Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The path of the Pilgrims - The wandering writer


Here I am again, in the last week an extremely slow and intermittent internet connection has troubled me. The hotel where I was lodged, promised: FREE WI-FI not specifying that the reason why it was free, was that it wasnt really working.
Besides that, now I can somehow manage to tell you something about a fascinating place in the middle of nature, with great culinary experiences and historical places. I do believe that since I have mentioned problems with the internet connection you might think about places far from western civilization.
Sorry to disappoint, I was this time in Italy, and particularly in the hometown of Saint Francesco; Assisi. For once, my adventures brought me to one of the most touristic and perhaps even usual places, nothing to do with conflict areas, gorillas, savannah and so on. Just a hell of no internet connection, which can be quite frustrating.
This small town is located in the heart of Umbria, central Italy, very close to the mount Subasio at 424m above the sea level.
Assisi had very old origins and was founded officially in the 89 B.C., but pre-Etruscan population built there a city already since 1000 B.C.
Its history has been very complex, and I am not going to tell it as a whole here, as I will be mostly describing the beauties of the place, told through my writings and the pictures I have been taking.

Assisi was strategically built on the hill to be better defended, and the ancient ramparts are still there remembering the need for defense. This is no more needed but gives to the town the advantage of great sceneries.
Some thoughts about ramparts; although every animal in the wild look after any sort of mean to defend itself from the attacks of other predators, humans have to defend themselves from other humans, which are not going to kill for food (we dont do cannibalism, generally) but for greed. Every single human since the prehistory had an extreme thirst for power fueled by paranoia jealousy and greed.
We do not cooperate together, every group needs to destroy whoever has something better or different.
Philosophical discussions aside, the location, the history, the culinary culture, and nature, makes of Assisi a must visit for everyone.
For those who need to keep their body in shape (or they want to find back the lost one), the town offers plenty of trekking activity, all free of charge. Just walk from the train station to the top of Assisi, and in about one hour, you have walked five km on a decent uphill. Strolling around you will walk through a series of up and downhill which will create a perfect cardio exercise, as you window-shop. Of course, you can get a more demanding terrain by taking a tour on the Mount Subasio, where you will have the chances to experience the most outstanding sceneries.
As you do your cardio, dont forget to look around, as you might miss the romantic attractions, which is the town itself.




A true shame is that I could not take any picture of the inside the church, the Basilica of S. Francesco, so that I cannot show you here any of them. However, the internet is full of pictures of the marvelous paintings that decorate the church. 
As your day gets over, and your legs start to feel like wet spaghetti, you are surely looking for a nice restaurant where to enjoy a perfect meal Umbrian style. In this case, try to get one of those who offers a terrace on the valley, and as you sip a great wine and taste the awesome food, you will experience the stunning view of the sunsets, on the valley.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A new adventure, end of the year in Djibouti - with the wandering writer -

Here I am back, after some technical problems I get back to tell you another adventure. This time, we left the Afar desert to reach Djibouti. Once again, we knew we could fly comfortably, but in this way, we would have missed the landscapes, the villages, and the contact with the locals. Therefore, we booked a place on the local bus that from Addis Abeba would have driven us to Djibouti.
The bus was small indeed, something that you would expect to run within a city, rather than within two countries but it was in good shape and our luggage seemed to be very well fastened on its top.
Here we started our Journey again, and as we left the city, we were driving along dirt roads in the African wilderness. Effortlessly, we drove through the border and our journey in the new country started.
The beauty of travelling with the locals is that you find yourself a lot of people curious to understand from where we come from. The first to socialise were the children, of course, and within giggles and shy smiles, we got a few friends soon.
You do not need to speak the same language to have friends, and that is what I love the most in Africa, people are ready to communicate even with gestures.
Some of them could speak some words in English, but since Djibouti is a former French colony, they could better speak French.
I must admit, I speak a little of French, but this is not allowing me to have a fluent talk with someone; let's say that I can ask for easy information.
As we reached the first village, it was evident, that a white face doesn't fall through the cracks, and kids were the most curious of all. They quitted their games, and looked at us, happily greeting and smiling. It might make you a bit uncomfortable to be looked at as if you were alien, but from my point of view, it made everything funnier. I guess that more than being surprised to see a white face around, those kids were surprised to see a couple of white faces travelling with the locals as if they were one of them.
Finally, after a long journey, we finally reached the bus station, where we were asked to pay the ride.
Now, this is something you have to keep in mind when travelling through Africa; they are smarter than you, and we were scammed to pay the bus trip at the beginning by someone who wasn't even closely related to the driver.
In this case, just pay and admit that someone was smart enough to rob your money in a very elegant way.
We paid the bus driver and headed for our hotel, which was not far from the bus station.
Now you imagine the scene, a beautiful hotel, a couple of "Desperados" coming in, dirty of sand, with impossibly messed hair (it took me a lot to bring them to their usual comb), tired and robbed.
We reached the check-in desk, and a lovely looking girl smiles at us:
"Can I help you?"
"Yes, we have a reservation for seven nights," my husband replied, handing her our passports.
"Of course," she smiles. "Did you have a pleasant flight?"
I looked at my husband, and a giggle comes instinctively out of my mouth.
I turned my gaze to her, "do you mean to say that we could comfortably fly from Addis Abeba? We took the bus!" I replied a bit sarcastically.
Apparently, she lacked any sense of humour and gave us back our passports unflinchingly.
We just spent the last four days travelling by road, with temperatures way above the ones I could ever be able to stand, sleeping and having showers wherever and whenever it was possible. You cannot imagine the relief of having a hotel room with shower, toilet and a comfortable bed.
Those are the times where I realise how lucky I am, and for this reason I keep travelling in a very basic way, just to remind myself that whatever I have in my everyday life, is not something granted to everyone, and basically as it came, it might disappear one day.
I do not mean to prepare myself for a major economical collapse or apocalypse, but it is good to be reminded of what we have and what we might lose.
After a long shower and a cold beer, we went out for a walk, and already from the architecture, one could have guessed the strong French colonial influence. Not only on the language but on the lifestyle, the buildings and culture. Let's say that Djibouti, like all the former colonies, are a sort of melting pot of different culture. A sort of meeting point where people, religions, cultures and habits fuse together.
 

 As usual, returning home and leave Africa, was not easy as another piece of our hearts remained there, waiting for the next adventure.





Saturday, December 17, 2016

NOTICE UPDATE!!

Finally I could solve the problem with the email subscription!!
I do not know who was previously subscribed; however, if any of you is wondering why in this world should subscribe, I can give you a couple of good reasons.'
The first is that you won't get spammed with commercials or any other non-related topic. I keep my blog strictly for my stories.
The second, you will get any update comfortably on your email.
If there is any special offer, event, new release, you will be the first to know about it.

This doesn't mean that any of you have necessarily to subscribe, you will be the most welcome here in m blog regardless whether subscribed, or not. Each of you, who read my blog are the most welcome!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

IMPORTANT NOTICE!

I have noticed some major problem with feedburner, the google service which is providing the email subscription to my blog. It might be that all the people who have subscribed by email, will be let down by that service. At the moment I am trying to find a way to optimise the process, I apologise for the inconvenience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE MAN WHO FLEW AWAY

A SHORT STORY - BY P. J. MANN

Once upon a time, there was a man; he was a very tiny one.
He had tiny feet, tiny legs, tiny hands, and tiny head. Indeed, he was small; he was so small that sometimes he was sure nobody could see him.
However, he had two big things: his heart and his imagination.
He could spend hours looking at the sky, dreaming of an imaginary world where other people could see him, and care about each other.
He had so many feelings and so much love to give, but there was nobody who was interested in that.
Maybe it is because I am so small that nobody can even see me, he thought, sighing.
He also tried to attract the attention of the people, by talking to them, but he was living in a big city, and his tiny voice was difficult to hear through the noise of the traffic, music and other people's talking.

Many times, he felt sad and lonely; other times, looking at the sky, he felt reassured that nothing was lost.
He loved looking at birds and dreamed of being like them. In the sky, there were big birds and small birds, but regardless their size, it seemed to him as none of them was ignored.
Looking at people and comparing them to birds, he could see how people were busy in their tight daily routine. They didnt have time to do anything else, they couldn't enjoy themselves or care about other people around them.

It was a warm summer day, and he just got out of his tiny office. He felt tired from the long day he had at work, and without even thinking about it, he started to walk wherever his feet had brought him.
He had no idea how much he walked, but as he looked around, he realised he was in the woods. He wondered how did he reach that place, and where he was, hoping not to be lost.
He looked behind, and could not recognise the path from where he came from. Nevertheless, he didnt feel lost at all. Instead, it was as he found himself.

He felt finally at home and walked towards a field he could spot through the bushes. In the middle of the field, there was an old oak.
He smiled and walked towards it, admiring the majestic crown gently whispering with the breeze. He had never seen a tree that big, and despite his small size, he didnt feel uncomfortable in its presence.
He remained for a while to look at the sky through the leaves and listened to its voice, so gentle and soothing. He closed his eyes and suddenly it was like he could hear someone calling him. He opened his eyes, surprised to hear his name being called, but there was nobody around; he shook his head, I must have imagined it, he thought.

The voice continued to call him until he realised that it was the wind, which was whispering his name. Filled with excitement, he climbed the tree and sat on one of his branches, listening to the wind singing a lullaby just for him.
For the first time in his life, he didn't feel alone anymore; finally, someone could see him and talked to him.
-So, I am not invisible!- He thought surprised.
He rested his back and his head against the trunk of the old oak, and he could swear he could feel it breathe. He could feel the life flowing through it, and time by time, he was sure he could hear his heart.
Never, like at that moment, he felt so completely happy and at home. He looked at the sky and saw the birds he always admired; they were so close now. It was like he could fly with them.
Their chant sounded like an invitation, a call to go with them. How can I reach you? he asked.
It was then when he realised that all he needed to do, was joining them. Therefore, he spread his wings, jumped and flew away with them.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

To the root of humankind - Ethiopia - with the Wandering Writer!


What I am going to tell this time is another amazing, extravagant adventure of the wandering writer, which is me. At my side, my unreplaceable companion of adventure: my husband.
This time was the time of Ethiopia, where humankind originated from a furry monkey to the one we are now.
We had a good deal, and we were going to fly from Helsinki to Frankfurt and from there straight to Addis Abeba. I was thrilled and couldn't see the time to visit the natural environment and, of course, the rock-hewed churches of Lalibela.
If it is true that you can see how things will end by the way they begin, I should have to be worried. Not for the safety reason, as that was not an issue; Ethiopia is a touristic country and is living in a peaceful way. Nevertheless, everything can happen during a trip, and as we were hanging around in the Frankfurt airport, we didn't notice the change in the terminal, so, surprise of the surprises, we missed the plane.
luckily the air company let us leave with the next flight scheduled for the next day; the only thing that buggered me was to inform the staff of the hotel in Addis Abeba and the travel agent of our delay and that we had to find a hotel in the nearby where to spend the night.
From that point on, I hoped that everything could go finally smoothly, and indeed without any further problem we reached the airport of Addis Abeba, and from there, we easily reached the hotel.
It was already evening, and we were quite tired, but we needed to meet out travel agent, who would have helped us to see the most using a small budget. We were not concerned about the accommodations, as we could adapt to many situations, as we did in the past.
After dinner, a tiny young man arrived introducing himself as our guide; Million. I have to say that sometimes the name is given for a reason and never like in the case of Million, it was right on the money, so to say.
There were too many things we wanted to see and, unfortunately too tight budget to fit everything in it; nevertheless, Million was able to create an alternative plan to see as much as possible, and we were set to leave Addis Abeba in a couple of days with a local flight.
We were set to leave and once again excited to be at the gate to reach Lalibela. However, we were also quite tired as the previous night we couldn't sleep properly.
"We will sleep on the plane," I said to my husband, knowing that to reach our destination it would take at least one hour and a half.
The plane left, and almost immediately we both fell asleep.
We slept so deep that we were awakened by the touch of the wheel on the ramp.
As soon as we exited the plane we realised something strange; you know that deja-vu feeling that this is not the first time you come in this airport.
"Wow, this looks exactly like Addis Abeba," he noticed.
"Indeed, maybe tin this country they thought of making all the national airport in the same way; you'll never know."
All the other passenger went to another gate, and we found strange that everybody had a connection flight via Lalibela.
The weird feeling that something is not right started to grow, and the more we walked, the more we felt uncomfortable, even because we could not find the baggage claim exit.
It was like in a weird dream, where nothing is following any logic, and none of us had the courage to say a word.
"Is it possible that we are back to Addis Abeba?" I asked.
"I don't think so," he replied, looking around with a lost expression "I don't even dare to ask anyone. They evidently believe that we are crazy."
Then suddenly, I saw the name of the airport: "Addis Abeba."
"Is this some kind of joke? Have we returned to the starting point?" I wondered.
In the end, I grabbed all my courage and asked information at the desk at the same gate where all the other passengers were gathered.
Well, what do you know? We slept so deeply that we didn't hear the captain saying that because some problem to the engines we were going back to Addis Abeba, waiting for another plane.
Just insane!!
Finally, we reached Lalibela, our hotel and Million.
Another thing we learned quite fast was that in Ethiopia the time as counted in a different way then respect the rest of the world. Practically, they count only 12 hours from the dawn to dusk and other 12 from dusk to dawn. For this reason, when we asked at what time were we supposed to meet the day after and he replied at 03:00 in the morning, we remained for a moment silent.
"Are you kidding me?" My husband dared to ask
"Oh," he said smacking lightly the palm of his hand against his forehead, "that is Ethiopia time, it will be 9:00 EAT."
He explained us briefly how did time count worked in Ethiopia, but we agreed that from that moment on we would have used the EAT, just to be sure that we would have all understood what we were talking about.
The following day we went to visit the famous rock-hewed churches and... Oh... Marvel!!!


Thinking that this churches had been hewed entirely on the bedrock was amazing e and still does, and even more considering the lack of tools we would have used nowadays to complete such a project.

However, when just I thought it was an incredibly ambitious project to dig a church underground on the bedrock, I had to reconsider the term ambitious and incredible for what I was going to see inside the church:
 
 
Vaults, columns, walls entirely decorated with the finest motifs all sculpted on the rock and painted with beautiful colors. The feelings, I could never describe; it was like being brought back to the past, I could almost hear the many voices of the people who worked in the realization of such a wonder, I could feel the lives spent on that project.
The legend tells that angels and men built the churches, as men were working on it by day and angels continued by night, and that in this way they could be finished in the matter of 24 years. Of course, archaeologists (and also common sense, if you ask me) consider it impossible.
However, whether they were built in 24 years or 100 years, they remain a real wonder, and a must see once in a lifetime.
The day after we left heading to the national part towards the Danakil depression in the Afar region. Our aim was to reach the spectacular hot springs, or the volcano Erta Ale, nevertheless, the guide said that perhaps we could not see everything, but he would have done everything to give us a great experience.
Ethiopia, besides having a very peculiar political history, as also a peculiar geological history and makes its natural environment one of a kind in the entire world.


And finally the first taste of the big depression:
 
The rest of the trip was continuous descending under the sea level until we reached the incredible elevation of -114m. I had my altimeter with me, and it was funny to see it going down that way. Of course, with that also the temperature increased. We reached the first stop, and the driver suggested us not to go any further as the tires of the car might not have been able to stand the heat. The heat was indeed scorching, but you never know how it is until you do not have a look at the thermometer, and when I did, I was quite shocked to realise that it was over 50C.
Now, to make you understand what 50C may feel like, consider to drink 2l of water and have it evaporated from your body in the matter of one hour. My finger started soon to get swollen, and we searched immediately shelter in a local "restaurant."
But where were we? We were not in a resort; we were in a small village where people who extract salt from the lake lived and worked. The place was full of shacks where the families of the workers lived, and we were wondering where we would have been lodged; you know that was not the place for any hotel.
In fact, we didn't have any hotel, but a camping place... in the middle of the Afar Desert...
Our rooms with view :-)
 
The showers and restrooms...
 
and the salt mine.
 
The only luck was that we had water with us and the "restaurant" was not lacking water. The night our beds were taken out from the shacks, and we were going to sleep under the stars. Let me tell you one thing. You have no idea about the many stars you would be able to see if we wouldn't have all this light pollution overwhelming the beauty of a night sky.
I could see the milky way as I've never seen it before, and it was amazing. That was not a five-star accommodation; it was a thousand-star accommodation, and I will never forget such a perfect time as falling asleep in the middle of the Afar desert, with a light breeze soothing me, and the best view of the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The wandering writer (is back again)

This time I have to say that my wanderings didn't bring me that far away from my home; nevertheless, for someone, this could be regarded as a very exotic retreat.
Levi-Finland, a small town 170 km north of the polar circle. Last time I was in Lapland was at least 14 years ago.
What was more striking for me was the passing of time; fourteen years and I didn't even acknowledge that so many years went by. It felt like something was stolen from me, and it was the most important thing ever: my time.
However, going back it felt like coming back to those times, when, also for me, those places were new and exotic.
The old railway station of Rovaniemi was still the same old wooden building frozen in time, and like the first time I arrived there, it was dark and foggy.
I stood there for a while looking around me, letting all the memories coming back from the past, allowing the sensation to overwhelm me.
I closed my eyes, and I opened them once again with a smile on my face.
Everything felt good, even the least pleasant memories could not spoil that perfect moment of having back something of my past.
I walked to the bus station, where the bus would have brought me from Rovaniemi to my final destination: Levi.
Describing the trip would be impossible, as I fell asleep almost immediately. Despite the fairly good sleep on the night train, I felt like I needed some more sleep. Besides, I have always found extremely soothing the movement of a bus.
The cottage I rented was like something you would see in a postcard. For a moment I wished to own a cottage like that, but thinking twice, and recalling my thirst for traveling to discover different places, I considered the purchase rather obsolete; I would use it too few.
The first afternoon was spent looking around; the town is tiny for being a touristic ski resort, but on the other hand, Finland doesn't have any city that can be considered "big."
The capital, Helsinki, holds less than 600 000 inhabitants and the whole Finland only about 5500000, something that in many countries is the amount of the inhabitants of one single city or county.
Nevertheless, this is a great plus, having the possibility to live in a place where the woods are just on your backdoor.
When I can say that the silence of the capital is something comforting, there in this small town in the middle of nothing the silence was even inspiring.

I know I should have used this opportunity to continue my book or other projects; the problem was that nature was calling, and at that call, it was impossible to resist.
I went for long walks until I decided something different; going to ride Icelandic horses.
I fell in love once again; as those animal are the sweetest creatures, and I connected immediately with the one assigned to me.

I was in a group of about ten people who were going to ride on the same day. People who have been riding horses for all their lives or who never even saw a horse from real.
Nevertheless, considered the mild nature of those horses, it is easy to understand that there is no need to be an expert horseman to go for a ride.
The weather was fantastic, the sunshine... (ok, not much of sun, for being that North) the perfect blue sky, and the freezing cold (-10C).
It felt like living in a postcard, one of those you see on the commercials for arctic safaris or holidays. Those images so perfect you believe that they are made up to entice customers.
It was easy to get lost in the admiration of those wonders, almost forgetting to be on horseback walking around.
It was also easy to forget the low temperatures and other earthly feelings, like the hunger, just to cite one.
If it weren't for the beauty of the sceneries, the fun we had riding and the proper clothes, I think I would have never been able to enjoy anything of those two hours ride.

I would have loved to stay there for more than three days, the problem was that I had also to be back to my office; back to my day-job and routine.
After all, I also started to feel homesick; it is good to go but is also good to come back to the comfortable routine and all the things that mean "home."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The wandering writer-Rwanda and DRC- part 2.

After the visit to the gorillas, a couple of days of rest were a must. Nevertheless, we had to continue our journey. We were heading south, towards Bukavu, and the best way to do it was by crossing the Kivu lake with a boat.
In Bukavu, we were supposed to meet another person from the UN mission, who would have helped us with the basic safety issues.
We booked a trip with the ferry, which was supposed to leave Goma in the morning and reach Bukavu in the early afternoon, so we packed our luggage and reached the harbour.
As we arrived, we sensed that the day was not supposed to run as smooth as we were hoping. Somehow, we expected some delays or difficulties, but the place was almost deserted, and with that, I mean that there was no boat or ferry in sight. I thought it was quite strange for a harbour not to have any boat but, on the other hand, we were in Africa, but not in any part of Africa; we were in Congo, so expecting something working in the same way as it works in my country would have been pure insanity.
So, here we were, at the harbour with our luggage and no idea where to go or what to look for. We had our reservation for the ferry, but there was no ferry or any information point.
We asked one person who was there, maybe waiting for the same ferry. He didn't know, but he asked someone else about it.
At last, we were informed that the ferry was still in Bukavu waiting for the permission to come in Goma. It seemed that it had the authorization to leave but not the permission to arrive.
T.I.A: This Is Africa!
We waited for hours, at midday we started to be hungry, but we could not leave the harbour, because we had all our luggage with us, and we needed to understand what was going on and whether or when we could leave to Bukavu.
After a long wait, we were given two options; the first was that we would have taken the night ferry. The other was going back to our hotel, pay for another night and wait for the next morning, hoping to leave with the fast ferry.
We decided to leave with the night ferry, not knowing what to expect. I asked the man who came to give us the option whether there was the possibility to have a place to sleep, other than the floor.
He smiled and assured us that we could have the "captain suite."
I felt assured of the fact that there should be a sort of comfort in that "suite."
Finally, the ferry arrived. Ok, the word "ferry" was just a euphemism to describe something that was floating on the lake and had an engine.
The frame was mostly rusty and also had a few holes here and there, the original shine was gone a long time ago, and now it was a sort of relic. There was a small broken window in the upper part, which I suspected it was the "captain suite."
That didn't look good, but we could not go back.
A friendly looking young man came out from the boat and introduced himself as the captain of the ferry. He kindly welcomed us aboard and helped us with the luggage. I thanked him for his kindness and felt sorry for taking over his room, but I guess the extra money we paid for were enough to pay back for the disturbance.
We climbed the stairs to the upper deck, and he opened the door...
How could I describe the "captain suite" to you?
A stinky place with a filthy mattress on the floor, a small table with an unstable looking little chair.
I looked at the chair and the mattress.
My mind raced with the possibilities, and suddenly I said, "the chair is mine, nobody touches it."
They looked at me puzzled, and I smiled shyly "it is such a beautiful looking chair," I lied, trying to justify that odd statement.
The reality of the fact was that I wasn't sure I wanted to sleep on that mattress, and at the time the chair looked like a five-star accommodation.
Quite soon the ferry got crowded of every sort of thing, besides people, goats, chickens, bags of grain/rice/flour/seeds or whatever else.
When the ferry was full-packed, we left Goma.
Everything was going fine until we realised one thing; we were hungry! We went downstairs trying to check whether there was some sort of kitchen in the ferry or a sort of place where to buy food. There was a kitchen alright, but they were using the water of the lake to cook. Considering that the lake is not the cleanest one in the world because of the volcanic activity that releases on the bottom poisonous gases and the fact that the ferried and boats are discharging in the waters their wastes, it didn't invite me.
OK, no food; we are not going to starve for one day without food, the important is to have something to drink.
Hold on!!
"Where is the toilet?" I wondered, and as we were looking for it, we found out a

....

No, I do not have the words to describe that and believe me, it was something, which was able to stop all the physiological activities in my body.
We went back to our "suite" and started to talk about the following day, what was arranged and how it would have happened.
We took out our map, and our "lonely planet" guide, which was suggesting not to visit DRC for any reason in the world due to the high risk of being kidnapped by the rebels.
"How encouraging!"
Despite the fact that a human body can stand for even ten days without any food, our bellies started to complain noisily about having been empty for 24 hours.
"Wait here; I'm going to see whether I can find something that hasn't been cooked," said my husband.
After a few minutes, he appears with four one-litre bottles of beer, "Carbs," he said.
We laughed and opened the first one, considering that we didn't drink much anything, during the day, all the liquids we were drinking went straight to replenish the reserves of fluids, and we didn't need any toilet.
Someone knocked at the door; we looked at each other wondering who that might be (remembering that we were in hostile territories).
Luckily was just a guy who was wondering about the two white passengers in the boat. We talked a bit with him and seemed to be a nice guy; he said he was a student at the University, but he was back home for a holiday to see his family.
My husband had difficulties to fall asleep since he was born, and he wondered if, in the boat, they were selling something different than beer, for example, whisky or something stronger to relax.
The guy said that if we gave him some money he would have gone and get it for us. I would have said no, but on the other hand, he didn't have any place to hide. For this reason, my husband gave him some money, and he left.
After some time, as forecasted he didn't return not with our money and neither with some alcohol. We laughed, but my husband went to search for him.
"I'll be back in a couple of minutes," he promised.
Now, in other circumstances, I wouldn't have even looked at the clock, and neither I would have minded if he would have returned the morning after. The problem is that we still were in a dangerous place, and none of us had any idea of who was on that ferry with us.
Five minutes...
Ten minutes...
I was terrified.
Fifteen minutes...
I already figured him on the bottom of the lake dead and wondered when they would have come to get me.
Half an hour and a familiar knocking code at the door released my fears.
I went to open and wanted to kill him with my own hands.
"I got the money back. Unfortunately, no strong alcohol is sold here," he said.
Oh well, all's well that ends well.


After an almost sleepless night, we reached Bukavu, and there we had a taxi to reach the hotel where we would have to spend the next five days before returning by bus/taxi to Kigali.
As we reached the hotel, I was already dead tired, and it comforted me to have a real bed and toilet. The first thing was a long shower, and then... Food!
Something engaged my giggle when I looked around. There are hotels where you cannot smoke, others where you cannot bring animals, others where you cannot consume alcohol, and others, like the one we were, where you cannot bring machine guns; fair enough for me.





































The following days we were driving around discovering in a safe way the beauties of the natural environment, the local people, and their lifestyle.









 It is always a pleasure to be reminded that life is made of simple things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The wandering writer - Rwanda and DRC- part 1

Trust me; there is nothing more addictive than Africa.
It is in the red soil, in the warmth of the people and their simple life, which is far more true than the one western people live.
It is in the vast forests and the white sands.
It is in the harsh deserts and volcanic areas.
It is in the wildlife and the still surviving biodiversity that reminds us we are part of it and should never try to divide from nature.
It is in the violent thunderstorms, and the pitch black nights when the clouds cover the moon.
It is also in those starry skies that people living in the cities have never seen, and probably never will if not from the TV.
All those things and much more make Africa great; of that greatness that is far from technology. It is far more advanced as people have a better understanding of nature and use resources without abusing them.
However, it is still a land cursed by civil wars and exploitation, which goes easily unseen by the rest of the world.
Africa, the beautiful, is also the bad consciousness of a world who believes not seeing is equal to not existing.
Once again, we decided to go, and the next targets were Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The choice was not easy, and the organisation of the journey was more complicated than we thought. Reaching Rwanda would have been quite easy, as the conflict that plagued the country was far and gone, there weren't any safety issues involved. Another question was reaching DRC.
The threat posed by the rebel groups to the general population, tourists or foreigners, in particular, was not to be underestimated. For this reason, we took our time to assess the risk, and work out a safer travel plan.
I had to admit that the reason why I wanted to visit the country was to be able to see the mountain gorillas in their habitat. There are left quite a few individuals, and they all risk the extinction. Much probably in the near future, the only ones we will be able to see will be the ones kept in captivity.
We were lucky to have a few contacts within the UN missions which helped us and offered us a backup.
 
Rwanda, as we experienced in Sierra Leone was on the road to reconstruction, and the future looked bright. Streets were well kept, and life was once again flourishing.
 

 
 
It was, of course, a must to visit the genocide museum and all the main landmarks. However, differently than the people in Sierra Leone, they weren't eager to talk about the past; they just wanted to forget.
Organising the transportation to the border of the DRC, was perhaps the easiest thing, and we decided to go with a local bus.
The journey wasn't supposed to be very long (at least not even closely comparable with the trip between Arusha and Mombasa see the post finding an inspiration). However, the bus was not in its best shape, and it was supposed to be quite crowded, with more travellers than its capacity. We were not truly happy about it, mainly because our luggage didn't look to be safely arranged on the roof.
We spotted a taxi at the gas station, and without even consulting each other, we went there and asked the price to reach the border. Obviously, it was more expensive than going with the bus, but we could have stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures or for our physiological needs, which not necessarily would have taken into account by the bus driver (I still remembered the previous experience).
We took our luggage and started our journey with the taxi. It was a wise choice, and we had an easy trip. We safely reached the border, and we arrived in Goma.
 
 


The first thing that we could notice as soon as we crossed the border was the difference between the two neighbouring countries. The roads were mostly unpaved, and the ones who were once paved were quite in bad shape.
Buildings were more to be considered ruins or shacks. Nevertheless, people were going on with their lives and once again, they looked happier than we do.
We reached our hotel effortlessly; for security reasons, it had to be a four-star hotel. After a long shower and a change of clothes, we were ready to relax and wait to meet our first contact from the UN mission.
She explained us the actual situation and how to reach the offices of the Virunga National Park, to arrange a visit to the gorillas.
The following day, we had a walk around to explore a bit the town, and have an idea about the place we were. There was a big old, and semi-destroyed Christian church. According to the information we got from the people passing by, the church was built a long time ago and went destroyed many times by the eruption of the volcano, likewise the rest of the city. Nevertheless, disregarding the threat posed by the volcano, people remained there, and preferred to rebuild their homes than move away from the place they called "home."
 
 

We went to the offices of the Virunga Park, and we set a visit after a couple of days. I was excited.
We left early in the morning before the sunrise; the volcano was already awake, and it was glowing in the darkness. However, besides that slight activity, there weren't any warnings about a potential eruption.
We reached the offices of the park rangers where we would have joined the guides and a group of six fully armed guards.
"This is not for the gorillas," the ranger explained us, "this is to have a sort of backup in case of an attack by the rebel group."
For some reasons, I wasn't feeling reassured, but at that point, I wasn't intentioned to come back, so we acknowledge the risks of that trip, and we left.

 
I have no idea about how dense a forest can be until I could enter the core of the Virunga National Park. Sure there was a terrain, but we could not even touch the ground with our feet, so thick was the coverage of the roots of the trees and bushes.
It was also quite slippery, and after the first time that I fell on my butt, I started to realise the best way to walk in that intricate net of roots.
We walked quite silently, looking around and listening to the sounds of the many creatures living in that great environment. Time by time, our guide, produced some guttural sounds, which were supposed to be interpreted by the gorilla as a friendly call, something like "we come in peace."
He might have known the spot where the gorilla used to be, because quite soon, we could spot the first one.
That was one of the most intense moments of my entire life.
They saw us and didn't pay attention to our presence until a massive silverback (the older male of the group) appeared just behind me.
We all turned our gazes, being very careful of not making any eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge to his authority.
We were in his territory, and the last thing we wanted was to be disrespectful.
He sat down, looked at us and with a grunt let us be.
  
  
 
 
Our journey ended in the late evening, but I assure you, there is nothing that can compare the feeling of being in front of these amazing apes. Once again it reminded me how close we are to them; the only difference is our endless greed and willingness to destroy everything to satisfy it.
...to be continued
 

 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Wandering Writer

Once again I come to tell a bit about my travel experiences and the inspirations to them connected. Previously I told about my first travelling experience, in Kenya and Tanzania. When I returned home, I couldnt stop thinking about those places as they were so far from my everyday experience and from what I saw on the TV.
The feelings of homesickness felt so unbearable, that we needed to have another holiday there, exploring more of that fantastic continent. However, being always interested in the political aspect, we decided to explore more sensitive countries, for this reason, we decided to visit Sierra Leone.
It was in 2008 when we decided to go, the civil war ended already, but the UN mission was still operational, mostly for the reconstruction of their democracy. There werent any flights from Finland to Freetown, but we decided to fly to Banjul (Gambia) so to have also the chance to visit that country.
Unfortunately, we didnt have any chance to visit Gambia, as we could not either leave the hotels premises. The only time we tried to reach the beach, we were literally surrounded by local merchants wanting to sell us something, visit their shop or visit their restaurant. Therefore already from the third day, we arranged our move to Freetown.


It was quite exciting to arrive in Sierra Leone; and we were eager to discover the history, the places and particularly the people. Reaching the hotel was not the easiest of the tasks because the airport is situated on the northern coast of the estuary, and to reach the city we had to take the boat. Of course, the waiting time was longer than you could expect in any western countries, but one has to recall that each country has its own way to work. It took several hours, but finally, we made it and even if tired, we felt satisfied.
The morning after started with a round of the surroundings by foot, and we felt extremely pleased to be able to walk around being greeted by the locals without any harassment from merchants.


We walked



And walked

 

And made more walk; something I could never get enough is the red, rich colour of the soil in Africa. We loved to walk around and have small chats with local people; particularly those at the small shops along the road.


We had long chats about everything, but particularly about what they could share of the period of the civil war. It was so close, yet people were determined to find a new normality in peace and leave at their shoulders a very painful and frightening past. They willingly told us about their experiences and finally I realised that the reality told by the media was just a minimal part of the reality, and generally, is flawed with personal opinions. Another sad reality was that outside Africa, nobody cares about what happen there, and that was what saddened me the most. Such a great country so much ignored taken aside the documentaries about wildlife.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share their natural environment, which is something that enchanted and amused me since the beginning:      


Last but not least, the symbol of Sierra Leone, a real landmark: the cotton tree.


This giant and old tree, which is about 500 years old is very important to the population, and on its surroundings, it was built the heart of Freetown; the Supreme Court, the National Museum and the music club building.
 



And besides being very dear to the population, it hosts a large group of fruit bats. As for me, I am used to seeing bats, flying at night, but I have never seen that big amount in the same place.
Once again leaving Africa was difficult, and  as the plane left the ground, I started to think about the next time I would have visited Africa again, thinking about the next country to be discovered.

What have I learned?

 Life is made of learning steps. Every day we learn something new, either about ourselves, someone else, the world around us, a new skill, o...