Category: Travelling

Bansang, The Gambia

Walking to Bansang Hospital

Heading back home after two months in Bansang; in the best of hands, twelve years after I first met Yero Sam, and with a license to serve. The hospital soon became family. Medically our ambitions were sometimes limited by resources, but never short of effort and care. Most importantly, there was no distance to the reality in which we all live: a peaceful acceptance of lifes beginning and ending; a faith that this life is only a short prologue.

The 20-minute walk home was a space-out-session. The evening bucket shower under the stars likewise.

Between work, eat and sleep, we were reminded of how to approach life by children, always smiling; at once distanced from our adult life, yet more present to life than any of us.

It’s the rare luxury to be inspired by so many people you’ve met; to be given the gift of sharing their time; to end up truly respecting them more than you respect yourself.

Everything is up-front, bold and honest: curiosity, humanity, injustice, joy. It saturates your mind, and it’s sometimes challenging, but it etches your heart. Even before you leave, you miss it deeply.

The world we live in feels smaller, but so do we. It’s a peaceful comfort that I hope to keep. Thank you all of Bansang, and especially Yero and Edeny.

Like the electron leaving the atom

Lina cycling

“You’re like the electron leaving the atom: the force pulling you back the first few days is strong; the excuses to turn back are many, but suddenly one day, the resistance is gone and you are free.”

Space aviation student Théo on his first – but probably not last – touring ride from Toulouse to Helsinki.

Heading home

Swiming in Latvia

Heading home after ten days of cycling, camping, laughing, eating, life-analyzing, coffee-searching and tractor-tailing with lovely Eric in the Baltics. Every day felt satiated, long like a week, and not a single one could have been spent better. Touring at its best.

Morning Rest by The Pamir Highway

Peder af Geijerstam taking a morning rest by Lake Karakul, Tajikistan

The previous day was one of those that simply makes you feel alive: we had cycled passed the 4,650-meter Akbaital Pass, gotten caught up in a snowstorm and then spent the night in the ruins of an ancient roadside caravanserai.

Living today and this autumn — with the challenge of being in the present despite life’s lingering questions of what is to come — I recall how I felt that day in the Pamir’s:

A feeling of absolute, serene comfort in being free, but also vulnerable, in meeting what is unknown and beyond ones control. An urgent desire to find out, but at the same time a freedom from the urge to control. A feeling that comes effortlessly while on the road, but that requires focus to attain in day-to-day life.

– Maybe the most valuable feeling to recall, on a busy autumn day?

Photo by Jean-Denis, a random cycling friend for two days, at Lake Karakul, the Pamir Highway, the Pamir Plateau, Tajikistan.

Serenity at Ujung Kulon

Fishing at Ujung Kulon, Java, Indonesia

Life doesn’t get more serene.

The UNESCO World Heritage site is famous for its small population of endangered rhinoceros, and for encompassing the Krakatau volcano — none of which we saw. Instead of “big fives” and legendary sites, its merit lies in simple matters: green plants with intricate geometric shapes, warm sand between the toes, playful butterflies and muddy marshes. A feeling of a genuine patch of untouched “real”.

With friend Pontus at Ujung Kulon, Java, Indonesia. Located at Javas westernmost tip, surrounded by the Indian Ocean. Nearest neighbour to the North: Sumatra, 100 km; to the West: Kenya, 7,000 km.

From along our bicycle trip from Singapore, through Malaysia, and then Sumatra, Java, Bali and Lombok of Indonesia. We met none but lovely people, horrendous traffic and scenery of indescribable beauty. Underneath it all a stir of cultures, languages and religions that was at once confusing and uniquely enjoyable — begging for a second visit. Many thanks to the many wonderful Couchsurfers, Warm Showers’ and random friends who have hosted, guided or simply enjoyed with us.

Brittany and Normandy

Peder af Geijerstam at Golf du Morbihan nearby Le Hezo, France

Cycling with friend Pontus at Golf du Morbihan, nearby Le Hezo, France.

Mashhad

Persepolis, Iran

I finally reach the country’s second largest city, helped by a good tailwind. Dirty industrial quarters line the road for the last twenty or so kilometres, before giving way to city proper. Hospitality Club member Mehdi meets me in the suburb where he lives and takes me to the flat that he shares with his mother. We spend days socializing, hiking, eating – finding the unique comfort in the simple pleasures of life that is so much Iran.

To describe it better, a few words by modern Iranian poet Sohrab Sepehri:

“I, don’t know
That why some say: horses are noble animals, pigeons are beautiful.
And why there is no vulture in any person’s birdcage.
What do clovers lack that red tulips have.
Eyes should be washed, in another way we should see.
Words should be washed.
A word in itself should be the wind, a word in itself should be the rain.

Umbrellas we should shut.
In the rain we should walk.
Thoughts, and recollections, should be carried in the rain.
With all the people of the town, in the rain we should walk.
A friend, in the rain we should call on.
Love, we should seek in the rain.
In the rain we should play.
In the rain we should write things, speak, plant lotuses.
Getting drenched from time to time,
swimming in the pond of ‘right now’, is what life is.”

Excerpt from “Footsteps of Water, by Sohrab Sepehri. Source: http://www.ikramkurdi.com/2008/11/sohrab-sepehri-footsteps-of-water.html

Also mentioned in this haunting report by Robert Fisk:
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/fisk/robert-fisk-irans-day-of-destiny-1706010.html

Photo: Persepolis, Iran.

Homs, Syria

Homs, Syria

I — a stranger on a bicycle lost on the streets of Homs — asked him if he knew of any internet café nearby. He — a tailor in his early twenties — invited me into his life and his hometown. A couple of hours after our random meeting, we stood in one of his family’s apartments in the outskirts of town, and Masoud handed me the keys. In the unfurnished seven rooms, I was given space and peace to sleep off the desert heat, which had literally satiated my senses.

I stayed for three days. Masoud was busy preparing for his own wedding, scheduled for only a week later, yet dedicated much of his time to the unexpected guest. During daytime, he drove me around to help arrange practicalities ahead of my upcoming cycling to Damascus; showed me more of town and took me to visit his friends and family.

In three days, Masoud etched Homs into my heart. Each time I have seen the news on Syria, Masoud has been right there in my thoughts. I have tried to reach him during these five years, but without luck.

Yesterday — at last — I received words from him. He and his family is trapped since two years in a refugee camp somewhere North of the capital. He tells me how no-one knows the end of it; the time when they may return home and life may resume. His words are as straight-forward and heartful as when I last met him. There are no favours asked — but rather words of common humanity; of feeling blessed by our friendship. Maybe the same blessing that I feel: to know that there is yet somone who is looking for something more humane than what we have.

Bars of Namibia

Chance Never Return Bar, with its owner and her children by the entrance. Namibia.

Family run, always with names that make you stop.

Somewhere between Onethindi and Kapuga, Namibia.

“Caraçao [heart],” he says and points at us.

Shrimps in Angola

We meet fisherman Juan. He has a small shelter made of reed right next to the road. Behind it and the narrow piece of ground it occupies, a large river delta spreads out. His canoe rests by the water edge. Todays catch lies left to dry on a log next to him. He takes two of the fishes and grills them in a fire for us to taste. “Caraçao” (heart), he says and points at us.

We camp a few kilometres further on, behind a roadside bar. Quickly, before the sun sets, we walk to a water outlet by the road where we bath.

Somewhere between Porto Amboim and Cacusaria da Queve, Angola.

Nsafu

Nsafu

Dacryodes edulis, or Nsafu, growing on high trees just like apples. Boiled for a couple of minutes, they taste like a mix between artichoke and rhubarb.

In a village somewhere between Nkout and Metchui, Gabon.

Overwhelming Green

Overwhelming green

The lush, fresh green is just overwhelming. The cashew trees bear fruit — soft apples in shades ranging from green through yellow to red, with each a nut (the actual fruit) attached underneath. The air is filled with the rich, fermented smell of the mushy apples. The apples are impossible to export because of their frail softness, we are told, and so the children usually eat them while they harvest the nuts. The mangoes also bear fruit — green now, but ripe in just a couple of weeks’ time. Banana and pineapple is sold along the road, as well as fresh palm wine.

Somewhere between Ezzangba and Akped, Nigeria.