Latest

Egypt

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Egypt…so after three weeks i finally met someone else with a mac able to help me retrieve my photos. At a small petrol station along the sizzling roads of Sudan…a landrover and a nissan with two couples heading back north after two years of travelling. We chatt and exchange news like sheep huddled into the shape of the  metre square of shade provided by the back wheels of our truck.They agree kindly to loose a  sweaty hour in our truck…So  thank you Andrew and Kristina (www.sandlover.org)

Before reaching Egypt i had a strange incomplete and totaly contradictary image of the country. People seemed to either love it or love to hate it…I am decisively part of the first group and  ‘inshallah’ we would  certainly like to come back to explore more. We were here for six weekes and in the end were   defeated by rising  temperatures.

The recent revolution gave our visit a different feel, on the one hand you could still feel some underlying tensions and unresolved questions,but on the other hand people seemed to make a special effort welcoming us and sharing their  vision of  change and optimism for the future. Tourism unfortunately has still not recuperated, but people are being patient.

We were able to see highly touristic places in a more relaxed and pleasing way, without the usual bus loads of people. The monastry of Santa Caterina was empty when we visited it and we had the natural park of Ras Mohammed , 15 minutes from Sharm el Sheik all to ourselves…apart from a few very welcomed intrusions (of course we were the intruders) from local families that made us feel even more at home. We got to know the truly mixed community of ‘Sharm where the children spoke freely in at least  four different languages;a photographer specialised in underwater photography,an ex-captain of ships now with his own business, a journalist telling us  intriguing storiesof political coups in other times and African countries and  a beautiful half Egyptian and half Danish/ Swiss family that invited us into their home  and to Lusiras joy lent her   a snowwhite costume for the week-end, which she religiously put on after the temperatures cooled down below the fourties!!

Cairo chaiotic and calm at the same time. Too bloody hot to explore in depth but promising something attractive and intangible. We rented a plush boat with disco lights and (extremely) load music on request for an evening trip down the Nile with a family we got to know at the campsite…the small one year old baby was one of the witnesses to demonstrations in the central square his mother proudly tells…she is a school teacher and feels passionate about change…i wish them all the best.

The pyramids are.. the pyramids, inspiring awe and disappointment at the same time.Like seeing a film so quoted by the critics that it could never really satisfy your expectations. The Giza pyramids are somehow belittled by the mass of Cairo surrounding it, and i had to keep reminding myself of the lack of tools and technology in the ancient times of their construction. The’ bent’ pyramid was perhaps my favorite, the context is more suggestive  and whilst approaching it  i enjoyed contemplating the engineers dilemna when he finally after years of work must have realised that it wasn’t going to work, how to make ammends?? Would his family suffer for his error..how many sleepless nights.

The white desert..chalk, dust and magnificent sculptures. A suprising landscape of modern art with the benefit of millions of years of erosion. The seed of our origins and the seccrets of our change. Shapes that appeal to the modern eye for their fresh lines and brilliant white. Our special feelings for deserts was truly satisfied

Our trip in Egypt ended in Assuan that for me remains a special place almost making me forget the stiffling heat (and that’s saying alot!) The city is of course characterised by the Nile and all activity around it and  we were lucky enough to spend most of our time on the west banks  with its distinctive blue Nubian villages and terracotta amforas in the shade of the trees offering fresh water to any who pasess . We( again)  had to repair a tyre rim and got to know Mohammed, who guided us around his village and took us for a sailing trip on his Faluka…from here the nightmare boat to Sudan, along with hundreds of other Sudanese refugees fleeing from Libya in inadequate spaces, truly inadequate hygenic standards for extortionate prices, but then thats another story! This is the only way at present out of Egypt…We hope the road will soon be open to foreigners.

Not Egypt

Well, as my friend Peter is so fond of saying….”shit happens”  There i was happy after my days work, ready to update the blog, when my screen was suddenly covered by a pattern of little green worms and a loud little harikiri shriek signalled the end of my computer….I have no longer been able to get it started and alas all my images are on a hard disk formatted for macs!! So sorry friends, if i come across a traveller with a mac i will try and make amends but if not …no Egypt for the moment, except this photo expressing quite eloquently my mood…..grrrrrrr….and rusmfusmrusmfusm.

I will of course ( re)write impressions as it would be unfair to leave such a beautiful country without paying a little homage. So when my mood has improved and other technical issues have been sorted i will update.

Jordan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Jordan, a haven for travellers, and destination for holidaymakers, offering a mixture of spectacular landscapes, historical sites and coral reefs, good cheap food lots of hospitality and no hassle. The Jordanians are particularly friendly and i feel strangely truly ‘on holiday’. It has been the perfect place to relax and get our bearings back. After two days of solitude and reflection in the stony north eastern desert, flying kites, exorcising our bad feelings, and celebrating Easter, we went to visit Asraq, a small town with a large fort chosen by us mostly for its remote situation. We stopped to get fresh fruit and vegetables and to give Giulio his first haircut at a barbers shop. I somehow felt the need to refresh and renew, but being a mother and wife am no longer free to go and shave my hair short, everyone would hate me and it would have provoked a family tragedy…so i sublimed through Giulio. It was a good idea (apart from the haircut that lasted one week before being remodelled with Lucas electric shaver) After chatting and small talk we were informed that the haircut was on the house and then we were kindly invited for lunch by two young students in the ceremonial house of their Bedouin clan.

The following day, we faced the Pakistani embassy in Amman with reticence, and our presentiments were well founded. We were courteously invited to sit down and soon after just as courteously refused our visa (again…)

In a state of confusion we were led to a communal park on the outskirts of Amman by a taxi driver who didn’t really understand our request for a camping. Hmm… Stuck again, but no, after just ten minutes a young man approaches our truck, he has been sent by his mother to invite us to his house just a little further on in the countryside. We ended up staying four beautiful days with the Abadi family. The children were delighted to learn that there were no less than two newborn babies in the house, tiny tiny premature newborns that were joyfully thrust into their arms. Giulio looks very mature and says ‘me good daddy’ but is soon distracted by a watermelon, Lusira needless to say spends the rest of her time assisting the women. Outside there are fruit trees, olive trees, goats and chickens in a landscape that could easily be Umbria. In the morning the Dead Sea is just visible, whist at night we see the lights of Gaza. Luca brushes up his Arabic and discusses politics with the family and guests called in for their English skills, whilst i learn to fold vine leaves and prepare ‘diwali’ with the beautiful matriarch Miriam.

The Dead Sea is at times surreal and at times beautiful. The various parkings are crowded with families grilling meat, men covered in mud and women bathing fully dressed amongst plastic bottles and other rubbish, all to the sound of an ice cream van that plays haunting, Fellinian music…..Further on going south we see a clean spot with enticing emerald water. I float for a few minutes, but the kids aren’t convinced. Lusira is petrified because a German gentleman told us that small children can die if they inhale the water because of its high salt content and Giulio cries for twenty minutes ‘culo,culo’ he has a few scratches and the salt burns admittedly like hell! Petra is of course beautiful, despite the hoards of tourists and exorbitant prices. Here we meet Frank, on the road since two years and the first of many travellers we will meet going south. A lone women motorcyclists with years of travel through various continents , a young Dutch couple in a  beautiful old VW van bought in Namibia, freshly qualified students, business men, and  other assorted vehicles, including an old Citroen AMI 8.  Aqaba is a sort of junction and meeting point for travellers from all directions. We swap stories and information, exchange maps and plan routes. Computers are now part of almost every travellers baggage…and the wi-fi connection means that all can be seen dutifully updating web sites and blogs…not without difficulty. It is now 40 °C and the sea, the shade and doing nothing is a much more attractive option.

Tomorrow we leave for Egypt on the night boat. I hesitate to write this (our plans are so easily destroyed and revised) but here goes, after Egypt our plans are to go through Sudan and Ethiopia to then ship our truck from Djibouti to India…lets see if it will happen!

Syria

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

..Yes ,well i didn’t really know how to write this part, so perhaps it should be said that in retrospect i’m not too proud of the risk we took crossing Syria, but on the otherhand  I am at the same time  very happy to be where we are now…

So how does it happen that you find yourself crossing a country in turmoil you vowed you would avoid  with your  two young children?  My analysis is a process similar to the ‘catastrophe effect’ the consequence of a butterfly beating its wings and all that.

In our case many small unrelated factors all pushing inthe same direction…a visa refused, a comment months before describing the beauties of Jordan in spring, the meeting of a group of twelve dutch campers heading for Jordan (well if these old pensioners are going, surley…) Our little radio crackles and gives snippets of information, but Syria isn’t the main headlines, it is Libia that’s under the spotlights. It’s cold and rainy, Lusira wants to see the pyramids. We’ll just take the small pistes in the east and cross as swiftly as possible.

There is no excuse really, but that’s how it happened. Infact the first day in the east was very beautifull and peaceful, but unluckily the small pistes on our Russian maps can’t be used as boarder crossings, and all other roads lead to Damascus. We came out unbruised but shaken (there were angry men on all street corners as our truck hurtled by…the kids were fortunately sleeping in the back, oblivious)

A lesson learnt , not to be repeated…. promise!!

(And no, to all our friends making sly comments..we don’t work for the CIA or any other organisation, and no we won’t be raising  the masses as we pass!!)

Turkey

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My first impressions after Greece was grey overpopulated, over industrialised and dirty. An impression accentuated by our troubled first night where there was outrageously load music and drunks in a small port outside Istanbul…it is perhaps for this that the next day, Istanbul surprised me with its exoticness, cleanliness, and unusual mix of old and new. It seemed to me surprisingly ‘Turkish’ – yes touristy (as all capitals) but pulsing with its own strong identity … tulips and outdoor exercise machines, tea drank at every street corner, cartons collected by young boys in huge bags on wheels and silent colourful side roads just a step away from the main arteries with underground workshops producing shoes, dresses and anything and everything else.

Our highlights were..getting to know our stable neighbours in the central parking where we spent 10 days (two Spanish students Ester and Toni living in camper for 6 months on an Erasmus course, and Memdu our other stable Turkish neighbour and dedicated owner of a pet shop looking for a simpler existence) and of course, taking Lusira to the ‘blue Mosque’ and a fifteenth century old Turkish bath on her birthday, where she solemnly washed and foamed me with soap in a perfect imitation of her larger Turkish colleges.

The lowlights were loosing Giulio for 3 to 4 horrible minutes before we found him heading for the park alone, and taking (again Giulio) to the city hospital after he was knocked out by a swing (again) in the park.

After our prolonged and pleasant stay in the capital, we headed east on small tracks into central Turkey heading for Cappodocia. Unluckily it was again the weather that dictated our rhythm and movements, but between the showers, we saw unexpected glimpses of small traditional villages with grass roofed houses, small cultivated fields, shepherds and. dung collected and dried in the fields for the bitter winters. In the morning we were bought fresh milk in a plastic soapbox still warm from the cows udders… But all is not always so bucolic and idyllic. After the enthusiastic reception of the previous evening, we become more forward and decide to ask directly if we can stay the night in someone’s field….we are unexpectedly and very rudely shooed away by a droopy faced woman in high orange wellies who clenched her fist in angry gestures much to Lusira’s indignation…the world is beautiful because it is varied!!

We reached Cappodocia under a grey sky and were again later rewarded with dramatically surreal landscapes when the sun finally graced us with its presence. The vastness of the area allowed us to choose some quiet sites where we freely roamed undisturbed to try and imagine ancient landscapes and to enjoy the change in colours and styles of the various caves . When the time came to leave, we felt a little cheated. It would have been nice to spend more time roaming the area…but i think at some time, everyone travelling overland has these dilemmas…it’s raining, we have been refused our Pakistani visas in Italy, Istanbul and Ankara due to a policy change…Friday is in a few days and we feel our only chance to go east is in fact to go west first….Syria?

….I’m updating in the next few days, but didn’t want anyone to worry, so just to say that we are safely in Jordan and enjoying great weather and Jordanian hospitality…new pictures and full story in the next few days .

Greece

….a little update

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Well , I feel a little guilty for moaning about being in Greece in the last post…I think in retrospect it wasn’t only the break in our travels that took the wind out of our sails, but also the unhappy sequence of events in Libia, culminating now in a full scale war, it has made our happy memories of less than a month ago seem rather surreal and out of place..

 Ironically it is since we have stopped for a week in a lazy village south of Thessaloniki that we have again found our travelling feet . The spot is not the most picturesque that Greece has to offer, but here we have found an openess and warmth that is now hard to find in other parts of Europe. The children are again on a chocolate binge, we are parked near a kiosk on the sea front and every day chocolates are offered by the various passers by. We on the otherhand have made friends with Georgo, a bar owner who has offered us his hospitality and stories and with whom we have spent many pleasant afternoons discussing all and nothing.( Luca in his enthusiasm, has even lent his hand to serving drinks on the lawn to bewildered Greek clients) Here we have also found a haven to repair (arghhhh!!) our tyres. Yes after  making the wise decision to switch to tubless tyres, we made the (unwise) decision of using leaky rims, which is the equivalento of having tyres with old inner tubes…nevermind i’m beginning to think this tyre business is part of our  travelling ‘karma’ We always seem to meet nice people in the process of repairing them.

So after this refreshing interlude it is time to move east to Turkey to get the various visas…and find a nice spot to celebrate Lusiras birthday (I slipped into my 44th year with extreme ease at the Kentri bar,with ouzo and wine) I have just added a few more photos to keep up to date.

P:S: Sorry about the e mails I haven’t replied too, I will eventually, but am having a hard time finding internet connections, other than stolen moments on other peoples computers.

A quick note to inform that we have in fact left Italy and are ‘on the road again’ in Greece. The pace is slow and uncertain…finding the right pattern in time and space for our wanderings is proving harder than we imagined. Somehow our imagination and expectations seem to have been left suspended in North Africa, with the sound of the moazin, the slight tang in the food , the long robes and dust in the air. Much as they are beautiful i can’t seem to find a logical place in my mind for the snow capped mountains and ever -so-blue sea of Greece. The interruption has somehow taken the harmony out of our travels,  and we will have to work a little to get it back…I suspect that if only we stopped trying so hard ,it  will slide back into place unnoticed, by itself.

On the positive side we have had some interesting  encounters with other travelers and non. Much to the childrens’ delight, we met up on a white pebbled beach,  with Angelica and Peter with whom we travelled together in Libya ( they are now on the way to Mongolia) We met a very modest and courageous young man from Tuscany who hopes to cycle to India (i don’t know why but somehow i think  we will meet again). We met a Brazilian aspirant photographer alone in his mitsubishi van on his way back from Turkey, and of course our good friend Nikos, with whom we have spent the last few days in and around Loutraki.

Sorry only a few photos, but i’m working on getting more.

The route for now is: Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan…(Kashmere??) we’ll see!!

Just to say that i have finally got my act and internet connection together for a little video, for my not-so-interactive blog, so check it out under video or just click here (http://vimeo.com/20370642 ) Tomorrow we will be putting the new engine in the truck and hopefully in a weeks time we will be on the road again, direction Greece, Turkey….and then decide with an eye or more likely ear (sw radio) on the latest news.  Since the recent events in Libya I have had many unhappy messages, please don’t worry, i do love my children, husband not to mention myself, so won’t be taking any  risks. Our love and solidarity to any of our Libyan friends reading the blog…phoning isn’t easy, but we are thinking of you .

Coming back

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I thought about writing a descriptive account with high and low points of our trip back to Italy..(yes, alas we had to come back) but then realised that this would probably be very tedious and have opted for a much more healthy ‘NO COMMENT’ on the mechanical side…..or lets say a much shorter comment. In brief, after the second broken head cylinder gasket (after about 700km)  the truck was first pulled then loaded on to two different trucks (on occasion with somewhat unorthodox systems of loading and unloading) it was pulled on to the boat and driven/pulled off, to finally find its resting place in a small woodwork factory near Civitavecchia, where the engine (with CHUNKS !? of metal missing from its engine block) was taken out to be replaced hopefully in a weeks time by a another newly reconditioned engine. During the whole process, the children were deliciously oblivious to our difficulties, and thought it was all great fun travelling on a truck without a driver.

Passing through Tunisia was strangely peaceful. There was an air of optimism on the streets and the military presence seemed relaxed and friendly, with soldiers giving kisses to little Giulio and Lusira, although (understandably) less happy with me photographing their tanks. There was still a curfew with cars rushing urgently to their destinations followed by a strange unnatural silence after 10 o’clock, making me think about the many other areas of the world where this limitation has become the unhappy norm. (there was talk of removing it the week after) The biggest most noticeable change in the landscape was the total disappearance of the billboards portraying Ben Ali, that for 24 years dominated the cities and every public space. In the small roadside restaurants I had fun spotting the tell tale nail holes and clean squares where the president once stood, in some cases covered by the Tunisian lemonade ‘Boga’ adverts, or just simply removed from its frame, standing empty waiting for the next ruler. The massive 10-metre billboards were still illuminated with nothing inside; on occasion little signs of burning were perceivable, making his exile truly and irremediably complete. My best and sincere wishes for a better future to this country that I have grown to love.

..And us, where too next, today news from Egypt is hopeful…maybe we’ll see the pyramids after all, probably via Greece and Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

Libya

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Libya, a country that is better seen than described. Small population, vast landscapes and thousands of kilometres of sand dunes, rocks, high plains, oasis … all the best that the desert can offer.  All this beauty, my sons’ second birthday, evenings spent by the fire and new friendships clenched…have in the end been overshadowed by strange events..

After 3 weeks immersed deep in the desert the unthinkable has happened. Something i have always been aware of but have actively shifted to the furthest part of my conciousness…a serious engine problem in the middle of the high dunes, off any piste and in an area where only a 50 ton bulldozer could drag you back to civilization.

As we approached a small dune we suddenly felt the power slip away from the engine, and worrying big puffs of black smoke appear,  accompanied by a strange whistling noise. We are forced to stop for the night, there is silence and a few hours of light to try and analyse and quantify the damage.

In front of us there are 50km of dunes that separate us from a small village and a tarmac road. I try not to let my gaze rest on the particularly beautiful but high dunes infront of us…

By night we still haven’t established the exact damage, instinctively we think of broken or bent valves, we have opened the head but can’t establish precisely which valve could be damaged, the sand in the air makes any operation on the engine very uncomfortable, try as you might mini particles are everywhere…Time for sleep (hmmmm) I think of the book i am reading to help me put things into perspective…it describes much more dramatic situations during the rise of Idi Amin in Uganda and the wave of violence that accompanied it….Much as i would be devastated at having to leave my truck in the cradle of a dune to be slowly and surely swallowed by the sand (as many i have seen and photographed in awe) shed of its sybolism it is  after all only something material.  Dreams are nevertheless surreal and vivid….and we lie with our eyes open in the darkness for much of the night.

The next day we wake early. I leave Luca, Stefan and Peter to try and figure out which valve is broken, and to cut of any diesel to it and go with our guides Ali and Belgasm to try and find the easiest and most direct way to escape from this maize of dunes. The truck runs surprisingly well on 5 cylinders, but as we proceed white smoke mixes with the black puffs. It takes us 6 hours to reach the campsite, and by now the power has almost completely seeped away from the engine, there is so much white smoke we no longer dare to speak. A phone call to our mechanic confirms our recent doubts, the head cylinder gasket is broken, not the valves. We can no longer move the truck and will have to open the engine here and hope to find the spare parts to repair it.

Many years of travel in various situations has taught us not to rush any decisions and let time wash away anxieties and make way for reason. The calm always follows a storm and every drama has its special reason and mysterious momentum. Whichever direction it leads us, there will be new encounters, and most importantly, a little personal reflection and growth. The uneasiness will inevitably give way to that precious feeling of difficulty overcome

The campsite is unusually empty, and we discover that whilst we were obliviously immersed in contemplating nature, the rest of North Africa has been thrown in to turmoil. Popular uprisings have taken hold first of Tunisia and then Egypt. The long ruling (24 years) Ben Ali has fled from his country after the dramatic deaths of 100 civilians during a protest march. Unrest has stirred many neighbouring countries with similar synarious. Tourists are scarce, and come only by air.

Which way to go, east or west? Egypt.. or Tunisia and then back to Italy to repair the truck and study a new itinerary over Greece, Turkey, Syria, Jordania….The engine is more damaged than we thought, a scratch in one cylinder….we have repaired the head cylinder gasket with a hand made one, tailor made by a friendly Egyptian and the truck sounds good, but we have to drive at least 1000km to evaluate the situation (oil consumption etc.) Only time will tell..

Which ever way we go, I will miss the easy smiles and strong tea and the children will miss the gentle company and constant stream of biscuits and sweet things, that are a fundamental part of Arabic hospitality.

….Well that was a 10 days ago (only?!!) . Time has in fact told on both scores… the situation in Egypt has escalated and there are tanks and violent encounters on the street, the president doesn’t want to leave, unlike Tunisia things are unlikely to  resolve themselves in a short time. Meanwhile the test run on our engine has been disastrous, we’re using more than one and a half litres of water every 100 km, the only sensible decision is to go west…. and that’s another story. Read on in a few days, when i will be able to reveal the rest of the story.

Tunisia

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just a quick update while it’s possible..

Three weeks into the trip and it seems more like three months. Time has that wonderfull elastic effect, and we seem to be gaining back the time we missed in the last month of preparations. The step over from house to truck has come about  with extreme ease (maybe even to much!) and our new routine is as natural as our previous one. The desert has had that liberating effect on all of us…free movements and thoughts, and we are generally ‘a very happy family’ at the moment.

Christmas too has come and gone without too much fuss (incredible!!) Simple , easy and calm….and yes Father Christmas did it again, all that way with his tired reindeers through the icy dunes, just for his two favorite little children.

We are now in Douz, parked under the Moazin at our friend Abdallah’s house ,ready for our ‘non’ celebration of the New Year (experience has told me that we will never make it to twelve o’clock, but we will turn our watches back three hours and drink a good glass of wine to everybodies health) At the moment the  days are punctuated by the  call for prayers and as ever the warm hospitality from Abdallahs family…cous cous (hot, hot….says Giulio) home made bread and tea religiously made on hot wood embers and not gas. Here certain rituals have been brushed aside, but not all, and the family is always ready to pack up a few provisions and take the goats and themselves out to the desert for a bit of ‘calm’

In a few days we will be heading for Libya and another full immersion into the Sahara with our German friends in their two trucks, so no internet until next month,so a big hello and HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all, and thank you for the many messages…i must finish as  I have just been solemnly invited for a ceremonial tea by Lusira who has just married Giulio (bouquet and all).. Yes the impossible has happened, and so much time spent together has made them an inseperable pair.