Tag Archives: friends!

A birthyear with the sun -Tel Aviv stage

We gathered last Saturday in the Hudna bar, in Tel Aviv, to keep on with my birthyear celebrations, which started in Kampala, Uganda, and had follow-ups in Nairobi and Cairo. This was also a farewell from Tel Aviv for me. Next party will be in Istanbul!

Take a look of the photo album here.

A genuine artist in Uganda

Just when I was leaving Uganda, photographer Benedicte Desrus arrived there… it’s such a pity, because she is doing an amazing work there on topics I’m interested on and I’d love to have worked together. Take a look at her pics on homosexuality and the antigay bill in Uganda (my story on Mexico’s Proceso weekly, currently on sale, is on the same issue).

A year on the road and a birthyear with the Sun

Dear friends:

Last March 2 it was a year since I flew out of Mexico and started this second round-the-world trip. I’m in Nairobi now, which has trapped me just as it did back in 2005. And, as I decided that I will turn 40 once and only once (not tempted to repeat), I won’t have a birthday, but a birthyear with the Sun. Therefore, I’m also starting here a series of celebrations which should follow the fireball in the sky: from South to North as the Boreal Summer approaches and the Austral one heads off, and from East to West as the light chases away the darkness.

In this year I have seen things that have made me feel ever more amazed about our world, its nature and its peoples.

First of all, I watched in big close-up the Iranian Green Revolution. It was a unique chance to witness the bravery, generousity and glamour of a wonderful people rebelling against the military-religious dictatorship that rules them. If it was only for this experience, the whole trip is worth it. As long as the authoritarian regime is in place, I won’t be welcome back in Iran, which makes me very sad. But I believe in the Iranians and trust that they will get rid of that fanatic, corrupt cast of pious cheaters, liars and killers. I wrote a book on what I saw and heard, which shall be on sale in Spain (a little later in Mexico and Argentina) by mid-April. It’s title is “La ola verde. Crónica de una revolución espontánea” and it will be published in Barcelona by Los Libros del Lince. It’s in Spanish, of course, and though you can dismiss the possibility that some foreign publisher would like to acquire it and translate it into English, this is not very likely. As one English writer puts it, “we English native speakers stopped reading foreign language authors since Voltaire was alive”. Hope dies last, of course, so we’ll see.

I’ve also seen the pledge of the Uyghur people from Kashgar, pushed far from their homes as the Old City, a crucial stage on the Silk Road, was being bulldozed by the Chinese government to build huge appartment blocks in its place. I saw huge Buddhas in the Mogao caves and six-hundred metres sand dunes nearby, in Dunhuang. I crossed the snowed Pamirs and the Tian Shan, now in Kyrgyzstan, where my belongings ended in some thieves’ hands. Then, in Uzbekistan, I went to the now-defunct Aral Sea, where ship corpses strangely lie on the sand in the middle of the desert.

Iran was the highlight. But I was almost caught by the police commiting journalistic crimes and had to escape to Armenia, where I made a detour to Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupied, utterly destroyed Azeri city of Aghdam. In Georgia, I went up to Kazbegi, a wonder in the Greater Caucasus, in Georgia. Then I took a little holiday. Sort of, because I went to Barcelona to write the book, but my dear Catalina and many other friends, old and new, made me feel the most welcome.

Back on the road, I went to the Turkish Kurdistan and then to one of the most amazing cities on Earth, Istanbul, where I was also warmly received. In fact, this part of the trip makes a big contrast with the Central Asian one, which was tough for many reasons, being the main one a deep feeling of isolation. Now, and for months, I’ve met lovely people in almost every place. Like Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Accre, Jerusalem, Ramallah… and Mama Africa: it was a coming back home. Uganda, Congo (with it’s volcanic eruptions, an eclipse, gorillas), Ruanda, Uganda again… and now Kenya.

So here I am, reporting on a year on the road… and inviting everyone to join me in this birthyear with the sun…

No time for siesta. Life is fiesta!!!

The celebrations actually started in Kampala’s Backpackers on New Year’s Eve and following weeks, with Sean, Adam, Kate, Clare, The Prince Formerly Known as Frankie, Andy, Rafa, Peter, Rachel and so many more! Nakasero nights, Kololo nights… Kabalagala nights and mornings! What a start!

And then Nairobi, with Laura, Melanie, Waireri, Sheila, Waringa, Cynthia, Peaches, David, Ben, David “Hacienda”, Wendy “Paloma”, “Rodríguez” and again, Adam, who took a few days off to celebrate with me in Westlands, Langata, Hurlingham and… well, not yet, but Madhouse should appear at some point.

What next?

Well, be aware: A party! Coming soon to a venue near you!

Next in line are:
Following the Sun from South to North: up to Cairo, by mid-March; Tel Aviv, late this month; and Istanbul, late April.

Then, from East to West: Barcelona, late May; Madrid, in June; and Mexico City!!! in… well, all this is temptative, so let’s say August.

The celebrations will have covered, by then, 8 cities in four continents.

Naturally, Mexico City’s celebrations should be rather quiet, my body will be quite diminished after all this, and well, it’s 40… but I paid everything I owed and was punished for every sin in the deserts of Central Asia and Iran, this is my only 40th birthyear, and that’s my beloved city!

(And the celebrations threaten to connect with the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence, in September… dammit!)

So, as you see, I’m not as serious as you no doubt thought I was. And you are welcome to be as unserious as you can in any, or all, of these fiestas!

Happy bithyear!

Con amor, Témoris

Jambo, Kenya!

The roads are a nightmare and the bus from Kampala to Nairobi took 14 hours, but I arrived well and still had energy to catch up with Laura, the Italian friend I travelled with by Africa in 2005, and my lovely Kenyan friends Melanie and Waireri. It’s raining here as much as it was in Uganda, out of season. This is my seventh day underwater!

“1994” on the screen

My Rwandan friend heard of my scar. She asked to see it and I opened my shirt. It’s 10 cms long. It was made by the surgeon who saved my life in Thailand (2006), but it rather looks as the product of a knives fight. She freaked out, starting sobbing, couldn’t speak. She only managed to type on her mobile phone and show me: “1994”.

Congo: Gorillas, volcanoes and eclipse

The Eastern provinces of the Republique Democratique du Congo, or DR Congo in short in English, are known for being the deadliest place on Earth, the land of the most terrible and massive crimes and the highest number of deaths since World War II. So you can understand that I was a bit wary when I decided to come here.

This feeling was accentuated because I had to come from Uganda via Rwanda, and the bus I had to take there belonged to a company called “Atraco Express”. In Spanish,  “atraco” means mugging and it didn’t make me happy at all that it was going to take place very quickly. This wasn’t the most appealing publicity trick I had heard of. I was wondering if “atraco” had any meaning in Swahili or Kinyarwanda, maybe “confort” or “relax”, something that could ease me a bit. Finally, it was French, an acronym that stands for Association pour un Transport Communitaire.

I came to Congo to research stories on tough matters: the devoted park rangers’ struggle against poachers, militias, soldiers and charcoal trafickers; and the situation of females in a region Human Rights Watch describes as “the worst place on Earth to be a woman”. It should be no holiday, but hard work and prudent behaviour.  This last thing has never been easy for me, creature of the night.

The traitor Aztec king Moctezuma thought signs of sky as odd, anticipation of tragedies. To me, they announced an unexpectedly pleasant experience in Congo.

I was lovingly received in the city of Goma (Nord Kivu province) by my old friend, Samantha Newport, and her partner and their son, William and Alex. That was very nice. First morning, Andrè, a Congolese clerk, rushed into the office (where I sleep) looking for his mobile phone to take photos with it. There was a sun eclipse taking place! Stunning in the early morning’s light, behind some dark clouds.

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Later in the day, Sam took me to the Parc National des Virunga’s headquarters, in the village of Rumangabo, one and a half hours North of Goma, by a very difficult road. This is a highly volcanic area. In 2002, Mount Nyiragongo’s eruption, just 10 kilometres away from the city, sent a wave of very fluid lava which destroyed 80% of Goma. Just now, Mount Nyamulagira, 15 kilometres away, has been throwing lava for 21 days, though not in our direction.

The Goma citizens rebuilt their city between 6 and 20 metres higher than it used to be, on top of the new lava crust. Its streets, not made of concrete nor dirt, but of rough and edgy volcanic rock, are probably the bumpiest I’ve ever seen. Carmakers of the world should test their vehicles here, if they survive, nothing will stop them! And several parts of the road to Rumangabo run over volcanic rock too.

Sam had a surprise for me in Rumangabo: Ndeze and Ndakasi, a couple orphaned gorillas of about two and a half years old, whose mothers were killed in cold blood by charcoal traffickers (in which was a series of gorilla massacres in 2007), were playing in a special enclosure purposedly built for them in the jungle. I had written about Ndeze and Ndakasi’s plight in Mexico’s El Universal and Quo, and was delighted to see them well and joyful!

Ndeze chilling out in Rumangabo

In the Virunga range area, shared by Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, live the last 700 mountain gorillas of the world, so their protection from militia members, poachers and traffickers is vital for this specie’s survival.

Sam introduced me to one of her assistants in Virunga’s communication department, Eddy Mbuyi, a very intelligent and fun Congolese guy who became my guide and now, my friend. On the third day, we went up to Bukima, a rangers’ post in the park’s gorilla sector.

Eddy Mbuyi

Behind Eddy, you can see two 4,500 metres volcanoes, Karisimbi to the left, and Mikeno, after which the gorilla sector is named. In total, we could see five volcanoes and we enjoyed a wonderful sunset.

This is Mikeno

And this is Nyiragongo, the one that destroyed Goma in 2002.

Mount Nyragongo is meant to be the most active volcano in Africa. Eddy said he heard the lava was coming at 14.00, and by 17.00 the city was covered and the population had escaped to Rwanda. It’s nearly one million people, imagine the madness! This volcano is not erupting just now, but in its crater it doesn’t have a water or ice lake, but a hot lava lake. There’s always smoke rising from it. At night, the clouds or smoke over it also reflect the lava lake’s red glow.

What we didn’t know was that Mount Nyamulagira’s eruption was visible from there. What’s that?, said Eddy when he first discovered the huge lava explosions.

What diablos is that!

Eddy got a telescope and we could see this... well, no, with the telescope it looks so well, you can clearly see the lava elevating hundreds of meters and then falling onto the slopes. This is all I could do trying to take a picture of the telescope image... not much.

An amplified image of the pic I took with the telescope.

For this one I only used the camara, no telescope.

Another one without telescope, amplified

The volcano is almost 30 kms away from Bukima, but we could clearly see the lava, which seemed to go up in the air many hundreds of metres. Later in the night, the wind formed a kind of huge sombrero with the smoke, which then reflected the red light of the eruption. I felt like in another world.

Every volcano should have a sombrero

Next day we went into the jungle looking for the Humba family, a group of gorillas habituated to human presence. This is important because generating income that can be used not only to protect the park, but for the benefit of the local communities (30% of the 400 usd we pay for the permit goes to social projects), is key to help the people to understand the importance of keeping the gorillas, instead of killing them (for their hands and head, which can be sold in the black market) or cutting hecteares of trees to make charcoal. The downside of their habituation is that, in the 2007’s massacres, the killers took advantage of the gorilla’s friendliness to approach them and execute them.

Ours was an amazing experience: we walked with three rangers who led us through the thick jungle to the place they had left the gorillas at the previous day. Then, they first tracked them to the spot where they made their nests to sleep, and from there, to where we found them chilling out and having the craic. Someone said that in the other side of the Virunga range, in Rwanda, there are too many tourists, you have to wait for days or weeks to get a permit and then, the rangers don’t do any tracking, they just communicate with radios and walk straight to the right place.

Meet the Humbas, then! First I almost bumped into the huge silverback, Humba, the family head, with his 250 kilograms, wow! Big fella, sitting in the shade and not really paying much attention to us. When Diddy, the ranger, told me he was just next to me, I thought he could get me by the neck in one second, so I walked away. I had to, because gorillas are very vulnerable to human illnesses and we are supposed to keep a seven metres distance.

Don't mess with Humba!

Nice fella

 

Siesta time!

Later we saw other members of the family, like an old female, a baby with her mother having breast, and the youngsters that in a couple years will challenge Humba’s dominion over the girls.

Magori and her 5-month-old baby

Mago and her escuincle

Semakuba, a female Humba stole after a fight with Kabirizi, another silverback

Congo is what it is and all this sweetness couldn’t last forever. I was amazed at its wonders and really enjoying it, but I had to get to know the ugly sides as well. I had to interview the rangers, who have faced horrible situations in the hands of their enemies. And now I’m about to take a boat to another city, Bukavu, on the other end of Lake Kivu, where the drama of violence against women goes further than any of us could have imagined.

But this is the story I wanted to tell you just now. Congo, and Virunga in particular, are truly fascinating. I would say be extremely careful, but don’t discard coming here to experience it yourselves.

Love, Témoris

PS: Take a look at the Virunga park’s website: http://www.gorilla.cd

Escaping from the lava

I met Eddy’s parents today, lovely and kind. They had me over for dinner and greeted me with a wonderful meal, in particular with some little Lake Kivu fish called zambaza. They told me how, in 2002, they heard at about 2 pm that Mount Nyiragongo’s eruption’s lava was coming down, and by 5 pm, 80% of this city was covered. 800 thousand people had 180 minutes to escape to Rwanda!