I was inspired to work on this write-up after a very kind someone asked me several times to go by car and have beverages at a cafe in town, as ‘I needed a change of environment’. Soon after a second happening surprised me: the dependency of another very kind person’s expectations way beyond what has become my natural way of living.
It is not about a journey but the effects of a journey.
To some, me in particular, the key to balance is to have no disturbing incoming factors (unnatural and sudden sounds), unprocessed food, lot’s of quietness and a healthy mix of challenges and creativity. This did not start overnight and certainly not while solo traveling to the first country overseas.
1. Ica, Peru, with Geo on motorbike. 2. Kurdistan, Iran, by bicycle. 3. Chaco, Paraguay. 4. Mauritania desert, by bicycle. 5. Border Chile with Geo on motorbike.
India, in 3 words: it shaped me. Each time being in India I was in full surprise, or annoyed. Not without a slight notion of annoyance when I was stared at. Piercing eyes would penetrate my being, or so it felt. I could not understand why someone would literally stare at me, sometimes hours long, particularly in trains. Now, I have come to understand why, especially boys showed this sort of behavior. It has not to do with sexual desires but more with lack of variety, or something so different than the usual.
1. India. 2. A far ocean side corner in North West India. 3. Zanskar, India. 4. Lalibela, Ethiopia. 5. Cairo, Egypt. All by public transport.
How it marked the route so far: plunging into India as a backpacker and feeling at once a coming home. Traveling through the less exotic tourist destinations of all Kurdistans, Sudan and Yemen. Cycling for 5 years, as a starter through West Africa. Always setting off alone. There are some who prefer the interaction, the hustle bustle, the immersion into a world different than quietness, solitude and solo powered action. I have come to embrace avoiding the airport, highway, supermarket, car and shopping malls. There’s not anything a restaurant offers if it’s not better than my own (except India, of course) and no building, landmark nor viewpoint mentioned in guides I need to go to.
Solitude: 1. The state of being alone or secluded. 2. In poetic language: a nonsocial place.
All Sudan, by public transport.
Traveling made me arrive where I am now and it is and was not the most recognizable. It was not to understand by a Sudanese lady living in Saudi Arabia that I slept in men-only ‘establishments’ – if only there would be single female travelers. It was not to comprehend by quite a few Iranian men that I was not in for a quick portion of ‘making friendship’. For Afghans it was more a matter of high curiosity. And as today, I am back in the old-fashioned – countryside – lifestyle. A radio and a television, perfume and cellphone beeps are as much as a nuisance as the (not existing) news-feed on my Samsung. For me the world is where I am, not where I am not.
1. Kabul, Afghanistan. 2. Yemen. 3. Kabul, Afghanistan. 4. Sun. 5. Kalash valley, Pakistan. All by public transport.
Kabul. A little while after the war I argued if it is safe for people to live, I can go too. Once there the locals are a good source of save passage from one town to another. Same with Nigeria: figuring out the most risky areas should make a safe passage on the route in between. After a two weeks struggle at embassies, I could go at ‘own risk’, according the Dutch embassy.
1. Sahara, Morocco by bicycle. Sudan by public transport. 3. Chile. 4. Yemen by public transport. 5. Kurdistan, Iraq by bicycle.
It is not my intention to advice on traveling to warzones, but a war in the media is not what it is to all people who live there. Living in Kashmir civil unrest appeared not much more than the today’s upheaval when one keeps to a quiet life.
Ah, the relationship between the individual and the outside world: each time I need to get out to the supermarket my eyes wander about, not to stare people in the eye, it’s not polite and I do not feel a need for that sort of intrusiveness Indian guys can show. No, where my eyes look at is that what I hardly see and what I like, or what I not like.
When your eyes get used to such sceneries, forcing to unlearn is returning to madness. It is this path that led me to one of my magnificent camp spots.
All Chilean desert by bicycle.
I needed solitude and I found it in abundance: the Atacama desert in Chile was the ultimate solitary experience. The climate was perfect (hot), cool nights, distances challenging without suffering from exhaustion. And above all: the beauty is all-encompassing.
I like seeing Roma in flowing dresses, synthetic light fabrics printed with wild motifs, some would say an impenetrable pattern of foliage. I love to see them dressed in straw hats, head scarves, aprons with ruffles and big ugly men-bellies popping out over their synthetic black pressed trousers. A lot less pleasing, on the other hand, are the G-strings visible between cellulite buttocks, overly stretched elastic clothes, markings of bra’s, briefs and waistbands underneath two sizes too small Lycra. Tattoos on rather private parts, black not-too-artful drawings as a new way of enhancing one’s status and the energy of some folks that makes you move away instantly, as a bee from a plastic flower. In supermarkets I see outfits not mismatching an average red light district. Is it strange that I have a hard time not staring at it? It arouses me on a downwards level, as I hardly get to see these visions.
I stayed a night at Cecilia Amor, a Spanish tattoo artist living at the far end of Atacama desert. I thought her tattoo art to be way more refined than the usual scribbling or the uncreative tribal stuff.
1. Atlas, Morocco. 2. Border Argentina/Chile. 3. Border Bolivia/Argentina. All on bicycle. 4. Arica, Chile with Geo on his motorbike. 5. Kabul, Afghanistan by public transport. 6. Everest region, Nepal by foot.
A 6 weeks trek to Everest basecamp quickly sets you back to a simplistic mode: when I saw the first motorized vehicle upon returning I was shocked by the sound.
Sensory overload is literally that. Going by car large distances or being dependent on others is not fun but like dirt from a carrot, draining through the kitchen sink. A car is a capsule in which I feel trapped. A car goes fast, even if it goes too slow. A car is a funny thing in which people often sit with distorted – or simply natural unsmiling – faces to go quicker from one place to another place.
1. Argentina. 2. Ruta 40, Argentina. 3. Nigeria. 4. Costanera, Peru. All by bicycle.
How I admired Parisian gaucho Antoine! He embodied the term solitary -something so valuable- at a much younger age than I did. In total awe of him I found it hard to not watch him intensly, eventhough he would almost fall asleep while riding the horses.
Cars need traffic lights to be controlled – in most countries. Cycling through Paraguay over roads with extremely few vehicles, I had to smile at the only stop light in the middle of a town after very long stretches of nothing. It happened often cycling in South America. It would surprise me, it would lightly shock me and I would stare at it, like I watch the Roma in colorful synthetic ruffled dresses, like the Indian men would watch me.
Literally the only traffic light in Filadelfia, the Chaco of Paraguay. There is no light helping the traffic between Asuncion and the border of Bolivia (1300 km). This only one traffic light is not needed but the Mennonites treat it with great seriousness. To me this town was a huge undertaking to reach. It is here where the Mennonites were given land (and where I worked as a Work-Away helper, something not easy for a solitary loving person). More interesting is that I met my husband here!
To be continued in part 2: ‘The cat woman with a sharp nose‘ and part 3: ‘Are you a man or a woman?‘