Driving Into The Sunset / The Roads Westward

Bloged in Arizona,California,New Mexico,Texas,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Thursday June 8, 2017

It started soon after we left Austin, TX. Technically, we started our westward movement already from Jacksonville, FL. But let’s forget about the technicalities. The road between the east coast and Texas was nice, but – honestly – not very awe-inspiring. It was mostly flat, green, trees, swamp, and not much variation or anything to get excited about. But that all changed soon after we left Austin. Everything we had always thought driving through the US would be like, happened in the southwest. Desolation, infinity, excitement and exhilaration. Deserts, mountains, snow, isolated farms, straight roads into the horizon, blue skies, sunsets, forgotten towns, hidden treasures. The further we headed west, the better things became.

At first we wanted to head straight west from Austin, and follow the Mexican border. But then Alan got us very excited about a great many things we’d miss if we’d do that. Next thing we knew, we were trying piece together a bizarre zig-zag itinerary to include all of that. Eventually we settled for a middle-of-the-road solution: skip the southern route, but spend a little extra time in New Mexico and Arizona. Alan ensured us we’d “get our fix of real deserts there too” and that “we didn’t need to go South to find hot springs”. On both accounts Alan was absolutely right. The roads we drove westward proved as exciting as anything we’d hoped to find on a roadtrip through the USA.

West Texas

Austin had barely disappeared from our mirrors when the road already turned into something magnificent. Less and less signs of civilization, but explosions of colours from abundant spring wildflower blooms. Vibrant purples and yellows lined the roads, as we crossed at least one little stream every several miles. Not quite desert already, but beautiful nonetheless. Unfortunately, this still being Texas meant that all land was private, fenced with gates and barbed wire, and clearly signposted as ‘private property – no trespassing’. We were very well aware of Texas’ reputation with regard to property defense rights and wouldn’t want to find ourselves at the business end of that. So we stuck to enjoying the scenery from the road and a couple of sparse pull-outs and rest areas. We drove on a little bit after dark and then overnighted at a Walmart in Middle-of-Nowhere, TX. Next morning we found out that under cover of the night we had transitioned into a significantly more arid part of Texas, called West-Texas.

West Texas was as bleak as it had been portrayed in a movie we recently saw, “Hell or High Water” (tip: worth seeing!). Dilapidated towns that’d only be remembered by the remains of abandoned motels along empty main streets. Most of the towns had shrunk to or had never been more than ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-it’ in size, they were surrounded by vast desert plains dotted with ever-bowing oil rigs. Didn’t oil once promised fortune and glory for this area? Even if it once had, it sure has lost some of its shine. What did shine relentlessly, though, was the desert sun. Daytime temperatures reflected desert stereotypes. We drove barefoot, all windows rolled down, arms out, and blasted the entire discography of Kyuss over the soundsystem while cruising along the neverending straight roads heading west.

New Mexico

We heard a joke at some point of which the punchline was someting like: “Still in Texas?” -“Yup.” But sure enough, at some point we really did leave Texas behind and crossed into New Mexico. The scenery didn’t immediately change dramatially, but arriving in a new state felt refreshing – not in the least because of the promise of BLM lands: large areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management on which you can camp for free. Right on the first night we tried it out. Some new insights had made us decide to take a little detour to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and to facilitate an early-morning visit we found a nice spot to camp on BLM ground not far from the park’s entrane. And oh how we liked that spot. Several miles down a dusty and bumpy country road, away from roads, sounds, civilization and people. Evening wind blew dust and tumbleweeds around, as well as some of our laundry we had left outside to dry. And the nightsky was pure darkness filled with a million tiny stars. We couldn’t have wished for a better introduction to BLM-camping.

On the road towards Santa Fe, we passed through Roswell. Despite taking in some empty backcountry roads, we didn’t get abducted by aliens. We didn’t see any aliens altogether, other than several cheesy sculptures outside storefronts. No UFO’s, either. Perhaps this wasn’t the right season.

Around Santa Fe, the landscape started to change from beautiful copper-hued arid plains to forested rolling hills and actual mountains. The higher we got, the more saturized the colours all seemed to become. The sky became more blue, the trees more green, the land more golden. Santa Fe itself proved a good counter-measure to most American cities we’d passed through that far. The city center was largely built up in traditional adobe style, with even newer office buildings being no exception. Several eateries offered excellent menus chock full of creative and spicy fusion dishes. Hawkers sold homemade snacks and souvenirs from carts on the sidewalk. Definitely not your average American city.

We skipped Taos in favour of going further west (plus, you also gotta save some for next time). Over the snowy Caldera, via hot springs and remote historic settlements to Gallup. One of the most amazing fortnights of the entire trip – read the previous story for a detailed report. Gallup was something weird. A little Route 66 meets cowboy meets.. Either way, like most American towns Gallup too didn’t quite hit the spot with us. We did a little laundry, found our first Panda Express since the east coast, spotted coyote’s next to our campsite (or were it just stray dogs..?) and dodged a sudden sandstorm. And the morning we left, we woke up in a completely snow-covered winter-scene. You know that feeling, when you wake up in the morning and without looking outside you know there’s something weird because everything seems to sound a little bit muffled? It’s the sound of snow. What had been a sandstorm the evening before, had turned into a blanket of snow in just one night. Wtf? Luckily, by the time we crossed the state border into Arizona, the blizzards had largely made way for patches of blue sky. And by the time we reached the mountain town of Flagstaff, the sun was shining brightly again like nothing ever happened.

Arizona

The road towards Flagstaff was mostly Interstate 40, formerly known as Route 66. In current practice, this meant several lanes of asphalt and heavy 18-wheelers wooshing by our little van at breakneck speeds. But that didn’t mean we didn’t enjoy our surroundings. The road passed through a combination of hills, cliffs and flats, but all was arid and had some sort of a rough edge to it. Perhaps it was the weather, the grayness of which gave the surroundings a somewhat gloomy atmosphere. In the distance an impressive snowy mountain peak appeared, at the foot of which we’d find Flagstaff. Along the way we were also very intrigued by the many native american settlements and enterprises. Not everything was a casino (for a change) but sure everything was a mix of cheesy, pitiful and touristy. “Visit authentic natives!” “Buy real native crafts!” said many billboards on the side of the road. Perhaps it’s just not our cup of tea… But we’ll admit one thing: we tried native american food a couple of times, and it was really good. Spicy, original, hearty.

Flagstaff was a pretty cool town, with a really nice somewhat alternative outdoorsy vibe to it. When shops around town offer hiking maps, climbing gear, rental ski’s, chai latte’s and organic vegan homebaked bagels, you know this probably isn’t where Trump scored most of his votes. The chilly weather mostly kept people inside, but judging by the amounts of snow-melt water running down the town’s hilly roads, spring was obviously coming. Straight through the middle of Flagstaff runs one of America’s busiest cargo railways. With long (really long!) trains passing through every five or ten minutes, the railway divides the town in two halves in a way that’d almost make the Berlin Wall jealous. We thought it gave the town just that little extra quirk to make it unique.

Heading towards Sedona, we passed through some amazing scenery. Again natural beauty that had us pretty much glued to the windows in awe. We drove along a narrow, winding road through a lush gorge, with straight-up cliffs in various hues of red on both sides. It really was really beautiful. And just when we said to one another that it was remarkably quiet on the road as well, we arrived in Sedona. We had expected to make short stopover for an ice-cream or so, but in fact we tried our best to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. Sedona surprised us with being just a congested mess of mass tourism. Yuck. Luckily, the surroundings more than made up for the town – especially considering the beautiful camping spot we found just a little bit south. A free dispersed camping zone in the local national forest. It required driving several miles of unpaved forest roads and we had almost settled for some uneventful spot next to the road. But we decided to drive one more minute. And then we found it: up on a ridge we pulled off the road into a field that overlooked most of the wonderful scenery we’d been driving through that day. Rock walls, cliffs and forest. Hues of red, green and gold. Quickly we built a fire ring, lit a campfire, cracked open some beers and spent the rest of the evening enjoying our best campsite so far.

The roads in western Arizona turned out to be even more impressive than what we had seen so far. More diverse and surprising, at least. Steep roads winding through wild and untamed mountain scenery. Hairpins so tight they’d be prohibited in Europe. Magnificent views over golden-grey valleys. Quirky towns like Jerome (home to the wine cellars of M.J. Keenan of Tool – but $40 for a bottle was a bit beyond our budget) and sad towns like Congress. Full-blown colour explosions of blooming wildflowers. Enormous Saguaro-cactuses, of which Max said: “They look just like the cartoons!” And endless straight roads through the middle of nothingness right into the setting sun.


 

California

A late afternoon we crossed the state border into California at Parker, and it felt like an accomplishment already even though it was still a long way ahead of us before we’d get to the Pacific coast and would truly have crossed the entire country. The infinite roads of Arizona continued on the Californian side. The only interruption in several hundred kilometer was the Californian Agricultural Inspection station, where they supposedly check that you don’t bring any organic contraband (oranges, mainly) into the state. All the lady did was ask if we had anything. We showed her part of our vegetable supply and we were good to go. No scrutiny whatsoever. So much for disease prevention. And then the infiniteness continued. Vast arid valleys framed by rugged golden mountain ridges. Dusty tracks branching off the main road leading to nowhere. Dots on the map that were once settlements but all that is left of it today is an abandoned and falling apart gas station. We drove straight into the setting sun, waiting for it to disappear behind some mountains (soon after it did, we got stuck in soft sand on the side of the road when looking for a nice spot to spend the night).

We decided to stay a couple nights in Joshua Tree National Park. It was a beautiful area of mountainous desert full of blooming wildflowers, weird rock formations and scores of the park’s namesake trees. We managed to snatch one of the last available camping spots, coincidentally also seemingly the only one with shade provided by an actual Joshua tree. A wonderful place from which to explore the surroundings either hiking or driving, but also to rest, relax, do some school with the kids, do some maintenance on the bus, and watch the sunset from atop otherworldly rounded rocks. For those who know: think Hampi, India.

Soon after we left Joshua Tree, everything changed. Civilization reappeared. Development. Buildings, people, commerce, cars. Effectively, greater Los Angeles started just west of Joshua Tree. Of course it wasn’t called LA just yet, but Palm Springs or San Bernardino, but to us it was all the same. Probably for anyone coming out of the vast and empty desert like us, it’s all the same. Once the buildings started, it was a continuous concrete and asphalt jungle all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Los Angeles really was the polar opposite of everything we had experienced since Austin, TX and in that way the finale of our grand westward journey was a little bit of an anti-climax. Although it was pretty cool to drive on a 12-lane highway passing under signs that said ‘Los Angeles’ and then catching a first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean from under the famous ‘Hollywood’-sign, we couldn’t deny longing back to the wonderfull bliss of the empty desert.

Stupid Decisions Make Great Adventures

Bloged in New Mexico,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Friday May 5, 2017

Once in a while our adventure travel bug bites hard. Tuesday 28 March was one of those days – and we’re very happy with it! Literally: at the traffic lights we decided to take the left turn instead of the right turn. Despite everyone’s warnings not to do so. “Don’t go up into the mountains in bad weather!” they all said. “It’ll ice up. You don’t want to drive there then.” Weather had been pretty bad all night and morning too. But up we went.

We treated ourselves to a hearty breakfast at a restaurant, and while we were in it even started to snow pretty hard. Maybe it was the prawn tacos, or the applewood-smoked bacon omelette, but by the time we were on the road and fueled up again, we felt adventurous enough to ignore everyones warnings. The sky had cleared up a bit, and from the road we were treated to a dramatic view of the snowy volcanic mountain peaks just west of Santa Fe, still partially veiled in clouds. The junction eventually came. Go left: possibly very stupid idea, but adventure. Go straight: safe, but little challenge. We went left.

Soon enough the road started to climb. From fifth gear we dropped to fourth, and dropped to third. We crawled up to the mountain town of Los Alamos (famed for nuclear weapons research), and from there on crawled further up to the caldera rim. The surroundings changed from dry rocks and shrubs to snowy pine forest. We had to drop to second second gear for a couple of hairpin curves, but patience was all it took to get to the top. How high this was exactly we don’t know, but we estimate it could be something like 3000-3500m. Several minutes after crossing over the rim, a magnificent panorama over the white and snowy caldera unfolded. A perfect spot to give our bus a well-deserved break, and ourselves a nice cup of hot coffee/chocolate milk.

By now we also started to make funny comments on the warnings we ignored. Really, the road wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was in far better shape and state than roads in the Netherlands would be after a bit of snow. Perhaps the weather hadn’t been as bad as it could’ve been (in the midst of winter, for instance), but the roads were completely clean and we didn’t find any ice or snow on the road at all. Only several warning signs next to the road. An additional good thing was that the threat of bad weather apparently kept all others from driving up. So for the first hour at least we had the entire caldera to ourselves.

On the way down we stopped at an unmarked hot spring Alan and his compatriots had told us about. Unmarked is relative, since there was a developed parking lot suitable for a handful of cars right next to the road, but there were no signs indicating what was there to stop for. The trail down to the river was pretty developed, too, with signs telling you not to cut or stray, and some steps where required. But down at the river (where we had expected the hot springs to be) the developed trail crossed a bridge and then turned into an undeveloped steep and rocky uphill climbing parcours. I the end it took us about half an hour to reach the hot springs – but it was very much worth the effort. Two levels of pools with warm (not hot) water and an ‘infinity’ edge. That is, water pouring over one side and allowing a grand vier over the valley beneath. But the best part of the pools was in the upper pool: a hot water cave! All the spring water originated in the cave, which was large enough to fit several people (in a squeeze, that is). A natural hot water bath in a steamy cave… We didn’t come out for the rest of our stay.

Camping that night was on a strip of BLM land just off the foot of the mountains. Careful not to trespass onto anyone’s private property, we followed a narrow and bumpy field track until we found a nice spot behind a cluster of trees, hidden from sight from the main highway.

And just when you thought the foolishness (foolhardiness?) was over: we continued in similar style the next day. During breakfast we were still debating on whether it’d be wise to include a detour through Chaco Culture. The road in and through that area is unpaved and supposedly may become unpassable after a streak of bad weather. And well, bad weather is what is had been the past couple of days. But, inspired and riled up by the success of the first detour, we figured we could at least give it a shot. A 100km shot, that is. If we’d have to abandon plan, it’d mean at least many many kilometers extra. Spoiler: we made it all the way through.

At first we thought we (and the map) were misinformed: the pavement didn’t seem to stop. But only minutes after we said that out loud, the pavement did stop. And with a last glimpse of a fracking site, so did civilization. Pretty rapidly, the road quality deteriorated from a pretty even gravel road to a rough, bumpy dry mud and rock track full of tire-deep trenches. But it was still very driveable – just a matter of taking care where you put your wheels. Also, we put quite a bit of faith in the unstoppability of our mighty 508 (if people do this in ordinary cars, surely so could we..?). We drove through a dry plain towards a couple of craggy peaks in the distance, trailing quite a dust-storm. To our great surprise, the pavement miraculously re-appeared at the Chaco park entrance inbetween the peaks.

The Chaco Culture park is a vast area in the middle of the desert riddled with remains of ancient Native American settlements. Many centuries before Columbus and his bandwagon set foot on the continent, the valley that is now known as the Chaco Culture area contained several towns and cities built up using ever-improving masonry skills. No wooden shacks, tipis or other volatile dwellings, but actual stone buildings. The use of perfect-fit rocks and cement ensured that many of their buildings would withstand time – or at least to a large extent. Even today, some ruins show two- and three-storey high walls still standing. Other ruins show different masonry styles from different era’s, testament to how their building skills improved over time. Even though we certainly weren’t the only ones, still a humbling experience to walk amidst those ruins.

The road out of the park heading south was unpaved as well, but in far better better shape than the route in from the north. No deep trenches or sudden bumps, but many miles of washboard instead. Everything inside of and attached to the bus was shaking and rattling – ourselves included. But the scenerey we drove through totally made up for any discomfort. Brown, golden, grey and reddish mountains in the distance, delimited the vast arid plain we drove through. Total desolation and emptiness – challenged only a couple of times by oncoming traffic. After an hour of sand and gravel we hit asphalt again. A brief inspection of the bus revealed nothing remarkable: the whole thing apparently managed to withstand the violence of that day’s roads without any trouble. For the second time in two days we had a short laugh about the road warnings. Yes it was pretty rough a couple of times, but impassable it certainly was not. Whatever bad weather may have been lately, it hadn’t really affected the roads it seemed. But again, perhaps things may be a lot different in other seasons. For now, we were again very happy we went in and through – Chaco was something we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.

(And you only fully appreciate the benefits of asphalt after a healthy dose of washboard… What a soft and smooth ride, suddenly!)

The Wonderful, the Weird, and the Wicked

Bloged in Louisiana,New Mexico,Texas,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Thursday April 13, 2017

This is a tale of three cities: New Orleans LA, Austin TX and Santa Fe NM. The wonderful, the weird, and the wicked, respectively. Part of that is how the cities like to present themselves to the outside world, another part of that is how we experienced the city ourselves. Not everything ended up quite the way we thought it would do.

New Orleans

In terms of surprises, New Orleans absolutely takes the cake. After the somewhat chique and classy cities of Charleston and Savannah on the east coast, we had expected a similar impression of New Orleans. After all, New Orleans also prides itself on being ‘a historic city’ with lots of ‘colonial heritage’. Okay, the colonial heritage part was immediately obvious from the architecture. Colourful little wooden houses in the creole quarters and sumptuous French looking villas in other parts of the cities, all set in lots of lush parks, gardens and other greens teeming with blossom. But what we hadn’t expected was that the city had very little ‘chique’-ness (of course, if you’d want to spend too much money in luxury restaurants, you definitely can do so in New Orleans), but instead a vibe that struck a very appealing balance between gritty and artsy.

It did probably help that New Orleans had just celebrated Mardi Grass a little earlier, and was getting ready for St. Partick’s Day. Strings of colourful beads still adorned the streets, hanging from pretty much everything a string of beads can hang from. The atmosphere was joyous, the surroundings colourful, the people cheerful and diverse. Punks (lots of punks!) mixed with tourists, street artists with food hawkers. We stumbled upon a gang of street musicians blasting freestyle brass-funk amidst a hundred spectators, but also found several sets of swinging benches in a quiet park-converted industrial area by the riverside. Found the best bowl of Vietnamese Pho east of the Pacific. Rode the funny old tram several times, and got greasy with a bbq meat extravaganza (plus craft beer from tap) in a joint patronized by an above average tattood and bearded crowd. All in all, wonderful New Orleans (or Nola) did not meet expectations – it exceeded them bigtime.

Austin

From New Orleans, we followed our curiosity and pretty much beelined to Austin, TX. We were invited to park our bus at Alan’s hideout on the edge of town “for as long as we wanted”… Well, careful with those kinds of invitations. If it wasn’t for our insatiable curiosity of what’s around the corner, we could very well have stayed there much, much longer. The welcome, the place, the neighbours, the nighttime campfire, the weird little trinkets around the house and land, the chance to spot a coral snake (don’t worry – we didn’t)… We loved it! But that’s mostly our enthusiasm about Alan’s place talking. As for Austin itself, we’re confused. Maybe it’s the weirdness Austin promotes itself with, or maybe it’s the fallout of that weirdness and associated popularity.

Austin has long been one of the hippest cities in the US. Home of world-renowned SXSW and many other media/tech/art hotspots, Austin has been drawing a steady stream of people over the last two decades. More and more wealthy people, too. As with pretty much everything good, there’s a serious risk of succombing to that success. Austin today is sprawling and gentrifying. Of course, there’s lots of cool stuff going on and if it’s weirdness you’re looking for you can definitely still find/feel it. But there’s also a somewhat weird undertone to that weirdness. As if the validity of the weirdness is becoming a bit fragile. We had always though of Austin as a medium-sized out-of-the-way city. Town, maybe even. But when we drove into and around Austin for the first time, we were taken aback by the 10-lane highways and mega-flyovers. Not quite the first impression we had thought to get. For a city that promotes itself as being a-typical, there’s a real lot of traditional American driving still going on… Is it just us and our naivite to expect people in a city like Austin to cycle? Hmm.. Being from Groningen, maybe it is indeed just us. Nevermind then. But let’s not be all cynical – we certainly did get our fill of weirdness in Austin.

We had planned our visit to Austin to coincide with the Austin Rodeo (‘Where Weird meets Western’). Seemed to us a typical Texas thing, a rodeo. But not being a native Texan (or very much a rodeo fanatic, either) we grossly miss-guessed what this kind of rodeo exactly entails. Turned out this rodeo was much more a cowboy-themed fair with rides and corndogs and soda’s than a dusty bowl full of showoffs on horseback, suicidal rednecks riding mad bulls while shouting “yee-haw!” and other semi-irresponsible craziness. It was actuall kinda… sweet. Soft. Safe. Family-friendly. Nevertheless the afternoon at the rodeo made for great people-watching, and some interesting ‘wtf?’-moments. I mean, there was one show of a guy who had a couple of dogs with monkeys(!) riding on their backs. And then the pig races. The Pig Races! Much ado about… wait-was-that-it? Four pigs racing one another. Ten minutes of audience rallying, and then ten seconds of pigs whooshing by and that’s it. Okay – we didn’t get it. Maybe it’s just that we’re Dutch and not Texan. Or maybe it was because we were too frugal to buy five very expensive additional tickets to the ‘prorodeo’ in the main arena (with performances of the world’s biggest country stars!). Nevertheless, in terms of weirdness as well as making for a good cultural excursion, the rodeo was spot-on.

We wrapped up our visit to Austin with a stopover at Barton Springs and a Wholefoods. Both have nothing to do with one another other than originating in Austin. Barton Springs is a spring-fed creek surrounded by an extensive park pretty much in the centre of the city. While it may have been the watering hole of a desert oasis a century ago, Barton Springs is now mainly a natural pool and recreation area – and fenced off with access only through a ticket booth. But, while taking the whole thereandbeyond-crew on a ride through the park in a miniature train, we found out that if you’re not willing to pay to enjoy the springs, you can still do so just downstream of the dam. We scrambled down a rocky bank and joined the el cheapo crowd. Way more fun, it was.

Our stop at Wholefoods was equally fun but a tad more expensive. Wholefoods is a eco/organic/bio/fairtrade supermarket chain that apparently started in Austin about two decades ago, and has now found its way into most cities and towns across the US that try to claim some hip-ness. After having regained our breaths from looking at some of the pricetags of foods on offer, we found out that there were over a dozen small stands with small bites to taste. Fresh oranges, crunchy chips, thick cookies, french cheese… We gave each at least two rounds and really got our fill. And then we even found some affordable groceries. But apart from being a necessary stop to replenish our food supply, the Wholefoods also made us think about the role of these supermarkets and of organic foods in the US in general. Despite the high prices, the shop was all but empty and the current spread of Wholefoods throughout the US is testament to its success. Apparently, there’s a part of America that’s willing to add 50-100% to their food expenses to eat organic. But for what part of the Wholefoods clientele is that a conscious decision, and for what part is it little more than an exponent of being part of the hip crowd? A necessity to not become an outsider? Still the vast majority (if not all) of the Wholefoods customers drive there rather than walk/cycle/public transport. But that could very well be related to other socio-cultural quirks. A more structural thing that really struck us was that at the checkout many groceries were bagged with extra ice packs. The food may be organic, but the energy footprint of it is probably enormous. Food for thought. (Also, South Park provides a wonderful satyrical perspective on this in several episodes of a recent season)

Santa Fe

We left Austin in northwesterly direction towards Santa Fe, NM (with a detour via the amazing Carlsbad Caverns). On the way we passed through Roswell NM, but we didn’t get to spot any aliens or UFO’s. The landscape did get more otherworldly, though – vast arid deserts with hundreds of oil rigs spread through it. Estranging. But not even close to the extent of what Santa Fe had on offer for us. The city itself was beautiful, with the entire city center consisting of typical mud/clay(-look) buildings. Even office buildings and other modern additions were all finished in traditional style, giving the city a very a-typical appearance relative to other American cities. And then there was the food – Mexican and (Native) American culinary surprises ranging from delicious to mouthwatering. And some wicked hot red and green chilli’s therein. But what really was the highlight of Santa Fe was a wicked wonderland called Meow Wolf.

Think of Meow Wolf as an art maze. But. Then. Totally. Not. What. You’d. Think. Formerly bowling alley now converted to an enormous immersive psychedelic installation art extravaganza. Some 70-odd interconnected rooms that seem to have one purpose: to make your jaw drop. Nothing is what it seems. There’s a house you enter, with a kitchen, and a fridge. But the fridge is a passageway to a tropical jungle/fairytale landscape. The house’s fireplace is a passageway to some sort of an ice cave. Tunnels, elevated walkways, hidden crevasses and narrow stairs connect one room to another, all filled with neon, blacklight, music, sounds, lasers, mirrors – or suddenly, silence. The front of a school bus stands upright somewhere. And there’s something in the toilet… Trying to describe it just makes the mind wander back to that absurd labyrinth and get lost in the details all over again. Alice in Wonderland eat your heart out. This was the apex of bizarre – well worth putting Santa Fe on your itinerary for. Just make sure you’re sober or you’re in for one hell of a mad trip!

Beach Life USA – Pt. 1

Bloged in Florida,Georgia,South Carolina,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Tuesday March 28, 2017

After the rough and windswept isolation of the Outer Banks, we went for something completely different: beaches. Or, more precisely, a taste of beach life USA style. Beaches in the US seem to come in two variants: uber-developed mega-cheesy tourist blurbs, and protected nature reserves. Since we’re scientists after all, we tried both. But it’s not only a matter of trying to maintain a scientifically correct and objective perspective. While we adore wild and isolated natural beauty, we’ll admit that awkward tourist sites also have a somewhat ironic appeal to us. And an uber-developed mega-cheesy tourist blurb was right on our route: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Didn’t want to miss it.

A short anecdote: Myrtle Beach holds a special position with yours truly since I could probably point it out on the map before I knew where exactly Chicago or Seattle were. This has everything to do with one of my favourite pastimes: planespotting. I remember very well one Saturday morning in the early nineties, when I was about twelve years old or so, that I read on Teletekst that a plane from Myrtle Beach was expected to arrive at my local airport. I looked it up in my bosatlas. Called the airport. Cycled over and watched the plane come in. The Kalitta Cargo 747 became the first Jumbo Jet I ever photographed at my local airport. And that is how I first learned about the existence of a minor seaside city called Myrtle Beach. And similar to a handful of other cities with similar anecdotical associations that I ended up in over the last decade, it was pretty weird to actually get there.

Myrtle Beach introduced itself and its primary role with a boatload of roadside souvenir shops and supersized buffet seafood restaurants. We followed the main road through what passes as the city center, defined by increasing density of highrise hotels and a pier with associated ferris wheel. We set up camp on the Myrtle Beach State Park campground, a surprisingly fine plot of lush forest just south of the tourist craze. We took a day off to fix some stuff on the bus, but went all-in a day later to celebrate Jorien’s birthday.

We decided the best way to experience Myrtle Beach was to just indulge. Max had picked up a coupon book somewhere, and in it we found the most amazing attractions – all with many dollars of coupon discounts! All those discounts! It was… Ah! Yes! This was the kind of temptation so many Americans seem to like falling victim to. To resist so many savings – impossible. Coupon-ing, here we go! So did we go on that discounted supercheap helicopter flight? Yes we did!(*) Did we spend several hours on an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet including crab legs? Sure we did!(**) And did we buy horrible souvenir mugs, do a full round of midget-golf, and binge-drink on happy-hour margaritas..? Well, no. After all, we’re still sane people. From Holland. Which means that we see right through the lure of discount coupons, and managed to not get ourselves into a credit crisis. But we did take s short stroll on the wooden boardwalk along the Myrtle Beach seafront. Free entertainment! A parade of holiday folks of countless stereotypes: shorts-and-sports-socks, tight-skirt-overweight, selfie-kids, buff macho beach-boys, retirees with souvenir t-shirts etc. etc. And then to think that the period of early March was still considered off-season… We wondered and could very well imagine the nuthouse Myrtle Beach would be during summer peaks.

Countering the cheap holiday feel of Myrtle Beach, we drove a little bit further south, first to Charleston and then on to Savannah, GA. Both cities are renowned for their preserved European look and feel. Architecture, urban layout, culture. And indeed, driving into downtown Charleston one of the first things we noticed is that the roads were un-American narrow and tight. Perhaps we had already gotten used to the typical American four-lane wide roads, even in city centers, but for sure Charlestion felt very European. Add to that a couple of streets lined with houses surviving from the Colonial era and more than a handful of real restaurants (not that fake restaurant-but-actually-fastfood kind of thing), and you might very well have thought you arrived in some city in France or Spain. Where Charleston felt a bit chique at times, Savannah was more relaxed and down-to-earth. A bit rougher, perhaps. And as such feeling even more European. Streets lined with beautiful buildings were mixed with lush parks full of old oaks, flowers and fountains. According to one lady, we arrived during Savannah’s best period: weather was nice and warm, tourism was still in its quiet state, and plants were blossoming in full swing. We’re doing at least some things right, then 🙂

After these urban/cultural intermezzo’s, we picked our beach life up again in Florida. Not at the famous Atlantic Coast, but across the peninsula at the Gulf of Mexico. We managed to snag two nights at the St. Andrews State Park campground (was booked solid, but someone cancelled). The spot we reserved turned out to be one of the best spots of the campground, all the way at the end of the park and right in the edge of the water. However, not the beach-water, but the lagoon-water. Otherwise described as the swamp-water with associated chance to spot alligators – but not a single alligator showed up.

St. Andrews State Park occupied the tip of a peninsula, and was a haven of peace and quiet, abundant flora and fauna and pristine white-sand beaches. The rest of the coast was very much developed as one giant tourist strip, but not the park. And as such attracted a completely different crowd – or so it seemed. Away from development, here the focus was on enjoying nature. Still, it was a pretty interesting view from between the palmetto trees on our campsite: the coast on the other side of the lagoon was dotted with a number of luxury waterfront villas and every now and then a speedboat passed by. Very Miami Vice, or CSI Miami. Or Dexter. Or any other popular tv-series set in Florida.

To the great amusement of many Americans passing us by in their cars, we walked the two kilometers from our campsite to the beach. And walking a little bit further than the parking lot, we found half the beach to ourselves – the people in the campsite didn’t really leave the vicinity of their rv’s and all others didn’t bother to walk any more than strictly necessary. So we didn’t have to share our white sand, blue sea and clear sky with anyone. We built a sand castle, spotted giant silvery fish and tiny bright blue fish while snorkeling ’round some rocks, and all got a nice sunburn. Who would’ve thought that we could find such a picture perfect yet totally quiet beach in Florida?

The unscientific conclusion we can draw from our minimal selection of case studies is that Americans like their beaches developed. In daily life it’s already quite common to grab dinner from some drive-through restaurant – why would it be any less convenient/lazy when on holiday? Sure there’s people interested in those state park beaches, but from the looks of it, those people are part of a tiny, tiny minority. Perhaps it’ll be different in peak season, but for now we’ll stick with having our bias confirmed. We’ll see beaches again in California. We’ll have another chance to expand our research…

 

 

(*) Despite cheapness and coupons officially the most expensive minute-and-a-half of our lives; the cell-phone call I once made from Russia now ranks second.
(**) Actually far tastier than we expected; ended up like we always seem to do with these all-you-can-eats: ate just a bite too much 🙂

Wild Winds On The Outer Banks

Bloged in North Carolina,On The Road,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Thursday March 16, 2017

When we hit US roads the first time in our own bus, we only knew we’d head south. Towards Virginia Beach and the Carolinas. But at the first traffic lights, we decided to change plans. Ofcourse. But just a little bit. We’d still go south, but a little bit later. Weather was good and we thought it’d be nice to spend a little while in Washington, first. And take a day off to unpack and reshuffle our boatload of luggage a bit more. So after saying hi to Mr. President (from a distance) and indulging in some of the other treats Washington had on offer, we set off on our first true road trip adventure.

Just following the interstates southward had seemed not very special to us, so we found something more exciting: Scenic Byway 12. Just off the coast of North Carolina there’s a long string of narrow islands unknown to most Europeans (and Americans alike). These islands, commonly referred to as the Outer Banks, are connected by a combination of several bridges and ferries, together forming route 12. On the map the Outer Banks look quite a bit off the beaten track, and – at least off-season times as these – that appeared very much true. The detour proved as exciting as we had hoped it to be.

Beyond Washington, the scale of things gradually became smaller. Interstates changed to highways, cities turned to towns. We stayed our first night in a far-off corner of a Walmart parking lot just outside of Virginia Beach – the last significant urban conglomeration for the next couple hundred kilometers. The next day, things became even smaller and the population density decreased rapidly. Buildings on the sides of the road were either semi-run-down wooden houses, farms, gunshops, pawnstores or churches (baptist, evangelist, jehovah – more flavours of the christian faith than you can shake a stick at). Especially the latter. Every second building seemed to be a church.

And then we reached the end of the peninsula. A bridge connected to the first of the Outer Banks islands. And the last significant settlement: Kitty Hawk. Also known as the place where the Wright Brothers managed to become the first humans ever to fly an airplane. The Brothers came to this place because of its strong winds and isolation (they didn’t like company so much). The former is still true, the latter not so much. Kitty Hawk today is a popular summer holiday destination, especially for surfers. Most of the coastline is now built-up with wooden holiday homes. Apparently, even the exact place where the Wright Brothers once took off has been bulldozed and turned into buildings. Finding a nice spot to have lunch on the beach proved difficult. First because of the limited beach access (everything’s ‘private property no trespassing’) and second because being sandblasted while sipping coffee isn’t exactly relaxing. We did however get an excellent opportunity to try out the kite Max got for his birthday.

Beyond Kitty Hawk, buildings in general were mostly absent. Most of the Outer Banks is protected nature reserve, wildlife refuge or state park. The narrow road further southward was lined with sand dunes on both sides, with the Pamlico Sound some 50 meters to our right and the Atlantic Ocean directly to our left. The sense of isolation and the thought of driving on a narrow strip of land basically in the middle of the Atlantic really gave the Dutch Afsluitdijk a run for its money. The beating of the strong winds directly from the side often sent our bus swerving left and right, requiring keeping a firm grip of the wheel with both hands. This was the kind of roughness we were hoping to find here. And just when you think you’re really at land’s end, one of the sparse holiday settlements on the islands appears. Concentrations of holiday homes and and apartments that rise from the distant horizon’s salty haze like fata morganas.

A free ferry connected Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. We arrived in the port perfectly in time to hop on the next ferry, a delightfully simple setup. Just a single open deck space. Passengers were assumed to stay in their vehicles – there was a small passenger lounge though, but it could barely fit the five of us. The crossing took about an hour, and we savoured every minute of it. The winds, the seagulls, the low rumble of the ship’s engine: just awesome. Yet what surprised us most was how weird it felt to be in the bus, together with the five of us, and being on the move without driving. We could all just stand up and walk around, change seats, have a drink… Just – weird.

Driving off the ferry’s gangway onto Ocracoke Island, we realized that it’d be very likely that Ocracoke would be the one and only true island we’d get to in this trip. The only island not connected to any other landmass by bridges or tunnels. That thought amplified the sense of isolation that’d been growing with the passing of every kilometer since Virginia Beach. And on Ocracoke, things were even more extreme. Beyond the tiny port, windswept dunes and salty ocean spray lined the island’s only road, heading east to west. Large parts of the road were covered in drifting sands. The sun was already starting to set, and put everything in a gloomy red/purplish hue.

We arrived at the state park camping just before sunset. We knew the campsite was still closed for the season, but we figured park rangers probably would mind if we’d just stay the night at the far end of the parking outside the entrance. And indeed, no-one seemed to care. In fact, no-one probably even knew we were there. Only a handful of cars passed by, and we were pretty well camouflaged against the backdrop of dunes and associated vegetation. The beach was just a two minute’s walk through the dunes from where we were parked, and while Gideon prepared dinner, Jorien and the kids went out to the beach to watch the sunset. Later that night, Gideon couldn’t resist the urge to have a splash in the ocean – it’s just that whenever there’s sea and opportunity, dips must happen. Ocracoke Island is considered the darkest place on the US East coast, making for superb stargazing. And indeed, the first half of the night the star-studded sky was just amazing.

The second half of the night that changed a bit. Earlier on, Jorien thought she had seen lightning flashes north over the Pamlico Sound, and after midnight it turned out she was right. It wasn’t a lighthouse – it was a blazing thunderstorm. Deep blasts of thunder, pouring rain and enough lightning to read a book by. By next morning, all that was left of the thunderstorm was a grey sky, wet ground and (still) strong winds. We had set our alarms at 06:00h, so we could make it to the 07:30h ferry onward to Cedar Island. On the way to the port, we passed through still sleepy off-season Ocracoke Town. One of the officers at the ferry terminal came by for a chat, lamenting the crowds that flock to the Outer Banks during peak summer times. Some summer days, the ferries carry over 3000 cars back and forth to Ocracoke. As sleepy and quiet the Outer Banks appeared now, as crowded they can be in summer.

The ferry trip away from Ocracoke Island by all practical measures marked the departure from the Outer Banks. But what an exit it was! Weather could still best be described as stormy, and the ferry rocked quite a bit more on this trip than before – especially during turns, when the deck and our bus with us in it would heavily tilt left and right. Waves bashed against the sides, sometimes spraying the deck a bit. At one time, the winds on the front deck were actually so strong that it was next to impossible to stand upright or even walk. Needless to say the kids had a blast – literally. In fact, we all had a lot of fun. After three hours of choppy seas, we arrived at Cedar Island with our bus covered in salty residue as a souvenir of our first US road trip adventure*

 

 

*we could use some rain to wipe the salt off though, because yes we are aware that salt is a catalyst for rust and if there’s one thing our bus already has seen enough of, it’s rust.

60 Hours Of Madness

Bloged in On The Road,USA ['17] by Gideon Laugs Thursday March 9, 2017

It all began when… Well, in fact it all began several years ago, when we had one of those rare weekends off to spend in a hotel somewhere without the kids (thanks, Rinck & Anniek!). Over dinner we fantasized about what our next great adventure would look like. And we figured it might look like an extended trip through the USA, kids in tow, in our own bus. Or, maybe it began even way before that, as a sidethought, implication or consequence of our long overland trips years ago. But all of that isn’t important right now.

In the years preceding this trip, the plan became clearer with the passing of every month, week, and eventually, day. What started as a little fantasy over dinner grew to become what we think is the single most complex thing we’ve done in our lives so far. This time ’round it wasn’t the destination that baffled us (the USA isn’t quite as exotic as some of our previous destinations – see elsewhere on this blog). SiegerfliegerIt was the overwhelming extent of organisational issues that arise when your intention is to compress your life as a grown up (with associated responsibilities: kids, jobs etc.) into an old Mercedes-Benz 508 bus of about 37m3 and ship it across the Atlantic for about half a year. Getting this show on the road certainly wasn’t all easy, and we’ve traded more hours of sleep for valuable practical time than we could keep count of. Yet eventually everything converged towards day 0.

Wednesday 22 February. Our bus had already crossed the Atlantic on a cargo vessel, and now it was our turn. Joriens parents had organized a van to drop us off at Bremen Airport early in the morning – a very wise idea, in retrospect, since we still managed to haul an incredible amount of luggage with us despite already having sent a fully loaded bus ahead. But yeah, we did want to bring that spare starter engine. We were amazed by the helpfulness of the Lufthansa ground crew (I guess that’s part LH being awesome, and part us being used to Ryanair): creative seat blocking so we could have six seats for the five of us, priority boarding, you name it. A quick one hour hop brought us from rainy Bremen to equally rainy Frankfurt, and there we boarded the Fanhansa Siegerflieger (look it up…) towards Newark, NJ. Or better: Amerika!

As expected, the eight hour flight across the Atlantic wasn’t easy for the kids. But they certainly took it as pros. Not a single squeal, cry or fight – they just dove right into the onboard entertainment system. Swapping between that and their tablets in an attempt to squeeze everything out of those hours of unlimited access to cheap and cheerful entertainment, the first time any of them asked “how long do we still have to go?” was when we had already covered about two thirds of the trip. Noor then fell asleep until right after touchdown, while Max and Tamar just kept on going through their infinite supply of entertainment, seemingly oblivious to the substantially longer day due to time zone differences. Humungous jet-lag incoming!

Most of the flight was remarkably uneventful. Food, drinks, staring out the window at a totally overcast ocean. Only by the time we reached the coast of Northeastern Canada, the views became interesting. The kids remained more interested in their entertainment systems. Noor woke up from the touchdown bump and was completely lost in time and space. And it wasn’t bedtime just yet – that day’s challenge was just getting started.

First, be nice and answer thorough questions by a hard-to-defrost immigration officer. Do a not-overly-explicit happy dance after everyone’s been stamped into the USA for real! Then, pick up and haul too much luggage to the curbside. Find our rental car in a different terminal. Stuff too much luggage in a pretty decent-sized but still too small car. Navigate the 3D-maze of roads between the Newark terminals. And then, while our brains said it’d been way past bedtime already, merge into the rush-hour traffic on the Southbound Interstate for a one hour drive to our hotel for the night. It turned out to be exactly as described in reviews: cheap and rundown. Or at least, by American standards. By let’s say, Ethiopian standards it was neither cheap nor rundown. But it was our first real American motel and both us and the kids were just very happy to see a bed. Any bed would do, in fact.

We couldn’t sleep in or linger. Next morning we woke up early, and with a brief pit-stop for an American pancake breakfast at IHOP, we hastily made our way down to Baltimore. Although we hadn’t had confirmation yet, we hoped to be able to pick up the bus right away. So Gideon dropped off Jorien and the kids at another hotel and took off again. While Jorien and the kids experienced their first shopping mall, Gideon raced to the airport to drop off the rental car. A quick call to the shipping agent confirmed that the bus could still be picked up, but Gideon should be in the agent’s office no later than 14:00h. It was already 13:30h. Good thing taxis know the way. Gideon came running into the shipping agent’s office at 13:57h. All sweaty and panting (weather turned out too nice for a winter jacket), but in time. In fact, it only took a couple of minutes to sign a pile of papers and hand over a big wad of money, before Gideon was picked up by a port-endorsed escort to really go into the fenced-off port area to retrieve the bus.

And there it was. Our bus! It made it across the Atlantic unscathed. And boy was it a bizarre feeling to find it sitting there, waiting for us amidst the industrial activity typical of large container ports. It was parked together with a handful of other campers and overland vehicles – including another Dutchy: an apparently 1953 Renault Goulette. And we thought our bus was old. Also, if they’re willing to risk it with their vehicle, we shouldn’t be worried of anything. Gideon went around the bus, inspected the outside and went on to inspect the inside. No signs of any trouble, other that that the bus was remarkably dirty. With sand. But all was intact and all cabinets were untouched. However, the guys taking it on and off the ship hadn’t pulled the master key from the lock, as a result of which several light on the dashboard had remained on for the duration of the journey. Which means… indeed, it didn’t start. “Don’t worry,” said one of the port officials, “we’ve got technicians to help you with that”. And indeed, minutes later a pickup that wouldn’t be misplaced in a Mad Max movie appeared. Cables hooked up and VFROOOOM did our wonderful bus 🙂

Shortly after, Gideon drove out of the port area, loudly singing happy songs. The phone wasn’t working, so there was no way to inform Jorien of the wonderful news. Gideon drove straight back to the hotel, walked into the room and with a big smile invited all to look out the window and admire what’s parked outside. As planned, we slept in the hotel that night – although Max said he’d rather sleep in the bus already: “That bed is much more comfortable”. Next morning we reshuffled the contents of the bus somewhat so we could stash our extra luggage somewhere. At around noon, about 60 hours after we left home, we started our engine and took to the road. America here we come!

Djibouti to Aden // Black Waves, Salty Winds

Bloged in Djibouti ['08],On The Road,Yemen ['08] by Gideon Laugs Friday January 9, 2009

[do. 23-10-08 ~ vr. 24-10-08 / Djibouti City ~ Aden / Djibouti ~ Yemen / 250km.]

Het was woensdag 22 oktober, ergens rond de middag en we zaten in Arta, een klein dorpje 40 kilometer westelijk van Djibouti City, en ik voerde een kort telefoongesprekje dat Jorien als volgt had kunnen opvangen als ze samen met mij op de veranda van ons couchsurfing-adres had gestaan: “Allo? Monsieur Karim? Ahh.. Bon. Ehm.. Il-y-a une boutre vers le Yemen aujourd’hui?” (..) “Oui? Ce soir? Vers Aden! C’est merveilleux!” (..) “Nonnon, maintenant nous sommes a Arta..” Tot onze gigantische verbazing werd ons dus verteld dat er diezelfde avond een boot naar Yemen zou varen, naar Aden nog wel, precies zoals we gehoopt maar zeker niet verwacht hadden.

Er zijn twee manieren om van Djibouti naar Yemen te komen. Er gaat ‘n keer of drie, vier per week een onbetaalbaar duur vliegtuig, of je kunt proberen met de boot over te steken. Proberen. Punt is namelijk dat er geen passagiersschepen varen tussen beide landen, maar alleen vrachtschepen. Kleine, traditionele houten vrachtschuiten. Nu hebben die schepen er over het algemeen geen moeite mee om passagiers mee te nemen, maar ze varen alleen als er vracht te vervoeren valt, en de bestemming is waar de vracht naartoe moet. De enige keuze die je als passagier hebt, is of je mee gaat naar de bestemming van de vracht, of niet mee gaat. Heel frequent wordt er helaas niet gevaren (we hadden verhalen gehoord van mensen die ‘n week of zelfs twee moesten wachten) dus wij wilden mee, ongeacht waar naar toe.

Wie op de kaart kijkt, ziet dat de overstek tussen Djibouti en Yemen verdacht dicht in de buurt komt van het stuk zee dat bekend staat om ‘s werelds actiefste piraterij. Wel, het is waar dat de oversteek naar de andere kant van de Golf van Aden niet geheel zonder risico is. Wij hebben echter een gedegen afweging gemaakt en geconcludeerd dat als we ook Ethiopische bussen aan durfden, dat dit risico zeker aanvaardbaar was. Laat ik alvast iets verklappen: uiteindelijk geen piraat gezien. Leander zei: “Dat is omdat jullie zelf de piraten waren!”

[Dit verhaal is nog niet afgelopen, maar telt nog 16 alinea’s. Druk op de knop “more…” hieronder voor de rest van het verhaal.]

(more…)

Africa // What Will Become?

Bloged in Djibouti ['08],Ethiopia ['08],Somaliland ['08],Sudan ['08],Thoughts by Gideon Laugs Friday January 9, 2009

[di. 02-09-08 ~ do. 23-10-08 / Sudan, Ethiopia, Somaliland, Djibouti]

[Disclaimer: de (onder)ontwikkeling van Afrika is misschien wel een van ‘s werelds lastigste onderwerpen van discussie en iets waar wereldwijd ontzettend veel onderzoek naar wordt gedaan. Wij zijn op dat gebied geen professionals en wellicht dat sommige delen van onderstaand schrijfsel daardoor wat gechargeerd, gepolariseerd of gegeneraliseerd over komen, als niet zelfs klinkklare onzin. Wat hieronder staat is slechts onze poging om voor onszelf een touw vast te knopen aan wat we in enkele weken Afrika gezien, gehoord en ervaren hebben. Voel je vrij om ons te corrigeren of aan andere inzichten te helpen: de reply-knop staat benedenaan dit stuk..]

Komt het goed met Afrika? We zouden het graag zien gebeuren, maar de paar weken die we op dat continent hebben doorgebracht, stemmen ons niet bepaald hoopvol. Heel kort door de bocht: de mensen zijn arm en zullen dat waarschijnlijk ook blijven, zij het hun eigen schuld, zij het de schuld van de westerse wereld. Elke Afrikaan die iets voorstelt, vlucht of wil vluchten naar ontwikkeldere landen, met een enorme brain drain als gevolg. En wie blijft, lijkt totaal ongemotiveerd om er iets van te maken. Tuurlijk wil iedereen een beter leven, maar alleen als daar niet harder voor gewerkt hoeft te worden, zo lijkt het. Al met al niet bepaald een recept voor een glorieuze toekomst.

[Dit verhaal is nog niet afgelopen, maar telt nog 6 alinea’s. Druk op de knop “more…” hieronder voor de rest van het verhaal.]

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Djibouti // The French Connection

Bloged in CouchSurfing,Djibouti ['08] by Gideon Laugs Friday January 2, 2009

[zo. 19-10-08 ~ do. 23-10-08 / Djibouti]

Wat zou Djibouti zijn zonder de Fransen? Op de eerste plaats zou het nooit zo ontwikkeld hebben kunnen worden zonder het rijke koloniale verleden en op de tweede plaats is de tegenwoordige bescherming van het landje door de Fransen de enige reden waarom Djibouti nog als zodanig bestaat. En laat het nou ook precies dat Franse heden en verleden zijn dat Djibouti voor ons zo geweldig maakte.

Afgaande op wat mensen op internet over Djibouti schreven, zou het niet de moeite waard zijn en je er beter een vliegticket vandaan kon boeken dan er te wachten op een boot, maar wij vonden anders. Wij vonden er een geweldig welkom en een stadscentrum dat zo tjokvol prachtige koloniale Franse architectuur stond, dat we ons haast in Europa konden wanen. Na drie maanden Islam en Afrika een niet te onderschatten luxe.

[Dit verhaal is nog niet afgelopen, maar telt nog 5 alinea’s. Druk op de knop “more…” hieronder voor de rest van het verhaal.]

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Africa // Smell The Noodles

Bloged in Ethiopia ['08],Somaliland ['08],Sudan ['08],Thoughts by Gideon Laugs Friday January 2, 2009

[di. 02-09-08 ~ zo. 19-10-08 / Sudan & Ethiopia]

De Chinezen nemen de wereld over. Echt. Vorige reis viel ons de slinkse Chinese kolonisatie van Centraal en Zuid-Oost Azie al op, en dat beeld is alleen nog maar versterkt door wat we nu in Afrika aan Chinese invloed zijn tegengekomen. Stukje bij beetje of met rasse schreden verovert China de wereld, de armste landen eerst, one contract at a time. Slechts een beetje ziel en zaligheid, in ruil voor Chinese infrastructuur. Offers they cannot refuse. Waar stopt ‘t? Kunnen wij ook een aanbod verwachten dat we niet kunnen weigeren?

[Dit verhaal is nog niet afgelopen, maar telt nog 10 alinea’s. Druk op de knop “more…” hieronder voor de rest van het verhaal.]

(more…)

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