Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Angels of Ethiopia


From all I have written about Ethiopia so far, it should be already clear that the main problem we find again and again in this country is its people, particularly children and teenagers. Since the day we arrived and until today when I write these lines, already several months after having left, I have been trying to understand, to find a coherent explanation for this abhorrent behaviour. I don’t know if I have found an answer which explains all my questions (and frustrations), and probably there is not just one but several answers, but through talking to people I consider clever I have probably got closer to the beginning of an understanding. This post is dedicated to these people, whom I like calling the “angels of Ethiopia”.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Faith with Ethiopian flavor


Warning: many of the commentaries and opinions that you will be about to read might sound very harsh, but I promise they are the most accurate account of the frequently miserable experience that is crossing Ethiopia by bicycle. Given the radical difference that exists between those of us who travel by bicycle across this country (and those who walk the world too) and those who travel by any kind of motorised transport, I don't feel particularly well predisposed to accept any objections coming from those who haven't crossed it in the same way.

The Tigray region was the main reason, if not the only one, why our route across Ethiopia was almost double the distance that takes to cross the country along the shortest route. The one that pretty much everyone else takes. From the very beginning, my thoughts were that if we were going to have to suffer Ethiopia anyway, then we'd better doing it trying to find a way to compensate the bad with the best the country has to offer. In my specific case, I had been dreaming for years to visit this enigmatic region of the world of ancient religious practices and exquisite vernacular architecture. We arrived there with a very irritated spirit and filled with susceptibility after having accomplished the exhausting long odyssey of the “route of the Italians”, but believing once again that in this remote province everything would be much more relaxed. Once again, we believed wrong....

Friday, March 6, 2015

GIVE ME!


Warning: many of the commentaries and opinions that you will be about to read might sound very harsh, but I promise they are the most accurate account of the frequently miserable experience that is crossing Ethiopia by bicycle. Given the radical difference that exists between those of us who travel by bicycle across this country (and those who walk the world too) and those who travel by any kind of motorised transport, I don't feel particularly well predisposed to accept any objections coming from those who haven't crossed it in the same way.

In Gondar, little less than 200 km after having entered Ethiopia, is where the route that I had planned would split from the one that virtually all cyclists going through the country use. Although this involved almost duplicating the distance that it would take us to ride across the country, staying away from the comforts of the main highways, taking us across very tough roads in bad condition, the truth is that the Tigray route would also take us through one of the most fascinating corners of this country and its culture. At the same time, I believed that the more remote we went taking small tracks along which very few foreigners are seen passing by, it would make our lives much easier in this difficult country. I believed wrong....

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

YOU!


Warning: many of the commentaries and opinions that you will be about to read might sound very harsh, but I promise they are the most accurate account of the frequently miserable experience that is crossing Ethiopia by bicycle. Given the radical difference that exists between those of us who travel by bicycle across this country (and those who walk the world too) and those who travel by any kind of motorised transport, I don't feel particularly well predisposed to accept any objections coming from those who haven't crossed it in the same way.

The task of reading, researching and asking about a country that we are planning to visit always precedes the arrival to it and it is task that takes an undetermined amount of time. We dream, we inform ourselves, we learn and we procure to know as much as possible beforehand for things to turn out as smoothly as possible. In the case of Ethiopia, unlike most other countries, the information we obtain through other cyclists and walkers that have passed through, paints a grim picture, with stories that abound in hardships, frustrations and wild tales. After having read much of what has been written about it, it is hard to think of the motives that might lead someone to actually want to ride a bicycle across this country. Even worse, it is impossible to imagine who in his/her right mind would be willing to duplicate the amount of miles that are needed to cross it entirely using the fastest possible corridor and instead, choosing the most remote and inhospitable trails that will make everything slower and more painful. It is in this point where the adventurer ,the optimist, the idealist and also the naive in oneself all come together, to believe that if we approach a situation with the right attitude and the right quota of patience and tolerance, nothing can be that bad. It was with this very spirit and the extra positive energy with which the Sudanese had filled us with that we cross the border to Metema, the Ethiopian side of the border with Sudan.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sudan very deep in my heart

  

If you got here after having read all the stories about Sudan, it will not come as a surprise to read how I feel about this country and specifically about its people. Many of you who are up to date with the news might find it confusing though, after all pretty much the only things you hear about Sudan are bad at best. The Media in general, and especially that one from United States, don't hesitate to include Sudan within a big sack of murdering Muslim terrorists, to feed a campaign of hatred and fear in order to eventually help achieve the agenda of a few. Its conflicts are almost exclusively the only news that are spread, like the recent prosecution and condemnation of a Christian woman for having left Islam, or in the past the Darfur crisis. No, Sudan is definitely not perfect, it has it quota of problems and a long way ahead to correct them, as it happens with every country in the world.

From the capital of sand to the border


  A month in the capital of sand

From an aesthetics point of view, sincerely speaking, Khartoum is not the most attractive city in the world. In terms of architecture it is a city built half-way, in fact there is no single building that seems to be fully finished. The skyline reveals a mass of buildings with brick walls without finishes, unfinished concrete structures, walls without paint and rundown public buildings among hundreds of sharp minarets from the many mosques in town. The exceptions are, like it happens in many countries that are run by tyrants stuck in power, the monumental buildings of the military, the police, the government houses, embassy and a hotel here and there. In urban planning terms, the city is also definitely incomplete. Beyond the main paved arteries, it is all streets of sand and sidewalks are absent even right downtown.

Monday, September 22, 2014

For a few crumbs of gold


 Much more than the idyllic images of silhouettes of camel caravans walking at a slow pace along the undulating golden dunes at sunset, the Sahara is for many, the place to come to earn a living. In this vast ocean of sand, the abrasive heat, the harshness of the wind and the cruelty of the sun make it unthinkable that a place to work can be possibly found here. However, since the dawn of time, the Sahara has provided humanity with the metal it yearns for the most: gold. That golden glow that, from ancient Egypt to the China of the 21st century has blinded the world, leading millions of people to move in search of it wherever it may be found.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Sudanese


I perceived it from the very beginning in Wadi Halfa, while walking along its streets of sand in that very hot Saharan night. I looked around me and the hundreds of merchants that filled the whole place with life, coming and going in their immaculate gallabiyas, and they all seemed like brothers to me, acquaintances at least. Such a pleasant atmosphere, so familiar if you will, was hard to believe for a bordering town. It was only the beginning of two months of living every day with what probably is, (together with Tibetans of course!) the most wonderful people I have ever met.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sweating Sudan


We are on the queue to buy the tickets for the boat to Wadi Halfa, it's 46 C in the shade. While we wait, two nice Egyptian tour agents get on the queue behind us and exclaim effusively the usual: “Welcome to Alaska!” to engage in a conversation with us. The ask they usual things about the trip, the bicycle, the distances and I mention to him that during the last days before Aswan the heat began to be an issue. One of them bursts out in laughter and very tenderly asks me: “Do you really think that today is hot?....wait until you reach Sudan, there it will be hot, this is nothing” - and he takes a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his forehead while I can feel my stomach shrinking.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A little bit of fame


A few months ago I was interviewed by Outdoor Exploration 户外探险 magazine, one of the biggest adventure magazines in China. The interview was finally published in their last edition and it deals with the first stage of this trip along 10 countries and 17.000 km across Asia. It also inquires about the reasons that lead me to choose the bicycle as means of transport to travel documenting the world. All photos have been taken by me. What it truly came as a surprise is that we would be in the front page and the interview would be the central article around which the whole edition revolves. A great and happy surprise! I am aware that maybe very few or none of the ones who visit this blog speak Chinese, but here are all the pages of the article. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Welcome to alaska??


Only when you reach the Nile after having spent weeks in the desert is when you are finally able to understand its historic and present day relevance. It is very easy to see that without it, the Egyptian civilization would've probably never had the opportunity to exist (at least not in such grandeur) and Egypt itself wouldn't be what it is today either. The Nile is responsible for the existence of a long strip of fertility right in the middle of the desert, that extends for thousands of kilometers and around which most of life in Egypt revolves. It is by no coincidence then that most of the population of the country settle within a reasonable distance to its shores. As a result of it, this is where we encountered the traffic and the noise again but also the life that it is only possible thanks to it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sahara...


After the epic journey across Mongolia from last year, my memories of the magnificent Gobi desert remained very present inside me. There, we spent days that were as hard as unforgettable. I left with images, sounds (or complete lack there of) and sensations that were recorded in my mind forever. Sublime moments that make the mere experience transcend and stick it into one's body. The kind of moments that I live for. It is for this reason that during the days we spent in Cairo I was filled with so much enthusiasm for the upcoming ride across the most famous of all deserts, the Sahara. Enthusiasm and nervousness, not only because the very idea of cycling across it intimidates, but also for being the way of immersion into this whole new continent, completely unknown to me until now. Far from scaring me though, this is the elixir that feeds my spirit, and perhaps very few things I enjoy as much as feeling that itching inside the guts that the uncertainty for the unknown generates. 

The door to Africa


Between traveling, working and living, I have spent little over 8 years of my life in Asia. Exploring and discovering this continent had always been my life's dream for as long as I can remember. After several years of living there and feeling it already like “my place” in the world, I can't still help but feeling a strong curiosity as to how I ended up being born in the exact opposite corner of the planet in such a different culture when at the same time I feel so strangely connected to another one. I guess they are the existential games of karma playing on us. The fact is that when you feel like fish swimming in the water, it ain't so easy to just jump to another pond. However, my thirst for adventure is insatiable and it is already telling me that it is time to give Africa the long journey it deserves, for it is the only continent where I have never ever been before. It is for this very reason that I finally decided to cut the umbilical cord and once and for all take the leap out of Asia. For months in advance I have been evaluating different alternatives to reach the continent exclusively by bicycle but the social situation in three key countries, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen has deteriorated so much that it is virtually impossible to reach the north of the continent without flying. Therefore, we had no other choice than flying and from Delhi we went straight to Cairo. 

My position on tourism

This is a separate post and it is not related to this trip. It has been inspired by a comment made by one reader and it seeks to explain my position on tourism, since I am fully aware that many of the comments I write ranting about it might be misunderstood and taken the wrong way.

 There are several ways of traveling around the world. From the the most ephemeral, like a quick journey somewhere to visit only major tourist attractions, to the longest and most profound that leads to a high degree of penetration in a different culture. While they are all valid ways of traveling there is only one that is the best one, and that is the one that fits one's personal goals. Not everybody has to enjoy visiting the Statue of Liberty or spending days walking around the Louvre. Likewise, not everybody has to be willing to jump on a fully loaded bicycle and set off to ride across a desert or walk the world at 20 km a day. However, regardless of the way we choose to travel, I believe that we all have an important responsibility at the time of visiting a foreign country. Just like when we go for a visit to someone else's house and we generally adapt to its codes even putting them above our own, when we visit a foreign culture we should do something similar.

Touring India with family


It is time for visits once again and this time we have received my mom. As I already mentioned before with the visit of my dad, our parents are to a great degree responsible of who we are, and my mom is as responsible as my dad for the adventurer that I have inside and for having given me the wings that lead me to believe that there are no limits at the time of letting yourself take the leap and fly. Needless to say, she didn't doubt for a second when I asked her to come and visit us in India. So for two weeks we left our bicycles with our lovely Indian family to temporarily travel again using public transport. For me, it meant visiting for the second time some of the places that I had already been to back in 2001, with the caveat that this time having much more experience and a much richer perspective, especially as a photographer, I have been able to experience this trip in a different way. On the other hand, it meant having fun walking my mom through the huge cultural shock that involves every first visit to India, and making her travel on my low budget, teaching her how to eat with her hands Indian-style in the popular eateries and have her travel in the famous 2nd Class Sleeper of Indian trains. Some might tell me: “How can you do all that to your own mother???” to which I proudly reply: “well, it just that my mom is like a 4x4, she can do anything”.


This is going to be more of a visual walk with updated personnal comments and appreciations, since there is not much more that haven't written before about the following places of India. (sorry my fellow English readers, as all of what I have written before is only in Spanish) 


The old side of Delhi



 Old Delhi is for me, one of the most fascinating places in the world. I could spend days, weeks or even months wandering aimlessly, getting lost in its alleys and never ever get tired of it. The vast array of images, smells and textures is virtually infinite. It triggers an immense combinations of emotions that stimulate the senses.