|07-26-2004, 03:57 AM||#16|
Joined: Sep 2002
Since Saudi Arabia was denying Westerners post-Haj transit visas, the only overland route to India via Pakistan was Iran. But childish government saber-rattling through posturing in respective legislative bodies, and despite the pleas of Iranian Embassy personnel in Istanbul, officials in Tehran denied my several attempts for a tourist visa. After a month of delays, the only alternative was a mid-December crossing over the 9,000 foot passes of the Anatolian Plateau, descending into Syria.
As advised by numerous backpackers also touring the Middle East, Syrian Arabs greet strangers with invitations home for bread and tea followed insisting to stay overnight in their clay-block homes. With the current world media hype, I waited for hostilities that not only failed to materialize, but only encountered hundreds of friendly city folk wanting to know of my journey.
From the stunning architectural grace of the domed Muslim Mosque to vibrancy of colorful souks (markets), few outsiders can comprehend the depth and sincerity of all religions in this biblical region.
|07-27-2004, 03:41 PM||#17|
Joined: Sep 2002
Riding north to the well-preserved Roman ruins at Palmyria, deserted for fears of terrorism, except for a wandering unemployed tour guide, I was a lone traveler reeling in ancient splendor.
Nearing the Iraqi border, American fighter jets screamed overhead, unnerving docile Bedouin goat-herders tending their flocks.
With very basic skills in Arabic, I managed to accept a humble offer for tea and a thick wool carpet for the night.
With numerous reports of heavily armed insurgents crossing the northern border, California license plates on a shiny blue BMW were sure to draw unwanted attention. More experienced than most at the hands of a terrorist army, I take no more chances and opt for an as-the-crow-flies GPS route across the hard-packed Syrian Desert directly toward the glistening Mediterranean .
|07-27-2004, 03:41 PM||#18|
Joined: Sep 2002
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.
|08-02-2004, 07:49 PM||#19|
Joined: Sep 2002
December 16, 2004
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.
December 19, 2004
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, 2004
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, 2004
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.
strikingviking screwed with this post 09-09-2005 at 01:54 AM
|08-02-2004, 07:50 PM||#20|
Joined: Sep 2002
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?”
strikingviking screwed with this post 09-09-2005 at 01:56 AM
|08-02-2004, 07:51 PM||#21|
Joined: Sep 2002
Thanks for the kind words Emily. That's the theme of my new book coming out in the spring--Governments may not get along, but people do. While touring fifty seven developing countries alone, the only chanting mobs I encountered were everyday people rushing forward to greet me, and often, to invite me home. If you ever want to restore your faith in humanity, take a trip around the world--alone. You'll be astonished at the abundant hospitality and overall kindness of strangers.
Despite the current economic and political events going awry, I'm convinced that humankind is on the verge of a giant step forward. We'll know for sure by who we Americans choose for our next leader. It appears that as a nation, we are finally waking up and ready to proceed to do the right thing. The unprecedented level of social awakening and generosity of the extremely wealthy confirms the notion that we as humans around the globe really do care about each other and are finally willing to act in concert. Think about it--if not for a few movie stars, few Americans would be aware of the genocide in Darfur. Now is the time to pick your cause and step up to the plate.
strikingviking screwed with this post 09-09-2005 at 01:58 AM
|09-07-2004, 08:37 AM||#22|
Joined: Sep 2002
December 31, 2004
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.
January 3, 2005
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.
|09-22-2004, 07:18 AM||#23|
Joined: Sep 2002
January 11, 2005
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.
|09-26-2004, 01:06 PM||#24|
Joined: Sep 2002
To avoid jinxing the ride by speaking too soon, I waited until the twenty thousand kilometer mark to evaluate the equipment. Some is provided by sponsors, the rest bought through mail order. Deciding what to use was based on personal experience or reputation. On a world ride, you don't use products just because they are free, it's critical to be positive when your life can depend on it. Most important is durability, ease of use and function. High-tech gadgets are useless if easily broken or an annoyance to operate.
World rides are the ultimate test. It's unlikely that equipment would be continually thrashed this hard under normal use. Merely surviving brutal off-road conditions of a Trans-Siberian crossing or Gobi Desert loop is a sufficient test for durability. That alone was a total of 2,200 miles of constant bone jarring abuse that should have demolished everything. During the 6,000 mile Paris to Dakar Race, at the end of grueling days, there are teams of mechanics waiting with truckloads of enough spare parts to rebuild a bike. There's no backup on a solo world ride, you fix what you can, where you can. The following is just opinion, YMMV.
|09-26-2004, 01:07 PM||#25|
Joined: Sep 2002
BMW 650 Dakar
Falling in love with a motorcycle can cloud an owner's judgment, but this bike is only on loan and not mine. The Southern California DAG (Dealers Association Group) heard about what I was attempting and stepped in offering the use of a 2005 650 Dakar. In exchange, they requested a series of slideshow presentations at their dealerships when I return.
It's a win-win deal because we are all interested in promoting this fast growing segment of the industry, Dual Sport Adventure Traveling. No contracts or promises of what to write, the deal was done on belief and a handshake. They signed over the bike on my word alone, an unheard of gesture in the corporate world. Having a popular website and a book just released helped, but I also believe they're sincerely interested in this project. There's no factory support, just what the warranty covers at authorized BMW repair shops. Other than that, I'm on my own. If the bike blows up in Sumatra, I'll figure it out from there. One thing for certain, if it does, you'll hear about it.
Although the roads have been mangled, twelve thousand miles is hardly enough to judge a motorcycle's durability but I can attest to its performance so far. The 50hp bulletproof Rotax engine provides more than sufficient power although for off-road I'd suggest a lower first gear. The much touted, newly designed windshield on the 2005 was a disappointing joke and little better than nothing.
Electronic fuel injection once scared me, now it's mandatory. Short of sabotage, the race proven technology provides exceptional mileage, while precisely managing fuel in the thin atmosphere of high altitudes. It starts quick, hot or cold and is free of the surging reported on 2001 models and earlier. Whatever complications existed previously, they're resolved now.
Like most motorcycles, the stock suspension won't handle heavy payloads for long so before blowing seals on the road, I upgraded to an Ohlins rear mono shock and Touratech front fork springs. Under load, both provide a noticeable improvement over stock but this model Ohlins performs poorly off-road over fast bumps like washboard or potholes, transferring sharp jolts up my spine. WP was my first choice but unavailable with remote hydraulic preload for Dakars. However, I am amazed the shock didn't break or blow a seal after shearing two sub-frame bolts in the Gobi. It was the equivalent of dropping a bike off the roof a few hundred times a day.
The stock Metzler Sahara tires were okay but half worn at 2,500 miles of street use in California. Avon Gripsters doubled that. The heavy duty disk brakes upgraded with EBC sintered pads are head and shoulders above competitive dual sports with ABS now a mandatory luxury. How many times do they have to save your life to be worth the extra five hundred bucks?
It's a fun bike to ride; even loaded it melts through the curves with abundant ground clearance. Slightly heavier than I prefer, if you learn how to ride it, this won't matter. The upgraded 2005 EFI increased low end torque while improving already efficient fuel economy. At 60mph it produced 62mpg, dropping to 50mpg at 85mph, but that's okay, on Third World roads there're few opportunities to ride that fast. Cruising in the 40mph range, mileage climbs to 70mpg. The lowest octane I'm certain to have tested is 87 in California. Unsure of foreign rating scales, I put in the highest available.
An overheating problem experienced in Japan was caused by my knee blocking the exiting air vent through the Touratech tank. Moving my knee out or scooting back in the seat resolved this. A better solution would be the Touratech peg re-location kit to lower and move them back. Touratech supplies a new seat to fit their tanks but the stock one is softer and stickier.
For weight reduction and ground clearance, the bike comes without a center stand and I planned to get by without one by tilting the bike over on the side stand for changing tires or oiling the chain. Attempting this loaded down in Japan, the side stand broke. Since it had been extended to contend with the additional ride height of aftermarket suspension, it was not covered under warranty.
The new 2005 fairing, adjustable clutch lever and 12volt BMW plug are nice touches but I scrapped the fairing for bigger tanks and added an emergency plug. It's the first bike I've seen with effective high and low beams. The cargo rack could be wider but there's a trick BMW rear top case available that bolts on without needing adaptor plates.
The most significant feature about this bike is how incredibly tough it is. If this ride doesn't break it, nothing will. Deep jagged potholes, unexpected sheer drop-offs over desert washes and hundreds of miles of the worst bone jarring, jack hammering washboard imaginable. With loads pushing the gross vehicle weight limits, all the Gobi Desert can claim is two broken sub frame bolts. Forever amazed at the incredible ruggedness of this machine, while every morning, the Blue Beast stands ready to do it all again.
|09-26-2004, 01:08 PM||#26|
Joined: Sep 2002
Jesse Aluminum Panniers
After using these for three years, on two bikes, for a total of eighty thousand hard miles through Third World countries, there's been no structural weakening, corroded hinges or metal fatigue. Where I travel, they are in a constant state of flex, fully loaded, bouncing over speed bumps, potholes and desert washes. They are the most irreplaceable items on my bike.
Aerodynamically engineered with welded beveled edges, they cut through crosswinds while providing that extra space needed when cornering low or paddling through deep sand. Expanded lids designed to house awkward to reach items open outward making loading gear easier because you can sort it setting it on top. And perfect for stashing sweaters, jackets and gloves needed to use or pack quick. Roadside with an upcoming storm, they're a dream. No fumbling around unpacking and searching for that rain suit---pop the lid and it's there.
The double handles are keyed alike lockable, secured with a newly designed thick steel tongue. I'm tired at the end of the day and don't like hassling with bolts and knobs removing saddlebags. With Jesses, I unsnap two stainless steel fasteners and lug them off to my room. Nothing is theft-proof; the most we'll get is theft-deterrent. These lockable panniers serve as strong boxes for belongings when leaving the room unattended. Narrower than your handlebars for easy white-lining, they still hold double what the stock BMW cases do.
On his website, Al Jesse has a picture of a crane picking up a Beemer by his pannier and that's no surprise to me. After going down hard enough in Mongolia to bend the solid steel mounting frame, the bag maintained its structural integrity still providing a tight seal. The frame was hammered back straight and within hours, everything was good as new, further proving their worth to the long distance rider. If there's a weak spot here, I can't find it.
strikingviking screwed with this post 09-27-2004 at 04:36 AM
|09-26-2004, 11:31 PM||#27|
Joined: Sep 2002
The only thing better than German engineering is hardcore riders honing it in under extreme conditions like the Paris to Dakar Race. Synonymous with BMW in Europe, itâ€™s the weapon of choice for dedicated adventurers and professional riders. At the Munich Bike Show, I noticed a piece of Touratech equipment on nearly every motorcycle. Practical, well designed and built to last, this company develops and constructs what motorcycle manufacturers never considered.
From wider foot pegs for standup riding and simple protective brackets for critical braking components to complete competition off-road racing kits, they cover it all. Touratech knows that quality pays and have become the standard for excellence in aftermarket equipment. Peruse their website, thereâ€™s no fluff, just serious equipment for serious riders.
Because of the 600 mile fuel range, Iâ€™m hooked on their twenty liter bolt-on saddle tanks. Tight clearances on the bike demand extra hours for mounting but during that time youâ€™ll marvel at the engineering that went into the design. When using them, youâ€™ll discover the intricate plan of balancing weight distribution with an even front to rear fuel level. The Dakar comes with the fuel tank where it belongs--low, under the seat. Through a system of drain hoses with the Touratech tanks, that weight stays low.
Forward tanks also offset the additional weight of rear panniers, acting to stabilize the front end. Over washboard roads, the ride was far smoother topped off. When heading for the mountains, I cut forty pounds for the curves by filling five gallons instead of ten. This reduces fuel range to a manageable three hundred miles.
For long distance riding or convenience, high capacity fuel tanks are addicting. Traveling internationally itâ€™s often hard to find the grade of fuel you need in short hops. With big tanks you can fill whenever you see a station with your grade and not worry. Whether needing extra range everyday or not, itâ€™s nice knowing you have the option.
On my South American ride as well as this one, theyâ€™ve provided 10,000 hard miles per set. There are endless debates regarding which tires are best in rain, mud or gravel, but unless I have two identical bikes riding the same day, under the exact same conditions on the same road, itâ€™s too hard to tell. I can verify mileage by checking the odometer and the bike slides when I want it to and stops when I want it to. Thatâ€™s all I need to know.
Locating 17 inch rear tires is difficult outside Western Countries so I have them shipped to major cities I intend to visit. Being certain how long they last, itâ€™s possible to predict when and where Iâ€™ll need replacements. On a long distant ride youâ€™ll encounter a mixture of riding surfaces. For combinations of on and off-road riding, Gripsters rule.
Adventure Exhaust System
I wasnâ€™t as interested in performance upgrade as much as eliminating the catalectic converter for situations of no unleaded fuel, like parts of Africa. The stronger midrange pull from the Adventure pipe was just an additional advantage and at last it growls like a motorcycle instead of a sewing machine. Utilizing a Supertrapp exhaust fitted to a stainless steel connecting pipe, the Adventure system is tunable to whatever performance modifications are installed. You can dial in the back pressure or noise, by adding or removing disks.
Since I donâ€™t have fuel management upgrades, Rodger sent me a system with four disks installed, the closest to stock backpressure. Itâ€™s a bolt up project taking two hours curbside using the BMW tool kit. I pulled off the old and hooked up the new on the sidewalk in Mongolia.
If you prefer the symmetry of dual exhaust, Rodger also sells a matching false muffler with a water resistant removable end cap. Itâ€™s a handy stash tube for spare parts or whatever else you might want to hide from nosy pricks with guns. Constructed with heavy gauge stainless steel, itâ€™s strong enough to fire a rocket from--a consideration where Iâ€™m heading.
strikingviking screwed with this post 09-27-2004 at 04:35 AM
|09-29-2004, 11:33 AM||#28|
Joined: Sep 2002
Itâ€™s a slightly larger version of the inadequate stock windshield. The angle is whatâ€™s wrong so riders receive the same buffeting with the wind hitting a man 6â€™-3â€ť upper-chest. Different brackets allowing a more vertical angle would solve the problem. In Vladivostok, we eliminated the two lower spacers for a small improvement. Made from aircraft quality, scratch resistant plastic, itâ€™s better than stock but not by much.
Airhawk Seat Cushion
This makes the Striking Viking All Time Best list. Similar to the baffle chambers concept in waterbeds, this rugged neoprene seat cushion uses air pockets to evenly distribute body weight. It can be attached to any motorcycle seat using the four supplied straps that feed through corner loops. The replaceable zippered cushion cover is made from durable nylon with a sticky rubber under-pad holding it firmly in place.
Its ass-friendly adjustability is handled through a Schrader valve allowing users to dial in the specific feel desired by inflating or deflating. Seat height is unaffected as itâ€™s designed to dissipate the riderâ€™s weight using air pockets maintaining contact with the seat surface.
Iâ€™ve tried the gel pad cushions that feel comfortably squishy when sitting still but also react like liquid when hitting something hard and fast like a pothole. Itâ€™s like doing a belly flop with your butt cheeks.
I canâ€™t figure out why aftermarket seat manufacturers arenâ€™t onto this yet. Itâ€™s the most comfort enhancing product Iâ€™ve ever used and can keep even the biggest sissies in the saddle for hours. With two ruptured vertebrae and plastic stents in my organs, there is no way I would have made it this far without an Airhawk.
BMW Savanna II Riding Suit
In selecting which suit to wear daily for the next eighteen months, comfort and fit were as important as durability and function. If itâ€™s uncomfortable, I wonâ€™t wear it and the reason for wearing it is safety. Iâ€™ve fallen off a couple times at low speeds and was glad to have the extra padding. I hope to avoid road testing high speed impacts but judging by the materials used, it would make a significant difference in hospital time. Itâ€™s a stylish, mild weather riding suit with enough pockets and adjustments to keep you busy adjusting after every meal and weather change.
The super-reflective materials on the back and sleeves shine bright with almost with no light and for daytime visibility, I chose red. I experienced a few days at 100 degrees in Palm Springs and after unzipping the six ventilation openings felt okay. Just keep moving when itâ€™s hot; in traffic youâ€™ll cook. In a perfect world youâ€™d bring two suits, one for hot weather and one for cold but thatâ€™s far too bulky for precious storage space. A mid-weight suit with layering sweaters and thermals was the most logical.
I still want to know why the main manufacturers today put waterproof liners on the inside. This is tolerable in temperatures above fifty degrees but below that, the wet fabric works like a cooling pad, chilling the rider. The suit drip dries fast but not fast enough in a tent over night watering dry sleeping bags. The result is climbing into a soggy suit in the morning. After extensive research, this was still the best suit overall to wear in varying temperatures from mountains to deserts.
Thereâ€™s no substitute for good lighting and PIAA delivers with superior lenses housed in heavy gauge aluminum. Complete kits with necessary switches and wiring harnesses are available from Cycle Gadgets. Get the one for your particular bike and everything will clip together following easy to decipher instructions. The Dakar alternator is too small for the big ones so I installed the 535s but biggest and brightest are best when it comes to lighting. For safety, burn them day and night.
Cycle Gadgets is an online catalogue store with dozens of items that you didnâ€™t realize you needed until you saw them. Have your credit card ready, there is plenty to tempt you with.
Terra Nova Light Bar
No matter what lighting system you use, the Terra Nova is the light bar of choice. Machined from billet aluminum, these extra thick, lightweight bars are damn near as strong as your frame. Itâ€™s not a one size fits all bracket, Brad Vardy designs them specifically for each model listed. They come pre-drilled for a quick bolt up, allowing you to space out your own custom mounting holes with supplied template. Powder coated and precision engineered, theyâ€™re a perfect match for perfect machines.
|09-29-2004, 11:33 AM||#29|
Joined: Sep 2002
At the time I installed mine, pre-machined versions were unavailable and stock ones were a hassle to fit. Touratech now offers the complete kit for heated grips and hand guards. Aluminum bars are stronger but more brittle than steel ones that bend and sometimes straighten after a crash. The question is how hard is the impact? When I went down in Mongolia I surely would have bent my bars to hell and was relieved to have the Maguras which alongside the Acerbis metal strapped hand guards, were unfazed. Iâ€™ll be using aluminum bars from now on. Remember, metal reinforced hand guards will save your brake and clutch levers from slides to simple tip-overs.
Although in South America the Sony proved to be indestructible, this time, I decided to try something different. Sony gets the lowest consumer ratings verified by examining them at electronic storesâ€”often keys were missing. Yet Iâ€™ve had good luck with them and miss using a Sony laptop thatâ€™s compatible with my Sony camera and there are special features you canâ€™t buy in software to load onto another computer.
This Toshiba has been banged around, dropped, nearly drenched and survived the jack hammering of Siberia. Itâ€™s bulletproof. I need lots of ram for editing photos and video on the road so Troy ordered 1028 megabytes and a 40 gig hard drive with a CD/DVD burner. The only thing slowing its lightening speed was downloading McAfee anti-virus software.
Sony Digital DCS 717
If I have time for a photo, itâ€™s got to be fast enough for point and shoot. Thereâ€™re better cameras for those with the time to set up their shots but for quickies this is it. The Sony fires up in a second and a half for those unexpected shots, then auto-focuses instantly. Thereâ€™s an effective infrared night-shot setting and its got hours of battery time if you donâ€™t use the screen viewer. Itâ€™s heavier than I would like but thatâ€™s the price for the high-quality Zeiss telephoto lenses. All the pictures on the website are point and shoot so judge for yourself.
Aerostich Tank Equipment
Helge Pedersonâ€™s inspirational photo canoeing his bike through the Darien Gap sets the mood for this catalogue of unique motorcycling gear. Not only is everything there that you ever dreamed of but thereâ€™s a choice of brands. Well experienced in world motorcycle adventure traveling, Andy Goldfine knows what riders need and how to shop for quality. When heâ€™s not satisfied with what the market offers, he makes his own.
Although I like the map case available on tank bags, to keep the weight low, this time I selected zippered Cordura tank panniers. Theyâ€™re perfect for holding a few liters of water and filling with groceries for roadside meals. Small side pockets hold notes, pens and other non-valuables. In cold weather, they block icy winds to the legs securely fastened with adjustable elastic cords. For better visibility I chose bright yellow over black.
These unbreakable plastic bottle holders mount directly to any size handlebars with an adjustable screw down clamp. Flexible support arms secure containers sized from 12oz cans to 1.5 liter bottles. Theyâ€™re on my, mandatory, list.
When itâ€™s cold out, itâ€™s best to be able to seal your helmet to your jacket. One of several ways to slow heat loss through the neck and head, these fleece lined triangle shaped scarves can be removed easily by Velcro ends behind the collar. Waterproof and washable they come in colors.
BMW Electric Vest
This does the job for cold weather riding. Unless the weather is warm, I wear it everyday. Temperatures vary from dawn to dusk and rather than stopping to add gear when riding up mountain passes or as the sun dips behind clouds, I just flip the switch and feel the heat. The trick is to fire it up before you get cold. Built to quality BMW standards, it fits right, long enough to cover your lower back when sitting on a motorcycle with arms outstretched. Iâ€™m uncertain about the washing instructions so itâ€™s starting to smell a bit weird.
Stock BMW Rear Top Case
Designed for the 1150 GS Adventure, this case was useful enough to have Jimmy make a special aluminum mounting plate for the Dakar. After gluing in foam packing, it was ideal for storing delicate valuables like camera, computer and vital documents. Itâ€™s better for security to have only one box to worry about. Keyed alike to the ignition, one twist removes it from the bike and another unlocks the lid. If itâ€™s not easy to use, you wonâ€™t.
Unfortunately, it was too heavy, too high and too far back on the Dakar causing the front end to shimmy. The load had to be reduced and re-positioned. As a one man show, it was not possible to film the scenarios I had in mind for this journey and after considering the issues, I decided the video equipment had to go. I couldnâ€™t justify a twenty pound storage container holding fifteen pounds of gear. The combined weight of the camera, batteries, cartridges, manuals and chargers were just too much so I sent it all back to California from Mongolia. The added storage space from the dummy Adventure Exhaust pipe and jettisoning extra clothing and a few medical supplies made room to move the laptop to a pannier.
Mine just got stolen but a replacement is on the way. There are two main choices in GPS, Garmin and Magellan and there will always be debate on which is better. The Meridian Color is waterproof with great resolution do to the color screen. To avoid energy costs and to keep it from beating itself to pieces with the extra weight, itâ€™s wired directly to the battery.
Although technically superior, I shook two Garmins apart in South America so there is a reliability factor to consider. The Magellan Meridian Color lacks the easy to follow routing selection function available on more expensive models but that never shows road conditions or indicates travel time. You can still program waypoints and draw as-the-crow-flies lines to where you want to go.
In Mongolia, comparing the World Base Maps available on CDs, the Garmin provided far more detail. To be sure this is consistent you would have to do a country by country comparison. The best feature about the Magellan is the way it disconnects with one button from the cradle to take with you when you step away from your bike. I failed to do this for one minute and the Gypsies snagged it. Not their faultâ€”mine for ignoring my own security procedure. A minute is a laughable eternity to a professional thief. The Garmin requires fiddling with a power plug that ultimately breaks and is harder to disconnect so it would have likely got bagged sooner. With so many models available and so easy to steal, I would always buy the cheapest with decent screen resolution, durability and ease of use as deciding factors.
|10-08-2004, 10:08 AM||#30|
Joined: Sep 2002
January 12, 2005
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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