Spain – A short break in and around Alicante

Did you know that there are really splendid ferry connections from and to Algeria? Besides places in France and Italy one can go to Alicante in southern Spain, and that’s exactly what I did. One needs tons of patience to go through the boarding procedures, mainly because there’s a lot of waiting for something. I’m not sure what, but I managed to listen to several hours worth of podcasts.

Oran port

I’m in the extremely lucky position to have friends who, although I hadn’t seen them for seven long years, allowed me to crash on their sofa and it was as if barely a week had gone by since last we met. Thanks Mr and Mrs Paella for existing! They took me around the local sights including hot chocolate, tapas, red wine, Phoenician archaeology and, for the first time in my life, avocets.  If you, like the WordPress spellchecker, don’t know – avocets are the most lovely birds ever. Note to WordPress: not avocados.

Alicante is well worth a visit because of the views, the great graffiti, the yummy vegetarian restaurants and lots of history to explore. Alicante is where the Spanish civil war ended.

I just really fancy the idea of a place called Joyeria. Make of that whatever you want. I also got to see a very local bit of culture because the parade of the Three Kings was on. I felt a bit like in a live version of the opening of Life of Brian. Always look on the bright side of life!

WorldBookProject – Antarctica, Macao

This time, we’re visiting two very different places. Macao was sponsored by my parents and Antarctica by the brilliant volunteers of Project Gutenberg. Thanks all!

174 Macao: The Bewitching Braid by Henrique de Senna Fernandes

I’m generally not a fan of love stories, and as far as this book is concerned, the development of plot was fairly predictable. But I enjoyed how the writer created the atmosphere in the different parts of the city. I had a craving for wonton soup and jiaozi several times during my reading experience.

175 Antarctica: The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910 – 1913 by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

This book was an odd one. A lot of it was excerpts from people’s diaries, like Scott, Shackelton or the author’s own and a huge part of that was ‘it was cold, it was windy, it was cold and windy’ (paraphrasing only slightly), the repetition of which made for rather dull reading. Having said that, I enjoyed the parts about the Adelie and Emperor penguins and thought the final chapter really touching (when they found their dead companions just a few miles from the next depot). The analysis of why so much had gone wrong was full of insights into the dangers of a polar journey and the necessity of planning for as many eventualities as possible.

The next places (hopefully): Kazakhstan (yes, still reading) and probably Grenada.

WorldBookProject – Suriname, Uzbekistan, Curaçao

Yep, still reading and still posting. The books in this post were all sponsored by my parents – thank you 🙂 . On the nightstand at the moment are Kazakhstan and Antarctica.

171 Suriname: Surinam by Cynthia McLeod

I thought this was a fascinating historical insight into that particular part of Suriname’s history, especially the relationship between Jewish and Christian settlers. However, there was not enough voice given to the slaves but too much white perspective. On the whole, a somewhat flawed page-turner with good female characters.

172 Uzbekistan: The Devil’s Dance by Hamid Ismailov

This book requires undivided attention with its immersive frame story and core story, which become more and more intertwined as you read on. The mix of Stalinist prison with kings and queens and all the murderous plots are captivating and gruesome. Even more so, when you remember that the main character actually lived through this (although I don’t know how much artistic freedom the writer made use of).

173 Curaçao: Doppeltes Spiel by Frank Martinus Arion

I’m not a fan of dominoes, so this book had a slow and awkward start – a story about a day when four friends meet for a game. Having said that, the pace picked up a few chapters in and it turned out to be immensely enjoyable and gripping. You’ve got to read all through the end to understand the dedication to ‘brave women who fight’, and it’s totally worth it, I think.

WorldBookProject – Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Paraguay

Reading the world has been exciting from the word go. However, sometimes there’s a book which is particularly gripping and keeps haunting me long after I finished it. And every now and then, there’s a book which really isn’t my cup of tea. In this blog post, I’m writing about both kinds of book. On my nightstand at the moment are Uzbekistan and Antarctica (still). Thanks to my parents who sponsored all three countries 🙂 !

168 Bahrain: Yummah by Sarah A. Al Shafei

The basic premise of the book (child marriage and a resulting life story) was good. However, sometimes really odd writing was off-putting, e.g. people ‘screamed’ very often and the only thing important seemed to be a beautiful woman with a rich husband. Better editing help might have been a very good idea for this inexperienced writer. I felt this book was a missed chance.

169 Equatorial Guinea: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

I first heard about this book on www.ayearofreadingtheworld.com and was glad when it finally appeared in English translation. What a read! It is basically an exploration of gay people’s lives in the traditional Fang society. I started reading it while sitting in a dentist’s waiting room and was halfway through by the time the anaesthesia had worn off. The ending was a bit rushed, but apart from that it’s one of the best books I’ve read for this project so far.

170 Paraguay: Die Nacht der treibenden Feuer by Augusto Roa Bastos

Another book which is still haunting me! This collection of short stories managed to draw me into its pages from the very first sentence. The jungle, the river, the mid-day heat on the fields – and then invariably something horrible would happen. I had to take a break after each story because it was so nerve-wracking. Still, I’d love to read much more by the author who was a master of catching his readers and characters alike.

Belgium and France – Along the Frontline

memorial LilleOn my recent holiday in Europe I spent a handful of days in and around Lille in northern France. One of the days included a tour along the frontline in Flanders during World War I.

Starting point was the memorial to those who died in France during the two world wars in Lille. The dead of French wars in Indochina and North Africa have their honorary mention at the bottom of the monument. France doesn’t seem to be terribly good at dealing with that part of its history. But then, my guide was French and the driver was Algerian and they got along quite well.

We then ventured via Fromelles along the frontline. The road follows it for long stretches and you can see signposts to cemeteries and memorials every few hundred metres. In the past, the dead were kept separated by nationality (not religion though), but bodies are still found and these days all the fallen are being laid to rest together. Which I think is a good idea.

It was interesting to learn that there are also unexploded shells which farmers find when tilling the land. This ammunition is still live and so poses a real threat even after a hundred years. In Flanders, you don’t see remnants of the trenches though because of the geology of the area. The ground is very soft, hence the soldiers mentioning mud all the time, and after the war was over the farmers went back to their fields. If you want to get a feel for trenches, visit the area around Verdun.

After the fourth or fifth cemetery it all felt deeply gloomy despite it being a glorious day. I can’t even begin to imagine what the people back then must have gone through. But it was a relief to get to the Christmas football game memorial.

football memorial

Last stop on the tour was Ypres which had been in total ruins after the war. Today, it’s all really splendid. Main points of call are the cathedral, a church run by the Church of England, the museum of the fields of Flanders if you’ve got ample time, and Menin Gate. This last structure has the names of more than 54000 soldiers inscribed on its walls whose graves are unknown.

I had booked this tour in the tourist office in Lille. At 260 euros for one person it was quite expensive (gets cheaper if you’re more people), but I thought it was really worth it. My guide was very good  and I learned a lot. The thing is that being German WWII is never very far, but WWI has already kind of faded into deep history, unlike for British people for example. So it shouldn’t have come as a real surprise when my guide told me that although he’d been in this business for about 15 years, I was his very first German customer ever.

poppy

WorldBookProject – Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan

You hadn’t thought I’d given up on reading the world now, had you? Yes, it is going slower than in the first two years, but I’m ploughing on and keep making great discoveries. Some stats: the current count overall is 167 out of 257 books, and 71 of these were written by female authors, 11 by a mixed team and one book didn’t name an author.

165 Saudi Arabia: Daring to Drive: My Life as an Accidental Activist in a Kingdom of Men by Manal Al-Sharif

This book is an autobiography written by someone who hasn’t much experience of the craft, but her story makes more than up for it. If you thought that the KSA was kind of a hellhole for women, here several new circles of hell are added to the equation.

166 Taiwan: Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin

While listening to the audiobook version of this story I found it somewhat tricky to follow the many characters. I think it might have been better to read the printed version. Content-wise, I felt with the Crocodiles of the story. It’s good to see that Taiwan has now legalised same-sex marriage.

167 Kenya: Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Revolution! This book is a call to arms and takes a broad aim: colonialism, sexual predation, big money, tribalism, corruption, religion and the list isn’t finished. It’s not exactly subtle in its stance but not without a sense of humour. The denouement came as a surprise to me and the heroine of the story … , well, read for yourself.

And what’s coming next? I’m in the middle of Bahrain, Antarctica and Kazakhstan and just got a big present from my parents including Uzbekistan, Paraguay and Equatorial Guinea. Thank you 🙂 .

Algeria – Afilal and Assekrem (Tamanrasset 4/4)

On the third day of our trip to Tamanrasset we went to Assekrem. For foreign tourists, this is the only spot in the area where one can stay overnight outside of Tam because there’s an outpost of the gendarmerie. A permit has to be organized in advance and ours was sorted by the travel agency and our marvellous guide.

The track to Assekrem is marked and leads through a varied landscape. Quite often it appeared moon-like.

We didn’t go to Assekrem immediately but had a stopover with picnic at one of Algeria’s Ramsar wetlands. It’s a pretty odd feeling to have been through parched valleys and hills and then suddenly there’s a river and ponds and plastic bottles and bags.

If you look at the sign you can marvel at its linguistic complexity. Arabic, French, and English are easily recognizable. The signs that look a bit like runes are Tifinagh, the writing system of the Amazigh (Berber) languages. It’s one of the oldest writing systems still in use and because the Amazigh are matriarchal the women are responsible for teaching it (or so I read in my guide book).

With the area being full of water, there was of course lots of wildlife. We saw kestrels and martins, plenty of dragonflies and brilliant grasshoppers with red wings underneath their grey ones. There was a lot of humming in the air.

We arrived in Assekrem in the afternoon. There was ample time to climb from the refuge to the mountain top, from about 2600m to 2800m – and I certainly felt the height and had to stop every few steps to catch my breath. Well, it gave us time to admire the house bunting.

Once we had made it to the top, we were welcomed by the local Catholic priest … yes, you read that correctly. Assekrem is famous because at the beginning of the 20th century a French astronomer, Foucauld, built his hermitage on the mountain to observe the weather and the stars and to possibly do some spying for the French military. He also erected a tiny church which can be visited these days. The priest also told us that we were really lucky because it was a very fine day with great visibility and almost no wind. Really balmy.

We had almost two hours of daylight left and made good use of it. If you’d like more photos, especially the stars of a desert sky, head here: http://chinese-poems.com/blog/?p=1812

We made it down just in time for darkness to cover land and plastic and had dinner followed by some of the coldest hours I’ve ever experienced (I spent a winter on Iceland). And there wasn’t even any wind blowing! I went to sleep dressed with my woolly hat on and crawled under three thick blankets.

In the morning, the whole sky was covered in an orange glow, seeing which was well worth the freezing night, but I didn’t climb up the mountain. We went back to Tam and admired some camels on the way. We also had our last picnic of the trip. The flights to and from Tam are always in the middle of the night so we tried to nap once back in our hotel. It was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the Sahara.