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  #31  
Old 3 May 2009
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Nearing the Mediterranean, an abrupt left turn on the hard-packed sandy soil, led toward Jordan to marvel at the well preserved ancient city of Petra, also the site of a scene from Indiana Jones.







Still, it was the people of the planet I came to meet and while spinning my tires across Middle East deserts in search of Bedouin tribes, a day's travel always ended with an offer of food and shelter.



Chance encounters along a trail led to being guided back to a tiny village for camping among shy and very conservative nomads.







While preparing a traditional breakfast of large flat disks of fire baked bread, another girl readies a variety of herbs to mix with olive oil. Abiding by strict Islamic law, young Bedouin women are forbidden to reveal their faces or hair, and it has required several days for them just to come out from hiding.



Initially, requests for photographs were denied but I was soon to stumble across a method for opening doors throughout the Muslim world. After a few days chatting politics with a "converted" American man in Istanbul, as a parting gift, he gave me his personal copy of the Koran with English translations next to Arabic text. One morning while rearranging my gear, a clan elder noticed my tattered book, exclaiming with near alarm, "What are you doing with our bible?"

Unsure if I had violated Islamic sensibilities, I merely explained the truth, "I have been studying your bible to better understand your culture."

Well aware of how Arabs are presented in the Western media, with tears in his eyes, he ran to tell the others that their wandering American guest cared enough to learn of their ways. After that, remaining social barriers tumbled down and not only did male family members grant permission to photograph their women, but some eagerly agreed to remove the veil.





Although shocking to Westerner's, Bedouin women insist that they love their veils, describing their belief that real beauty is revealed through the eyes.



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Old 9 May 2009
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December 16
Sharm el Sheik, Egypt
Next to Russian, Egyptian Customs procedures are the most complex. But as the ferry landed from Aqaba, a special Tourist Police Officer boarded ship whose sole mission was to assist me and another foreign rider through the mindless series of dozens of document stampings and dizzying numbers of vehicle inspections. Five hours of formalities later, we were legalized with Egyptian license plates to go with our new Egyptian drivers licenses. Odd men on the road.





Because of scattered stretches of Five Star resorts and restaurants, the Sinai is known as the Red Sea Riviera. For the best diving on earth, there’re hundreds of water-sport shops to rent everything from Jet skis to scuba gear. Local Bedouins own half the land, with some becoming overnight millionaires on revenues from land leases and building booms. As Cancun, Mexico is to the U.S., The Red Sea Riviera is to Europe, a year-round sunny playground with all the comforts of home.

It’s also a target ripe for another Al Quaeda bombing attack like the one in Taba earlier this year. Military roadblocks are manned by nervous young soldiers fingering triggers on submachine guns, but after the first passport check, we’re waved through the rest. Traveling under such tight security is unnerving, especially knowing this is not the real Egypt.

This artificial paradise of extravagance and opulence beckons, but it’s better to learn about real Egyptians, not sterile colonies of Western affluence surrounded by golf courses. Continuing past sprawling, gate-guarded luxury resorts and alluring tourist traps, I am reminded of what to avoid. A disappointing lap around touristy Sharm el Sheik, alleviated any further curiosity.

After a ferryboat sail from Sharm el Sheik to Hurghada, I ride on to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. Due to violent rebel groups infecting the countryside, sections of the Central Nile Valley are closed to travelers. For the return leg, maybe I’ll catch a riverboat down the Nile to Cairo.



Fifty miles down the coast of the Eastern Arabian Desert was supposed to be an open road leading west toward the Nile River and Luxor. But the turnoff is blocked by heavily armed military forces under sandbag barricades. Islamic extremists are at work in the countryside so the road is closed to foreigners--the commander directs me to another possibility forty miles south.

That’s okay, the highway along the Red Sea is a stunning scene of aquamarine waters separated from a booming surf by hundreds of miles of coral reefs. Yet it was the same story at the second checkpoint—foreigners are forbidden for safety reasons. I gesture a rifle with my hands, “You mean, boom, boom, boom?”

“No, no. The road just has too many trucks on it today and there could be some rough spots.” The first commander told the truth but this one doesn’t want to admit that they don’t control the countryside. They too, send me further south seeking another road that leads directly to Aswan. If this keeps up, I’ll be in Sudan by midnight.

The entire coastal region is under construction with so many new projects that companies have built cement factories every ten miles. Yet it’s empty of people. Friday is the Islamic day of rest so it wasn’t unusual for jobsites to be vacant but there were no tourist either. The roads were as bare as the hundreds of ghost town construction projects littering the coast.
Half-built shopping malls, shells of half-finished condominiums and massive unpainted resort compounds were all deserted. It’s as though a year ago, they all began at once and abruptly stopped together.

Even at the few, functioning five-star hotels, the only humans were guards at the gates. For a traveler, living in constant crud gets old. So once a month, I stretch the budget and splurge on a bug-free room with clean sheets, satellite TV and hot water. Anxious to see if the low-season crisis could be exploited, I stop to check prices. In the marble-coated reception area of a posh resort, an optimistic manager offers a special deal—an all-inclusive package for a hundred U.S. dollars. “Sorry, my budget is fifty a day for hotel, food and gas.”

“That’s okay, we’ll accept forty and include a gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Because of recent car-bombings, parking in front of hotels is prohibited but they provide a spacious suite overlooking the Red Sea on one side and a football-field-size lagoon style swimming pool on the other. At dinner, in a resort for 600, there are twenty-five well-dressed Italians and one shabby Yankee motorcyclist wearing big clunky riding boots. After a sumptuous scampi feast, one at a time they approach to shake my hand, “Bravo, bravo!” Later, we clink wine glasses poolside under a crescent moon serenaded with sing-song Egyptian love tunes. Yes, I think to myself, the Viking be livin’ large.



Unescorted
December 19
Luxor, Egypt
Tired of debating issues with checkpoint police at the final westbound road to the Nile, I am determined to continue, with or without their permission. If I can’t reason with them, I’ll find a way to cross off-road but there will be no backtracking up the coast to be told, No, all over again. We’re at a polite standoff but a patient Police Major agrees to hear my case back at headquarters.

It’s an encouraging moment entering the compound while immediately surrounded by cops extending their hands, “Welcome, welcome!” In the Major’s office, he offers tea and sympathy but still insists the road is closed to foreigners.

“I appreciate the concerns of police but if there is a chance, I would like to try,”

He understands only the word police and asks, “You are American police?”

Seeing an opening and recalling that there are cops in my Judo school, I assure him, “Better than that, I am teacher of police.”

He reconsiders. “You understand there are no fuel stations and there is much danger?”

“That’s fine,” I state, pointing out the window, “that motorcycle can go a thousand kilometers on one tank.”

For the next twenty minutes, from his rattle trap, severely dented police truck, he transmits a series of queries over two separate sets of VHF radios with ten-foot whip antennas. The relayed messages are likely monitored. If the insurgents didn’t know a foreigner was coming before, they know now. With a final shrugging of shoulders and wave of his hand, the crazy American is permitted to pass, yet I suspect that in view of the lull in violence, he also thinks that there is little risk.

Egyptian Islamic extremists connected to al-Qaida are linked to terrorist attacks a year ago, destroying an already paranoid travel industry. Murdered tourists cost the country millions and the government takes no chances, sealing off the entire Nile River Valley from traffic unless escorted by the military. Although this is clearly an over-reaction, I heed his final warning, “Don’t stop for any reason.”

Still, enough people were concerned as long stretches of the newly constructed highway were devoid of life, not even a tree. It was a ride across Mars—low level, parched rocky mountains with broad sweeping curves and even in the hot dry air, it was a motorcyclists delight. With the throttle wide open, one hundred fifty miles passes in two hours until teased by balmy breezes off the Nile blowing through countless rows of towering date palm groves.

Distant from the tourist strip of the Red Sea, Egyptian life emerges through the sweet smell of fresh fruit stands and camel dung. Donkey carts on the highway are smothered beneath bulging loads of sugar cane followed by throngs of children shouting and waving. “Welcome, welcome!” Street-corner greasy food stalls made my stomach gurgle just looking but after an hour, a traveler’s favorite meal appears—roasted chicken. It’s the most consistent protein source on the road--five bucks apiece in every country on earth.

Decisions--the laid-back city of Aswan is an hour south or two more to the north for the legendary time-capsule of Luxor. With sufficient daylight remaining, Luxor wins. But it’s a route with even more police checkpoints. Fortunately, the cops are lazy, sitting in trucks cradling assault rifles. From seated positions, they wave me to stop but I look straight-ahead, easing over speed-bumps and pretending not to see. They will certainly demand waiting until tomorrow’s military escort. I watch my mirrors checking for soldiers leveling firearms but no one gets excited enough to pursue.



Threats and fears of terrorist attacks have rendered the Middle Eastern tourist sites deserted. With a little bashkeesh to security guards, they broke cardinal rules of allowing photographs.







Cops n’ Dogders
December 22
Cairo, Egypt
It took four hours filling out the necessary paperwork in the crowed military office to satisfy apprehensive Egyptian Tourist Police that I wanted to travel to Cairo alone—with no police escort or in a slow moving convoy among dozens of stinky tour buses. To relieve government liability, a reluctant commander demands a handwritten statement declaring the condition and ability of my equipment along with an acknowledgement of unspecified dangers that everyone denies exists. To seal formalities, copies are faxed to provincial authorities further north.

Finally, shortly before sundown, I am directed to the nearby highway and instructed to have each military checkpoint radio ahead to the next that I had arrived and would continue until reaching Cairo. Anticipating misunderstandings along the way, I request a written document authorizing solo travel. “Don’t worry Mr. Glen, everyone knows you’re coming.”

At the first roadblock out of Luxor, after checking my passport and documents, a friendly Federal Police lieutenant scribbles in flowing Arabic on his clipboard that American motorcyclist Glen Heggstad, bearing Sinai plate number 52 is officially on his way. Fearing bad publicity from incidents involving mishaps with tourists, the Egyptian government is trying to control the movement of foreigners through the entire Central Nile region from Aswan to Cairo, restricting independent travel to within cities and tourist sites. It’s like if a few Europeans got shot in New York and Boston, the US Government used this as an excuse to declare Martial Law on the entire East Coast. Yet if bad guys were seeking targets, it’s likely they’d choose whoever is locked in a convoy.

Each of the first ten checkpoints are five miles apart and require delays while soldiers radio behind and ahead, confirming I am continuing north. But the further from Luxor, the less authorities understand the situation, until finally insisting I accept a military escort. It’s useless to argue as armed men clamor aboard sputtering, old pickup trucks eager to protect me from whatever happened a few years ago.

A long-dreamed about sunset on the Nile is reduced to viewing through a translucent glaze of bug guts on my visor in a 30mph procession of wailing sirens and flashing blue lights. An hour later, I am delivered to a local hotel sealed off by soldiers and ordered not to leave. This time they are serious. “Can I at least go out for Internet?”

An over-cautious captain worries for my safety. “No, the manager has agreed to let you use his.”

At sunrise, a new game ensues. At their pace, it will take days to reach Cairo, so when they assign new escorts at checkpoints, I quickly ditch them at traffic snarls. Freedom is brief but delicious. Annoyed with my antics but friendly to fault, at the following roadblocks, soldiers patiently plead that I wait for new escorts. Recognizing the overkill, still, no one wants to accept responsibly for mishaps so they all do as they are told. But even when they sometimes catch up with me, the sternest commanders break into toothy smiles when I pull off my helmet laughing.

Gawking crowds in small town traffic jams wave and cheer, welcoming the alien vagabond.



Fleeing the appointed entourage through side streets and alleys, I find a dingy, roasted chicken stand. Curious locals peer through smudgy windows at the traveler from Mars with questions about his strange machine. Explaining in sign language while demonstrating GPS functions has them stroking their beards with satisfying nods.

A stop for oranges in crowded market draws an instant throng of giggling school children reaching to shake hands and pose for pictures. “We want you to stay with us!” they shout.

“Is there a hotel here?”

“No, no. You may stay with any of us.”

An alarming surge of bodies intensifies as I am nearly shoved off my feet being killed with kindness. Everyone wants to shake hands. Dozens turn into a hundred before plainclothes police arrive to disperse them and order me on my way. Turbaned men in bell shaped gowns shout goodbye as children sprint beside me while returning to the highway.



Weaving through chaos, I compete for road space with camels beneath enormous loads of sugarcane and strings of housewives returning from the riverbanks with laundry loads balanced atop their heads. A four-hundred-fifty-mile ride tediously stretches into fascinating days snaking along the Nile until delivering me into the pulsating streets of Cairo well after dark. My first thoughts when entering the confusion of cities are when to leave, yet with so much to see, decisions of where to spend Christmas and New Years are left to whatever unfolds.



Christmas in Giza
December 26
Suez Canal, Egypt

Somewhere in the back of their minds, everyone has a fantasy to-do list. Travel the world, date a movie star or visit the Pyramids are a few dreams that come to mind. Life wouldn’t be complete without fulfilling the latter and what better time than Christmas? Most people won’t lose sleep pondering when they’ll see the Pyramids but if the opportunity arises, they’ll know what’s been missing. After the grandeur of Sultan’s palaces, the majesty of conqueror’s castles and ruins of Roman empires, these sacred tombstones of the Pharaohs exceed the other ancient marvels combined. And choosing a hotel with a panoramic sunset view of the imposing majesty beyond, guaranteed a restless night.

Dozing early, to awaken early, failed. Images of mythical triangles at sunrise tugged me from slumber at halftime and the more I insisted on sleep, the brighter they glowed. Groggy and hungry, there was no time to eat. After guzzling two liters of water, I was off into the brisk predawn air, ahead of eager crowds.

Yet photographing legendary antiquities before the tourist invasion was the notion of many. Daybreak revealed a glaring polluted haze in a cacophony of snorting camels, honking taxis and black-smoking tour buses, all converging on ticket booths scheduled to open at eight. To maintain minimum historical dignity, the Pyramids are fenced off for miles except for a busy, paved road entrance and exit for tourists--and, a watchful military outnumbering visitors. There is got to be a better way.

Bedouin teenagers peddle long monotonous camel rides to circle in from the rear for unobstructed approaches through the open desert. Unfortunately, the sand is too soft for a loaded down motorcycle with street tires. But who’s going to let common sense get in the way now? An hour later, sweating with desire and furiously paddling to remain upright, I am still searching for the Bedouin secret entry through the fence. I spent more time buried than riding while spinning over drifting dunes along the wire barrier. Recalling admonishments from my riding coach to relax the arms, temporarily staved fatigue--all the while realizing, I must return the same way.

With an overheated engine, a final sand-flinging moment occurs at the summit of a dune with more determination than me. At first, I am too exhausted to comprehend stumbling into the majestic gaze of history—yet soon enough, a stately serenity of five thousand years commands me into submission. Big enough to see from the moon, these holiest shrines of civilization shrink the horizon, solemnly shimmering in the desert landscape.

The lure intensifies. What powers dwell within? Should I join the masses on an official tourist tour? Four hours later, bent in half with my spine grazing the rough-chiseled ceiling, one-hundred-fifty of us panting gawkers scurry down through a narrow granite tunnel into the sultry depths of Cheops, the biggest and oldest Pyramid. Once nearly five hundred feet high and thirteen and a half acres at the base, it’s honeycombed with hidden passageways. And jammed together stooped over, shoulder-to-shoulder, if you don’t start with claustrophobia, you develop it quick. Declining wooden ramps with rungs to slow a steep decent are barely wide enough for one, yet the line stretches two abreast, coming and going. Though cameras are forbidden in the burial chamber, I find an empty corner for a moment of contemplation and to burn into memory that which I feel.

Study the walls, sense the air and slow the mind. Za Zen, the kneeling meditation posture in Japanese Buddhism comfortably aligns the spine and like sinking into a soft leather chair after a long hard run, I plunge--deeper—seeking, listening, hearing. The energy of the Pyramids gently reverberates dangling images of geometric shapes and mathematical equations. Is this warm humid softness of the dark a key to universal knowledge? Is it here where the ancients gathered science and wisdom? Is this altar a gateway to the stars? A unified shuffling of shoes on stone indicates it’s time to make room for the next tour group--I’ll have to ponder the Pyramids another day.


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Last edited by strikingviking; 2 Mar 2012 at 16:06.
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  #33  
Old 12 May 2009
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Eastbound across the Sinai, some of the best roads in the Middle East flow from desert floors into steep rocky canyons.



Traveling on whims and moods, at any moment a curious rider can explore off-road in search of small Bedouin villages.





A long, sandy path from the desert leads to the cement block homes of Ahmed and Saad. Ahmed speaks English. “Your are brother of Sharon, you are brother of mine.”



Political discussions in the Middle East have previously left me sleepless but temptations to know more of their thoughts overcome all.
“Ahmed, how was life under Israeli occupation?”

With a smile, he stares into the cackling fire uttering, “Paradise.”
He continues. “Israel man give work to Bedouin. When Bedouin sick, Israel man bring doctor. Bedouin work, Israel man pay money, Bedouin no work, Israel man no pay.”

“What about your laws, what if Bedouin kills?”

“We put him in the sand with only head outside--family of dead man shoot with gun three times from 100 meters. If no kill, he can be free. Allah must decide”

On matrimony, he explains that Bedouin can marry non-Muslims if they both live under Islamic law, adding, if there is no Mosque nearby, Muslims may pray in churches.

“What if Bedouin man wants to divorce his wife?”

“He can divorce but must give her house and all his camels.”

“Tell me of your camels.”

“The camel is life of Bedouin. We start to train at six months and work them at three years. Camel good for Bedouin mind. When I angry or sad, I ride camel for long time in desert and come back happy. At thirty-five, camel mean and bite--when thirty, we eat.”

As tea with chicken and rice is served, the sky darkens into a diamond sprinkled canopy of coal dust while the evening chill stings my eyes. Returning to the hotel, I consider how a short visit with the Bedouin means brothers for life.



But the wonders of Egypt are many, and a quiet, firm voice inside beckons to visit the site where God passed down to Moses those basic rules for people to treat each other, the Ten Commandments. The Lonely Planet guide book says it’s a three hour trek to the freezing summit of Mt Sinai, but I assume that’s for tourists and oversleep an hour thinking to do it in less time by eliminating rest stops. It’s 3:00 AM as I leave the motorcycle resting in the twilight shadows of St. Katerine Monastery, home to twenty-two Greek Orthodox Monks. A fleet of double-decker tour buses lines the foothills with dozing drivers awaiting the return of the exhausted devoted.

Ten minutes of hiking renders me drenched in sweat, stuffing my thermals and jacket into a plastic bag. A moonlit trail reveals ghostly images of robed Bedouin guides floating beside lumbering camels. Two backpacking British girls stride past, snickering at a wheezing out-of-shape motorcyclist. To stave humiliation, I kick it up to cardiac-arrest mode. Their pace is what I would jog a mile. Mountain climbing hags from Hell tarnishing my pride. The final 750 stone steps are too steep, commanding breathers every twenty. Barely out of breath, the witches wait at the top. “Need some help Glen?”

Penetrating gales howl across ice-patched peaks as hundreds of international pilgrims huddle beneath wool blankets spread over massive slabs of granite. Rising cold from the stone penetrates our bones. As hundreds of videos whirl and cameras click, a tiny spark of distant light grows brighter, reaching out across the early morning sky. Soon a bursting ball of blazing orange ignites the mountainsides into radiant hues of glowing beige. In the grip of the universe, a befuddled planet hurtles in a furious spin toward the horizon. A narrowing rocky landscape eerily stretches wider and suddenly I begin to feel the rotation of the earth.






While the daylight grows, as if on cue, awestruck masses stand, waiting a turn to file back down the mountainside past legions of Bedouins hawking camel rides to the buses.



A mile-long snake of shivering tourists pausing and stumbling is incentive to linger. Alone on the summit, I call out to the wind but there is only the echo of my thoughts with the question arising like so often before—How can it ever get any better than this?”

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  #34  
Old 12 May 2009
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Glen,
Keep it up, great report!! I am big fan of yours from ADVrider. I read your book and eagerly waiting for the next one.
Waiting here for the next installment.
Marty
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Silver Linings
December 31
Egyptian/Israeli Border

As frustrating as it was at the time, the best turn-of-events yet was being denied the Iranian visa. Had it been granted, I wouldn’t have detoured deeper into the Middle East and never met the Arabs. A five-day transit visa meant sprinting across Iran to Pakistan with no time for much else. The tradeoff was a rush across one country for a leisurely tour of four.

While it’s important to heed danger warnings, traveling without preconceived notions allows a broader perspective. Most use their own judgment balancing the two, yet travelers soon discover that usually, dire warnings are overreactions based on rumor. But, this was not so clear when dealing with the Middle East. Even automatically discounting the evening news, over the years, negative images of Arabs are hard to erase.






They’ve always been the villains or fools in the cinema or on TV as chanting crowds of religious fanatics applauding terrorist acts against the West. But is this true? As Fidel Castro manages to rally tens of thousands in a country where only a minority support him, a few fanatical Middle Eastern governments similarly misrepresent their populations. Once meeting them face-to-face on their turf, I realized that Arabs were angry with the US government not Americans. And if US polls are accurate, fifty percent and growing, of American citizens, feel the same.

It is true that in the Middle East, religion dominates the lives and behavior of devout Muslims, Christians and Jews in a manner shocking to outsiders. But that doesn’t mean they are dangerous or dislike Westerners. Extremists in most religions have demonstrated desire to kill in the name of their God; when it comes to Islam, that’s who the media focuses on. Yet from peasants to professionals, Muslims I encountered were warm and generous people, anxious to learn about others. The peaceful, are the stories of buildings that didn’t burn.

Jaded by high-pressure touts in tourist sections of Istanbul, at first it was hard to accept Arab hospitality as genuine—it must be a lead into hustles. After awhile it was evident that they want to know names and where visitors are from because they are curious. When encountering them again, they remember what you’ve told them when you first met. Who can resist their greetings? “Welcome, welcome. What is your name? Where do you come from? Would you like some tea?”

Like Orthodox Jews and Christian fundamentalists, Middle Eastern Muslims abide by religious law. For adult Westerners, such restrictions are unthinkable but it’s normal if raised that way. Similar to strict Christians and Jews, Muslims are forbidden to consume alcohol, yet they don’t want to either. Radios are tuned to Islamic prayers as much as rock and roll in the West while it’s common to wait for shopkeepers to finish praying before dealing with customers. You’ll hear In sh’allah in Damascus, as much as Praise the Lord in Mississippi. They also practice what they preach.

Men and women decline sex outside marriage and to keep hormones in check, think that women should dress conservatively in public. Muslim women I spoke to believe this as deeply as the men. You never realize how sexy hair is until it’s covered. But Bedouin women have shown how beauty can be revealed through the eyes and can tease as effectively with a veil as a plunging neckline.



Growing up in politically-correct California, first glimpses of veiled women were appalling. Although only Iran and Saudi Arabia mandate by law that women wear headscarves in public, it’s a popular tradition throughout the Middle East. For some, it’s a fashion statement. Store-window mannequins display varieties of styles from laced to see-through. When asking a college student in Jordan why she was not wearing a headscarf, she replied “Oh, I might tomorrow, it depends on how I feel like dressing.”

Every society has its own code of what body parts can legally be exposed in public, with the roots of these decisions based on religion. In the West, women can expose as much breast as they dare, but if in public, a nipple displayed lands them in jail. This type of conservatism can be shocking to South Pacific Islanders visiting Western nations. Men bare their breast but women can’t?

Religion is everywhere. It’s stamped on US currency, In God We Trust. Some declare America a Christian nation or that America is based on Judeo-Christian values. If changing the Pledge of Allegiance to One nation under Buddha, there would be a revolution. Yet liberalism appears in strange places. Turkey, Israel, Pakistan and India all had female Prime Ministers long before a woman ran and lost for Vice President of the U.S. Trying to make sense of the world is a job for far greater thinkers than me.
Yet the more we learn about the world, the less we know. Too many complex answers to simple questions. But the most obvious issue persists, if people can get along, why can’t governments? Travelers venturing into developing nations soon discover that it’s those with the least who are quickest to share, while the simplest of all, teach the deepest lessons. Arab hospitality is contagious, but so is Mongolian and Siberian. It feels good being around nice people.

Secularism expands with prosperity. Two color TVs and a new car makes us forget more important things—how treat one another. Have we become lost along the way? Maybe Jesus had it right--It’s as easy for a rich man to enter Heaven as a camel through the eye of a needle.

The Middle East is not the land of milk and honey but it is the land of black gold. Engage locals on politics and you’ll hear more than you want. As North Americans would be upset if Islamic nations established a military presence there to stabilize lumber prices, so are Middle Easterners about their resources. Muslim troops in the West propping up dictators would be greeted with bullets. Locals don’t speak freely but most don’t like their Sheiks, Princes, or Shahs and don’t appreciate foreign intervention supporting them.



There is often public discussion about a collision of civilizations with Islam and the West but so far, all I’ve experienced is friendship. My original plan was to speed through the Middle East, thinking why bother with people and places where I wasn’t welcome--but all the Arabs have shown is that they want to be friends. Even when talking about their blood enemy, Israel, they said, “Israel government bad, Israel people good.” I’ll soon be relaying that message in Jerusalem.



Shalom
January 3
Tel Aviv, Israel
The charred skeleton of the bombed out Hilton Hotel in Taba, a resort town on the Egyptian side of Sinai, instantly focuses the reality of war, and in particular, terrorism. Last year, to be certain those of all ages could experience his terrorism, Bin Laden’s thugs also blew up a nearby backpackers lodge catering to the young. Islamic extremists are equal opportunity mass murderers. No doubt tight security lies ahead at the Israeli border.



European students in Cairo who also had visited Arab countries, spoke bitterly of experiences in the Tel Aviv airport--hours of interrogation at immigration points and arrogant Israeli soldiers at checkpoints throughout the country. I wondered what else to expect from a second generation growing up in bloody conflict never knowing where the next bomb would detonate-- a crowded Tel Aviv nightclub or a Palestinian refugee camp? Whatever the excuse, women and children are crippled and slaughtered daily.



Both sexes are drafted into the Israeli army. Every Israeli child knows they will experience some type of death before college, theirs, the enemy, or someone they love. The same for Palestinians, with a good as chance of being cut down by Israeli bullets as going to college. There is no maybe, nearly sixty years of armed conflict with neighbors, two generations of Israelis and Palestinians grow up in bitter bloodshed over issues a thousand years old.

It was confusing at first because I didn’t realize that the kids dressed in civilian clothes at the border were soldiers. A bald, muscle-bound youngster wearing an earring and two teenage girls wielding automatic weapons request my passport. I fire back an aggressive-defense using the biggest smile I can muster with an outstretched hand—“Howdy my name’s Glen Heggstad and I am out to meet the people of the world. What’s your name?”



The first girl takes over, “Please tell me which countries you have been to before Israel.”

“This trip or the last one?”

“Let’s start from the beginning.”

It’s hard not to laugh when being interrogated by a nineteen-year-old girl, who even with an automatic weapon is a solid ten. She eyes me as a suspect as I imagine her without clothes. But she is very serious.

Assuming they’ll know my life history within seconds of a passport scan, I begin with the ride to South America three years ago and events in Colombia. I’ve learned that it’s best to not mention being a writer because people suddenly act different. There is always a good response handing over a card from my Judo school but during a search, they’ll likely find my mangled copy of Two Wheels Through Terror, a title sure to raise more questions. After citing visited countries, they stop me when mentioning Syria, an Islamic nation the Jewish State is still technically at war with.

“Syria? Why were you in Syria?”

“Well, I was in Istanbul and couldn’t get a visa for Iran.”

Now ever more alert, she asks, “Why would you travel to Iran?”

“In order to get to Pakistan.”

Even more astounded she dares ask, “Why did you want to go to Pakistan?”

“In order to get to Afghanistan…”

As though this has gone beyond her comprehension and rank, she orders,

“Please proceed to the white building and enter through the rear door.”

Inside, the first adult of the day explains that because of a Syrian visit, further questioning is necessary. Fine with me, there is plenty of time until sundown and this could be interesting. They direct me to an office where another eighteen-year-old supermodel in uniform begins with a checklist.

“What was the purpose of your trip to Syria? Who do you know in Syria? Where did you go in Syria and what were the exact dates of your visit there? Did anyone in Egypt give you a package to deliver in Israel?”

I told her that I wound up in Syria because of an involuntary diversion and the only person I met there was a very dangerous Bedouin camped in the desert whom I forgot the name of.

Seeming satisfied with my answers, she continues, “Where do you intend to stay while in Israel?”

“Actually, I was kind of hoping your house.”

We laugh and banter until stating that because of my answers, she must deny entry into Israel and send me back to Egypt. This is a problem with an already used single-entry visa. “I need to refer this to my supervisor.”
Suddenly it’s apparent how suspicious this appears to paranoid border officials who expect a car bomb to blow them up any second. A thorough search will net further problems. A gift from an Iranian friend in California—the plastic case sealing my AAA International Driving License, stamped on the cover, Islamic Republic of Iran, in Farsi and English. If they find this, the fun is over. What if they examine my laptop?

Moments later, the supermodel returns smiling and hands back my documents. “Enjoy your stay in Israel Glen.” I pitch once more to lure her on the back of my bike. It could be just my imagination but while riding past the final concrete barricades, it seemed like she paused and considered before shaking her head once more.

Compared to the Sinai, there is not much to see in southern Israel except empty desert and miles of barbed wire fencing with signs posted, Military Area, Do Not Stop, Do Not Photograph. Gun-towers and remote TV cameras underscore the seriousness. Sophisticated microwave antenna line distant hilltops while enormous satellite dishes confirm this a major communications corridor. The weather report is sunny for the Negev Desert but storming north on the road to Tel Aviv.



Breaking for dinner at a major bus stop, a roadside cafeteria is crowded with young Israeli soldiers lugging bulky backpacks and M-16 machine guns. The troops are sullen and stone-faced--most are talking in Russian on cell phones or listening to CD players. The room needs a Viking assault to break the ice. “Howdy, how ya’ doin’?” No reply.

I repeat this to each of them but from two feet away, sitting at the same table, I receive an identical response from a half dozen soldiers. They turn their heads as if no one had spoken, a few sneer. There is no conversation among them and all make it clear from bored gazes that they would rather be somewhere and someone else.

As youngsters trapped in involuntary military service, it’s impossible for them not to wonder about the freedom of a roaming biker, but they are determined not to acknowledge me by showing interest. As a gathering storm appears overhead, outside in the parking lot, I make a show of adjusting equipment and zipping into foul weather gear. While cycling through a GPS check, they abandon their indifference and crowd to the doorway. Rolling onto a rain-slicked highway, I turn to see young soldier’s forlorn eyes and more faces fogging the windows--I wave goodbye, continuing north for Gaza to see what the Palestinians have to say.
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Old 16 May 2009
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Glen,
Keep it up, great report!! I am big fan of yours from ADVrider. I read your book and eagerly waiting for the next one.
Waiting here for the next installment.
Marty
Thanks amigo. Since my publisher is planning a significant international marketing campaign, my new book won't be released until August. But a few online bookstores are accepting pre-orders here.
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Old 24 May 2009
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Gaza
January 11
Erez Checkpoint
Gaza City, The West Bank

When first deciding to tour to Israel, the original plan included only Christmas in Jerusalem and a short ride back to Jordan for air-transit to Pakistan. But after also visiting the Golan Heights, my Israeli friend, Sharon, insisted on expanding my itinerary to include Gaza. The truth is, it didn’t interest me until discovering that it was a closed military zone. For the last four years, without special permits, almost no one was allowed in or out.

The term Occupied Territory is used so often, the meaning is lost. Besides, the issues were clear; Arabs are dangerous terrorists who should be separated from the rest of humanity. But the more military officials tried to discourage me from visiting, the more important it became. Like in Egypt, I became suspicious when realizing authorities wanted to control what foreigners see.



It took five days of telephone interviews to get approved for a special, unescorted entry, without a private vehicle, and alone. After working my way up through the ranks, my last phone call was a direct plea to the General of the regional Israeli Defense Forces whose subordinates had obviously thoroughly researched my name and US records. Somehow, presumably to determine my politics, they had even managed to read my book. Yet once reaching the infamous Erez checkpoint with a green light from Central Command, the crossing still involved two more hours of last minute questioning to begin the half-mile walk through an intimating tunnel of twenty-foot-high cement barricades and slamming security gates.



From security personnel watching on closed circuit TVs, inaudible loudspeakers barking scratchy orders to remove my jacket and empty my pockets, led to buzzing steel gates feeding into electronically operated bullpens and rows of human cages.



Scanning cameras and abrupt commands from heavily armed and nervous young soldiers, left no doubt, a careless mistake could mean a bullet in the back. And I was an ally.
Sacrificing moral high ground for security, Israel disregards world opinion. This is little comfort for an imprisoned Palestinian populace fenced in by a foreign army. Even knowing I could leave, halfway through the dehumanizing transfer process, my stomach still churned—one can only imagine what it’s like to live here.



At the end of a dreary concrete corridor ripped open in places from car bombs, indifferent Palestinian guards sign me in for the final thousand-foot walk through open space manned by Red Crescent workers. Once cleared, only an idling, beat-up taxi awaited. If it was the army’s intent to spook me by delaying entry until dusk, it worked.





This is Election Day in Gaza, and Palestinians are determined to peacefully choose a replacement for Yassar Arafat under the suffocating yoke of a humiliating occupation.



It’s a life threatening economic disaster for humans entombed at gunpoint within electrified barbed wire and checkpoints manned by soldiers who don’t hesitate to fire their weapons with deadly accuracy. With radical Palestinians refusing to participate in the election, and a general fear of the unknown, the challenge of an orderly transition of power is immeasurable.



In response to militant’s attacks, daily Israeli Army incursions to arrest suspects and bulldoze homes has become a way of life. Revenge. It’s a circle of violence that amounts to last-tags of murder and mayhem. The horror is unfathomable and mostly hidden from the world, even Israelis.
To a certain extent, I trust Palestinians, but not enough to venture out tonight--US government financing of their tormenters might affect their judgment and all it takes is one hothead to create an international incident.



Divisions on both sides run deep. But today, it’s irrelevant who slaughtered the first civilians; everyone is involved now. As Israelis load helicopters with sophisticated heat-seeking missiles, and Palestinians strap explosives on teenagers, each knows the outcome. At the receiving end, women and children are going to die. Yet amidst the killing, life goes on.



Central Gaza in the daylight was a typical Arab city—strings of honking taxis backed up in traffic and crowded, fragrant markets scouted by veiled housewives bartering for fruits and vegetables. Busy streets were lined with groups of friendly old men huddled around small plastic tables beckoning strangers to stop for tea. “Hallo, escuse me, ara you Germany man?” If accepting all the offers, it’d take a day to reach the end of the block.



Israeli commanders had only issued a twenty-four pass. Unsure how to spend that time, I opt to wander the crowd. A third of the males are unemployed, leaving groups of disgruntled young men idling on crumbling street corners, ripe for recruiting by militant leaders. Futures as gunmen or suicide bombers are more certain than college. These are the kids on TV throwing stones at Israeli tanks--if they survive the hail of gunfire; scars from bullets become badges of honor.



Abruptly aware of being forcefully prodded and nudged through a tightly packed throng of shoppers, I suddenly find myself in a garbage-strewn alley facing an informal tribunal. Clearly the local tough-guys, they still remembered to smile. A twenty-something leader offers a strong handshake with a menacing grin. He issues sharp commands to his inquisitive lackeys surrounding me to back away. Pointing to one of two folding chairs he orders, “You sit.”

Revealing my creeping fear would only insure his upper-hand. I point to the other chair, “We sit.”

“Verdee goot, verdee goot.” Pounding his chest with a fist he declares, “I mafia king!”

I resist gulping and reply, “It’s very nice to meet a mafia king.”
Eyeing my camera he asks, “You telebison man?”

“No, I am motorsickle man from California.” Looping an index finger in circles, “I go around the world on motorsickle.” Knowing Arabs like being photographed, I ask, “Can we take a picture together?”

Waving his hand, “No peetchur, beeg problam.”

It’s understood that these young men likely don’t pose without face-hoods. I also noted none of them had indelibly-inked-stained thumbs that officials used as proof for having voted in the election. As we continue, my discomfort increases with his questions.

“You Amerdica man. You like Eesralee man or you like Hammas?”

Merely hearing the name Hammas suggests that my feet are touching the fire. It’s underscored with the pocketknife he’s now unfolding. “This for Eesralee man. You like Hammas knife?”

Maintaining eye contact while attempting to control a rapidly increasing heart rate, I roll up my right sleeve while raising a tattooed forearm bearing a nine-inch scar. “This is from Mexican machete, a much bigger knife.”

“Ah haw! You verdee goot, verdee goot Amerdica man.”

Certain to lose a game of can-you-top-this with militant foot soldiers, I rise, tapping my watch. “Time to go now, Israeli soldiers have my motorsickle, maybe they don’t give it back. Where is the bus to Erez?”

Slapping the back of one of his obedient young henchmen, he says “My fren take you to verdee goot taxee.”

Just before entering the No-Man’s-Land strip to Erez, an International Red Cross ambulance monitors the last stretch of dirt road leading to the first Palestinian Authority checkpoint. UN workers block my path, stating that no one is allowed to pass until Israeli commanders give the Okay. There is been another shooting at the border and soldiers are edgy. It could be several hours.



Much to my relief, thirty tense-minutes later, cell phones ring and walkie-talkies crackle with permission to pass, but only one at a time. With a camera tucked inside my jacket, I click off as many photos as I dare until again intercepted by bullhorns and scanning closed circuit TV cameras. Shamed for my complicity, it’s like shoving a manhole cover aside to climb from a sewer that I have escaped, with others left behind.



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Old 30 May 2009
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Jerusalem
January 12

Since it’s claimed the Holiest city in history, either you’ll be drawn or repelled by what you see in Jerusalem. This is ground zero for the Arab-Israeli conflict, today’s biggest obstacle to peace. With biblical justifications, religious extremists risk world war over hallowed ground. True believers are not just dangerous to themselves—in this case, they are willing to take us all down in a quest for domination over the hottest chunk of real estate on the planet, their pipeline to God.















Travelers get into trouble discussing religion so we’ll just say it confounds me. But my opinions don’t matter; this is about meeting the people of the world to find out what they think. Seeing the world through my own eyes is insufficient. It’s better to feel it through the thoughts of those living there. To experience their life, it’s important to speak, eat and sleep with natives in their environment. Invited home with the locals is the traveler’s dream, yet if those opportunities don’t arise, we’re content with street corner tea breaks or restaurant chat. Words are not the only way; ideas can be exchanged with gestures. At times, we communicate with sign language, facial expressions and drawing diagrams in the dirt. There is never enough time but we reach understandings. A soiled spaceman-riding suit and helmet in hand draws the curious for instant engagement.



Wailing Walls, Temple Mounts and rights to worship who, are discussed at length. I spent two entire days wandering East and West Jerusalem talking to whoever would take the time. I learned about Hassidic Jews, Orthodox Jews, Muslim clerics and holy shrines. To respect Jews, at the Wailing Wall, I wore a skullcap; on the other side, for Palestinians, a black and white Kafiah. When asked what I thought, I told them that didn’t matter. What didn’t vary was the ending of dialogue. Jews asked whom I supported. “I support world peace.”

“Very clever Glen.”

Throwing up their arms with tears in their eyes, Palestinians asked, “What can we do?”

I had no answer. As an outsider, solutions seem simple yet they are not. But a good start is to focus on what people have in common. What unites us is more important than what makes us different. Like Muslims, married Jewish women must cover their real hair, and instead of Hejabs, they wear wigs. Men of both religions feel that the hair of their women should only be seen by their husbands. Both places of worship had separate entrances and segregated prayer sections for men and women. Jews explained the logic—it’s too hard to concentrate on God with the opposite sex nearby. Shaking hands between unmarried men and women when greeting was also forbidden—“It feels too good.”

Devout Muslims and Jews, both spend long hours in daily prayer and participate in arranged marriages for the primary purpose of reproduction rather than love. Sex outside marriage is forbidden. According to their respective holy books, for countless centuries, everyone’s expected a savior to appear. Life is for worshipping God. They pray on street corners, in businesses or while walking. When pointing out the myriad of similarities among them, conversations abruptly terminate. It became a struggle to keep silent. The more they spoke of their differences, the more frustrating it became.
























Without visiting the Middle East, it’s impossible for Westerners to comprehend the depth and control of religion here. Everyone is convinced that they are right and those on the fringe, wield disproportionate influence on moderates. Liberals are silent.





So today I ride from Jerusalem across the desert toward Jordan, more unsettled than when I arrived. Thousands of miles of electrified barbed wire and imposing cement walls separating humans scar the landscape. Even if the complacent don’t care who dies, the economics are sobering. Everyone is broke. Reflecting on Middle Eastern cities with empty restaurants and hotels manned by forlorn owners, I wonder if they’ve finally had enough.
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  #39  
Old 31 May 2009
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"What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"

Striking Viking... Glen,

Elisa and I have carefully read, with wonder and amazement, all that you have posted here, looked with admiration and understanding at your excellent photographs, visited your web site and read excerpts from "Two Wheels Through Terror," watched your video productions and interviews... and discussed you, and your Earth Ride at great length. We look forward to viewing your National Geographic special and reading your next book.

Here are our comments.

Brilliant, that you met the substantial challenges to your survival, presented by your captivity in Colombia, and not only survived, but became stronger and more able.

Brilliant that you documented "Earth Ride" with words and photographs from the point of view of a man who has an experiential understanding of the challenges to survival presented to the majority of people living on earth.

Brilliant that you communicated, with respect and admiration the challenges of survival, that easily border on both sides of overwhelm, through your book "Two Wheels Through Terror," your photographs/video and through your many personal presentations.

Brilliant, that you were able to communicate, through your words and photos the respect, admiration and yes, even love, for the people you got to know along your route. I am sure you were the first and perhaps only North American many friends along your route, have ever known or will know. The politicians and policy makers of the "developed" countries could learn much from you.

And, brilliant that you have traveled beyond words , and touched the souls of the majority of your readers, by serving as an inspiration to those who seek truth, from the saddle of a motorcycle, or from their living room couch.

We, she is a native speaker of Spanish and I am a native speaker of English, both bi-lingual, would be honored to translate "Two Wheels through Terror" into Spanish. If you are interested in having a Spanish edition of your book please have your publisher contact KIER Publications in Buenos Aires.

We have translated several books for Kier, one by a New York Times best selling author. And, we both feel your point of view, as presented in your writings and photographs, would be very marketable, wanted and needed in Mexico, Central and South America and Spain.

We have motorcycled 24,000 K through 6 South American countries. I have motorcycled through Central America and Mexico, and together we have driven a 4X4 from Arizona, through Mexico and Central America to Panama and back.

We know the cold of the Andes at 15,000 ft and the warmth of the Andean peoples. We have experienced and learned some small truths, as have all who adventure motorcycle internationally. It is interesting to note that Elisa rides her own bike, is a published author with 16 years of US university teaching experience and has her PhD in Spanish literature. I am a returned US Peace Corps volunteer.

Thank you, ride on, ride free.

xfiltrate

www.Xfiltrate.com - Professional Motorcycle Parking - Professional Motorcycle Parking

Last edited by xfiltrate; 31 May 2009 at 15:35.
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  #40  
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Originally Posted by xfiltrate View Post
Striking Viking... Glen,

Elisa and I have carefully read, with wonder and amazement, all that you have posted here, looked with admiration and understanding at your excellent photographs, visited your web site and read excerpts from "Two Wheels Through Terror," watched your video productions and interviews... and discussed you, and your Earth Ride at great length. We look forward to viewing your National Geographic special and reading your next book.

Here are our comments.

Brilliant, that you met the substantial challenges to your survival, presented by your captivity in Colombia, and not only survived, but became stronger and more able.

Brilliant that you documented "Earth Ride" with words and photographs from the point of view of a man who has an experiential understanding of the challenges to survival presented to the majority of people living on earth.

Brilliant that you communicated, with respect and admiration the challenges of survival, that easily border on both sides of overwhelm, through your book "Two Wheels Through Terror," your photographs/video and through your many personal presentations.

Brilliant, that you were able to communicate, through your words and photos the respect, admiration and yes, even love, for the people you got to know along your route. I am sure you were the first and perhaps only North American many friends along your route, have ever known or will know. The politicians and policy makers of the "developed" countries could learn much from you.

And, brilliant that you have traveled beyond words , and touched the souls of the majority of your readers, by serving as an inspiration to those who seek truth, from the saddle of a motorcycle, or from their living room couch.

We, she is a native speaker of Spanish and I am a native speaker of English, both bi-lingual, would be honored to translate "Two Wheels through Terror" into Spanish. If you are interested in having a Spanish edition of your book please have your publisher contact KIER Publications in Buenos Aires.

We have translated several books for Kier, one by a New York Times best selling author. And, we both feel your point of view, as presented in your writings and photographs, would be very marketable, wanted and needed in Mexico, Central and South America and Spain.

We have motorcycled 24,000 K through 6 South American countries. I have motorcycled through Central America and Mexico, and together we have driven a 4X4 from Arizona, through Mexico and Central America to Panama and back.

We know the cold of the Andes at 15,000 ft and the warmth of the Andean peoples. We have experienced and learned some small truths, as have all who adventure motorcycle internationally. It is interesting to note that Elisa rides her own bike, is a published author with 16 years of US university teaching experience and has her PhD in Spanish literature. I am a returned US Peace Corps volunteer.

Thank you, ride on, ride free.

xfiltrate

www.Xfiltrate.com - Professional Motorcycle Parking - Professional Motorcycle Parking

Gracias amigos. Indeed, we have received many requests for Spanish versions of my two books, but do to the expense, my first publisher has postponed that option. However, since my new publisher for book two, also bought paperback rights for international distribution from my first publisher, they may be interested. I just forwarded your comments so please keep your fingers crossed. And thanks again for the kind words.
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I'm not intending to politicise your thread, Glen, but I was watching the US President's speech to the Muslims of the world in Cairo just now. It struck me that you are actually doing what Barrack Obama is challenging the people of the US (and indeed the Western world) and the muslim nations to do, namely to travel, make contact and learn in order to understand each other, make peace and a new start so that we all can prosper.

Just a sidenote.
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A slightly different view of friendly Pakistan

Arriving from Jordan at the Karachi International Airport and clearing Customs.








Yes, that's the front of a bus.



Driving maneuvers in Pakistan are slightly more aggressive than in the restrictive West...



keeping me in an unsteady state of breathless anticipation.







Heavily armed Pakistani Highway Police kept a watchful except when inviting me back to their barracks for breakfast and tea.





Some very dangerous characters preparing for Ead during Ramadan in Karachi



The entire time in Pakistan, I was in a constant state of fear, surrounded by chanting mobs.












A very dangerous lot, these Pakistanis.








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I'm not intending to politicise your thread, Glen, but I was watching the US President's speech to the Muslims of the world in Cairo just now. It struck me that you are actually doing what Barrack Obama is challenging the people of the US (and indeed the Western world) and the muslim nations to do, namely to travel, make contact and learn in order to understand each other, make peace and a new start so that we all can prosper.

Just a sidenote.
Thanks amigo. Indeed this is also the theme of my new book scheduled for international release this August. I'd like to paint a different picture of the world than we see in the media and hopefully inspire people to get out more to meet their neighbors. There is still a lot of chaos out there but if we work together as world citizens we can solve any problem. But we won't know what the problems are until we go and see for ourselves.
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Great riding..Great pics and story..
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India!

The India/Pakistan border



Husksters and Holy Men
February 19
Pushkar, India



While traveling anywhere in India, there is a photo op on every corner. But the best scenes appear at the worst times. If forgetting a camera, you are certain to encounter a wedding procession with grooms in elaborate costumes astride gold decorated, prancing white horses. Yet with steady access to so much stark fascination, you might debate whether to take the shot, assuming you will see it again tomorrow. You won’t, and later that night, you’ll kick yourself for opportunities missed. Even with thousands of digital photographs stored on my laptop, I only capture ten percent. Now, mere memory retains images of camel caravans in downtown Karachi or elephants humping in hotel parking lots.







On the route from Jaipur I encounter a typical sight throughout India--
stonemasons at work assisted by streams of graceful women laborers. Men stand around smoking hand-rolled cigarettes as younger boys help stack rocks on top of their heads. Dressed in traditional elegant saris and smiling through grimace, they accept their plight as second and third generation slaves. With futures determined by caste, if they are paid, it will not be much.





There is no second-guessing in Pushkar, these most colorful people of Asia provide endless action for shutterbugs. According to Hindus, Pushkar Lake was formed at the desert’s edge when Lord Brahma slew a demon with a lotus flower, ever since, it’s been a site for religious pilgrimage. Sadly, now it’s a colony of lazy, pseudo-spiritual, wannabes’ that take themselves far too serious. But they are also entertaining. Last night, there was a decent Sixties-style benefit concert for street children, featuring turbaned white-boys from France dressed in genuine local shirts. Groups of “recently converted” musicians strummed and banged under the stars using native instruments while aging scraggly hippies tried unsuccessfully to dance to the music.

I have finally determined why it seemed all the women in Israel were beautiful. They exported the homely to India where the population is infested with foreign, Rastafarian space-cases wandering about in Indian garb with matted dreadlocks and bloodshot eyes. Most are just out of the military recuperating from stress and unpopular politics, so they seldom speak to other foreigners. Curiosity overrides and I ask a weathered young woman. “So, how come there are so many Israelis here?”

“Hash, man. It’s a tenth of the price in Tel Aviv and if you bargain, you can live on two dollars a day.”

“What about the spiritual aspects?”

“Oh yeah, that too.”

The hundred-acre Lake Pushkar is lined with cement-block-steps into formed pools for bathing pilgrims. Colorfully costumed, scamming pimps on the street above, lure the unsuspecting with handfuls of flower pedals to toss into stagnant, sacred-waters as tributes to Hindu Gods. But spirituality is not free. Holy Men counterparts await lakeside, prepared with rehearsed prayers and demands for rupees afterwards. While those that ignored Lonely Planet guidebook warnings naively fling pedals at sunrise, prayer mumbling priests in dirty robes circle like vultures.



After the chanting, whichever way they turn, the hapless face a grinning old man with painted skin and open hands. “As you like...”

“What?”

Humble smiles accompany meek bows with outstretched palms. “As you like, Rupees.”

Twenties and fifties are handed back with sterner requests, “As you like---more Rupees.”

At sunset, I seek secluded steps free of gawkers and hawkers for a moment of meditation. Once settled into a balanced lotus posture, the relentless tapping of tabla drums merging with fluctuating whines of Indian string instruments echoes inward, drawing me deeper. Half expecting a miracle or brief glimpse of nirvana, none occurs. No holy man approaches to slap my forehead reeling me into enlightenment, but I surface in time to stop mischievous monkeys from scampering away with my helmet. Still, the show is endless.

Juggling musicians and creative beggars compete at the waters edge, each plying a proven trade. A cunning old man with a bamboo violin and his tiny daughter win. While sawing out off-key tunes of Indian folk songs, his ragged little girl sings at the top of her lungs. Smudged face and twinkling brown eyes persist. No matter which way you turn, she scurries around to face you, belting out verses while staring deep into your eyes. Even the most hardened tightwads buckle, surrendering crinkled bills of rupees.



Back on the street, animal dung dumped from cows, pigeons and monkeys is trampled into stinky clouds of clinging dust while beggars and tourists equal in numbers. Some of the more experienced don’t bother to rise, merely sitting in family circles sipping tea next to plates of cash as indication of your obligation. Retorts of “Sorry no small-money” are met with rubber-band-wads of bills waved in the air. “No problem, I can make change.”



Despite the circus of hucksters, excuses to stay another day come easy. Time on an Indian road is time in hell. If the buses and trucks don’t get you, a heart attack will. There was a spanking new triple lane freeway stretching down from Jaipur that was even separated by a raised concrete median. Still, every tenth vehicle hurtling through the rush was a bus with blaring horns roaring forward, directly in my lane. The only option was to grab the brakes and head into a field. In Turkey, I stopped frequently to recover from the cold, here I halt to recover my pulse and wait for the shakes to pass.

But everyone has weak spots, for me it’s giggling street children skipping circles around my motorcycle anxious for invitations. As the new-found sucker for rides, I am constantly waylaid. If agreeing to a lap of Main Street, soon, three excited youngsters pile on back urging for horn beeps and wheelies. As the word spreads, a crowd grows. I don’t give them money but a few bucks buys enough oranges to appease my army.



Indian pilgrims, also tired of shams and hustles, consume my afternoons with questions of “which are the places from which you have come.” Reciting a list of countries, I end with a shout, “and then, INDIA!” After applause, I return with queries into their lives and professions.

Shopkeepers, doctors and factory workers all have stories of family and religion. Delighted a foreigner wants to know of them, soon they shove handfuls of scribbled addresses my way with offers to visit their towns.



As a Hindu holy city, in Pushkar, animal protein is forbidden. But someone has taught locals the art of Italian cooking and basic hygiene. Too bad I can only eat a limited amount of pizza and raviolis for breakfast and my supply of smuggled boiled eggs ran out yesterday. Yet, the overcooked flesh of unfortunate chickens tempts me onward. In the morning, I’ll re-pack freshly river-laundered riding clothes and head southeast to “determine the direction for which will be the location of my approaching destination.”













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HU DVD Summer Special!

Now that summer is here, get On the Road! Take 30% off the Achievable Dream - On the Road! 2-DVD set until August 31 only. Get On the Road! Learn the tips to staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure!

Our veteran travellers share their tips (and great stories) for staying healthy, happy and secure on your motorcycle adventure.

"A fantastic, informative and inspirational DVD."

"It's brilliant - thank you very much!"

Check it out at the HU Store! Remember to use Coupon Code 'ONTHEROAD' on your order when you checkout.


Renedian Adventures

What others say about HU...

"I just wanted to say thanks for doing this and sharing so much with the rest of us." Dave, USA

"Your website is a mecca of valuable information and the DVD series is informative, entertaining, and inspiring! The new look of the website is very impressive, updated and catchy. Thank you so very much!" Jennifer, Canada

"...Great site. Keep up the good work." Murray and Carmen, Australia

"We just finished a 7 month 22,000+ mile scouting trip from Alaska to the bottom of Chile and I can't tell you how many times we referred to your site for help. From how to adjust your valves, to where to stay in the back country of Peru. Horizons Unlimited was a key player in our success. Motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world are in debt to your services." Alaska Riders

contest pic

10th Annual HU Travellers Photo Contest is on now! This is an opportunity for YOU to show us your best photos and win prizes!

NEW! HU 2014 Adventure Travel T-shirts! are now available in several colors! Be the first kid on your block to have them! New lower prices on synths!

HU 2014 T-shirts now in!

Check out the new Gildan Performance cotton-feel t-shirt - 100% poly, feels like soft cotton!


What turns you on to motorcycle travel?


Global Rescue, WORLDwide evacuation services for EVERYONE

Global Rescue is the premier provider of medical, security and evacuation services worldwide and is the only company that will come to you, wherever you are, and evacuate you to your home hospital of choice. Additionally, Global Rescue places no restrictions on country of citizenship - all nationalities are eligible to sign-up!


New to Horizons Unlimited?

New to motorcycle travelling? New to the HU site? Confused? Too many options? It's really very simple - just 4 easy steps!

Horizons Unlimited was founded in 1997 by Grant and Susan Johnson following their journey around the world on a BMW R80 G/S motorcycle.

Susan and Grant Johnson Read more about Grant & Susan's story

Membership - help keep us going!

Horizons Unlimited is not a big multi-national company, just two people who love motorcycle travel and have grown what started as a hobby in 1997 into a full time job (usually 8-10 hours per day and 7 days a week) and a labour of love. To keep it going and a roof over our heads, we run events (22 this year!); we sell inspirational and informative DVDs; we have a few selected advertisers; and we make a small amount from memberships.

You don't have to be a Member to come to an HU meeting, access the website, the HUBB or to receive the e-zine. What you get for your membership contribution is our sincere gratitude, good karma and knowing that you're helping to keep the motorcycle travel dream alive. Contributing Members and Gold Members do get additional features on the HUBB. Here's a list of all the Member benefits on the HUBB.


Books & DVDs

amazon

All the best travel books and videos listed and often reviewed on HU's famous Books page. Check it out and get great travel books from all over the world.


Motorcycle Express for shipping and insurance!

Motorcycle Express

MC Air Shipping, (uncrated) USA / Canada / Europe and other areas. Be sure to say "Horizons Unlimited" to get your $25 discount on Shipping!
Insurance - see: For foreigners traveling in US and Canada and for Americans and Canadians traveling in other countries, then mail it to MC Express and get your HU $15 discount!




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