A Travellerspoint blog

France

Epilogue

sunny 26 °C

There’s something peculiar about a journey like ours. It is incredibly difficult to put your finger on what exactly it is that makes you feel like you do when you arrive home. Regardless, fifty two days have passed since we arrived home, three hundred and ten have passed since we left Hillcrest.

It is easy to talk in numbers about our adventure; eighteen countries, two continents, thirty five thousand kilometres, five shock absorbers, eleven garages, ten tyres. Our roads took us from fifty metres below sea level to three thousand seven hundred and fifty above it. Temperatures soared into the forties and dropped below zero. Friends, acquaintances and smiles that we’ll never see again are more difficult to count. There are a great many of these who will remain at varying distances from the forefront of our minds to further back amongst the increasingly grey matter. For us at least, the trip will probably never be over. There will be other trips, other holidays, highs, lows, yeses and no’s but what we’ve done over the past months will not be easily forgotten.

When we were in the final stages of readiness for our departure from Durban, Laura and I decided that we would visit the local ‘Sangoma’ or witch doctor. We wanted to have Redvers ‘blessed’ and thus protect him from all illness and guide him home safely across a continent unknown to us. Naturally we were a little anxious as we pulled over onto the verge where our local Sangoma plied his trade. As the sun transformed itself into sugar in the endless fields of cane around us we slowly ambled towards our man, theoretical caps in hand, and explained our thoughts. He took one look at Redvers and told us he did herbs, he couldn’t help us or our car, we were on our own.

There is a Xhosa saying, a plagiarism here from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, that says ‘Ndwele Milambo;’ it means ‘I have crossed great rivers.’ We have, and so much more; the Fish, the Orange, the Zambezi, the Nile, the Loire, the Seine, the Exe and the Mersey. We’ve crossed the Kalahari, the Namib, the Nubian, the Western, the Libyan Desert and the Sahara. We’ve seen wealth and riches set alongside slums as big as cities. We’ve seen beautiful landscapes stained with the scars of human expansion. Mobile telephone masts ever present as overseeing sentinels across the entire continent and plastic lakes persisting in great masses of blue in towns that have no way of removing the permanence that is a water bottle. We’d missed grenade attacks, riots and revolutions and had been amongst the first to traverse a country which was still trying to find its feet in a world after Gadaffi. We’d seen but a prolonged glimpse of a fascinating continent.

The truth of the matter is that for eight months we had some of our worst moments in nine years of knowing each other and, of course, some of our very best. The good days far outnumbered the not so good, but it was particularly difficult to get to sleep on an argument when your tent option forbade a lack of physical contact. Many were the nights when two grumpy souls would roll away from each other only to be brought together by the touch of our bottoms in the middle of our rather narrow bed. Furthermore it’s fairly embarrassing to think about what exactly can cause such an argument; a wrong direction, a misunderstanding, an exploded tyre, or simply not folding the tent properly, or not putting the fridge cover back down or asking too many questions. We (mostly I, but still we) learned how to be ill-tempered and stubborn and we learned how to forgive. We had ten years of emotional experiences in about ten months. And that complete understanding of each other is probably the finest thing our trip achieved. Our daily habits became common knowledge; every day we lived in a Venn diagram where there was always some part of each us that overlapped. We were warned before we left that these experiences would make or break our relationship; from Europe’s pastures it’s safe to say, they made it.

Already Africa is a memory. Work drives us to think about the present and so we talk less and less about it, and more and more about the banalities of life. But in those fifty days since we’ve arrived home from a trip where we rarely felt threatened and never felt in perilous danger, much has changed in Africa. Ethiopians are fleeing their homelands in the south. Armed militia fighting each other over land disputes have forced tens of thousands into crossing the border into Kenya. That border was where we met Biruk, me under the car and Laura fending off questions, only to go round for a coffee later that evening, suddenly, on a sixpence, Moyale is yet another ‘no-go’ area.

The Sudan’s appear to be working together under the scrutiny of an international community keen to ensure the oil keeps coming out of the ground; that oil, for now, is a commodity too dear to leave hidden in the earth. Whilst it may still cause trouble yet, for now it’s a reason to work together.

Egypt was continually bubbling whilst we were there; now the Egyptian people have elected a new president in Muhammed Mursi, the leader of Islamist Muslim Brotherhood; but before he could attain power the military bound his hands and castrated him by dissolving parliament and taking control of legislation; democracy, Christianity and tourism stand in the wings, waiting to see what their role will be.

Libya, our favourite country, awaits the official outcome of their elections. The seats are being won by the liberals, perhaps a sign that the country believes they have a balance of western and Muslim ideals. In the interim they have taken to attacking British ambassadors and kidnapping their Olympic committee chief.

There are more stories like these every day, for all its beauty, Africa is still a place where the biggest, bravest and richest guns win the fight. But Africa is infectious. Not a week goes by without us reading up on the latest news from the countries we’ve visited. It is fascinating to see people coming together to establish a working order and law in countries that know nothing other than oppression, it’s scary to see leaders holding on to power that should have left their hands long ago and it is something close to our hearts when we think about what those leaders will mean for the friends we have made.

This blog was begun with the intent of reminiscing, remembering what would otherwise be forgotten and laughing at the mistakes we made, the fun we had and the fantastic things we saw. It was also to appease worried minds. In the beginning it was to have been a shared chore, within three days I’d selfishly declared that I would be writing it every day and, in the end, it became something more than it was ever meant to be. For those that read diligently, we sincerely hoped you enjoyed it; for those who dipped in and out we understand completely; you’d have to be unemployed, retired or simply bored to get through it all. The devil does indeed make work for idle hands.

We have had the time of our lives, we have seen some of the Africa’s most spectacular sights and we’ve agreed, despite all our misgivings that we actually work bloody well together. Redvers has been tried, tested and found to be wanting of very little, even Laura’s childhood teddy bear, Lewis, has made it home safe and intact. However, every story has an end and this is it. It has taken three hundred and eleven sides of typed A4 and one hundred and sixty nine thousand five hundred and forty one words. What’s really special though is that the blog was visited over thirty six thousand times. Even with the knowledge that some of our more avid readers logged in a hundred times or more that still leaves us with an impressive number of people who wanted to know what we were up to. Without you all, and without your support, this would have been a lot shorter a story.

Posted by ibeamish 14:56 Archived in France Comments (9)

Day 255 – French Paperwork

3rd June 2012

rain

It had been midnight when we parked on the pavement outside of our Chantilly maison. There was a light drizzle as we hurried to knock on the door and gain access to our warm and well feathered beds. The first knock returned no response; Helene must have been asleep already. Over the next ten minutes our repeated knocks became firmer and louder; pebbles were tossed at windows and we began to curse the fact that our Egyptian sim-card had finally run out of credit.

With few options left and just short of pitching our tent for one last road side ‘bush camp’ I targeted the open first floor window and the inviting ivy trail that led to it. Half way up, convincing myself that I wouldn’t die and that for all intents and purposes a man should be able to perform such tasks at a moment’s notice, I heard Laura exclaim a surprised “Hello, you must be Helene?” That was how we met my new employer, in the dark and drizzly night, with me clinging to an Ivy branch that was gradually releasing its grip on the wall some ten feet in the air.

We had some French registration paperwork to get on with during the morning but with that over and done with we declined an invite to the French Derby and opted instead for drinks at a nearby Chateau followed by dinner in a local restaurant with Helene and her partner. We had booked the Euro Tunnel for the following day.

Posted by ibeamish 02:58 Archived in France Comments (0)

Day 254 – Crossing the Alps and Chantilly Bound

2nd June 2012

We woke at half past ten which put an end to our idea of an early start. We drove across north western Italy paying a whopping seventy Euros in toll fees over about three hundred kilometres. The view just kept getting better as the mountains soared and their tips grew ice cold. We passed through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, ten kilometres of ‘rock hewn’ road as Somers put it. The scenery really was all the more exciting and dramatic for having crossed so much sand and desert in the last month.

The best thing about Europe was its road surface; smooth, flat, un-potholed, well lit, clearly marked, and perfectly signed lovely, lovely tar-mac. The trucks were all in superb condition with tread on their tires and courteous drivers who understand and followed the rules of the road. Service stations had a plethora of overly priced delicacies; pates and fine meats, cool drinks and clean toilets. The scent of France was of fields of rape seed, freshly cut grass, meadow woodland and fresh country air; the climate set at just the right temperature and just the right humidity. People drove expensive cars; Ferraris, Aston Martins and Audis may have been the high end, but in a thousand kilometres not one car could have reasonably held the description of ‘clapped-out.’ The drivers, whilst occasionally brash, were never dangerous and even though every car had one, we didn’t hear a single horn all day.

For all this though, there was a price to pay. The last time we’d filled our tank it has cost six quid and someone had paid for us. On the soils of France it had cost us 90 Euros for half a tank. We’d soon adjust though; Italy and France felt like heaven, every glance offered a glimpse at paradise Somers even spotted a fox in the evening light. Who needs lions and elephants?

Aside the beauty of the Italian and French countryside, ours was a full days driving to Chantilly, just north of Paris; and as such would be another thousand kilometre day. In Chantilly we’d meet my new employer, Helene Menessier.

Posted by ibeamish 03:23 Archived in France Comments (2)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]