Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Real COP15 Demo behind the media’s coverage.

On the 12th of December took place the largest international citizen support for climate action in Copenhagen so far.

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Next day, those were the headlines:

Euronews: Hundreds arrested at climate change demo

NY times: Hundreds of protesters arrested at climate talks

CNN: Arrests at climate conference.


I felt confused and angered by how the international media focused on the tiny incident that happened while completely ignoring the hopeful and positive message the mass of 100,000 people tried to convey in a very festive and organized atmosphere.

I know it, I was there.

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A few days earlier, I had decided to find a way to get to Copenhagen and join the march, even for a day, to show my support. Luckily I heard about a French left-wing anti-capitalist party that was organizing buses trips for that special event. I jumped on the occasion and bought my ticket.

On the 11th of December, 3 buses left Paris towards Denmark in a 20 hour trip. We were mostly young people, with a big majority being politically active and a few (like myself) just wanting to show their support.

We arrived the next day around noon. Due to a delay on the German border, we missed the first part of the march but arrived just in time to catch up with the crowd on the starting point at 1pm.

In front of the Parliament, in Christiansborg, I watched the streets fill with colors and people from many different countries, together, side by side, marching and carrying their signs with strong and direct slogans.

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Political leaders, actors, important personalities took turn to deliver their messages for climate justice action. The crowd was roaring louder and louder, showing support cheerfully.

The march started at around 2pm, under a low sun and freezing temperatures that didn’t seem to annoy the happy crowd snaking in the streets of Copenhagen.

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I followed the mass during 6km up to Bella center, behind mini-trucks blasting Drum n’ Bass or reggae music all the way. It was a colorful march, festive and well organized. Signs were left here and there for people to take and join in. Other causes were also represented like Tibet or Iran.

Apart from a few helicopters and scattered security guards, the police were very discrete and friendly. The only incident the media focused so much on was the work of an ultra-violent anarchist group all masked and dressed in black that threw bricks at the police and broke a few windows. But they were very quickly arrested and the march continued strong and undisturbed.

The 5 hour long march ended in front of the Bella center where the talks are being held. Thousands of candles were held up high, representing the hopes and support of the international community for climate action. The night continued with concerts in town and people dancing to electro or hip hop music. I also was impressed by how fast the streets were cleaned behind the march!

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So I sit and wonder. Why did the media focus on such a small incident, ignoring completely the reality of a 100,000 citizens marching together as one? Why didn’t anybody talk about the peaceful messages and the festive atmosphere that reigned all the way during 6kms?

Do not be fooled by what the media shows… The COP15 “Flood Action” march was a success. It was never done before.

Now let’s hope the message is clearly understood and do our part of the job.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009


What would you say if, every morning, somebody covered you with a cotton sack, suffocated you for a whole day in a tight leather outfit while forcing you to carry your own weight? I guess that would be very unpleasant would it?

Well, that’s what we do to our feet everyday!

The foot is an important part of our body, an engineering marvel. It helps us stand, and move around in the physical plane. It also plays a crucial part in our well being. With so many nerve endings (about 7200), techniques like massage, acupressure or reflexology can heal many of our ailments in a natural way. The foot is a mini map of our body.

Too many people ignore the pleasure of walking barefoot. Walking without shoes stimulates the foot, sending well being messages to the whole body and to the brain. It tones the muscles (19 muscles) resulting in stronger feet and helps pump back blood to the heart! Of course, it also makes you feel closer to Nature.

Do I hear you say “But I already walk barefoot at home!” ?

That is not enough! Forget the flat artificial surfaces we walk on everyday. We need uneven surfaces like grass, sand, why not rocks?

And lastly, for your own good, at the end of the day, make a habit of thanking your feet by giving yourself a nice good self-massage. They carried you all day long, without moaning.

So, take off those shoes, get rid of those socks and go run like wild on the beach with your friends. Your feet and your whole body will thank you for it.


Monday, December 7, 2009

The real solution of the climate issue.

So the climate conference in Copenhagen started today. Many head of states and governments are meeting up for 11 days to come up with a real solution about climate issues.

Millions of people have their eyes focused on the debates, their hopes placed on the future decisions.

I have noticed lately a change in the world. More and more people seem interested in environmental issues, media talks about it frequently and more people are concerned about the future of our planet.

So our hopes are placed on the climate conference. They will fix everything, right?


We had Kyoto before, we had many debates about climate, we had many conferences about environment, weapons, pollution and so on.. Did we see any change during the last few years? In any field?

Most biggest polluting countries in the world can get away with a “No, I refuse” and the deal is over..

Big decisions are supposed to be taken by governments to control and reduce pollution. But honestly, will one person representing a whole country be able to make a change? Especially politicians?

The real solution does not lie in Copenhagen, or Governments. It lies in our hands. Us, the people.

A mass gathering of millions of angry citizens can make any government kneel. Millions of people can make any polluting corporation shut down. Those governments are supposed to represent the people, but do they really?

This could appear to be a call for a revolution. And yes there should be a revolution. A peaceful one, with people showing they are fed up and want real decisions.

Put the pressure, show the world we care about our future.

But, that is not the only solution too.. I don’t think big corporations or a few handful of companies are the biggest cause of the climate issues. The biggest cause is again: Us, the people.

Gather all the millions of people in their daily lives and add the carbon footprint of every citizen. The wasted energies, the cars, the garbage, the over-consumption.. All these added together make all of us the biggest polluters. So it’s not a simple climate conference that will solve the issues, but changing our habits, and participating in creating a better world.

So, why not:

-Find tips to save energy. There are many out there, on internet, and many logical and obvious habits like turning off lights when leaving a room, or using solar panels..

-Drive less. Use more public transports, use bikes, buy a non-polluting car.. or simply walk. Why be concerned about climate issues if we spend most time in a car not even enjoying the weather?

-Buy less, recycle more. Why throw away stuff that are still in working condition? Why buy new stuff when the old one works perfectly fine?

-Educate children. We are creatures of habit. Educate the children and they will get the habit of preserving our planet.

We, the people, are responsible for letting our planet turn into a waste. And we are the ones who can do something about it. Change YOUR habits, and pressure your own government together with everyone else, in a peaceful way, to show them you care.

Let’s get to work, we have a home to save.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sad news for the Travel Community..

Sad news for the travel and adventure community.
The famous "National Geographic Adventures" magazine is shutting down, their last issue being the December/January (the one currently on newsstands).

It was a great magazine accessible to most people that wanted to jump into the adventurous world and create one for themselves. Not only for the hardcore adventurers but also for the random person who never traveled alone.

Another victim of the crisis, another good magazine that disappears.

Apparently, they claimed that Nat. Geo Adventures will continue on different supports like e-mags or webpages. Let's hope they continue to survive that way!

"Dream it, plan it, do it"...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Beverage of Druids

Witches, Demons, Evil spirits and nasty leprechauns! Behold! Read no further for you will find here only your doom…

One of my favorite regions in Spain is Galicia, located on the North-Western tip, right above Portugal. It is the wettest part of the country and also home of Celtic traditions and culture. Yes.. Celtic.

Some even dare say that Celts originated from that region in Spain and colonized later Ireland and Brittany (no wonder as the weather and landscape are very similar in those places).

Anyway, while walking on the Camino de Santiago and after reaching Galicia, I made a very fortunate discovery: The local traditional alcoholic beverage… Queimada!

This ancient beverage was prepared during pagan festivals and gatherings by the Celtic druids. It is a kind of punch made from Orujo (a distilled spirit prepared from the remains of grapes used for the wine) mixed with lemons, coffee beans, cinnamon and sugar. All these ingredients are then mixed together in a big container and set alight while the druids recited a magical incantation.

The purpose of this drink (other than celebrating and getting wasted) was to keep evil spirits and witches away from the villages.

I was lucky to be able to attend a town celebration with plenty of Spanish grilled food like chorizo and churrascos given away for free, as well as a Queimada incantation. I was entirely mesmerized by the blue flames while the whole town was dancing next to a transformers-like truck that turned into a huge concert stage. The preparation took a while, roughly about 30 to 40 minutes.

Lucky enough, the townsmen were already pretty drunk from beer and wine so nobody was interested much in drinking the punch, which we gladly finished between us! It was DELICIOUS! (and strong.. wow..).

And yes, It did work, I did not cross any witches during the next month! *hips* Cheers!

Here is the translated version of the incantation, looks like it came straight out of a fairytale!

Owls, white-owls, toads and witches.
Demons, goblins and devils,
spirits of the misty vales.
Crows, salamanders and mages,
charms of the medics.
Rotten pierced canes,
home of worms and vermin.
Wisps of the Holy Company,
evil eye, black witchcraft,
scent of the dead, thunder and lightning.
Howl of the dog, omen of death,
maws of the satyr and foot of the rabbit.
Sinful tongue of the bad woman
married to an old man.
Satan and Beelzebub's Inferno,
fire of the burning corpses,
mutilated bodies of the indecent ones,
farts of the arses of doom,
bellow of the enraged sea.
Useless belly of the unmarried woman,
speech of the cats in heat,
dirty turf of the wicked born goat.
With this bellows I will pump
the flames of this fire
which looks like that from Hell,
and witches will flee,
straddling their brooms,
going to bathe in the beach
of the thick sands.
Hear! Hear the roars
of those that cannot
stop burning in the firewater,
becoming so purified.
And when this beverage
goes down our throats,
we will get free of the evil
of our soul and of any charm.
Forces of air, earth, sea and fire,
to you I make this call:
if it's true that you have more power
than people,
here and now, make the spirits
of the friends who are outside,
take part with us in this Queimada


Here is also a video of the ritual:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Need a hug?

“We made it!”

Backpacks and walking sticks crash loudly on the floor as pilgrims, young and old let go of the burden they have been carrying along for the past month.

We are in Santiago de Compostela, in front of the cathedral on the Plaza del Obradoiro. We have made it, we have walked about 800km to reach this point, all the way from the French border. The St James way.

Sitting in the shade under the arcades of the Town hall, I observe the flow of pilgrims spreading in the vast square with a smile. Some look exhausted, some look happy, ecstatic, some have a sad face. Everyone its emotions.

Arriving here can be overwhelming: It can represent liberation after days of struggling, fighting against the physical pain or mental torture while crossing long stretches of emptiness in the Spanish “Meseta”. It can also symbolize the end of a long adventure, a beautiful human experience with encounters and spontaneous friendships.

I have lived both sides. I once hated this city but I learned to love it again on my second camino. Two different experiences that helped me grow.

It was almost noon. Most pilgrims started heading to the cathedral where the daily pilgrim mass is held. Arms around shoulders, singing, laughing loudly. All the sounds expanded to fill the square, making it a place of celebration and love.

Except for one pilgrim that caught my attention. A lonely old woman leaning on her walking stick avoided the crowd and sat in a corner. She had a confused look and a tired face.

From under my hat, I kept looking at her, wondering what she was thinking about, how she was feeling. She seemed to have walked a long distance according to the tan lines she had.

Minutes passed and she was still sitting alone, staring at the cathedral without moving.

I stood up and approached with a smile.

Good day peregrina! You made it! Congratulations!”

A shy smile enlightened her face as she tried to mumble in a broken English “Thank you very much”.

I looked at the crowd heading towards the entrance of the cathedral while she started packing her backpack to attend the mass.

I have noticed something since you arrived here. You are alone, and something bad happened

She gave me a puzzled look as her smile slowly faded away.

Do you know it is considered a crime..” I paused a few seconds, looking deeply in her eyes. “.. to enter Santiago after all this walk and not receive a hug?”

She hesitated for a moment, trying to understand the sentence then smiled as I took her in my arms for a warm loving hug. She needed it, I felt it. She held me close to her tightly when the bells pounded the beginning of the mass.

Her eyes were filled with tears of gratitude as she took my hand and pronounced something in a language I didn’t understand. I didn’t need to ask, it was all in the eyes. I just smiled and let her go.

Buen Camino of Life” I whispered to myself. A little human warmth can make a great difference sometimes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Barcelona top 10 places to visit

During my short (almost 2 week) visit in Barcelona, I took some time with a friend to wander around and visit this city everybody seems to talk about yet few have visited. I actually loved it and it won a place in my “List of towns I could live in”.

Here is my top 10 places not to miss in Barcelona (in no particular order):

1- La Sagrada Familia:


Maybe the most famous landmark in Barcelona. This unfinished cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1883 (and supposed to be completed in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of his death) is seen from everywhere, sitting like a spiked beast in the center of Barcelona.

Describing the cathedral would take me ages, I’ll leave that to more adequate websites. However, it is not possible to just pass by next to it without stopping to stare at one of the millions of details ornating the many facades of the structure. It just makes you feel so small..

Also as people always ask: “Chose your favorite side”: The modern and abstract-like facade resuming the history of Jesus in very cubic style statues? Or the “organic facade” that seems like a jungle of stone plants with many reference to mythologies. I personally prefer the latter one but would love to see the whole cathedral completed and rise in all it’s glory to the sky with no less than 18 towers.

(Oh and don’t be fooled by the postcards of the cathedral without cranes.. they are photoshopped.. Cranes have always been there for yeaaaars!)


2- Park Guell:


There are many parks in Barcelona, but by far the most interesting and impressive is the garden complex designed by Gaudi again (originally meant to be a housing complex). It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

This maze like park is so rich in architectural designs and elements easily identifiable as Gaudi’s work that you definitely need many hours to just enjoy every detail, every corner... Or you can just sit on the grass and let Barcelona’s sunshine caress you while reading a book… Or maybe sit on the Terrace surrounded by mosaics and listen to the different bands playing around while socializing… How about climbing to the highest point where a cross stands overlooking the city.. In any ways, you will never be bored in that park.


3- Santa Maria del Mar:

A cathedral built “by the people, for the people”. It’s an imposing and austere structure from the outside as well as the inside comparing to most cathedrals in Spain. It was built in the XIV century in a Catalan Gothic style.

The cathedral is huge and the interior appears surprisingly luminous. The lack of decorations and golden facades which the Spanish are so fond of make it seem cold but gives a sense of peace and purity. The acoustic is also impressive and I wish i had the occasion to hear someone play the organ hanging on one of the walls.

A virtual tour of the inside of the cathedral.

4- Palau de Musica:

One of the gems of Europe. This Palace (concert hall) located behind buildings, hidden from sight was built in only 3 years with a starting budget of 6000€. It was designed by the famous spanish architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner.

The Palau de Musica transported me into a “victorian style” world, where I could almost feel the rich Bourgeoisie attending an opera while the Phantom is stalking from behind one of the 18 muses that ornate the stage! I was constantly amazed by the richness of the details and the fabulous stained-glass “skylight” representing a Sun in the shape of a drop of water.


The guide (yes, it is a guided tour), instead of trying to explain in words, gave us a taste of what the organ sounded like: I definitely had an eargasm! It was enough to understand how majestic and enchanting this place was.

(Photos were not allowed so I took the skylight from wikipedia … )

5- Hospital Sant Pau:


Built by the same architect that did the palau de musica. This hospital complex is so rich in decorations that it almost made me feel like breaking my leg to be admitted in.

Although the exterior looks beautiful, I was curious to know what the inside looked like. I only was able to trespass and enter the undergrounds where and web of tunnels link all the different sections together.. It looked more like a bunker than a hospital.


6- Montjuic:


(I have already talked about Montjuic on my photoblog so I’ll just repost it here. It also remains one of my favorite places in Barcelona.)

Montjuic, the "Hill of the Jews" is located on a hill in the city, overlooking Barcelona in all its glory.

There is a beautiful fortress located on top of it that served for many inglorious purposes during the war. It was a prison for political prisoners as well as the site of many shady executions.

Later it served as the site of the International Exposition in 1929. It also hosted the Spanish Grand Prix, an Olympic Stadium, a National Museum of Art de Catalunya, a botanical garden and a cemetery.

7- Las Ramblas / Barri Gòti:

Las Ramblas is a 1.2km long street that has become mainly a popular touristic attraction with many shopping centers, markets and artists along the sidewalk eager to distort your face on a sheet of paper and sell it to you for a fortune. If you are into shopping, you definitely have to go there.

Otherwise, why not get lost instead in the maze-like streets of the “Barri Gòti” (the gothic quarter) where hidden treasures appear at every corner and old shops wait for a lucky customer to enter their world and be transported to a different dimension, back in time. It is the oldest part of Barcelona and you can easily feel it. Many of the streets also end up in squares where you can just sit and enjoy and cup of coffee while the flock of tourists stroll up and down the Ramblas a few steps away.

8- the Beach:


How can you visit Barcelona without having a walk on the beach? Although not the best beaches I have seen on the Mediterranean coast, it is still nice to catch up with some friends, have a short walk on the white sand and sit in one of the many chilingitos (mini-bars) while enjoying some tapas and a cool glass of sangria!

9- Montserrat:


While not really IN Barcelona, Montserrat is located 40km outside the city but is a site worth visiting.

A Benedictine abbey built in the mountains, it is home of the famous “Black Virgin” of Spain.

One can only be impressed by those huge stone monoliths guarding the Basilica that only made me lose my jaw..


I did not have the time (or will) to stand for hours just to take a snapshot of the Virgin of Montserrat so I just went in the souvenir shop to see what it looked like. The black color of the skin comes from all the candles that have been burning around for years.


The whole place is also worth the walk and one can only feel a sense of peace while climbing up the mountain, following the yellow arrows that lead the way to Santiago de Compostella.


10- Just Barcelona:

Actually… To be honest… The way all those magnificent structures seem to blend in the city makes the whole of Barcelona a pleasure to be in.

It’s not only the structures but also the many details on buildings, benches, fountains, light poles make it a city where you cannot get bored.

Of course, not to forget the magical atmosphere and the friendliness of the spanish people.. Barcelona is truly a city to visit at least once in a lifetime and let it take you by the hand into a fantastic world of details and history.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

I am a Traveler, not a Tourist.

You may pack up and leave to a foreign country for some quality time alone or with a partner. You may follow a guidebook or join a tour to discover new places. You may sleep in a fancy hotel.

You can do whatever you want, but I insist on one thing… I am NOT a tourist. I am a traveler.

I travel to a foreign country, not to “relax” after a stressful year of work, but I travel to discover something new.

I travel outside my comfort zone, and put myself in unexpected situations instead of taking my own comfort bubble with me wherever I go.

I travel to learn about cultures, traditions. I travel to grow spiritually, to share, to teach.

I take my time, I WALK, I go slow instead of taking the bus tours that go too fast. I might get exhausted physically but I come back mentally recharged. It’s not about seeing a lot in a short time, it’s about immersing in.

I try to learn the language, at least a few sentences. I try to communicate with the locals to discover the places to be, instead of following guides or famous places. I try to show I care.

I am the guest, I respect the hosts and the place I am. I am not in a Disneyworld where I NEED to get what I paid for.

I eat with the locals in small restaurants, or in their home instead of searching for the big chains that offer me food I already know.

I carry the minimum with me, I take only what I need instead of huge luggage of unwanted and unneeded stuff. Less is more. 

I travel, I live the moment, I live my journey.

I break the barrier between the rich world and the locals.. I go where they go, I live what they live. How many Indians visited Taj Mahal? How many Peruvians climbed to Macchu Pichu?

I try to contribute into making the place better, I try to contribute into improving the condition of the people, into adding value to the place I am instead of making it a more appealing touristic place. I do not suck the soul of the place.

I appreciate what is offered to me, I am grateful instead of ordering or “wanting”.

I become a nomad, I melt in.

I become what humans always were.. travelers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Just a day in Barcelona

Just like every morning for the past few days, a loud BANG awakens me around 6AM.

My Peruvian friend (who gladly offered me a bed to sleep on) has just left the old apartment, ready for a day’s work as a taxi driver in the streets of Barcelona.

I try to go back to my dreamland but all I manage to do is roll around in bed endlessly until I finally decide to get up and start my day.

Sitting in the poorly lit cold living room, I slowly munch my croissant with a cup of tea while observing the decoration around me. Family pictures stuck under colorful fantasy frames, crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary gathered in a corner silently returning my gaze under the dancing flame of a red candle, Peruvian puppets hanging on the walls gathering dust…  These all belong to the personal world of my friend I had met a few months ago on the Camino de Santiago. It’s his connection to his family, culture, tradition.

As I wash the dishes, I try to figure out what my plan is for this day. A quick peek at the window confirms that Barcelona is still refusing Autumn. It’s a bright sunny day! Will it be a walk on the beach with tapas and sangria? Or just being lazy reading a book in one of the many parks of this huge city?

I gather my notebooks and some reading material in my bag and grab the keys hanging next to the door. Time to enjoy the sunshine!

As I slowly walk down the stairs, I look at the time on my old mobile phone and notice the date. November already… Each step down suddenly feels like a descent in the depths of my past.

It was exactly two months ago when I left home, my job, my family and my friends to travel around the world as I wish. I was unhappy with the life I was living. It was superficial, materialistic and unexciting. I needed a big change, I needed to live my dreams and unite my passion of photography with my thirst of discovery and knowledge.

I prepared my travel plans and gathered all the money I could and saved for the past years to enjoy my trip without stressing out about financial issues.. at least for a few months.

It was a hard moment to face, leaving all my past life behind, as well as my comfort and family but the excitement about traveling overtook my anxiety and I finally left the country with no regrets, no looking back.

Since then, I had traveled in a few countries in Europe and walked for 900km in Spain, reaching Finisterra and back. And now I was left wondering where to go next, what to do? Money was running out fast as long as I stayed in Europe, I had to leave the continent or find an income.

As I open the door, a bright sunshine welcomes me in the busy street. It’s a perfect day to make decisions and plan my next step. As much as I am enjoying my time in Spain, I reminded myself that I wanted a Round-The-World trip and a big cultural difference.

Standing there for a few seconds, a Chinese shop caught my eye. With a smile I start walking towards the metro station. Everything is a sign: I am going to Asia soon.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A quick summary

Where should I start? From the beginning I suppose.
It has been almost two months I have left the UAE to travel around, see and do things I always wanted to do. It was one of the biggest steps of my life and I have to say it, so far.. I am enjoying it! No regrets!

I left on the 5th of September towards Europe. I landed in Frankfurt, Germany to see a friend. It was funny to feel the sudden temperature difference: When I left in the morning it was 45C degrees, when I landed it was 15C !
I spent 2 days in Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle) with my friend but.. let's say some unexpected circumstances made me leave town much sooner than I planned (A pity, I really enjoyed that town, I'll write a full articles about it later).
After Aachen I headed to Cologne, to meet another close friend of mine I have encountered in Iceland last year. There, chatting with her and her roommate, a door opened to me: Do the Camino de Santiago another time (I've done it once in May).

The funny thing is that, when yo have no more routine, no specific plans and in "travel mode", you just jump on the first opportunity that pops. The Camino again? Why not! I needed to take more pictures of it anyway.
So for the next month, I've walked about 900km from France to the furthest tip in Spain, taking photos, enjoying the beautiful weather, meeting amazing people.. It was a different experience but a much needed one too!

I reached Finisterra in a relaxed and peaceful state. My only solution was to go back again (or swim across the Ocean?). I headed back to France, in Reims then in Meaux then in Paris for a few days "chillaxing". I felt I was carrying the Sun with me all the time as I had beautiful warm weather everywhere I have been going!

Now, after a quick chat on Facebook with some friends to choose my next destination, I am in Spain again, Barcelona.

I really like this city! So much to do, so much to see. So many details around the corner of each street and a beautiful atmosphere. It's my 3rd day now and we have a few plans for the next days, a Halloween party, visit a monastery and just chilling around in town.

Wonder where to go next? I am hesitating to take a cheap plane to Stockholm... All I know is that I am planning to leave Europe in November.. It's pretty expensive to be here and as I don't have any job and income for now, i'd rather travel in a different continent, cheaper, and culturally different... Life's tough isn't it? Hehe.

In any case, My reality is My choice... We are masters of our own life.

You decide!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Some updates from the end of the (european) world!

I know I have been silent for so long! But I am still traveling around the Camino and almost reaching the "end of the world" (Finisterra)... I will post big updates with many many photos as soon as I find a place to put down my backpack, find a good connection and have all the time to write all I need to say.

So far, my trip is perfect, amazing, liberating and rich.. It will continue going crescendo I know it!

Cheers to all and see you very soon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The last days in the UAE

My adventure started.

I was so overwhelmed and busy the last few days that i did not have any time to update anything.
I took the decision to leave in June, after coming back from the Camino. Since then, I procrastinated too much and left everything pending for August. The last few weeks of August were a complete rush. I had to settle all the issues concerning my travels. I wasn’t going on a holiday, I was leaving the country for good.

The main issue was packing up my room. I had to put away all the stuff I had (and boy do I have a lot of junk), the books, the photography equipments, magazines and everything accumulated throughout the years. Eventually, I ended packing up on my last night. Close call!

The whole process of “leaving” was quite easy, without any obstacles that made my decision difficult to handle. I am a firm believer of signs all around that guide the way (I have experienced very strong ones) and this time, nothing was blocking my path. I guess it meant that I WAS on the right path for once.

I also felt a kind of Peace inside for a long while, not regretting my decision ever. Yes I still had some doubts from time to time, and I did get nervous as the days grew closer, but I remained confident, excited and happy.

The last week was also quite intense thanks to all my friends and the people I love around me. I had to meet everyone, last drinks, last dinners. Since my birthday I have been so spoiled by my friends that I am eternally grateful to all. It is sad to leave everyone behind and go alone. I spent an amazing 2 years with all of them, camping, partying, traveling, or simply chatting around a cup of tea.
But, I guess the world is so small nowadays, meeting up or staying in contact is quite easy. It’s just a “farewell, see you soon”.

And now, sitting in a café in Aachen - Germany. I have started a new life. I am a bit clueless, I have no plans and the ones I had made for the first few weeks have already changed. I just have to let go with the flow, I know I am being guided towards something beautiful.

Friends, Family, everyone.. I miss you and love you all!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

31 years later... Better than ever!

31 years ago, I took my first breath in this World.

The first act of love I was given was a slap on the ass (So i could breath? yeah right! Torture!).. Fortunately, it got better and better over the years!

Yesterday, my friends all gathered to celebrate my first breath.
Setting? A small private room in a Japanese restaurant in Abu Dhabi (UAE) packed with 13 fun people all around a small table covered with sushis, sashimis and bottles of sake.
I had a truly wonderful birthday night thanks to them.

I left France 5 years ago to come back to the UAE for work. I was a "wreck".. I had gone through a depression, I had gained so much weight, I had lost my self-confidence.
Over those 5 years, I came to meet all those amazing people I am surrounded by today. They all gave me some of their love, they all gave me some of their time and they all helped me become the person I am today.
The best gift I have received was not the Tri-Jellyfisting Gorillapod (don't try to understand), not the NatGeo camera bag, not the small Icon from Ainteb.. Not even the 50D DSLR (you guys are insane! Thank you!)... The best gift was their presence, their smiles, their kind words and all the love they gave to me because today, I wouldn't be what I am without them.

I will miss you all, very much. And I will keep a part of each one of you with me in all my travels.

To all my friends in the UAE, to all my friends outside in the world or on internet: I love you all :)

And last but surely not least.. Thank you to my family, their support, their understanding and thank you parents for bringing me to this wonderful world!
You just could've beaten the crap out of that doctor who slapped me! ;)

Monday, August 17, 2009

How I learned to smell water...

Iceland is known to be an island with plenty of rivers and fresh pure water. One can never die of thirst in Iceland.

Unfortunately, luck wasn’t really on our side when 2 of my friends (Shaf and Nad) and I went trekking in August 2008. Not that we were dying of thirst mind you, it WAS raining all the time.. But the rivers on our path were far from being crystal clear sources of Life.. It was more like chocolate milky, muddy rivers!

We did have the equipment to filter the mud out but it was a long and painful process for just a few drops of clean water.

On the 5th day of our trek, hopping from shelter to shelter, we were running out of clean water to drink and cook with. We HAD to find a river and there was supposed to be one not far from the shelter. I secretly crossed my fingers hoping it wouldn’t be a magical source of Cappuccino again.

After hours of walking with our stinking wet clothes on, we reached the big, cold, lonely shelter and… Hallelujah! There was a plastic can full of clear water next to the entrance! I was already dreaming of a glass of fresh water with a gourmet dish of instant noodles mixed with mushroom cream powder soup (yum!).

We settled in the shelter, drank and drank, cleaned the tables (Why were there so many dead flies everywhere?) and started cooking. It was delicious…

Tired and happy, we went for a 2h nap before deciding to continue.

… Or not.

After waking up, my friend Nad went to drink some more water. One cup down, second in process… Wait a minute..
Guys, did you notice this water smells funny?”.

As my nose hesitantly reached the bottle, it all made sense.. The dead flies…

It smelled pesticide. We had been drinking an unknown amount of pesticide diluted in water!

Ok. How do you react? Images of us lying dead in this cold shelter, in the middle of nowhere, came rushing through my mind. This can’t be! I just turned 30 a week ago! I was too young to die! Not to mention in a stupid unheroic way!

We kept our calm.

Do you feel fine?” “Does your stomach hurt?
It had been more than 2 hours since we last ate and drank so we should have already been poisoned by now. I guess the amount of pesticide was quite low.

However, Nad (who drank much much more than us) felt some slight burning in his throat. It was time to act, move and find fresh water. FAST! Our last chance was the river on the map not far from the shelter.

As I was completely in pain, I stayed in the shelter while Shaf and Nad went to look for the river.
It was hard waiting in the dark, alone, wondering what happened to my friends and how Nad was feeling.

They eventually came back an hour or two later, with a little amount of water. The river was still muddy but they had to filter it again and Nad, feeling worse had to throw up to empty his stomach of the poison.

In the end, after making sure we were REALLY feeling better, we laughed about it. I guess we really got scared but it served us as a lesson: Smell before drinking! (Even if it’s water and it’s not supposed to have a smell!).

We made sure to put a warning sign on the can for any other thirsty trekkers. You never know.
We woke up the next morning early to finish our trek in Þingvellir and fill our stomach with hotdogs and 3 cups of hot chocolate EACH!

And it smelled good!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

You know you've been in the U.A.E. for too long when...

1- You don't even go buy groceries; you are only a phone call / honk away from delivery.
2- You only occupation during weekend nights is clubbing in the hypest nightclub.
3- You judge a person by his job.
4- You need a maid to clean your house / do the dishes / cook for you.
5- You find it normal to spend an hour looking for a parking spot (and end up parking on a sidewalk).
6- You have developed a huge ego and need everything to be the biggest/tallest/highest/prettiest/most expensive..
7- You find wearing a dress stylish (for men) and being covered in black from head to toe attractive (for women).
8- Eating in an small restaurant or Cafeteria is out of the question! (It's dirty, you need 5 star).
9- You know the meaning of the word "wasta" (and you have many).
10- Your social status is measured by your car model.
11- You automatically speak broken english/arabic when you face a south-asian looking person.
12- You smoke too much "medwakh" (local "tobacco" ... more like drug).
13- The best place to hang out on weekend afternoons is the mall.
14- You think flashing your lights while speeding will automatically clear the way in front of you.
15- You use your warning signals in your car when it's a little foggy.
16- You have no plans for the future. Daily routine is great!
17- You can't survive an hour without your phone.
18- When you spot a speed limit, your brain automatically adds 19km/h to it.
19- You drive with one foot up resting next to the steering wheel and play with your toes. (YUK!)
20- You accept any credit card / loan offer from any bank whether you need or need (or you can repay or not).

I guess it's time for me to run away before I end up spending tooooo much time in here! (Does anyone think that a total of 23 years in the UAE is enough already? ;) ).

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Baalbeck - Lebanon

On Friday 24th of July, after so many years of traveling to Lebanon, I finally decided to visit the famous Roman temple of Baalbeck.

Along with my family, we set off in the morning for a 3h drive through various landscapes. That’s one of the advantages of Lebanon, a small country but with many different rich landscapes.
The first part of the road up to the central mountains was quite amazing: From the city of Bikfaya up to the “Bois de Boulogne” (also called Bologna). Although quite a hype place to live for the lebanese, this area still keeps its original feel with the same old style villas made of stone and red roofs. The area is also covered with forests of pine trees.
Bologna is nowadays known for peaceful retreats. It is a relatively quiet and relaxing place, with the smell of pine trees helping relieve asthma or respiratory problems.
During the Syrian occupation, this area was under their control, thus few Lebanese used to wander around. But now that the Syrians have left, the price of land sky rocketed. Many people cannot afford a home in this area. It is sad to see so many abandoned, crumbling old villas along the way.

After Bologna, we reached the top of the mountains with an amazing view on both sides. Looking west you can admire the Mediterranean Sea and looking East, you have the rich fields of the Bekaa, a flat valley between two mountain chains, an important agricultural area.

Driving back down and getting close to the city of Baalbeck, you can feel the striking difference between the areas. The Central part of Lebanon, where we started from , is under the control of Maronites Christian Lebanese, while the Baalbeck area is under the hands of the muslim Shiite Milicia, the Hezbollah. It is funny to notice the change of shop and commerce names. From French / English names in the Maronites area to Arabic or Islamic names in the Baalbeck area.
One thing that does not change in any area (sadly) is the cult of personality. Everywhere you have huge portraits of political leaders spoiling the landscape and flags hung on balconies representing the colors of the political parties. Nowhere almost can you see a proud Lebanese flag...

After a long drive, we finally reach the temple of Baalbeck.
Known as Heliopolis in ancient times, It’s among the largest temples of the Roman empire dedicated to Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Bacchus. It’s maybe the biggest treasure of Lebanon.
I was upset to see that the city of Baalbeck was actually build around the ruins. Such a valuable treasure in the middle of busy streets, pollution and noise!

The other thing I found outrageous was the entrance: A Hezbollah yellow tent celebrating “victory” with loud patriotic music spilling from huge speakers. For God’s sake, this is a TOURISTIC place, a treasure of the Roman Empire! Please leave your politics and hatred to places where they belong, and certainly NOT in a roman temple.

We nevertheless entered to visit the place after paying the fees. On a side note, the entrance fees are written in Arabic only and are cheaper (7000 leb pounds ~ 4.6$) for arabs and lebanese than for foreign tourists that cannot read (12000 pounds ~ 8$). Completely unfair...

Although well preserved and quite big, I was expecting something much more impressive. Beautiful old temples, huge columns and amazing carvings in the stone lay around in a somewhat big mess, completely unprotected as I was noticed people climbing and jumping over them like big boulders.

It was nevertheless a majestic place, especially the well preserved temple of Bacchus.

One part of the temple was closed for the public as they were preparing for the yearly "Baalbeck Festival", with a big stage that was going to host a Deep Purple concert a few days later.

Fortunately, there were not many tourists around, mostly arab locals much more interested in taking souvenir photos with the Milicia’s yellow flags and Victory signs than the huge columns.
There is near the end of the exit a very nice small museum with many helpful information and timeline concerning the evolution of the temple.

Overall, I felt a bit disappointed. I was expecting much more: a huge temple, in an isolated place. The surroundings and politics kind of spoiled it for me. This is a cultural heritage, a treasure from the past, it should be treated that way. I personally prefer the smaller ruins of “Faqra” in central Lebanon. Much smaller, but isolated, in the mountains, away from big cities. You can just walk around, close your eyes and imagine living in ancient times, amongst the Romans.

Ah well, at least now I can say that I have visited Baalbeck.