Air from the far land Posts

False start

Blocked in the jam by an accident, I miss my plane to Venice, where I was supposed to start this adventure… Difficult exit from the airport followed by a night in the tent in Villepinte suburbs.
Then I go East to get definitely out of Paris, hitchhiking is slow, I turn South, to Troyes and finally Dijon where I sleep in a cherry tree orchard (better than the suburbs). Just before, a family having a picnic gives me the food they couldn’t finish. Nice move but I feel a bit more homeless.
Next day a beautiful lady takes me to Mâcon, and I join somehow Geneva area under the rain… I stay there two days to recover, and I move to Chamonix tunnel, Aoste valley, in direction of Milan, with Franck the Irish truck driver.
I reach Como lake and hitchhiking is difficult again… a woman, fifty years old, a small steaming car, tells me they are “all old rich dumb guys voting right wing”. It’s not me telling it ahah.

Then I spend one full day along the lake, hosted by Luca, a teacher, and his two cats. He tells me “Garda lake is awesome”, I go there and it’s awesome. 100% German and Dutch people though, big expensive cars without any glance to the hitchhiker. Poor people. Around this lake there are fences and houses all around, with unwelcoming cameras and dogs, impossible to sleep for free. It’s night already and I’m still too shy to ask people if they can host me. So I don’t sleep and therefore I take sunrise pictures, and I stay the whole day watching the lake and an eagle fishing, with icecream, panini, cocktail and soccer match, and then go to a camping for the next night. Storm. The 1979 tent is still waterproof. I’m happy.
I can only leave in the afternoon, and nobody to take me in their car. I walk, I walk, two people help me for a few kilometers. I finally block in front of a highway gate. 1 hour and still nobody helping. No shelter, and second storm. Goretex saves me.
Finally a guy feels some pity, it’s an half french oenologist! It’s nice to talk a bit. He drops me in Verona, a beautiful city! Where I write you from a youth hostel…

To be continued!

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First steps in the Balkans

Croatia !
First touristic discovery: the big mac costs 5 euros here. Nothing else on the rest area, shame on me.

Let’s go back: a choir of young girls was sleeping in the same hostel, and their rehearsal woke me up in the morning. Verona is left quickly, followed by the voice of these little singers I escape directly to Venice. Olive trees, grapes, rice paddles…and biker gangs. “Here they are calm, in Sicilia however…”. Ok. People seem to live in an awful dangerous world. But it’s not the one I see myself.
I land in a village on South Venice coast, impossible to hitchhike any boat. When I’m finally in the city it’s traffic jam in the canals: I’m passing by a Saturday during La Biennale di Venezia. Good choice, so good that the evening there is no hotel, no hostel, no friend for less than 100 euros. Therefore I befriend a bench, but beware! Bench with view on the sea, without rose sellers or couple close by. Qualitative. At least, when the sun rises, I am alone on St Marc square.

The afternoon I move in direction of Trieste, which I reach quickly thanks to Pedro Cazanova, the great Portuguese DJ and Regina. Cool guys! I’m converted to house music…
The Austrian Trieste! Thanks to François my host, Julio and their Erasmus friends I spend two amazing days. Beach, party, visiting this peaceful and nice city. We do a Catalan meal, including cakes and so on, I already prepare my semester in Barcelona this autumn. Good timing!

However I have to quit them yesterday to go to Rijeka, but I first stop by Ljubljana. Small sympathetic city , but it’s difficult to get out! Too many bears. Hopefully, a women tribe brings me to Croatia. But when I ask the little girl among them to draw me… it’s a disaster. The thumb is too big, bigger than my head. I therefore ask them to drop me immediately, and I jump in a field. A field full of ticks, due to this hare forcing my tent in the dawn. I delouse, itch myself, gesticulate etc. It’s a savage life. It’s East. They don’t even have euros, I cannot even pronounce the cities’ names and it’s not helping to hitchhike…
I love complaining.
It’s morning, and I could reach Rijeka! There I’m supposed to meet someone on a big sailboat and discover Croatian islands together. Yes.

I tell you next time if it’s a joke.

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Croatian coast

Hello!

The cruise lasts half a day only. The bora, the local wind, was too violent… However my host is a really interesting person, he discovered new species of plants in tropical forests when he was younger, he travelled in Arctic ocean, or even hitchhiked seaplane in Canada. A “real man”. Together we try to fish in the harbour with a line and a hook, that’s an adventure.

After four days of bad weather I am in Pag, where I meet young people under ecstasy, really nice therefore. The tourists are not here yet, and they try to sober up a depressive winter, before the full season. Their life rhythm depends on tourism, there is not much to do here. They have one speciality though, a cheese salted thanks to the sheeps grazing iodic grass.
A guy among them invites me to stay in his home, and I try as well as I can to help him get along with his brother. This one came back from abroad after a few years having fun, while his brother was taking care of the family business. The destiny of most of people here is a tragedy, between war, alcoholism, unemployment and tough winters.

Next days I meet cathedral workers, I hailed them in a gas station, and they make me discover their job and host me in their settlement. Then a Croatian barman, a Swiss and his van… With this Swiss guy, Adrian, we take a Canadian and an Australian girl along the road. We camp together along the coast, we visit Dubrovnik and then continue to northern Albania to visit mountains after 100km of bad track. On the road we can watch local mafia, tough children, wooden carts and Mercedes cars.

Still with Adrian, I am hosted by a family in the countryside of Tirana. Their children try to exchange with us in English and one of their daughters won’t go to school next day, to stay as a translator… A proper reception!

See you

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Mafia and austerity

Ouf we are out of Albania and back in Eurozone!

In Albania, on the road, there is something like 2 gas stations per kilometer. They probably cut it with oil, and taxes get lost somewhere, little devils. And the number of men sitting in cafes is as impressive as the absence of women in the street.
About Tirana, it’s hell! But we can finally see girls on the streets and there we can communicate with klaxons: it’s awesome. Lots of policemen: “before, with democrats, it was worst, but socialist put pressure on people” says Facion, compositor of symphonic dubstep with lyric voice. “There is pressure here ?” I say.
Policement are not doing their job at all, they just move plots, especially to prevent us as Swiss citizens to use the Swiss embassy’s parking.

The next morning we meet the high society of Albania, in company of Alket Islami and Miss Albania 2010, and we talk about paragliding, my friend’s hobby. I have big class, I’m in flipflop.
Finally I say goodby to Adrian to go in direction of Macedonia. After some trouble at the border, some deceitful guys squeeze 20 euros out of my wallet (it had to happen)…

Macedonia! Ohrid is nice from the hill I climbed, but in the city they harass you to propose hostel & co. It’s a bit disturbing but they do what they can to live, and as in Greece, as they have not been like Albania isolated for decades, they forgot how to cultivate the soil. So “if they have no job, they die from starvation, for real” says Mile, taxi driver. After a night in Bitola, in a camp apparently belonging to the army, I recover from a stressful awakening due to soldier’s running. Not seen, not caught.

And I arrive in Greece! Thanks to a young farmer whose sister is born the same day as me, it’s crazy. Amyndeo, a lake, a local wine. I sleep and then I leave early to Olympus mountain where I am now. Weather is not that great, and the top of the mountain is icy and partially covered with snow. I will check tomorrow and decide if I climb it, it would be a nice birthday gift.

Then I will continue to Bulgaria, Romania, the Black Sea coast and Istanbul.

Safe road to everybody!

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Eastern Europe

Well, Olympus mountain is a failure, there is a storm on it. Therefore I stay human.
After a short stay in Thessaloniki with young artists, I am blocked in the middle of the highway in direction of Sofia. A weird guy dropped me there. Sometimes people help awkwardly.
After four hours of unsuccessful hitchhiking, I try to reach the closest village 10km away.
Wild dog packs are wandering around, a pervert guy finally hosts me but I have to run away early in the morning. Finally the next day a Bulgarian family takes me directly to Sofia.

There I am hosted by a nice welcoming couple and I visit the city with them, and eat eat eat… As a consequence I would have loved to stay, but the duty calls me and I finally go to Veliko Tarnovo. I go to the concert of Piff, a band well known in the region, and I meet there many expats.

I stay two days in this historical city, capital of an old empire, and I leave to Bucharest where a Romanian couple speaking good French hosts me. I walk in the city and I turn around the huge Ceaucescu’s Palace of the Parliament. Impressive and terrible.

Next day I am in the Carpates in Breaza where I enjoy my time with a nice old couple. They are both disabled and they fight hard to have a decent life. The woman speaks French and we have interesting talks about their situation. I say goodbye and I go South to the Black Sea coast.

On the road I meet a man coming back home after 8 years in UK, he is so eager to meet his old friends… I also meet a cameraman of Romanian television, talking about media in his country, and some gipsies taking me to Constanta but finally asking for 20 euros. They threaten me to call the police, lie to people around me, but they don’t dare to go further. An English speaking taxi driver helps me, and I escape without much trouble.
Else I’m fine!

In Constanta I stay with a young couple involved in Hospitality Club for years. The man studied in France and explains me his feelings when he discovered Western Europe. He thought it would be modern, clean and beautiful, but he met with social housing and old buildings in concrete. Differences are in the details.

I am now going along the coast back to Bulgaria, I should be in Istanbul in a few days.

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Ottoman people

Some news finally!

After two days in Constanta, some rest and running along the beach with my hosts, I go to Varna. There a couple hosts me in a small house lost in the hills, we pick cherries, their cat swim in the pool… I meet two other French guests, and the girl speaks Bulgarian fluently after 4 months spent in the country. It’s impressive!

I sleep in Burgas one night and after a coffee break with a whole team of bus drivers I go toward Istanbul. On the road I meet a French guy on his bicycle and a German hitchhiker. This one left his home for one year to reach Malaysia. He has a 25kg bag and it’s his first day hitchhiking. I am quite happy to find someone crazier than me.

After some lifts we meet a Turk apparently communist with whom we sing Comandante Che Guevara and other songs… then it’s hell: Istanbul. We think we are in the city but the center is 20km away. We finally find our way and I leave my German friend in his hostel to meet Clementine and her flatmate Burak. Two days to visit, too much to see!
Then I have to exit the city. Hellish again. I finally take the ferry to reach the other side of Marmara Sea, to the South.

I pray in the mosquee of a small town 100km away, welcomed by the owner of a bakery. Then I escape to the hills in order to camp with a nice view on the lake. I take the wrong path and I discover the local dump. Dead cow along the road and wild dogs everywhere. Fortunately they run away in the bush, these ones are less dangerous than grandmas’ pets.
I take another way and I find a shepherd shelter in a valley. The shepherd welcomes me and lets me alone to reach the city. It’s time for iftar (Ramadan meal).

The next two nights I stay with hosts in two big cities on my way to Cappadocia. Nothing special except endless beautiful hills, and the habit of drivers to buy me food. I eat 4 times a day but I cannot refuse, can I? And there is also this guy showing me the picture of his daughter and ten minutes later telling me he goes to Konya to visit a prostitute. I am probably his good move of the day to compensate this bad one. Is it moral to stay in the car ? The time to think and we did 200km.

I remember also this old man along the road who offers me two tomatoes, this one hosting me and giving me so much food for my trip. And these little girls, they want a photo and they tell me “France” “Newspapers” “Television”. Little stars’ dream. I am sorry i’m not journalist, I can only promise a few lines on a blog.

Finally I reach Göreme! Cappadocia. I sleep in the mountain and I enjoy the sunrise, awakened by the whistle of some balloons. I avoid tourists as well as I can and I get lost in caves and rocks.

Tomorrow I go to the South East, in kurdish area. Other tramps hitchhiking from Georgia to Istanbul give me some tips in this area.

Let’s see!

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Are you kurdish, turkish or both ?

I left you in Cappadocia, now I am in Tbilissi in Georgia. 

Many things happened since then, first during my stay in Malatya, the capital of apricot. I stayed two days with a muslim family, kurdish, armenian and turk altogether. A nice mix which allowed me to learn the dances of each people… I also discovered Ramadan, I stayed up until 3am, eating a lot, and in the street guys hit drums on the back of their scooter to maintain people awaken. We visit the city and we ride bikes the next evening to eat lahmacun in a small village in the hills. Nice environement!

Next day I shake 15 hands, I talk with my hands, and I end up doing motorbike with Hasan toward Adıyaman. We follow the curves of the road in beautiful mountains, amazing…
There I sleep in his brother’s home, the 4th one I meet. It’s still far from the unbeaten record of 17th, but it’s a good start.

Then I go to Mardin, the Syrian border is 20km away. I meet a group of friends collecting coins in shops to help refugees. These refugees are everywhere, women asking for charity at the intersections, and I see camps everywhere in Eastern Turkey. At the same time, here as everywhere in Kurdish area, armored vehicles are in movement on the road. A column of trucks is filled with soldiers and they look at me so manly… I’m a tourist guy, not a terrorist.
In Mardin I finally meet professional musicians with whom I play guitar all night, alternating French and Kurdish songs. I am happy to find a guitar and to discover a foreign music so intimately.

The next day I go to Hasankeyf, one of the oldest metropolis in the world, it is so beautiful. Landscapes along this road are unbelievable! This is the Middle East of movies. Desert and dust in the wind, oasis and cliffs. I spend one night in Batman, with a photographer, and the next day when I prepare myself to leave the city a civil car stops by me. The guys show me a police ID: “don’t stay here, it’s very dangerous”. I almost tried to do a joke about the city’s name, but they don’t find it funny… And they’re probably right.

I’m on my way to Agrı! It’s difficult to find a host there and I first stay in an hotel. But Ramadan nights are long and I drink so much tea with influential guys, apparently. One of them is a civil policeman, he takes his gun out of his underpants to prove it, and an English speaking guy tells me he learned English driving in Istanbul and abusing tourists. Frank people. Crazy atmosphere. Too much tea, drink with moderation.
After a few hours and a short negotiation with the owner of the hotel, they bring me in Audi to dormitories for students belonging to one of them. Nice!
Next day a student sees me on the street and invites me to his shared flat.
These examples show to what extent people are welcoming here, so much more than in Western Europe. Every driver proposes something to eat, drink, smoke, whatever they have in their car… when they don’t stop expressly to buy something. For instance this kilogram of cherries seeping in my bag a whole afternoon.

I have to precise too how important it is for them to tell if they are Turkish or Kurdish. Some do this V sign, symbol of Kurdish independence, some nationalists or kemalists do fronthead kisses. Other do this “wolf sign” which is something like the european hard rock “hell sign”. It seems quite tense between these groups, even if the huge majority of people I met is tired of this bloody fight between PKK and nationalists.

In Igdir I sleep at the foothills of Ararat mountain (hi Noah!), I meet an officer of Kurdish rebellion, take some photos and jump the next day in a truck which brings me directly to Georgia.

The truck driver is adorable. He smokes resin though, and he has scars everywhere… he made it when he tried to quit drugs. Finally we become bros, after two breakdowns in the hills. He offers me a meal and even three t-shirts.

Well, finally I reach Georgia where I spend my first night with a linguist and his wife, we talk about Sumer empire etc. In the morning they ask for 15 euros. However I precised last evening I needed to find a shelter for free. They forced their way… They cleaned my clothes and offered me breakfast, I have to pay, but I tell them what I think and leave them disappointed. It changes from Turkish hospitality.

Beyond this episode, I quit Islam to Christian world. No muslim around anymore, and facial features change all in a sudden.
I will stay one week in Georgia before I come back to West. This trip looks finally like a European tour.

Iyi günler!

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Green Caucasia

I’m back in Istanbul!

Georgia is almost as welcoming as Turkey finally, with landscapes so green that we could probably find the same in France. And so many cows, sheeps and dogs…

There are three kinds of dogs here: the street dog starving who doesn’t have enough energy to run after you, the well fed pet defending his garden, and the terrible shepherd dog. Well… I’m tired of dogs. One attacked my tent at nightfall, another run to me full of rage because I’m 200m from the cows, and so many others yelling all night. Where are the masters ?

Else Georgia is full of hills and mountains. I have been to Omalo for instance, driving four hours on a track: the driver had good taste, listening to Queen, Pink Floyd and Gregorian songs. It fits the amazing atmosphere, the road crossing the clouds, the falls, and these isolated workers trying to repair a road attracted by the chasm… The Pyrenees in bigger, far bigger.

Another good moment, I spent four days with a family after I asked to the grandfather a place for my tent. We beheaded chicken together, and swim with all the youth of the village in the torrent.

Then many nights under the tent, some bad weather, Tbilissi a strange place between the city and village, some bread mixed with cheese (rajapuri), wine, vodka, Russian and Ukrainian people… South Ossetia, Abkhazia and many Armenian people.

Batumi is a party city, with some huge Dubai-style towers. All the youth of the country gathers there, and they meet with Turkish and Russian tourists. I spend my evening on the beach, the sun falling on the water in front of me.

I wanted to go through Ukraine on my way back, but without passport it’s impossible. I go backward, toward Turkey, this time along the Black Sea. Huge queue at the border but I finally go through and find three crazy Turkish guys who take me directly to Istanbul. I hesitate as it prevents me to visit this part of Turkey, but I’m out of time and I prefer to spend it in Europe. 1250km in one night, in Taksim square at 5am. 160km/h on average including red lights… following ambulances and competing with other Mercedes and Audi. At the same time fascinating, terribly dangerous and reckless. I won’t do it again.

In Istanbul I stay a few days in Tugce’s and Serap’s flat and I discover Bogaziçi University and the North of the city. I leave finally, and to give some consistency to my trip I go in direction of Belgrad, in order to reach Paris through central Europe visiting new countries.

My time is however limited, I plan to reach France before the 6th of August.

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The immigration road

I’m back in Paris!

From Istanbul it was a long road. I was hosted first in the farm of a Turkish guy, breeding beefs. We visited the countryside together on his motorbike, it was a great experience.

Then I went through Sofia and met the couple who already hosted me on my way. It was really nice to see them again!
In Belgrad direction hitchhiking was complex. I was dropped in the middle of the highway 30km from the Capital, and I waited 4h under the sun before an old couple could take me to the city. There I meet some young people. One is passionate about military history and we visit the local museum together.
I sleep in his home and I leave in the morning to reach Budapest. To go out of Belgrad is complex too, and I have to stay one night in Novi Sad. I drink a glass of wine with a couple and I find an hostel. The city is really nice, with an historical center and a fortress. Every summer there is a huge festival here, called “Exit”. In the hostel there is a North Korean girl… I won’t know more about her, but it arouses my curiosity.

I enter Budapest by night. But i’m not in the center. A car stops and the driver invites me in his home. It’s a sportsman and he is living as a trainer, skipper, or working in summer camps… We drink a local beer together on a hill with a nice view of the city, a great time!

Around Vienna, my driver did all the way to offer a gift to his mom. So cute. I stay there one night in a big shared flat, with Mira and her international friends, Guatemalan, Australian… We debate a lot. The next day I visit Salzburg and I sleep in the house of an opera singer in a village closeby. I also chat with her neighbour, hydroelectric engineer, who invited me for a beer. I stay in Salzburg one more day and I can enjoy a festival displaying operas on big screens. Unfortunately I cannot reach the village of my host and I have to sleep in a park in the city. I wake up early and I go to Munich in Germany, the last country on my way.

Here I have to tell you how many Syrians and Afghans are sitting in the station areas or in public squares… I am on the so-called “Balkan road”. These immigrants look completely lost, there are mostly men but there are also some families. It reminds me these camps in Turkey. It’s not the same people though, here in Europe they wear modern clothes and they have most of the time smartphones. In Turkey there were more shepherds dressed with traditional black clothes, and far more women. They don’t have the same means here and there.
I also met some of them in Istanbul. Young guys with engineer diplomas working as bartender. It’s difficult for me to have any political opinion about this, I like geopolitics and this phenomenon is full of ethical and economic contradictions. I lived a little bit like an homeless guy the past months and I can only maintain that it’s a difficult situation, and whatever policies the governments come up with, most of them will succeed to cross the borders anyways.

It’s too serious a topic to be developed here, but I would be glad to talk about it if you contact me.

In Munich I spend one night with a 50 year-old couchsurfer who looks in his 30s. He meets me in a festival, where I discover the crazy atmosphere of a hard rock scene. He is with two korean girls he met earlier on the street, they are plugging their ears. The situation is funny. This guy was a great metal guitarist in the past, and he turned to play flamenco now. Else, he earns his life being a psychologist. He seems to enjoy his life a lot!

Next step: Ulm. A young guy of my age hosts me, and we spend a nice evening with his friends. The next day I initiate him into hitchhiking and we do one kilometer, my shortest lift ever. We reached the river upstream to go back down to the city center on an inflatable boat. Awesome! The Danube is only thirty meters large and we can see the pebbles and the trouts. By the way, each summer you have a huge music festival on inflatable boats going through the city.

Unfortunately I have to leave this nice place to reach France, and I am quickly in Strasbourg. I’m hosted in a sharedflat and I spend my evening with a group of artists doing a barbecue in a community garden.

Finally in Paris, back to square one.
It’s difficult to get in though, as most of the drivers turn around the city. Therefore I take a regional train and I meet my friend Hengrui who hosts me for this last night.

End of the story! Thanks to all the people I met and who helped me a lot. I hope I can see you again.
To my French friends, do not hesitate to invite me if you want some travelling anecdotes… I will share photos soon.

See you!

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First Impressions

Here we go. We landed yesterday evening in Jakarta, Indonesia.

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As we prepared for this trip we wrote “be careful, strict control for drugs, print justifications”. But nobody checked anything… We went through the security without scanning our luggages, which was true for us only. Discriminated, already. It’s not fair, but it’s probably a way of being welcoming. Two steps further taxi drivers jump on us. Welcome to Indonesia!

The bus station of the airport is full of life. Soon, through the windows we discover for the first time green and humid landscapes, with some building popping here and there from slums to skyscrapers.

Arriving in the center, we decide to reach our host’s house on foot. Armies of scooter are dancing around us. There is neither pedestrian crossing nor pavement as a rule. That’s hell for us. We end up with understanding we have to force our way, hand toward the cars, and challenge the continuous flow. Klaxons raise all around in the air.

People we asked for a direction show us ways with so much determination, however they usually didn’t get anything we said.

img_5439Three hours later we crossed a slum along a canal, a Ferrari licence and a huge mall covered by coloured screens. Exhausted by such contrasts, we finally reach our goal. It’s completely dark.

Rama welcomes us cheerfully in his house, along a peaceful and green alley. This evening we will try for the first time durian, with such a strong taste, goat meat, and chips made of an unknown root. A selfie with the family, with a pine tree in the backgound and a Christmas kind of song, and we slip into our beds.

I just forget : rain stopped as we went out the airport, but mosquitos and heat are still there. 32 degrees here…

To be continued!

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