Eagle and serpent

explorations and philosophy: in the world, of the world

Tag: travel

Alternative necessity

Volcanic ash teaches us a lesson. It’s baffling to see how people can find alternatives, and even completely change plans, when they are faced by a force majeure–and all this rather effortlessly, with no serious emotional exhaustion. It’s easy to take a relaxed view on things that cannot be acted upon.

I cannot help but think what would happen if we had an ‘Icelandic volcano’ in other matters as well. For instance, should the oil wells dry up for good, what would our energy politics (and our lifestyle with it) look like? Would there be alternatives? Of course there would. It may be that cheap flights everywhere and -when are something that we are used to, but it’s hardly necessary in the strong sense.

Another matter is the emerging demands to lift the flight restrictions. Who’s taking the risk here, actually?


Back on the island

After a month of wandering in the belt of good life (south of the Alps, north of the Atlas), it was time to return to the fog. It took some time and pain to re-adjust to the rain and cold.

+13 degrees, wind and rain just don’t do it for me anymore. Yes, many things are better here than in the south (infra etc. you know it). Sadly, the benefits hardly outweigh good food, nice people and excellent weather… Cold fingers no good.

There must be something in the notion that bad outdoors makes people concentrate on the indoors (and vice versa). No surprise that doing a PhD right next to a beach takes a very curious mind…


Had to leave Italy, otherwise they would’ve made me fat! In the Ligurian mountains even the waiters took no no for an answer. Seems they are insistent on every front…

After declining a dessert from the dinner menu and just opting for a coffee, the waiter came back in few minutes suggesting another, ‘very good local dessert’, which I, of course, could not turn down. It ended up being a plateful of these


Also easiness of the wine specs was surprising, which is rather uncommon in Europe. When I asked about the difference between normal and ‘superiore’ Rossese (local red), I got an extremely helpful answer. “You see-a, superiore is very good!

For you my friend

This is how it should be! Renting a vespa in Italy can turn out to be pretty much anything. But what comes without saying, it’s not boring!

The best thing to have is someone who knows what he’s doing, and knows the owner of the rental as well. Then you can get a discount and be quite sure that they don’t fool you. This is common knowledge, not surprising, and so on.

But the most important thing is the thing what this leads to. Unlike in cultures with high level of Weberian bureaucracy and low level of charisma (read: everything north of the Alps), here assholes don’t have a fun time! (Or you have to be the biggest asshole in the country in a loong time).

Being friendly pays off—which is very cool indeed!

Big macs and death

There’s a sticky habit among my American friends to recommend some places to visit or even live in across the ocean.

Obviously, they don’t feel that either the media or the general atmosphere here in Europe does them the justice they should. Much of their ‘justice’…

This is, of course, heart-breaking. My friends the Statesmen think (or at least used to) that the main criticism is pointed towards their former regime. Now, suddenly and magically, with the new regime, things are somehow much better. They fail to see two things: first, it’s no argument to say—“not all Americans are like that”—of course not. It’s just too sad that the rest of the world gets what it gets. Second, this is not the issue—the critique goes against their whole way of living and co-existing with the world.

I fully, truly and honestly acknowledge the possibility that I would find NY, DC, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle as vibrant, dynamic, eye-opening, interesting, cultivated, welcoming and open-minded cities. There is no doubt about that. Moreover, I don’t think that I would necessarily have miserable time in the ‘fly-over-land’ (as one of the guys from the coast so nicely put). Quite the contrary, there should be great landscapes filled with outdoor and hunting possibilities.

But as long as the country treats her visitors as criminals, imprisons and tortures people fighting for their own countries in their own countries, proudly and openly funds apartheid governments and fills all the backyards of the world with sh*t, corpses and consumerist ideology, I’m not particularly eager to go.

Proselytise the traveller

There is one thing that I’ve come across in some Muslim countries I’ve visited. It’s the eagerness of some locals to convert me to Islam.

First one took place in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, when the warden gave me a handful of leaflets telling how wonderful the faith was. I had been staring at the beautiful murals, obviously long enough to trigger his mission. In Eastern Turkey, the approach was not that respectful. A bearded man challenged me and my friend of us “Not respecting Mohammad, why?” Answering that kind of question is quite hard: “Umm…we don’t disrespect, he’s just not part of the doctrine…” invoked just another set of questions and suspicions.

In Iran, everyone minded their own business in terms of religion.

In Sahara, however, it happened again. In the shared taxi from Tan Tan to Laayoune, my neighbour (young and multi-lingual guy) suddenly popped out the question: “Why are you not a Muslim?” “Well, I was not brought to be one, and haven’t felt the need to convert” was my initial reply. This was not satisfactory. Interestingly, he used the exactly same argument than the man in Van (East Turkey): “Why hold on to a faith that is obviously wrong? Islam is correct, so you should convert to it.”

Needless to say, a philosophical argument questioning the foundations of his claim didn’t yield much. Raising the issue of having read the Qur’an and still not believing didn’t help either… Oh well.

It’s just interesting. There must be something in the religious mind that makes them spread the ‘good’ word. It happens also in the better families. It’s a gift, not an attempt to proselytise!

West Bank witness

Take a look at Rob’s blog covering his recent visit.

Let the man sleep

Our new driver was a man in about his seventies, and a loud one. After starting his car, we drove about three minutes before it was time for eating, evening prayers and just hanging around with his mates in a highway ‘diner’. I took the time to gaze at the desert by night, and it undeniably looked very cool indeed. When we finally continued, I fell asleep for a short while, waking up when he pulled the car over once again, stretched his legs and started to snore. My neighbour helpfully shouted to my ear in Berber/Arabic that our driver needs to rest a while.

After a half an hour or so, I seriously suggested to the man to continue driving, which proved to be a bad, very bad mistake. He agreed and started driving. Once again I thought that things are finally going on just fine…and fell asleep.

I woke up to the snoring of our man, while moving about 80 km/h in a completely dark highway in the middle of Sahara! Driving in the middle of the road, falling asleep time and again, only to wake up to the headlights of an encountering truck and tilting to the right just before hitting was his style. Shouting of French/English/Berber/Arabic (+ swearwords in all the languages spoken in the car) filled the 1970s Mercedes for few minutes. Despite us now agreeing that he can sleep, he insisted of lasting to the next city of Boujdour. He (and us) made it; once again he stretched his legs and started to snore.

After two and a half hours of very tired sipping mint tea and communicating with the locals without a common language, we decided to continue and wake up our driver. At this point the clock was somewhere around three in the morning. He woke up and off we went! This time he lasted one hour, before the roulette started all over again. We pulled over to sleep (at this point I was approaching a mental state of ‘accepting harmony’; I think Zen Buddhists talk about it). After an hour of sleep he was able to continue, being able to remain somewhat awake… Just few times we had to do something silly with his non-functioning radio, the activity of which he would reproach loudly (I think he never realised it was our tactic of stimulating his blood circulation).

We reached Laayoune after twelve hours, at six o’clock in the morning. The guy gracefully drove me two blocks to my hotel.

Sharing is caring

Crawling back from Dakhla to Laayoune turned out to be one of the most stressful experiences of my life.

The RAM clerk helpfully noted that the next flight to Laayoune takes place in exactly one week; the advice was to take a bus. However, all the buses were fully booked for the evening and the coming morning. The only option left was to take a shared taxi.

Already the thought of crossing the endless desert with six other people in an age-old Mercedes invoked some preparatory mental exercises. To get and idea, just stuff seven people into an old Mercedes, add some local entertainment (clerics citing Qur’an or local youth listening to music from their mobiles without headphones), kiss your knees and you have the atmosphere! In my naivety, I assumed the drive to take approximately six hours (less than 400 km), thereby arriving around midnight. How wrong I was.

The journey started with a thorough search through nearby villages after some other taxis and exchanging empty and full gasoline canisters. Then we discussed with the military why I was already leaving the city, as I had arrived very recently. Then we again hunted some cabdrivers, for perhaps a half an hour. When we finally got on the road, I admit I actually developed a feeling of ‘everything going just fine’. And everything went fine until about half-way, when our driver told us to step into another taxi with our stuff. He would turn around and go back to Dakhla with the people from the taxi we swapped with.

Changing plans in Sahara

Sometimes one has to change plans with a few minutes notice. Being in Sahara makes it much more interesting.

Earlier during the day I was replied by the helpful Canaries-based travel agency that “yes we do have flights from Nouadhibou to Las Palmas, no problem”. I had already booked a seat in a 4wd towards the border to take off early in the morning to cover the last stretch across the desert. I was already about to change my fistful of dirhams to euros, when I decided to double-check.

Marta told me with a surprised voice that “we don’t have flights between Mauritania and the Canary Islands”. When inquiring the purpose of the email stating the complete opposite, she simply noted: “oh yes, all flights were cancelled later today, sorry”. Oh yeah, thanks for keeping me updated.

Of course, all parties having an economic interest in me reacted angrily. Moors are not that nice people when you’re cancelling something. Two guys (one I never seen before) started shouting and telling complete lies about the availability of foreign currency, flights and other stuff across the border. When they couldn’t persuade me to stick with my original plan, they tried an even more aggressive approach. Only “what are you going to do about it” ended the conversation.

Having burned the bridges, it was time to find means to get out of town, quickly.