Back in Egypt blues

I had plenty of time to reflect on things on the flight back. The plane was two thirds empty, probably an accurate reflection on the current state of tourism in Egypt. I read a National Geographic article speculating that genetics might explain why some people are compelled to seek out distant horizons. I cogitated on my restless genes as the golden light of a beatific sunset suffused the cabin.

A year ago I was also leaving England in a haze of emotion intensified by a hangover. The anticipation of the unknown was replaced this time by weariness and wariness.

Downtown Cairo

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A year on; still no direction home

It’s been a year since leaving home in a cavalcade of anger and fear. The date slipped by unnoticed some time last week. Nothing momentous to mark the occasion; there was no call to celebrate or otherwise mark the date.

Hitchhiking up the South Island on a gloriously clear autumn day, I caught a lift from the third car that passed. Two strangers, both Campbells, and a slobbering labrador; all the way to Christchurch in a single ride. Stopping at Tekapo it seemed as though Aotearoa was showing me her finest face and I was acutely aware of how much I would miss home.

I stayed the night in Christchurch, drinking a couple of boxes of beers with an old friend, trying to quash the queasiness over my imminent departure. An unhealthy cocktail of emotions and motivations made me think I would be happier elsewhere. As it turned out, I could get away from everything but myself.

A year of travel to a dozen countries. New friends, exciting experiences, schemes hatched then abandoned unincubated. Plans for the future. Home always in the back of my mind.

Tae a wairua te motu huia, O Tararua i runga.

Park Valley at dawn, Tararua ranges

In spirit do I visit the groves of the Huia, on Tararua, those mountains to the south.

The books we carry

Listen Robert, going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.

I had read it before but couldn’t resist the offer of a free book. To be sure it had seen better days; a rumpled paperback copy of The Sun Also Rises. Certainly of no pecuniary value; as well-travelled as an old suitcase, its loose leaves stuck back in place at different times with tape and glue. And like a battered steamer-trunk it bore the marks of its passage around the world; a price written in some unknown currency, the stamp of a second-hand bookstore in Delhi, and an inscription inside the front cover explaining its most recent rehabilitation. The message read:
The mother of all piss trips
Bought and repaired 13/11/2011 for INR150 from a street vendor in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India by J B Pearce and S G Stephens
The book had made its way to Nepal in a fellow traveller’s backpack. Now I was its guardian, for the time it would take me to read its yellowed pages at least.

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Snapshots of Syria

Daily news reports of more violence in Homs; grainy video shows explosions and be-rubbled concrete. I was there, I think. But really, was I? The name familiar but the town recalled now only in the broadest brush strokes, memories reduced to a series of vignettes.

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Welcome to Sharm El Sheikh

“Welcome to Sharm El Sheikh.”

A man dressed in a black dish-dash and wrapped in a keffiyeh gestured me to sit with his friends at the coffee stall.

“What you want my friend? Beer? Hasheesh?” the waiter asked.

“No, a tea and a sheesha.”

The waiter lapsed into Arabic but I guessed he was asking my flavour preference. I paused, trying to remember the word.

“T-t-tuffaha? Apple?”

“Yes, yes my friend no problem.”

Scanning the room for food options I saw a man with a plate.

“And a sandwich?”

“Yes, yes, sandwich. Sandwich meat, sandwich chicken?”

“Sandwich meat.” Read the rest of this entry »

Escaping India

I boarded the train and found my seat. I switched my laptop on and settled in for the three and half hour ride back to Mumbai. A dozen or so episodes of Arrested Development later and I started to wonder when we would arrive. A man came past selling meals. People started folding down the bunks. This was concerning; Mumbai was the end of the line and we were supposed to have arrived 15 minutes ago.

“Where are you going?” I asked the moustachioed man sitting next to me in a purple shirt. He had noticed me looking nervously out the window for Mumbai’s skyline.

“Trivandrum. Where you go?”

“Umm, Mumbai…” I replied, realising even as I said it that I was certainly not going to Mumbai.

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A visit to a slum

In the heart of Mumbai, squeezed by the V formed by the Western and Southern trainlines is 175 hectares of some of the most densely populated land on the planet. One million people live here, in one of Asia’s largest slums – Dharavi. For the past seven years, companies such as Reality Tours and Travels have been guiding tourists through the slum.

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