Monday, February 27, 2006


It wasn`t my passion to drive myself off the beaten track that took me to Nuweibas's prision. It was rather a piece of experiment. When the employee of my beach campo stole 15 US dollars (3 days budget) from my bungalow, I decided to take the issue to the nearby police. Unfortunately for me, they must have had their own agreements, since they didn`t pay any attention to my problem. The said I should go the Tourist Police, that was 7 Km. away, but refused to give me a ride even if they had three pick-ups available. We argued and, guess what, the one that ended up in jail was me! Up here you can see my picture, inside Nuweiba's jail. At least I had plenty of time (one night) to give correct ending to several poems...

The ferry that I was eventually able to catch. I had my ticket when unexpectedely confined to prision. And was freed just two hours before departure!


Fotos: 1. "Sex" (real name Mehmet), a friend, and Mustafa. 2. Breakfast at Mesut's flat.

As usual, my hosts in Adan, Southern Turkey were the brothers Mustafa and Mesut, from Hospitality Club. When the bus taking me from Kilisi reached Adana it was past midnight, so I decided to call them the following morning and instead put up my tent. It would have been an easy task hadn’t been for the fact that the steep way out of the motorway here and there only met a 2 meters high fence. Felt like in a zoo. Eventually I found a gap and camped on the other side. Next morning Mesut picked me up from the carpet shop where I had been granted breakfast and phone. Already at his house, a royal style breakfast awaited, as usual!

In the two days I spent in Adana, none of the classics were missing. The BBQ in the inhospitable remote place, for example. The brothers seem to enjoy roasting a chicken or a row of fish in some remote location, behind some moutain or lake. The garden is not enough! The meal was quiet, even if some guys turned up ready to test a Magnum rifle recently bought in the black market fo 80 dollars, and started to shoot the birds over the lake. The other starring feature of Mesut and Mustafa is their drunken friends. The one I met this time was nicknamed “sex” (Mustafa says that’s because he is very good)/ After the third glass of raki Sex starts speaking fluid English, much to my surprise. Talking about surprises, another one was the news that Mustafa and his wife are waiting a new son! I finally departed to Anakara to apply for my Iranian. Pakistani and Afghan visas.


In transit from Egypt to Turkey this time it was only the mundane necessity of getting Iranian and Afghan visas that pushed my sails… The faded portraits of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad marked formally my entry in the country. Not too far from there a sign welcomes me in a way that it leaves no doubt about the democratic caliber of the country: “Welcome to Al Assad’s Syria!”. It is a wonderful morning of wet pavement and cars washed by nature. Even the old Syrian taxis Dodge Coronet (imagine a boat) had received that unjustified shine granted by bad weather to cars that left the show room 40 years ago… The custom officers seem to guess I am a kin philatelist and saturate the page of my passport with nine stamps. They partially cover each other and are obliterated by blue seal that seems designed not be read. Privilege of argentineship: visa on the border after, 20 minutes while-u-wait.

A kebab invited on the roadside by a stranger is enough to put in evidence the Syrian trade mark, in he exact moment in which the vendor, having guessed that I am the hungry one, refuses payment. Syrian trademark is Dignity. I made it to Damascus, the oldest city in the world, in the truck of a man who speaks French. That’s why he knows what autostop means… but he has never seen anybody actually hitchhiking, so proud of being able to match his learned words with reality, he sgives me the lift. In Damascus I stayed two days at Ezzat’s place. All visits to Ezzat end in teologic arguments among the smoke of the argilleh, sometimes making a break to play darts with his brother the jihadman. I was hauled out of Damascus by a 1954 De Soto several meters long, a sublime farewell ride from Syria. I thought I was going straight to Aleppo, near the Turkish border, until being given a lift by a veterinary from Tartous in a Dacia Solenza.

To decide that Tartous was worth the detour it was enough to remember that the old port was the last bastion of the Crusaders in the mainland, back in the 12th C, and also the entrance gate to the yerba mate (argentinian tea also extremely popular among Syrians) in the lugagge of repatriated expats in the 50s. Not every harbour can claim to have seen the Templar Knight going out and the yerba mate sailing in.
Thre is something in which Tartous resembles any other port in the world. As al ports, it manages to oversee the rules, attenuate dogmatisms, lighten clothing and mixing religions. Few women near the beach are happy to wear a scarf over their heads when the temperature in summer goes over 40. The same, shall somebody attempt to explain Tartous seamen, who sail the seven seas, that the beer is anti-islamic. In a country where transgression is seldom forgiven, the tolerance to transgression is transgression itself. It was those seamen who spot me wandering the streets in search of a roof and invited me in their place to share some whisky. One of them had worked on board an Hondurian ship and spoke Spanish. Not need to say, they hosted me, and the following morning I was of northwards as fast a control remote toy car. The destination: Adana, in Southern Turkey, distant 630 kms from Tartous. I was quite sure of being in for a two days trip, since I only stepped in the road at 11 am. Nevertheless, half an hour later I had found a family from tartous driving their Corolla to Aleppo, that’s 50 kms from the Turkish border. As the decisive ride can happen in any moment, I follow the procedure, change the remaining Syrian back to dollars, and turn the unchangeable coins into eatable items (loads of cheap flavourless biscuits) including half kilo o yerba mate, which God knows when I am gonna find again on the shelves.

It is already night when I reach the border. When the Syrian custom staff sees me in, they ask me where did I leave my bike. No bike, I explain, I am on foot, and I come from Argentina. It should be written down and archived for posterity that the rankless soldiers in the Turkish-Syrian border prefers “Taragui” yerba to the Amanda one. On the Turkish side the soldiers hold machine guns that at least have triggers, and they gossip about the fun they have when duty allows them to open fire over the heads of Syrian tea and sugar smugglers. As the no one’s land between the two countries they put in a taxi bound for Kilisi, the first Turkish city. Quite predictably. The taxi driver makes his attempt of extortion, and asks for 20 bucks not to let me stranded. In that moment, and corroborating Chomsky’s theories about generative grammar, I discover that my arabic is good enough to say: “Allah is bigger than you” (“Allah is bigger” alone is the phrase which is spit by the minarets of all the world at prayer time, so I just added the final “than you”). The result shows that, unlikely the Egyptians, who can sell their God and their soul for a phone token, the Syrians are ready to loose money in order to preserve their dignity. So the cab driver runs behind me begging me to go back to the car. So the way to Kilisi included this little dramatic play in the middle of the road.
From there to Adana it was another 200 kms. At 9 pm, pretty much impossible mission. But then, and even if the Turkish soldiers had warned me about how a hellish place Kilisi was, the first man I ask about the road to Gaziantep is a Kurd who sponsors my bus trip to Gaziantep. A further lucky strike occurs when I discover that the bus goes actually all the way to Ankara via Adana. The driver has no objection with me staying in, ticketless. I made it to Adana past midnight, too late to phone my HC friend Mesut. Some sleepless neighbor may have notice the low blue tent not far from the motorway.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Photos: 1 and 2: siwi women. 3. Mechanical problems in the Sahara.

Many years ago, when the circular tables of the Coratazar Cultural Center at Mar del Plata were circular and centered as petals boiling mind travelers craving to hit the road, any road, then Viqui would say that routine is as sad as a physic map of la Pampa Province. When I started walking south from the Mediterranean city of Marsa Matrouh to Siwa Oasis, inmersed 300 kms in the Sahara desert, I couldn’t less than remember Viqui’s metaphor: the desert is so featureless that the map is all whitness and quadrants organizers of the most absolute nothingness. A red line challenges that void: it’s the road that the government built in 1984 to abreviate to a 4 hours drive what used to be a week long camel trek. Alexander the Great, on his way along the same path to visit the Oracle of Amun in Siwa and confirm his sinship of Zeus, took 8 days for his trip, which according to history was rather uneventful, with the rulers of neighboring Cyrene (present day Lybia) sending him war horses as a present intended to show sympathy and discourage an attack from his behalf.

Exiting Matrouh, evidences of mankind reduce gradually until the Sahara gains all its magnitude. A quarry 40 kms away and some oil fields ahead allow for some traffic and gives pulse to the road. 20 minutes after I set off a quarry bound truck beats the roadside and lifts me. Its driver makes it clear from the beginning that here we are bedouins, in Cairo they are arabs. The next driver were also going to prove good examples of local mind. It was a pick up carrying two sheep, and the drivers were interested in knowing two things: first, if there was rain in my country; second, if there were arabs… The answer: (with rain and without arabs) let him shocked in awe and wondering the requeriments for a visa… It is also interesting to note that, while the bedouins themselves are ethnically arabs, they use the label arab to refer to the settled ones, in opposition to their semi nomadism.

Eaten away the last sandwich, I was only hoping to anchor my tiredness in some inhabited place… A tank truck forward me until the oil fields, where some angel had opened a tea house, where I could buy provisions. The tea house itself is a cubic structure outside which the owner (the angel) smokes shisha. One of the walls calls my attention, there is a giant graffitti of a Nokia mobile phone with realistic details of each numeral key. “Do you sell telephones?” – I asked surprised. No as an answer. I looked inside: biscuits, some bread, tea, final stop. The mural is just decoration, altough I would risk considering it a sort of amulet , icon of the prosper West, an almost magic artifact. The mobile phone is a clear example of the irrational pattern of globalization. The devices have arrived here more as a mandate than as an option, and are seen in hands of people and farmers who should have other priorities. At night the oil digs cheer up in light as tiny Eiffel Towers. I travel now in another truck, we horn to clear the road of camels… In Bir-el-Nuss, a well to which modernity has added a restaurant, I am allowed to sleep. It is midway.

During the morning I make an attempt (failed) to reach Qara Oasis, extremely isolated, 100 kms away from Bir-el-Nuss, which is already in the middle of nowhere. But I am asked for militar permits. Then I continue on to Siwa, contemplating with envy the nylon bags, the only beings to transit freely without documents and at full speed towards Qara. I start to note that I am not Alexander the Great: the Libyans didn’t come to offer me their war horses, and the two crows that showed the good way to Alexander (according to his yellow press paid court poets) must be guiding genuine emperors-to-be. After an hour of walking, and matching the context, a Land Rover stops. A man from Cairo who is building a hotel in Siwa. After a while the Lan Rover starts puffing, sand in the oil bomb, which we dismanteled with the aid of my MSR kitchen tool. As a result we reach Siwa by night.

If asked to describe Siwa, I shuld say that nothing I imagine can resemble more a miracle. After 300 kms of plain desert, of compact emptiness, it is hard to believe my eyes: for kilometers the palm trees don’t leave patch of sand at sight, only interrumtpes by two large blue lakes. On the streets the disbelief rises: people speak not arabic but siwi, a local bereber language. The people don’t look after any other I have ever since, and the are a synthesis of all the peoples that have roamed in the area: algerian bedouins, black people from Sudan, and arabs. Their skin is dark, their forehead high and broad, and finely curly hair. In top of that, one family is composed by blond blue eyed individuals…
Since the construction of the road-umbilical string, Siwa seems doomed to resign slowly its cultural uniqueness in favour of the Nokia and the moods of Cairo, Arabic has replaced Siwi at schools, and tourism rises as a kind of reparation prize, while the government forces the bedouins at neighboring Abu Shrouf village to leave their tents and move to houses. The siwans, however, promise to offer some resistance in this wrestling contest with the global village… Siwa continues to be a highly conservative townn and the few women who venture to the streets covere themselves from head to toe. Often they move in groups, over donkey drown karts. More than women they seem an apparition. The population continues to be divided in 11 tribes, and any new resident must suscribe one fo them. Regardless its curious mix of tradition and change, Siwa can praise itself of being, of all the place he could choose between, the spot where Alexander the Great demanded to be buried. With the sun falling behind the Oracle of Amun, I can consider the trip succesful. Bah… there is not such a thing as a failed trip: each step under the sun is unique and beautiful.


Photos: 1. Pyramids. 2. Kids at SOS Children Village at Al Amria Suburb. 3. Magdy and his cusin, guardians of El Alamein German Militar Cemetery.

The difference is great. Between Alexander the Great and me, I mean. He counted with a 50.000 men strong army. I am alone and traveling by thumb. He strived to forge an empire, I like them only when they crumble down. Maybe motivated by the unoble ambition of having something in common with the Macedonian Star it was that I put the finger on the map over Siwa for the first time. At least this way we would have a route in common. Siwa is an oasis emerging against all possible forecast 300 kms south of the Mediterranean Coast into the sands of the Sahara Desert, not far from the Lybian border. It always owed its fame to being the site of one of the most famous oracles of the Ancient World: the Oracle of Amun, that was believed by the Greeks to be a local manifestation of Zeus. Having taken Egypt from the Persians without fighting, Alexander marched from Memphis magnetized by the fame of the Oracle, anxious to legitimate his sonship of Zeus.

When I left Cairo, the adventure had an operistic oberture when I discovered that the road to Alexandria boasts in its western side not less than the Pyramids. The road to Iskendereia (one feels in the Classic Age when using the local label) was anything but average. First my wallet with 100 dolars was stolen by some impoverished mummy, leaving me with mere 20 cents and 220 kms ahead. 1-0 for Alexander. In such humiliating circumstances a Daewoo stops after only 15 minutes waiting. The driver was a man in his early sixties, spotlessly dress in a suit, while her companion was a woman: 40 years younger than him, thick lips, dark skin and a blue hejab covering her hair. Then the man, becaming a strange statistic case for my road notes, offers me the lady with the only condition of having preferential seat. That’s what I calll to receive 1000 spoons when you need a fork, and it’s only another example (gay truck drivers, etc) of those choices that, repressed by a police force that applies the Qoran, only finds decompression in sealed private spaces and with foreigners. Anyway, 1-1.

On the first night I was hosted and fed by two watchmen that would jump out of their bed with a loaded gun at the minimum noise. On the morning a taxi driver accepted to take me for free to Alexandria, strange event in a country where somebody seems to have swap the Quran for Adam Smiths’s books. “Why not money?” –the man cried and bumped the wheel with his head. He droped me in the suburb of Al Amria. 30 kms from the center. There, a woman that steps down from a motorcycle taxi guides me without my request to a branch of SOS Children Villages. All without words, as obeying a secret choreography of destiny. She is one of the mothers that literally consagrate their lives to raise and educate orphans, from KG to University. She makes me visit each of the houses, 75 children in total. After the visit I could readily say that the village is truly an isle of sanity in the middle the urban chaos that pervades the rest of the suburb, where children work in the vegetable market that smells to donkey’s flatulence.

When I reached the center of Alexandria –in the car of a manager that payed my hotel night-. Looking around I was assaulted by the impression of having been there for ever. I would have never imagined that Alexandria resembled so much Mar del Plata (my city in Argentina). With french style architecture lined against the seaside boulevard conveniently named corniche, horse carriages and cafes that mix in their menu british ale with greek food, Alexandria has allowed the belle epoche a passage to modernity. What reaches the present is an hybrid: elaborated iron street lamps and trams shake hands with shisha bars and local fishermen that knee over the sand at prayer times. The number of foreign consulates in the city attests to its cosmopolitan history, but it also makes you wonder in what does the Slovakian consulate use their time…

When Alexander arrived here he found reportedly a tiny fishing village calle Rhacotis. Over that embrio he ordered the foundation of a big city that would bear his name and would become the greatest center of culture of the Classical World, with the famous Alexandrian Library as its centerpiece, which is said to have contained 500,000 scrolls. In its rooms Euclides proposed his geometry and the circumference of the Earth was first calculated. In the 4th C. the Library was burnt down, in the name of Christianity. Egyptian Authority needed 1700 years before erecting a substitute. The fact that it was inaugurated in 2001 under the government of the dictator –still in power- Mubarak. Also nowadays Egypt just seems the last place on Earth that could natural produce such an offsrping as the replacement fot the famed library. (The average Egyptian cannot read a map) The new library is, in any case, an esthetic triumph: its glassed surface projects a beam of light, including the other local legend, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which rated among the Seven Wonders of the Old World.

From Alexandria, the way to Siwa. Distant some 600 kms, is made in an “L” movement, as the horse in the chess. It ‘s 300 kms to the west along the Mediterranean Coast until Marsah Matrouh, where the Afrika Korps had their base during WWII. I travel first in a Toyota Corolla of a Egyptian Christian residing in Italy, who presents me a kilo of dates an a weird sacred oil that –he assures- will protect me from the wolves of the desert. The fiirst day I only covered 100 kms, arriving by night to the German at El Alamein, where 4200 soldiers rest. As said by Albert Schweitzer: “There is not a better argument for peace that the tomb of a soldier”. Magdy, member of the bedouin family that guards the mausoleum, allows me to camp outside its walls. The we trade: he offers me bread and cheese and I write a letter in English to somebody called Jean Lucqe in France. Then he asks me why I don’t believe in God. He is brave enough and goes on with an analogy: “If there are 10 people and 8 tell you that certain place is dangerous, do you believe them?” Ontology by consensus, a bedouin masterpiece. I remind him that the 4200 soldiers behind us were also obeying a majority, not to talk about the terror that threads consensus, not to talk aboout Mubarak, the new Faraon of Egypt… The next day I made it to Marsah Matrouh.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Photos. 1. Pyramids. 2. Ain Hudra Oasis appears suddenly beyond a rocky hill. 3. Unexpected New Year’s Eve with our taxi driver.

Nthe number 400 seemed to much of a superlative to designate the tattered, rusty, shaky bus that was delivering me to Cairo International Airport, where Sigita’s plane would land at 2:10. At the sight of a foreigner in the bus, the ticketman chopped the 25 piastra ticket off with a mix of pride and skepticism. Asked if the bus was going in fact to the airport, the same man raised his hands to heaven and exclaimed: “Imashallah!” (God wanting), which shows how in the Middle East the idea of God is intimately interwoven with lapses of random efficiency.

No less than bus number 400, the way in which Sigita and I had met leads to the search of the threads beyond the puppet, and makes one wonder if things happen for a reason or simply happen. It was an afternoon of the last August. I had crossed that morning the Lithuanian border from Latvia, by hitchhiking as usual, and in the moment I walked along the Green Bridge, the sign bearing the phrase “Aplink Pasauli” was still hanging from my backpack. Admiring the peculiar contrast between the soviet style hammer-in-hand worker ornamenting the gate of the bridge and the towers of the newly built Europa Center behind, I had almost forgotten I was after a supermarket. Sigita was also crossing the bridge on foot, due to a mechanic failure of her Mazda, with the lazy pace that all visit to the dentist should inspire in normal people. Our eyes met for the first time over the question: where is the supermarket?” Now, an old taxi that reproduced with fidelity the sound of an oil generator was driving us to the infamous 2-dollars-a-night pension. In the ground floor of the fin de secle building, a wooden elevator that may have once accomodated french speaking aristocracies now lifted and landed glossy eyed penniless backpackers.

Our room seemed straight out of a Dostoievsky novel. And I say it with all the tenderness that I feel when confronted with sheets where the cigarette holes form constelations. Sigi downed her backpack and started to unpack. It seemed logic to me that the first thing to come out was a bag with fish. The second was a Polish map of Egypt and the third a complete make up set. When her succesful career as graphic designer is not keeping her busy, Sigi ocassionaly poses for the camara. I almost don’t believe her when she says that there are now posters with her picture in downtown Vilnius. That the girl-in-the-picture was gonna end hitchhiking in roads side by side with camel and donkey karts is something that the man-in-the-corner at Vilnius surely ignores. But nothing new for Sigi, who until the age of 12 used to accompany his father –journalist- in his trips around the ex USSR.

In any case, some adjustments needed be made. The fact that our first walk would take place in the most conservative area of Cairo –the Old City- didn’t seem to attenuate the cosmetic powers of Sigi’s make up set. As she was getting prettier with every second, I didn’t have the courage to halt such a promising process with the mundane proposition of: “Hey! This is an islamic country!”. The result was –of course- in the jammed alleys of the bazaar, a massive abandon of Qoran by vendors who lost control of their jaws to exclaim a lascive: “Welcome to Egypt!”. Next time, Sigi rolled a scarf round her neck.

And when is this guy start to talk about the Pyramids? It was an Arabic scholar who said: “All things fear time, but time fear the Pyramids”. We all have a timeless mental image of them, in solemn rest amid endless sands. As a result it comes as a surprise to discover that the Sphynx actually faces the 15 million souls megalopolis. How many millons were born, sweated, and died in front of her eyes? We all should have a Sphynx in our garden to remember the importance of the fugitive moment.

New Year’s Eve took place in a Chinese restaurant. On the way back, our taxi driver could only hit the right address of our hotel after one hour. So at midnight we were opening our cans of Stella in the back seat of a 1960 Fiat, while our drive shoutted out the name of our hotel to passers by with the hope somebody would give him a hint.

Next day we set off for the Sinai, where we started to hitch hike, passing on foot the Egyptian police check points. While hitch hiking in Egypt is in theory illegal, nobody can stop those who declare to be traveling on foot. When the officials read “Lietuvos Pasas” in Sigi’s passport, they ask what part of the universe is that. Somebody with a machine gun suggests that it is a part of Russia.For Sigi, whose parents lived closely the events of January 13, that is pretty much an insult. “Thanks God you are not from Kaliningrad” – I tell her. When my time comes and I say Argentina, the guys recite a list of football players. Diego has become a sort of password. All the same they let us through. Each time. We then visited the sea side paradises of Dahab and Tarabin, where Sigi would say, in a full demostration of Baltic character, that fish, colourful or not, are to eat and not to see behind a diving mask. On the way back to Cairo we crossed the inner desert of Sinai, many times sharing the truck cabin with egyptian workers hitchiking themselves. We stay overnight in Ain Hudra Oasis, where false beduins dedicated to tourism approach us to sell camel rides, while their daughters spy the West trough the shortcut of Sigi’s cosmopolitan magazine.

On January 9th a plane took off from Cairo Intl Airport. Sigi was inside. Time for me to start to investigate how to get iraqi, iranian, pakistani and afghan visas…