Monday, February 27, 2006

Six months ago

Wadi Rum expanses
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We were here, in the firey desert of Wadi Rum.

Battling with the heat and the flies, sleeping in a bedouin tent, eating under the stars and planets.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tuesday 11th October, first day on the river

Evening sun over the Omo
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Two months later (since last diary entry in Beirut) and we are sitting on a beach by the side of the Omo River, the muddy waters whirling about us, hornbills screeching in the woods, joined by a cooing dove and the far-off cries of a fish eagle down teh river. A swallow darts over the water. The hippo who was grunting last night and eyeing us suspiciously has kept quiet this morning.

Geoff, Chris, Nick, Fred and I, the participants on this adventure are sitting in comfortable chairs around the campfire where Gary is frying last night's spaghetti, with pans of scrambled egg and fried ham on teh side. The sun is hiding behind some light cloud cover and a breeze comes up from behind us. A couple of dark ibis shriek and appear from behind a tree and fly across the river. Four dinghies are laid out behind us in the quiet water adjoining the beach.


Now at the end of the afternoon, sitting in the tent with rain pouring down on the black sand, claps and rolls of thunder through the valley and flashes of lightning. The river outside is a raging torrent and we have just come off the best and deepest rapids of the day. We have seen 14 hippos and 5 crocs, vervet monkeys, colobus monkeys swinging through the trees like Tarzan, baboons and a fox-coloured deer, as well as plenty of bee-eaters, hornbills, egrets, waders, stone curlews and, of course, fish eagles. No people.

So here we are finally, on the river, a whole day in the boats, under the hot sun. The Omo River, flowing through the green uninhabited mountains. Muddy water, flowing fast, over rocks, around the valley, through the thick forest. Far away from anywhere. The boats are fully laden with tents, cooking equipment, table, chairs, spade, bottles, water carriers, ropes, dry boxes, ice boxes, safety vests, our rucksacks and so on. Prepared for any eventuality, it seems. It takes a long time to load up and unload, but there are planty of hands. We five participants, the American crew of Gary, Eddie, Roberto and Claude and the African crew of Jonas, Zekarias, Robel and Danny. Seems like a good group altogether and it promises to be a great journey.

Election time in Amsterdam

SP woman
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

They all want our vote, all 25 parties or so. They all tell us about the good things they want to do, never the bad things that happen in order for them to do what they want to do, like cutting down trees, building on sports fields and building underground car parks.

We vote on March 7th. Here is a young woman from the SP (Socialistische Partij), who have now turned their red tomatoes into psychadelic pink, a colour recently adopted by D '66 ... a sign that they are for pink policies? I wonder...

There are so many problems in Amsterdam, many of them, if not caused by te politicinas, then certainly they can be alleviated by them. We have extreme poverty (it seems), we have a world city fading out of contention in relation to its rivals as it becomes 'safe' and over-controlled, bars which close at 1 am, overt racism and homophobia, ever more restrictions on open-air festivals, all the green parts of the city being ear-marked for development, roads and cycle paths being dug up constantly, trees being cut down and so on.... and yet one has the feeling that whichever way one votes, nothing will change. There are other forces out there, which maybe the well-meaning politicians cannot do much about.

A bit of a mistake

Father Christmas tanking up in February
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

(From Friday... it is now Sunday and we are (thankfully) back in Amsterdam)

Here we are travelling again. This time to Cologne, on the banks of the Rhine, about 270 kms from Amsterdam.

It is carnival.

The streets are full of clowns, cowboys and indians, cows, other animals, Blues Brothers, Pacific Islanders, construction workers, pirates, monks, bishops, nuns, Sister Bernadette's (well, she IS German), prisoners, soldiers, marines, policemen, vikings, kangaroos, cats, ghosts, roman soldiers, polka dots, dustbins, bird flu-free chickens and the like. Most carry a bottle of Kolischer Bier. These get thrown onto the pavement when empty and the streets are filled with broken glass. It is not our scene.

The museums are closed, the shops are closed, the bars and restaurants have turned into drinking orgies filled with Oomm-Pah-Pah music.

We are going now to the station to change our tickets to return tomorrow afternoon. Oh well. Maybe Cologne looks better in the summer sun.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Anglo-Arabian with handler

Anglo-Arabian with handler
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Maroon T shirts, with beautiful patchworked shorts. These two chaps accompanied us up the hill to their village the day before.

Misty morning sunrise

Misty morning sunrise
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Geoff and Fred with Claude, water for the coffee being warmed on the camp fire.

Our Wohaita friends

Our Wohaita friends
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The girls putting their serious faces for the group photo! The boys with cheky smiles.

14 October 2005, a day on the Omo River

The Omo rapids
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Transcripted from the diary, I kept during the Omo River trip.

A quite start to the day. It is dry. We are early, having had porridge for breakfast. Two fish eagles are posing by the stream. The Wohaita warriors are still here, mostly dressed in maroon, loking somedistance away from the main camp. Low cloud is hanging over the hills. It is not think and it is altogether bright.

The storm passed very quickly last night and we had a dry evening during which we sat around the camp fire, eating meat rissoles, rice and a delicious tomato and onion (finely chopped) salad. There is no general alcohol here, so we are drinking only coffee and orange squash (in vast quantities). There had been a misunderstanding about the alcohol and when we saw the bus down had a box filled with bottles we thought it was for general consumption, albeit each paying their share. Instead, it was drink specially ordered by the crew. Fred and Chris seem a little upset to be missing their gin and tonics, but Geoff and I are happy enough with our enforced alcohol-free two weeks!

The camp is being dismantled now and the boats are being loaded. Smoke from last night’s fire is still emanating, and like last night, it is blowing into my face! Time to get going and to help the others.

And here we are at the end of the day again. The sun has set behind the mountains to the west and a 2/3 moon is about 30 degrees high to the west, following the sun down. We have picked on another amazing campsite, again on a large bend, facing the rapids, with mountains downstream to the west.

It has been a great day, with clear blue skies and a lovely trip through the riverine forest, seeing many crocodiles, albeit briefly before they shuffle off and slip into the water, big ones too. Also saw some buck, a few hippos and plenty of fish eagles. The forest looked a beautiful green as it reflected off the water in the clear sunshine. Plenty of eddies, whirlpools and the largest rapids we have come across.

These were spectacular and featured a large hole (a place you don’t want to be apparently), but they were deemed to be too dangerous to cross, as we are so remote and so far from any help. So, we pulled the boats to the side of the river and forced them down the rocks. Not that everybody was exactly happy about this, especially as we had been promised the best rapids of the trip, but at least we were all in one piece.

I was on the boat with Gary and Geoff today, while Fred was with Claude and Danny…. But now the only light I have is moonlight and writing is not so easy. Time to help in the kitchen, I reckon.

(more to follow)


Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A picture of the man who was assassinated a year ago today

Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri.

After so many troubles in Lebanon for so many years, the country found its peace under this man. A year ago he was shot dead, along with 13 others in Beirut. his picture still hangs (almost) everywhere in the city.

The country re-united again to condemn the killings and the Syrians left after the Cedar Revolution, but it seems as if things are slipping away again into divisions. Divisions which were very clear to us during our time in Lebanon last August.

We wish the Lebanese people well.

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The day of love and a day for lovers. Celebrated for many many centuries. Commercialised, for sure, now, but a historical tradition here in Europe nonetheless.

Happy Valentine's Day to all the world's lovers.

The BBC has an intriguing love map of the UK.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Free yourself

Free yourself
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Tony Blair is visiting South Africa at the moment, discussing trade and development with some so-called left-of-centre leaders. The BBC last night made a point of showing and commenting on the very negative body language between Tony Blair and Meles Zanawi. Very different, the BBC noted, from the Gleneagles G8 meeting when Zenawi was a guest... but that was before he started locking up all his political opponents.

Afterwards, Tony Blair met Nelson Mandela, who said that he liked Tony! Let us hope that 2006 turns out to be a better year than 2005 for making progress on world trade reform.

Further, in the strange world of politics, we hear about Silvio Berlusconi comparing himself to Jesus Christ, a patient victim, putting up with everything, sacrificing myself for everyone. Amazingly enough, this man and his party are still in with a shout of winning the forthcoming Parliamentary elections (in early April). Whether this is more a comment on the stupidity/gullibility of the Italian people or the weakness of the opposition, who knows? It is a sad state of affairs.

But what will happen if Mr Fini, from the fascist National Alliance, becomes the next Prime Minister?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lawrence of Arabia

Camels at Palmyra
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We just watched the Oscar winning fil of Lawrence of Arabia, filmed in 1962. Could have bought the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom to accompay our trip to Wadi Rum in Jordan, but it looked to be very long with a difficult typeface.

Amazing to think that the film which is now 44 years old, was also made just 44 years after the events in the film took place.

Also, a good reminder that things have not always been the way they are now in the Middle East and that just 88 years ago the region was mainly populated by various nomadic tribes, albeit under loose Turkish rule, which they unwittingly exchanged for British/French rule, before gaining independence without democracy about 50 years ago.

It seems to be the case that the authorities in Syria did not do much to stop the recent riots and may have even encouraged them by handing out ammunition and the like. A sad state of affairs for the people of Syria and for the Muslims everywhere who, through the media, are being associated with the mobs who provided such interesting news footage for the TV screens.

Sisterly love

Sisterly love
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

What is going on in this country?

Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

"Flying in the face of a centuries-old commitment to freedom of religion, of conscience, and of expression, The Netherlands is about to prohibit Muslim women from covering their faces in public. Should this legislation pass, and apply to the whole of the public sphere as the Dutch parliament desires, it will constitute one of the most restrictive responses to Islamic clothing both in Europe and beyond*."

This is the Netherlands which used to be proud of its tolerance and progressiveness, which allows the sale and smoking of soft drugs, marriage open to same sex couples and legal euthanasia.

How times have changed. By listening to political opportunists like the awful Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the absurd Geert Wilders, the very stupid minister Rita Verdonk and her party think they can make political capital by passing a law which affects just 50 people. For it is only 50 people who wear the burqa, it seems.

It turns out that The Netherlands is the most anti-Muslim of all European countries, according to some research. This may be to do with the fact that a lot of publicity was given to an imam who said that gay people should be thrown off the highest floor of appartment blocks and because there was the nasty murder of the provocative Theo van Gogh on the streets of Amsterdam not too long ago, by a Muslim extremist. However, if there had been any decent political leadership in this country, maybe these incidents would not have turned people so anti-Muslim.

The only good thing to be said, is that at least no-one produced any silly little cartoons in this country and that that was left to the Danes, who by the sounds of it are not a whole lot better. Also, the law has not been passed, so maybe in the light of the reaction to the cartoons, the Dutch parliamentarians will decide not pursue such a provocative and silly law.

* well, it seems that our friends in Italy were here first as in 1975 they passed a law banning the covering of a face in public and then in 2005 dramatically increasd the fines for breaking this law. This latest move has been seen by many as being specifically targeted against Muslim women wearing the burqa.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fredom to insult? No, grazie.

Green is the Muslim colour
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The embassies are burning in Damascus and now months after they were published everyone knows about the cartoons in the Danish newspaper and there are debates about the so-called conflict between freedom of speech and respect for religion.

We had similar discussions in Holland when Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist. Van Gogh had just made a film which was deeply offensive to Muslims by showing Koranic texts projected onto the body of a naked woman. He also constantly referred to Muslims as goatf***ers in the one paper left in the country which would print such nonsense. He is now held up by some idiots as a martyr to the cause of freedom of speech, and we are even to get a statue of him in our local park. As far as I am concerned, he, like the Danes, have mis-used their right to freedom to speech and turned it into a right to insult. Not for me, thanks.

For me, there is no confict. Freedom of speech is a hard-fought for right and a privilege. It should be treated with care and not be used as an excuse to be deliberately and stupidly offensive to other people, whether religious or not.

Likewise, there is no excuse for people to over-react, like killing an idiot like Van Gogh or burning down embassies and marching with offensive placards through London and so on. But these things might just happen if you are not careful.

Also, it should be said that in a world where we can all communicate very easily and news spreads so fast, it is not good enough for the Danes to say that they have a tradition of satire in their country... because these things do get out and we are left with this sort of mess.

And, what must the Syrians be thinking when they read so often that their country maybe the US's next target after Iraq (or Iran)?
Having been there and experienced their high level of culture and warmth of hospitality, it is incredible to think that the country might soon be the next target of the over-mighty US military industrial complex.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Not-so-good meals

harbour, Tyre
Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

These needed more thinking about, as one tries to forget bad experiences and remember the good ones. Anywa, for the record here they are:

1 Wimpy in George - attached to a petrol station on the main road, we even had to order at the table and wait a long time before they delivered buns with horrible unidentifiable wet stuff in the middle. But the good thing about this meal was that it gave us the time to look at the map and decide to go north over the Outeniqua mountains to get to the paradise of the Klein Karoo.

2 Chicken kebab in Livingston - Goodness knows what they were doing serving this as it came in a bread-like substance and was so far removed from the delicious kebabs on which we survived in Beirut.

3 Steak in the trendy wine bar in Cape Town - The days after Jessica's delicious steak (see post below). We knew it was a mistake to come here, but we had eaten well there before and they had agreat wine selection. Meat tasted like and had the texture of cardboard, at a price which was higher than at Jessica's.

4 Fast food in Lusaka - rubbish food for three of us cost as much as sending a young orphan to school for a year.

5 Aleppo by the citadel - We were not allowed rto sit at te table we wanted and then not the table which they wanted (near the kitchen), so ate at the next door neighbours and the food and quality was rubbish. Met two nice English pepole and had a great view of the citadel though.

6 Pancakes on the Omo - For breakfast. Took ages to make, meant leaving camp at 11, having been up at 6. Eventually meant not having much time to met the tribes further on (still a frustration).

7 Chicken on the Omo - Tough, these Ethiopian chickens are trained to run in the Olympics.

8 Breakfasts in Beirut - Powder coffee and milk, bread type substance with taste of cardboard (again) and apricot jam. Not the best strat to the days.

9 French meal in Aleppo - Should have stuck with Arabic food, but min issue was that we should have chosen the lebanese wine, not the local Syrian stuff.

10 Steinbach coffee and cakes. 'Nuff said!

Seems like we had our share of fast food meals, but that was not really the case. Just the ones we had were horrible. Except then, the chicken shoarmas, washed down with lager, in Beirut. Delicious!

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