Dancing at the Blood Festival

Blood Fest

Since I hadn’t had time to change my clothes that morning, I arrived at the Jordanian customs station in Aqaba with the bloodstains still on my pants. The blood had dried to the point where I didn’t look like a fresh mass murderer, but no doubt I appeared a bit odd walking through the ferry station with scallop-edged black droplets on my boots and crusty brown blotches soaked into the cuffs of my khakis.

The blood was from the streets of Cairo, which at the time had been in the midst of celebrations marking the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice, known locally as the Eid al-Adha.

As with everything in Cairo, the Eid al-Adha was an inadvertent exercise in chaos. For the entire week leading up to the holiday, the alleys and rooftops of the city began to fill up with noisy, nervous knots of livestock brought in for the feast. Cairenes paid little mind as cattle munched clover outside coffee shops, goats gnawed on empty Marlboro packs in alleyways and skittish sheep rained down poop from apartment building balconies. For Egyptians, this preponderance of urban livestock was part of the excitement of the feast — and it was certainly no stranger for them than putting a decorated tree inside one’s house in anticipation of the winter holidays.

In Islamic societies, the Eid al-Adha is a four-day feast that commemorates Abraham’s near murder of his son, Ishmael, to prove his obedience to God. Since tradition tells us that Allah intervened at the last minute and substituted a ram for Ishmael, Muslim families celebrate the Eid by slaughtering their own animal for the feast.

Consequently, on the first morning of the Eid, all of the thousands of sheep, cows and goats that have been accumulating in Cairo during the week are butchered within the span of a few bloody hours. In keeping with tradition, devout Islamic families are instructed to keep a third of the butchered meat for themselves, give a third to friends and family and distribute the final third to the poor. For Muslims, it is an honorable ritual.

For infidel visitors to Cairo, however, the Feast of the Sacrifice seems much more like a Monty Python vision of pagan mayhem. This has less to do with the intent of the holiday than with the fact that Cairo is a very crowded city where almost nothing goes as planned. Thus, on the first morning of this year’s Eid, the lobby of my hotel resonated with vivid secondhand reports of gore: the lamb that panicked on the balcony at the last minute and avoided the knife by tumbling five stories to the alley below, the cow that broke free from its restraints with its throat half-slit and lumbered through the streets spraying blood for 10 minutes before collapsing, the crowd of little girls who started puking as they watched the death spasms of their neighbor’s sheep.

Regardless of how accurate these stories were, there was no disputing that free-flowing blood was as common as Christmas mistletoe on the first morning of the Eid. By the middle of that afternoon in Cairo, puddles of blood stood like rainwater around drainpipes, and doorjambs and minivans alike were smeared with clotted red-brown handprints.

I’ll admit that there is much more to the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice than public displays of carnage. Unfortunately, Cairo has a way of drawing one’s attention away from nuance and subtlety. By the end of the day, I was so accustomed to seeing blood that I didn’t even realize that my pants and boots had been stained until I boarded an overnight bus headed for the Gulf of Aqaba.

For most Westerners, Islam is a religion that doesn’t quite make sense. No doubt this is largely the result of the Western press, which tends to portray Islam only in terms of its most extreme and violent factions.

When I first traveled to the Islamic world earlier this year, I’d hoped that the Arabs’ legendary hospitality would break down such barriers to religious understanding in a direct and personal way.

After 10 weeks of traveling through Egypt, I’d found that Islamic hospitality more than lived up to its reputation: Most of the Muslims I’d talked to were amiable, kindhearted people who practiced their faith with natural sincerity. By the same token, however, none of the Muslims I’d met seemed to know why they were Muslims; they just instinctively knew that their faith allowed them to live with a special sense of peace. Whenever I tried to qualify this faith in objective terms, people became defensive and impatient with me.

Reading the Koran didn’t help. Perhaps when studied in its classical Arabic form, the Koran is a heart-pounding page turner. Its English translation, however, has all the narrative appeal of a real estate contract. Nearly every page is crammed with bewildering sentences that seem to have been worded at random. An example: “But when they proudly persisted in that which was forbidden, we said to them, ‘Become scouted apes’; and then thy Lord declared that until the day of the resurrection, he would send against them those who should evil entreat, and chastise them” (Sura 7:7).

After a while, my only reaction to such verses was to stare at the page while my mind wandered about aimlessly. In this way, I ultimately found that my reflections on Allah were being offset in equal portion by thoughts of breakfast, girls I should have kissed in high school but didn’t and the lyrics to “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” by the Beastie Boys. I gave up on the Koran less than a 10th of the way through.

Thus, I considered my trip to Jordan on the second day of the Eid to be my most immediate and realistic chance of knowing the intimate ways of Islam. Just as a person can’t know Christmas by interrogating shopping-mall Santas, I figured my understanding of the Eid al-Adha lay outside the bloody distractions of Cairo. In Aqaba, I hoped, I stood a better chance of experiencing the Feast of the Sacrifice as an insider.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Aqaba, Jordan, owes much of its fate to the rather arbitrary international borders drawn up in Versailles, France, and London in the wake of World War I. Though the city had been used as a trading post since the days of the Edomites and Nabateans, its port and beaches never found much permanent distinction. This all changed in 1921, when Winston Churchill (who was the British colonial secretary at the time) oversaw the creation of a Transjordanian state that featured a mere 11 miles of coast on the Gulf of Aqaba. Nearly 80 years later, Jordan’s only seaport has inevitably blossomed into a dusty, yet functional resort town. Jet skis and glass-bottomed boats ply its waters, weekend revelers from Amman, Jordan’s capital, crowd its beaches and drab concrete buildings dominate its shore.

Upon arriving in Aqaba, I hiked into the city center in search of a hotel where I could change out of my bloodstained clothes. Because most hotels in Aqaba were full of Jordanians spending their Eid holiday on the beach, my only option was to rent a foam pad and sleep on the roof of a six-floor budget complex called the Petra Hotel.

I shared the roof with four other travelers, from Denmark and Canada. When I told them about my plans to celebrate the Feast of the Sacrifice in Aqaba, I got two completely different reactions. The Danes, Anna and Kat, were horrified by the thought that I would intentionally seek out Arab companionship. Both of them had just spent a week on the Egyptian beach resorts in Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab, where the aggressive local Casanovas had worn them both to a frazzle. The two spoke in wistful terms of getting back to the peace and predictability of their kibbutz in Israel.

Amber and Judith, on the other hand, stopped just short of calling me a wuss. The two Canadians had just returned from spending a couple of weeks with Bedouins in the desert near Wadi Rum. Not only did they celebrate the Eid as part of their farewell party, but they personally helped butcher the goats. To experience the Feast of the Sacrifice any other way, they reasoned, would seem a tad artificial.

“And besides,” Amber told me as I changed into clean clothes and prepared to hit the streets, “Aqaba is a tourist town. The only people you’ll find here are college kids and paper pushers on vacation from Amman. You’d have better luck getting invited to the Eid in Toronto.”

Amber had a point, but she was wrong: I was invited to celebrate the Eid before I reached the ground floor of the Petra Hotel.

My would-be host was Mohammed, a bespectacled 16-year-old who stopped me in the second-floor stairwell. “Where are you going?” he asked as I walked by.

“Well, I’m hoping to go out and celebrate the Eid al-Adha,” I said.

“The Eid!” he exclaimed. “Please come and celebrate with us!”

It was that simple. Such is the gregariousness of the Arab world.

Unfortunately for my notions of authenticity, however, Mohammed’s “Eid” consisted of him and two other goofy-looking 16-year-olds drinking canned beer in a tiny room on the second floor of the Petra. Mohammed introduced his two friends as Sayeed and Ali. Neither of them looked very natural as they grinned up at me, clutching their cans of beer.

I noticed there were only two beds. “Are you all sleeping in here?” I asked.

“Just Sayeed and Ali,” he said. “I sleep at my uncle’s house in Aqaba. My family always comes here for the Eid al-Adha.”

Mohammed poured some of his beer into a glass for me and put an Arabic pop tape into his friends’ boombox. The four of us sat in the room chatting, drinking and listening to the music. After about 15 or so minutes of this, I began to wonder what any of this had to do with the Feast of the Sacrifice. “Aren’t we going to celebrate the Eid?” I asked finally.

“Of course,” Mohammed said. “This is the Eid.”

“Yes, this is the Eid,” I said, “but won’t you be doing something special at your uncle’s house?”

“It’s not interesting at my uncle’s house. That’s why I came here.”

I looked skeptically at my three companions. “But isn’t there something traditional that you do when you celebrate the Eid?”

Mohammed thought for a moment. “We spend time with our family.”

“But you just said that you didn’t want to be with your family.”

“Yes.”

“So you aren’t really celebrating the Eid, are you?”

“No. This is the Eid!”

“How?” I asked, gesturing around the tiny room. “How is this the Eid?”

“We’re drinking beer. Many people drink during the Eid.”

Ignorant as I was about Islam, I was positive that a true Muslim holiday would have very little to do with swilling beer. “I’m sorry guys,” I announced, “but I think I’m gonna have to go now.”

Mohammed looked hurt. “But you said you came here for the Eid!”

“Yes,” I said, “but I could drink beer and listen to music back home in America. I want to do something different.”

“Maybe you want to dance?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Where can we dance?”

Mohammed reached over to the boombox and turned up the music. The three Jordanian teens leapt up and started to shake their hips to the music. There was no room to move, so they stood in place and waved their arms around. The Arabic music was as stereotypical as it could get: a snake-charming, harem-inspiring swirl of strings and drums and flutes. Mohammed took me by the arm; I stood and tried to mimic his dance moves.

“Is this an Eid dance?” I yelled over the din of the music.

“No!”

“Is this Eid music?”

Mohammed laughed. “Of course not!”

“Then why are we doing this?”

“Because it’s the Eid! It’s fun, yes?”

I told Mohammed that it was indeed fun, but that was a lie. As with freeze tag, heavy petting and bingo, many exercises in human joy are best appreciated at a very specific age. To truly understand the appeal of drinking beer and dancing with your buddies in a bland resort-town hotel room, I suspect you have to be 16 years old. I danced halfheartedly to the music, politely waiting for it to stop.

When I sat down after the first song, Mohammed happily yanked me to my feet. Twenty minutes later, the young Jordanians had moved on to the Side B songs without any sign of fatigue. I weakly shuffled in place, desperate for an excuse to leave. It occurred to me that, technically, I could just sprint out of the room and never have to talk to these guys again.

Then the inspiration hit. Leaning across the bed, I shut off the boombox and unplugged it from the wall. Mohammed and his friends looked at me in confusion.

“Let’s go,” I said to them. Carrying the boombox with an air of authority, I led the Jordanian boys up the stairwell to the roof of the Petra Hotel. There, I introduced them to Anna, Kat, Amber and Judith.

Serendipity is a rare thing, so it must be appreciated even in its humbler forms. As Mohammed, Sayeed and Ali exchanged formal handshakes with the Danes and the Canadians, I saw that their faces were frozen into expressions of rapturous terror; they had probably never been that intimate with Western women in their lives. Perhaps charmed by the boys’ awkwardness, the girls regarded the young Jordanians with sisterly affection.

I plugged in the boombox and announced that it was time to dance.

I’m not sure if that evening on the roof of the Petra Hotel meant much to any of the other parties involved, but I like to think that it was an all-around triumph: Anna and Kat were able to interact with Arabs in a charmed, unthreatening setting; Amber and Judith got to boss the boys around in colloquial Arabic and showcase their Bedouin dance steps; Mohammed, Sayeed and Ali — in their goofy, reverent, 16-year-old way — got to dance with angels on the heights of Aqaba.

For me, however, the night was a technical failure: I’d come to Jordan to experience the Islamic soul of the Eid al-Adha, and I’d ended up spearheading a secular sock hop on the roof of my hotel.

But, at a very basic level, even this was a bona fide extension of the Feast of the Sacrifice. After all, any holiday — when stripped of its identifying traditions and theologies — is simply an intentional break from the drab routines of life: a chance to eat or drink heartily with family and friends, an opportunity to give thanks to God or fate or randomly converging odds, a date to anticipate with optimism or recall with satisfaction.

With this in mind, I reckon that the ritual intricacies of feasts and festivals anywhere are mere decoration for a notion we’re usually too busy to address: that, at the heart of things, being alive is a pretty good thing.

Six stories above Aqaba, the eight of us talked and joked and danced to the Arabic tunes, improvising our moves when we weren’t sure what else to do.

 

Originally published by Salon.com,  May 9, 2000

Posted by | Comments (0)  | May 2, 2015
Category: Africa, Asia

Book Review VANISHING TALES FROM ANCIENT TRAILS by James Dorsey

VANISHING TALES FROM ANCIENT TRAILS by James Dorsey, 2014, Vagabundo Magazine Publishing. Buy on Amazon.

DorseyVanishingTrailsWhen I first found his writing on celebrated travel webzine Perceptive Travel, there was one thing that made me an instant James Dorsey’s fan. It was the amount of literary adrenaline he was able to inject straight into readers’ eyes with the opening three lines of each and every story. Indeed, James would pull out his wordy meathook, and catch you right under the chin, pulling you into the action. You would feel the smells, sounds and fear he was trying to tell you all about. I don’t know why, but one of his simplest descriptions, “Akira tells me to follow him closely and I am practically in his back pocket” stayed with me until today: now, whenever I tell people to stay very close to my back, I tell them to “stick to my back pocket”, and I think of Dorsey’s time in Cambodia.

This is the best quality I admire in Dorsey’s writing: his simple, dry, straight forward and damn catchy list of words that one after another “dance on the page”, as Bukowsky put it. But in this case, they dance at the sound of tribal drums during a secret and ancient ritual consumed under a moonlit forest thicket. (more…)

Posted by | Comments (0)  | September 28, 2014
Category: Africa, Asia, South America, Travel Writing

Vagabonding Field Report: The Morocco most people won’t see

Welcome to Guelmim, Morocco, the gateway to the Sahara!

Market in Guelmim

Cost/day: ~$24

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

Camel meat is a common ingredient in the southern area of Morocco. There are 3 types of camel, and each color has its own function. White camels are special as they can smell water from 30 km. Dark brown (referred to as black) camels are used for work, and the lighter brown ones are used for meat. When you visit a butcher to buy your camel meat, you will find their legs hanging up. Younger camels are used for chops while older ones are more suitable for ground meat. It can be a little disconcerting to see a bunch of legs hanging in the air.

Describe a typical day:

Guelmim, admittedly, doesn’t have a lot of tourist activities. It’s best for those who wish to experience rural Morocco, a slice of life they will never experience in the more commonly visited cities of Marrkech, Fez, Casablanca, etc. However, it is easy to arrange a Bedouin experience in the desert from here. Guelmim is also within easy reach of some great beaches that are not overcrowded and packed full of tourists.

We enjoyed getting breakfast from our favorite cafe (ask for kulshi) and watching the world go by, which is a national hobby. Sip on your wonderful mint tea and savor the ritual that comes along with preparing it. Dip your pieces of bread in the wonderful argan (it tastes like almond butter) until your eggs come out on a sizzling platter. Rip off a piece of bread and use that and a finger to scoop up some egg. It’s a delightful way to begin a leisurely morning.

And no one does leisurely quite as well as the Moroccans.

Supermarkets do not sell fresh foods, so to get supplies you’ll need to visit a few vendors. Spend any amount of time here, and you’ll soon have your favorite vendor for produce, meat, chicken, bread, and so on.

Fruit vendors

Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:

One of my fondest memories of our time on the nearby oasis was sitting down and chatting with a local about a number of things, one of which included attitudes about dress for women. It was a discussion that really challenged my way of thinking in a way I had not anticipated. It really forced me to reconsider my judgments regarding how women dress there.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

I loved the slow pace of life. It was really fun building relationships with all my regular vendors. Whenever I went into town unaccompanied by son, they would always inquire after him. It was easy to feel like you were part of the community, even if my French was limited and I only knew 4 words of Moroccan Arabic, 3 of which had been taught to me by our favorite bread vendor. He was a wizened man who always had a big, mostly toothless smile and who delighted in hearing me use the words he taught me.

I was not a fan of the mini buses and shared taxis. I don’t enjoy being squished into vehicles.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Communication was the biggest challenge. English is not commonly spoken. In fact, I found more people who spoke Spanish than ones who knew more than “Hello!” in English. My French was pretty limited, and many of the locals didn’t speak that language either. But they were never impatient. We always figured out how to communicate, and when we finally figured out what the other was saying, we would both laugh heartily.

What new lesson did you learn?

Never make snap judgments about a cultural norm. You don’t really know what’s behind it, and once you discover the history and its meaning it may not seem so strange, unusual, or awful as you initially thought.

Thanksgiving on the oasis

Where next?

London! I can hear my bank account crying already.

You can follow along or learn more about our adventures on our blog and by connecting with us via Facebook.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | March 19, 2014
Category: Africa, Vagabonding Field Reports

Want some free Travel Wickedness?

I admit it, I have been lacking a few posts and overall been bogged down with work (yes, work, because even to sustain a life abroad we need some, in a form or the other), and I beg your pardon. To start off the New Year right, I believe you might love reading some quirky, wicked travel narratives from around the world.

You might take this as a shameless example of self-promotion, but the third issue of Wicked World, an alternative digital magazine I edit with British travel writer Tom Coote, is finally available as a great eye candy: just love the gloriously wicked Ethiopian Mursi warrior on the cover!!

As well as a range of alternative travel articles and photo features, for the first time we have also included some travel related fiction. At one end of the story telling scale, is a traditional Moroccan folk tale, The Red Lantern, selected by Richard Hamilton. In a more contemporary vein, where the lines between fact and fiction blur, we are also showcasing The Death Kiss of a King Cobra Show by Jim Algie.

At the reportage end of the travel writing spectrum, in Barbed Wire Scars, Marcello Di Cintio encounters desperate African migrants determined to make their way across the razor wired walls at Ceuta, in the hope of making it to the promised land of Europe. Equally contemporary, E T Laing investigates recent political upheavals in Bangladesh in A Savage Fundamentalism. (more…)

Posted by | Comments (0)  | January 2, 2014
Category: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, South America, Travel Writing

Wicked World releases issue 2

WickedWorld2_Cover-455I take this week’s chance to announce the release of the second issue of Wicked Worlda digital magazine project that dares to be different. Unrestricted by commercial considerations, it remains free to challenge, question, and tell the truth about the business of international travel. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round-the-world gap year tickets, or travel insurance, but exist primarily to provide a platform for the kind of honest, alternative and irreverent travel writing that wouldn’t normally find a home in more mainstream publications.

In Issue Two you will find articles on: the walled Muslim city of Harar in Eastern Ethiopia; the Sultan of Sulu and the disastrous recent invasion of Sabah in Borneo; frenzied voodoo ceremonies in Benin; the sculpture of Iran’s Ahad Hosseini; the strange religious cult of Caodai in Vietnam; Thailand’s spirit tattoos; the sacred city of Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka; rapidly changing Cuba; and the punk rock scene in Penang, Malaysia.

You can read the present issue in digital format clicking here.

If you feel like you have something worthwhile and relevant to contribute to the Wicked World project, or would simply like to know more, then feel free to contact either marco@wickedworld.net or tom@wickedworld.net.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | September 5, 2013
Category: Africa, Asia, Travel Writing

Midnight at the oasis: A snapshot from Douz, Tunisia

oasisWhoever idealized the serene night scene of Berber tents surrounding an oasis, fires flickering, a reflection of the stars above, the quiet hum of insects and maybe a bedouin bathing by moonlight had obviously NOT actually spent a night at an oasis; especially on a festival night.

If there is one thing that an oasis night is not, under any circumstances, it is quiet. There is really no way to describe the cacophony of sounds that paint the darkness: donkeys braying, dogs barking, cats calling, camels roaring (they don’t exactly roar, but they are certainly making their best attempt.) Add to that the clip clop of horse hooves, followed closely by the squeak of the wheels of the cart it is pulling, the low level drone of Arabic, whispers, conversations, laughter, shouting and singing and it is a symphony that echoes out onto the desert and disappears into the darkness.

The drumming started just at bed time.  BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-BOM-BOM-bah-bah-bah….  The constant beat of skin drums beaten with smooth sticks by men in ankle length, hot pink robes and green vests topped by red hats hung with long black tassles, reminiscent of a horse’s tail, attached at the center.  The high, shrill trilling of the Bedouin women accompanying their beat: “HIEEEELA-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-LA!” BOM-bah-bah-bah-BOM-bah-bah-bah….  There was no sense in putting in earplugs and trying to sleep.  The only thing to do was lay awake in the deep dark and frosty cold of the desert night and enjoy the symphony, trying to burn it into my sound memory for the deep dark and frosty cold of my ancient days, sixty years from now.

Then, sometime after midnight, as suddenly as if a switch had been thrown: quiet. No more drums, no more people sounds, only the lonely donkey’s cry or dog’s bark. We emerged from the tent to make a run to the bathroom, our breath hanging in the frosty air. Desert nights, especially in winter, hover around the freezing point.  It was impossible to rush (as my chilly self wanted to do) across the sand to the bath house. We had to stand, heads held aloft and look at the stars.  It is hard to believe that these are the same stars that watch over us in the pine forests of northern New England, but they are, the stars of the northern hemisphere:  Ursa Major and Minor, the Pleiades and Orion, standing like an arab warrior over the ocean of sand.  The moon was no where to be seen, hidden among the date palms at the edge of the horizon, perhaps, but the stars more than made up for its light.  The desert stars alone were worth the trip.

Between drumming and the dawn prayers came three or so hours of twilight sleep. Douz has at least four mosques, each of which seems to pride itself on the accuracy of timing their morning prayers, and they certainly do not agree. The first wail arose at five thirty, sharp, and it was nearly half an hour before the last song faded into the semi-darkness. The sound of the muezzin is an effective alarm clock and reminds even we infidels that Allah is, indeed, Akbar.  Emerging from our green tents, blowing on our frozen fingers, starting the fires that will result  in coffee and tea we greeted Christmas Day on the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental, while Gramps hummed the inevitable under his breath:  “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Maldaur (1973).

Visit this link to hear a version of the song by Renee Olstead.

Posted by | Comments (0)  | July 16, 2013
Category: Africa

Wicked World releases its first digital issue

In the past few months, I have complained several times about the current status of travel writing and how it does not satisfy my needs.
In this sense, it would have been too easy to just sit there and complain without actually doing something about it. And that’s exactly what I did by joining forces with British travel writer Tom Coote.
We sat down and worked hard to create a new digital magazine: Wicked World.
You can access it by clicking here.

Wicked World
exists to promote the kind of travel related writing that wouldn’t normally find an outlet in more mainstream publications. We’re not here to sell expensive guided tours, round the world tickets or travel insurance. On the contrary, we are here to provide a showcase for honest, alternative and irreverent writing, with a particular emphasis on internationally oriented underground culture. And we of course accept related, inspired submissions from like minded travel writers and adventurers.

If you want examples, the very first issue of Wicked World has articles on: the burgeoning black metal scene in Bangladesh; the rarely visited Meroe Pyramids in Sudan; mine clearance in Cambodia; a haunting return to Vicksburg, Mississippi; the resurrection of a mummified monk in Thailand; a bizarre encounter with the police in Kyrgyzstan; System of a Down’s self-financed film about the Armenian Genocide; and a festival for hungry ghosts in Malaysia and Singapore.

In the future, we are planning to provide a syndication service for travel related articles, and to experiment with publishing the kind of eBooks that wouldn’t normally find an outlet through more mainstream publishers.

If you would like to get involved in Wicked World, or would simply like to know more, then send an email to either marco@wickedworld.net or tom@wickedworld.net

Posted by | Comments (1)  | June 13, 2013
Category: Adventure Travel, Africa, Asia, Destinations, North America, Travel Writing

Long-distance footpaths

My two horses stop for a snack along the Continental Divide Trail in Montana/ photo/ Lindsey Rue

Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.

Riding the Divide/ photo/ Ryan Talbot

Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.

 

Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!

Vagabonding Field Report: Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya by bus

      

Cost/day: $30/day

 

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?

After spending several months in Africa, I have seen a lot of strange things and it has all begun to be quite normal. Therefore, the contrast of Kigali, Rwanda was actually the strangest thing I have seen in a while. The streets were impeccably clean, everything was organized and you couldn’t find corruption anywhere. The harassing street hawkers weren’t trying to sell me the same worthless junk or “Made in China” African statues and masks like everywhere else, but rather USB sticks, Oxford English dictionaries and Economist magazines. Compared to the past few months, this was very strange!

 

(more…)

Posted by | Comments (4)  | July 28, 2012
Category: Africa, Destinations, General, Vagabonding Field Reports

Vagabonding Field Report: Over-landing Southern and Eastern Africa

Cost/day: $50-75

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
In Malawi I was introduced to the water spirit Tokoloshe. It resembles a human figure – two hands and two feet – but with extremely exaggerated features like the massive belly and enormous mouth and tongue. I have never seen anything quite like it and decided I had a buy one. Luckily, there’s a million craft stalls in Africa and Malawi is no different. I bought mine from a fellow that called himself “Cheap As Chips”.

(more…)

Posted by | Comments (0)  | July 21, 2012
Category: Africa, Vagabonding Field Reports