Jordanie 2/2 – Lost in the landscapes

Hey hey, all good? Here is our second article about Jordan in the continuity of the first one. Still at the first person telling, mix of our personnalities, we tried as good as we could to integrate our thoughts and feelings of the country in the story of our journey.

Since we are in Dana, the valley is teasing us. We decide to walk a loop and come back some days later to the village where we left the useless equipment. After shopping is done we start to walk down the valley. It is a bit too much for me, I don’t know where I’m supposed to lay my eyes on. Every hundred meters is different from the one before, between red and flat stones, pebbles sleeping in the dried river, sand or rocky blades coming out of the mountain flank. Rare thing in Jordan, we don’t see anybody for more than several hours until we reach the Bedouin tents just before the desert. What were their tents made out before UNHCR handled over tarps or before they gathered some pieces of fabric here and there? And why did people come and settle here??

"Tente bédouine en bas de la vallée." "Bedouin tent down the valley."

At nightfall our camp was all set up, and after advice from a guide living here, far from the snakes prowling around the trees. We climb the hill to spend the evening with the guide and his family. Under the desert stars these neo-Bedouins laid some carpets and, apologizing for only having leftovers, bring us their food and a chemical drink that I cautiously avoid to drink. While Marie, despite of being “officially” my girlfriend tonight, gets hit on by the stodgy guide, I have to undergo series of funny videos on a Youtube connected cell phone. “Do you have music instruments?” “Oh my grandpa has one, but we don’t need anymore, we have the phones”. Bedouins too have the right to Internet in the desert, but it still hurts my ears a little to hear the same ringtones as my old university buddies and to see that these young fellows listen to the same shitty music we have on our dear French radios. I have to admit that I had another image of Bedouins, I surely was a bit naive. We will not let ourselves convince by our Bedouin friend who tries to decide that the “better for us” is to rent a 4WD to carry our equipment while affirming, sure of himself, “this is the program”. We are now used to these kind of conversations. Marie neither has not let herself charmed so we walk back to sleep under the open sky, just outside of our tent that we yet had pitched.

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We continue our loop trekking up the Wadi Ghuweir. Yesterday’s guide, far from him any idea of selling his company and the famous 4WD to bring us back to Dana, warned us that the entry was blocked by a huge rock (impassable for us incapable Europeans). But well, I am 1/64th Guatemalan so I manage to climb it. Again my brains gets a slap, it is too much for me. It is my first canyon, a real one, with water and narrow corridors, white rocks like waves, palm trees almost falling on you, and all and more. It is so much of a paradise that we decide to spend the night somewhere in between. Marie allows herself a bikini under the sun, rare luxe in these regions. But she is quickly interrupted by one of the guide’s brother and his friends. He comes to offer her his heart and wants to spend the night with us. I have to get upset so he leaves and we move our campsite a bit up in case they decide to come back. The place is incredible, it is full of life, and after having spend days in the desert and fought against the Dead Sea, I really fell like I am in heaven, the fresh and clean water always close to us. We play with our huge dancing shadows against the rock created by the fire, and I dive into these cartoon images.

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Next morning we shall leave with regret our beloved canyon because food supplies start to be limited. But before we bath one or two times. The more we walk up, the rarest the water, the river disappears under the rocks to reappear some fifty meters further, and finally slips in again forever. While we exit the valley I wonder if I will ever come back and how it will look like. The first signs of civilization emerge in the form of plastic bottles and shisha aluminum foil, taking its apogee when we meet a hunter while finishing our last crumbles. Now no choice, we have to go back to civilization not to starve.

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Here we are on this empty asphalt road except from a black sedan that very gently drops us in Shobak at nightfall. At iftar, Ramadan’s fast breaking, it is pointless to hitchhike, no car is passing by because everybody is supposed to eat at this time, so we do the same. Just next to the main road there is a big tent made out of these colored fabric I have often seen in this country. Under it some tables and chairs as well as plate of chicken, rice and dates. During Ramadan nobody can be excluded of eating, so people organize themselves so that even the poorest can have a meal. Once again I am surprised by this solidarity and generosity, and tonight added to the needy and the people passing by there will be three Frenchies eating with pleasure. I wonder how it is possible to hate and love at the same time a culture, it will be important to only keep the good sides.

As we head back to Dana, it is already night but very quickly someone stops to take us. To my surprise it is a luxurious car, a first one here. The nice and young guy brings us all the way to Dana despite he is not going there. He talks about his thirty camels that he does not really use for anything, just because he like camels. It is his collection, like stamps actually just a bit bigger. Incredible.

The next day it is time to say good-bye to our little hotel guy, Mohammed (a very rare name in the area), because we leave for Petra.

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Since we arrived in Jordan, and even before, I heard about Petra a countless amount of times, incredible site, world heritage unmissable i tutti quanti, so that I almost want not to go just by plain contrariness. All over Jordan we are offered taxis to Petra like if there was only this. Of course we don’t go to Petra by taxi but hitchhiking, until one of our drivers decides without really asking us that we will come to his place to eat and sleep. It is a bit of a classic trick I have the feeling, where everybody knows better than you what is good for you and it starts to irritate me. How many times will I hear in these Arab countries we crossed the famous “this is better for you”? We arrange to sneak out to get a last lift to Wadi Musa laying right next the archaeological site. Jordan is a Bedouin country so no worries to camp, but still now there is some challenge as we are in the most touristic place of the country. In roughly two seconds a guy managing a small snack comes to us and pays us a tea followed by a meal. Thousands of phone calls later and 500 “yes-yes-no worries-my-cousin-is-arriving-to-pick-you-up-ah-no-actually-it-will-not-be-my-cousin-but-my-friend”, we are sitting in his brother house who has a good ex-prisoner’s face. Jordanians, besides being the nicest and hospitable people in the world, are sometimes a bit pushy and oppressing. Here it is the opposite: take a seat, have a tea, I’ll do my business and I come back every half-hour to see if you don’t need anything. Everybody a bit in his world, each of us laying on the floor sofa, we sink one by one into our dreams.

Petra the pink, Petra the gorgeous, Petra the unmissable, Petra the super mega expensive. Too much for our budget. Jordanians explain us that entry fee is that expensive because many tourists only come to Jordan to see Petra and otherwise stay in Israel, so some don’t even spend a peseta in the country. The site is huuge and luckily for us, poor people, is not fenced. The three of us try the different canyons to get in, we unclimb, we jump, until at the corner of one of them we get a glimpse of a small carved image that amazes us and comes confirm that we did not do all this walking for nothing.

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As good VIP, we arrive from behind and I quickly go to loose myself in the pink rock houses. They told me unmissable, and I have to admit it is true. Especially in these times! The daily several thousands of tourists have been scared since the start of the Syrian war and it is low season: we are around fifty in this vast place. Having Petra for ourselves is not bad, we thank all the people scared by their TV’s, despite Jordan maybe being the safest country in the Middle East. Proud as a French rooster I leave in the end of the day the beautiful Petra through the main gate with a mocking wink to the tourism police.

Another funny thing is that all the hawkers, organizing camel or donkeys tours, are dressed as Jack Sparrow. Yeah yeah, like in the movie. Don’t ask why…

Jordan’s second “must” is Wadi Rum, the Rum valley. I mean, I think this is the right translation, I have to check. Not easy to reach hitchhiking but I decide not to talk bad about tourists anymore because it is some of them who stop and bring us there. We walk a bit further from the last village until the spring right where the desert starts. Boh, and what a desert. Red, thin sand, a corridor spreading to the infinite surrounded by hills and bare mountains. Arrived at the spring we put camp under the only available tree.

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Two hundred meters up on the rocks we find the spring’s source where I sit and admire the desert which distances are hard to estimate. And then little by little I see dots in the far growing and growing. These are not people, these are not cars. Camels! I run down the rocks (taking care of my safety as promised mummy) and arrive just in time to talk with a Bedouin who came to check on his beasts. Those live in semi-freedom and come about once a week to the spring to drink, the rest of the time hanging around the desert looking for drugs. Euh no food. When time comes where camels would like to go further to find food, the owner clog them so they cannot go too far. I imagine quite well Momo taking out his new Samsung to call Ahmed when he his camels “oh Habibi I saw your camels, they are on the way to the trough”. Under the moonshine in the middle of our conversations we see big specters walking swaying to the water trough. All night different camel processions will come with cuUuUute babies. After not having filled their hump but just their belly, because it is a legend that it is their water tank, the specters’ caravan fades again in the sand. A magic moment, we really arrived at the right time.

"On observe des chameaux qui viennent à toute heure du jour ou de la nuit s'abreuver, avant de repartir pour une bonne semaine." "We observe camels that come night and day to drink, before going back for another week."

Moving during day time is a mission only hyper trained secret agent elite camels can fulfill but still we try to cross to the other side. I would have sworn that the mountain over there was only ten minutes away. Walking in the desert is actually quite spiritual. One feels so small, crushed by the heat and the immensity, every step not really making you go forward, so I empty my soul and let myself getting absorbed by the sand.

"Marie dans le sable." "Marie in the sand."

Our final stage is Aqaba that we reach thanks to two technicians passing in Wadi Rum to check the cell-phone antennas. It seems like an evidence for them to invite us for dinner at the driver’s home. Our host goes carefully hide his wife so that we, foreign men, cannot see her. While Marie was invited several times to talk with our different hosts’ wifes, we as men, have only had very few interactions with the other gender. They then take us to the southern beach so we can spend the night there, I don’t say no to the offer. It is incredible that it is possible in Jordan to squat, camp or sleep wherever, people don’t care or better, are happy about it. There is wind but I start to be an expert in all-weather-proof shelters. Three days long we will squat this beach where men can, Ô folie, swim topless without risking a general panic attack in the crowd. Our friend keeping the neighbor little shop takes us for snorkeling trips. Even in the water it is not us that choose what we see and how long. “So we are going to see this coral, and then this coral, this is better for you”. Too bad because if the Red Sea corals are astonishing, we have the feeling to overlook everything, our guide leading the tempo. And of course, Marie who is a woman, thus weak, must not drop our guide’s arm because he decided that she cannot swim well. I’m really perplex. How can people be so nice, and at the same time not leave freedom to others and reduce the women’s condition like this?

"En route pour le Wadi Rum." "On the way to Wadi Rum."

Two kilometers further a big marina for rich Thomascookians has been build. Another universe, other rules. When I arrived in Jordan, I thought it was a country where alcohol was flowing in torrents which surprised me a lot. Actually I think that people where drinking the country’s reserve before the month of Ramadan when it becomes almost impossible to get some. But this marina is not Jordan, it is ghetto for rich and there the shop does not have restriction on alcohol selling.

Before taking the ferry we spend the night on the city center beach, overcrowded during Ramadan. Everybody lives at night in this month. But nobody comes to wake up the three Frenchies installed there to sleep. We wake up with the first sunbeams to take the ferry to Egypt, the rest is another story!

Kiss from Arthurémi. And from Marie as well, though we did not ask.

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Jordan 1/2 – Fish in the desert

Hey pieces of ham and vegetarians sausages. Two month and a half only after we left Jordan, it is with outrecuidance and oronymie that we offer you the first part of our Jordanian adventures. We decided to change a little our writing style and to juggle with the personal pronouns, mixing our points of view into one character.

Until I’m dropped at the Israeli-Jordanian border, everything was fine. From there it became a huge party of mistakes, of offices and queues, of border policemen slightly stupid that stamp my passport despite that I asked forty times to have the stamp on a separate paper. At the exit it is the fair of taxis all over the place, the famous “border effect”. I manage to find a truck going slowly through the small villages until Amman. BOUF, it’s a shock! Turkey surprised me on quite a few aspects but remained in comparison very European, we were far from this pile of donkeys and mess, some roads having a bigger proportion of holes than asphalt. On each side people spread their sun-bleached plastic gadgets, their shiny chocolate bars and their dusty but magnificent vegetables. After being used, each package is neatly put in order to occupy all the public space, the road edges being of course a place of choice for the crisps and cigarettes packages.

In Amman I spot the young guy who walks the coolest way. Marie, who I was supposed to meet does not give any sign of living, so after having imagined all possible scenarios of what could have happened to her, I just start following this dude and his friends who take out the Arak while watching the lights of Amman on the hilltops, and I end up in this apartment full of shisha smoke and young males. Marie shows up the following day, not realizing I waited for her all night asking myself where she was. We simply made the appointment with one day difference.

Second night in Jordan for me and we do the Arak session again, together this time. Our host and guide is lost between two cultures, between Pink Floyd which he mimics one by one all instruments, his facial expressions following the music’s intensity, and between the Ramadan that starts soon, a masculine and religious society, somehow archaic in which his dreams do not make much sense.

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The main axis in front of the apartment open the road to adventure for us while we quickly reach the first village hitchihiking. The hardware store offers us the bread. Further on a small road that zigzag through a park, a family forces us to come and to eat barbecue with them, cozily installed on their carpets. Five minutes after having left the tribe it is whiskey and beer that fall upon us with two young engineers. Probably finding that time passes slowly when mummy is preparing dinner, they make a 20km detour to grab a beer for each of us, while relaxed by the first one, while a chill wind is blowing, we watch the sunset carving out Ajlun castle on the other side of the mountain. Under the stars around a fire, I listen to the coyotes howling while asking myself if they would dare to attack me. If Jordan continues this way, I don’t see the point of buying food.

Taking advantage of my naiveness one of our driver manages to put me aside for some minutes, and taking the hand of Marie, wants to bring her further down the forest. He understands quickly that she doesn’t want and ashamed to death he sped away while I was running to the car. It’s sad, but it is probably better for a girl not to stay alone.

The police-hitchhiking day starts. I actually think that in Jordan, half of the people are either policemen or military related, and I cannot figure out if it is appeasing or not. Before crossing the desert to Azraq, impossible to get bread or water without being offered some watermelon. Policeman or military we had one chance out of two, so it is a military who offers to host us. We take seat under the big tent in the garden in front of three glasses of Coke and the entire family extended to the neighbour kids. I am nailed by the twenty-four eyes. Follows an intense communication face-to-face, really taking off when we start to use paper and pen to help our young military’s English, and when we learn how to write our names in Arabic. The patriarch rolls a cigarette and goes in the garden next to the water hose which overflows his plants. He stands up, puts the hose on another tree, sits down and rolls an new cigarette. We go to imitate the scream of the donkeys and camels parked behind the house, and when we come back the dad has changed the hose’s position and has rolled another little one again. On the menu tonight, French fries-fish. Fish in the desert. I wonder if it something usual when receiving guests, some luxury sign. In the mean time, old man is smoking one or two more. Everybody sleeps outside, men under the tent, women and children next to the house.

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This desert is quite unwelcoming and I am not displeased to leave it behind. On the road the desert castles are coming one after the other. I imagine, drowsing, the merchant caravans going through the desert and taking a break in the castles. I think again about the refugees camp we saw the day before, huge, as far as the eye can see, surrounded by fences. With the Palestinians and the Syrians, it’s one third of the Jordan residents who have the statue of refugee.

The crazy one who takes us after is a bit frightening… He overtakes everybody, brakes at the police controls doing big friendly signs and then triples his speed 500 meters further. He gives me three times the phone so that his cousin, who speaks English, can repeat me twelve times that her uncle is an awesome guy. Once arrived in Madaba, the Christian reference in Jordan, we play the differences game with Muslim towns. In fact, not much compared to the other cities except the big church that has the upper hand on the mosque and the little fish stickers on the back of the cars. Tomorrow, Ramadan is starting. We refuse the hosting offer of our next driver and we go to squat four walls and a terrace in between the well-rounded hills that open themselves in front of our eyes just enough so we can see the Dead Sea. The great food managers that we are did not take enough water and food, which is actually good, because we decided to do the Ramadan. We unclimb our terrace and from there the descent into hell starts. The throat is dry and every step is hard under the weight of our backpacks, and the car ridging down to the -427 meters of the Dead Sea drop us in an area empty of life. Empty of all energy I take a look at the sun disappearing on the Israeli side, where we were only few weeks ago. The releasing call of the muezzin rings while we are passing next to security guards waving at us, who will not need to convince us to come in order to empty their water and chicken with rice.

"Squat d'un bâtiment dans les collines au dessus de la mer Morte." "Squat of a building in the hills above the Dead Sea."

We walk five minutes to find the less horrible place of the surrounding. I tinker a shelter against the sun for the next day. The water coming from the pipe probably had something fishy. We all get sick under a sun that doesn’t allow us any kind of movement. We still go floating with a heavy heart, the head blown up and the stomach messed up. The place is so unhealthy that we cannot stay, and this despite our state. So we take the hard way of the South to go back to the heights and leave this basin of death. I dreamt a lot about it since the beginning of Jordan and it happened: we got a ride from a woman in a Muslim country. Two students who, because it’s Ramadan, have to find an occupation. A classic one is to take the car and take a ride with no aim.

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My all body is upside down, but I am really happy when I get to see our destination, the castle of Karak, and when in the city the three fruit shopkeepers offer us a crate to sit down and to share the Iftar, the fasting breaking. The Ramadan is definitely over for us since yesterday, but we proudly managed to do it one entire day. The good news to sheer us up is that the traveller is exempted of Ramadan, like women during period, the old people and the young ones, or the ill. The bad news is that in the coming year we are supposed to make up all the days we missed. The others do like they want, personally I will make up my days maybe the year after. Or the next one.

The next day, still feeling bad, we meet two policemen clever as policemen, who decide that today’s mission for them is to bring us to the swimming pool. It’s just an outside swimming pool, quite basic with nice green reflections offered by its algae. Marie of course cannot show any piece of skin (it would be indecent) so she swims fully dressed among the cowboys doing many tricks and jumps into the water to impress the only feminine attendance. The policemen want to host us, but we find a trick so they let us go. It’s in the next village that we discover the magical technique. When I go out of the toilets of the mosque, I realize that the others have disappeared, and before I can even panic, a guy takes me to a house two streets further where I found them seating around a tea. If you are hungry or in need of an accommodation, you just need to hang around the mosque at the time of Iftar. After the meal we are invited from house to house. It’s really the first time that I meet a polygamous, and it’s quite normal here, an old grandpa surrounded by his whole family and indeed has two wives. But we are told that it is very rare among the new generations. Third day of Ramadan, third time we are invited to eat.

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Back on the road the day after and quickly a policeman stops. Is there any other profession in this country? Until Al-Tafile the scenery is incredible. I lay my head against the window of the small car and I dream looking at those mountains passing by. They are beige, empty and dry, with from time to time a Bedouin tent overlooking the valley. I get out of my daydreaming when we arrive in the city and we find easily cars to get to the small village of Dana. The big valley stretches in a straight line up to the desert far away which we can catch a glimpse of, and at the start of this valley a small village with stone houses sits on a hill next to the cliff. The inhabitants abandoned the houses which slowly became ruins. Only some of them were rehabilitated and transformed into hotels. The spring not far transforms into a small river giving water to the village, the water is good.

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Quickly I decide that I like this place. After two seconds of intense negotiation, we find a hotel for one dinar each, or one Euro twenty, acceptable even for our budget. I like our time spent on the terrace basking under the sun, preparing coffee being the most important mission. Mohammed the hotel guy makes me smile, I like him as well, he spends his days cleaning the terrace and watering the few plants he’s growing, and he is not hot-blooded like the other men in the country. I like a little bit less Bilal the “manager” who shows off too much and try to flirt with Marie explaining her how he’s young and successful in life, and that women could never do in a lifetime what he already did. We stay a few days here resting in this beautifully calm place. Everyday I ask Mohammed if the Internet connection he promised us is finally working, and every day he answers that it’s coming. I think he decided to build Internet himself, it should take some time. The second group of tourist in the village consists of a Saudi Arabian man who brings us apricots every morning and discusses with us with interest about religion, culture, sex, and his viewpoints are close and open minded in a strange mix. These talks divert me a lot. For Rémi’s birthday celebration we go to the hotel’s restaurant, youhou! Not a drop of wine, no cake, it’s a first, but it’s like this and everything is alright.

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It’s all for now and the second part is under construction. Tchuss!

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Nice Israelis, nice.

We are often asked since how long we are traveling, and we answer eight months before realizing that no it has not been eight, but nine months already. Some weeks ago as we were camping on the side of the Nile river, we decided to make a list of the people who marked us during our trip. The people we spend time, we converse and create links with are a big part of this trip. Some of them marked us genuinely and we would like to see them again if randomness of life allows it. In our list many of these people are Israeli encounters.

We talked about what we perceived of Israel, Palestine, the conflict, a good part of the culture, but we didn’t talked about the trip itself.

From the start to the end in Israel we didn’t had to think much, the encounters chained themselves all naturally. Before getting there we had a contact: Rémi met Lauren in Albania during a hitchhikers gathering last summer and she made an impression on him when she arrived and decreed, full of energy, that we had to collect the trash with the kids of the village. Mission they totally fulfilled! She lives now in Nes Harim with Alex and Johnny where the three of them take care in a farm of a goat herd and some plantations. We spent quite some times in Nes Harim with them, the cheese and the goat yogurt being a blessing and the long nights spent drinking and talking on the terrace happened to elapse too quickly. One hard morning we struggled to extricate ourselves from sleep at sun rise, not without the help of the shepherds armed with water, in order to walk the goats together, all of them taking advantage of our mollusk’ shape to do what they wanted. It is a great place, peaceful with a warm welcome and good food/ We also helped a bit, for example playing the guinea pigs for the curry ice-cream. It is Lauren who advised us some places to visit south of Haifa on the way to the farm and how we got to know Ein Hod and Jisr az-Zarqa.

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Ein Hod is an artist village chilling on the side of a hill. Everywhere many quite fancy houses rise together with works of art, sculptures of any kind, installations and galleries. While struggling to find a place to camp, somebody called us from his balcony and ask us in Hebrew if we are doing the « Shvil Yisra’el », a hiking path going through all Israel from north to south. A bit everywhere on the way one can find the “Shvil Angels”, camps or simply people welcoming the hikers. The one of Ein Hod being certainly a bit different from the other ones with its big teepee and its giant eagles sculptures. Great, we got there and shared the evening with few hikers who for once sat up a little later and who had left long time ago when we woke up.

The next days we got to Jisr az-Zarqa. It’s a small Arab village and also the poorest of Israel. To enter we passed through a tunnel under the highway whose facade is painted with all colors and announces « Welcome to Jisr az-Zarqa ». Going through this tunnel is a little bit like taking an inter-dimensional door that makes you change space-time. And there we are, transported to a typical Arab town, with its regular amount of mess, cars honking and trash a little bit everywhere. People are outside, say hello to you, kids play in the street and everybody knows each other. It’s an other face of Israel that we discover here which has nothing to do with the rest.

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On Nes Harim heights, which is located between Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, while watching the sun set we can catch sight of Tel-Aviv’s buildings and even the sun diving into the sea when the sky is clear. On the other side of the hill we see the first habitations of Jerusalem‘s periphery. It was time to leave the goats, so we rose our thumbs for Jerusalem and Elisha, a university mate of Lauren; hosted us. Both study oriental music and we got the chance to listen Elisha playing on his Saz and to try it as well. For Elisha, no way we sleep on the floor, so he gave us his ultra comfortable double bed and slept himself on the floor. Any guide will tell you very well how not to miss the unmissable in Jerusalem so we will not talk about it. Still from our opinion, some things are worth seeing. During our wandering through the small streets of the old town we went up on the roofs after trying several stairwells and it’s really nice to this the city from an other point of view. We also liked the Jehuda market that changes completely atmosphere when the sun sets: during the day a colorful and lively market, it transforms at night when the bars open playing music on their speakers and when youngsters come to hang around and make their instruments resonate in front of the closed iron curtains. During this transition time at the end of the market, we had to keep control on ourselves not to get more veggies and fruits, judged a bit too old, that we can use. In the Nachlaot neighborhood next to the market, we loved to discover the small streets and other hidden gardens. Another night we went to a concert of Bint el Funk, an Israeli band that rocks, mixing Yemenite music, funk and other styles with lyrics in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Jerusalem is a very religious and very touristic city, but also a lively city that still leaves many things to be discovered. The city surprised us when we tried to hitchhike at night, in the city, and a very kind small grand-pa drove us to the tramway station.

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After Jerusalem we wanted to see Tel-Aviv, Israel‘s capital city, but as well the cool, alternative, on the move city, where for example gays and lesbians often emigrate to escape from the other cities’ conservatism. Alex the shepherd came with us and introduced us to Oren, our first host in Tel-Aviv, a big teddy bear currently training to catch objects with his feet. Alex took as a duty to bring us to the best hummus of Israel and to make us visit the places he likes. Alex took the bet not drinking beer until he will brew his own: the last news were that the equipment was ordered and we hope that he didn’t give up, because for a guy like Alex, not drinking beer is like not eating cheese for Frenchman. When we left Oren, we found a refuge close to Karmel market, this time at Maxim’s; while his girlfriend left us for the ‘Backstreet Boys return show, we went with Maxim to listen to a crazy pianist and his band at a nice jazz bar in the same street. Yonathan, a friend’s friend, who introduced us to Maxim joined us a little bit later. In this market, just like in Jerusalem, the amount of abandoned avocados at the end of the market overwhelmed us. Be careful to arrive before the big mega bulldozer that comes to clean everything. Ok, a bulldozer to clean a market sounds a bit weird, but it’s a weird country anyway. Yonathan and Maxim will put all their efforts so we could do longboard, eat at a hummus place (yes again), giving us some clothes or helping us to sell beers when we broke Rémi’s computer and Arthur’s bag got stolen.

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In Tel-Aviv, we like the Yaffo/Jaffa neighborhood of Arabic origin, much prettier than the new and big buildings Tel-Aviv is made of. In its really cool flea market, we bought our new mocha pot, the most indispensable tool of our journey.

With Manu the real Brittany guy, just like we like them, found in between two potatoes and a lemon at the end of the market, we met one night Laura on the beach. She was coming back from the Midburn and the days she spent there made here change her vision of the world, she wanted to help everybody, not care of anything and screw everything. She therefore hosted us without further questions.

When one travels, it is a common saying that people always meet twice. And sometimes even more! In Tel-Aviv we met again randomly Scott who we already met in Cyprus, and Freddy with whom we shared Christmas in Turkey, and already met randomly in Cyprus as well. Zincredible.

From a random research online, we saw that Driss was playing at the Groove Attack festival. The festival was way too expensive for us but we know Driss because he was the director of Hadra festival in Grenoble where we often volunteered. A quick email and the invitations were in our pockets. So there we went to party hard and destroy our ears with Infected Mushrooms and other very good artists. Driss also put the crowd on fire under the water vaporizers of the dance floor. One thing leading to another, we found back the contact of the Exodus organizers, festival where we volunteered in Cyprus. On the beach where the party was organized we met all the crew, except the big Shaman who we will see again later. A crazy one, but also a bit touching once the first impression put aside. It’s where we got our bag stolen and where we discover that the computer screen is broken.

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Sometimes we are tired of hitchhiking. And then something happens to remind us why we do all this: Rimoch and Jeky are part of it. At this time we already wanted to leave Israel but Rimoch promised that we could come and drink some good beer if we came to visit their kibbutz. Because we never went inside a kibbutz we allowed ourself this detour. Rimoch and Jeky are this couple that make concerts dressed as giant space lizards. Rimoch speaks with no pause if you don’t manage to control him, which probably takes years of training, on all different topics and in detail. Jeky doesn’t listen anymore since long what Rimoch says but still looks tenderly for head lice in his hear.

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Kibbutz watizat? Kibbutz are collectivist villages created by Zionist movements during Israel’s colonization. First mainly agrarian they developed later industrial activities. Historically, kibbutz members were known to be engaged and militants, advocating egalitarian values, cooperation between members and the absence of private property. With time kibbutz changed a lot and many of them did not keep much from their values while their industries and agrarian activities have been mainly privatized. The kibbutz’ importance in the Israeli society as well as their number is in clear decrease since 1970. Today one can probably still find kibbutz with these original values while the others range from village a bit more communitarian to a simple memory of the past.

Ginegar, the kibbutz in which we stayed some days keeps some traces of this history. The common laundry or the dinning room are still here, and if they were yore important components, they are nowadays optional. The newcomers don’t necessarily share the egalitarian values and are not really part of the community while the kibbutz population is getting older. Nevertheless it is true that we feel a particular atmosphere, the feeling of community is here, people look happy and get along well with each other, and religion is almost nil, astonishing for this country.

Ginegar is a very green place where the buildings have a strange aspect (who said Soviet?), and adjoining the village a huge cattle exploitation with cows that see only concrete all their lives. Proof that industrialization got the better of traditional farming. We also keep in our minds the image of the golf carts that parade everywhere, only a few cars pass by, which we adore to observe the coming and going.

It is Rimoch and Jeky that advised us the spot next to the Dead Sea were we hitchhiked to with Johnny. Remember Johnny? It is our friend shepperd. If Alex and Lauren are young in age (like us), Johnny is young in his head (like us). It is this South African dude who at one point asked himself what the hell he was doing with his life. He decided to leave everything behind and to go meditate in the Sinai mountains. He then found his luck with the farm that he brilliantly manages. A great soul who learns by experience, his cheese getting better at each batch while the sheep heard is everyday more behaved. Even with his curry ice-cream he gets better. The coast sides of the Dead Sea are very impressive. We went not far from Metsokei Dragot where people swim naked, where nobody comes to harass you or sell you a regenerating spa. There it is chilled, with a small pool of clean water to rinse that we shared with the passing people. This is where we met Rivi and Katja who took us back to Jerusalem to spend the evening at the light festival of the city. Rivi studies in the US at Naropa University in Boulder, a pretty special alternative university that she seems to enjoy. And if we get there one day we might say hi.

In Israel people are cool and open. Maybe a bit too speed, a bit too much cutting your speech off and not listening to you (isn’t it Rivi?), but we like them anyway. We are as much in disagreement with the government and its way of managing the situation and the inside issues we talked about in previous articles, as we felt well with the people we have met. There is in this country a kind of solidarity hard to re-transcribe by writing, some kind of trust and easy and straightforward communication. Israel was a great moment of our trip.

This is for our forth and last article about Israel, if you still have any questions just shoot them us.

Flexouilles!

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Castaways in Cyprus

After having shared our impressions on Cyprus, we still wanted to make a shorter article on what we did and saw.

Two months and a half and we first wanted to stay only two or three weeks. We got a bit lost, but no regret.

Fabian, who joined us in Turkey, continued to travel with us during three weeks in Cyprus. After exploring the northern part of Cyprus, we squatted during several days an abandoned building in Nicosia. As it was a little tough to find showers and to wash clothes, we left the city to go to the mountains of Trodoos, after having found our set of good addresses (cheap beer and cheap bread) and celebrated Arthur’s birthday with a Fabian sick as a green elephant. From small villages to small villages, we stopped to taste the almond tree’s flowers that were filling the sides of the mountain. In Alona, where the streets are protected from the sun with old vines, probably very beautiful in autumn, we‘ve randomly met the old football coach who offered us a shower in Nicosia, surrounded by his childhood friends, and he would apologize that he can’t offer us more than their lunch’s leftovers. After that we meet Doria, a friend from Grenoble, who will have the chance to follow us in our adventures during two weeks and help us in the construction of river dams. Then Fabian, like usual, almost missed his flight, shortly followed by Doria. And we continued the adventure with our super friend Olex from Ukrain, who after breaking the handle of our coffee pot in Antalya, decided to go on with the lid and to burn the camping mat of Arthur when testing the revolutionary sleeping technique of the heating sand (ask us if you are really interested).

After a month without shampoo we found our oasis : four girls doing European voluntary service with a house, a shower, a washing machine, a terrace, and a gay cat. It will become our headquarters during more than a month of going and coming, in the meantime the future is building up.

After having seen a poster of trance festival in the street, we decided to be volunteer: a week of cleaning, building up tents, and three days of music with all the team of Exodus, a bunch of Israelis supported by the Cyprus crew.

Then the dear family of Rémi came to visit us, making possible thanks to « super rented car » to access some remote corners like the gorges of Akavas in the Akamas park. They also, according to our requirements, arrived with more cheese and delicatessen than clothes.

But the Cypriot adventure started to be long, two months, and it was time to find a sailing boat to get to Egypt. We tried everything, every marinas and ports, we got stopped by the police to check that we were on our way to Syria to do the Jihad, and ended up deciding to go through Israel that we initially wanted to avoid. And we finally paid a cargo ship at the very competitive price of 230€, two times more than the plane. But we resisted to the plane and its ridiculously low prices, they didn’t get us yet.

Israel, Palestine, get ready ready to solve your conflict, we are coming!

Fil Topo, Rémi and Arthur.

Some pictures of places we enjoyed.

utds_IMG_1446View on Dipkarpaz Peninsula, Northern Cyprus.

utds_IMG_1201One of Dipkarpaz’s beaches.

utds_IMG_5114Street on the Turkish side of Nicosia. A lot of abandonned buildings to squat in order for a stay in the capital.

utds_IMG_1272Trodoos mountains, here a view of Palaichori vilage.

utds_IMG_1375Squat of an old night club in Paphos. Arthur was fancying to open his new bar there.

utds_IMG_9227Beach in Akamas park.

utds_IMG_1388Pyla, one of the last villages where both Turkish and Greek Cypriots leave in peace.

utds_IMG_9196Capo Greko, North side of the island.

utds_IMG_1570The beach after Akdeniz village, Northern Cyprus.

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This is the end of the lokums

It has been almost two month since we left our flat in Antalya. We had only fifteen days before the end of our Turkish visa. We were intending to extend the limit date before leaving Turkey to Cyprus but we finally left on the last day of the 90 and we don’t regret it because we discovered that the fine is big, even for a short overstay. Our friend Fede had the pleasant surprise of more than 400 lira fine when he wanted to leave Turkey (it’s 400 on the first day, and then it rises slowly).

These last fifteen days in Turkey were quite rough because we had to combine our wishes with the ones of the people who came to visit us, and all of that in a short time. Leaving Antalya with Flo who is staying in Turkey before going to Iran, we also leave the sun for five days of non-stop rain without interval. And we had to wait seven days and the city of Mardin to catch sight of the sun in between the clouds. During that time we get the chance to find shelter in the beautiful castle of Anamur, where we exchange a bit more with Flo. We are perpetuating the tradition we had in our flat in Antalya and take the luxury every evening to light up the shisha in all kind of weather, this time sheltered in one of the caves of the castle.

Flo leaves us quickly to go back to Olympus, where the Winter Hitchgathering, a meeting of hitchhikers, takes place. We stay 24 hours alone before meeting up with Mathilde, a friend from Grenoble, in Adana. If the city has the biggest mosque of Turkey of the galaxy, Adana is mainly known for having the best kebabs of Turkey, and thus of the world. Before Mathilde joins us, we spend there two nights, one in the park of the mosque and the other one in a flat thanks to the super-efficient Turkish hosting network, hosted by the friend of the guy who sells his bread to the grand mother of the guy who couldn’t host us. Or something like that. Mathou will stay ten days with us, will make a round in Kurdistan in the cities of Urfa and Mardin, will properly take care of Fil Topo and will have to undergo our great sense of humour.

Urfa will be the first city in Kurdistan we will stop in. Abraham, or Ibrahim for the Muslims is supposedly born in Urfa and is one of the main character of the three monotheist religions (Christian, Muslim and Jewish). The city made him a big and beautiful mosque and is a place of pilgrimage for many believers. According to the myth, the king of Assyria Nimrod tried to throw him into a furnace that transformed straight away into a pool full of carps that are still here today. Anybody who will try to fish them will turn blind. We camp like kings in between this mosque and the castle that overlook the city. Then we go back on the road after a short stop at Göbekli Tepe, the ruin of the oldest known temple.

In Mardin we had a host, Ibrahim, who showed us the city and the monuments around alongside with his buddy Ibrahim before they both invite us at the restaurant. The old city sits on a high rocky hill and is stunning. But more than the sightseeing and the food, we will have the chance to see the point of view of our Kurdish hosts about their culture, the PKK, the rest of Turkey and Atatürk.

During his student exchange year in Australia Arthur had two roommates, Natacha from Grenoble, and Antonia from Santiago in Chile. Antonia was on a tour in Europe and wanted to go through Turkey so it was natural to meet there. Natacha decided to forget for a second her ecological footprint and jumped in the plane. Mathilde and us will meet them in Cappadocia covered of snow in the small village of Göreme. Two nights spent in a hostel because of snow and ‘glaglaglaitsabitcoldoutthere’ and one fire camp evening including sleeping in a cave. Wikipedia will probably explain you the history of this unique place as good as we would, but it will not describe the very particular atmosphere of this big playground for adults that we visited with wet feet. It was a chance to visit the place with a lot of snow, the uncovered parts creating veins into the white snow.

We leave after four days this mystic and touristic place. Yes, with Istanbul and Pamukkale it is probably the most visited place in Turkey. Whereas nobody, or not far from it, speaks English in Turkey, the village of Göreme has a astonishing density of English-speakers. We used to be proud of our ten words of Turkish and now it feels a bit uncomfortable! Nevertheless it is an amazing place and quite empty in the middle of the winter, and it is totally possible to squat all year long one of the hundreds caves to escape other tourists.

In one day we switch snow for short pants while arriving in the marina in Mersin. The marina officers tell us that in the winter there is almost nobody sailing from Turkey to Cyprus. At this time we decide to take the ferry. We spend our first night in a mosque, which is by the way a good plan for travelers, it is quite warm, there is water, toilets and carpets to be comfy. The day after we meet Fabian in Alanya before going back again to take the ferry in Taşucu. Fabian is a good friend of Rémi who lives in Leipzig in a communitarian house. But we already spoke about it in a previous article!

We spend the night in the city of Alanya before going to sleep on the rooftop of a building under construction, laying under the solar heating system. The six of us come out in the morning between the workers that welcome us smiling. The old town of Alanya starts at the sea and spreads all over the hill with houses that threaten to fall apart if you touch them too much. The sunset from the city wall is simply great and we go down in the dark to split up several hours later, the girls are going back home. Only Fabian and us are continuing the trip, we take a truck that drops us in Mamure Castle that we squatted earlier with Flo. It is very different from the last time when hundreds of milliliters of water were falling each second, and this time we have the coffee in the sun. It is the last day of the 90 spent in Turkey and we had to wait for the Taşucu market to find the best cheese ever eaten in Turkey. This said, Turkish cheeses are generally very good. We thank Turkey to leave us the opportunity to have more surprises to discover next time we come.

We do a world tour without taking planes for several reasons, and one of them is to have a reduced environmental impact. We thus thank strongly Mathilde, Antonia, Natacha and Fabian to come and visit us by plane (they probably would have stayed at home watching TV otherwise) and thus making our carbon footprint explode.

For practical information, it is possible to look for a sailing boat to Cyprus or other from several marinas. From East to West: Fethiye, a bit South-West of Antalya, Alanya and Mersin. Look at these two websites for more infos he he: Wikipedia and another website (in Turkish, but totally understandable).

Paprika, eggs, jam and cheese to all of you.

To see more pictures have a look at the gallery!

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Under the Turkish sun

I want to tell you this small hitchhiking story that happen to me just after we had new year’s eve in Istanbul. Arthur and I decided to split to come to back to Antalya. Arthur is doing a detour on the west of Turkey, and I come back directly through the same road that you took for coming to Istanbul.

In the morning we split in Kadikoy. I take me roughly 20 minutes to understand the bus system of Istanbul, then I get without taking the wrong bus, to a rest area close to the highway. In no time I reach the smaller road that go through Turkey from North to South,from Adapazarı to Antalya, a kind of a big national road.

I sum up small rides quite quickly, each time the drivers are dropping me really in the middle of nowhere, but once again Turkey proves his effectiveness, and every time I don’t wait long.

Well, finding rides is going well, but the problem is that it’s getting cold, the road is going higher in the mountain and I get dangerously close to the snow. Then a truck take me for couple of hours until Afyon, and here we are, the landscape is completely white, I was not expecting to see that much snow in Turkey.

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Making snow men can be fun, but the problem is that I cannot say that I have proper equipment to survive in those temperature. When I get to Afyon, it’s snowing, it’s cold, it’s night. I decide not to stop to find a place to sleep, but to continue no matter what. I get inside the toilets of a mall, and I put as much as possible clothes on me, cosmonaut-style. Four layers for the top, double socks plus plastic bags for feet isolation, hat, scarf, and the gloves that dad gave to me just before leaving Grenoble. Phew! Even if they are thin they really helped me.

Hop back on the road I feel indestructible, I rise my thumb and make big signs to every trucks passing by, hopping that one of them will go to Antalya. During that time snow is gathering on my bag I dropped on the side.

Finally a truck stops, and is going to … Antalya! Youpi! I am saved and under shelter. Inside the truck it’s warm, and the only thing we can see through the darkness, are snow flakes twirling around us, I feel like in a space ship going through snow meteorite fields.

The truck is going up, up on the road covered of snow. Sometimes I am a bit afraid that the truck will slide, but the driver seems to know what is doing. But finally it happen, the truck lightly slide on the road, once, then twice. No more choice, we have to but the chains on the wheels. We are going out of the truck and the snow fall turned into a snow storm. I pull up my scarf to cover my face, to protect from the snow attacking me, carried by violent blasts of wind. In the chaos of the storm my driver give a lamp and make me understand that I need to throw light on him, he opens a trunk on the side and we take out the chains in order to hook them to the huge wheels. After at least twenty minutes of hard work we are finished, but I really feel that he’s not used to do that, the result seems doubtful. We get back in the truck and try to start it, we just do 100m before being stopped, we have to go out again twice to fix the work before the truck decide to go. Slowly.

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We get to some kind of civilization taking the shape of a petrol station, where the driver decides to stop. We get inside a kind of café, where many others truck drivers are there, stuck by the storm. We drink çai after çai, they don’t speak English, I don’t really understand what they are talking about, but finally they explain to me that we have to spend the night here. My driver offers to me a lentil soup, and let me sleep in the truck cab, equipped of a second bed, and overall: heating !

The next day I wake up, everything is white, in some place I can see at least thirty centimetres of snow. We go back to the café, where the driver tell me that we cannot leave before 10 o’clock. Probably the time that the roads are cleaned or that snow melt. He offers me a huge plate of tahin and pekmes with a çai, for a typical Turkish breakfast. Finally we leave around 12. The snow melted a lot, and after half an hour on the road, we can take the chains away. On the roads many cars and trucks are in the ditch, I feel lucky that the driver was careful. I get to Antalya in the end of the day. What a trip1!

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Chilled times in Çanakkale. Or frozen times should I say?

First article without Rémi’s proofread!

Usually the two of us write the articles, 500 words each. Arthur corrects Rémi’s spelling mistakes while Rémi deletes the numerous brackets Arthur loves to use and explains him why his paragraph was not really understandable. This time, total freedom ha ha!

We leave Istanbul after a three-hours night because of small party and to enjoy a last time the flatshare of Kadıköy. Rémi goes East to Antalya and I head West to see Gizem’s uncle and aunt, a friend met in Istanbul. It is the first time we split since the beginning of our trip and of course we cry, we are afraid, but we decide to overcome our anxieties and keep hope that the other will survive.

I reach down the Marmaray, the metro under the Bosphorus. I doze all the way but a dozen of stops before mine, the Marmaray halts and everybody gets out. Aaah, so the dotted lines on the map means that the rails are still under construction, and not that it is an open-air metro. I should have listened to daddy when he told me to read the legend on the maps.

I turn back, new metro, followed by the “metrobüs”, express bus with special lane on the East-West highway that crosses Istanbul. Everytime I have to go out and pay again,  I pay thus four times more than expected but after two hours I am on  the hitchhiking spot seen on hitchwiki.org.

Istanbul spreads out over so many kilometers that it is unrealistic to get out with one car. I have the impression that the best technique is simply to stand on the side of the highway where the cars can more or less stop, and to hop from car to car, each time a few dozens of kilometers. Turkish are not really bothered stopping in the middle of the unstoppable, relatively speaking, so highway is not really a problem!

Begin of the afternoon I am in Tekirdağ which feels really far away from the overcrowded metrobüs of Istanbul. It is cold but the shining sun makes it very endurable. While waiting in front of the the rakı factory, a grape spirit aromatized with anise, awful waves of alcool enter my nose. And God knows I have no problem with alcool. I realize after a long while that I am not on the road I was planning to follow and reach it by foot to be taken five minutes later. Like most of Turkish, my driver does not speak a word of English. He tries to explain me something, and believing in a pipi break, I end up praying at the village’s mosque. After he offers my the Balıkçı, fish restaurant. And naturally after the meal, another shot of prayer.

Although agnostic, however spiritual, the fact of praying does not really bother me, I take it as an experience. Yet coming out of the mosque it is night and that is not cool. I try to explain to the religious men still here that “otobüs yok, OTOSTOP“. I don’t want to take the bus, I want to hitchhike. No, I won’t get attacked by the dogs. And no, I don’t want you to give me your shoes, I have everything I need. It is a lost cause and the driver brings me back to Tekirdağ, insists to pay the bus. Impossible to negotiate whatever so I get into the bus and falls asleep. I wake up on the ferry crossing Europe to Asia and I take some fresh air on the deck. Perfect coordination at the ferry terminal while Sedat, Nürsel and a friend come to pick me up and bring me to their home. Limited English on their side, “turkçe çatpat”, “little Turkish” on mine, but thanks to a great deal of drawing we can drift on all topics.

Next day visit of Çanakkale and its marvelous replica of the Trojan Horse, used in the 2004 American movie. Çanakkale is proud of having been the battle place where French, English and Australians troops and ships were stopped during the First World War, and you can see it. I wander out of the beaten paths and end up in a sort of ghetto full of colors and of trash, dresses drying thanks to the barbwire of the neighbor military camp. During the night I take part in a Turkish folklore music rehearsal with my hosts! Sedat shows me the weather forecast for the next days on the road I want to take. There are only negative temperatures until Antalya and minimums down to -10°C, or even -14°C. It is a global cold spell on all of Turkey. For only equipment, I have a jumper and a slightly wind-breaking raincoat, no problem for the xtrem warriors.

When I leave the next day they give me fruits but more important they present me to my new friends: gloves, hat and scarf of a beautiful grey very trendy in times of USSR. I try to decline but I will realize later that I would have been wrong to manage convincing them. I arrive in Trojan thanks to my thumb but the entree fees are way too expensive and even my admirable persuasion skills will not change the counter clerk’s mind.

So I continue and reach the countryside road of Alexandria Troas and Assos, “antik antik” cities like all Turkish strive to make me understand. Most likely very frequented in summer, these roads are now empty. Every half-an-hour, one car. But every time it stops and one time out of two the driver offers a “çai” – a tea! I must be around 0°C but the sun shines in the perfect blue sky, Renaud and Massilia Sound System, two French bands, walk along with my thanks to some lyrics printed beforehand. I walk, I sing, I visit the ruins on the side of the road until a car comes and drops me further, and from there I start walking and singing again. The landscape is a huge slice of awesomeness. Imagine a green golf court studded with bushes on which giants would have been playing “pétanque” with all-sized rocks and would have forgotten to clean their mess afterwards. From time to time an unrestricted view on the sea with the late afternoon sun reflecting into it. “Çok güzel, doğa dağ denize güzel” – Very beautiful, nature mountain sea beautiful.

Short after nightfall I am dropped next to the main road. Once the sun gone it is over with the cozy breeze. The wind becomes agressive but I manage to reach an even bigger road leading to Izmir, the big city of the West Coast (reprezent the West Coast). I am still 200km away from the city, I have no idea where to sleep and it starts snowing. I guess it is time to find a warm place where to spend the night when out of nowhere a grandpa stops for me and drops me 200km, a döner and a çorba further on the middle of the highway. It is too late to knock on the doors and I decide to continue inch’Allah. At the crossroad I find in 5 minutes another car and then a truck to Aydın. No snow over here and I take refugee on a first floor balcony that is on sale. Cool night, but very endurable, -4°C apparently.

Impossible to wake up before 11h30, I was way to comfy in my sleeping bag; but it is now time to leave. Car by car the snow covered mountains emerge and I find myself very soon waiting in the snow. I wasn’t expecting to see snow before a long time and this white blanket is a visual delight! Little struggle to leave Denizli and I realize I would not like to spend another night outside, and it is still possible to reach Antalya tonight. So I take my Turkish in both hands at the red light and jumping from car to car I find a car in ten minutes.

We start the ascension in the mountain while on our right side all trucks are stopped and have to put their snow chains. While being on a main road, the way is far of being cleared off snow, it is barely packed. I am dropped on a intersection at the mountain pass, far from any village and it is night. Once the last sunset’s shadows on the snow admired, I tell myself that it would be nice to find a car now. I have spotted a petrol station a bit before just in case, but I start taking out my head lamp, red blinking lights on (you see mama, I am careful). Seen the road state the cars drive really slowly and it is only a matter of a quarter of an hour before finding a driver. And eventually, 170km away from Antalya I found my champion who lets me five minutes walking from the apartment.

Actually, adventure is not quite finished because the door is closed and I have no phone number to contact them! I see that there is light on the third floor so I ask a young “telefon internet var ?” to send an email while showing him the closed door. He answers me in English, you can easily imagine my surprise after four days without meeting any English-speaking Turkish!! He invites me in his flatshare for a Turkish coffee while waiting for my unworthy friends’ answer. But let us be honest, they are geeks so before long I have got an answer. I come back home, after having promised to my new friends that we would do a French meal-Turkish dessert and then the revenge, Turkish meal-French dessert. Two new temporary inhabitants are now in the flat but leaving the next day!

So, how was this article without Rémi??

Görüşürüz, I’ll eat one baklava for each of you that reads this article.

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Turkey is a delightful country

We are back in Istanbul to party hard for New Year’s Eve! We stopped there once before for some days after our adventures in the Balkans, and we went down South to find a place to stay two months.

Rémi participates in a project for the best website in the world, hitchwiki.org, a collaborative website for hitchhikers. Existing since 2006, it changed and grew larger in a rather unorganized way. With his buddy Mikael, they decided to start working on a new and shiny version of the website. Thanks to a donation page, enough money is gathered to cover food expenses and to rent a flat. It was decided to take place in the South of Turkey because it is warmer than Europe and it’s on Arthur’s and Rémi’s way.

But let’s go back to Istanbul. Here for the tourists, these expressions are common. “I’m going to Asia”, “-Where is this place? -It’s in Europe”, “Waaah we are crossing from Europe to Asia”. Turkish people simply say they are going “to the other side”.

However according to us, in spite of the distinct geographical separation Istanbul is neither Europe nor Asia. In fact it is a bit of both, a junction-city located between the East and the West transformed little by little by all kind of influences. This might seem unremarkable, but when people say Istanbul is at the crossroads of civilization, it is definitely true. As the minarets’ songs come to our ears in a strange language, we recognize old rock tracks played by young people in the street. A bit further, a Turkish melody creates a dancing circle taking place in front of a Starbucks Coffee.

Luckily, people take us for original Turkish, Arthur with his vietnamese-style eyes and Rémi thanks to his dark skin and his jet-black hair. People in the street ask us were to find the metrobüs or the stadyum, we answer with our most charming accent “turkish yok”, not turkish. But at least, we don’t get harassed like the German tourists, potential preys spotted easily two kilometers in advance by the sharpened eyes of the döner sellers.

We were expecting a bigger cultural choc, but Istanbul is not very representative of the rest of Turkey, it’s an alternative and conservative city, ancestral and modern. We are hosted in Kadıköy, a district of Istanbul at Mathieu, Lena and Alican’s (pronounced Alijan), an explosive German-French-Turkish trio. Mathieu settled down in Istanbul before going to travel further, Lena is doing a student exchange with Erasmus and Alican is a computer developer. It’s an active and activist apartment in which we arrived, the door bell is continuously ringing bringing its flow of surprises and visitors. We are not the firsts hosted in this flat, far from it, the door is always opened to travelers and friends.

During our first stay we visited of course the touristic places, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the ever-crowded Istiklal street. We just escaped Taksim square, center of the 2013 protests launched after the construction plan of building a shopping mall. The demonstrations quickly became a general discontent in response to an always more conservative government. (More about it on Wikipedia.)

But we participated as well at the night life of Istanbul, in the well-hidden pubs of the perpendicular street to Istiklal. A building entrance almost normal, but at each floor a different bar and at the highest perched pub, a terrace. We participate as spectators to a jam session. We realize very soon that beer is expensive, and our budget will quickly explode during these few days in Istanbul.

On Saturday we took part at Food Not Bombs with our hosts. The principle of Food Not Bombs is to gather food that would otherwise have been wasted, to cook vegetarian or vegan meals and to offer it to everybody. The organization is completely independent and each group of Food Not Bombs is free to organize themselves the way they want. We arrive at the Don Quixote squat which has neither water nor electricity and we start cleaning and preparing the fruits ans veggies in the street. At 6pm when the meal is ready, many persons come to share a moment together around the dinner. There are several Food Not Bombs in Istanbul, but this one just started and there is still a bit to work on before the project really takes off. It is a real pleasure to see the investment of all these persons striving to fight against global wasting at a local scale. It is as well a way to create social links and to integrate all kind of different people in a neighborhood. The street is ours, we have to use it!!

After these five days in Istanbul it is time for us to get back on the road, direction Fethiye in the South. We reached this small city in two days of hitchhiking with a night at the side of a toll near Izmir. There we find Mikael and Simona who Rémi knows since a year, as well as our two Iranian hosts. We want to settle down for two months and we want a city with some stuff going on. Fethiye has splendid surroundings and some quarters, with criss-cross stairs and footbridges, attract us. Unfortunately, the five pubs of the center don’t succeed in convincing us that we would like to spend two months here. We arrive thus in Antalya where we meet Federrico an hitchhiker buddy and Ceylan his turkish girlfriend/future wife. During three days we stay at Ceylan’s mother’s house who welcome us like kings, especially Arthur, guess why. Impossible to help for anything and we have our first big slice of Turkish hospitality. Thanks to Mikael’s efficient spamming skills and to our official interpreter Ceylan, we quickly find a flat that fits to our needs. During the first visit the apartment is dirty and not very welcoming, but we adopt it immediately by reorganizing, redecorating, and hanging maps of the world on the walls! We have access to the rooftop for the sunny coffees, between 15 and 20° in December when it is not raining, we can’t complain.

Antalya, although much bigger than Fethiye, is nothing comparable to Istanbul. Touristic coastal city, the activity in winter is close to zero. Many people in the streets, but we are far from the alternative atmosphere of Istanbul. Here tourism prevails on anything else. We organize our everyday life pretty quickly. Rémi and Mikael are coding most of the day, Simona works on her computer and Arthur reads, plays a bit of harmonica and trains for coin magic, an investment for the rest of the trip, in order to make coins disappear on the cafes’ terraces.

One week-end we decide to make an excursion outside of Antalya with two other nomads in transit. We walk three days and 20km out of the 500 which form the Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya. Backpacks, wood cooker, speakers and here we go. We wander from beach to beach and establish campsites in two of them. Campfire to fight humidity, night bath in the middle of the luminescent plankton, morning bath for a nice day beginning and mushroom collect. Back to civilization we cross a strange village, near-all boards written in Russian, deserted of summer tourists. We leave here Monsieur Chien, the dog that followed us during our three-days walk. From there we hitchhike back to Antalya and get back to our daily routine.

It is a real joy to be far from the Christmas magazines, from the Christmas decorations, from the Christmas advertisement. Here in Muslim country, none of this exists. In fact it is that much not in there culture that Turkish say “Christmas” for New Year’s Eve and that Santa Claus can only be seen on the 31st of December! But still true to our Christian heritage, we invite on the 24th our diverse acquaintances to share food from all horizons, with a big floating island for dessert, youpiiiiii!

We decide to spend New Year’s Eve in Istanbul while Mikael and Simona stay in Antalya. After a day of hitchhiking, maybe the best one since the beginning of our trip so far, 700km, a jew’s harp and a phone lost, a lot of food offered including delicious sausages grilled on motor oil and plastic bags, we are dropped in front of the apartment at 23h. This is how we roll

Germans, straight from Germanieland, came to visit Lena and we accept to share our living room with them. Yes, cause since last time the living room became kind of ours. We are in Istanbul so we decide to party, or rather party falls on us. This time, we go through Taksim square and realize we missed it the first time.

New Year is not less than 25 people in the flat, 12 sleeping in the living room and some more spread in all rooms, as well as a big spider crab that Rémi and Arthur share to start the evening, for the greatest delight of all vegetarians attending the party. Sorry Pachamama.

We do another Food Not Bombs session, with a very different organization as the first time. Now meals are not prepared in the squat anymore but in a Marxist café.

Istanbul is superb, but it is time to come back. Arthur goes first to explore Çanakkale while Rémi hitches directly to Antalya.

Great New Year to all our fans, we hope that the Santa Claus brought you present good enough so that you will not have to re-sell them on Ebay, don’t forget to take your resolutions, I believe in you, this year you will keep them, not like last year

Yes, this year you will do sport, lose weight, start guitar, learn spanishissimo, quit smoking and drinking beer. Yes, promised. And if you do it, promise we do it as well.

For more pictures, have a look at the gallery.

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Zigzag in the Balkans (2/2)

Hello my dear loukoums, how are you doing?

In the last article we arrived in Shköder in Albania at Jacques’ place. Our host works early in the morning and we wake up at the same time. The day starts at 6am with a small coffee and a big glass of raki. It is a bit early for fruit spirit and we only drink what politeness requires from us.

With the victory of the Democratic Party in 1992, Albania turns the page on a regime even more closed to the world than the rest of the Balkans were. Its opening to the outside, still marked by the Communist years, is going without control. Since a few years Albania dreams of integrating the European Union and strives to fulfil its conditions, disturbing the geographical but also the cultural landscape. You can have a quick glance of this changes observing the construction speed of the roads and highways, or how fast the petrol stations and hotels are sprouting everywhere. But for us it is a very “typical” Albania that we have found, a great hospitality and kindness. Whereas we rarely waited less than an hour in the rest of the Balkans, in Albania we never stayed more than 5 minutes on the side of the road and we leave, unfortunately too quickly, this country at 10am, when we are usually still in our warm sleeping bags. We get to Kosovo and decide to stop in Prizren, where we have a coffee, stopped by the hip-hop sounds of the place.

Now we are back in the Balkans we know, and we wait a good two hours at the exit of Prizren. The day goes by with 3 drivers, still with plenty of waiting time in between the cars. We have a host in the Makedonian capital Skopje and we are only 50km away. The night falls on the bus stop where we are dropped, it is incredibly cold and no street lamps can make us visible to the drivers. The bus costs 2 Euros and we decide to take it if when it arrives! But it is not now that we will pay for our transportation because a car stops and brings us to Skopje near the Alexander Palace. Where our host Dobre and one of his four room-mate come pick us up and they open us the doors of their student apartment. It is a pleasure to see that everywhere, student apartments are similar and we feel immediately at home, surrounded by our teddy-bear hosts. These two nights allow us to recharge our batteries, to wash one or two underwear, to walk on the boulevard Alexander the Great, to admire Alexander’s statue dominating his four bronze lions, to eat a burger as big as the courage of Alexander. Yes, Makedonia is proud of its national hero. When we leave, we take the Alexander of Macedon motorway and we catch sight of a sign indicating the airport Alexander the Great.

When leaving Skopje to get to Sofia, we didn’t really realize that the border with Bulgaria is at more than 1000m high. We glimpse snow on the summits just above us. After having enjoyed the last sunbeams and having seen them disappear, it is not cold, it is freezing. We try to hitchhike but soon discouraged, we find a shelter in the heated toilets of the customs. We try one more time to hitch, just to see what might happen, and a car stops offering to leave us 20km further, we refuse. At least in our toilets it is warm! The dashboard of the car indicates -4°, we understand why we are cold. Back in the toilets we take care to close the door of our small room in order not to be spotted and take out our sleeping bags, mats and food bag. There is an electric plug, we watch Carne Tremula from Pedro Almodóvar, our backs leaning on the heater. We stop our conversations and our movie whenever a custom officer comes in to relieve himself, when all of a sudden one of them opens the door. Almost without a word he finds his way through our beddings to fill his bottle of water. Apparently hitchhikers are not a problem for the Bulgarian custom, and yet the border police is not really reputed to be the most friendly of all police force.
 
Thanks to an early awakening we join Sofia, capital of the yogurt, in the end of the morning. We find again this city that we visited three years earlier with four other friendzzz during a three weeks trip in Greece, Bulgaria and Rumania, the six of us in a 9-seats car! We find again as well Art Hostel and its relaxed atmosphere, youth hostel/pub in which we spend a bit of the afternoon while waiting for our host that finishes work at 10pm. After the four guys flat-share, we visit now the three girls apartment! Here again we are in a familiar territory, kind of a universal atmosphere, and it is good to be here.

Another early morning (what is happening to us??) et we make it to Istanbul in one day.
Arthur falls asleep in the truck that takes us from the Turkish border to Istanbul while Rémi, with childish eyes, marvels at the size of the city and of its traffic jams. We cross the bridge on the Bosphorus, strait that separates this huge city in two halves. Then dropped at a bus stop on the main road to the East, without any lira (turkish money) in our pockets, we want to join the apartment of Mathieu, our contact living in Kadıköy, a district of Istanbul. We soon understand that Istanbul is not Grenoble size-wise and that walking seems unrealistic. The locals advise us very very strongly to take a bus. Actually we don’t really have a choice. From now on, it is the Turkish kindness that takes care of us: someone explains to the driver that we don’t have money, no problemo. Another one tells us when to get out of the bus. An when we ask for a map at the security guy of the subway, he opens us the gate without asking any money and indicates in which direction we should go. Once arrived in Kadıköy, we ask three young musicians for our way and have to convince them that we will find the apartment on our own and that there is no need to come with us. 1am, Mathieu is not here but Alican his room-mate opens us kindly the door. Finally we are arrived.
See you next time ladies and gentlemen,
Teşekkür ederim !

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Zigzag in the Balkans (1/2)

We decided to spend only two weeks in the Balkans before joining Istanbul for two reasons. First of all because it is cold, and that cold is to the hitchhiker what the Team Rocket is to Pikachu: winter has to be in flip-flops under the Christmas coconut trees. The second reason is that Rémi needs to start an mysterious project beginning of December. But we will talk about it later (more infos on http://love.hitchwiki.net).

Starting in Leipzig on the 13th of November 2014. It is 11am when we start hitchhiking. Every time we step out of a car, we find an other one immediately. We pass Prague and our driver decides to go through the centre by car and we admire the beautiful cathedral, rather cool. Several more cars and we are in Hungary after a short stretch of Slovakia. It is about 10pm when our last car drops us at a gas station next to Budapest. We try a couple hours more and give up. We put our tent a bit further away.

From the next day on we take the habit of an intensive rhythm, waking up at 11am, a one-and-a-half hour breakfast. Even in the army they don’t do that. We love winter because thanks to our busy mornings that make us start hitching between noon and 2pm, we only have three hours of sun before freezing our thumbs. So there we are on the road to Croatia and we are doing pretty well until the border. Night falls and nobody stops so we decide to walk until the next city. It is time for our first Bürek, typical savoury pastry from the Balkans that will soon become our everyday diet.

Now things start to get complicated. It is night since quite a bit now and our first Croatian driver, Igor, invites us for a little cultural discovery of the next local pub. Igor is quite a personality and this one-legged guy in suit offers us some beers, but soon his advanced intoxication level will prevent him to take us further. It’s his girlfriend who will put us back on the road! Our thumbs are just up that we fall again into the classical Croatian ambush by following another local into the bar just a few meters behind. Rémi and Arthur love to take a sip of every culture. And here are our first glasses of raki served. It is only a few beers after that we will walk proud and strong to find a random camping place, with for only help our determination and two bottles for the road.

The two-hour breakfast gone, we join a huge and empty toll that will be the lecture room of Professor Arthur. Night starts to fall, as usual, but a hero brings us on the way to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and another one to the border. We cross by foot the bridge crossing the Sava, border river between Croatia and Bosnia, the atmosphere has something magical: the fog created by the humidity transforms into white waves at each truck passing. Several groups of young Bosnians dressed with shining clothes and covered of make-up are going to spend the Saturday night in Croatia. Our camp site will be established in a kind of swamp that has nothing to envy to the ones of the Mordor.

Things are getting even more complicated now but not because of the pubs put on our way. The hitchhiker, especially when he takes the appearance of two young males with beard is, according to the locals, someone that you cannot trust or even someone dangerous. Maybe it is because of the recent conflicts in the Balkans that continue to affect minds. Moreover we are in winter, out of the tourist season and are therefore “suspects”. This is at least our theory, in the absence of anything better.

Two amusing rascals, totally non-English-speaking, ask us to sing our national anthem “La Marseillaise” and drop us at night on a highway crossroad. A quick look allows us to tell that this place is really shitty. We are about to join a better spot when Haris stops in the middle of the cross and drops us in the middle of Sarajevo after inviting us for a quick internet-cafe at his place! We hide our backpacks in the bushes in order to carry more beer to visit the city by night. After, having no hosting, we hop up in the first tram that passes by and go out randomly to find beautiful abandoned buildings that we will be our fortunate hotel for the night.

After Sarajevo it is Mostar and its incredible bridge, symbol of the Balkans, that we are aiming. The good side of winter is that we are alone in a usually overcrowded city during the summer. Once arrived, our feet lead us to a platform next to the river where we pitch our tent.

The intense rain and the fear of water rising make us leave our spot in a speed of about 2,800 m3/s. Out of Mostar we wait three hours and end up walking the 11 kilometres that should bring us to the cross, leaving the more touristic road on our right. Until here, the day was quite lame. Once again, we had to wait for THE only cool person of the area, this time taking shape of an old Amercian Volvo. Inside, daddy fan of France and his car, and his lovely daughter future lawyer. This Volvo was not a car, it was a shelter zigzagging between the stars, following the rhythm of the warm and hearty talks.

It is night again and we are stuck 40 kilometres away of Montenegro on the « Official Hitchhiking Spot » until the falling sun the following day. But the fortress of Kotor opens us its doors in the beginning of the evening, revealing narrow streets and maze-like stairs, all empty of the usual summer visitors. We spot an abandoned house, or should I say a three-floor manor, with terrace, swimming-pool, palm and orange trees. Our surprise was great when we saw that our delicious castle had no floors, and impossible to drop our stuff under the beams that could fall on our coffee maker (our heads are strong enough to resist). But the veranda is in an perfect state and before long will be transformed into a improvised clothes hanger for our soaked equipment of the last two days.

Finally we can have a breakfast in T-shirt on our sunbathed terrace, which provides an XXL view of the mountain and the bay, as a promise of a great hitching day. Result, 100 kilometres of wait and struggle, before being blocked again, 35 kilometres away of Albania.

The next day does not look much better. It is night already and we have done 30 kilometres. But as always in hitchhiking, there is a hero: this one is called Jacques Chirac, an Albanian builder that makes us cross the border and then invites us at his place with home-made raki and goat yoghurt, giant garden, fresh picked hazelnuts… The first part of our tough Balkan trip ends with him. Nine days of tent, one unique shower in the freezing river of Mostar, and we thus appreciate our first meal in a home. But don’t worry we didn’t stink cause it’s winter so zero elbow smell.

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