Before I left Kenya I spent a week in Sagana doing some long awaited white water activities that included a near drowning. With special thanks to Savage Wilderness, read about it here:
Monthly Archives: May 2016
A guest post by the wonderful Gypsy Queen who opened her mind and heart to the ways of a bartering nomad. She showed me love, art, inspiration, creation and fed me words of wisdom which I adhere to every day (well, most days).
She comforted me during every hospital visit where I was at the whim of the doctors. She introduced me to a bounty of awesome friends. And she provided a patient ear to chew on whenever my heart and soul needed unraveling
If you’ve ever met her, then you know she truly is an Unbound Gypsy Queen.
Check out her amazing talent on Facebook: Unbound Ether Photography.
From the Gypsy Queen:
Please note, I don’t call or refer to myself as the Gypsy Queen but do so here because the Nomad King has generously given me this title in his memoirs and for continuity’s sake, I must respect that in this missive.
It is necessary to admit that I never thought I’d be looking at the opposite side of the Indian Ocean before me. The same trade winds that blew north along the eastern-facing Kenyan coast one year ago, are the ones that are blowing along the western-facing Indian coast, where I am sitting now, one year later, in the little seaside village of Ashvem in Goa, India.
It has been several months now with this testimonial on my plate of things to devour, process and respond to. From day one with the Nomad King, timing has been everything and this missive to The Universe is no different.
Milestone Moments in one’s life have to be patiently awaited for, and even then, it’s only in hindsight do we realise the beauty in those moments. All the pieces of the puzzle needed to fall into place to bring you to that Milestone Moment. When that last dot joins the rest, completing the circle and finally, realisation sets in.
I think of it as Resolution.
Yesterday was one of those days for me. Almost one year ago the Nomad King and I first collided on our paths in Kilifi Creek along the Kenyan coast. I was living and helping build Musafir the boat, and grow the community that surrounded it.
Little did I know that this scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad that washed up on our shores was about to jump start my life and put it straight into high gear. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he was exactly who I had asked The Universe for, just two weeks prior to our meeting.
But that’s a different story.
Freedom has always been a major theme in my life but never once did I imagine that I was about to be exposed to a new kind of freedom, one I only vaguely knew existed, let alone imagine my own journey taking a radical twist the day the Nomad King and the Gypsy Queen met.
I have the spirit of a gypsy, one who must simultaneously follow the wind and intuition, the stars and the dusty road, the fires of the heart and rhythm of the earth, for they are all one and cannot work alone, in order to truly be happy and healthy in life.
The day we hit the road for the first time a new kind of adrenaline became known to me. My whole being was vibrating with a sensation, a whisper almost, of a whole new world tingling at my fingertips. Each physical step forward, packs and tents and camera equipment included, was a step towards the Unknown.
And what greater high than the Unknown?
Every facet of bartering and hitch hiking reminded me of a way of life that addresses the need for living simply that is almost entirely lost to us today – in theory and in practice. Traveling without money, relying on the kindness of strangers to voluntarily take us to the next destination and then, conjuring faith in humanity, all the while constantly renewing this personal relationship with the earth’s geography, space and time.
All vital aspects of bettering one’s connection to the pulse of Life and The Universe.
I thought I was already pretty well connected, so imagine my surprise when I discovered I had only just scratched the surface, that below sat a locked box of life’s mysteries and the Nomad King held the key.
And open that box I did! Quickly. For the road has many teachers, and one must keep up! Every lesson learned on the road with the Nomad King made up for every wasted day that I spent trying to get an education in formal schooling.
He showed me then, and continues to show me a thousand different ways how a person can give and collect love and kindness. Every barter was a gift that we received and a gift we gave in return; a pure exchange of respect and compassion. Every story swapped, every song, every article, every photo, every second of footage, every peal of laughter, every meal, every sanctuary, every kilometer, hug, handshake and ‘hello’ is given and received in gratitude. Very quickly this cup of gratitude spills over, washing over one’s being like a glorious swell.
A surfer’s wet dream.
Though I have bartered many things in my life, I never fully realised the power that lay in an exchange devoid of anything that even remotely smells like money. I’ve always loved to barter, little keepsakes and presents sent out and returned into the world; reminders of a kindred spirit’s touch.
Sometimes leaving something behind in a place that you may never return to again is like leaving a piece of your legacy. It has always felt like that for me with every installation the Nomad and I created together. A part of our story, not just a barter, but a mark that we were once there. That we loved, laughed and created something beautiful . Something that place inspired in us. Our response to the world in the form of beautiful artwork, song, written word.
Through the life of a Gypsy and a Nomad many kilometers are traversed, many souls encountered, many connections welded together on a string, like beads, each individual but essential in completing the Whole.
So from place to place we travelled, each time making a mere outline, allowing the dots to complete themselves, not worrying about plan B (at least not the Nomad. I, on the other hand, had to learn that there is never a plan B), and simply trust in the process.
Many a time the Nomad gently tossed my philosophical ideas about The Universe back at me – The Universe will never give you more than you can handle, being a favourite. An undeniable truth (among others) that would always bring me back to my centre and the moment I’d let go of fear and doubt, the road would magically open up again, sending us just the right ride, or just the right barter, right when we needed it the most.
For example, 70kms shy of our day’s final destination at the lakeside town of Kisumu, Kenya, while waiting for almost an hour by the roadside with barely a car stopping for us and with the sun setting, I frustratingly asked the Nomad what plan B is.
And he looks at me simply and says, “There is no plan B. Just plan A – we get to Kisumu.”
It took a while, but the moment I resigned myself to whatever fate befell us, a pick-up truck slowed down and the kindest driver the road has ever sent me (I say ‘me’ because I know the Nomad has met many a kind driver and I don’t want to take anything away from them), not only took us to Kisumu, but paid for our bed and a couple of meals for our bellies.
On the latter half of our Ugandan trip in Mbale, the Nomad fell terribly ill and between a dozen bathroom calls had to be rushed to the hospital with a horrendous ear infection.
The kind souls of Sukali Hostel where we were being hosted, let us stay for days without insisting that he perform. Insisting he get better first, feeding and providing us shelter without question.
Cut to yesterday:
This Gypsy is in limbo at the moment, hanging out along the coast while my new roomy and I await our monsoon retreat to begin in our new home in the hills of Goa. My friends Adrien, Justine and Emma left on their mini-vacation to the big, bad city of Bombay, leaving me to my own devices.
Having been back in India almost a month now, I’ve had to shift gears once again and adapt to a more conventional way of life here. Namely, paying for transportation, accommodation and meals.
Earlier this week I found some distant relatives in a wonderful creative space called Vaayu where artists, travellers and surfers flock to during the cooler, busy seasons. The end of the season is upon us, most places have shut and the majority of people have begun heading for the Himalayan foothills where life is much cooler.
On Thursday morning I made a sincere intention, took a leap of faith and approached the Vaayu tribe to see if I could barter work – any type of work – for a bed. Though there are many people out there who are doing this, it was the first time I was approaching a community/business to let me in, without having any money to offer, alone and in India.
They have never been approached in this way either, although they do host an artist residency program which attracts a very colourful group of people, which has made them open to the barter way of life and those that live it.
Needless to say, they accepted my offer and even offered me three meals a day. So here I am now, working on this piece, reflecting on my life and watching the last dot connect itself to all the other dots that have led me to this moment, closing the circle – a Milestone Moment that marks the end of one chapter in my life and the prophetic beginning of another.
As the Nomad King likes to say, “The end is the power of the beginning.“
And I have all this because one year ago, a scruffy, ruggedly handsome Nomad washed up on Kilifi’s shores and I followed my gypsy heart.
I’ll call this, Resolution.
“Would headphones work?” I asked Mohamed, Cairo host.
I was about to head out to see the wonder of the ancient world, the great pyramids of Egypt, in Giza, a city that is part of many that make up Cairo.
“They might,” he answered. “But you’ll still get harassed. And because tourism is low, the harassments are quite aggressive now.”
I did some online research about the level of harassment at the pyramids by guys trying to get you to ride a horse, a camel, both, a caleche (horse ‘n’ buggy) with a camel tied onto the back. Whatever combo they could come up with.
So my counter-harrassment weapon of choice? A pair of headphones and doing the unthinkable as an open-minded traveller – ignore everyone.
The pyramids were a short microbus (minivan) ride across the Nile. I was dropped under a bridge and told to walk towards Haram street (‘Haram’ means ‘pyramid’). The signal to get a ride to the pyramids was an upside-down victory sign creating a triangular shape between the index and middle finger. That way, you get the right ride.
I signaled a passing microbus who stopped and picked me up.
And then dropped me two meters later.
“Last stop,” said the driver.
“I just got on,” I said. “I could’ve walked.”
“Come, I’ll show you,” a young local offered to help.
“You’re an asshole,” I said blatantly to the driver as I hopped off. “A fuckin’ asshole.”
The kid lead me to the main street where he flagged down a VW Combie which acts as the minivan bus services in Giza.
I thanked the kid even though I was on my guard in case of dodgy activity. But he walked off to his destination, just happy to help out a foreigner. I was still pissed at the other driver as the Combie drove along Haram street but when I caught a glimpse of The Great Pyramid of Giza the anger washed away. I was let off at the entrance to the complex where I plugged headphones into my ears.
I don’t have a player of sorts to plug into and I don’t usually wear headphones unless I’m watching something on my laptop before I go to bed. So I just shoved the jack into my pocket and pretended to be deaf to the world.
As soon as I stepped off the Combie I was approached. I could hear the, “Excuse me, sir, which country? Camel ride? Do you know how much? Horse ride? Do you have a sister I can marry? Ticket to see the pyramids?”
One guy got a little cocky and tried to grab my arm.I whipped around and detached him from me and without speaking wagged my finger in his face to indicate that he should avoid doing that for the safety of his immediate future.
I ignored everyone, acting the right prick, pointing at my headphones. Surprisingly, it worked and the harrassers let me be.
Not before reaching screaming levels and then cursing in Arabic.
I suppressed my grins.
I was happy that there won’t many tourists aside the local ones. It made for easier photos without anyone in the frame doing the ol’ ‘finger atop the pyramid’ shot which takes up half an hour as I witnessed a Korean couple taking about a hundred shots.
I walked around upbeat, focusing on the 4,000 year-old energy of a civilisation so advanced that it still boggles minds as to how they built this structures.
The Great Pyramid – the Pyramid of Khufu – a Pharaoh in the third dynasty, took 23 years to complete and weighs in at 6.5 million tons. It’s said to be built from 2.5 million blocks. The blocks were precisely fit to a margin of error of only 58 mm. It was regarded the tallest structure in the world for 3,800 years (until the spire of the Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1311 in Lincoln, England), standing at 481 feet.
Next to it is the Pyramid of Khafre, tomb to Pharaoh Khafre of the fourth dynasty. It’s also the only pyramid where the top is still covered by the casing stones. The other structures had there’s stripped off to build roads, bridges and mosques somewhere in the 15th century.
The smallest structure, the Pyramid of Menkaure, was the first in line to be demolished by the hands of al-Malek al-Aziz Othman ben Yusuf (1171-1198), Egypt’s second Sultan at the end of the 12th century.
He ordered for the pyramids to be taken apart and it took workers eight months to wedge out a small vertical gash before the idea was given up due to costs that were higher than building the actual structures.
Looking up I couldn’t help but wonder how? How the hell did they even come up with the idea of a pyramid let alone position them astronomically aligned with Orion’s Belt, according to Robert Bauval’s theory from 1983 (published in 1989 in Discussions in Egyptology, Volume XIII).
And then came the Sphinx. I was a bit disappointed. It looks so much bigger in photos and documentaries. What I saw appeared to be the house-sphinx version.
Where’s the real one? I asked myself, ignoring the hawkers trying to get me to ride a camel that had a look on its face that said, ‘Shoot me. Please, just shoot me’ (if you ever find yourself at the pyramids, make sure the animal you ride is well-treated).
The sphinx is a mythological creature that acts as the guardian of the gateway to the after world. In Greek mythology it is a woman with lion haunches and wings with the head of a human. The most famous is the one featured in the story of Oedipus.
The Egyptian sphinx is regarded usually as male, although Queen Hatshepsut had one made with her face. The sphinxes of Egypt are benevolent as opposed to Greek’s malevolent. The one in Giza, Abu al-Haul (Father of the Dread) is thought to have had the face of Pharaoh Khafra but that has long disintegrated.
In fact, it’s yet to be proven if the Great Sphinx of Egypt is associated with Khafra. But what is known is that it’s the largest monolith statue in the world standing at 20 meters height and 73 meters in length (19 meters wide), it’s still not known what its creators called it. In the New Kingdom, it was called Hor-em-akhet, which means ‘Horus of the Horizon’. The word ‘Sphinx’ is Greek and was given to the statue in Giza 2,000 years after its construction.
As I posed Animal in front of it with the pyramids behind for a photo, a police officer said that I couldn’t take the shot with my mascot.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“No photo,” he said. “I take camera.”
I scoffed and, as I usually do when it comes to people with a power trip because of uniform, I turned my back on him, took my photo, thanked him and walked off as he tried to ponder whether it was really worth chasing his belly after me in this heat to play to his ego which just took a beating.
I walked out and wondered how the government allowed the city of Cairo and Giza to be built right up to this most historical of places of the ancient world. I mean, there’s a golf links at the bottom of the complex.
A golf links!
It might explain how the Sphinx lost its face.
Although this one happened a few months ago, it took me some time to come to terms with it. Here’s a short account of my climb up Nelion Peak on Mt Kenya with the awesome folks at African Ascents as published in Africa Geographic:
The third year of hitchin’ through Africa was turmoilous in a good way. I rose in love with an amazing soulmate. I kinda conquered my anablephobia (an extreme unwarranted fear and physical aversion to looking up) and found out a few more things about myself.
I spent a long time in Kenya and a really short time in Sudan where I almost broke down due to the heat and other personal variables.
I patched up Ol’ Red, jammed from beaches to treehouses to boats. I hung out with artists across all mediums. I’ve visited more hospitals and taken more anti-biotics and pharmaceuticals this past year than I have my entire life. I quit drinking but discovered ecstasy. I got addicted to rolex in Uganda, coffee in Ethiopia, tea in Sudan and falafel in Egypt.
I got a free ride on a train from Khartoum to Shendi in Sudan. I was arrested (Zanzibar) with handcuffs and risked arrest with the Gypsy Queen and had to protect some wannabe hustlers from her ferocity when they tried to pull one over us.
I publicly played a song I wrote for the first time, the soon-to-be Grammy nominated song of the year, The Ballad of Jim-Bob and the Bear. Speaking of Grammy’s, I jammed with a Grammy-nominated artist, singers, poets, rappers, the most talented musicians I’ve ever come across.
I gained an awesome camera with some helpful tips by the talents of the Gypsy Queen and created art in two countries I never thought I’d ever be capable of with said Gypsy Queen (who’ll have a special guest post published here in the coming days. Stay tuned).
And finally (yet sadly), after two amazing years, I’ve left Africa – for now.
And I’ve realised that, after three years of full-time travelling, even though people say I’m living the dream, I’m fuckin’ exhausted. It’s not easy to be continuously on the move carrying 30 kilos of everything you have in extreme heat, rain or cold.
This next year I’m gonna focus on surfing (two years since I was last on a wave), writing a few books, editing some videos (no, not porn), develop some ideas I’ve had, perhaps write an album (whether I record is a different story) and learn a completely new repertoire of songs to cover (suggestions are welcome).
So this list is the absolute TOTAL of three years of travelling from Oz to the Middle East without a flight (except for that one cause of the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi) – from May 13th, 2013, to May 13th, 2016.
Without the good-hearted folks that I’ve encountered on the way, none of this would’ve been possible. So thanks people.
See y’all in a year (or thereabouts. It’s just an outline).
Total distance covered: 47,000 km (29,205 miles) from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia – Eilat, Arava, Israel
Total number of countries: 21
Total number of islands: 27
Total number of hitches on cars: 155
Total number of hitches on public transport: 28
Total number of hitches on trucks: 45
Total number of hitches on motorbikes: 1
Total number of hitches on trains: 1
Total number of hitches with police: 3 – Malawi, Uganda, Sudan
Total number of hitches with military: 1 – Uganda
Total number of hitches: 233
Total number of flights: 1 – Nairobi, Kenya – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (only way The Universe was letting me get a visa)
Total number of boats: 17
Total number of boat rides: 45
Total number of travel partners: 4
Wettest country: Uganda
Driest country: Sudan
Hottest country: Sudan
Most Mountainous country: Ethiopia
Flattest country: Sudan
Hottest temperature experienced: 45° C, Omdurman, Sudan
Coldest temperature experienced: 1°, possible 0° C, Mt Kenya, Kenya
Highest Altitude reached: 5,188 meters above sea level, Nelion Peak, Mt Kenya
Lowest Altitude reached: 116 meters below sea level, Danakil Depression, Afar, Ethiopia
Total number of hospital visits: 8 (2 motorbike accidents, 2 spider bites and multiple ear infections)
Total number of spider bites: 2 – Recluse (aka, violin spider), Kilifi, Kenya
Total number of wasp stings: 2 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Biggest spider encountered: Rain spiders, in the shower, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Most dangerous snake encounter: Boomslanger, WAG, Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi
Total number of tropical diseases collected: 1 – H. Pylori (stomach bacteria). Still housing it from Madagascar
Total number of bats in the shower: 10 – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
Total number of festivals attended: 5
- Uluru Camel Cup, Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia
- Sedgfield, South Africa
- Vortex, South Africa
- Sauti za Busara, Zanzibar
- Kilifi New Year’s, Kenya
Total number of conservation\NGO projects volunteered: 8
- MYCAT Tiger conservation, Taman Negara, Malaysia
- ALERT lion conservation, Livingstone, Zambia
- Anti-poaching, Lake Kariba, Zambia
- WAG Thuma Forest Reserve, Malawi
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Uganda
- Footsteps Through Africa, Uganda
- Cheap Impact, Kenya
- Musafir, Kenya (not an NGO but is a volunteer project)
Total number of volunteer jobs for food and bed: 24
Total number of art installations with Osotua Creative Collective: 5
- The Cave Mandala – Rubuguri, Western Uganda
- The Black Lantern String-art sign – Jinja, Uganda
- Mandalas at The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
- Dreamcatcher living art, The Black Lantern – Jinja, Uganda
- Light & String-art pyramid, What’s Good Live Studios – Nairobi, Kenya
Total number of videos on Youtube: 14
Total number of kayaking white water: 1 – Savage Wilderness, Tana River, Kenya
Total number of SCUBA dives: 1, Red Sea, Dahab, Sinai, Egypt with Sinai Gate – 21 meters
Deepest free-dive: 15 meters
Total number of bungee jumps: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of ziplining: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of gorge swings: 1 – Victoria Falls Bridge, Zambia (Shearwater Adventures)
Total number of places surfed: 8
- Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia (not so much surfing as almost dying)
- Kuta, Bali, Indonesia
- Tangalie, Sri Lanka
- The Strand, Cape Town, South Africa
- Kalk Bay, South Africa
- Inner Pool, Mossel Bay, South Africa
- Dias Beach, Mossel Bay, South Africa
- Bukka, Mossel Bay, South Africa (last surf, two years ago)
Total number of mountains conquered: 12
- Chatauqua Peak, The Grampians, Victoria, Australia – 2,546 m
- Mt Kelimuto, Flores, Indonesia – 1,639 m
- Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka – 2,243 m (including more than 6,000 steps)
- Mt Blanc, Madagascar – 420 m
- Mt Hedelberg, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,001 m
- Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa – 1,085 m
- Mt Mulanji, Malawi – 3,001 m
- Chombe Plateau, Malawi – 764 m
- Mt Meru, Tanzania – 4,565 m
- Point Nelion, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 5,188 m
- Point Lenana, Mt Kenya, Kenya – 4,985 m
- Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia – 613 m
Total number of active volcanoes: 1 – Mt Erta Ale, Ethiopia (with ETT)
Total number of national parks: 54
Longest period in one country: 7 months, Kenya
Shortest period in one country: 10 days, Sri Lanka
Longest wait for a ride: 2 months, Darwin-Indonesia
Shortest wait for a ride: 3 seconds, Mulanji, Malawi
Longest hitch: 4 days with Harley and Em from Jinja, Uganda to Karen, Kenya
Longest distance hiked before getting a hitch: 10 K’s on the road to Lake Tanganika, Zambia
Most remote place to get a ride: Aberdares National Park, Kenya
Total number of Mohammeds met: 30
Total number of continents: 3
Total number of oceans crossed: 1 – Indian
Total number of seas crossed: 1 – Timor
Total number of canals crossed: 1 – Suez Canal, Egypt
Total number of deserts crossed: 5
- The Outback, Australia
- The Namib, Namibia
- The Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
- The Sudanese Desert, Sudan
- The Egyptian Desert, Egypt
Total number of gigs: 97
Total number of tattoos acquired: 1
Total number of articles published: 257
Total number of photos published: 6,165
Most camels in a single caravan: 49
Total number of attempted pickpocketers: 2 – Cape Town, South Africa and Mwanza, Tanzania
Best Coffee: Hailu’s mum’s, Ayat, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Best Tea: Mzee Baraka’s spiced chai, Kilifi, Kenya
Total weight of packs: 33 KG
Total number of packs stolen: 1 – Zambia Oktoberfest
Total number of nicknames collected: 18 –
- Jesus (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Moses (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Noah (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Funny Man (Caprivi Houseboat Safaris, Namibia)
- Guitar Jesus (by the British Army in Savage Wilderness, Sagana, Kenya)
- Pan (by the Gypsy Queen in Kilifi, Kenya)
- Kwizi (by Ruganzu Bruno in Kira Town, Uganda)
- Sami (by a Sufi priest in Sudan)
- Chuck Norris (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia)
- Jack Sparrow (by the crew of Wisdom, Zanzibar)
- Ntingo (means ‘someone who can survive anywhere’ in Ki-Swahili, Tanzania)
- Hamlet (in Malawi)
- Osama Bin Laden (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Robinson Crusoe (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Castaway (everywhere in Africa – except for Ethiopia, ironically)
- Sami (bestowed upon me by a Sufi priest in Sudan. Used throughout Sudan and Egypt)
- Rainbow (Dahab. Accused of being part of the Rainbow community. I’m not).
- Rasta-mun (everywhere)
Total number of hotels bartered with: 39
Total number of couchsurfers from couchsurfers.com: 31
Total number of near-death experiences: 12
- Desert Point, Lombok, Indonesia. 4-foot swell suddenly turned to 9-foot water mountains.
- Motorbike accident in Koh Phangan, Thailand
- First storm in open waters sailing the Malacca Straits
- Motorbike accident in Sri Lanka
- Multiple stings by Portuguese Man O’War, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean
- Chased by hippo while river guiding on the Zambezi, Namibia
- Charged by ostrich, Lake Kariba, Zambia
- Slipped off a mountain hiking up to The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia, Malawi
- Almost slipped off a cavern wall at Menengai Crater, Nakuru, Kenya
- Almost runover by a matatu (mini-van), Nairobi, Kenya
- Head-on collision averted when oncoming car decided the ditch was the safest bet, Kenya
- Sucked under and momentarily trapped in a rapid on the Tana River, Kenya
Most amazing experience (cheese alert): Rising in love
Worst experience: Ear infection, Mbale, Uganda. Doctor did not go easy on me.
And, too end on a high,
Total number of acid trips: 4
- Sri Lanka
- South Africa x 2
Total number of ecstasy trips: 10 – 8 in Kenya, two in Uganda
Total number of bad trips: 1 – Kenya
Best Weed: Malawi Gold, Malawi
Strongest Weed: Shisha Mani, Ethiopia
Mellowest Weed: Bungo, Sudan
“Today is Shaman Neshim,” Hadeel, my local guide in Cairo, explained why there were so many people on the street after we walked out of the Filfila (chilly) restaurant.
“What’s that?” I asked, zigging left and pirouetting right before gracefully swan-diving over a crowd.
“It’s the national holiday of the beginning of spring,” she explained.
The holiday is celebrated nationwide. It’s basically one big street party spread over many streets. And in a city like Cairo, there are plenty to choose from.
The meaning of Shaman Neshim is ‘harvest season’, known as Shemu, meaning, ‘A day of creation’. The Ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish (fesih), lettuce, and onions to their deities on this day.
To start our evening escapades, we hit the revolution-made-famous Tahrir (Liberation) Square, where back in 2011 protestors demanded (and got) the ousting of then president, Husseni Mubarak who had ruled the country (which has been under military rule since Gamal Nasser’s revolution in 1952) for almost 30 years.
“The downtown area of Cairo is considered bohemian, where activists, artists and intellectuals would meet at coffee shops like Denda Sou Cafia,” Hadeel guided us through the busy streets. “And it’s walking distance to the Al Hussein mosque.”
The mosque, built in 1154, is considered one of the holiest Islamic sites in Egypt as it holds the oldest complete manuscript of the Quran. Today’s structure stands on a 19th century reconstruction with some Gothic implements.
Pushing our way through the throng of people, vendors and stall holders, each trying to entice us with invitations of, “Come into my shop,”or the ever popular, “Looking is free.”
Although the noise was at level, ‘This is a bit much’, I was glad to have come out on one of the busiest nights of the year (when there isn’t a revolution happening) and felt how every movement flooded my paining body, walking at a turtle’s pace.
The world blurred around me. Kids stopping me for photos, motorbikes and cars beeping and horning people out of the way, whistles being blown from the very strong police presence.
“Bit noisy,” I managed to yell to Hadeel above the throng. She grinned and nodded.
We came upon the crowded Sharm Weiss square before we found a table in the famous El Fishaway restaurant, a hub-bub of the who’s who of Egypt’s literary giants, poets, musicians and actors.
Well, until the government came and jailed the lot of them.
We had lemon-mint juice which came with our sugar and some mint tea while being constantly approached by hawkers selling packets of tissue, henna art done on your hand engulfed in the shisha (waterpipe) smoke while traditional musicians looked for opportune guests to play for.
As I watched the loudness of the crowdness, I couldn’t help but grin. Not sure why. Probably the delusionary affects of running a fever. Finishing our drinks I was then shipped home via taxi to sweat out whatever was in me.
I was hoping to catch the pyramids the next day and I needed to be mentally prepared as my research had brought up a lot of ‘Beware!’ stories regarding scams targeted at foreigners.
“Take a microbus to Ramses then take another microbus towards Helwan,” Mohammed explained over the phone. “Tell the driver you need to get off at the First Engineers building.”
My host, graciously volunteered through Sherif, a good friend of the Gypsy Queen’s, who I had yet to met, lived somewhere in Cairo. I had no idea where and also no idea how big Cairo was.
The night bus ride from Hurghada to Egypt’s capital was an uneventful seven hours through what I assume to be desert landscape. I managed sleep until the sun rise which I caught through the crack of a good eye. The other eye submitted and it too opened up and I was fully awake to watch the desert take on the day. A couple of hours later, Cairo appeared on the horizon.
And how could it not? It took up the entire horizon. In fact, Cairo should be its own planet. It’s the biggest city I’ve ever been to. It diminishes Bangkok to suburb status. A concrete jungle of overpasses and high-rises, Cairo is a collective of cities like Giza, the 6th of October City and Nasr City to name but three.
The bus-ticket, earned by playing two nights at the awesome and friendly Jolly Café in Hurghada, passed the revolutionary Trahir Square where 2011’s revolt helped spark revolutions across the Arab world (just like the one in 1952 lead by Nasser) was quiet in the early morning hours.
We pulled into the GoBus station somewhere nearby and from here I followed Mohammed’s – and anyone who could speak English that I came across – instructions. I took a microbus –a mini-van (known as matatu in East Africa) – to Ramses. From there I hopped on another microbus under a huge overpass.
The driver charged me for a 3-row seat because of my bags.
“I can put them on the roof,” I said, pointing at the roof rack.
He refused, seeing the opportunity to cash up a bit.
I then piled my packs on top of me. “No problem, see?” I pointed thorough the packs at the easily accessible and empty seats beside me.
He still refused.
Grumbling, I hopped on and we drove – right past the GoBus station where I had entered Cairo.
For at least an hour we rode through the empty, concrete streets. As it was Friday, the Muslim holy day, everything was shut down and empty before I was told by the only guy on the bus who spoke English that I needed to get off and ask around for the address.
Finding myself on the banks of the Nile, the longest river in the world that I had been following from Sudan, I crossed the highway like Frogger and asked to use phones and get directions. Finally, I made it to the building where a groggy-eyed Ahmed, Mohammed’s housemate, opened the door for me and returned to his room.
I set my packs down and piled up some cushions on the living room floor and promptly fell asleep. I awoke in surprise when the house-cat jumped on my chest and began to use it as a claw-sharpening post.
“Jesus!” I delicately removed the feline and wagged my finger at her.
I’m not a cat person. Sure, I’m into my lions, tigers, leopards and other apex predators. But house-cats? Just not my thing.
I resumed sleep and awoke in time to greet Ahmed. “I see you in the night,” he said and he headed out the door.
It was stifling hot outside and noisy. Traffic had picked up and with traffic comes that melodic tunes of horns blaring. I took a walk outside to try and call Hadeel, another local volunteer that Sherif had found to show me around this planet-sized city.
My aim was to stay for two days, see the pyramids, play for a ticket to Dahab in Sinai and head off to absorb the Red Sea and its bounties before reaching Taba. But Hadeel’s phone was off for the majority of the day so I ended up chatting with the building’s security guard who invited me to a lunch of falafel.
I returned home to escape the heat and lounged about, getting clawed on occasion by the cat. Which, turns out, was a mama cat with five kittens stashed in the darkest corners of the apartment. I fell asleep and awoke the next morning as mama cat pounced on her new hairy claw-sharpening post – me.
As the apartment was empty (Mohammed was away on a business trip) I headed out to try and get Hadeel on a phone but it was still turned off. So I got some falafel which I took home to eat while fending off mama cat.
After a catnap I finally managed to get Hadeel and we arranged to meet the next day somewhere in the city.
“I’ll send you the details on Facebook,” she offered.
Ahmed returned, said, “Hello,” and disappeared into his room. And then something moved inside of me and I knew it wasn’t the good movement say, of a bubble of gas that needs to be released. This was something else. Something that had me going for the next 24 hours. The bathroom and I became well acquainted. I blame the falafel. And mama cat. Why the cat? Cause I can.
I was feeling a touch better the next day when Mohammed arrived.
“Where have you been sleeping?” he asked.
“Right here,” I wallowed on the cushions. My body ached like I was getting the flu.
“It’s a three-bedroom apartment,” he looked confused. “You have your own room. The cat’s room.”
The cat’s room. Oh this will be fun. Use me as a clawing post? How’d ya like to be roomless? “Oh,” I scratched my head. “Well, I wasn’t aware.”
Ahmed the ghost wasn’t exactly communicative. I was shown my new dwellings. Some kittens were relocated from the bed and I moved my packs into the room.
“There’s an air-conditioner too,” he pointed to the heat-destroying machine on the wall.
Mohammed was heading to the same area I was to meet Hadeel with another friend – and Ahmed – so I got a ride into town even though my body-ached and I felt that I was running a fever.
I sure hope it wasn’t malaria. For the two years I’ve spent in Africa, everybody around me had been taken down by one of Africa’s biggest killers (not died. As in, gettin’ hit by malaria and then taking two weeks to recover). And I was quite chuffed not to have succumbed to the mosquito-injecting parasite.
A few months back, I headed up 4,985 meters on Mt Kenya’s Point Lenana, third highest peak in Africa. It was one of the toughest, physical and mental moments I have ever been through.
Thanks to Julian and Tom of African Ascents and to Stocky, Face and Turkish for the great company and Jacob the machine and Joffery the camp cook.
Click here to read about the experience.
© Abdallah Sayed, 2016
Jolly Café sits on Hurghada’s most famous stרeet, Sheraton, so named as it was the first hotel to be built in the specifically-built resort town on Egypt’s Red Sea coast line.
It has outdoor seating as well as plush indoor seating and carters to every need. They don’t serve alcohol but you don’t need to booze it up when they provide a great vibe, whether it’s through the nightly live music with a traditional Egyptian singer, the occasional belly-dancer and the once-in-awhile performance by yours truly.
The guys that run the place are incredibly friendly and just give off the nice-guy vibe. Almost everyone who comes to Jolly’s knows them and goes out of their way to greet them – the regulars and the newcomers.
The crowds are mainly locals and once in awhile you’ll get a few foreigners. They offer shisha pipes to smoke (water pipes), a Playstation area to kick your friend’s ass at football, serve the best milkshakes in town and great dishes like charcoal chicken on a bed of fresh dill – Egyptian style – with a side of rice. The pizza is also highly recommended as are the freshly squeezed juices.
The outdoor stage has lights and a mixer with the street right behind the performer to seduce potential patrons.
I played two nights in a row and left with new friendships and a feeling of an extended family.
“Welcome to Hurghada,” Mondi, my host, greeted me.
“Shukran,” I grinned, shaking his hand.
It’d been awhile since I’ve been in water. Due to multiple ear infections throughout 2015 I was beached as. Sure, I was working on Musafir in Kilifi Creek, kayaking around, paddling up Mida Creek and occasionally sayin’, “G’day,” to the Indian Ocean.
But I couldn’t go underwater, my comfort zone. My happy place, if you will. When I finally found the doctor that realised what I had been telling the previous seven – that I had a perforated hole in my ear drum – I was finally given the right treatment.
Two weeks later I was kayaking and rafting the white (brown) waters of the Tana River in Kenya, without issue. Then the deserts of Ethiopia and Sudan took me away from the salt waters of the ocean until I found myself in Hurghada, Egypt.
“This town is young,” explained Mondi, leading us to the marina. “It was built specifically for the intention of tourism.”
“A resort town,” I said.
“Yes. It’s only 40-years-old.”
It’s been awhile since I’ve visited a marina and Hurghada’s is impressive. Large motorised yachts and a few sailing ones docked by the boardwalk dotted with side-by-side cafes and restaurants.
I’m not really into motorised yachts. Ever since I sailed across the Indian Ocean I’ve risen in love with being propelled by the wind. Perhaps it relates to my flatulent abilities. Either way, there’s no better way to cross the water then by sailing.
Hurghada is the name of a palm tree said to have been visible from a distance and used as a navigational point and resting area for the fishermen when they returned from their trips. The tree is long gone, in its place, the marina. At the far end of it, sits the port of Hurghada where giant ferries take passengers to Saudi Arabia. Behind it, stood a majestic mosque.
“Is called the Mina mosque,” explained Mondi. “Mina means ‘port’.”
I’ve never been inside a mosque. I usually refrain from entering places of worship. Being a devout believer in science, The Universe, Karma and the inarguable laws of nature, I feel that I might tarnish a house of prayer. But it is an impressive building and Mondi took me in.
We removed our shoes and headed into the main hall, empty of worshipers. I looked up and around, impressed by the high dome ceilings and was pointed out the Quran inscriptions on the panels of the walls and ceilings.
There was a lot of ‘Only one true god’ in the pamphlets that were in a range of languages but I steered clear of the propaganda. I had enjoyed what I had experienced so far of the Muslim world and didn’t need any fuel for fires I was keeping at bay within me.
Later that night we passed by Jolly Café, on Sheraton street. “The most famous street in Hurghada,” Mondi claimed.
At Jolly Café I bartered with Abdullah and Ahmed, the manager\owners for food and, my latest thing, a bus ticket. I was travelling in the wrong time of year. It was way too hot to stand by the side of the road and so I’d come up with a new strategy. As I was staying with Mondi, I didn’t need bed. Just food and a bus ticket to Cario.
“Can you play us something now?” Ahmed asked.
I auditioned with my standard crowd-pleaser, Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash and was accepted to play that night for three hours. There was no microphone so I strummed out instrumentals until the traditional Egyptian singer who sings nightly came by with one.
But I was knackered and for the next day I had bartered a snorkel trip and needed some rest.
I couldn’t wait to go – as the mafia says – swim with the fishes.