matching orange. We are looking much better and less of a target for police to stop and question….The next day again, although unable to speak a single word of English our welder passes by the parking lot with his wife and invites us for dinner. We communicate with gestures , big bottles of fruity drinks for the kids, wide smiles, copious nodding and the universal ‘o.k.’ We are shown photos of their wedding on a small digital camera and discover to our surprise that both have more than one brother or sister…..the rule of the one child family is obviously not as strict as i imagined…another myth dispelled.
Finally we have time to visit the old town, that proves quick to weave its magic spell on us. The population is mostly muslim and one is immediately struck by the mix of facial characteristics there, faces often seem more Caucasian or Turkish than typically Chinese. The modern is casually mixed with the old in an unusual and pleasing way, and in the age of cell phones, as silent electric mopeds whistle past, near a sweet sticky rice stall, you can phone home on a row of old telephones. Smiles are easy and the pace of life is slow.
Somehow the crumbling old clay buildings have kept a small part of the past in tact not only in their structures but also within the inhabitants, who spend their time forging and carving on the roadsides. Practicing old dying crafts whilst chatting idly with hot chai and beating their big hammers on soft copper bowls… creating an atmosphere so , so different to that inside the shiny shops a few blocks ahead.
The bazaar sells large chunks of yellow crystalized sugar along side beautifully painted gourds and …..dried hedgehogs, lizards, live scorpions not forgetting, strange balls of insects to be used as shampoo. I’m tempted, but am dissuaded by Lucas’ horrified look…..we buy a beautifully hand forged shovel to use in our vegetable garden at home and imagine myself digging our clayey soil and remembering this special moment.
The days fly and we must go. Thank god the M.O.T. wasn’t necessary and we head off towards the Kirghikistan boarder early in the morning…another high pass. It is snowing, we again pack some dirty washing for the customs control and order the kids to be seen and not heard. Very soon we are again free of obligatory guides and free to move and stop where we please. The cold somehow invigorates this feeling of freedom and we celebrate with snow men and hard alcohol. Soon we will all separate in different directions…. east to Mongolia, south west to Tajikistan and Uzbekistanand north to Kazakistan…..We are still undecided, our wounds are still fresh and we are still unsure of the real damage done to the truck. So far it’s raining inside on our bed and the gears are a little difficult to insert due to the bent cabin…. We need a few days of calm to decide….i feel like i need to decode a secret message, read some proficy…this time i want to do the right thing, i have no more energy for any other kind of adventure…..i just want to be a simple tourist. Our visas are prepared for the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, to explore the high mountains near bordering Afghanistan. It has always been a dream of mine to visit the Hindu Kush but we will see…. For now I want to enjoy this new-found intimacy with my family that always seems to follows disasters.
The pass to China is at 4700 metres and we will need some kind of wind screen to keep out the cold. The first morning Luca drives with goggles. Bashir our faithful friend from Hunza, comes with us. He has been present during the whole operation , rushing to our side over the lake as soon as he heard the news (again thank you) helping both physically and morally . He wants to see us safely out of Pakistan. On the border in the small village of Sost, we find a metal worker specialised in body work. He bangs, burns and solders the cabin late into the night until it’s a reasonable shape and regular enough to stick on a translucent plastic sheet that will act as a windscreen. The kids sleep deeply through the racket. Giulio has stopped wetting his trousers and now includes ‘the rescue’ in his games, at the same time sticking to Luca like a little shadow. To see both the big solid truck ( he can’t remember much about home now) and his big, solid, father fall and crash in one single act has shaken him, but he’s getting his confidence back, surely and steadily. Lusira meanwhile does pretty paintings to decorate the broken windows, and plans beautiful restoration projects with Luca, for when we get home.
We reach the Chinese boarder in victory, with snowball fights and jubilation. The height has made us all heady and drunk and …I can’t believe my luck!!
There is always a silent message to be heard in strange events, and perhaps in a perverse kind of way the accident has made the prospect of coming home , easier…. We are together , healthy and there is still room for our dreams. The simplicity found on our travels and encapsulated symbolically in our truck, is perhaps also possible to achieve at home……we are suddenly able to plan and visualise our return , without regret or anxiety. The road ahead is clear, and I hope I will be able to sustain this new optimism until we get home.
A mountain road like many other we have driven, a few tight turns and narrow passages leading to a small lake and a glacier we want to explore. The exhausting days on Hunza Lake have taken their toll and we need a distraction. The view is glorious, spring has arrived and apricot trees as large as our oak trees line the road. We are invited to drink a salty tea inside one of the small flat, mud roved houses that make up this small village….a reminder of the Tibetan culture that is not far away. The old couple feed us on dried apricots and apricot stones that taste of almonds. Parked beneath snow capped mountains, we plan an excursion up the glacier. The path is lined with slippery slate and precarious boulders, but the sight is spectacular. Both Giulio and Lusira walk the two hours it takes to reach the top, a small snack and time to turn back, the weather is changing. I feel exhilarated and fulfilled, this is part of what travelling is about. I plan future excursions with Luca…the children are exhausted but proud devouring the hot soup prepared by Tanja.
It is with these thoughts in mind that we descend to meet the other members of the ‘China group’ and it is perhaps this total tranquillity and sense of satisfaction that makes the next few days seem even more surreal.
Halfway down the slope, as I help Luca keep on track, I see to my horror the road disappear beneath our wheels. “STOP” We halt just in time, the gap is from wheel to wheel, 3 metres wide. I jump out but have no immediate reaction, seconds pass loudly and Lusira is passed out of the window. Harald and Tanja join me quickly, I instinctively try and jam stones under the wheels , where they have fallen away. I quickly realise the road is handmade , and what seemed solid from above, from below is incredibly unstable. The sprinkling of soil on top, hid the telltale signs and the wall is now again crumbling under the weight of the truck. Harald screams to move away from below, the stones are giving under the right wheel. I see Giulio looking out of the side window ….then in a few split seconds the truck is hurtling forward in a wild attempt to reach onto solid ground. This is the image that will repeat itself many times in my mind in the next few days – frozen by the adrenalin running through me. A mad nine ton truck flying desperately forward, scrambling in search of firm ground. For a few split seconds I think it will make it, but the wall continues to open like a zip as the truck passes. I feel sick as the inevitable happens. The truck flies over the edge of the road and crashes heavily on its side on the next terrace, stopped by a stone wall from falling down the slope……images of a small crushed body and an unconscious , lifeless husband…I run screaming to the truck. Luca, to my confusion, jumps out vertically like a rabbit, when I reach the cabin… “Giuli?!! Where’s Giulio??” – but unseen to me, a few seconds before , Giulio had been passed to Harald through the window and is sitting wide eyed on the rock beside Lusira – My family is safe!!
Is my glass half full or half empty? I juggle with this thought all day and all night. Of course it’s half full, but the truck nevertheless looks in bad shape…and I feel despair.
Luca has hit his head and has a large lump on his temple – he is in shock and we try and persuade him to lie down. I prize myself through the broken window and enter a world of strange perspectives and wild jagged angles. I have to think hard to work out exactly which is the cupboard with our passports and money. I’m walking on the wall and the floor is the ceiling. Lentils, chilli powder anchovy oil and diesel is somehow spread everywhere. The fridge has hurtled to the other side, smashing the window and tomatoes litter the mattress. We will surely have to abandon our truck and fly home.
I have long realised that time is a slippery concept that grows and contracts like an elastic, but now a new thought occurs to me. Solid objects too can change their identity, they are tightly bound to a specific space and context; if you drastically change these elements you no longer know their value or significance. I no longer know what’s important or useful to salvage ….clothes for the night or my travel diary? My head spins and I give up after taking the strictly practical things. Little amulets collected along the way are floating in olive oil along with Lusiras’ paintings and precious shells. The special order of objects that once gave them their identity has been swept away in a few seconds and anarchy reigns in our much loved nest.
Once we have filled the unimog with what we feel is important, we leave the scene. One kilometre down the road is an empty guest house we can use to store pour belongings…and to sleep. We need to collect our thoughts. Villagers have migrated to the scene of the accident and diligently help us…again the glass is half full. Here in this valley people have seen their homes disappear beneath 50 metres of water. Only two years ago the ‘Hunza Lake’ was an embryonic rain cloud. I feel humbled.
The unimog too is a mess of objects we are all crammed in the back, when to my horror one minute after leaving our truck Luca shouts “NO….EVERYONE OUT!!!” We clamber desperately over mountains of stuff that is blocking the doorway , throwing the children out and scattering like sheep . The road is now giving way beneath Haralds’ truck. Horrified we huddle together with the children. Tanja looks up and sees in a few seconds her truck crashed a few metres beneath ours “ What a terrible picture” she exclaims, but luckily it is not to be. There are many men now to help and the road is quickly stabilised beneath the truck . I walk down to the guest house with Lusira on my back (shoes lost) together with Tanja in her socks (no time for shoes) feeling as if we have taken part in some badly scripted, terrible American movie….
The story is long…much too long, but the outcome is simple (and to my disbelief even today) but happy. We have managed to save the truck in a complex rescue operation. No large machinery would risk the bad road, so with three pulleys , many small jacks and levers and twenty men digging, the truck was pulled back onto its wheels in less than 24 hours after rolling over.
Holes were drilled into the rocks to anchor the pulleys, and the large heavy objects were secured inside the truck to minimize damage. The side I imagined caved in and open like a tin of beans, is strangely in tact…even the Pakistani paintings haven’t suffered too much. …but will the engine start?? And what other hidden damage?
After the first night huddled all together in a coldest of beds pushed next to each other, we sleep a deep and easier sleep, again everything is possible. The next day I salvage objects I had irreverently thrown in disgust, and hoard them jealously inside the guest house away from the elements, mentally visualising myself placing them back in to their old place. The engine starts after a few hours of fiddling. The diesel filter is damaged and needs to be bypassed……but for now all else seems intact.
-we can most probably drive home-
A little dynamite handled with ease in this mining area is used to remove a large boulder awkwardly placed in front of our truck. A new track will have to be cleared to get us back on the road. Luca (very bravely – I was shaking and couldn’t look) drives the truck slowly and carefully down the slope. Men follow with shovels ,strangely silent and ready to intervene… but it’s not necessary. Our group of ‘China crossing’ travellers, came immediately to help and support us on hearing the news (thank you..) and there is a cheer and emotion as the truck parks in front of the guest house. Only Lusira frowns with a few speckles of unhappy tears marking her face as she spots her poor crooked truck. She wasn’t involved in the rescue and sees it for the first time since it rolled.
But no time- we must drive tomorrow if we are to cross China with our present visas. After lunch there is a hive of activity that touches me. Everyone is doing something to bang our truck into a drivable state and to make our little nest homely again.
Tanja helps me order the anarchy of objects littering the guest house floor, and in four hours I manage to repack everything into the truck. Diesel smell and all, we will sleep in the truck tonight. Giulio is very unsettled and needs to be reassured. This morning he told Luca that he thought he (Luca) was very small and had died. His games in the past two days relive the scene. Lego cars roll over cushions and Giulio eerily echoes the very same words pronounced during the accident. I need now to spend a little time with my kids.
Orchards, cherry trees in blossom, flowers and green green grass, mark the start of the Hunza valley- a small paradise surrounded by some of the most challenging mountains for Alpinists, not so much for their height ,but for their acute angles and dangerous conditions. Trekkers walk the narrow paths and ski fanatics take helicopters up to the glaciers and take their chances. Again faces have changed as well as costumes. This is the territory of the Ishmaelite, clear skinned, shorter and more Mediterranean in looks. The women wear round colourfully embroidered hats and look you straight in the eye. It is in this idyllic setting that disaster struck two years ago, in the form of the “Hunza Lake” a lake now 16 km wide created by one enormous land slide during the devastating rains that then led to wide scale flooding of more southern areas of Pakistan. The valley is very narrow here and intervention in any way is risky for towns below. The mass of water is now so big it is unlikely it will ever be drained away totally. Villages ,trees and roads sit in silence below 50m of crystal blue water whilst the inhabitants could only look on, salvaging only the bare essentials and their lives.
Bashir our Hunza friend is at the entrance of Aliabad to greet us, but we are impatient to see the lake and rush ahead promising a meeting and chai in the evening. There are rumours that there will be a big blast in three days leaving little time for making any lake crossing arrangements…..we could have stopped and drunk a tea in retrospect, we discover that there are in fact blasts every day and rumours of a big blast have been circulating for months. The first view of the lake is stunning, but the descent down is very steep and sandy. Chaos reigns as hundreds of Chinese tyres are unloaded by hand from the brightly coloured boats and loaded into Toyotas and tractors. The dust is incredibly fine and covers us all in a fine coat within a few minutes. Lusira and Giulio slip forward and cover themselves resembling little ghosts by the time we reach the truck again. The problem is immediately obvious, although the boats crossing the river look stable, one would need two leashed together to take the load of our trucks and more importantly, how to load them on? The road is steep and narrow and there is only a small space for manoeuvre at the bottom, fine for a car but not so for a truck…..but we aren’t yet worried. We know there is a military pontoon that takes the big Pakistani trucks across the lake, we will try and arrange our crossing with them. But this is the start of an oriental saga……we soon discover that yes there is a pontoon, but that it needs two engines to push it and one has a broken injection pump . Four days of long negotiations with various ‘’influential ‘ people, comes to no avail. We have the usual…yes, o.k. no problem, maybe, perhaps no, not possible but I can extend your visa…. before we decide to pluck up courage and face the fact that we will have to load our trucks on to the wooden boats. Half of the group have now left the scenic campsite and are on the other side of the lake, we must be at the Chinese boarder in time to meet up again.
Bashir helps us with long negotiations and we descend from 700 to 200 dollars for each truck crossing. I volunteer for our truck to go first, I can no longer stand the suspense and want to get it over with. The decent down is painless, luckily all the cars usually parked on the narrow road are absent, today is rest day for many. Space is made behind the truck with a little digging and stones are used to prepare a sort of ramp. After one hour we are ready to load….but our boat is still at the other side of the lake!! Luca waits impatiently as the light dwindles. When the boats finally come it’s a rush against darkness. Much shouting and creaking and in one hour we are on, but it is now dark….after all our efforts, no photo, and a dash up to the top of the hill, Giulio has been crying for half an hour looking for his mummy.
I sleep with Giulio and Lusira in the unimog with Tanja, Theo and Nils whilst the men make the two hour journey across the lake in the dark. Unknown to me the truck is also unloaded the same night, with the help of the local people who work untiringly shifting stones for two hours, a kind of ramp was made, making unloading painless and safe.
The night is wrestles and by the time I fall asleep it’s time to wake up. Wolfgang drives down the slope…his truck worries us most , it is long without power steering…but today we have light and time after four solid hours of preparation ‘Morpheus ‘ is ready to board. To load cheers with dignity she drives up the ramp and on to the planks. I will take the children across now, leaving luca to help Harald with our last load. The crossing is fun and yet eerie, the scenery is stark and majestic and we’re in good spirits – but the thought of drowned villages below adds an uneasy feeling to our ‘boat trip’. . I discover from the boat men that the wooden boats are only 18 months old. They were built on the opposite shore with local pine and fir trees by craftsmen coming from southern Pakistan. Bashir explains that many people from his village no longer visit Hunza…the crossing and the memory is too painful. The loud blasts remind us again that this is no ordinary lake.
Our two boatmen head off to collect the last truck, as we run up the hill to greet ours, happy the ordeal is over. ..But still more surprises, the weather has changed , it is now too windy for Harald to download, they will have to wait for more calm in a bay further up. Luca walks the 200m that separate us, it is again almost night fall but we can’t wait here. Current work on the lake has partially blocked the outlet over the past few days the level has risen, rapidly covering the road that leads to the next village and up north. At first the task is daunting, some say the level is already one and a half metres high, others say it’s impossible. Then two young high spirited men shout from across the other side, they enter the freezing water with their clothes on to show us the direction of the road and the level of the water. It only reaches their thighs and they are pleased with the quick rupees they earn in the few minutes it takes us to cross. Just as I persuade Nils to sleep in Giulios’ bed, I hear the sound of a happy Pakistani horn and recognise the short melody, it’s the unimog. We are all relieved, Nils returns happily to his own bed and Bashir sleeps, exhausted in our front cabin.
The road itself is not so different from any other roads driven so far, but it begins to weave its spell on you as you enter the north western territories. Here everyone is eager to tell you how unsafe it is, but somehow I feel very safe. The faces are those of honest people, a tall race with clear skin and piercing eyes. We are given a police escort in relay across each small regional boarder; they are friendly young and speak proudly of their own family. The Pashto dialect is totally different to anything heard so far adding to the sense of having crossed an invisible boarder. As we advance the high mountains close in and the Indus River crashes impressively through the valleys. This feat of engineering took 12 years to complete…but in the forty years since its completion the upkeep has never really been possible. The rock face, so steep and fragile continues each year to destroy parts of the road, blocking the passage and discouraging a true route of communication between China and Pakistan. The colourful trucks that so contrast with the grey slate mountains, are more often than not for local transport, supplying Gilgit and surrounding areas.
There is a decisively Afghani feel to the small towns we pass through. Smoky chai shops, wooden ladders leaning on shop fronts leading up to the second floors, typical woollen Pashto caps and not a woman in sight! Chapattis and local mutton spice up the air, and I feel a little in a time capsule. But we cannot stop, the police have planned our night stop further down the valley, and I’m left only with these fleeting impressions, unable to immerse myself fully in this particular reality.
Only three times did we manage to slip through the police net, diving on small tracks into narrow side valleys lined with mulberry trees. A large group of men sit in an orderly circle around Luca posing the few simple questions they are able to pronounce in English, they are aware of their international reputation and are eager to dispel the myth…”So how does it feel to be amongst the bloodthirsty terrorists of Al-Qaida?” jokes an elderly school teacher.
White mulberries are collected with nets and eaten by the hand full, and delegates of women come to meet Tanja and me, and invite us shyly into their domestic space. There is a family living just beside where we are camping, I’m surprised to see how integrated the dwelling is with the surrounding nature. A small stream has been diverted to pass through the property, beds with simple rope mattresses are lined up outside beneath the trees and a smooth stone with a perfect dimple inside acts as a double bed. There is an inflated goat’s skin hanging from the tree to make butter and a small one room hut, presumably for when it rains. All is screened of with simple colourful cloths and woven mats. By evening the word has inevitably spread, and we are assigned two police guards who sleep on string beds in the warm evening outside beside our trucks!
Next we attempt a high pass to test the smaller members of the group in high altitude. It’s cold and we see our first snow from close up. A few villagers light a huge fire and we admire the perfect stone walls and cultivated terraces that characterise the area (some with special pink poppies!)…but at around midnight our truck ceiling is lit up with a red and blue light. Apparently the police got word of our passage and have been searching for us since three hours, with a puncture on the high pass and only spotting us by chance shining lights on the new cheerful reflective fish that now decorate our trucks.
They want to shift us, but Luca is adamant…we have a problem with our gears and can’t move until we have repaired it in the morning. One policeman says he will sleep in the front of the truck to guard us. Luca gives him our spare sleeping bag and the matter is settled.
The next morning our guard casually passes me his Chinese rifle through the window so he can collect some fire wood. He assures me there is a secure and I place it dubiously on our bed, holding it like an exotic animal that might sting. I want it out before the kids wake….they are getting all to used to seeing fire arms and of course Giulio is attracted to them like a magnet.
Once out of the North western frontier territory, we are again free to circulate alone. There is the meeting point of three of the most inponent mountain ranges in the world: The Himalaya, the Hindu Kush and the Pamir mountains. Directly in front of us is the ‘killer mountain’ Rakaposhi proving us with a good opportunity to set camp and relax for a few days. For the first time in days our phones are active and we speak to the other members of our ‘crossing China’ group who are one day behind us, we arrange to meet up and celebrate the first of May with homemade tagliatelli and breathtaking views.
After many days wondering about the rocks hanging precariously above our heads, our fears are verified. A huge boulder and landslide fallen during the night, blocks the road to Gilgit. We will have to go back and find an alternative route on the other side of the river. We take our chance over a narrow suspended bridge, holding our breath as we cross, the wood creaking and moaning at our passage. A strong coffee is needed when we reach the other side to calm our frayed nerves…we promise each other this is the last such bridge we will cross!
Further down the road as we near Gilgit, we pass six burnt out buses, reminding us of the troubles in this area just a few weeks ago, later learning to our horror that twelve people were executed on this spot in the Sunni Shiite rivalries… …ideas about safety are always relative, depending on who and where you are in which moment.
Pakistan, perhaps one of the hardest blog entries for me to write. A crescendo of emotions and events, the dangers and difficulties increasing with the beauty of the landscape; delight, wonder, disbelief and despair, rediscovering a country that is somewhere inside me…… but the story must start at the beginning to do justice to each phase… For this I have divided it into four separate entries that will come on line once a week…….so after two months of silence, here is part one!! (If you subscribe to the blog you will automatically be notified of new posts)
We enter in great style, our wheels only a few metres into Pakistani territory when we hear “Mr.Luca?” from the window. A boarder guard approaches us with a questioning face. The tendrils of family connections have already sensed our arrival and prepared the way to Arazi, the natal village of my father. If we want we will be officially escorted from Lahore with a police car. Needles to say we decline the offer. It’s not our style and I have a secret longing to find the way ‘home’ by myself. It’s an image I’ve kept jealously and so close to my goal I will not let it be snatched away at the last moment.
The Waga border between India and Pakistan is perhaps one of the strangest boarders in the world, so much so that film crews come from all over (unknown to me) to record the event. After carefully avoiding photographs as always in sensitive territory and comfortably parking our truck for the night near customs , we are invited to go and watch the closing ceremony of the boarder. Along with hundreds of other Pakistanis who have come purposely to see the spectacle, we sit in the concrete arena constructed especially for the occasion. The atmosphere is that of a cricket match, with an extra tang of nationalism mixed in, with flags, special male cheer leaders with baseball caps and plenty of applause. After our long travels to get here I let myself go and get into the full spirit, cheering and laughing with everyone else. Lusira and Giulio are given two Pakistani flags and learn to chant “Pakistan Zindaban!” (long live Pakistan) The guards are truly magnificent, over two metres tall and dressed in full military pomp. They march towards India with a ‘Monty python’ type walk impressive stamping, stomping , inflating of chests and other virile actions that are so exaggerated as to be hilarious and beautiful at the same time. I feel the presence of my father at my side, laughing heartily and nudging me secretly – we have made it!
Of course in ten years many things can change and have changed. My memory of the house gets confused. The two huge Banyan trees that were my reference point are no longer together and two new houses obscure my vision from the road. My family see the truck hurtling past without stopping, but after twenty minutes along small country roads a car appears and blocks our passage…it’s my cousin Zimran, now a young man but still recognisable.
Our arrival is met with relief and emotion…the last time I was here was to bury my father, and I never imagined so many years would have passed before my return.
The month spent here has been both relaxing and hectic, with one funeral (my elder uncle) and two birthdays (mine and Lusiras’) The first two weeks was spent living out actions prepared many times along the way. Lusira and Giulio played with the goats, dogs and chicken much as I had at their very same age. They learnt to make chapattis and were fattened up every morning on sweet milk and parathas. They henna their hair and decorate their hands, revelling in the warm attention of Abida , Shahid and Zimran. On weekends they get to know their little cousins, who also know how to sing “ringaringaroses..”
Lusira true to our promise, went into the nearby town on her birthday and very bravely got her ears pierced (large man with fat not so clean hands and rough manners, turning her head unceremoniously from side to side and brandishing his tools like a pistol …needless to say I chickened out of my nose piercing) Outside with Lusira proudly wearing her new GOLD earrings, we stop with Abida in the market….up on a pedestal at her eye level is a large chunky man holding a sharp knife between his filthy toes. He cuts the meat expertly pulling it over the knife towards him, swinging agilely left and right to serve his disciples down below. Money is passed to a toothless transvestite on his right…I gape in amazement at this vision and try to picture Luca’s mothers face, I chuckle….just shopping for meat.
For my part attacked my huge mound of laundry, fought a hard battle against the Nepali lice, checking unwilling heads with fervour every morning and buying all possible poison on the market. I perfected my knitting and often found myself wandering around like a ghost in a landscape belonging to the past, crossing doors that no longer exist opening on to verandas with echoing laughter from past times. It is both strange and good to be here. Shadi is the same as ever and we joke and reminisce about the past. He successfully bribes the children with daily chocolate and soon becomes their favourite ‘uncle’
Luca relaxed for a full week (still drinking his morning coffee in the truck) and then alternated his attention between visa applications and the servicing of the truck. We reconditioned all four springs and even organised a little Pakistani painting, unable to resist the temptation, not realising how much of our time it would have taken up……and how little time we would have to enjoy the final result.
Two weeks before our departure there is news of trouble in Gilgit……fighting, curfews and high jacks of rivalling religious groups in this hitherto calm area. We are again in the hands of destiny and events we have no control over, but ten days later to our relief we hear that the unrest is over, we can head north.
To leave wasn’t easy and goodbyes were emotional. We took a last visit to my fathers’ grave and the children said their goodbyes. Gulio whispers “why can’t we open the stone and see him?” Lusira solemnly tells him she is sorry he died too soon and she would have liked to meet him, but she sends him kisses and flowers…
In Islamabad we meet up with our travelling friends and after a little last minute preparation head off towards the famed Karakorum Highway.
After such a long comment on India Too, it’s time for a rescaling….partly because (argh!!) the whole first part of my Nepal photos mysteriously disappeared from my hard drive, leaving me disconcerted and apathetic, but most of all because this last month in Nepal has been so uncharacteristic. Fifteen months into our travels and I somehow feel the need to slow down to a semi-sedentary existence, forget about preparing the present for my futures’ past (isn’t that what taking photos is partly about..) and live the moment to its full. The meeting up with another nomadic family, on the road since three years, has enhanced this state of mind. We met Wolfgang, Diana and little Gaia in Pokara parked comfortably in their beautiful old Mercedes truck ‘Morpheus’ in a campsite just outside the main town (actually since a month!) They too feel in no hurry to strike out towards new horizons, no longer able to sustain the adrenalin and excitement that characterises the beginning of a trip. Closer than ever to our return, and yet furthest in terms of time, space and spirit, it’s time to sit back and just ‘be’.
So I have enjoyed my time here, playing with the children, reading, exchanging thoughts and stories, learning to knit (yes!), and soaking in the special light that characterises this part of the world. Nearby in a little temple the Shiva Ratri is celebrated with colour, sweet scents and ritual, much to Lusiras’ delight. At night there are natural fireworks with exploding sugar cane and bonfires (much to Giulios ‘delight) After more than ten days in our domestic bubble, we lazily make our way to Kathmandu, exploring small towns on the way, with intricately carved temples, through narrow roads with inevitably low electric cables .After a week in the capital, Morpheus is directed south to Varanasi in India, whilst we move west. Our paths split and it is with a tinge of sadness that we say our goodbyes, but with the feeling that we will meet again….maybe in Greece on the way back.
‘Holi’ is celebrated, again, with our little Nepali friends in Pokara. No one is above these colourful attacks by both old and young. Bernard and Luca return from town, caught by a sweet little girl in the last hundred metres sprint before the camp gate. Lusira and Giulio are fully into the spirit of festivities and get truly offended if they aren’t covered in dye. They collect colours and… the local lice , present on most of the school kids in the area. Well it was bound to happen sooner or later, a little gift to carry to Pakistan with us! Yes, I too have been infested, and am in the long and intricate process of de-licing all and everything. The picturesque circle of head -picking seen everywhere along the sides of the roads, is now part of our routine (a little less picturesque!)
The high mountains that eluded us in the first month – (Nepal can really only be explored by foot) finally come into sight in the company of our travelling companions in their unimog, and with Bernard and Sharifa, our two good friends from France. Together crammed into our small but welcoming itinerant guest house, we finally pull anchor and make our way through river beds and precariously narrow, bumpy overhanging mountain roads, to reached the small village of Kakbeni. We are just a few kilometres from the boarder of Mustang where the Annapurna Mountains dominate the horizons. The snow falls in the afternoon while the goats return for the night, herded through little alleys. Tibetan tea is served …and I feel again far from home, regenerated and ready to move.
We leave Nepal from the small boarder post where we entered, together with laden donkeys, monkeys and local traffic, across an impossibly thin bridge to India. We pass by for a last time in Bardia to say goodbye to our friends from the kingfisher guest house, where we rode elephants and spent three relaxing days (no photos, remember) on our arrival. Now we face three long days drive, transiting to Pakistan, the only visa conceded by the Indian Authorities…just nine months overdue, a family is anxiously waiting for our arrival!
It feels strange writing about Christmas one month later, many things happen in a month and anyway Christmas on a beach in the steaming sun, never fully felt like Christmas even when it was Christmas! After our prolonged stay at Goa we trailed slowly (very) south, first to a beach that had been indicated to us by other travellers- ‘Agonda’ – here apparently overland travellers meet every year to celebrate Christmas and exchange news. The air is warm and the sea pleasantly cool, whilst the coconuts hanging above our trucks windscreen gives the place an exotic feel. We make the rounds of the other travellers and soon meet others like us, heading for Pakistan with the idea of travelling along the Karakorum highway. We organise to meet up in spring time and maybe travel a stretch together….. But after a few days when the novelty of the aggregation of so many travellers has worn off, our ‘black sheep tendencies’ get the better of us. Just because we all have trucks this doesn’t mean we share a common vision. A campsite of overlanders sounds fun, and is fun for a few days, until our personalities have time to transpire, and a village mentality starts to find space.
Again I contemplate the strange exotic animals that we are. A group of Indians far from home, all together for Holy or Dihwali would surely find an easy and spontaneous way of being together – we aren’t used to communal thinking and shared spaces, and are able to complicate even the simplest things!
A few days before Christmas along with one other truck we head a little more south in search of a quieter beach with a more local feel to it. We are lucky and to our surprise, only 13 km south find exactly what we are looking for, an almost deserted beach near a small fishing village where you can eat a simple’ tali’. We chose our tree and set camp up beside it a few metres from the beach front. Christmas has that tranquil, and yet special feel to it that is possible only whilst travelling. Simple gestures and a few trimmings to distinguish it from other days. We are three families all with children of varying ages, none of us with particular religious tendencies, but eager to exchange rituals and good food. We colour stars and cut out shiny sweet papers into strange shapes. Fish fittingly became a main part of our decorations, and somehow even the Easter bunny gets represented. Our German friends tell their children (Neels 8, and Moritz 12, Theo 1) to look out of the window at the view…this is their Christmas present. They seemed satisfied and enjoy participating in the opening of Lusira and Giulios’ presents. Whilst the younger ones play on the beach, Neels helps Luca in preparing the freshly made tagliatelli, and Moritz (perhaps feeling more adult for not receiving tangible gifts) throws himself wholeheartedly into collecting and chopping dry branches for a Christmas fire.
A pang of consciousness gets hold of me at some point and I felt the need to inform them at least that this is also the day people celebrate the birth of Christ ( they are at the moment totally absorbed with Father Christmas and his magic!) …. Lusira looks at me amazed “What he’s born EVERY year?!! “ My lesson in spirituality ends there. Apart from our travelling friends with the Unimog, we share the day with an Israeli family we met on the beach the day before, conversation is easy and we exchange our experiences, ideas, taste in literature…and of course politics. Once again I can confirm my little conspiracy theory, where the media takes the many faces of reality and squeezes it into a single chosen truth….so many untold stories, but then that’s the beauty of travel!
Gokarna , a sacred town in the state of Karnataka. We arrive late in the afternoon and struggle through the narrow streets with dangerously low electricity cables, resigned in a very Indian way to totally blocking roads not only to cars but also to pedestrians…..we follow a stranger into the jungly undergrowth and hope that we will find a place to rest our weary wheels. We are lucky…a race across the salty sand on the beach front praying not to get stuck, and we are able to park in a quiet spot in sight of a small fishing harbour. The morning is hazy and damp, we see small figures on the horizon pushing thin wooden boats into the frothy sea. The morning is spent in the midst of the tangy smell of fish and the relaxed company of the fishing families. Everyone, old and young are involved in the pulling and sorting of nets. I can’t help noticing the miserable catches, but everyone seems unperturbed and I am lead happily to the bigger catches of tuna fish…..perhaps fishing will after all still be part of a few of these childrens’ future, their fathers are proud to point them out “good family!” I can only agree.
After the intimate, atmosphere of the sacred Gokarna, we head for the no less sacred Hampi, capital of Indian civilization in the twelfth century and important trade route, Hampi is full of ruins covering literally tens of kilometres. Temples rise out of a lunar landscape with huge boulders surrounded by green rice fields. We again struggle to find a place to park and camp; this time at night, and in a less’ Indian way’ we struggle through tiny villages to a place Davide had visited four years back right on the river front…just as we’re losing hope, we follow a local boy up an improbable lane and manage to park on smooth rocks a few metres from the river front. Opposite us is an empty rest house cum restaurant with candles lit and a cow for milk in the front courtyard,……I notice Luca looking intently at a thin man who has just entered the sitting area, he then springs up and embraces him, exclaiming “Roger!!” Precisely sixteen years ago whilst driving an Enfield back to Europe, Luca had been a guest in Rogers bus, crossing into Pakistan with the motorbike in pieces on the roof, to avoid custom problems. There’s a lot to catch up on, and we spend the next few days in his enjoyable company. The morning reveals an unexpected view, what in the dark looked like cement pillars strewn all around us, are in fact ancient carved stones that were once part of an ancient bridge. We have parked on the edge of the sacred river and pilgrims bathe with vigour and ceremony in colourful groups. Lusira watches a sahdu in amazement decorating his foreheads with bright yellow sandalwood paste and make patterns on their arms with white bars of ash. After washing their clothes..(Yes again) they too have a soak in the river and to their joy a Baba looking on, offers to bless them with perfumed sandalwood stripes. This becomes a daily ritual as we discover that Baba- Gi is in fact Roger’s spiritual leader. Like many Babas he’s come south to Hampi to avoid the cold months in Rajasthan where he has his Ashram.
To visit one of the main temples and the famous ‘Hampi Bazaar’ we have to cross the river in a cocoa’ boat, shallow round boats made from bamboo and tar. It’s a captivating way to reach the ruins, silent and slow. The temple and bazaar are hives of activity, with clouds of dust raised by stray cows and vigorous street sweepers. Monkeys sense their place of supremacy and pose nonchalantly in front of strange and fantastic sculptures, the intense colours of the sacred powders, mix with the just as intense colours of the dwellings, houses built inside the ancient ruins encompassing the ancient rocks. As I film the scene ,I get obsessed by images of bulldozers coming here with their court injunction endorsed by UNESCO to ‘restore’ the ruins to their former glory … it seems impossible. The place is so vibrant, full of energy and life, a seductive mixture of the ancient and the present. In its prime it too would have been full of animals, spices and human activity….why do we think that monuments are more authentic when stripped of any representation of the present?! I marvel even more when I speak to our cocoa boat rower….he too lives in Hampi bazaar –“ where will you go?” I ask , he smiles “ I don’t know, they have given us land but no houses” I would be in a frenzy of worry and yet they are a week away from eviction proudly sweeping their yards and washing the steps of their houses. I think of the crisis in Europe and try to drink up some of this tranquillity , to bring out and remember in moments of doubt….
Going north to Rajasthan we can’t resist to visit the rock hewn temples of Ellora. They were carved in a similar way to the Churches in Lallibella in Ethiopia, from a single piece of rock, and constitute perhaps some of the largest Monoliths in the world. The most impressive and active are the Hindu temples. Enthusiastic, amongst crowds of Indian pilgrims and school children, Giulio and Lusira jump up and down the steps, smile at the life sized carved elephants and touch the Shiva lingam with their right hand…..but it’s the Buddhist temples with their quiet and serene air , simple structures but intricate carvings that inspire them most. Mimicking the children from a Jain temple visited the day before, Guilin copies Lusira in an intricate ritual with perfectly studied gestures, praying below the benevolent statue of Buddha.
In the evening their imaginations still sparked, Guilin scribbles a ‘laughing Buddha’ Lusira following suite for the first time attempts a drawing of a cross legged figure with long ears and a smile. She tells me he is magic and moves according to where you sit….and not only. I’m informed that he has heard of our visa problems and has many stamps….Buddha will prolong our Pakistani visa!!
I have now realised at this late hour a few days before leaving India for Nepal and desperately trying to finish this chapter of the blog , that my ramblings have got the better of me, and if I continue to present day, most of you will have in the mean time, wandered off to do something more ‘useful.
So…….short and concise. Pushkar, relaxed, yes touristy but also very beautiful, a place that slowly works its magic on you making it hard to leave. Smokers’ haven, and place of Giulio’s third birthday, celebrated in style eating cake from Indian newspapers. In the guest house a little removed from the main Ghats, we meet many young couples preparing their collection of clothes to sell on various European beaches next summer, others are buying precious stones, whilst also attending traditional dance classes or yoga. The atmosphere is open and friendly with fires at night to keep out the chill. We get to know Federico and Cini an italo-brazilian couple who have a way with kids. Federico becomes Lusira and Giulios’ favourite playmate, teaching them kite flying, juggling and yoga lessons on the roof top. I hope our paths will cross again…
We head for Jodhpur ‘the blue city’ passing on small unmarked roads. Our enthusiasm at being on small roads again is so great that we lose sight of our what’s ‘sensible’ and end up in such small dusty paths that we can no longer turn around. A load thud on the roof brings us back to our senses as we smash two metal boxes on our roof into the low branch of an acacia tree. Slowing down we head for a more reasonable road for cars rather than tractors, but it will soon be night. As we park near a well an old man with a goat insists we follow him to his house, Lusira and Guilin trustingly walk beside him and soon I’m sitting near a small fire being offered chapatti and fresh milk. There is no electricity and the voices are hushed by the night…I’m happy, it all reminds me so much of my childhood memories of Pakistan, the smell of the dough, the wood and dry dung, the soft abundant laps to sit on and food pressed affectionately into your mouth. The house is built around a courtyard encompassing little huts for the animals. The goats are milked and a bed is set up for the elder boy to keep an eye on the animals. The morning brings spicy chai, photos and jumping games for the children. Communication is always easier in the open.
At this point I can confess that we never got to see the blue city, but spent all our time in a family establishment dealing in antique furniture on the outskirts of the city. An enormous Aladdin’s’ cave that took us three days to explore. When we felt it was time to leave, in the busiest part of town approaching the historical centre however, the clutch of our truck no longer responds, forced to a halt, people immediately surround us and with their little English arrange help. We sheepishly ask if we can stay a little longer in the now too familiar yard, and start to take the clutch apart. Of course it’s not the clutch itself that’s broken ( we have a spare one) but a silly unlikely piece and a bearing…which we don’t of course have…but ‘ivrytingispossibleinindia’ and indeed we manage to rebuild the old bearing and weld the broken piece, with the help of Sajai and his father. I ask Lusira if she minds having to stay longer, she looks at me quizzically “ oh no, we don’t have to drive and can play all day!” they spend their time pulling the wooden Tata truck we bought them around the dusty yard in their work overalls, and at lunch I find them happily seated with their friends (some of the workers) happily eating chapatti and curd.
We are now on the road to Nepal, sharing most of our time with truck drivers along the road…tomorrow Nepal…maybe.
A long absence, busy living, watching and savoring new tastes and smells. Time here like water, flows easily and I’m finding myself at home, relaxed and in harmony with my surroundings. The last time we were in India was in 1998 and at the time the initial impact of India was strong for me, so it’s with some surprise that I have discovered this unexpected love…Yes India too has changed a lot in the last 15 years but I feel the change is also inside myself, induced by a year of travel in Africa, where my eyes have become accustomed to poverty, to seeing families sleeping on the street and living, what for us, is an inconceivable life . I am this time able to get past my discomfort and start to appreciate the dignity of this ancient culture, and explore some hidden joys of a system based (still) on different values with its own logic.
The journey here was surprisingly smooth and unstressful. The children were abnormally patient, too busy looking around to feel tired; they stayed up an entire night, only to collapse once in Mumbai. Giulio was justly impressed with the view of the clouds from 10,0000m and logically wanted to open the window to get a proper feel…Luca too mused at the vast desert below ‘the empty quarters’ contemplating our alternative route and planning future trips to Oman..Yemen…
Landing at Hyderabad airport, Luca and I look at each other in awe…are we in India?!! Last time we landed 15 years ago, there was a typically loud, confused, bustley, busy airport with taxi drivers fighting over our luggage and people everywhere….maybe it’s because its 3 in the morning, but the contrast is striking. Quiet cues of people line up in neat rows to show their passports, whilst clear glass panels with the repeated and elegant silhouette of a traditional Indian dancer leads us along immaculate corridors…. soft classical Indian sitar music played at just the right volume mixes with the almost imperceptible voices of people talking…..with the exception of course of our two excitable little Italian kids, with their powerful voices and last grams of energy. The building itself is modern with high arched ceilings and delicate eye- shaped skylights. There are ‘ecological’ water fountains with no cups or glasses to dispose of, steel and glass mix with green lush plants growing up and down walls, fed by discrete tubes….We drink an’ instant chai’ in a plastic cup and contemplate this new Indian reality.
For the first time in my life we are picked up by a driver holding a card with our name on it, courtesy of ‘Mandhana’ our saviors in Mumbai. I’m grateful not to have to look for a hotel, and am curious to see if the city outside reflects the inside of the airport….of course it’s a big Indian city, grubby, overcrowded and dusty, to my tired morning eyes. I’m not a city girl and the lack of greenery and horizons, always makes me a little uneasy, as do the people sleeping on the sidewalk and trudging through the garbage.
….A week later to my surprise I feel very at home here. After Djibouti, I suddenly feel rich again, and everything is easy. In only twelve hours we have passed from having to weigh and watch the content of our shopping cart carefully, to gaily throwing everything and anything in with nonchalance. I have a strange craving for shopping, quite contrary to my usual nature. Here everything is available in small highly specialized sectors, often with beautiful packaging at ridiculous prices. We exorcise a month of skimping buying little insignificant treats and giving way to momentary whims. I am almost happy when Giulio’s sandals break, so that I can get them stitched along the roadside…small luxuries that in Europe make no sense anymore: better to buy a new pair.
Lusira is already infatuated with India; its colors, rituals and possibilities. A country where everyone dresses like princesses and has intriguing jewelry, where people make garlands of sweet smelling flowers to adorn colorful gods in the nooks and crannies of ancient trees along the road, where English books telling exotic stories cost less than a bottle of water…..and where she too can finally possess her own ‘princess’ outfit. We buy her a traditional mirrored Rajasthan skirt and top and some metal bangles. She wanders around the apartment in full glory moving her hands delicately like an Indian dancer, proud to show her belly button ‘like the Indians’. She eats rice skillfully with her hands and later, to my joy, I find her and Giulio nude in the bathroom washing all their clothes. The Cinderella story has truly stuck in her head…she tells me “….yes mummy, I must work all day because I’m a princess and then at night I’ll go dancing”. Her movements are already expert and I can’t help wondering if the quarter of Pakistani blood running through her veins has found expression in this corner of the world.
I’m too am going to enjoy myself in this country…It’s of course not only the shopping but a strange feeling of integration , my face somehow fits in and I feel at home .Here I don’t feel judged and self-conscious, no one seems to be measuring me up…Am I friend or foe? No one is surprised when I speak to them out of the blue. If I’m wondering over a menu or trying to decide whether the pink liquid in front of me is for dipping my food in or for drinking, someone politely points me in the right direction….I’m not too rich, I’m not too poor, I’m not too thin I’m not too fat, I’m not too black I’m not too white (of course I probably am..but that’s what it feels like) I enjoy taking my shoes off when I take my kids to the pediatrician, I enjoy being advised by an old gentleman on which is the best hair oil, I enjoy washing my feet and hands regularly and sipping chai with a little mouse hiding under the sink. I especially like the cheap taxis run on methane gas that make visiting an unfamiliar sprawling city with small kids easy, comfortable and even enjoyable. All I need is an address to get back too and I can lose myself until the next empty taxi.
After a hard week of burocracy (one of the things I definitely don’t enjoy here) we finally drive our dusty truck out of customs, the port and into Indian traffic at rush hour. We don’t have far to go, as Mandhana kindly offers us a parking possibility outside their ware house. It is also an opportunity of visiting one of their production lines. Prasad tells us of a traditional but modern clothing company, where a loom works beside the latest in computerized stitching technology, and where the silent hand stitching room for prototypes is kept jealously apart from the busy factory floor. A life size print of my nephew Ben watches over the work floor. He came a few years ago to visit India and did a little modeling for Mandhana. The hint of Asian features in his otherwise more European face fits with the modern…. I gaze up at him and mentally say hello…somehow even our visit here seems to ring with a certain harmony. East, west…west, east. Circles within circles.
After a few days of making our truck fully operational again, we say goodbye to the city and to Mrs.Karleni, Raul and other members of the Mandhana staff that we got to know. We turn on the engine and head south…I’m happy to be back on the road and full of enthusiasm. It is much easier to find quiet spots to spend the night than we imagined, and the first white beach we visit is deserted , with just the local school children visiting during lunch hour to do 100m races and to fuss over Giulio and Lusira…….next stop Goa.
Goa, for a long time destination for ‘hippies’ and ravers, now still one of the most popular seaside vacation destinations in India. We came here because it was close to Mumbai and we had another friendly contact where we could base ourselves, get out of the city and relax a little. The most positive side of our Goan experience is definitely the people we met and friendships clenched. Peter Kabir, opened his house and heart to us and offered us his non- beachy haven away from the hustle and bustle in a little village near Mapusa….The Goan’ scene has changed its face but still attracts a variety of beach bums…and bums is the right word. Somehow the male g’ string is still in fashion here and large, white (and often shrively) bums can be admired alongside local ladies selling coconuts, fresh fruit and jewelery. The delicate classical Indian music in Hyderabad airport seems like a dream, as the tufftufftuff of the base rings load and far along the coast. There has been a huge rise in Russian tourism, and the locals have learnt the essential words to sell their goods. …O.K. lets be fair…Goa is just not my scene but does seem to satisfy a lot of people’s needs to relax and chill out….The Portuguese style houses buried in the thick tropical vegetation and Mapusa daily market did win me over in the end, as did our little family expeditions ‘Indian’ style on Peters’ moped. There is definitely a special undefinable relaxed quality to life here, but it is one that I feel can be enjoyed more by the sedentary population. After months of travel in Africa there is a distinct European feeling to everything, and I am anxious to head north to Rajasthan.
I’ve taken so long to update the blog this time that I take the opportunity to wish you all a MERRY CHRISTMAS….we came to Goa, the only Christian region of India, to make it easier for Father Christmas to find our anxious children….Its finally cooling down in the night here and Giulio and Lusira are convinced that it’s because it’s going to snow soon….with 2012 around the corner, never say never!!
Djibouti- a helter-skelter of highs and lows, decision and indecision, a mixture of excitement and boredom ….waiting for another continent.
We entered Djibouti with high expectations of relaxing on white deserted beaches and swimming with whale sharks around the coral reefs, but although this is probably possible…it was not to be.
We arrived here on a hot sticky afternoon, hobbling through the little but congested border crossing with …yet another flat tire. We stopped for the night 100m further on in a black stony amphitheatre surrounded by hot hills. One of our rims was leaking and we patiently set about repairing it, sweating profusely but with the promise of a cool night (desert….hot day/ cold night …wrong) the night was just as hot humid and sticky as the day, so much so that after half an hour of trying to convince the kids it was cooling down, we all climbed onto the roof of the truck clad in nothing but the darkness surrounding us. A column of trucks heading to Ethiopia from the port of Djibouti was already half a kilometer long and growing, but the stars were bright and the air vaguely cooler. Lusira s’ sensitive little tentacles were exhilarated by this unexpected adventure and she was soon rewarded by the sight of two shooting stars. Giulio on the other hand continued sweating and unable to sleep could be heard playing Lego, alone, in the darkness deep into the night.
The road for Djibouti town is a long winding streak of asphalt amongst arid black boulders with destroyed trucks strewn left and right of the road as drivers’ attention span wanes. When reaching Djibouti, after so much nothingness the town is at first disorientating. I t has a distinctly French feel to it, but with the slow pace of Africa. After a two hour search for an inexpensive but nice nonexistent hotel with a swimming pool, we headed for the Sheraton, where we had been told many months and kilometers ago by fellow travelers in Jordan that one could stay. One of the few places where overlanders are allowed to park and permitted to sleep in their own vehicles. We presented ourselves in a very unpresentable way, sweat soaking through our clothes and stress sparking from our eyes, the kids were covered in dust and ice- cream, looking like true little street urchins and completing the picture.
We were kindly shown to the parking lot on the sea front where we threw our unpresentable selves into the back of the truck. The heat was making us all neurotic and in five minutes we were all screaming for one reason or another, I showered everyone down in an attempt to cool our tempers….. but realized that it would be impossible to stay for any length of time in these conditions…..we really needed a guardian angel or a good plan. Just one hour after this thought as if by magic a clean shaven Indian looking man appeared looking curiously at our truck…..Yes our guardian angel had come in the guise of Pradeep and his wife Kumudu, a Sri Lankan family full of Sri Lankan hospitality, working as project manager at the Sheraton and living in one of the bungalows reserved for the expat employees. After a short introduction, he invited us to his house (lovely and cool air conditioning!!) and his wife pampered us with drinks and the delicious tangy taste of her eastern cooking. The children as relieved as us, without hesitation started exploring the toys chest and getting to know their new little friend David….we would survive.
Our second streak of luck came the next morning whist passing by the entrance of the Sheraton. After another impossibly hot night, by chance we bumped into Yanik, the general manager of the Sheraton, a friendly, open Swiss man, who on seeing the children (and probably our harassed faces) invited us to use the pool to cool off. By the end of the day we had come to an arrangement with him to rent at an extremely reasonable price , one of the empty bungalows next to Pradeeps’……we will survive Djibouti!!.
Lusira and Giulio after 10 months in the truck were overjoyed with the prospect of playing ‘house’ in the little cheerful bungalow assigned to us. They ran around like neurotic house wives, making their beds, sweeping floors and even trying their hand at a little washing up. Their two little Sri lankan friends, Avindu and David, have made the prolonged stay here truly memorable. Lusira has learnt to ride a ‘proper’ bike in the improvised playground with her new friends and having constant access to the swimming pool has also meant that she has finally learnt to swim……but how have the grown children faired during this period?
Well after more than a month of staying put, and after the novelty of having a little more space (and privacy!!) had worn off, our travelling feet have quickly become exasperated!! The shipping of our truck has really characterised the whole stay here. It has been a series of negotiations, mad rushes (for nothing) hope, frustration ,despair, and again hope….we missed THREE ships each at the last minute for strange and wonderful reasons, but have finally loaded our truck (and our friends truck ‘Wobble’) on to a ship bound for Mumbai…no photos of our truck loading, Luca was too busy driving and coordinating operations, but in compensation a beautiful drawing by Lusira of our trucks on the Indian Ocean with whale sharks in the water and flamingoes in the sky .
At one of the peaks of our negativism I was also unlucky enough to get dengue fever and had to spend a long painful ten days in bed, and doing blood tests….but then as if by magic the fog cleared along with the fever and aches and pains and all looked bright and sharp again…..the ship has arrived, I have my appetite back, the kids are serene, and to celebrate the occasion we had a lovely evening in the Sheraton guests of Yanik. An evening of flowing wine, good company and very excited children (who after lashings of chocolate mousse were even invited up on stage to dance with the Columbian band playing live that evening…..”.c’era una bella lady” said Giulio, who is now asking me every evening if he can go dancing)
It is always a strange mixed feeling to leave ones truck and nomadism in the middle of a trip, but now that I can feel things moving again I know I will look back with fond memories at the time spent here, for the people we met and got to know better, and who hopefully we will see again one day.
Thank you to those who helped and welcomed us in this strange small country that is Djibouti.