Friday, April 17, 2009
Eurasia 2009, Part 1
France : 16 to 18th of February
Around 4pm, my mother drops me off at a petrol station along the highway that goes through Tours. I want to go all the way to Asia using all kinds of modes of transportation. I leave with 7kg on my back for the first leg of the trip.
I know i have a 1 out of 10 chance of being picked up by someone if i ask him/her directly, instead of waiting on the side of the road with a sign. My technique is now greatly perfected from all the trial and error : i come up to the person with a map in my hand, letting them think i'm going to ask them for directions and, with a somewhat pityful look in my eye, i say : "Excuse me, but if it's in your direction, would you be kind enough to take me closer to ... (i name a nearby big town)". If they refuse, i still smile and thank them for their time (sometimes they change their mind afterwards).
However, i don't get very far on this first half-day of hitchhiking and i sleep behind a pile of wood near a petrol station.
My second day is much more productive and actually brings me right behind the Italian border, in the Alps. A cold night, but nothing compared to the -20 of the Himalayas. The next morning, i arrive in Milan.
Italy : 18th of February to 14th of March
I stroll around in this city that i already know quite well and enjoy a hot chocolate and delicious ice cream. I then head to my aunt's who lives just north of Milan in Seregno. I enjoy life here, so i spend 3 weeks in Milan, training with Italian traceurs and meeting up at an event with some of the Parkour Generations guys. I enjoy speaking in Italian with random beautiful girls.
At first i want to continue with the hitchhiking, but as i set off, i realise i don't want that anymore, i feel very lost and i can't figure out what i want in my life precisely... I don't want to hitchhike nor to go home, so i think about other possibilities, from cycling to asia to taking a plane for Mongolia, all sorts of ideas rush through my confused mind... In this climate of doubt, i take a train to Trani in the south of Italy and hook up with more traceurs.
I marvel at the generosity of Traceurs all over the world and i know that wherever i go, i will find someone to welcome me. The Parkour community is beautiful !
My italian friends drop me off in front of the ferry that will take me to Igoumenitsa in Greece.
Greece, 15th of March to 2nd of April :
The crossing from Italy to Greece takes 13 hours, and i bought the cheapest possible ticket, so i don't have a cabin and sleeping inside the ferry is impossible because of the lights and noise. So i go out on the deck and find the highest point of the ship to set camp. It's very windy but i'm all tucked in my sleeping bag, under the stars that i try to identify.
In the morning, i stroll around the ferry until i find a nice greek guy who accepts to take me with him in his car towards Athens. He drops me off at the Meteora, a unique and spectacular rock formation on top of which a few monasteries boldly stand. I feel so excited by the place that i spend hours hiking, climbing, exploring, losing myself in the cliffs and caves of the site. When the night comes, i camp at the top of one of the rock formations, not far from a "no camping" sign. The stars are again beautiful, so i lay down my shortened sleeping mat, tuck myself in my sleeping bag and spend an eternity looking up at my heavenly guardians, wondering how humanity can have lost this beautiful habit of sleeping outdoors...
I wake up to a breathtaking panorama, overlooking the nearby cliffs and perched monasteries. After a few more happy hours of exploration, i have a refreshing "shower" in a little stream before getting back in hitchiking mode.
At some point a nice guy picks me up on what is supposed to be a short trip : he is going to the city of Larissa, only 60 km from where he found me. However, i discover very quickly the natural sense of hospitality of greek people, as he invites me to have dinner at his mother's and later on offers to host me for the night. I have a great evening in the company of him and his friends !
I finally arrive in Athens where i am greeted by Aggelos, a greek traceur. Him and his family are so welcoming that i stay ages at their home ! I train with him and his friends and they take me to the famous Acropolis. The site is closed but i want to visit anyway, so i sneak in past the guards and stroll among the temples. As i come out, i realise that someone has posted dogs inside the site and one of them sees me precisely when i see it. It runs after me and i have to use Parkour among the ruins to dodge it. Using it's aggressive stupidity to my advantage, i lure it into a dead end as i climb down a wall on the other side. I make it out unharmed.
I have something in mind, i want to kayak towards the greek islands, so i buy a kayak and set off, only to discover, as soon as i have taken place inside the kayak, that again i have no clue of what i really want to do... In fact, i feel even worse than i had in Italy, and one thing is sure, i don't have enough kayaking experience to set off on such an adventure. I could spend some time building up that experience, but i don't have the energy to do it. I feel bad for a while, as i sit on the shore, telling myself that i am being weak, until it strikes me : this isn't about being weak or strong, it's just about motivation, and i don't have it. I have enough experience to know that i am capable of overcoming difficulties if i really set my mind to it, but in this situation, i just don't want to kayak like this. So why am i there, sitting alone on this beach with a brand new kayak ? I am learning the hard way that a mind is powerful only when it's in peace with its objectives, and mine isn't. There is a time for everything, and one must be in agreement with his own self if he wants to be succesful. But i still can't figure out what my objectives are, why i am even travelling, i feel like a locomotive with no fuel to burn, and no tracks to ride on...
Things are not better on my way to the North East of Greece, by train this time. I am even considering heading back home to give myself some time to think. I decide that once in Istanbul, i will make a choice. So i hitchhike once more and, as i arrive in Turkey, as if i had stepped in a powerful energy field, everything changes in my mind, my motivation comes back and i know i don't want to stop here. Is it the "asian vibe" there that arouses my adventurous mind ? Or the simpleness of the local countryside life that appeals to the "Tom Sawyer" inside me ? Maybe it's a bit of both, and something else i can't identify. Nevertheless, i feel back on tracks and ready to explore the world !
Turkey, 2nd to 8th April :
I'm dropped off in the night close to Istanbul, but i must walk over 2 hours to reach the nearest metro station that takes me to the center.
The next day, like a complete beginner, i loose my passport and credit card... Did they fall out of my pocket, or were they taken ? It's not very clear, but anyway it's my fault, i should have been more careful. I hate myself for a little while as this means that i am going to have to go back home to get new ones, but having faced other delicate situations in the past, i put a stop to my unconstructive self-insulting reflexe and calmly reorganise my plans for the following days, and promise myself i will be back in Istanbul as soon as possible to continue the trip.
I strongly believe that there is always something positive to see, even in negative situations, it's just a question of perception.
I go to the french consulate to ask what the procedure is, and as i expect, they tell me i need a declaration of loss from the police. However, as i quickly understand, the turkish police force is not the most hard-working in the world, and they simply refuse to take 5 minutes to write the document, saying they need a proof from the french consulate, that i am a french citizen. So i go back to the consulate only to be told that they can only give me such a document if they have the damn police declaration, so what am i supposed to do ??
The guy at the consulate tells me that if i can find someone to help translate, perhaps the police will be more helpful, so i leave the place not really knowing where i can find someone like this who would be willing to take some time to help me.
As i step out of the consulate, i randomly turn my head to the left and see a smile, like a flash in my eye. I turn again, and it's still there. It belongs to a very nice and friendly turkish girl (Ozum is her name) who speaks perfect english and very kindly agrees to help out. Together we go to the police station but they still refuse to help, asking again for a proof of my nationality. The guy at the consulate is astonished to see me in such charming company only minutes after he advised me to find a translator.
I'm tired and Ozum has to meet up with friends, so she invites me to join them all and we have a great evening. One of them, Serkan, invites me to stay at his home for as long as i need, i feel moved by this spontaneus mark of generosity towards the total stranger that i am. I want to pay some drinks to everyone, but i only have a little bit of cash left and i must keep it for my own expenses, i speak to Ozum about it but she tells me to forget the european politeness, we're in Turkey...
I spend the following days struggling with bureaucracy nonsense to the point that i consider passing the borders illegally back to France. A visit to the consulate gives me a flash of hope : someone there tells me they found a passport belonging to a "Thomas something" ! Ideas rush through my mind, if i get my passport back i can get on with the trip, with almost no money, sure, but that's quite exciting ! Turns out it's another Thomas, nevermind, on with the paper work...
Takes a few more days but the situation finally clears up. Meanwhile i meet up and stay at Selmin's place, whom i met through the Couchsurfing website. I have a great time in her company and she offers to host me again when i'll come back.
I spend my last night at the airport in order to catch my 5:30AM flight back to France. Part 1 of the trip is finished, part 2 is just around the corner...
More photos HERE.