Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sahara by Bicycle

From Agadir I watched Emma leave on a bus back to the real world and realized once again I was alone. There are a lot of feelings which come to you during those moments. I sipped a mint tea and pondered my new position. I decided it was time to leave Morrocco and head south into the disputed territory of the Western Sahara and continue my trip south on what is known as the Western Sahara route. One of only 3 primary ways to cross the desert. This way leads along the Western shoreline on a long lonely road through the dusty landscape into Mauritania. I stepped on a bus in Agadir to begin the journey, and after 1600km of painfully boring and uncomfortable bus travel (there were a few hilights) I found myself half way across the desert in the town of Dakhla knowing that I could not allow myself to cross the Sahara by bus.

I sat and considered this dilemma at a little cafe eating a fried fish with my hands. Do I hitch the rest of the way? Try to buy my way on a car? What do I do? Well, as things usually go the decision was made for me as an interesting character rode up on his bike, loaded with supplies. "That guy looks interesting.", says I and sure enough he is. "Oh, I just biked here from Sweden.", he says, "My name is Martin".

One thing led to another, and today I scrambled around town, buying bits and parts of the many piece of junk bikes you can find here at the end of the earth (along with every cassette tape you never bought) and with the help of some handy Morroccon mechanics essentially built a bike. Though its stability is questionable, its charm is undeniable. It is now loaded with supplies, a couple of blankets, 12 litres of water and enough food for us to cycle the remaining 600km across the longest stretch of no-service road on the Western Sahara route! It should take us 5 or 6 days with us camping through the cold desert nights. If you feel the kid in me in this posting, its because I'm here, playing out in the backyard and happy as hell.

Wish me luck.

PS. Don't worry Mom, we'll stick to the road at the Mauritanian border, so don't worry about all the land mines.

Friday, January 27, 2006


On Tuesday, less than two weeks after seeing the Pope, Emma and I attempted an ascent of Jbel Toubkal, the tallest mountain in the Atlas range and the highest in Northern Africa. Though normally a fairly smooth 2 day trek in the summer months we were warned a winter ascent may be difficult. This proved a remarkable understatement.

Perhaps an easier climb might have been a better choice for Emmas first mountain. We arrived late in the afternoon into the mountain village of Imlil looking up at the stunning snow capped peaks surrounding us. Arranged our gear, snow clothes, sleeping bags, crampons and ice picks and after a chilly night began our trek to the base camp refuge to spend a night at the treeline before the final ascent. Unfortunately we never made it.

Like a story book fable we advance, the trail, though snow covered is fairly good and my spirits are high. I chat freely with the guide and Emma though slipping seems fine. Soon however, we sight the mountain, clouded in a hazy mist and the trail grows steep and soft. Mules and local tribes men pass us on their way down, reports from above growing grimmer and grimmer. Flakes begin to fall as we slip up the icy slope and the wind begins to howl. I glance back at Emma now 20 feet behind, now 30 feet, trudging in poorly fitting boots, and I begin to feel the pressure of decision. We push on, 3 hours up now, we are going to slow, our guide glances at me with worried eyes, the wind and snow whip his scarf around his face and he looks back toward Emma. More steps up, 4 hours now, and the mountain erupts. An incredible force. The wind tearing at us, threatening to pull us off, the snow blinding, impossible to see, the trail becomes blurred as we reach a small hut. The last shelter before the refuge, still too far away. We stop, and as Emma struggles up, I know our trip is done. I step out onto the trail for one last look and the world dissolves around me, spectacular, dream-like, wondrous. I could not have planned this moment better. We return the long walk back to town, calmer with each step and Emma suggests a bus to the beach in Agadir. Why not? This way is blocked.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


From Rome, Emma and I travel to Barcelona by plane, spend the weekend partying and dancing it up with her friend Ange. We spend a day site seeing the Gaudi exhibits and buildings and travel up to Figures to see the Dali museum. A trip well worth it.

From Barcelona we catch an overnight train down to Algecires and Emma goes to Gibralter for a day. I miss out on a forgotten passport in the hotel and a nagging cold. So it is, 3 weeks after starting this part of my trip we arrive excitedly off our boat into Tangier, Morocco, Africa to begin the most interesting and challenging part of this journey. Immediately the excitement rises as we spend the evening walking around the Medina (old town), its fresh sites and sounds rewarding us. Today in Fes I have no timeline and a rough plan after Emma departs in a few days. I hope to start by crossing the Sahara by land and entering the heart of this intimidating continent.

We shall see how the wind blows...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Pope and the Con Man

In Rome we went to see the Pope. I would suggest that few things are more rewarding than this experience if you allow it to be. The fun began as I walked up to a Vatican guard blocking a side entrance and announced, "I would like to see the Pope." His eyebrows seemed to rise, widening his eyes as they did, a clear sign of surprise, concern and alertness. So I clarified, "I hear you can get tickets somewhere?"

The following day we arrived at 10:30 into the main auditorium with a thousand or so other tourists, pilgrams or locals and were treated to a display of love, affection, theatre and wonder as his holiness, glowing white, entered the room to the heart warming cheers of all and the sound of children singing from the audience. After an short sermon in an impressive 5 or 6 languages and the pledging of faith by song, cheer or waves by the various audience groups we all sang and he departed. While, I am not a Catholic, and while we have had many discussions since this experience, the sheer reverence, the love shown by the audience, their faith and desire for holy expression reduced me, along with men and women all around to tears of joy the likes of which I have never before experienced. You could only say, I wept.

After this tremendous experience, we walked into the Sistine chapel and nearly died of emotional overload. Emma and I were useless to any task the rest of the day and sat over pizza after pizza in animated discussion.

So where does the Con Man come in? The following day as we left the Colliseum on route to the airport we were stopped by a man in a car on the street asking for directions. Even as Emma approached the car my spider senses were tingling, but perhaps he was too smooth, perhaps I haven't been on guard for too long. Long story short, he asked for directions, said he was French from out of town, he was well dressed, in a blazer and sweater, he talked to us, asked Emma how tall she was, flattered she said, "five ten". He said, I'm a fashion representative for Versacci, here, I will give you some samples for free. It sure sounded good, but I furrowed my brow, he saw and reached out for me pulled me off balance as he shook my hand, pointed something out and asked Emma for some money. Just a few dollars for gas. "What?", thought I, trying to slow things down, organize my thoughts, another question another tug on my arm. He sure seems nice, uh oh, she has some money out now. "No. Wait, no, you aren't taking any money. Give him back the clothes. Thats ridiculous." I finally take charge, get my grip and frustrated we walk away. "I can't believe that guy," ,I say. "What a thief." "Ya", says Emma, "He even kept my money." I missed that moment, of course, I had been looking at the dashboard where he was pointing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Witch Burning

Turns out its still going on and not in the symbolic sense.

After a meetup in Milan I am now travelling with Emma Claire, my little sisters best buddy and Italy as been revealing itself to us bit by bit. Just north of Milan is a little town called Mezzago, which you probably can't find on a map and which happens to be the setting for a new play which Emma Claire will be starring in over the next couple of months. So it seems, we just had to visit. It was during this somewhat liesurely trip to the Italian countryside that I saw something which raised the hairs on the back of my neck and had me trying to jump off the bus to run back to the striking event. Looking out the window I saw a series of images, oh look, theres a big group of people, oh, it must be some kind of festval, hey they all seem to be cheering at something, what is that, hey, its a witch made of straw, and its on fire!! Not sure what that was all about... I never did make it off the bus.

From Mezzago to Firenze (Florence) and a sight of the most famous statue in the world, Michaelangelos David, a swing through Pisa for the leaning tower and into Rome. All I can say is, all my life I have been loving the food from here, now I just have twice the reason to enjoy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Corto means Short

Ahh Venice, how many stories have been written about your windy little "streets". Well actually, I know how many cuz they are the only books available in English in every bookstore. I'd say about a 100.

I arrive in Venice from the boat at dawn, a beautifull sunrise over such an unusual city. Truly, it is rare I am so completely pleased at the differentness of a new city as here. Also, rarely have I walked into so many dead end streets. Anyone who's been to Venice will know what I am talking about.

In this winding village I decidedly completed more missions than any previous stretch of time so short. Mail was sent, banking done, phone calls made, new stuff bought, hair cut - speaking of which when you say Corto, it means you don't get to have any hair left when its all over. I now have the shortest hair I have had since I was in the crib.

By day three I began to have a good grasp of getting around, with only one short walk remaining from the hostel to the train station. Unfortunately, the city decided to reorganize itselfand nearly 2.5 hours later, including a rest stop with an Italian girl (my new found guide) I finally stumbled up to the train station and hopped on for Milan.

I love the food in Italy, actually, its what I always love to eat. Only now I can do it with an excuse.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Well, this year has been a good one. I have accomplished a lot and learned even more. Built some great friendships and some good memories. I had a lot to be thankfull for as I stood atop the roof of our hostel beneath the Acropolis ringing in the new year.

I would like to wish all my friends and family a tremendous Happy New Year and warm wishes for 2006 and thank you all for making it possible for me to be where I am today.

Thank you.

What about the Boxer Rebellion?

What? That was from the Ming Dynasty against northern China. You must be thinking of the Opium Wars...