MY 20 MOST RISKY ADVENTURES

 

Blessed be they who have chosen the Way of the Tourist, because they will peacefully visit interesting foreign countries, carrying with them an airplane round trip ticket home, bookings in a comfortable hotel with 3 meals a day, programed excursions with local guides and driver, an insurance policy, and will increase their score in the rankings of the virtual travel clubs.

But woe to those who have chosen the Way of the Traveler! for they will only buy a one-way ticket to a remote destination and will never know when they will be returning home. They will throw themselves into the world, into the unknown, and will set out on the journey without any hotel bookings, without guides, and without tourists’ excursions. Improvisation and constant unforeseen exciting adventures will be the daily bread of those who have chosen the Way of the Traveler, although, in compensation, they will have a direct understanding of the world as well as unique human experiences that will elevate their souls.

Since I was a child I aspired to become a connoisseur of the planet Earth, and in order to fulfill that purpose I had to explore all the inhabited corners; I wanted to admire the ingenuity of the people, to contact the wise men older than me to learn from their experience about this world in which I was born.

Not all of these 20 incursions listed below were deadly dangerous, since from the large majority of them I escaped without negative consequences, but it could have been worse.

I recognize that I was lucky most of the times. In several occasions I paid my boldness with jail, for instance in Afghanistan for having reached Kandahar without Afghan visa, or in Batumi, when the Georgian authorities discovered that I had been in Abkhazia and treated me with cruelty.

Except these two occasions, I do not want to describe some unpleasant situations that I survived only after paying a high price, among them being imprisoned one week in Asuncion, Paraguay, for having entered the country through a dubious entry point frequented by Argentinians smugglers; when I was robbed of all my possessions in downtown Johannesburg (South Africa) after been beaten on the floor by three young Africans; or when carefully avoiding thousands of landmines, kilometer after kilometer, in my long journey by trucks through the roads in northern Mozambique, until Tanzania, just a few months after the end of the Civil War. Finally, in Mount Tai (Ivory Coast) I contracted malaria and had to be urgently hospitalized several days.

Sometimes I have been asked: Why that strong desire taking risks, to penetrate in dangerous and even forbidden places? Invariably, my answer is: because they exist. Then I explain about the necessity of man to learn about all that surrounds him, to understand the world. It is something innate; you see a mountain and wish to know what is behind; you want to know who lives beyond the seas, it is our nature, it is even the libido that prompted our ancestors to quit the caves where they lived and launch themselves to discover the world and improve their living conditions. In the same way that bees need to pick up the nectar from the flowers, the traveler needs to extract knowledge from all the places that he visits in order to learn about the existence in this world.

After this long prolegomenon, I list below the 20 conflictive places (by chronological order):

1 – (Year 1982). Traveling disguised as a Uyghur from Urumqi to mythical Kashgar (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region) via Korla, Kucha and Aksu, in the times when it was forbidden for the foreigners.

2 – (Year 1982). Across Sulu archipelago on boats and vintas, from Zamboanga to Borneo, via Jolo Island.

3 – (Year 1986). Amazonas. Up the Vaupes River on canoes, from Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira (Brazil) to Mitu (Colombia), and further to Villavicencio across leper villages, gold seekers, guerrilleros and Tukano Indians.

4 – (Year 1986). Captured by FARC guerrilleros at the sources of the Magdalena River.

5 – (Year 1986). Up the Huallaga River in wild settlements where all the locals were armed with automatic rifles, in Sión, Tocache, Tingo María.

6 – (Year 1989). Battlefront of Jalalabad in Soviet Union times. Baluchistan, from Quetta to Kandahar, via Chaman.

7 – (Year 1989). Through Elephant Pass to Jaffna outwitting the Indian Peacekeeping Forces.

8 – (Year 1989). Crossing from the Kingdom of Mustang to Tibet through the Kore Pass for the first time by a foreigner.

9 – (Year 1989). Aksai Chin plus Jammu and Kashmir. Long trekking across Ladakh and Zanskar, at the border of the disputed Aksai Chin territory with Indian, Pakistan and Chinese military controls.

10 – (Year 1991). On rebel Bougainville Island, meeting with Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) leader Sam Kauona.

11 – (Year 1992). On Trans-Saharan trails, from Tamanrasset to Gao in trucks, and further to Timbuktu through the Niger River.

12 – (Year 1993). Crossing Darfur in trucks, From Khartoum to Ndjamena.

13 – (Year 1996). Surreptitious intrusion in Panjakent (Tajikistan), from Samarkand, in civil war times.

14 – (Year 2001). Hazardous adventures in Liberia and Sierra Leona in prewar times.

15 – (Year 2001). Bombings in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein times.

16 – (Year 2003). From Bangui (Central African Republic) to Moundou, south of Chad, via Cameroon, avoiding bandits.

17 – (Year 2006). Risky incursions in the forbidden Indian states of Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, without the restricted area permit.

18 – (Year 2006). From Derbent (Dagestan Republic) to Abkhazia, via the destroyed and forbidden Grozny, in Chechnya.

19 – (Year 2007). RASD (Sahrawi free territory controlled by the POLISARIO) from Tindouf.

20– (Year 2008). The Darien Jungle. Overland, walking and in canoes, via San Blas Islands to Turbo in Colombia.

 

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1 – (Year 1982). TRAVELING DISGUISED AS A UYGHUR FROM URUMQUI TO MYTHICAL KASHGAR (XINJIANG UYGHUR AUTONOMOUS REGION) VIA KORLA, KUCHA AND AKSU, WHEN IT WAS FORBIDDEEN TO THE FOREIGNERS.

I am (the one with the green parka) in the market of Urumqi with an Uyghur, ready to travel to Kashgar

After having spent three days in exotic Turpan, with the majority of the population being Uyghur, I found Urumqi too Chinese. That is why I immediately projected a journey to the legendary Kashgar, which, every Uyghur told me, is the most precious town in Xinjiang. In those times, Kashgar was a forbidden city for foreigners, like Lhasa and the Island of Hainan. Therefore I bought Uighur clothes and the next day I acquired a ticket by bus to Kashgar.

There were some military controls in the main stops, Korla, Kucha and Aksu cities, but they were not too severe and nobody noticed that I was a European. During the nights, all the passengers slept in subterranean dormitories, like dungeons, that were locked until the morning.

I liked the journey; I saw the Tian Shan Mountains and crossed the Taklamakan Desert. I felt that I was following the steps of Marco Polo along the Silk Road. Finally, the fifth day on the bus I reached the fabulous city of Kashgar. I did not want to sleep in a hotel for fear to be discovered, and instead I chose a kind of caravanserai. In the daytime I strolled around the narrow streets, near the Great Mosque, and ate the typical kebabs with aromatic tea and fruits in the bazaars.

I was lucky to be during the weekly camel market. But the second day a soldier came to the caravanserai. I had been betrayed by the owner. During the interrogation I showed to the Police the separate Immigration permit where there were noted all the cities that I was allowed to visit within China, like Turpan and Urumqi, but no Kashgar. I apologized to have traveled to Kashgar, and said that my intention was to cross to Lhasa, in Tibet, what actually was true.

I was 28 years old, and that situation was my first real international “adventure”; I had traveled to Kashgar for the exoticism of the name, and resolved to decide in situ where to travel next, either to Lhasa, or to Pakistan through the Khunjerab Pass, or to Kyrgyzstan, or to Afghanistan…

I was traveling to know in depth the planet Earth, the people inhabiting it, and wanted to have enriching experiences to develop myself and to feed my soul.

The Police treated me very kindly. They sent me to the Officers Headquarters and offered me an individual room. In the evenings I was invited to the dinner room, in the company of captains, lieutenants and generals. In the morning I was free to walk around, but my passport was kept by the Police.

After one week they received instructions from Urumqi regarding what to do with me. The order was to send me back to Urumqi, by bus, accompanied by a soldier who will keep my passport.

The fifth day of the bus journey we reached Urumqi where my name and other passport details were registered in the Police, and then, perhaps after one hour, I was given my passport back and released without consequences!

 

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2 – (Year 1982). ACROSS SULU ARCHIPELAGO ON BOATS AND VINTAS, FROM ZAMBOANGA TO BORNEO, VIA JOLO ISLAND.

I am in La Luneta, Manila, ready to go to the harbour to catch my boat to Zamboanga. was 28 years old

The Philippines are composed by more than 7.000 islands. If you want to see them all at a rate of 1 island per day, you will need 20 years of your life.

In the present journey across Sulu I managed to disembark in no less than 10 islands.

I was in Manila ready to leave the Philippines after discovering the country for over 2 months. Now, my next destination was Indonesia, but an airplane ticket to Jakarta was expensive and I was short of money. Furthermore, I avoid flying as much as possible, so I planned to reach Indonesia overland and oversea, via Singapore. Then I consulted a map and noticed many tiny islands in the south of Philippines from where I could reach Borneo travelling across them like a ping pong ball.

When I told of my plans to my Pilipino friends in Manila, they all were against that journey and said that it was too dangerous to cross the Sulu archipelago, because they, being from Philippines, would never risk because of the fighting with the guerrilleros, plus the pirates and the possibility to be kidnapped. But I did not listen and with great determination I bought a cheap ticket in an overcrowded boat from Manila to Zamboanga, which took one and a half days to arrive there.

In the port I read in clear Spanish language the following welcome sign: BIENVENIDOS A ZAMBOANGA. (In Zamboanga and Basilan, people speak a language called chabacano, which 90% of its vocabulary is Spanish, and Tagalog contains about 40% of Spanish words).

From Zamboanga I continued by boat to Basilan two days later, and soon I navigated to Jolo. Playing chess with some passengers on board I made acquaintance with a Badjao, or sea gypsy, who lived in Jolo, and he gave me the name of one of his uncles in his village, called Sitangkai, near Borneo Island. His family name was the same than my mother’s (practically all the Filipinos have Spanish family names) and because of that he considered me a faraway relative. He told me that Jolo and Tawitawi were dangerous islands, even for Pilipinos. In those places friendship is more valuable than money.

Jolo is a rebel island. It was never completely conquered, nor by the Spaniards, or by the Japanese, or by the Americans, or presently by the Filipino Government. During the days that I spent in Jolo I did not venture to go much further than the port, because in that area are hidden the guerrilleros of the Moro Liberation Front, or muslim warriors who constantly fight against the Pilipino Government. The Joloans are notorious for assaulting, robbing, kidnapping and even killing the passengers of the ships that they board in those waters.

After Jolo and a stay of several days in Tawitawi I reached Sitangkai, called the Venice of the Philippines because its main “street” is a sea entrance in the island. In the badjao villages, such as Sitangkai, you have to make friends; otherwise there are no hotels, lodges or something of the kind except the meeting hut where local people gather regularly to discuss common matters. People in Sitangkai used small sailing boats (called vintas) to travel. I witnessed a wedding between two boys; he has 14 years old and the fiancé just 13. They put me the better chair in front of the ceremony. For them it was an honor to have a European as guest. After the ceremony we all ate fish. I noted that they eat the meat of the fish face and even the small white ball inside the eyes, or the iris.

Sitangkai is the Venice of the Philippines. During my stay in Sitangkai I saw two women fighting because one had “robbed” the husband to the other. People lived in palafitos with wooden pillars and palm leaves, and were mainly fishermen. The Badjaos are sea gypsies but not thieves, as the Joloans pirates are. Badjaos are peaceful people. You will always eat monotonously fish with rice, or rice with fish, plus fruits (coconuts, bananas, Davao fruit, etc.), and if you are lucky you might find chicken sometimes.

In the nights it is very popular to eat “balut”, or a gigantic egg. Dogs are also eaten in the South of Philippines. I waited in Sitangkai 5 days until there was not moon and therefore no light, in order not to be discovered by the Pilipino or Malaysian, or Indonesian patrol motor boats.

On board my last “vintas” there were pregnant women and many young boys. Heading to Borneo Island I saw “villages” not far from Sitangkai, completely in the sea, without land, like “floating” in the nothingness.

To cross about 100 kilometers it took us one day and two nights. The first day we stopped to sleep in an islet called Panguan, the last Philippines possession. Sometimes on the floor of the boat appeared water and we all had to help emptying it with the help of buckets and even cups and dishes, or the engine did not work and the men were forced to paddle. In the “vintas” you do not sleep, just remove water from the boat, pad, or help the sick women on board.

Before arriving to Borneo we were detained by the Pilipino patrol soldiers. The “captain” of our boat spoke with the officials affirming that his trip was specially organized to transport a foreigner to Borneo, that is, me. Then I was called, given that for them it was completely unusual to find a European in those conditions. After exchanging jokes with the officials and drinking coffee with them, we were allowed to proceed further ahead.

Reaching Borneo we disembarked around midnight near a remote village to where we had to swim the last 100 meters. Once on the beach many disappeared in the darkness, and I was invited to sleep in a huge hut besides the beach together with some of the “passengers”.

The next day I walked for about two hours until a village called Bakapit where there was a paved road and took a bus to Lahad Datu, in the civilization. From there I continued by buses to Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu.

In Labuan Island the immigration officers were surprised to see my passport without the stamp in Sabah State, Malaysia. After consulting with Sandakan I was allowed to continue by boat to Brunei, then, a few days later, I proceeded to Sarawak State, and finally I took a cargo ship in Kuching until Johor Baharu, in continental Malaysia, in front of Singapore.

 

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3 – (Year 1986). AMAZONAS. UP THE VAUPES RIVER ON CANOES, FROM SAO GABRIEL DA CACHOEIRA (BRAZIL) TO MITU (COLOMBIA), AND FURTHER TO VILLAVICENCIO ACROSS LEPER VILLAGES, GOLD SEEKERS, GUERRILLEROS AND TUKANO INDIANS.

I am in Manaus, but not in 1986, but 30 years later, in 2016

My journey from Belem (Pará, Brazil) to Bogotá (Colombia) would take me 3 months of time. First I traveled in a boat to Manaus and spent several days visiting it. I wanted to continue to Venezuela or Colombia. Then I was informed that I would not comply with the entry requirements for Venezuela, so I headed to Colombia using boats along the rivers.

I left Manaus by boat and stopped for a few days in Barcelos, then proceeded to Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, and finally spent one week in beautiful Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira (Cachoeira means waterfall in Portuguese). My objective now was the small town of Mitú, in Colombia, but it was not easy to get there. Only after drinking several bottles of cachaça with a Greek garimpeiro (gold seeker) who owned a motorboat, and beating him in an exciting chess game, he agreed to take us (I made friendship with four travelers to share the expenses, two from Germany, one from Argentina and one from Mexico) until the border with Colombia in a dangerous journey across garimpeiros settlements without law that would last ten days, sleeping in villages inhabited by leprous and eating piranhas and coconuts. In some villages we were the first Europeans that the Tukano Indians had seen in their life. They looked at us with naïve curiosity and touched our body, arms and the hair of our chest.

At the border there were neither military controls, nor FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio) agents, nor garimpeiros, so we paid to the Greek and crossed the River until a village called Yavaraté, in the Colombian Indian Reserve of Vaupes. Yavaraté was populated by ten families of Indians Guanano, a few soldiers and a kind of superintendent or Corregidor, el Señor Luis, a real gentleman who gave us hospitality during three weeks until we were sent to Mitú by a small airplane to report our illegal presence with the DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad).

The view in that plane was overtaking; the jungle appeared beneath us as a giant green carpet. In Mitú, the verdict was: Deportation. We were embarked to Villavicencio first, then to Bogotá, and given a period of ten days to leave Colombia.

 

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4 – (Year 1986). CAPTURED BY FARC GUERRILLEROS AT THE SOURCES OF THE MAGDALENA RIVER.

This is my deportacion from Colombia (Salvoconducto para salir del país)

In my way from Bogota to Ecuador I decided to stop for a few days in San Agustín Archaeological Park to visit amazing religious monuments of the Pre-Columbian era that today constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I spent 3 days visiting around those mysterious megalithic statues.

Then, In the Tourist Office, I was advised to make a trekking to the sources of the Magdalena River to enjoy the nature of Colombia. I was told that the path was well marked and I would find accommodation along the several small settlements scattered, until the village of Valencia. I was joined by five Europeans backpackers. We slept in a farm. In the middle of the night some Colombians arrived.

MAGDALENA RIVER. Early in the morning we saw several young Colombians from 18 to 20 years of age, who said that they were guerrilleros of the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas) and showed us their revolvers. They asked us our passports and when they read our nationalities (one Swedish, two Swiss, one German, the only girl was Norwegian, and me) called us “capitalists”. They requested our money, sleeping bags, cameras, watches, etc. I was not robbed at all (I had nothing valuable to be stolen from), what looked suspicious to the foreigners. I made the mediator because nobody of them spoke Spanish, and convinced the chief of the guerrilleros, Victor, a young idealist who was studying Russian language, to let us continue our journey given that we were just harmless travellers. We walked across the jungle together until Valencia. We, all the foreigners, feared that they would kidnap us. Once in Valencia we were interrogated but released afterwards. The five tourists headed north, and I took a bus to Popayan and two days later I traveled to Ecuador.

(Some years later I met Victor in Moscow, and presently he lives in Kharkov and has formed a family with a Ukrainian beauty).

 

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5 – (Year 1986). UP THE HUALLAGA RIVER LIVING IN WILD SETTLEMENTS WHERE ALL THE LOCALS WERE ARMED WITH AUTOMATIC RIFLES (SIÓN, TOCACHE, TINGO MARÍA).

I am in Lima during curfew time, in the year 2006

Entering Peru, from Ecuador, it was my wish to attain the Machu Picchu following part of the 40.000 kilometers of roads of the Old Inca Trail through the Andes uniting the Incan Empire, called in quechuan Tawantinsuyo, or Tahuantinsuyu, which means Four Regions (from Ecuador to Chile and Argentina, and from the Brazilian jungles to the Ocean).

I stopped in Cajamarca, where Atahualpa, the last Inca King, was sentenced to death by Pizarro for having ordered the murder of his half-brother (and also Inca King) Huascar and all the members of his family. Then I spent one night in Kuelap, which was the first Inca fortress that I visited.

Via Chachapoyas, Moyobamba and Tarapoto I arrived to Juanjui. In order to continue further, to Tingo Maria, I had to travel by motorboat along the Huallaga River via Sión. I was advised not to go there because in Sión there was no law. But it was too late to back down.

HUALLAGA RIVER. In Sion there was no law, no policemen, and no priests. Every day landed two small airplanes from Colombia to buy crude extract of the coca leaf. I was inquired for the purpose of my visit and explained that I was broken, in transit to Machu Picchu.

Then I was offered a job as a waiter serving beers and chicha in a night club with twenty young girls practicing the oldest feminine profession. I needed money and would have been suspicious if I refused; therefore I accepted the job and would work there during a whole month.

The customers were workers who picked up leaves of coca. I was given a revolver caliber 38 for my self-defense, because every night they were shoots, and in the morning, in the only street, laid several cadavers that were thrown to the river.

I always slept with the revolver under my pillow. One of the girls, nicknamed China, came to see me one morning, and crying said that the Colombians wanted to kill me that evening because they suspected me as being a DEA agent. I thanked her, drank the tears from her face, returned my revolver, cashed my salary and left to Tingo Maria.

When I left lawless Sión and arrived to Tingo María, I felt safe.

 

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6 – (Year 1989). BATTLEFRONT OF JALALABAD IN SOVIET UNION TIMES. BALUCHISTAN, FROM QUETTA TO KANDAHAR, VIA CHAMAN.

The day that I was released from Pul-i-Charkhi, Kabul. See Najibullah portrait

Being in Peshawar, I tried to enter Jalalabad in order to learn from the human behavior in times of the social cancer of war.

However, in spite of wearing a turban, wide afghan trousers, and having not shaved for one month, I was discovered in Torkham, just after passing some kilometers the border into Afghanistan, controlled by the Pakistani. The Pakistani border officials forced me to back down to Peshawar, escorted by two soldiers, until the Khyber Pass.

But I was “un enfant terrible” those days and determined to try a second attempt, this time from the wild Kafiristan. That long journey until the Pakistani post of Arandu, in the border with Afghanistan, mainly on foot, in winter, sharing for a time in the Bumburet Valley the form of living of the Kafir Kalash (believed to be the descendants of Alexander of Macedonia), visiting the fabled towns of Dir and Chitral, admiring the splendid Tirich Mir peak, crossing on foot the treacherous Lowari Pass of the Hindu Kush, eating only some raisins along the way, “drinking” snow, sleeping in caravanserais crammed with contrabandists and Pathan bandits, and outwitting the Pakistani border posts was, indeed, a very risky one.

Here below are some abbreviated impressions of my second entry in Afghanistan and the week that I spent with the mujahideen, as I wrote in my diary:

FIRST DAY, 5th January 1989, Thursday. ARANDU – NARAY. I left charming Chitral early in the morning and crossed on foot the bridge over the Kunar River and the international Durand Line, thus entering the Kunar province of Afghanistan. The Afghan border was protected by mujahideen carryings Kalashnikov AK 47. I met their “commandant” and offered him my Swiss knife as a present to allow me to enter Afghanistan. Then he explained me before a map:

- “Look! This is the present situation. After eleven years fighting we are about to win the war. Now our battlefront is located at the gates of Jalalabad, where you are heading. All Afghanistan is controlled by the mujahideen except Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and some small enclaves in the corridor of Waham, in the Pamir. But the communists only dominate the cities! The rest of the country is owned by the mujahideen!”.

I walked until Naray where another mujahidin group invited me to have dinner consisting on rice plus a bread called naan. Suddenly all shot joyfully their Kalashnikov and laughed. I asked the reason and was informed that they had listened in the BBC of London, transmitting in Pashto, that the Russians would leave Afghanistan on 15th February that year 1989.

SECOND DAY, 6th January 1989, Friday. ASMAR. That day, in my way to Asmar, I observed the miseries of the war: corpses everywhere with signs of having been pilfered the boots and other possessions, houses bombed, villages razed, women and children fleeing to Pakistan, etc.

I will always remember that second day because I saw coming in my direction an armed old man together with a beautiful young girl with lovely green eyes and sensual long black hair, also carrying a rifle. I continued gazing at her and, when we crossed, I turned back and continued staring at her for her unusual appearance in that situation. Then, the man with her also turned his back and directed his rifle towards me. In that same moment one of the mujahideen accompanying me, caught me violently from my shoulders turning me in the frontal direction and yelled me:

-“Are you crazy? Never put you at the back of an armed man! Fearing to be killed, he will fire at you first. You are very lucky that he did not!”

THIRD DAY, 7th January 1989, Saturday. ASADABAD. Asadabad was a guerrilla stronghold with mujahideen belonging to fifteen different parties fighting against the Communist Government and, sometimes, fighting among themselves. The town was a festival; there were buzkashi games (two groups of horsemen disputing a lamb) and lots of food. I was introduced to the leader of a minor party who promised to send me in a lorry until Kuz Kunar, in Nangarhar province, the gate of Jalalabad.

There was a contest to shoot to some caricatures on cardboard representing Russian soldiers. When somebody hit the target, shouted:

- “One Russian less, ha-ha!”

And everybody laughed, except me. I have family in Siberia, and moreover I felt sorrow for the human being situation. The mujahideen were born in one part of the planet by chance, and the Russians in another part of the same little planet, also by chance, and now they were killing each other. I was sad.

FOURTH DAY, 8th January 1989, Sunday. DONA’I. After breakfast I was called to embark in an old Russian lorry “Kamaz” going to the front of war, together with legions of mujahideen. Most of them walked. Having a truck was a privilege of the mujahideen parties receiving help from the Western countries or from the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia.

I was not immediately accepted in Nurgal. A Hafiz, who was a kind of spiritual mullah directing the prayers (Hafiz is the one who has completely memorized the Koran), suspected of me as being a KGB agent. Then a mujahid started to talk to me in Russian employing elementary phrases, the type of “kak delo tovarish, vse v poriadke?”, but I answered in English that I did not understand.

When the nice mujahideen brought me straw to lie comfortably on the floor of the ruins of the building where we all lived, or gave me a candle to write my diary when it became dark, or chai with “naan” for the dinner, the Hafiz observed disapproving it.

FIFTH DAY, 9th January 1989, Monday. KUZ KUNAR. After the first muslim prayer I was asked:

- “This is the moment of the truth, engris (all the Europeans are called Engris in Afghanistan), do you come to the war?”

Finally I reached the gate of Jalalabad and could even see the city at the distance. Mujahidin took positions and started to shoot. After the dinner suddenly we heard noise of engines. There were the Russian airplanes flying twice daily from Tashkent to bomb the mujahideen mountainous places for one hour each time. We hid in subterranean holes and tunnels forming labyrinths in the mountains. Every bomb impact blew up several houses. Even in the tunnels the earth trembled around us at every blast and parts of earth fell on our heads. The mujahideen prayed in Pashto: “Kher Allah!”.

For me that was more than enough, and I gave up my plan to travel to Jalalabad city.

SIXTH DAY, 10th January 1989, Tuesday. KUZ KUNAR. The schedule of the war was as follows:

- 5 AM: Wake up. Toilet. First muslim prayer

- 6 AM: Chai and naan

- 7 AM: Russian Good Morning: one hour of bombs

- 8 AM: Shooting in the front

- 12 AM: Break for the second muslim prayer. Chai and naan

- 13 PM: Renewal of hostilities, missiles SCUD and grenades throwing

- 15 PM: Break for the third muslim prayer – 16 PM: Clash intensification, bazookas and machine guns

- 17 PM: Pause for the fourth prayer

- 18 PM: End of the war journey. Chai and naan

- 19 PM: Russian Good Night: one hour of bombs

- 20 PM: Fifth muslim prayer. BBC news – 21 PM: Toilet. Sleep

SEVENTSH DAY, 11th January 1989, Wednesday. PAKISTAN REFUGEE CAMP. That morning I left Afghan Kunar province to Pakistan surreptitiously together with many prisoners. Some of them asked me socks for their bleeding feet. There were all Afghanis; Russians prisoners were decapitated on the spot (most of the mujahideen used Russian belts that they wore with the communist star of the buckle put down).

In our way up the mountains bordering Pakistan there were many women and children heading to the Refugee Camp in Pakistan. In the way down came often many donkeys carrying enormous howitzers, heavy shells and other weapons. Of course, they had preference and we (refugees, prisoners and me) had to let them pass first through the narrow, winding and dangerous paths.

That evening I entered Pakistan and slept with the refugees, the next day I reached Peshawar, and some weeks later I travelled to India.

After almost one year travelling in India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Nepal, Bangladesh, I felt the time had come to go back home to see my parents.

I was in Islamabad, trying to obtain, in vain, a transit visa in the Iranian Embassy to cross Iran in my way back overland to Spain. Realizing that it was impossible, I planned to try again in the Iranian Embassy in Kabul. Since through the Khyber Pass I could not cross because the war was going on in Jalalabad, I decided to get to Kabul through Kandahar.

Consequently I bought a train ticket to Quetta, in Baluchistan. From there it would be possible to reach Kabul avoiding the war in Jalalabad. Furthermore, I was informed that in the border between Baluchistan and Afghanistan there was no control and nobody would request me an Afghan visa. I would try, I thought. I have nothing to lose. Besides, I had no much money. If the Iranian visa was granted, I could very cheaply find my way to Turkey, and from there it would be easy to hitchhike until my country.

The train schedule was: Rawalpindi – Lahore – Multan – Quetta. The train journey was fantastic. I crossed the Indo River and stopped in historical towns, such as Multan, the city of the Sufis.

Once in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan, I got lodgment in the roof of a caravanserai, because it was very hot in the rooms.

There I made friendship with four Afghan mujahidins that the next day would go with their land rover to the border with Afghanistan, to Chaman. They advised me to buy Baluchistan clothes to get, without any problem, to Kabul, without looking like a European.

Following their recommendation the next day in the morning I bought in a souk a Baluchistan suit, including a wide trouser and a jacket with long sleeves, plus a turban, spending almost all my remaining money. Then, disguised as a Baluchi we left to the border, to Chaman, where we arrived some minutes later. Then we entered in a chaikhana to celebrate it, drinking tea and eating some sweets without coercion, and then we separated.

The first village in the Afghan side was Spin Boldak. I had no visa but observed that in the border there was no control, I did not even see any Afghan soldier, so I went ahead disguised as a Balochi.

During two weeks I had not shaved my beard. Everybody carried weapons in Chaman, even women. But I was not afraid. I met many ghost women in Afghanistan. I walked slowly but with determination, I crossed the famous Durand Line and finally I had Spin Boldak at sight. I had entered the province of Kandahar, in Afghanistan.

The next day I would reach the charming Kandahar city. Finally I reached Kabul. But I was sent to Pul-i-Charkhi…

 

…….

 

7 – (year 1989). THROUGH ELEPHANT PASS TO JAFFNA OUTWITTING THE INDIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCES.

This is a Buddha statue in the airport of Colombo when I flew from Sri Lanka to India

JAFFNA: It was not easy to get into Jaffna in the year 1989. The Peace Indians Keeping Forces were still in Sri Lanka and controlled all the strategic places, like Jaffna and Trincomalee. There were checking points on the road in the way to the north, Elephant Pass, and further to Jaffna. I was discovering the Buddhist people of Sri Lanka visiting their holy places, but felt that I could not yet leave the country until I could access to the places where lived the Tamils, in an area called Tamil Eelam, with its capital in Jaffna, city controlled by LTTE (Liberation Tigers Tamil Eelam), Muslim guerilleros opposing the Buddhist Government of Sri Lanka.

I tried to cross the Elephant Pass undetected, with success at the beginning. In the last check point there was a gurkha who discovered me, but he must have been a rookie soldier because, noticing that I was an European, smiled at me and let me proceed further, to Jaffna! I had been very lucky! Indian tank controlling Elephant Pass. Jaffna was the Vietnam for India. Many Indian soldiers were killed by LTTE guerrilleros.

Where to sleep in a city with curfew? I found a Catholic Mission where I was accepted to overnight. The next day I explored Jaffna. I saw desolation everywhere, statues of Buddha without head, Buddhist monuments destroyed and painted in red, like blood, because of the hatred, bombed houses, bricks on the streets, many soldiers and checkpoints… all that was the results of the guerrilla warfare. All Buddhist statues had been destroyed when I visited Jaffna. Only Hindu temples stood.

The second day I was not aware of the time and curfew started. I asked for help to the soldiers in the street and finally one jeep brought me to the Catholic Mission driving slowly, in the darkness, and one of the officers shouting:

-Do not shoot; we bring a European to the Catholic Mission!

Since I do not like wars and could not travel outside of Jaffna city because of the controls requiring a permit, I decided to return the third day to the Buddhist part of Sri Lanka, to Trincomalee first, and then to the Adam’s Peak, to start the famous trekking up the mountain and to forget about the social cancer called war.

 

…….

 

8 – (Year 1989). CROSSING FROM THE KINGDOM OF MUSTANG TO TIBET THROUGH THE KORA LA PASS BY A FOREIGNER FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY.

During the present journey I could not travel to Lhasa. Only in the year 2004 I could visit the Potala Palace

I was enjoying the popular trekking of the Annapurnas when, arriving to Kagbeni, I saw a caravan of Gurungs with their yaks carrying rice, with whom I made friendship. They told me that they were heading to the walled city of Lo Manthang, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lo.

I felt excited at the idea of visiting that ancient kingdom, but it was forbidden to foreigners. I then borrowed a Tibetan cap to one of the Gurungs and camouflaged myself into the group passing the control without being noticed. The soldiers at the border were drinking chang, playing to a kind of billiard with wooden buttons and did not pay much attention to the caravan.

We crossed the Kali Gandaki gorge, powerful rivers, and in the first village, which in my diary I wrote as Chusang, I decided to continue alone. I crossed Chele and slept in Samar.

The second day walked across Geling and Ghemi and spent the night in Charang.

The third day, after climbing a pass I turned my head to the front and: Oh my God, what emotion! That was really unbelievable! Never in my life I will I forget what I felt upon that vision. Lo Manthang appeared as if my magic in the horizon. It looked a lovely walled city surrounded by the Himalaya Mountains.

I continued my trekking and after two more hours I traversed the main gate and entered the medieval city, but continued my way to the border with Tibet through the villages of Nipu, Guru and Nhichung.

After crossing the Kore, or Kora La Pass through the border number 23, I noticed in the distance a Chinese military base, but I surround it to avoid it because I had no Chinese visa.

After a few more hours I saw some houses. I had arrived to Changguoxiang, in Tibet. It was already dark. I was so tired, feeling pain in my hips, that I knocked at the first house that I saw, asked for water in Chinese:

“Tsuei ching, gewo Tsuei” (Water please, give me water)

and I fell down to the floor. There was a family. The husband, afraid of my presence, disappeared to come back half an hour later with two Chinese soldiers with rifles. I was sleeping. They lighted me with their lanterns and after a short interrogatory allowed me to spend the night with the family, but next day they sent me back to Mustang through the border number 23.

I returned to Kagbeni without consequences and could finish my trekking around the Annapurnas through the Thorung Pass.

In the way back I was robbed by the Tibetans part of the 20 kilos of Chinese canned food and delicious biscuits that the Chinese Army gave me in the Kore Pass.

In the caravanserai of Lo Manthang I paid twice more than the locals for the momos, for the tea, for the tsampa, for the bed, etc. But I did not complain. I was conscious of the cheating but I did not argue and observed from their behavior in order to learn more about the human nature.

Back home after 1 sabbatical year in the south of Asia, I investigated about the travelers who preceded me in visiting the Kingdom of Lo Mustang and found out that I had been the fifth foreigner to enter Kali Gandaki gorge, the second to overnight in the capital Lo Manthang, and the first to cross the Kora La Pass (4.660 meters).

In 1992 the first tourists were allowed to visit Mustang in the company of a guide and paying a fee of 50 US Dollars per day for the special permit, apart from the expenses of travel plus the compulsory Nepalese guide.

But before, the first visitors were:

1 – 1899, Japanese Ekai Kawaguchi, a Buddhist monk and at the same time a spy at the orders of the British who, thanks to the information that he supplied to the English, these could invade Tibet in 1903-1904. He spent 10 months in Charang (Mustang) and then visited Lo Manthang. After that he penetrated Tibet through a pass in the Dhaulagiri Himal, further west, but did not use the Kora La Pass, which was nearer.

2 – 1952, Tony Hagen, from Switzerland. He was an explorer and geologist who entered Mustang, but did not visit the capital Lo Manthang.

3 – 1956, David Snellgrove, British tibetologist.

4 – 1964, Michel Peissel, from France, is considered the first foreigner to overnight in Lo Manthang.

5 – 1989, Spanish Jorge Sanchez, fifth foreigner to enter Mustang, second to sleep in Lo Manthang, and first westerner to cross the Kora La Pass well into Tibet, and to return through the same Kora La Pass to walled Lo Manthang.

 

…….

 

9 – (year 1989). AKSAI CHIN AND JAMMU AND KASHMIR. LONG TREKKING ACROSS LADAKH AND ZANSKAR, AT THE BORDER OF THE DISPUTED AKSAI CHIN TERRITORY WITH INDIAN, PAKISTAN AND CHINESE MILITARY CONTROLS.

Living with the Indian sadhues in caves. I went with them to the Ganga sources and crossed a fragment of Aksai Chin

If you look an Indian or Russian map, Kashmir region will be located into India. But if you look a Pakistani or Chinese map, then Kashmir will be inside Pakistan.

This was one of my riskiest adventures in the Himalayan regions shared by Pakistan, India and China, during the years 1988 and 1989.

I used TRUCKS to travel along the Karakorum Highway, between Rawalpindi / Islamabad to Gilgit and Karimabad, penetrating fragments of Azad Kashmir territory. In Srinagar I took buses and military trucks to travel to Leh, in Ladakh.

There were many military controls; even the soldiers picked me up on the road in Kargil. In Rizong Gompa. I was allowed to spend one night. I was ready to start a long trekking across the old kingdom of Zanskar, until Manali Buddhist monks helped me everywhere, especially in Phuktal Gompa, Zanskar. I made friendship with the saddhues and lived with them in caves and in Hindu temples at the sources of the River Ganges. In their company I could penetrate a fragment of Aksai Chin from the Hindu temple of Gaumukh.

GOMUKH GLACIER is at two hours walk from Pracheen Gufa (a cave where I was living with saddhues). Besides the glacier there is a famous ashram ruled by Lal Baba. There I met “naga” sadhus naked, covered only with ashes, summer and winter. Others never move one arm, which soon gets atrophied, others never lay to sleep, but lean instead to a tree or tie to it with ropes, some never cut their nails, which are very long and curled, others never speak, and still others remain in the river without ever going out. Many carry a “danda”, or spear, that is called tridanda if has three points, and hold a “lota”, or milk can. Most smoke ganja. If pilgrims give food or money, the sadhus eat, if not they look for herbs or fast, and if they die from hunger they do not care, it is considered their karma.

I also saw Sikhs with their turbans and swords, and sannyasins, or men over 50 years old, dressed with white loincloths, who had given up everything, house, work, family, etc., to pilgrimage around the holy places of India until their death.

Many of my friends had made the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, in Tibet, but they dissuaded me to try because I was not Indian and there are many Indian and Chinese military controls. Indian saddhues are tolerated to go, but not the foreigners.

The weeks that I spent in these mountains of the Himalaya were of the most precious of my life. I did not find Shiva but I think that I got to understand myself a little bit better. I must confess that I travelled up to the Himalaya with the hope to become a “Superman”, but when I returned down my only wish was to be just a man.

 

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10 – (Year 1991). ON REBEL BOUGAINVILLE ISLAND, MEETING WITH BOUGAINVILLE REVOLUTIONARY ARMY (BRA) LEADER SAM KAUONA.

 With new friends in Bougainville Island in my way to Solomon. But that picture was taken in the year 2015

I entered in Bougainville Island from the Solomon’s, by motorboat, from the isle of Shortland, to a beach near Buin. The journey took me 4 hours.

I had not passed through Emigration in Gizo (Solomon), I had no PNG visa, but anyway I wanted to cross Bougainville Island in order to reach Port Moresby.

At the beginning I was not welcome in Bougainville because of the Civil War going on. Some local people, with rifles, sent me in a pickup jeep to Arawa to meet the leader of a revolutionary movement for the independence from Papua New Guinea, called BRA, or Bougainville Revolutionary Army.

In Arawa I met the leader and military commander of BRA, Sam Kauona, who, after talking with me for about one hour, decided to let me stay in Bougainville for a few days, but not to continue further to the island of New Guinea, or even to the nearby island of Buka, as I pretended, because it was too dangerous. I had to go back to the Solomon.

In fact, those days Bougainville was an independent country, or at least it had so being declared a few months earlier.

I stayed in a catholic mission in Kieta, the main port, thanks to be invited by the German priest, since there were no hotels in Bougainville when I was there. Then I learnt that most of the natives of Bougainville, including Sam Kauona, were cargo cultists, although they combined their cult practices with the Catholic faith.

Germans controlled Bougainville Island and some of the Solomon’s during part of the XIX and the XX centuries. Then Santa Isabel, Choiseul and Shortland were exchanged to the British for Western Samoa, but they did not give Bougainville, although culturally and ethnically is related to the Solomon, but not to Papua New Guinea. Bougainville was later Australian and when they gave independence to PNG, Bougainville remained within this country, instead of the more logical Solomon Islands.

People in Bougainville, Shortland, Santa Isabel and Choiseul belong to the same race and are very black, more than the african people, while in the rest of Papua New Guinea people are not so dark, and they are even called Red Skins.

The main richest is the fabulous copper mine of Panguna, which was closed when I was in Bougainville, and Sam Kauona did not give me permission to visit it.

There were no policemen or soldiers in Arawa; in fact there was no law, except the armed guerrilleros under the orders of Sam Kauona. They even used old weapons left by the Japanese in the jungle during the WWII. People had almost nothing to eat, in the market I saw turtles, worms, rats, bats. Almost everybody chewed betel nuts. Sam told me that they were very angry with the Papua New Guinea government because recently they had sent to Bougainville several mercenaries from Europe and Australia, to catch him dead or alive, and to dismantle the BRA.

Finally, after the scandal produced between the Government and the opposition, the mercenaries, already having arrived in Port Moresby, received their money promised but were not allowed to get to Bougainville to fight against the BRA guerrilla, instead they were sent back in a chartered airplane to Australia.

After five days in Kieta and Arawa, I returned from the beach of Buin to Shortland Islands by motorboat, then to Gizo, Honiara, etc.

The Civil War had started in 1988 and would finish in 1998, causing about 20.000 deaths in Bougainville Island.

(I returned to Bougainville in the year 2015 and tried to contact Sam, but he was a successful businessman, very rich, well integrated into the Papua New Guinea society, and did not want any independence anymore. People told me that he was too busy with his commercial activities and had no time to meet anybody. Then I traveled to Gizo, in the Solomon Islands, in a motorboat, remembering my first trip 25 years earlier).

 

…….

 

11 – (Year 1992). ON TRANS-SAHARAN TRAILS, FROM TAMANRASSET TO GAO IN TRUCKS, AND FURTHER TO TIMBUKTU THROUGH THE RIVER NIGER.

 

I obtained my visa to enter Mali in Tamarasset, Algeria. Then only in Gao, well into Mali, was stamped my passport

I started this dangerous journey in Ghardaia. In fact I had reached Tamanrasset with the hope to cross the Sahara desert to Niger, but after 10 days waiting I realized that the only way to cross the Sahara was via Bordj Mojtar.

Ghardaia is the gate to the desert. In a bus I arrived from Ghardaia to Adrar. Then, the next day I took a shared taxi to Reganne. Now I had to cross the desert of deserts, the feared Tanezrouft. I went out of the town and after 5 hours waiting, hitchhiking, a car stopped and the driver asked me 20 US Dollars for a ride to the border with Mali, to Bordj Mojtar. I agreed to pay.

After three days waiting in the border a truck transporting dates accepted me to take me to Gao for 80 US Dollars. We left very early in the morning. I was told to wear a chéche (a kind of turban) to cover my head and to behave like a muslim, otherwise I could be kidnapped by the Touaregs.

The journey to Gao would take us 6 days and 5 nights. At the border with Mali I was asked by the Malian soldiers 20 US Dollars baksheesh. At the beginning I refused. I already had my Mali visa issued in the Consulate of Mali in Tamanrasset. But they did not want to allow me to continue my journey. Finally the truck driver convinced me to pay half that amount, 10 US Dollars, and then I could cross the border.

Once in Tessalit, Mali, we continued to Aguelhok, where we spent the night and all the passengers, including me, bought a lamb for dinner. I was travelling on the top of the truck, with the dates and dozens of other passengers. I was the only European. In the evening we all listened to the radio with the news.

We reached Anefis, and one day later Tabankort. Finally the sixth day we saw Gao in the horizon. I went to the port and learnt that, two days later, a boat, the Kanku Musa, would sail to Mopti, but first would make a stop in Kabara, the port of Timbuktu. I paid the price and waited for the boat.

The boat journey from Gao to Mopti would take me six more days along the Niger River. I did not have any cabin, but slept on the floor like most of the passengers. It gave me the impression that on board the small, but crowded boat, we would be over 1.000 passengers.

The fifth day we reached Kabara, the port of Timbuktu. The captain said that we would stay there during the down and uploading and downloading operations, which will take half a day. I was excited and started my trip walking and at the same time hitchhiking to the mythical Timbuktu.

I have to recognize that I only spent a few hours in Timbuktu, what I considered enough since it has lost the old charm. I had to hitchhike to reach there from the port of Kabara and then to Korioume. The distance was about 10 kilometers and the local people helped me with rides. I went there more for the fame and evoking name of Timbuktu than for the tourist’s attractions that the village has to offer. Apart from a couple of old mosques I did not see much more. But anyway I felt happy because one of my most admired travellers is French René Caillié, who was the first no muslim traveller who got to Timbuktu and left the city alive.

Two more days later the boat arrived to Mopti. From Tamanrasset, where I arranged my visa to Mali, then Ghardaia and the trucks to Mopti and the Dogon Country, I had been traveling, practically without stopping, during 30 days. I obtained my visa to Mali in Tamanrasset.

 

…….

 

12 – (Year 1993). CROSSING DARFUR IN TRUCKS (FROM KHARTOUM TO NDJAMENA).

Permit from the Government of Sudan in Kassala, authorizing me to cross from the border of Eritrea to Khartum

The classical overland African journey in vertical, from Cairo to Cape Town (or vice versa), in local means of transport, without using airplanes, was very popular among young travellers several decades ago. Today, owing to the unstable political situation and frequent wars in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, this route is not so in use anymore.

But crossing overland Africa in horizontal, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, is only for reskless travelers.

RED SEA. ERITREA.   I was in Massawa (Eritrea) drinking a tea and eating fresh fish in a chaikhana facing the Red Sea, pondering the alternatives to get back home to Barcelona, in my dear Spain, after eight months traveling around Africa, from Melilla to Cape Town and up to Eritrea in buses, trucks, boats, trains and on foot, but never airplanes, like the true traveler. Now I had just to cross Sudan and enter Egypt and then would catch a regular ship to Athens and hitchhike to Spain to accomplish the Tran African in vertical twice.

But then I looked at my pocket atlas, that magical book, and a new plan provoked me with irresistible force: Crossing Africa in horizontal! The idea became so powerful that I could not take it out of my mind; I did not wish anything else in my life at that moment than to arrive to the Atlantic Ocean from the Red Sea via Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. I had left only 60.000 CFA, but I am used to travel economically.   One sunny day I took a bus to Kassala.

SUDAN. “Ahlan wa Sahlan!” (Welcome!).   That was the greeting of the Sudanese officers. In colorful Kassala, inhabited by the ethnic groups Beja and Rashaida, I waited for 2 days my permit to travel further. The Sudanese visa was not enough. Khartoum, the junction of the Blue and White Nile, consisted in three parts: the center was located in the South; the Northeast was an industrial area; and Omdurman, at the North and West side of the Nile, was the most interesting place for me due to the cemetery near the mosque where I would sleep in company of my friends, the whirling dervishes.

That mosque sheltered the mausoleum of The Mahdi, probably the expected Prophet announced in the X century, who defeated the English general Charles Gordon at the turn of the XIX century. Every Friday the dervishes performed their sacred dances, quite different than those of the Mevlevi Order founded by Rumi in Konya. One day I boarded an open bus heading to Al Fasher, in the ancient Sultanate of Darfur.

DARFUR. During four days we travelled through unmarked tracks in the desert that sometimes made doubt our driver the way to follow, especially when there were sand storms. The Sudanese are one the friendliest people in Africa; when we arrived to an oasis for the muslim prayer, or to spend the night in the improvised tents, all wanted to invite me to dinner. Everybody greeted me: Asma kuballa, kulu tamam? (Hi foreigner, everything is OK?).

Hundreds of flies hanged about our nose, lips and hair on our head. Nothing to do with them, you had to get used. In Al Fasher I caught a truck to Nyala (two more days) avoiding passing through the Mountains of Jebal Marrah, where the Tuareg bandits attacked the travellers and made them their slaves. In Geneina the soldiers did not allow me to proceed to Chad because I had no visa. I argued and asked for the captain. I knew that well educated Arabs are comprehensive gentlemen. He listened, invited me to tea with sweets and let me go ahead. Shukram!

CHAD. In Adré the immigration clerks wanted to send me back to Sudan because of my lack of visa. After bribing them with some baksheesh I could meet their superior. I wished him in Arabic peace and long life to his dear family, what he appreciated. After one hour interrogation he ordered the driver of a truck to hold my passport until Abéché, and be delivered to the Police for an entry stamp. Abéché was a closed city.

In Chad there are two military controls at the entrance of every town and two more at the exit, and at night there is curfew and you have to wait until the morning. The airport is protected by the French Army. I was granted a transit permit and left to Ndjamena in an overcrowded truck. We stopped in villages where I saw women of Farchana with their hair cut below their ears and their lips tattooed in black. The Dades had knockers and rings in their women mouths when they go to the market because their husbands prohibit them to talk. Finally I arrived at the gates of Ndjamena.

NDJAMENA. I made a mistake when, after been requested to empty my bag, I replied: “Again? I have just showed it in the previous control”. One of the soldiers then beat me with his pistol in my head producing me blood. He called me “kafir”, ordered to enter in a hut and to undress. He took everything with him. I felt miserable and remembered that in that African journey I had lost part of my hearing sense in Mozambique Island when an insect got into my left ear and made me suffer horribly and cry during the two night’s journey in a dhow to Tanzania. I was robbed in Johannesburg, and in the Kinshasa of Mobutu I had to paint my face with black shoe polish to look like an African to escape from an ambush, etc., but never had I felt more in danger than in that hut.

I started to shout: “Basta! I swear that I will never travel anymore! This is my last adventure!” After three hours I was freed and given back my bag and clothes except 10.000 CFA francs. I arrived to Ndjamena and stayed in the Catholic Mission, where the sisters healed my head injury.

LAKE CHAD. To proceed to Niger I needed a permit that I got in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I reached Bol, in the Lake Chad. Up in the Tibesti live the Tubu, or Teda, feared warriors of the desert that do not allow foreigners to enter their territory. They all carry a dagger in their arm. In Bol live the descendants of the Sao, a race of tall people that cut their faces with knives.

I attained Bagasola, then Liwa, and waited in vain for a truck. In the night children in the madrasas recite the Koran from wooden boards until they learn it by heart. After one week the chief of Liwa suggested me to hire two camels and a guide, but first it was essential to buy a gri gri (amulet) prepared by a marabu (wizard), otherwise the guide would refuse to go with me. When it was ready I hanged it around my neck and left. We travelled at night and slept in daytime. We were fed by the nomads and drank water from the wells. The camels ate acacias all the time. The third day I arrived to N’Guigmi.

NIGER. I asked for pure cold water, drank it with greed and lay in a mat. My throat was burning and my stomach in disorder after those three days drinking yellow water smelling and tasting like hell, mixed with impurities, and fighting with the camels the right to drink it first in dirty buckets. They brought me food but I was not hungry. I hitchhiked; people stopped but asked me money.

From Niger to Senegal there is a “highway” filled with kiosks selling food and petrol 24 hours a day. I sold my sleeping bag in Diffa to buy boiled eggs, goat meat and for alms to the poor. Niger was a delightful country; its houses, made on adobe, looked like fairy tales and the people wore clothes with charming colours. I loved Zinder, a crossroads village. There I met many Africans heading to Morocco and Tunisia to cross to Europe to improve their lives. I was ashamed; they were real travellers travelling for noble reasons, as the Humankind did in the past, and not for leisure. I continued my journey.

BURKINA FASO/MALI. From Nyamey I kept on travelling and crossed Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, then arrived to Bamako, in Mali, where I had already been in my way down to Cape Town when I travelled from Ghardaia to Gao in a truck carrying dates and then by boat to Kabara to visit Timbuktu and later the Dogon Country. I first saw westerners since Addis Ababa, but I was a foreigner among them and did not greet any European. I saw them bargaining for 100 CFA francs with poor barefoot women selling fruits in the market, and immediately they entered in a chic restaurant to spend a lot of money in beers and copious food, and expelled the beggars, mainly street children that called them “Patron” or “Papa”, with bad manners. I was closer to the Africans; I felt a white black. I took a train to Dakar and the controller let me in without ticket. The train was a bazaar; in every stop people sold through the windows all kind of goods. Finally I saw the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and felt passion.

ATLANTIC OCEAN/SENEGAL/MAURITANIA. In Dakar I made a boat trip to the Island of Gorée, an ancient slave’s warehouse where the Rastafaris living there invited me to stay with them for a few days eating fish and listening reggae music all day long. Back in Dakar I headed north and stopped in Saint Louis remembering my traveller hero Rene Caillie, the first westerner that reached the forbidden Timbuktu and went out alive. Once in Mauritania I hitchhiked until Choum, sleeping in tents of the desert and drinking countless cups of “chai”. Then I took the train to Nouadhibou together with many Saharawi of the POLISARIO Front.

At the Moroccan border I was denied access to the country alone because of the mines along the way. I needed to join a group. After ten days of unsuccessful waiting a Spanish captain invited me to go to the Canary Island in his fishing boat. One week later I was back home. Soon I forgot my promise of the hut of Ndjamena and consulted my atlas to organize a new long trip!

 

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13 – (Year 1996). SURREPTITIOUS INTRUSION IN PANJAKENT (TAJIKISTAN), FROM SAMARKAND, IN CIVIL WAR TIMES.

My adventure started in Registan Square, Samarkand, before heading to Tadjikistan

I was in Samarkand in the year 1996. I knew well enough four out of the five “Tan” countries (Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kirgizstan, Kazakhstan); only missing Tajikistan.

But ¿how to visit that country, that was suffering a Civil War since the year 1992? Their Embassy in Tashkent did not grant tourist visas because of the bellicose situation.

Then, in the hostel where I was staying, I learnt that there was a border crossing between Samarkand and Penjikent, the closest Tajik town. In fact, every day, very early in the morning, many Uzbek and Tajik crossed that border in both directions carrying food and other goods. I was assured that if I went early, before sunrise, there would be no agents at both immigration points.

Was it worth to try? What would be the consequences if caught? I guessed that the Uzbek agents would just reprimand me for my temerity and would force me to travel back to Samarkand. But the Tajik soldiers could interrogate me in a military barrack, or directly sent me to jail.

I had four borders to cross: the exit from Uzbekistan plus the entry in Tajikistan. And in the way back I still had the exit from Tajikistan and the second entrance in Uzbekistan. In my passport I only had a single Uzbekistan entry visa valid for 30 days.

I resolved to try. I thought that man exists before borders. I was in my planet and had the right and even responsability to explore it to learn from it. If I succeeded in getting into Penjikent I would not risk traveling further to Dushanbe, Tajikistan capital, but would return to Samarkand the same day.

I arrived about 5AM to the border. There were agents but people just crossed the border and nobody was stopped. The soldiers were just talking among themselves or drinking tea.

I was the only foreigner. I had an Uzbek cap on my head.

In the Tajik side I boarded another different bus that brought me to Penjikent. On the journey I saw many people riding donkeys; they carried bags with different items to sell in the market.

The market was exotic, but I noticed that most of the articles were made in China.

I had breakfast in a stall and afterwards I walked until the Penjikent ruins, in the outskirts of the town. They were in miserable conditions, abandoned, I felt pity.

Back in downtown Penjikent I visited the museum devoted to the national poet Rudaki, admiring the frescoes and reading the poems of Rudaki, translated into Russian. And then I learn that the name Penjikent derives from the Sanskrit, and means Five Cities. The city flourished in the times of the ancient Iranian civilization of Sogdiana, when the people professed the Hindu religion under the form of Shaivism, or cult of Shiva.

After the didactic visit to the museum Rudaki, at about 5PM, I took a bus to the border with Uzbekistan.

The Tajik agents did not pay attention to me, but once in the Uzbek side I was requested to show my documents. When they saw that I was from Spain were very surprised, but I had the Uzbek visa in order, given to me when I crossed the Amu Darya River, dividing Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan.

I apologized and said that I tried to get into Tajikistan but I changed my mind just after crossing the border. Now I wanted to go back to my hotel in Samarkand.

The agent gave me back my passport and thus I boarded another bus. My adventure had no negative consequences.

Two decades later I flew to Dushanbe. The reason was that I had already visited al the 193 countries of the United Nations, and had been, at least, one day and one night, or 24 hours, in 192 of them, in all except one: Tajikistan. So this time in the year 2017 I spent one week traveling overland from Dushanbe to Gorno Badkahshan and further to Osh in Kyrgyzstan along the Pamir Highway.

 

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14 – (Year 2001). HAZARDOUS ADVENTURES IN LIBERIA AND SIERRA LEONE IN PREWAR TIMES.

There were no bridges to cross the rivers, so I had to paddle most of the times

Starting in San Pedro, I crossed the border from Ivory Coast to Liberia and immediately felt sick and weak. I then rested in a place that I will never forget: Harper. I arrived there suffering sunstroke, sweeting, and lay in a mattress under a fan to sleep for a whole day; I vomited even the water that I swallowed.

When I woke up the next day, I was hungry, but in the kiosks of Harper there was nothing to eat, no restaurants, and the whole population was extremely skinny, I could only find canned sardines and eggs in a shop. There were no cats, no dogs or pigs in the streets, even birds I did not see any. Harper has been the poorest place I have ever seen during my journeys.

The weekly truck to Monrovia was within four days. There was no other transport; I had to wait 4 days in Harper eating sardines and omelets, day after day.

When the fifth day the truck arrived I was the first to board it, and when we left Harper, I did not risk looking back for fear to get transformed into a salt statue.

I was better and did not vomit, but I was still weak.

In every military control the government soldiers first, and the revolutionary guerrilleros next a few kilometers further, tried to get money from me, being European, but, apart from the first two or three times that I gave some 1 dollars notes, and invited to some drinks to the Army officers, during the rest of my journey to Monrovia I refused, without consequences.

After three days and three nights of agonic travel in that truck first, and in old jeeps later, through earthen roads with enormous holes everywhere and without asphalt, and many times rowing because there are very few bridges in Liberia, I arrived to Monrovia and slept in a hostel managed by Lebanese people.

Soon after started the curfew and nobody could leave the hostel. During the night the owner locked the door with iron bars and padlocks, and an armed guardian stayed inside until the sunrise to protect the customer’s hostel from bandits.

Two days later I left to Sierra Leona overland.

SIERRA LEONE. There were many controls between Liberia and Sierra Leona. Sometimes the check points consisted on local soldiers; sometimes there were controls of the Peace Forces, composed by foreigners (Finland, Norway, South Africa, etc.). All were most surprised to see a Spaniard traveling in those unsafe countries.   In a couple of times we were detained by guerrilleros that suddenly appeared from the jungle, we all gave some baksheesh and they felt happy and left again to the deepness of the forest; nobody was molested.

After three days of continuous travel I reached the gates of Freetown, Sierra Leone capital. At the entrance there was a rigorous control of the Peace Forces, young soldiers from North Europeans countries. They were asking everybody the reason for travelling to the town in pre-war times. My companions in the truck had advised me to invent any excuse, but never to say that I was just “travelling”.

What could I explain to them? How to explain to somebody who never travels the passion that feels a traveller? Had they contemplated the sunrise from the Sphinx of Giza? Had they admired the highest peaks of the Himalaya in springtime? Had they shared the food with the Uighur in remotes villages of Sinkiang, or the traditions of the Kafir Kalash of the Hindu Kush, or participated in the way of life of the Yanomamis in the Amazon jungles, or had they been subjugated when contemplating the mesmerizing Antarctic skies?…   Probably no. Therefore I lied saying that I wanted to go to Freetown just to meet a Spanish friend working in a Non-Governmental Organization.

They allowed me to continue to the anarchic Freetown, and soon found accommodation in a pension ruled by an old Greek. In the night, after the curfew time, a guardian armed with a rifle came to protect us.

The kind Greek advised me to leave the next day to Guinea Conakry because the war was starting pretty soon, perhaps the next day.

In Freetown, the United Nations offered a refugee boat to evacuate the foreigners given the increasing danger of the country.

I went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ask for an exit visa, something compulsory to leave Sierra Leone those days. I was asked money for the document. It was the first time that I was requested money for leaving a country.

The boat sailed during the night. Everyone had to take off his shirt or Tshirt and show his body naked. If you had a tattoo you were not allowed to embark.

Once in the boat (after being robbed of some of my possessions by the customs), and with much difficulty, I made my way up to the roof of a metallic tower pushing through thousands of stacked people, then I got 1 square meter to lay on top of the roof, and fasten with the help of my belt to an iron tube to avoid falling down in case I fall slept.

Everybody was from Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Gambia, etc., but I was the only European.

The boat had a capacity of 200 passengers, but I was told that we were 4.000 people in that journey.

The boat, seen from the distance, looked a human mountain in the middle of the sea.

GUINEA CONAKRY. The arrival in Conakry was bewildering. It was about 7 AM. Seven or eight policemen with sticks asked money to every passenger of the ship, without exception, and hit them in the legs and ribs, even to the pregnant women, until they gave some money or goods that they carried. People cried: “Ay!” and gave more notes occulted between the pleats of their clothes to satisfy the policemen, and then they let them go out of the customs premises. In this way they collected a lot of money and products that they immediately gave to a man with a wheelbarrow who transported all the cargo into a pickup car. When the pickup was full, he drove it somewhere and after ten minutes or so came back with the pickup empty.

I stayed the last thinking that, once the policemen will be satisfied with so much money and cargo “confiscated” they will be happy and will allow the last passengers leave without robbing them anything.

But no! The more they robbed the more they were anxious to collect more money and merchandise!

I saw the pickup going full and returning empty several times. Meanwhile, I made friendship with a “white” man at the other side of the fences. He was a Cuban sailor left abandoned by his Government, waiting for the next cargo boat from Havana. He told me the minimum amount of money that I could give to the police men without being beaten (1.000 francs CFA).

Finally it was my turn. All the policemen were surprised to see a “white” man, European. Two police men hold me by my arms, and one third was ready to hit me with his stick, when the chief asked me how much money I carried and ordered me to show it to him. Then, thanks to the Cuban sailor I handed him a 1.000 CFA note, and although he seemed not too happy, he ordered to let me go without hitting me in my ribs or kick me on the shins of my legs.

I walked to the downtown to drink a coffee when three little black men, like dwarfs, measuring from 70 centimeters to 1 meter, dressed with very colorful clothes, like clowns, smiled at me and the taller offered me his hand to shake it.

I thought:- “Oh, what a wonderful people! This gentleness compensate for the robberies at the port. I will shake his hand to show him that I am not a racist, but a traveller and consider everybody to be my friend”.

And when I gave him my hand, he hold it incredible strongly, I could not get rid of his hand. Then, his two companions, located under my legs, registered my body trying to find the place where I had my wallet. I kept fighting with them during several minutes, and nobody helped me, the people passed by, looked at us, but no one intervened.

Finally, the Cuban who had helped me at the pier saw me and gave several kicks to the ass of the gnomes, until they let me without robbing me anything. They ran away like devils, laughing all the time.

Grateful, I invited to the Cuban sailor to a glass of Habana Club rum in a centrically located cafeteria.   Finally, after many other misfortunes I arrived several days later to peaceful Bissau (Guinea-Bissau), where I rested in a pension owned by a Portuguese lady, who fed my very well with Portuguese meals and beers Sagres.

 

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15 – (Year 2001). BOMBINGS IN BAGHDAD DURING SADDAM HUSSEIN TIMES.

I am besides the monument of Al-Shaheed, in Baghdad without suspecting the bombings that would take place that same night

When I visited Iraq, on February 2001, Saddam Hussein was still the President of the country.

I had entered Iraq by land rover, from Amman, in Jordan, together with four more Spanish travelers after submitting at the Iraqi border authorities a certificate stating that we were not infected by the AIDS.

Baghdad appeared stunning and radiant. Its mosques were of highly aesthetic and exquisite forms decorated with colorful and harmonious tiles representing geometrical shapes, reminding me those of Isfahan, Baku, Kabul, Bukhara and Samarkand that I had visited in the past. The archaeological museum was like the Ali Baba cave, and the central market, with its covered winding lanes like a labyrinth, was almost as exotic and rich as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Finding your way around the many stalls where the polite sellers offered you tea all the times, you would have not been surprised if somebody would have offered you the enchanted lamp of Aladdin, or a flying carpet, or meeting Mullah Nasrudin with his donkey around the corner.

After visiting during two weeks Baghdad, Samarra, Babylon, Karbala, Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, Ur, etc., we headed for three days to the border with Turkey, to Mosul and further north.

Based on Mosul, where we had a decent hotel at the banks of the Tigris River, we made several excursions to historical places such as Nineveh, Hatra caravanserai, archeological ruins, or to a Nestorian Monastery near the border with Turkey.

Back in Baghdad we celebrated our marvelous journey to a fantastic country as Iraq is. The next day we had to go back to Amman, overland.

Then, in the early evening, we, the five Spaniards, decided to walk on the banks of the Tigris River. We found a cafeteria and ordered some fruit juices.

Suddenly we heard the alarm sirens sounding very loudly and everybody ran to hide to the refuges. We were told that the British and USA airplanes were bombing Baghdad, something that occurred regularly, although for us it was the first time that it happened during our 2 weeks stay in Iraq.

Soon started the bombs to fall, and some fell very close to the cafeteria; I heard one of them falling into the River Tigris and also saw in the ski the bursts of gunfire produced by the anti-aircrafts guns, fired by the Iraqi soldiers against the airplanes.   The owner of the cafeteria requested us to hide underneath, in a basement, what we did.

After one hour or so, the bombings ended and we could go out to watch the devastating consequences in the streets, the destroyed cars and buildings, some women crying, many ambulances helping injured people on the floor, and some more horrors.

The next day, on our way by land rover to the border with Jordan, we were informed that several bombs fell into a hospital and a school and caused many deathly victims among children and hospitalized people.

I obtained in Madrid my visa to Iraq.

 

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16 – (Year 2003). FROM BANGUI (CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC) TO MOUNDOU, SOUTH OF CHAD, VIA CAMEROON, AVOIDING BANDITS.

My visa to enter Chad was given to me in Bangui

CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: I arrived in Bangui in the night, one hour before the curfew. Not wanting to hire an expensive taxi I ran until the Catholic Mission, that was closed, but they specially opened it and let me sleep in the library.

The next morning I booked a room and made friendship with the missionaries, who told me fantastic stories about the life of the people in that country.

That Mission has a very familiar atmosphere. It is a very safe place, better than a hotel because the locals respect it. It is very frequented by ONG’s and missionaries who will tell you stories about the population and will take you in their land rovers to their missions in the heart of the country. They also serve dinners at a decent price. It is located in the same downtown of Bangui. In the year 2003 the price for a single with breakfast and dinner per night was: 7.000 CFA francs.

Leaving Bangui, the first day I reached Bossangoa thanks to three Italian missionaries who took me in their land rover. The next day, using trucks, I arrived to a village called Paoua and the truck driver gave me accommodation in his house. Then I had two alternatives. The first one consisted in getting on foot and hitchhiking to the border with Chad, but that direct border was dangerous, infected with bandits who robbed everybody they meet. The second option, suggested to me by the driver of the truck, was much easier and safer, crossing Cameroon first, but I had no visa for that country and they do not supply it to you at the border, but at their Embassy in Bangui.

Anyway I chose that alternative counting with the solidarity feeling between human beings, which is innate in the noble Africans in particular.

The third day I reached the border near Ngaundal. The agents in Central African Republic let me go ahead. Thus I crossed to Cameroon.

CAMEROON: I had to argue, in a benevolent way, with the Cameroon agents. They understood my situation and let me proceed to the border with Chad; they even stamped my passport. Then I boarded a truck to the border with Chad, and again there I had to request the noble Africans to help me and let me enter Chad, what they finally did.

In every border I distributed some baksheesh to the pleasant agents, otherwise they might open your bag and check carefully everything confiscating you whatever they wanted.

Crossing Chad was the most dangerous part of my overland journey to Ndjamena. There were controls of soldiers and bandits everywhere.

CHAD: Once in Chad I could get a ride to the post of Baibokoum to get the entry stamp in Chad. It was already dark; therefore I had to spend there the night. Transport to Moundou was only during the morning to avoid the bandits.

Then the next day I travelled in a jeep until Moundou, and after two more days we arrived to that city.

During several more days, until finally I reached N’djamena, I slept in horrible huts without ventilation, ate worms and meat as hard as the sole of a shoe, and travelled like a sardine in jeeps with 40 PAX when its capacity was for 8 PAX, and with an armed guard with weapons in his teeth travelling with us to protect us. During the nights we slept in the villages for fear of bandits.

In all, the journey overland Bangui – Ndjamena took me 10 days. I was given my Chad visa in Bangui.

 

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17 – (Year 2006). RISKY INCURSIONS IN THE FORBIDDEN INDIAN STATES OF MIZORAM, MANIPUR, NAGALAND AND ARUNACHAL PRADESH, WITHOUT THE RESTRICTED AREA PERMIT.

I made many friends in the Seven Sisters, especially in Mizoram

I had the purpose to visit on a row the Seven Sisters (the Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, plus Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland).

The first three were open to visit, but for the other four you needed a Restricted Area Permit, which is only issued in New Delhi to groups of a minimum of 4 people through a travel agency.

I was alone, so I had to try to manage entering those four states without that permit.

In Kohima (Nagaland) I was lodged in a school.

I had success penetrating into Mizoram, then Nagaland and Manipur, since the controls were not very severe and I boarded shared taxis with Indian passengers. But in Arunachal Pradesh there were many check points on the roads, where Indian soldiers interrogated the passengers, because that state is located at the border with Tibet and pretended by China.

I reached Tezpur, in Assam, and took a bus to the border with Arunachal Pradesh. During the bus journey I made friendship with a native of Arunachal Pradesh, a Monpa, ethno that is like the Tibetans, including the language. I expressed him my intention to enter Arunachal Pradesh. When we arrived at Bhalukpong, the border with Arunachal, I said to him:

“Indians are jealous of you. You have so many beautiful places in Arunachal Pradesh that if they allowed the foreigners to visit them then many, instead of travelling to Jaipur, Taj Mahal or to the Kerala Backwaters, would come here”

Then my Monpa friend replied me:

“You are right; I will help you to visit my state. Indians are not good”

We crossed together the border line, to the Bhalukpong arunachali, because it was a divided city, like Nicosia. The Indian soldiers looked at us but since my friend was covering me, they only saw a black hair man accompanying a local Monpa and did not stop me.

Finally I had entered my seventh Sister!

In Bhalukpong arunachali, without delay, I entered a cafeteria to order chai meanwhile my friend arranged a fair price with the driver of a minibus (only 80 rupees) to transport me to Tippi, a quiet Arunachal village at 6 kilometers distance well inside Arunachal Pradesh territory, where he knew of a hotel where nobody will ask me questions or to see my passport to sleep.

In the hotels of the four forbidden states, if you are a foreigner, or even Indian, you need to fill a supplementary form indicating the number of your Restricted Area Permit or the Inner Permit, which is delivered to the Police every night.

At 5 AM I was ready to board the first minibus passing through Tippi with direction to Tawang. There were some other passengers with me. Soon a minibus stopped. First the driver filled the interior of the minibus with great quantities of women, even on every leg of the driver there was a woman sited. I was installed in the last row. He asked me if I have the Inner Permit and I nodded my head affirmatively.

There are hundreds of thousands of Indian soldiers everywhere around Arunachal Pradesh. In 1962 the Chinese invaded that state and there was a fiery fight.

Arriving to Bomdila a soldier looked inside the minibus where I was. I made as if sleeping. He touched my shoulder and asked me something in Hindi that I did not understand. With cold blood I replied: “Acha” and he went away!

Acha is a very useful Hindi word, it can mean yes, OK, I understand, oh I see, but also: yes but please leave me in peace.

After crossing some villages where the natives practiced archery, I arrived about 6 PM to Tawang and at once headed to the Buddhist monastery on the top of a hill dominating the town. I was accepted immediately by the monks to live there.

The monastery belongs to the Gelugpa and was even more stunning that the Potala of Lhasa, Tibet. There lived about 500 monks, and also some workers in the houses in the middle of the monastery. It was founded in the XVII century by the 5th Dalai Lama, and precisely there was born the 6th Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama often visits Tawang Monastery during the Padmashambhava dances in the full moon of May.

The views from that monastery were superb! Tawang is the second largest monastery in Asia, only behind of Potala. It was the residence of the XIV Dalai Lama when he escaped from China in 1959. Some time later he moved to Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh.

When I was about to leave for Kolkata, one of the monks, Lama Champa, decided to accompany me because he feared that in the way back to Assam I would not have the unbelievable luck with the Indian soldiers that I had when entering Arunachal Pradesh. If asked, he would reply that I was a guest of the Tawang Monastery.

Lama Champa travels every year to Europe, where he remains for a few months teaching Buddhist meditation techniques in Buddhist centers in Warsaw, Berlin and Murcia, in Spain.

One morning at 5 AM we embarked in a minibus and at about 6PM we reached Tezpur, back in Assam, from where we both travelled in a night bus to Guwahati. Then we separated. Lama Champa took a train to Delhi to organize his new trip to Europe. I travelled by night train straight to Kolkata.

 

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18 – (Year 2006). FROM DERBENT (DAGESTAN REPUBLIC) TO ABKHAZIA, VIA THE DESTROYED AND FORBIDDEN GROZNY (CHECHNYA).

I finally could penetrate into Grozny

I spent one month traveling to the seven Russian republics of the Caucasus, from the millenary city of Derbent, in Dagestan, to Maikop, the capital of the Republic of Adygea.

In theory, I needed a special permit to visit some of these republics because of the war situation, but in fact I was not asked for that permit.

My adventure began in the five-thousand-year-old city of Derbent. I experienced some troubles at the border between Dagestan and Chechnya, when I had to give some baksheesh to an officer in a control (about 300 rubles), then in Ingushetia I was controlled in a check point and requested to show my passport.

Apart from that I was very careful avoiding encounters with the soldiers. Once in Sochi I felt safe and could even visit Abkhazia during five days.

It was easier than I had expected to get into Chechnya, camouflaged into a bus filled with women and bags with vegetables.

WELCOME TO GROZNYY (Dobro pojalavats, in Russian), said a sign at the entrance of the town.

In Groznyy there were many barricades made with sand bags with soldiers wearing waistcoats against bullets. There were more soldiers than citizens. Almost every car was controlled in the many check points along the broken roads. The aspect of Groznyy was worse than Sarajevo, Baghdad or Beirut in its most horrible times. Most of the buildings were in ruins. Edifices half destroyed were inhabited by people and they even hanged clothes in the balconies, like in Italy or Spain. In the bombed part of the houses nobody lived.

I did not risk taking pictures getting off the bus, but through the windows of the bus, fearing that the Russian soldiers would judge it suspicious. I did not want to be interrogated by the old KGB for my presence there and, most probably (in the best of the cases), sent back to Moscow for the lack of pertinent special permit for Chechnya.

Where to sleep in Chechnya without being detected by the Army? I arrived at 6 PM and a notice panel notified that there was curfew in the town from 9 PM to 5 AM. I saw a hotel not far from the bus station but… somebody in the bus offered me help and thus I went to his house where I spent two nights observing life in that unusual city.

During the evenings, while having dinner, we watched TV but with a very feeble light. Mobile telephones worked and the local market was very busy with stalls selling all kind of products and changing foreign currency. My friend showed me the subterranean basement where his family used to hide during the bombings. They told me that some airplanes were not hit by the rebels, but were declared as destroyed and then sold in the international weapons black market.

The third day I left to Ingushetia.

 

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19 – (Year 2007). RASD (SAHRAWI FREE TERRITORY CONTROLLED BY THE POLISARIO) FROM TINDOUF.

I was traveling with californian traveler Charles Veley. We were invited to a snack in the United Nation base in Bir Lehlu

It is very hard to get to RASD, country liberated and controlled by the POLISARIO; indeed, very few travellers in the world can really claim to have visited properly this country, much different than the occupied zone by Morocco and known as Western Sahara (Morocco-controlled).

Most of the Sahrawi Republic citizens (nearly 200.000 persons) live now in the encampments near Tindouf, Algeria.

We were living with a Saharawi family in Tindouf, during a whole week . We left by car early in the morning to Bih Lehlou, through Algeria, Mauritania and RASD territory.

RASD is recognized by most African nations, several Spanish speaking countries such as Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, etc., plus India.  European countries prefer to support Moroccan invasion in exchange of economical sales of their products, as is the case of France, or to sell weapons, as does USA and other European countries, or permission to fish in Moroccan waters, as is the shameful case of my own country Spain, giving thus the back to a territory that was our 53rd province and where the people still speak Spanish as the second language.

Charles Veley was happy once we entered into RASD territory, and we made a stop to celebrate that we crossed 3 hazardous borders unnoticed (Algeria, Mauritania and RASD).

From Tindouf to Bir Lehlou (within liberated RASD territory) took us about 4 hours by jeep crossing the desert, plus 4 hours return. The path along the desert continues until Nuadhibou, in Mauritania.

We saw the birth of a baby camel on the road.

Bir Lehlou means The Sweet Water Well.

We visited a United Nations base in Bih Lehlou. There are five United Nations bases within the liberated RASD territory, and three under the Moroccan invaded territory, in the other side of the infamous wall (over 2.700 kilometers long surrounded by 5 million antipersonnel mines and defended by 110.000 invaders Moroccan soldiers).

Moroccan militaries killed thousands of civilians, women and children mainly, spreading napalm with their airplanes.  Charles and I met United Nations soldiers from China, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa and Honduras .

 

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20 – (Year 2008). THE DARIEN JUNGLE (OVERLAND, WALKING AND IN CANOES, VIA SAN BLAS ISLANDS, TO TURBO, IN COLOMBIA).

Kuna indians helped me to cross the Darien gap

I was in Panamá City, ready to leave overland to Colombia crossing the dangerous Darien Gap.

I planned to board a bus to Yaviza, the last destination by road, and the gate to the Darien. Then I would buy a machete to open my way to the jungle until Colombia. Once in the Colombian town of Turbo, in the civilization, I would continue my journey to Cartagena de Indias.

Meanwhile I made friendship with a small group of Kuna Indians. Among them there was a protestant pastor, Señor Andrés, who advised me not to try that route via Yaviza because in the year 2006 several Kuna had been assassinated by the Colombian guerrilleros hidden in the Darien jungle. He advised me to go with him first to San Blas Islands, and then to cross the last part of the Darien walking about two days until the first Colombian village where there was an Immigration post.   Besides, Andrés said, the Panama Government had installed controls in the jungle.

Crossing it on foot is illegal, even if you cross to Colombia you will be arrested and expelled without a legal entrance stamp of DAS (Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad).

Andrés said that my journey with him would take me one week until the last Panama village, Puerto Obaldía, at the border with Colombia. He would charge me only the gasoline for his canoe, or about 30 Balboas, or 30 US Dollars, what I found a bargain.

I gladly agreed thanking Señor Andrés for his help. At noon we boarded the jeep and drove during several hours along paths without asphalt. Finally we reached a point where we had to walk across the jungle.

There was a control and the San Blas authorities asked to show my passport. They then informed me that I was crossing a Protected Area of the Autonomous Indigenous, and they were employees of the Congreso General Kuna. They made me pay 2 Balboas for an entry receipt.   Finally, after a short trekking we boarded a canoe and reached Máquina Island.

During one week Andrés would take care of me for accommodation and food in Kuna Indians houses.

Andrés and a Kuna girl gave me food for my trekking in the Darien gap. Kuna people are exceptional.

It was not so difficult after all to cross the last part of the Darien gap on foot. I never had any encounter with the guerrilla, with FARC forces, or with the paramilitaries.

In Puerto Obaldía I presented my passport to the Panama authorities, then I walked crossing the jungle and late the same day I reached Capurgana, in Colombia, where I found a hostel.

Puerto Obaldia was taken by many soldiers of the Panama Army

The next morning I went to the Emigration department and without any questions of money or ticket out of the country, I was granted 90 days stay in Colombia.

That same day I made friendship in the port with a simpatico Colombian sailor, by the name of Capitán Cartagena. I paid him 50.000 Colombian pesos plus a bottle of rum called El Llanero to take me to Turbo.

Both were happy when late in the afternoon we reached Turbo, in Colombia and celebrated the moment drinking rum.

The next day I traveled by several buses to lovely Cartagena de Indias.

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