Monday, 28 February 2011
Thursday, 17 February 2011
Egypt before and after the "revolution"
The tourism promotion board has now said it’s all calm now, situation is under control and no problems to return. Bullshit. We have been held up, locked up and harassed by police equally well both before and after the step-down. The army, police and people don’t know how to handle the situation and still acts in a very bad manner certain places.
It should be said that the police, army and sometimes even people has been polite and emphasizing that you should not feel their actions as a threat. However, their actions speak the opposite story. It also speaks a story about a population, an army and a police force that has a utter lack of professionalism, compensated with lack of education and/or to use common sense. It’s still really not a place to travel for over-fragile people.
Before the situation was “settled” we travelled from Aswan to Alexandria. After the situation was “settled” we tried to go from Alexandria to El Alamein to look at the war cemetery, 105 kilometers west of town. The two entries below are two short stories of how the police/army acted before, and after Friday 11th.
From what I’ve seen out there myself I can’t realize how the tourist promotions board can say it’s all under control. How can the people assume that the “professional” army will run this country wonderfully till democratic elections can be held, when they can’t even handle their hand guns and crowds of people?
I’m not going to analyze this situation as I’m more interested and competent in combustion engines, but I assume the revolution in Iran looked at a good idea at the time as well, and the orange revolution in Ukraine at least led to a victory-intoxication for some time, literally.
After the "revolution" everybody can freely go around and shoot happy pictures without any problems with army or police. Everything is calm and under controlled. Yes, indeed...
Held up in Mininia (8th of Feb)
Fair enough, this normally happens also in normal circumstances in Egypt too. Most of the time they are pleasant/ok to deal with, to the degree it’s ok to be escorted and stopped all the time. At one point, they even help me to get my bike’s broken frame welded.
When we reach Mininia it is a different story. We have to stop for the night, park at square in the center and ask for a hotel. Within 5 minutes it is 2-300 civilians around us, demanding to see our passports. Of course you don’t show your passport to strangers so I say no. The crowd get more and more aggressive, and accuse us for being spies from Mossad. Everybody knows the Mossad normally drives Nazi-style sidecar motorcycles from the thirties on their operations, but not Danish ones for God’s sake.
When they understand they will not get to see the passports they threaten to call the police, so I tell them to go ahead. First a uniformed officer shows up on motorcycle, and he is calm and ok. Then a plain-cloth officer come and demand to see passport. I ask for his ID, which he hasn’t.
Needless to say, no passport flashing. As the crowd get more and more “intense” I suggest that we take refuge at the police station, which the undercover cop think is a good idea. So off we go, with 2-300 nuclear researchers, a fair amount of neurologists, some brain surgeons, a few rocket scientists and a minority of camel fuckers running after us, shouting and hoping for the Israeli spies to get hanged at the spot.
At the police station they are polite, and serve us tea and cigarettes. However, their actions and questioning don’t impress in a positive way: What are you doing for work? Where do you come from and what is your nationality (while “reading” the passport)? Do you carry a lot of gold and diamonds?
They write down the information from the passports and when it is done they ask our names are again. Then they start to argue about who should have the paper where they have written down the information. After quite some time a bright mind recalls they have a Xerox machine so each one of they can have a copy, even of the passport’s front page. We are stunned by their ability to reason out this brilliant idea to take photocopies and just has to congratulate them.
After four hours of phone calls (but never to the Norwegian embassy which would be the easiset way to check us out from Mossad's payrolls) and clever cross-examination they take us to a hotel, where it is a tourist police that checked our bags. Just as well, we might have equipment and a desire to blow up the towns most ran down hotel, especially as we’re the only guests. Then they fetch us with a police car with flashing lights and siren to a restaurant, and back to the hotel and placed a guard for the night, in addition to the tourist police officer. The next morning they escort us out of town, and could proudly look back at another intricate case closed.
“Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name”
As the “revolution” is over everything has become better already, at least according to most locals and tourist industry. Hence, we decided to kill a few days going to El Alamein to see the war cemetery and museum and camp out in the dessert.
In the western outskirts of Alexandria there is massive traffic jam and while standing still in a junction guy in military uniform comes and try to communicate us to stop, without speaking a word English. Soon some police in civilian clothes show up, speaking English. And of course, the civilians’ mob quickly gathers.
Within ten minutes I assume there is again between 2-300 spectators, helping the police and army, by demanding a thorough examination and suggesting what kind of spies we are, some quite aggressive. A doctor is present, and tries to calm down us, the army and the crowd. “Don’t be afraid, we’re in an emergency so we need to check you but won’t hurt you. We’re generous and nice people.” I need to get to El Alamein, not getting comfort about a crowd of cowards that are more a threat of making me a racist than hurting me.
Soon the mob is so big and out of control that the army has to retreat with us. To get us and the bikes out the soldiers and officers actually load their Kalashnikovs and hand guns, waiving uncontrolled. At least they get rid of them. First they want us to leave the bikes and jump into a car with them and lose track of where we are and our equipment. No way will we leave the bikes there, so after a big argument they let us go with the bikes.
A kilometer down the street we park next to a M1 Abe tank, and the army has a office in the building. Same stupid questions all over again. They search the bikes and our pockets, even going through all the pictures on the memory cards. I lose track of how many different people look at the passport and ask our nationality at the same time, a good number of them holding the passport upside down while examining them.
Then they start the search all over again and do some frightful finds: one pocket knife, one German paratrooper knife (10 cm blade), 8 flares for animal warning while camping (each containing something like 2 gram of phosphor), to writable CDs, some memory cards and a spare battery and charger for a laptop. This takes about two hours, and probably made them happy as they called of the search half way through the boxes.
At this point there is a big mob gathered again, so they decide on going to an army camp. Each of us have to take an officer on our bikes, and mine is waiving his 9mm hand gun frantically all the time when driving. I would not mind if he could control his gun, but he can’t.
Sometimes he’s pointing at his legs, sometimes at cars and pedestrians, sometimes in the air and sometimes at my head at 6 inch distance. The gun is loaded and the safety off. I scold him several times for it, tells him to either control the gun or to put it away. Every time he says he’s sorry, but forgets himself after some seconds. The road is bumpy and we’re stopping and going all the time, I just await an accidental shot and just hope it does not comes my direction.
We visit two army camps before one will let us in; obviously they are not organized at all. When we are finally let into one they speak to the officer in charge, showing him the dangerous items they have confiscated.
The officer in charge does not even greet us, just order us locked up. The take us to a small house and shut the door with a big bolt from the outside. Inside, two kids aged about 12 years is sitting in a corner, tied with their hands on their backs. They look dirty and beat up. On the wall there’s a picture of the army’s chain of command with Mubarak on top.
The window is halfway open, I fully open it and send the soldier that just locked the door an ironic grin. He seems embarrassed and makes and angry gesture to make me shut it.
After a half hour the banana-benders have found a translator as they don’t speak English themselves. Explaining why we got knives and flares all over again. They say they have to keep the flares and knives, but we’re free to go.
It’s getting dark soon so we don’t have time to argue much more, so we say that’s ok but they have to give us a receipt so we can bring up the issue with the correct authorities. This is met with total refusal and it’s now clearly turned into a matter of corruption and collecting souvenirs from tourists. They are not so confident anymore.
The arguing about the receipt goes on and we get nowhere with it. We need to get out before it’s getting dark, and am a bit pissed after four hours with them. We just say fuck this, and tell them to give us the knives and we’ll break the blades and keep the handles our self. Obviously disappointed they can’t argue much about this, though they try.
We head back to the hotel Alexandria. To the degree I ever had any respect or faith in the Egyptian army and police the last bit of it is gone now. I just wish them all good luck and sit tight till my ferry takes me to Italy in a few days.
This is how the army like to be seen, and is pretty much the case in Alexandria now. However, when you get a little bit away from where media and foreigners are present the story is quite different.
Monday, 14 February 2011
Alexandria 11th of February 2011
Friday morning it’s clearly quiet before the storm. The streets are empty, and as we drive around with foreign bikes we quickly get hunted down by plain cloth police the checks passports, yells and wonder why we are here. That we are stuck awaiting ferry to Italy get responded with harassment and threats about what will happen later in the day, but we really don't have any other option than sit around here.
The ambience is reserved, tense and the streets are more or less empty. The military has fortified the port and central government buildings with APCs and tanks. Everybody knows the Friday prayer will be the turning point of the day, but it’ll be a peaceful day or turn into riots nobody really knows. It makes people as well as authorities nervous.
The Friday prayer is over and it doesn’t take long before Corniche, the beach road is filled with marching people. Slogans get shouted from choir leaders with loudspeakers on pickup trucks and followed up by the masses. All ages is represented, and the ambience and so many kids presents gives and indicator that it might be a peaceful afternoon.
The police stays passive, and so do the military. The protesters march around, while others take a break with a cup of coffee and a shisha at the curbside restaurant along Corniche.
The news comes
I’m sitting at a cafe’ when uncontrolled exultation breaks out. Mubarak has stepped down. Everybody rushes up from where they are sitting at café’s and restaurants, hugging each other, congratulating and shout. The streets start to boil for real, the horn on the cars honk and the people compete about making most noise.
The celebrating people climb up on monuments at the square, dancing. People stands on the roofs of the cars sending up fireworks while shouting with joy.
A couple of hours later the celebration is even more intense. People rushes to the center from outskirts of the town. It’s evidently the day of the youth. Hassan that I speak to has broken his arm in the riots earlier, but says “We won, it was worth it!”
The young generation feel it was mostly their uprising. Mohammad says “Mubarak his administration hasn’t realized what the younger want and needs, and we’re sick and tired of corruption and misgovernment” Fazy says he hopes for more freedom.
It’s clear that it’s not only an optimism that rules today, it’s rather over-optimism. That the hardest part of the “revolution” is left is not a topic people want to hear about this day.
After a while I hide the memory card in my shoe, put in a fresh one and move over to where the military is present. Quite some civilians are gathered around an APC, while kids and girls get helped up on it by soldiers and taken pictures of. The cameras on the mobile phones are in constant use to immortalize the moment everybody regards as historic.
I recognize the soldiers and officers; it’s the same guys that took us in for checking us out a few days earlier when we arrived in town. They are friendlier now and I ask if all is well. “It’s a good day, it finally over and ended like I hoped says one of the officers, obviously relieved as it’s over and he can finally express his feelings and opinions.
Saad Saghloul Square koker av folk og veiene til og fra er hardstappet med folk. Stemningen er tilbakeholden frem til den store nyheten kommer: Mubarak har gått av. Stemningen blir brått ekstatisk og de som ikke allerede er i gatene strømmer til.
Fredag morgen er det tydelig stille før stormen. Gatene er tomme, og da vi kjører rundt i gatene med utenlandskregistrerte motorsykler blir vi fort innhentet av sivilt politi, som sjekker pass, kjefter og lurer på hvorfor vi er her. At vi sitter fast og venter på en ferge til Italia blir besvart med sjikanering og advarsler om hva som er ventet utover dagen, men vi har nå ikke noe annet valg enn å være der.
Stemningen ev avventende, og gatene er mer eller mindre tomme. Militæret har befestet havnen og sentrale regjeringsbygninger med pansrede personellkjøretøyer og stridsvogner.Alle vet at fredagsbønnen vil bli vendepunktet, men om det blir en fredelig kveld eller om det blusser opp til opptøyer vet ingen og gjør både myndigheter og sivilister nervøse.
Fredagsbønnen er over, og det går ikke lange tiden før Corniche, strandveien, blir fyllt av marsjerende folk. Slagord ropes av forsangere fra høytalere på pickup’er, mens folkemassene følger opp. Alle aldre er representert, men stemningen og at så mange barn deltar tilsier at det kanskje vil foregå fredelig.
Politiet forholder seg passivt, og likeså med militæret. Demonstrantene marsjerer rundt, mens andre tar en pust i bakken med en kaffe og shisha på fortausrestaurantene.
Jeg sitter på en kaffe da vill jubel plutselig bryter ut. Mubarak har gått av. Alle stormer opp fra kafe’er og restauranter, klemmer hverandre, gratulerer og roper. Gatene begynner å koke for alvor, bilhornene tuter om kapp med jubelbrøl fra folk.
De feirende klatrer opp på monumentene på Saad Saghloul Square og danser, folk står jublende på biltak og fyrvereri sendes opp.
Et par timer senere er feiringen enda mer intens, folk strømmer til fra utkantene av byen. Det er tydelig særlig ungdommens dag. Hassan som jeg snakker med har brukket armen i tidligere opptøyer, men sier ”Det var verdt det, vi vant”
Den yngre garde føler det var mest deres opprør. Mohammad sier ”Mubarak og administrasjonen ikke har skjønt hva de yngre vil, og vi er lei korrupsjon og dårlig styre” Fazy sier at han håper på mer frihet. Det er klart at det er ikke bare en optimistisk stemning som råder, men kanskje en overdrevent optimistisk stemning. At det vanskligste gjenstår er ikke mulig å få gehør for denne dagen.
Etterhvert beveger jeg meg litt ut fra folkemassene, mot der Hæren holder til. En god del sivilister er smlet rundt et pansret personellkjøretøy, mens barn og jenter blir hjulpet opp på kjøretøyet av soldater. Mobilkameraene brukes flittig for å forevige det alle anser som et historisk øyeblikk.
Jeg kjenner igjen soldatene og offiserene, de er de samme som tok meg inn til sjekk da jeg først kom til byen noen dager tidligere. De er vennligere nå, og jeg lurer på om alt er vel. ”Det er en god dag, endelig er det over og endte slik jeg håpet” sier den ene offiseren, tydelig lettet og fornøyed med utfallet.
Friday, 4 February 2011
An Inferno in Oil, Petrol and Dust
This piece of non-existent road was the last tough part of the journey, a bandit infested “highway” between Isiolo and the border town Moyale in North Kenya. In Ethiopia the tarmac starts again and it lasts all the way to Alexandria where we fetch a ferry to Italy.
The gap between Isiolo and Moyale has been notorious for camel powered robbers in the long remote dessert stretches and a more or less non existing road.
It wasn´t as tough as the Andes mountains in Bolivia and down to Paraguay with a wrecked gearbox, or through the hardest parts of Mongolia. And probably way less than the Labrador coast from what I gather.
However, it was still an inferno in vibrations, oil, petrol and dust. At this point of time the bikes pumps out oil from the engine and pours out petrol from cracks and vent holes in the fuel tanks.
All this mixes with the fine dust from the road and covers both man and machine. When you clean your nostrils at the end of the day it comes out something that would be considered hazardous waste in Europe.
With inadequate enough machinery even just 370 kilometers is enough to test your patience and ability. To go more than three four hours without a break is hard, and you average only 8-10 km/h for long periods.
The hard tailed bike constantly jumps on the never stopping washboards. If you push too hard you break the frame, so it´s just to idle on first and wrestle your way around the rocks, and slam it open and hold on when you get into the silt pits. What acts to your benefit is that it´s very few curves, but that´s the only positive thing to say as well.
Another thing is the constant burn on your legs from the overheating engine. For these conditions you feed the engine with even more fuel than it can eat to avoid heat seizures. Despite this it´s like riding a sauna stove.
You feel a constant pain from the heat through your thick and smelly leather boots, and when it´s at the hottest of the day and the gravel is loose and deep enough the engine still starts detonating and almost seizure anyway. It says a bit considering the engine is at its very outer limit of the tolerances with 80 000 kilometers on the same bore and pistons.
The final bonus is callosity on your hands from steering, and burned away fingerprints on thumbs and indexing fingers from working on the hot bike.
Strange enough, both I and the bike seem to like all this suffering. It’s some kind of perverted good feeling when you´re through it. You sit down with a drink, plug in your Ipod and just look at the bike in the African sunset. There is no room for complaints then.
This was written after the second day on the bad road, from what I had heard the road was supposed to get better so I took the victory in advance and wrote this piece. What followed was two more days, way worse than the two first. When the road improved in Ethiopia different problems occurred, so I´ll write up the complete story a bit later and publish as a complete piece on the blog. The pictures below is from the third day, when things started to get infernal.
Moyale Hovedvejen. Du har antagelig aldrig hørtt om den,og det er netop pointen, som de siger i New York (oversætters note; ??!?!?). Det her stykke ikke-eksisterende vej var rejsens sidste hårde stræk, en 'hovedvej' med vejrøvere, mellem Isiolo og grænsebyen Moyale i Nordkenya. I Etiopien begynder asfalten på vejen igen og varer ved hele vejen til Alexandria, hvorfra vi tager en færge til Italien.
Hullet mellem Isiolo og Moyale er berygtet for kamelstøvede banditter på de lange ørkenstræk af denne mere eller mindre ikke-eksisterende vej. Det var dog ikke så hårdt som vejen i Andesbjergene i Bolivia, og den ned til Paraguay med et smadret gearkasse, eller gennem de værste stræk i Mongoliet. Og efter hvad jeg har hørt sikkert langt bedre end Labrador-kysten.
Men det var ikke desto mindre et helvede af vibrationer, olie, benzin og støv. På dette tidspunkt pumper motoren olie ud af motoren og benzinen står ud af huller i tanken og af åndehullet i tankdækslet. Det hele mikses med det fine vejstøv og dækker såvel mand som maskine. Når du senere på dagen snyder næsen, kommer der noget ud som i Europa vil blive klassificeret som giftigt affald. Med tilpas håbløst kørende materiel vil selv et stræk på bare 370 kilometer sætte både tålmodighed og evner på prøve.
Den stivstellede maskine hopper henover vejens endeløse vaskebrætoverflade. Kører man for stærks knækker stellet, så det er bare tomgang i første gear og ellers hive den hårdt rundt om stenene, og fyre til den når støvhullerne dukker op. Til vores fordel er der kun meget få sving, men det er også det eneste pæne der er at sige om vejen.
Et andet problem er brandsårene fra den overophedede motor. Under disse omstændigheder giver man maskinen mere benzin end den kan æde, for at forhindre den i at sætte sig. Men trods det er som at køre en sauna-ovn.
Man kan føle en konstant smerte fra varme selv gennem tykke og ildelugtende læderstøvler, og når dagen er varmest og gruset er løst & dybt nok begynder motoren at banke og er tæt på at klemme. Det siger ikke så lidt, når man tager i betragtning af at den er tæt på ydersiden af tolerancerne efter 80.000 km på samme boring og stempler.
En ekstra bonus er vablerne på ens hænder fra at styre den, og fingertryk som er brændt af tommel- og pegefinger efter at have arbejdet på den varme mc. Mærkeligt nok synes både jeg og maskinen at have det godt med al den lidelse: bagefter er der en-eller-ander pervers fryd ved at have gjort det. Du sætter dig hen med en drink, propper iPod'ens ørepropper i og kigger på maskinen mens solen går ned. Så er der intet at klage over.
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Det her blev skrevet efter andendagen på den elendige vej. Jeg havde hørt at vejen så blev bedre og havde allerede taget sejren for givet, da jeg skrev ovenstående. Hvad fulgte var så to dage der var meget færre ned de første to. Da vejen endeligt blev bedre i Etiopien opstod der andre problemer, som jeg vil skrive om senere, i et separat indlæg. Billederne herunder er fra trediedagen, netop som det begyndte at blive rigtig slemt.
Urhino at the Henry Camp
The camp was nice, with a hut functioning as a dorm, and showers and toilets in a separate building. As we checked in, the boy showed us around. First to the dorm, then up to the showers and toilets. On the way back from the shower to the hut he points at a fence, a fence that encloses a big area.
“There´s the rhino” he said. I could see nothing but a bunch of monkeys in the shades of the trees in the fenced in area. “WTF, you got you own rhino here? Is it yours?” I´d always assumed that rhinos were rare and as hard to find as virgins in Manila.
“I said rhino!!” he snapped at me. “Amazing, I´ve always wanted a rhino, do you wanna sell it?” I replied even more enthusiastic.
“Rhino!!” he says a bit annoyed. “Yes, for God’s sake, I´m not deaf! In fact, I´d like to buy it and bring it back to my grandmother as a present. I think she too would fancy a rhino.”
Klaus had an ugly grin on his face. “Tormod, give him a break. He says urinal, not rhino. “
Det var en kort dag med kun 50 kilometer eller deromkring, og seks små timers kørsel på en vaskebrætvej. Vi havde hørt godt om Henry Camp i Marsabit, og bestemte os for at komme tidligt i seng, spise ordentligt, tjekke maskinerne og måske kigge på dem i den afrikanske solnedgang. Det havde allerede været et par hårde dage.
Campingpladsen var fin nok, med en hytte der fungerede som sovesal, og brusere og lokummer i en separat bygning. Vi tjekkede ind og knægten viste os først sovesalen, så bruserne og toiletterne. På vej tilbage pegede han på et større indhegnet område.
”There's the rhino” ('Der er næsehornet') sagde han. Jeg kunne ikke se andet end en flok aber i skyggen under et træ. ”Hva fa'en, I har jeres eget næsehorn her? Er det dit?” jeg havde ellers altid troet næsehorn var sjældne og lige så svære at finde som en jomfru i Manila.
”Rhino!” sagde han lidt irriteret. ”For guds skyld mand, jeg er ikke døv. Faktisk vil jeg gerne købe det og tage det hjem som en gave til min bedstemor. Jeg tror hun også vil blive rigtig glad for et næsehorn”.
”Tormod, lad ham være”, sagde Klaus med et grimt grin i fjæset. ”Han siger 'urinal', ikke 'rhino'”.
The dangerous homerun is on
For me this is the nightmare leg, and the one I´ve always considered the most dangerous. Not because the very bad road and bandit infested area north in Kenya. Nor because the elections and unrest in Sudan with an armored division along our route, ready to go south if the desire appears after the election. All this is matters of bad luck if it happens something, and if I was an unlucky soul I´d be long gone already.
The problem is that when you´re this close, you´re feeling home and done with the journey. You start relaxing and lose focus, and that´s when you do the mistakes you can´t afford.
It´s like the transport legs on races like the Paris-Dakar; almost more people drive themselves to death after the high speed stages than during them. They´re tired, relax and screw up. In our case it doesn´t help that you´re more than likely driving in a hypothermia ridden state and react slowing than under normal circumstances the last few thousand kilometers.
It´s just to keep your head cool and steer her the last 5000 kilometers home. After all, to keep the head cool through the North European February night should go by itself.
Vi har krydset Ækvator, så nu er der kun Etiopien, Sudan, Egypten plus et par europæiskelande, der ikke er værd at nævne, der skiller mig fra 'hjemme'.
For mig er det her mareridts-strækket, og det stræk som jeg altid har set som det farligste. Ikke pga. de dårlige veje eller vejrøverne i det nordlige Kenya. Heller ikke pga. valg og uroligheder i Sudan, med militærstyrker langs vores rute klar til at gå sydpå, skulle de have lyst til det efter valget. Sker der mig noget vil dette vil kun være et spørgsmål om uheld, og var jeg en uheldig sjæl ville jeg for længst være død og borte.
Problemet, at når du er så tæt på, føler du at du allerede er hjemme og færdig med rejsen. Du begynder at slappe af, er mindre fokuseret, og så er det du laver fejl du ikke kan tillade dig.
Det er ligesom de almindelige stræk i Paris-Dakar løbet, hvor der næsten er flere der kører sig ihjel efter de hurtige stræk end på dem. I vores tilfælde er hjælper det ikke, at du er mere tilbøjelig til at køre stivfrossen og derfor reagerer langsommmere end normalt de sidste par tusinde kilometer.
Det er bare med at holde hovedet koldt og styre de sidste 5000 km hjem. Men ok, at holde hovedet koldt gennem Europa i februars nattekulde er vel helt naturligt.