T.V. series……..

36La 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.

Buona Visione!

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.

Happy viewing!




Just a few moments to share…..For a better quality just click on Vimeo and watch in HD. 

Hope you enjoy…

Full Circle…back home

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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…..

So, Sameena,

 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!!

Kazakhstan….and west

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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.



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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.



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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.

Pakistan – Ahead to China

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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.

Pakistan – The Fall

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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. 

Pakistan – The Hunza valley

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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.

Pakistan – Along the Karakorum Highway

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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.