Earthlings Through The Eyes Of A Wandering Biker (RTW Photos!)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by strikingviking, May 11, 2004.

  1. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Introduction
    In November of 2001, while on motorcycle ride from California to the tip of South America, capture by a Colombian terrorist army was not what I had in mind, yet on one quiet sunny afternoon, on a remote Andean highway, there wasn’t a choice. Marched at gunpoint into the mountains outside of Medellín, at that moment I knew that life would never be the same. During five grueling weeks as an involuntary guest of The National Liberation Army, they eventually broke my spirit with head-games and torture. When I was finally freed in a Christmas prisoner exchange with the Colombian government, as an ultimate act of defiance against my captures, I continued my original goal of riding to the tip of South America and back. But once returning to California, after one too many restless nights, I discovered that recovery would be more difficult than anticipated, and although I was back in Palm Springs, it was still a long road home. During late evenings and early mornings of teeth grinding turmoil, I eventually concluded that the only way to restore my psychological health and dignity was to continue what I had been doing—riding motorcycles to exotic lands. My silent mantra illuminating the path to positive thought became, “Living well is the best revenge.”
    (National Geographic made a documentary based on the book)

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  2. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Prologue
    Instead of collapsing under the lingering weight of the Colombian ordeal, I would use it as a springboard to the next level with a journey into the evolving, landscape of humanity. Yet even though I was now more experienced, this was far easier said than done.


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    From California, there were no airfreight links into Siberia, so after flying to Tokyo, I traversed Japan to the western coast for a three-day sail to the once forbidden reaches of the former Soviet Union. On July 16, 2004, the lifelong goal of riding the world quietly begins near the North Korean border in Vladivostok, Russia.

    The Russians, security minded as ever, made it complicated to enter the Motherland with a motorcycle and wander. Officials were concerned about spies, misfits or journalists who might report what they preferred to keep secret. Organized tours are welcome but overland travelers are forced to fill out lengthy visa applications supplemented by fictitious business proposals before being considered. The process was a hassle, expensive and risky because anyone in the chain of command could change their minds on a whim. My itinerary was purposely vague. Destinations were to be determined by weather or at fateful forks in the road. Let’s call this a ride from California to Africa by way of Siberia, with photographs and stories of what happens in between.
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  3. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Here is my route around the earth starting from California through Mexico and Central America to South America and back. And then air freighting into Japan to catch the ferry over to Vladivostok, Siberia.

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  4. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Between the rebels siezing my equipment in Colombia and hotel thieves stealing my laptop on the return leg in Panama, except for images sent home by email, most all of my photos of the South American leg were lost. Hence we skip and fast-forward.


    Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. It's a significant event when girls turn fifteen.

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    Indigenous people of Chiapas, Mexico
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    Children's dancing festival in Granada, Nicaragua

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    San Salvador, El Salvador

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    An interview with CBS News, 48 Hours in Ecuador after released from the rebels

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    This insect larvae had grown inside my shoulder after a botfly laid its egg in my flesh while I was chained to a tree as a guest of the ELN.
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    The village doctor pulling it out.

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    Machu Picchu, Peru

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    Campesinos protest government regulations by closing city exits and high mountain roads.

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    But after a brief confrontation/explanation, we became friends and I was the only person allowed to pass.

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    Just starting to snow

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    Getting chillier...

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    After having a flat tire and nearly out of fuel in the boondocks, these folks rescued me off of snow stormy mountain, bringing me to the nearest city.

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    My helpers at the Peruvian/Bolivian border
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    La Paz, Bolivia

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    A high altitude crisscrossing of the Andes off pavement had it's complications.

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    The Bolivian Altiplano at 16,000 feet

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    Planar de Salar The Salt Plains at 14,000 feet

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    Dining on llama meat with locals in their cave

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  5. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Thanks for the kind words amigos. Roaming the earth alone on two wheel allows much time for introspection and re-evaluating lifelong values, goals and perspectives on life. During almost a hundred thousand miles of peering into the lives of others whom I seldom shared a language with, I was amazed at how we could communicate when we wanted to. When first crossing an international border, I managed to memorize the Five Ws and a few basic phrases to find what I needed and to explain not to put onions in my food.

    What started out as a necessary response to an ugly event in Colombia, my ultimate act of defiance became a fascinating journey into the landscape of humanity. Inching my way around the planet allowed me to witness and record the footprints of history etched upon the faces of those whom I shared moments with or sometimes days. The simple truth is that I fell in love with several thousand people who bear little physical resemblance to myself while we share the same yearnings of peace and freedom. EARTH RIDE was the ultimate opportunity to explore alien cultures and to marvel at our similarities while celebrating our differences.
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  6. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    On July 5th, 2004, I air-freighted my bike from Los Angeles to Tokyo in order to ride across the island to the Fushiki ferryboat landing. Local riders hosted a weekend outing in the country.

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    From there, it was a quick sail across the Sea of Japan to Vladivostok, on the edge of the Russian Far East. But first I had to deal with this Customs Inspector

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    Then connect with the local boys

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    And local girls...

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    Whoops, here are some better examples.

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  7. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    About a third of the ten thousand kilometer Trans-Siberian Highway is raw dirt, mud and snow--the rest is mangled or wavy two-lane asphalt. Small impoverished towns are spaced a hundred miles apart with little in between except vast empty forests and swamplands buzzing with billions of mosquitos. But Siberian smoke-filled roadside cafes were always a welcome break from the monotony of riding long hours into 11:00PM northern latitude sunsets.


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    Like everywhere in the world, it was those with the least who shared the most. Mornings after late-evening meals, many a humble, friendly Russian offered me their last crumbs of bread and chunks of ultra-fatty pork--but still, they furiously rejected attempts at stuffing bills of rubles into their heavily calloused hands. Slapping their chests with powerful arms declaring, "Hospitality comes from the heart!"

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    Russians at roadside meal-stops would often offer small gifts and sign currency bills as souvenirs. And of course the vodka flowed like water into a startling display of alcoholism. Knowing that I would soon meet them on the road somwhere, it was unnerving watching truck drivers suck down several one-liter bottles over breakfast.

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  8. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    While traveling across Siberia on the plan-of-no-plan, a thousand miles down the road, I decided to take a quick southern detour into Mongolia. Once in the capital of Ulaan Baatar, the Gobi Desert seemed so close that I opted for a twelve hundred mile offroad loop into nomad territory.

    The last outpost at Mandal Gobi before entering the Gobi Desert.

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    It's a tough life in the Gobi where winter winds thunder in at forty below zero. To survive, all must share.

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    The last road into the Gobi

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    Only two SUVs appeared on the road today, one passing, the other oncoming, both with enthusiastic occupants leaning out windows waving. Vast herds of goats and camels roam the empty plain, scattering at my approach. This is where wanderers seek to be, where emptiness fills the soul. Enveloped by thousands of square miles of gently sloping desert, devoid of civilization, my only companion is the barren Gobi. Swallowed by the desolation of a billion years and giddy with newfound freedom, I am awed by the thundering silence while vanishing into the glory of obscurity.
    Although the pink parched soil is coated in sharp-edged stones and small clumps of desert grasses, it’s level enough to ride across. Like circular domains, white felt Gers of distant Mongolian nomads sprout like mushroom patches on the skyline.

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    Waving herdsmen dressed in blue hand-woven clothing coax me to stop, but each visit requires an explanation in sign language and accepting gulps of foul tasting fermented mare’s milk. After a few fake sips, I pass out raisins and slip back into nothingness.

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    Not much out there, or so I thought, When dozing off to sleep with nothing alive visible on the horizon in any direction, the blackened overhead dome of the August midnight sky became a dazzling symphony of shooting stars crissscrossing in simultaneous arcs. A mile up from sea level, absent the pollution of burned hydrocarbons and blazing lights of civilization, the cosmic illumination of a thousand distant suns was powerful enough to permit reading a book.

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    It is in the Buddhist karma of the Mongolian nomads to care for a stranger so every morning, outside of my tent someone left an offering of dried yoghurt.

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    Although I seldom saw them during the day, early evenings, sometimes curious nomads would visit my camp where we would swap samples of my dried fruit for their dried meats.

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    Some of the more progressive nomads rode late-model Russian motorcycles

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    While others carried on more ancient traditions

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    Involuntary Wandering (Lost)
    August 15, 2004
    The Gobi Desert
    The two major manufactures of GPS units each sell a CD with downloadable data revealing the main roads of the world. Assuming they used the same sources, it seemed logical that mine would display the same information as Brand X. It didn’t. Primary roads in Mongolia are merely frequently used tire tracks over dirt that became roads. There are thousands of these throughout the country with countless forks constantly dividing them into separate directions. Brand X marks a few of these routes, mine does not. Although mine is an easier unit to operate, except for the black triangle indicating my position near the border with China, for identifying roads it was useless in the Gobi.

    Asking for directions has little value either. If the nomads understand questions, they just point to a series of tracks and say, “That one.” It makes no difference which I select, a mile down the road, it forks into several other tracks making gradual enough changes so that by the time the compass registers I am moving in the wrong direction, it’s hard to remember how to return to the original fork.

    Fortunately, a friend provided specific GPS coordinates for important landmarks in the Gobi. Since the terrain is flat with no fences, theoretically, it should be possible to ride in a straight line to the intended destination. If there were no washes, sand dunes or low mountain ranges, that would have worked. And getting lost in the desert is common. Even with one eye on the GPS and the other on the horizon, it’s easy to become disorientated enough to question if the GPS is malfunctioning.

    On a lightweight bike with knobby tires, sand dunes are fun—with street tires on a four hundred pound motorcycle lugging two hundred pounds of extra gear, it’s a tiring battle. Three hours of spinning through soft sand dunes leads back to where I started--except, now there are no nomads to consult, only numerous herds of foul smelling camels that hopefully belong to somebody. Maybe following their tracks will lead to humans who can point to the right direction. Anything is better than this.

    Two hours later the animal tracks scattered but there was a wash at the base of a small mountain range emptying into an alluvial plain. Loose gravel of the widening bed was firmer to ride than rolling dunes but according to the GPS, the wash was leading opposite of the proper direction. It was hard to recall how long it had been since the low-fuel light blinked on, indicating two gallons left. That should last one hundred twenty miles, but it’s unknown if there is somewhere to buy fuel even if finding a main road. Supplies are adequate--a dozen protein bars, canned sardines and three, two-liter, plastic water bottles wrapped in socks. Still, the jarring has broken two of the bottles leaving one full container and an aluminum saddlebag holding the other two. At least they are still drinkable.
    Between a hand drawn map provided by one of the nomads and the GPS, it appears that I’ll eventually hit a main road that’s supposed to be recognized by tilting old telephone poles without wires.

    Even so, there is still another twenty miles of spinning across the desert. At this point, my own judgment’s in question and since sunset is two hours away, it’s best to setup camp and tackle the situation in the morning with a clearer head. I often seek remote locations to venture, wondering if there is ever enough distance from civilization. Today there was. Wrangling to sleep with concerns over punctured tires and running out of fuel, the Gobi remains unchanged in the morning. Unzipping the tent reveals a half dozen camels sniffing around about to dine on my gear. But before they can discover the taste of canvas and protein bars, I shoo them away.

    It’s time for a new plan. The best solution is to program the waypoint into the GPS from my current position and then add an estimated one approximately to where the main road ought to be, based on the nomad’s map. It should be easy to follow the thick black line drawn on the screen. Seven arduous hours later, slightly north of the programmed waypoint, tiny vertical lines appear where a blue sky meets a pink desert. This is not the home stretch but merely where the contest begins. The orange low-fuel light is a steady reminder that the game has plenty of twists ahead.

    Realizing that it can be several hours without seeing another vehicle, it’s better to wait for someone to flag over for confirmation that this is the appropriate road. Halfway through a can of sardines and stale bread, I am suddenly aware of a presence at my side. Looking down to the left, I am startled to see a four-year old girl staring up holding an aluminum pale and porcelain bowl. Scanning the surrounding terrain reveals no sign of nomads or their Gers and it’s impossible to determine from where she came.

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    “Sain ban noo.” I say. Hello. Her smudgy face is frozen in an emotionless gaze upward at the Martian that someone in her family has sent her to assist. Because of a deep Buddhist belief in Karma, it’s in the nature of the nomads to feed and care for strangers. This is a training mission.
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  9. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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  10. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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  11. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Returning north to finish riding across Siberia toward Moscow, in small towns scattered a hundred miles apart through vast forests of towering birch trees, Russians continue to invite me home to eat and sleep. At every opportunity they bring out their finest dinnerware, organizing elaborate feasts with steady offers of local vodka.

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    Russian motorcyclists, using their national Internet chatrooms, pass the word across Siberia that a lone American is attempting to cross their nation on the Trans-Siberian Highway. Not knowing my exact arrival time, often teams of local boys were waiting on the outskirts of city limits, prepared to escort a wandering brother back to their clubhouses.

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    And Russian women, curious as to the means and methods of an alien vagabond...

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  12. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Reaching the relative comfort of Moscow was a significant relief but after only a few days, I realized that I still missed the wilds of Siberia and the warmth of Russian country folk. The majesty of Eastern Europe was only temporary because I knew that the real adventure would begin again once crossing into the Middle East.

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    Shortly before departing California for Japan, a failed surgical attempt to remove all four over-sized kidney stones resulted in these plastic stints being placed inside my organs. Although uncomfortable to the extreme, they were supposed to keep channels open (ureters) to allow relatively normal body functions until reaching a Western hospital four months later. Trouble was, I did not consume the recommended massive amounts of water and they calcified, actually growing into my body. Little did I realize that by the time I reached Germany, the reason that the pain was so intense that I was hanging onto walls, was that I was near death due to kidney failure.

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    But sight-seeing through Eastern Europe became a sufficient distraction to forget about medical issues. Still, icy rains and cheap, impersonal hotels in majors cities only increased the longing for experiences in the rural countrysides.

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    Bosnia
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    Serbia
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    Albania
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    Bulgaria
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  13. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    <hr style="color: rgb(87, 87, 87);" size="1"> <!-- / icon and title --> <!-- message --> sorry for the delayed post,
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    Hassled by the heat in Omsk
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    Omsk war memorial
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    War Memorial in Omsk
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  14. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Been working on adding photos but can't upload from these Internet joints here. Still using Windows 95. I just get blank screens when I try.
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  15. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Turkey
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    On the threshold of the Middle East, running from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Channel not only separates Europe from Asia but also divides Istanbul and the world of Islam from Christianity.

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    For the last five thousand years this dramatic city has served as the crossroads of ancient civilizations. Vying for admission into the European Union, cosmopolitan Turkey steers toward secularism as a symbolic bridge from Eastern to Western cultures. Contemporary tolerance thrives between conservative and liberal.

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    Stranded in Istanbul for a month applying for and eventually denied a visa for Iran, also provided opportunity for deferred motorcycle maintenance and a little social activity.

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  16. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Since Saudi Arabia was denying Westerners post-Haj transit visas, the only overland route to India via Pakistan was Iran. But childish government saber-rattling through posturing in respective legislative bodies, and despite the pleas of Iranian Embassy personnel in Istanbul, officials in Tehran denied my several attempts for a tourist visa. After a month of delays, the only alternative was a mid-December crossing over the 9,000 foot passes of the Anatolian Plateau, descending into Syria.

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    As advised by numerous backpackers also touring the Middle East, Syrian Arabs greet strangers with invitations home for bread and tea followed insisting to stay overnight in their clay-block homes. With the current world media hype, I waited for hostilities that not only failed to materialize, but only encountered hundreds of friendly city folk wanting to know of my journey.

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    From the stunning architectural grace of the domed Muslim Mosque to vibrancy of colorful souks (markets), few outsiders can comprehend the depth and sincerity of all religions in this biblical region.

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  17. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    Riding north to the well-preserved Roman ruins at Palmyria, deserted for fears of terrorism, except for a wandering unemployed tour guide, I was a lone traveler reeling in ancient splendor.

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    Nearing the Iraqi border, American fighter jets screamed overhead, unnerving docile Bedouin goat-herders tending their flocks.

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    With very basic skills in Arabic, I managed to accept a humble offer for tea and a thick wool carpet for the night.

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    With numerous reports of heavily armed insurgents crossing the northern border, California license plates on a shiny blue BMW were sure to draw unwanted attention. More experienced than most at the hands of a terrorist army, I take no more chances and opt for an as-the-crow-flies GPS route across the hard-packed Syrian Desert directly toward the glistening Mediterranean .

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  18. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    In sha'lah
    <hr style="color: rgb(87, 87, 87);" size="1"> <!-- / icon and title --> <!-- message --> Nearing the Mediterranean, an abrupt left turn on the hard-packed sandy soil, led toward Jordan to marvel at the well preserved ancient city of Petra, also the site of a scene from Indiana Jones.

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    Still, it was the people of the planet I came to meet and while spinning my tires across Middle East deserts in search of Bedouin tribes, a day's travel always ended with an offer of food and shelter.

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    Chance encounters along a trail led to being guided back to a tiny village for camping among shy and very conservative nomads.

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    While preparing a traditional breakfast of large flat disks of fire baked bread, another girl readies a variety of herbs to mix with olive oil. Abiding by strict Islamic law, young Bedouin women are forbidden to reveal their faces or hair, and it has required several days for them just to come out from hiding.

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    Initially, requests for photographs were denied but I was soon to stumble across a method for opening doors throughout the Muslim world. After a few days chatting politics with a "converted" American man in Istanbul, as a parting gift, he gave me his personal copy of the Koran with English translations next to Arabic text. One morning while rearranging my gear, a clan elder noticed my tattered book, exclaiming with near alarm, "What are you doing with our bible?"

    Unsure if I had violated Islamic sensibilities, I merely explained the truth, "I have been studying your bible to better understand your culture."

    Well aware of how Arabs are presented in the Western media, with tears in his eyes, he ran to tell the others that their wandering American guest cared enough to learn of their ways. After that, remaining social barriers tumbled down and not only did male family members grant permission to photograph their women, but some eagerly agreed to remove the veil.

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    Although shocking to Westerner's, Bedouin women insist that they love their veils, describing their belief that real beauty is revealed through the eyes.

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  19. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

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    December 16, 2004
    Sharm el Sheik, Egypt
    Next to Russian, Egyptian Customs procedures are the most complex. But as the ferry landed from Aqaba, a special Tourist Police Officer boarded ship whose sole mission was to assist me and another foreign rider through the mindless series of dozens of document stampings and dizzying numbers of vehicle inspections. Five hours of formalities later, we were legalized with Egyptian license plates to go with our new Egyptian drivers licenses. Odd men on the road.

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    Because of scattered stretches of Five Star resorts and restaurants, the Sinai is known as the Red Sea Riviera. For the best diving on earth, there&#8217;re hundreds of water-sport shops to rent everything from Jet skis to scuba gear. Local Bedouins own half the land, with some becoming overnight millionaires on revenues from land leases and building booms. As Cancun, Mexico is to the U.S., The Red Sea Riviera is to Europe, a year-round sunny playground with all the comforts of home.

    It&#8217;s also a target ripe for another Al Quaeda bombing attack like the one in Taba earlier this year. Military roadblocks are manned by nervous young soldiers fingering triggers on submachine guns, but after the first passport check, we&#8217;re waved through the rest. Traveling under such tight security is unnerving, especially knowing this is not the real Egypt.

    This artificial paradise of extravagance and opulence beckons, but it&#8217;s better to learn about real Egyptians, not sterile colonies of Western affluence surrounded by golf courses. Continuing past sprawling, gate-guarded luxury resorts and alluring tourist traps, I am reminded of what to avoid. A disappointing lap around touristy Sharm el Sheik, alleviated any further curiosity.

    After a ferryboat sail from Sharm el Sheik to Hurghada, I ride on to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Due to violent rebel groups infecting the countryside, sections of the Central Nile Valley are closed to travelers. For the return leg, maybe I&#8217;ll catch a riverboat down the Nile to Cairo.

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    Fifty miles down the coast of the Eastern Arabian Desert was supposed to be an open road leading west toward the Nile River and Luxor. But the turnoff is blocked by heavily armed military forces under sandbag barricades. Islamic extremists are at work in the countryside so the road is closed to foreigners--the commander directs me to another possibility forty miles south.

    That&#8217;s okay, the highway along the Red Sea is a stunning scene of aquamarine waters separated from a booming surf by hundreds of miles of coral reefs. Yet it was the same story at the second checkpoint&#8212;foreigners are forbidden for safety reasons. I gesture a rifle with my hands, &#8220;You mean, boom, boom, boom?&#8221;

    &#8220;No, no. The road just has too many trucks on it today and there could be some rough spots.&#8221; The first commander told the truth but this one doesn&#8217;t want to admit that they don&#8217;t control the countryside. They too, send me further south seeking another road that leads directly to Aswan. If this keeps up, I&#8217;ll be in Sudan by midnight.

    The entire coastal region is under construction with so many new projects that companies have built cement factories every ten miles. Yet it&#8217;s empty of people. Friday is the Islamic day of rest so it wasn&#8217;t unusual for jobsites to be vacant but there were no tourist either. The roads were as bare as the hundreds of ghost town construction projects littering the coast.
    Half-built shopping malls, shells of half-finished condominiums and massive unpainted resort compounds were all deserted. It&#8217;s as though a year ago, they all began at once and abruptly stopped together.

    Even at the few, functioning five-star hotels, the only humans were guards at the gates. For a traveler, living in constant crud gets old. So once a month, I stretch the budget and splurge on a bug-free room with clean sheets, satellite TV and hot water. Anxious to see if the low-season crisis could be exploited, I stop to check prices. In the marble-coated reception area of a posh resort, an optimistic manager offers a special deal&#8212;an all-inclusive package for a hundred U.S. dollars. &#8220;Sorry, my budget is fifty a day for hotel, food and gas.&#8221;

    &#8220;That&#8217;s okay, we&#8217;ll accept forty and include a gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner.&#8221; Because of recent car-bombings, parking in front of hotels is prohibited but they provide a spacious suite overlooking the Red Sea on one side and a football-field-size lagoon style swimming pool on the other. At dinner, in a resort for 600, there are twenty-five well-dressed Italians and one shabby Yankee motorcyclist wearing big clunky riding boots. After a sumptuous scampi feast, one at a time they approach to shake my hand, &#8220;Bravo, bravo!&#8221; Later, we clink wine glasses poolside under a crescent moon serenaded with sing-song Egyptian love tunes. Yes, I think to myself, the Viking be livin&#8217; large.

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    Unescorted
    December 19, 2004
    Luxor, Egypt
    Tired of debating issues with checkpoint police at the final westbound road to the Nile, I am determined to continue, with or without their permission. If I can&#8217;t reason with them, I&#8217;ll find a way to cross off-road but there will be no backtracking up the coast to be told, No, all over again. We&#8217;re at a polite standoff but a patient Police Major agrees to hear my case back at headquarters.

    It&#8217;s an encouraging moment entering the compound while immediately surrounded by cops extending their hands, &#8220;Welcome, welcome!&#8221; In the Major&#8217;s office, he offers tea and sympathy but still insists the road is closed to foreigners.

    &#8220;I appreciate the concerns of police but if there is a chance, I would like to try,&#8221;

    He understands only the word police and asks, &#8220;You are American police?&#8221;

    Seeing an opening and recalling that there are cops in my Judo school, I assure him, &#8220;Better than that, I am teacher of police.&#8221;

    He reconsiders. &#8220;You understand there are no fuel stations and there is much danger?&#8221;

    &#8220;That&#8217;s fine,&#8221; I state, pointing out the window, &#8220;that motorcycle can go a thousand kilometers on one tank.&#8221;

    For the next twenty minutes, from his rattle trap, severely dented police truck, he transmits a series of queries over two separate sets of VHF radios with ten-foot whip antennas. The relayed messages are likely monitored. If the insurgents didn&#8217;t know a foreigner was coming before, they know now. With a final shrugging of shoulders and wave of his hand, the crazy American is permitted to pass, yet I suspect that in view of the lull in violence, he also thinks that there is little risk.

    Egyptian Islamic extremists connected to al-Qaida are linked to terrorist attacks a year ago, destroying an already paranoid travel industry. Murdered tourists cost the country millions and the government takes no chances, sealing off the entire Nile River Valley from traffic unless escorted by the military. Although this is clearly an over-reaction, I heed his final warning, &#8220;Don&#8217;t stop for any reason.&#8221;

    Still, enough people were concerned as long stretches of the newly constructed highway were devoid of life, not even a tree. It was a ride across Mars&#8212;low level, parched rocky mountains with broad sweeping curves and even in the hot dry air, it was a motorcyclists delight. With the throttle wide open, one hundred fifty miles passes in two hours until teased by balmy breezes off the Nile blowing through countless rows of towering date palm groves.

    Distant from the tourist strip of the Red Sea, Egyptian life emerges through the sweet smell of fresh fruit stands and camel dung. Donkey carts on the highway are smothered beneath bulging loads of sugar cane followed by throngs of children shouting and waving. &#8220;Welcome, welcome!&#8221; Street-corner greasy food stalls made my stomach gurgle just looking but after an hour, a traveler&#8217;s favorite meal appears&#8212;roasted chicken. It&#8217;s the most consistent protein source on the road--five bucks apiece in every country on earth.

    Decisions--the laid-back city of Aswan is an hour south or two more to the north for the legendary time-capsule of Luxor. With sufficient daylight remaining, Luxor wins. But it&#8217;s a route with even more police checkpoints. Fortunately, the cops are lazy, sitting in trucks cradling assault rifles. From seated positions, they wave me to stop but I look straight-ahead, easing over speed-bumps and pretending not to see. They will certainly demand waiting until tomorrow&#8217;s military escort. I watch my mirrors checking for soldiers leveling firearms but no one gets excited enough to pursue.

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    Threats and fears of terrorist attacks have rendered the Middle Eastern tourist sites deserted. With a little bashkeesh to security guards, they broke cardinal rules of allowing photographs.

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    Cops n&#8217; Dogders
    December 22, 2004
    Cairo, Egypt
    It took four hours filling out the necessary paperwork in the crowed military office to satisfy apprehensive Egyptian Tourist Police that I wanted to travel to Cairo alone&#8212;with no police escort or in a slow moving convoy among dozens of stinky tour buses. To relieve government liability, a reluctant commander demands a handwritten statement declaring the condition and ability of my equipment along with an acknowledgement of unspecified dangers that everyone denies exists. To seal formalities, copies are faxed to provincial authorities further north.

    Finally, shortly before sundown, I am directed to the nearby highway and instructed to have each military checkpoint radio ahead to the next that I had arrived and would continue until reaching Cairo. Anticipating misunderstandings along the way, I request a written document authorizing solo travel. &#8220;Don&#8217;t worry Mr. Glen, everyone knows you&#8217;re coming.&#8221;

    At the first roadblock out of Luxor, after checking my passport and documents, a friendly Federal Police lieutenant scribbles in flowing Arabic on his clipboard that American motorcyclist Glen Heggstad, bearing Sinai plate number 52 is officially on his way. Fearing bad publicity from incidents involving mishaps with tourists, the Egyptian government is trying to control the movement of foreigners through the entire Central Nile region from Aswan to Cairo, restricting independent travel to within cities and tourist sites. It&#8217;s like if a few Europeans got shot in New York and Boston, the US Government used this as an excuse to declare Martial Law on the entire East Coast. Yet if bad guys were seeking targets, it&#8217;s likely they&#8217;d choose whoever is locked in a convoy.

    Each of the first ten checkpoints are five miles apart and require delays while soldiers radio behind and ahead, confirming I am continuing north. But the further from Luxor, the less authorities understand the situation, until finally insisting I accept a military escort. It&#8217;s useless to argue as armed men clamor aboard sputtering, old pickup trucks eager to protect me from whatever happened a few years ago.

    A long-dreamed about sunset on the Nile is reduced to viewing through a translucent glaze of bug guts on my visor in a 30mph procession of wailing sirens and flashing blue lights. An hour later, I am delivered to a local hotel sealed off by soldiers and ordered not to leave. This time they are serious. &#8220;Can I at least go out for Internet?&#8221;

    An over-cautious captain worries for my safety. &#8220;No, the manager has agreed to let you use his.&#8221;

    At sunrise, a new game ensues. At their pace, it will take days to reach Cairo, so when they assign new escorts at checkpoints, I quickly ditch them at traffic snarls. Freedom is brief but delicious. Annoyed with my antics but friendly to fault, at the following roadblocks, soldiers patiently plead that I wait for new escorts. Recognizing the overkill, still, no one wants to accept responsibly for mishaps so they all do as they are told. But even when they sometimes catch up with me, the sternest commanders break into toothy smiles when I pull off my helmet laughing.

    Gawking crowds in small town traffic jams wave and cheer, welcoming the alien vagabond.

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    Fleeing the appointed entourage through side streets and alleys, I find a dingy, roasted chicken stand. Curious locals peer through smudgy windows at the traveler from Mars with questions about his strange machine. Explaining in sign language while demonstrating GPS functions has them stroking their beards with satisfying nods.

    A stop for oranges in crowded market draws an instant throng of giggling school children reaching to shake hands and pose for pictures. &#8220;We want you to stay with us!&#8221; they shout.

    &#8220;Is there a hotel here?&#8221;

    &#8220;No, no. You may stay with any of us.&#8221;

    An alarming surge of bodies intensifies as I am nearly shoved off my feet being killed with kindness. Everyone wants to shake hands. Dozens turn into a hundred before plainclothes police arrive to disperse them and order me on my way. Turbaned men in bell shaped gowns shout goodbye as children sprint beside me while returning to the highway.

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    Weaving through chaos, I compete for road space with camels beneath enormous loads of sugarcane and strings of housewives returning from the riverbanks with laundry loads balanced atop their heads. A four-hundred-fifty-mile ride tediously stretches into fascinating days snaking along the Nile until delivering me into the pulsating streets of Cairo well after dark. My first thoughts when entering the confusion of cities are when to leave, yet with so much to see, decisions of where to spend Christmas and New Years are left to whatever unfolds.

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    Christmas in Giza
    December 26, 2004
    Suez Canal, Egypt

    Somewhere in the back of their minds, everyone has a fantasy to-do list. Travel the world, date a movie star or visit the Pyramids are a few dreams that come to mind. Life wouldn&#8217;t be complete without fulfilling the latter and what better time than Christmas? Most people won&#8217;t lose sleep pondering when they&#8217;ll see the Pyramids but if the opportunity arises, they&#8217;ll know what&#8217;s been missing. After the grandeur of Sultan&#8217;s palaces, the majesty of conqueror&#8217;s castles and ruins of Roman empires, these sacred tombstones of the Pharaohs exceed the other ancient marvels combined. And choosing a hotel with a panoramic sunset view of the imposing majesty beyond, guaranteed a restless night.

    Dozing early, to awaken early, failed. Images of mythical triangles at sunrise tugged me from slumber at halftime and the more I insisted on sleep, the brighter they glowed. Groggy and hungry, there was no time to eat. After guzzling two liters of water, I was off into the brisk predawn air, ahead of eager crowds.

    Yet photographing legendary antiquities before the tourist invasion was the notion of many. Daybreak revealed a glaring polluted haze in a cacophony of snorting camels, honking taxis and black-smoking tour buses, all converging on ticket booths scheduled to open at eight. To maintain minimum historical dignity, the Pyramids are fenced off for miles except for a busy, paved road entrance and exit for tourists--and, a watchful military outnumbering visitors. There is got to be a better way.

    Bedouin teenagers peddle long monotonous camel rides to circle in from the rear for unobstructed approaches through the open desert. Unfortunately, the sand is too soft for a loaded down motorcycle with street tires. But who&#8217;s going to let common sense get in the way now? An hour later, sweating with desire and furiously paddling to remain upright, I am still searching for the Bedouin secret entry through the fence. I spent more time buried than riding while spinning over drifting dunes along the wire barrier. Recalling admonishments from my riding coach to relax the arms, temporarily staved fatigue--all the while realizing, I must return the same way.

    With an overheated engine, a final sand-flinging moment occurs at the summit of a dune with more determination than me. At first, I am too exhausted to comprehend stumbling into the majestic gaze of history&#8212;yet soon enough, a stately serenity of five thousand years commands me into submission. Big enough to see from the moon, these holiest shrines of civilization shrink the horizon, solemnly shimmering in the desert landscape.

    The lure intensifies. What powers dwell within? Should I join the masses on an official tourist tour? Four hours later, bent in half with my spine grazing the rough-chiseled ceiling, one-hundred-fifty of us panting gawkers scurry down through a narrow granite tunnel into the sultry depths of Cheops, the biggest and oldest Pyramid. Once nearly five hundred feet high and thirteen and a half acres at the base, it&#8217;s honeycombed with hidden passageways. And jammed together stooped over, shoulder-to-shoulder, if you don&#8217;t start with claustrophobia, you develop it quick. Declining wooden ramps with rungs to slow a steep decent are barely wide enough for one, yet the line stretches two abreast, coming and going. Though cameras are forbidden in the burial chamber, I find an empty corner for a moment of contemplation and to burn into memory that which I feel.

    Study the walls, sense the air and slow the mind. Za Zen, the kneeling meditation posture in Japanese Buddhism comfortably aligns the spine and like sinking into a soft leather chair after a long hard run, I plunge--deeper&#8212;seeking, listening, hearing. The energy of the Pyramids gently reverberates dangling images of geometric shapes and mathematical equations. Is this warm humid softness of the dark a key to universal knowledge? Is it here where the ancients gathered science and wisdom? Is this altar a gateway to the stars? A unified shuffling of shoes on stone indicates it&#8217;s time to make room for the next tour group--I&#8217;ll have to ponder the Pyramids another day.


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    #19
  20. strikingviking

    strikingviking Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2002
    Oddometer:
    2,913
    Location:
    Mazatlán
    Eastbound across the Sinai, some of the best roads in the Middle East flow from desert floors into steep rocky canyons.

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    Traveling on whims and moods, at any moment a curious rider can explore off-road in search of small Bedouin villages.

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    A long, sandy path from the desert leads to the cement block homes of Ahmed and Saad. Ahmed speaks English. &#8220;Your are brother of Sharon, you are brother of mine.&#8221;

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    Political discussions in the Middle East have previously left me sleepless but temptations to know more of their thoughts overcome all.
    &#8220;Ahmed, how was life under Israeli occupation?&#8221;

    With a smile, he stares into the cackling fire uttering, &#8220;Paradise.&#8221;
    He continues. &#8220;Israel man give work to Bedouin. When Bedouin sick, Israel man bring doctor. Bedouin work, Israel man pay money, Bedouin no work, Israel man no pay.&#8221;

    &#8220;What about your laws, what if Bedouin kills?&#8221;

    &#8220;We put him in the sand with only head outside--family of dead man shoot with gun three times from 100 meters. If no kill, he can be free. Allah must decide&#8221;

    On matrimony, he explains that Bedouin can marry non-Muslims if they both live under Islamic law, adding, if there is no Mosque nearby, Muslims may pray in churches.

    &#8220;What if Bedouin man wants to divorce his wife?&#8221;

    &#8220;He can divorce but must give her house and all his camels.&#8221;

    &#8220;Tell me of your camels.&#8221;

    &#8220;The camel is life of Bedouin. We start to train at six months and work them at three years. Camel good for Bedouin mind. When I angry or sad, I ride camel for long time in desert and come back happy. At thirty-five, camel mean and bite--when thirty, we eat.&#8221;

    As tea with chicken and rice is served, the sky darkens into a diamond sprinkled canopy of coal dust while the evening chill stings my eyes. Returning to the hotel, I consider how a short visit with the Bedouin means brothers for life.

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    But the wonders of Egypt are many, and a quiet, firm voice inside beckons to visit the site where God passed down to Moses those basic rules for people to treat each other, the Ten Commandments. The Lonely Planet guide book says it&#8217;s a three hour trek to the freezing summit of Mt Sinai, but I assume that&#8217;s for tourists and oversleep an hour thinking to do it in less time by eliminating rest stops. It&#8217;s 3:00 AM as I leave the motorcycle resting in the twilight shadows of St. Katerine Monastery, home to twenty-two Greek Orthodox Monks. A fleet of double-decker tour buses lines the foothills with dozing drivers awaiting the return of the exhausted devoted.

    Ten minutes of hiking renders me drenched in sweat, stuffing my thermals and jacket into a plastic bag. A moonlit trail reveals ghostly images of robed Bedouin guides floating beside lumbering camels. Two backpacking British girls stride past, snickering at a wheezing out-of-shape motorcyclist. To stave humiliation, I kick it up to cardiac-arrest mode. Their pace is what I would jog a mile. Mountain climbing hags from Hell tarnishing my pride. The final 750 stone steps are too steep, commanding breathers every twenty. Barely out of breath, the witches wait at the top. &#8220;Need some help Glen?&#8221;

    Penetrating gales howl across ice-patched peaks as hundreds of international pilgrims huddle beneath wool blankets spread over massive slabs of granite. Rising cold from the stone penetrates our bones. As hundreds of videos whirl and cameras click, a tiny spark of distant light grows brighter, reaching out across the early morning sky. Soon a bursting ball of blazing orange ignites the mountainsides into radiant hues of glowing beige. In the grip of the universe, a befuddled planet hurtles in a furious spin toward the horizon. A narrowing rocky landscape eerily stretches wider and suddenly I begin to feel the rotation of the earth.

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    While the daylight grows, as if on cue, awestruck masses stand, waiting a turn to file back down the mountainside past legions of Bedouins hawking camel rides to the buses.

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    A mile-long snake of shivering tourists pausing and stumbling is incentive to linger. Alone on the summit, I call out to the wind but there is only the echo of my thoughts with the question arising like so often before&#8212;How can it ever get any better than this?&#8221;

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    #20