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About merlynpeter

A man of all seasons.

Mother

I ventured down further into the Valley of the Saints. The great escarpment was massive, giving one the sense that only God could have crafted this area of natural protection for the most holy. Every way there were alcoves, recesses, overhangs, niches, caves, and all manner of crannies. You could hide an army in here. The valley is a deep gorge carved by the Kadisha River, also known as the Nahr Abu Ali when it eventually enjoins Tripoli. This was not my direction anymore though, for I had reached my source. I took a long winding road down to the hermitage of Saint Elisha where I saw it nestled comfortably in the side of the huge precipice. An old VW with the roof torn off offered a lift to the bottom. As we rolled down we stopped to forage for few pears. I promptly jumped out to discover the old route across the river and back up again. Along this route the Stations of the Cross were immortalised in stone plaques. It was enough for me to go to the bottom and back up again. Since the earliest years of Christianity there have been both coenobitic and eremitic monks here, for this reason many hermitages and monasteries are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It included Muslim mystics, or Sufis, but in the main early Christian communities fleeing persecution after the time of the Crusades with the spread of Islam. Among these groups were the Jacobites (Syrian Orthodox), Melchites (Greek Orthodox), Nestorians, Armenians, and even Ethiopians. The Maronites, however, are the dominant Christian group in the valley who fled into the valley from the 7th century onwards from the Levante. Following the destruction of the Monastery of St Maron the Maronite monks established their new center at Qannoubine, and monasteries quickly spread over the surrounding hills. The Mameluk sultans, in particular Baibars and Qalaoun, led campaigns in 1268 and 1283 respectively, and drove many a saint in this direction; the Deir Qannubin monastery would become the new seat of the Maronite Patriarch. Saint Elisha was himself considered to originate from Syrian persecution eventually settling down here in the 14th century and founding his important hermitage. Having satiated myself at the splendour of this building nestled as it was at the foot of a great precipice with a limited number of cells I continued back towards Bsharri to the top of the valley when a couple of children asked me to play guitar. Not before long I was surrounded by young attractive virgins as the whole family came out to listen, whilst I gave them guitar lessons in exchange for more food than I could fit into my stomach. This included raw beef dipped in salt. That night I would meet the mayor also at a restaurant at the top of the Cedars. From there at a huge cross mounted on a tor I could see Bsharri spread out beneath me. I played some music and impressed a few people. I always seem to meet the right people and I am never short of a meal.

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The days lingered on as I sought the funds to get the flight back. The opportunity of playing a couple of gigs was aired and Simon would look out to see if there was any work available. In the meantime I enjoyed the free rally race as the hotels and restaurants suddenly filled out overnight. Later I would take to the local caves and managed to get a few photos. A tiny place in comparison to Jeita but some of the close ups show the stalactites in detail. I spied a waterfall and took a freezing cold shower. It perked me up since now I wasn’t riding and my calves were suffering from cramp. No doubt these are the ongoing symptoms from the dysentery and diarrhoea I experienced with a natural dehydration. I am aware I have been monitored here and now my visa has run out I wonder how the authorities will treat me. As I wait for the much needed funds it may be that I will pass August here. I continue to get fed by the local cafeteria but I am not really contributing that much. I really need to work again. I had an advantage up here with internet access and sought to find a more permanent spot to hang my hammock in. I checked out the area behind the cafeteria and it turned out to be a derelict recreational spot of a bygone era. Spending maybe an hour in the dark looking for a couple of good hitching points  I eventually concluded that the space wasn’t appropriate and decided to spend one last night on the roadside seating area. An obvious thing was becoming apparent to me; I enquired why the rubbish does not get picked up instead of accumulating in huge piles for wild animals to rummage through? The following morning I got up very early, took a stroll around the Cedars again and headed down with the bicycle for one last descent. The machine was heading for retirement and so I would roll into Simon, Dee and Joey’s lovely family house. Joey liked my music and I think is the more compassionate of the two. He was also the gardener here whilst Simon was more the farmer. There was talk about helping him spray the apples, and it is one of those ethical issues. Do you take the work for a few lira and spread loads of chemicals around the environment, or does one take for granted their hospitality and reside in the spare room? I need to contribute otherwise I start feeling guilty and make irrational decisions, and the best I can do is get over my expertise in food production using bio-friendly methods. During discussions with Dee, Simon’s wife, it was apparent that good food is appreciated, more so local food. Their mother Sarah was a chef extraordinaire as I sample stuffed goat intestines and other traditional recipes. In general organics are like bicycles, they haven’t been invented here yet, not in the whole of Lebanon. To go organic is a big commitment, and besides, spray drift from neighbouring farms will probably nullify any official status. I think people should start in their back garden before one can make broad-scale decisions, so we talked about building a compost bin first using scrap wood. In the meantime I fancied myself as their gardener even though everyone chips in.

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There is a question that remains rooted in the back of my mind. Do I stay and look for a potential wife or will I end up like some hermit playing music for food? I have a month to think about it, or so I thought. I am not homesick, the place feels like home. I haven’t spent any money here other than that which Simon stuffed into my pockets. I could easily volunteer my duties in the valley and I am sure there will always be a free meal somewhere, that has been the pattern of things. I ventured for the long hike down the valley bottom, passing the multitude of Virgin Mary shrines along the way. It had rained recently, the cloud creeps up into the whole valley like a dragon’s breadth, but everything dries out quickly. I was accosted by a sleepy policeman but I soon told him the law of the land. Who can deny a pilgrim here? He had no problem with that retort and I soon found a lovely spot hidden in the woods near a spring. Along the route the uncollected rubbish was accumulating here too. The near-full moon gave ample light and I noticed that this area is devoid of mosquitoes and flies. How odd? It is also devoid of those “Devil beetles” which chirp all night using their wings.

The following morning I was on my way spying a possible bathing area in the river and various wild fruits; the figs were still a month away from ripening and the walnuts even moreso. As I approached the Monastery of Qannoubine I was welcomed by music and greetings given over on loud speakers, in Arabic, French and English. This monastery was founded, it is believed, in 375AD and known as the oldest of its kind in the whole of Lebanon. It was also the first to espouse coenobitic life. It became the patriarchate between the 16th and 19th centuries for the whole Maronite order. As a pilgrimage site it allows people to enjoin in meditation and prayer, whilst one can wander throughout the scattered shrines and churches. I helped myself in the kitchen to water and coffee, admiring the fantastic view of the opposite cliff and the worked fields terraced as they are in every possible direction. Visitors consistently came and went but having established this monastery as a place I want to come back to I then headed up the narrow path to that other hermitage, Hawqa, which dates to back to the 1280’s . In the meanwhile I abandoned my guitar and belongings on the side of the road. It was an incredible act to do for it contained my wallet and passport, but I had complete confidence it would be there when I returned. The scenery became more spectacular as the path narrowed further along rocky edges. Eventually, passing through cooling pine forests I came across a most lovely building hidden in the rock. Even more lovely was the solitary hermit monk Darios from Columbia, full of life and entertaining a bunch of young Lebanese. He obviously does this a lot. He loves women and performs for them keeping everyone jovial. In his own time I don’t doubt that he resides in deep contemplation. His perfect landing grows enough food for him all-year round, and he told me that the rubbish he gets donated to him he gives to the foxes. Being here for 12 years and living a ‘solitary’ existence I thought he had the best house in town and considered living here myself; just a thought. Already though I was in that state of mind where if one is happy why should they want to go anywhere else. The whole area attests to continuing miracles of healing and has such a sanctity about it that I could not imagine finding anything like it in the religious world anywhere else. I was told that Darios himself experienced one of these miracles in which, whilst building steps along the rocky path he fell forward in the direction of a cliff edge but then felt his body lifted up, which he says was the appearance of the Virgin Mary. This IS the end of my journey and I would have to find a wife or become a hermit of sorts. If I spent 5 months in Spain over winter, I could come here in Spring in early April, help out with the food growing until end of August, living in the coolness of the valley, leave back for Spain in September, and then head for London to check over my old gardens, the flat and of course the apple growing season of festivities. A short break occasionally will suffice to visit other friends. Meanwhile, I would look to set up a botanical institute and set a precedent for organic husbandry here; nature has her ways. The first of August and the signs are good, I played the cafeterias and made myself 34,000LL, about $22, a day’s wages, and all the free food I could get; sounds quite Idyllic. There was this element of sarcasm at one place, people thrusting mobile phones in my face, but Fadi was such a lovely host. This man was surrounded by his children and I counted them from 8 to 15 years up, nearly one for every year. I thought that alone was an incredible act of fertility; it must be the water. They particularly liked my song called ‘Mother’.

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Mother

 

Shall we just take a moment out and consider whence we came

We lied in darkness until fate took us by surprise

I did not know myself I was all unconsciousness

Purple black walls grew around my inert disposition

I pushed for the light not knowing forward from backward

My muted voice burbled in the mire

Give me my space I am finding my way

Deliver me my vision to foresee a global day

 

Mother, why hath you broken

Left me in this flood

Brought me into the air

Screaming for my mind

 

Mother, I could not know

That you were once my world

When before we were together

We are now distinctly unique

 

Mother, mother

You’ve let me go, to go alone

To find a place amongst the stones

 

Mother, Mother

I’ve seen the light shine from within

Without it carries from a distant sun

 

The land stretches out before me, every dip and hollow a story

I made myself into the image of her body

Her mountains gave me pass, her deserts induced my thirst

The rivers cleansed my feet of all their glory

But persevere I would towards the bosom of creation

From there I suckled eternal waters

I grew upon her breast, made an empire for her praise

Because I never let go of Mama’s luminous mantle

 After staying another night I met up with Simon again at his gaff and sought to do some work. Car On the way up I had noticed the breakers yard, now defunct, littering the side of the gorge. There was an unfinished building full of tyres and behind it a load of wrecks that look like they were just about to fall off the edge, this at the entrance to the valley where all the tourists go by. I knew of the illegal building that has gone on here; bear in mind that it was not that long ago that the civil war ended and one could hardly police a fragmented country under such conditions. It was obvious to see by the old cars that run around with missing body parts; the sense of anarchy is very prevalent. But there was also a dirty attitude to nature prevalent because the crap people leave behind at the river’s side is a testament to the licentiousness of the youth in general, and they would be Christians at birth. I was obviously in that mode where I had a keen eye for recycling. Me and Dee talked about materials needed for the compost bin and there seemed to be some real enthusiasm here. As the day progressed though it was apparent that whatever I did was a temporary situation. No-one else agreed with it and I was simply told that no-one will use it. I would later find out that they don’t live here all year round, only Sarah, and she won’t take any notice of it. I tried to contribute more in the garden to make myself useful. But as I pondered the scenario I thought about the Green Gathering Festival in Britain that is such a hit and which provided much the same experience as here in terms of ecological and spiritual motives. At the end of the day it is all about experiences. Pity really, because I felt my services were not being used and I espied a girl I was beginning to like. After another night there Joey had a brief talk with me and told me to move on; it seemed I was already causing dissension of one sort or another, but he was very polite about it and made me sandwiches for the return trip to the valley. I left late and passed by Fadi’s restaurant. We had a cracking night but I was feeling the pinch of their demands. The food was fantastic and I tried a glass or two of arak, the equivalent of raki. They distil it themselves here with DIY equipment. Fadi welcomed me back the following morning for coffee and it was apparent that they were gearing up for a session that evening. Unfortunately I had other priorities, so even though I hung about the whole day editing my book there were these ongoing distractions. Finally the evening came and I refused to drink any spirits. I got the impression that I was supposed to be taken aback by the young chick who was showing an interest in me, but as it goes I shaved my beard down the middle and it made me look quite ugly, like a monkey actually. I would not be pampered despite the good food again. The debauchery was apparent for all to see. The same people stupidly ask me for other people’s songs, they condescend to insult other religions, they talked about sex and made insinuating actions concerning women’s bodily parts. I listened to all of it and told them that there is not a single person in this world who stands between me and God. They just didn’t get it, I am religious and these people think I am object for mockery. The main problem was the Fool who was brought in to wind things up; the names are irrelevant. I got up to leave and they tried to throw money in my face to get me to play; video phones at the ready. Enough was enough, I offered to pay for the food but Fadi refused and I left knowing that I had maintained my integrity and denied them their daft game. As always, the day was incredibly productive for me and I slept well. The following day I was due to play at another restaurant but already I detected undertones; news travels quickly in these backwoods. I decided to give it a miss and stayed the whole day at the Qannoubine Monastery editing my book. I will self-publish this book and distribute it myself. I believe it will abstractly influence the future of natural history and world politics whilst the book unfolding before your very eyes will be the existential equivalent of it.

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I learnt a little more about this monastery. Firstly, there are a lot more hermitages than I first purported, since many a monk would leave the monastery and find a solitary niche somewhere. Historians have noted a “cloud of incense ascended from the Valley.” At 16km long it is obvious how its ‘inaccessible’ paths were a defence against invading armies; this place arrogates solitariness. In fact a couple of Antonine Sisters, asked to come here in 1990 by the absent Patriarch to encourage missionary work during the high season, told me that the word ‘coenobitic’ means “communal life.”  The word ‘Qannoubine’ is the Syriac inscription of the Greek term “koinobion” (koinos + bios) and illustrates the meaning of the word. The fresco of the Our Lady in the ancient church was ordered by the Patriarch Stephan Douayhi and represents the coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity. It bears a verse in Syriac from the Canticle of Canticles, “Come from Lebanon, my fiancée, and you shall be crowned.” The event is an alternative Maronite version of the Assumption. The ancient church here dates back to the 1st century and the original building has been left in its fragile condition without restoration to maintain its authenticity. It is a dark area now built over by other religious offices over the course of succeeding centuries. The monastery was thought to have been commissioned by the Emperor Theodos the Great in 375AD. The Sisters tell me that UNESCO are now providing a plan to rejuvenate the whole valley considered to be a complete heritage site. The idea is of restoring communal life as it was during the Patriarchal years, which ceased towards the end of the 19th century when for one hundred years the monastery remained vacant, so the intention now is to reintroduce local schools and broad-scale agriculture. It opened my eyes to future possibilities and with the expertise I have in plants and food production they welcomed the idea. This is my wilderness that I seek, represented as I know by the Virgin Mary since time immemorial. I looked over the veranda with them and wondered of the snow when it comes in December. It must be a site to relish as the cliffs tower above us. Even during winter the Sisters wear boots 75cm long and trundle along the snow-clad paths. There are some here though, who don’t move from their spot.

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That night I slept at the cafeteria, even though the sisters offered me the hermit’s cave. They gave me welcome food for my way and I promised to be in touch again, since now the convent is closed for two days to the public. There were Muslims about getting through Ramadan. After playing to them they allowed me to sleep on the couch, but in the morning there were one or two particular guys who told me they didn’t like my beard. They were getting shirty with me, so I left and headed for the Crypt of Saint Marina. On the way I had already spied some ripe figs and grapes and this sufficed for breakfast. Within half an hour the military were there questioning me. As usual they were friendly, but I wonder, everywhere I go I always expose people’s inner sentiments, that is my power, but unfortunately it is to other people’s weaknesses. I would leave and pay one final trip to Darios, since now I was looking forward to the flight I booked for this Wednesday, the 8th, exactly 5 months from leaving Barcelona. I came to Darios’ hermitage but avoided it on the way up the mountain. First I would go to the top of the cliffs and check out the town of Haqka. It turned out to be no more than a loose collection of people’s homes and a single store. I settled down and played my guitar, and as usual I got away without paying for the food. The young girl whose name was Lina came turned out to have a lot in common with me. She was a Masters student in philosophy and also an author. We got on like a house on fire and it gave me inspiration to get my own book published. She knew very well the nature of humanity and it vindicated my own position regarding the mixing of politics and religion. She highlighted the point that people’s attitudes change almost instantly with geographical regions. That seemed to be the issue in this country; people only felt safe in groups or collectives. Even the Kadisha Valley was nominally Christian now. I decided to head back and look over Darios again; this time he was in deep contemplation and I decided that it was no place to be getting out laptops. So I headed back to the crypt, done some more writing and took an early night pondering the skies. I checked over the hammock to see if anybody had been there and I found a stick placed on my pillow, near the message I left indicating the spiritual nature of my vocation. If that wasn’t enough the other side were the lyrics to my song ‘Indigenous Man’, one I rarely play. I mused over the situation. Could it have been the military, the restaurant crew, or even a passerby? I think the latter since the stick signified respect as if to indicate polite entry. In fact, monkeys play with sticks like they do with dolls. I think this was a fellow pilgrim, maybe the few I bumped into at the crypt and who befriended me about my journey. I slept well enough and had a lazy morning packing up my gear. I dropped off the blanket at Fadi’s and went up to the hermitage; there were no monks there. I wondered what the Sisters were talking about when they said that the monks may be interested in using your seeds. I talked to the small young shop assistant by the name of Miriam and she mentioned the new monastery on top of the cliff. She turned out to be very interested in me and gave me food, whilst I exchanged a small piece of ceramics with her. I took to the steep incline up to the top and as it turned out was quite easy. I seemed to have re-gathered my strength. When I look back over the journey most of the climbs were easy; I was that fit and only this dysentery weakened me. Entering the new monastery I quickly established contact, got a load of free food and met the head gardener. The situation improved as I was shown possible planting areas, and since the whole site was earmarked for re-development I thought that my expertise would go a long way. I looked at the miserable crop of olives and decided that trees in the region needed pruning. The monocultural approach to fruit trees could do with an underplanting of mixed crops, including herbs. The planting of beneficial flowers would attract beneficial insects that predate on the insects, negating the use of chemical insecticides. There was also undeveloped land that could easily garden the first botanical institute in Lebanon. I decided the signs were good and vowed to comeback the following morning to give them the last packet of seeds from Barcelona, with the hope that over the winter period when things remain dormant we could set up the network and get the support of Spain, France and Italy for the expertise and financial backing that such a project necessitated, including the EU and UNESCO. Since the mountains here had 15metres of snow this year, that were still melting and feeding the rivers, even Joey said that a botanical greenhouse would be required to withstand the conditions, but I know from my travels in Slovenia that there are enough plants that can grow in high altitudes too. I felt that with one last visit to hand over the seeds my journey would come to a welcome end, almost perfect. As I sprinted back to Simon’s and Joey’s, getting some more food (even though I thought I had kindly refused it), even the look of the housemaid gave me the impression that I could not possibly stay here on this final night; so I headed back towards the monastery after collecting the seeds and passed by the house full of youngsters with whom I played guitar and gave lessons to. I stayed there all night, fed and satiated it seemed that the touch of a virgin was too much for me to maintain; I had another natural emission. It was perfect night though, playing some lovely tunes and using this projected energy to specific effect. For a fuller understanding of this phenomenon one would need to read my other book The Virgin to understand the religious nature of it. The following day I went to the monastery, made the necessary exchanges and spoke at length with a passing clergy, his name was Friar Tony. We talked about sexual nature and one of the comments that stuck out the most was this idea of meeting a sexual partner. He told me that such an encounter should reflect the nature of God and it is through this partner that one must uncover this relationship. In my own studies I understood this as a projection from within the holy. It seems I truly do have a profound interpretation of the holy and the nature of God. My other book should become interesting reading for the Church. I remember sitting there listening to mass. The service sounded like a drone and does not compare to the melodic singing of Lebanese Islamic liturgy. These were the beautiful thoughts I would be taking back with me. I fact, the religious sanctuaries seem to be the places of quiet solitude where politics and economics are forgotten. Quite frankly though, I attracted many a Muslim not for my beard (now overgrown  and shaven down the middle to form two sides) but by my natural religiosity. I saw this as the fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam, the extent that social affairs are integrated within religious institutions, and by default the religiosity of the latter infuses all lifestyles other than in those Islamic countries where secularism is rife. The Muslim will pray at roadside service stations, in the street, even airports where a mescid is made available. For the Christian there is a time and a place, but for one whose whole journey was a prayer, a pilgrimage or hajj, a peregrination, I exude that religiosity continuously, that is what the religious identify in me. The adventure alone was attraction enough for everybody to show an interest especially in those countries where secular freedom has only just been won. Most people in Lebanon find it extremely difficult to leave the country and I represented something they could aspire to.

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I left that morning, missing the first bus but with ample time to make the second. On arriving in Beirut to get my flight I was reminded of the stifling heat, the crap roads, the pollution, the hustling people, the noisy traffic, the rude stares and so on. I needed to ring Wassim but it turned out that he couldn’t find me. The taxi driver whose phone I used wanted $3, then 3,000 Lira for use of his phone, but he took the call and ended up arguing with Wassim. I refused to pay until Wassim turned up (he didn’t) and the taxi driver slinked away in defeat. I found a van taxi (much cheaper than the cars), went to the airport for 4,000 Lira and relieved a sigh at its multiculturalism; I had come to hate Beirut. The flight took me to Doha first in Qatar (Arabia) a whole 1,100km from here before I had to change and get a night flight to Barcelona. This airline had won best flight company of the year for the last two years. It was easy to see why. Each seat had their own television with a choice of top quality programs and films to watch; they were all adjustable screens with headphones. My assimilation back into the West was very quick. I ensured watching two films, The Avengers and The Wrath of the Titans (How else was I to reinstitute the Western mythological mindset?) and the food was lovely when I could even ask for more if I wanted to. They gave out packets of ear plugs and eye shields, sleeping socks and a toothbrush kit. The hostesses would offer water at intervals and in general the seating areas were large enough to sleep in; definitely one for the future if I have to make this journey again. The stifling heat of Doha (36oC) contrasted sharply with Barcelona in the fresh morning. I was feeling really happy and looked forward to my caravan. I considered going by the botanical gardens before heading home but I had too much kit. I had brought with me the bike wheels which cost £200, the front panniers, a few clothes, and a few other bits; the bike frame I left at Simon’s and knew it was there waiting for another set of wheels if ever I return. The whole lot weighed about 23kilos, the limit on economy class. On arriving home I knew I would shave my beard; I was alive and safe and my religious vocation was over. I came into my parent’s home and my mother walked straight pass me to the caravan doing what she does best, cleaning and controlling the small economy of home. Unfortunately she is obsessed with this last point. And of course, she doesn’t have to worry anymore about me. My dad was looking healthier, putting on weight, and the land looked remarkably clean; he had strimmed the wild grasses down. The pets were shaven obviously for the summer, the trees look semi-productive, the burnt area at the back of the land for which I started this journey with a forest fire didn’t look that bad after all. I felt I had a clean slate to start with and already I knew which walls I would remove, what trees need special care and which areas of the land want opening up. I looked at the site where my house will be built and imagined the cisterna first. My first morning was marred with a renewed outbreak of dysentery and I wonder if that is me just cleaning out the system from infected food I received from my hosts. It would take two days at least to get rid of an infectious bug but one should remember that going down at such a time and moment (5 months after departing Barcelona) was God’s call. Nothing else was going to slow me down, and as soon as I get full health levels back I seem to go on forever in my motivations. Already I am jogging in response to a lack of a bicycle and I have started swimming in the sea rather than just paddling around as the too-warm environment in Lebanon and southern Europe seem to confer upon one. And there is one other point I remember raising when I was passing through Italy, that when I am ill females tend to find me more attractive. That tells me one thing only, that my integrity is vindicated by my closeness to God. Mother Mary is there for the suffering, and any virgins who make themselves available to me do so under these trying conditions. It raises an interesting theological point, that Jesus was born out of suffering; the Mother groans at her disputatious people. She provides the sanctuary for their peace and sanctity. Every prophet comes in her name, whether it is Miriam, Mary or Maria. Did Jesus have his opportunity to avoid the journey into the wild? Could he have taken a virgin and prevented the suffering that ultimately formed the basis of Christian theology? The Christian Maronites would tell me that Mohammad took his teaching from a Christian priest; some say that Islam is not a religion. I could hardly listen to such comments. Joey had told me that there were something like ten big families in Lebanon and the ‘Tokes’ were but one of them, maybe the third biggest. Even recently there had been the occasional shootings and deaths between their geographical boundaries. But if they would listen to me I would tell them that civil war is imminent. Roll back the years to the 1990’s and maybe you will see the reality of the mindset that is still prevalent in these peoples; Syria in the north and Israel in the south is a reality waiting to happen. A serious war would bring these two nations together. Maybe if these Christians would not preoccupy themselves with skirmishes and territorialism so much they may remember something of the higher purpose of Christianity, not unlike Islam nor Judaism actually; to prepare one for their ultimate union with God and this is achievable both in the wilderness of this world and the after-world. I was asked once where I thought I would go if I died, and I replied ‘to a single consciousness’. For me heaven was the experience of now, on this planet.

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I would like to thank all those who gave my journey the impetus, the God-given help, who made it joyful and who maintained my health through their alms and offerings. For the wonderful gifts I received throughout, and the continuing motivation to go back and see more of your countries, you are welcome to join me here in Spain. As for my intentions and for more on my family life you would need to read the other book I finished on this journey. In the meanwhile I am looking for a publisher, even an historian who will collaborate with me. A final overview can wait until then.

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I am Augustus Caesar Merlyn Peter of the house of Elias Jacob and son of Richard, descended of Mother Earth and conqueror of the 15 nations

I set off the following morning after hosing myself down. The bike felt superb and I continued towards ancient Tyr. I was told it was a lovely place and I was expecting to see something interesting culture. I passed the banana plantations; the air was thick with humidity and perfect for their growth. The sunrises very close to the zenith here so shadows are rather short. A man said something antagonistic to me but I continued along my way. As I looked for any ancient remains I passed through market areas; some Muslims were definitely being aggressive. I was told by the British embassy that this was the case and I would later learn that the Hezbollah dominate this region. They have the general support of the populace who are in fear of the Israelis, or so it seems. During the 30 day war they pushed back the Israelis from their positions around the border. If it wasn’t for them the Lebanese may have been defeated. I understand them to be militia; going around in plain clothes and numbering over a million. But not all of them have weapons yet they are considered to be more powerful than the army. As I passed through their territories I was ignorant of these facts. I eventually met up with a sympathetic Palestinian or two, in fact many including Syrians have fled to Lebanon. It is difficult to say whether the trip to Tyr was worth it. The archaeological remains were a travesty to see; buried under weeds and surrounded by decrepit fences. Parts of the grounds have rubbish up to your armpits. And besides, there isn’t much to see. I continued to draw a lot of attention as usual and eventually got myself to approach the UN who was patrolling the region. They looked oriental; nevertheless their reply was quite clear: they were not in a position to get me over the border, they don’t do that sort of thing. From here I was maybe only 20 km from Israel. I have already resigned myself to ending this journey and I have a very good reason for doing so. I just don’t think these people warrant any personal sacrifice. They should be left to their own devices. Despite all the international support they get there is this continual fermentation in their blood that would precipitate another civil war, and it could happen anytime. In my opinion they can be decadent and prone to corruption because of an unstable political situation; to give an example a bunch of youths stopped me going up a hill and as I humoured them one of them sort to pretend to help push my bicycle as I rode it. In fact he was going through one of my pouches but I caught him and retrieved the back lights. I was beginning to hate these people; they are rude and prejudice. But it is not the case with all of them, just generally the younger decadent generation. These Middle-Eastern Muslims have a bad habit of ordering you about, “come” they say; this is how they introduce themselves. As I left the town I popped into a garage for some water. They call all their mates over and expect me to perform to them. I understand them now to be manipulative people and I have started to react to their intimations. The garage owner was insistent that I was a Jew or something. I cleared the area as far as possible, pass the beach where earlier I took a quick dip and got arrested by the military police. I refused to show my passport and ended up going to HQ where a quick call to Major Housseini had them apologising to me. Don’t get me wrong, all this stuff may sound official but what they might do to potential suspects and general miscreants can make one shudder in their bones. I haven’t been lucky, I have been God-blessed. If it wasn’t for those meaningful coincidences of meeting the major and generally becoming well-known through my music I may well have been abused by now, even dead. But their addiction to mobile phones and internet extends to making short videos and posting them to each other. Many of these people have forgotten the values of being a true Muslim, they are too engulfed in tribal mentalities. And considering they have just been through a war it is quite understandable.

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As I passed through another small town I decided to buy something hot from the grill. Not long after that I was asked to play some music. The next thing I knew the young many invited me to play at his house, and so I did. We had drinks as the whole family looked upon me. And then all of a sudden I saw the other side of Islam, coupled as it was with wealth. The house looked out over the sea and the interior was lush. When the father came to join us the mood completely changes and the guitar was put down. The night continued through conversation, and just this once I was almost tempted with a shisha. Everybody smokes them preferring apple flavours in general. The women remained in another room although I became a hit with the young children. There does seem to be a growing reality amongst these peoples, that for all those who maintain a working lifestyle there seems to be more integrity. Those who can support themselves financially practice the values of Islam. The youth though are quickly succumbing to modern technologies and where they are diverging from the family scene they are prone to wayward sentiments. I have seen enough good young people but only in the context of their families, and it is no different to a Western family. The one big difference though is that wayward children would still call themselves a Muslim where in the West they wouldn’t necessarily call themselves anything. That night they allowed me to sleep in a swing bed at the back of their restaurant. In the morning I said goodbye and I got away without paying for the grilled chicken the night before and headed on into Sidon. Straight away I was impressed by this town; it was much richer and the archaeology had been restored. From what I can gather in conversation the ruins are Phoenician – city states that maintained their power though trading ports. (The heavily forested hinterland was a factor in this decision.) There were some on-going excavations in process and I soon passed by a lovely market place. Satiated I decided that I would finish my expedition and head on to Beirut. Just then I noticed a bridge and a fresh water river passing under it. It looked incredibly appetising and I soon found a deep spot near a fallen bridge. I met up with some friendly guys and started diving with them off the pier. Not long after that I got out the guitar and played, meeting up with a nut seller. As I passed back along another route to leave I discovered a protest in the street. There were more friendly Muslims and the next thing I knew we were all taking pictures. I returned that evening to stay a night, deciding that Beirut could wait. They knew I was not a Muslim but they fed me, telling me I was their guest. Apparently for three days they had to ensure I ate three times a day and to protect me. I hung my hammock and thought, ‘How lucky can I get?’ I stayed about a week. Who were they?

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My prophetic calling was coming to me again. During this period I finished my book; even I was impressed by the completeness of the narrative. I had electricity, shelter and food and water, surrounded as I was by the ever-friendliness of Muslims. What more could I ask for? I started writing another song in Spanish, only my second ever. It goes as follows:

 

Marcha, marcha hasta la guerra sanguienea

Anda, anda tu futura es en las manos

Se va, se viene, otro muerto vale la pena

Quien is responsible por esta felonía

 

En que se puede hacer por justo

Los locos del mundo tiene la fuerza

Se controla el resto de la populacion

Por que se ocurre esta situacion?

 

Estamos en juntos contra el malo

La tierra es demasiado pequena ser volver solo

Aumenta la voz del unido gente

Y nunca mira detras si quiera Victoria

 

Se les ensenan quien tiene autoridad

Avanza sus derechas con facilidad

Se conoce si mismo por mantener el vision

Del ganar el amor de cada individual

 

Canta, canta levantan sus vasos

Dar las gracias y recuerda los viejos

Ni una persona murió por nada

Sus vidas se reflejan en las cristales

 

I talked amongst many of them since a few had a grasping of English. For the first time I lived deep inside a Muslim community being accepted into their brotherhood. As usual word had got out and local business owners soon plied me with free ice-cream and wraps. I was eating everything offered me and noticed that I was putting on weight. There was a general set up in the camp. I was with the security at one end of the road-block facing a most beautiful mosque. The mosque was finished in limestone and surrounded by a lush garden of ornamental flowers. Slowly my hosts would introduce me to everybody in the camp, which over the course of time may have numbered a few thousand although I didn’t meet them all.  The night I arrived I heard somebody speaking over a loud speaker and I was jokingly informed that it came from God. In fact, these Muslims had a really nice sense of humour and wanted to impress me. On that first day I met them I was given quite an extensive description of their protest. It concerned the Hezbollah. They were protesting against the desire for the Hezbollah to own weapons and were asking for their disarmament. They said that they have more power than the military and in fact are feared by them since they dominate the south of Lebanon. They feel that Lebanon is nearing another civil war similar to the one that ended in 1992. They would prefer that weapons were maintained amongst the military only, but their popularity means that most of the population wants to keep them. The reason being is due to the fear that Lebanese people live in from another Israeli invasion, for it was the efforts of the Hezbollah who kicked them out. There are about 5-6 million Lebanese in the country; the true figures remain unofficial. In places like Brazil that number is nearer 10-15 million. This camp, under the spiritual and political leadership of Sheik Al-Hassir, told me they were fighting for their integrity. I have already noted a problem in the previous blog. The death of tourism here is factor of this fear in Lebanon. When I talk to individuals it is apparent that people want to leave the country. On reflection I realise that the nut seller by the river only offered to help me out because he wanted me to aid his visa application. Likewise there were Muslims in this camp who also pampered me with false motives. The truer picture of Islam was coming through. What about all those Turks who expressed the same desires to travel to Spain? These people aren’t happy in their own country, and the more they listen to Western music, watch internet from their mobile phones, or see Westerner’s segregated lifestyle on the beaches and in the lucrative shopping centres, the more they pine after it. This is obviously assisted by the ‘freer’ values of Christianity since this is a mixed culture. And this highlights another disparity in the country – Islam is political but Christianity isn’t. That is why they have wars here, not over religion but over politics. Religion is the moral fibre that gets eroded away in the process; hence one need only look at the evolution of Christian theocracy and why Christian countries continue to go to war under political banners; they do so in the name of economics. And because Islam is now in that stage where more and more people favour secularism it fears for its own existence through the degradation of traditional values. Christianity has already been through this phase; the difference between them is that the strength of Islam is more apparent through its extant keeping of the religious law and the brotherhood that supports it. In this vein members of the security I was staying with introduced me to the sheik because I wanted to know what does the Qur’an say about all the junk left on the streets and on the beaches. I gave an example to those Muslims for every morning I would go around the site and collect the crap left lying around. I had tried to explain some of my environmental values and they decided that I needed to speak to the sheik. I had to be introduced obviously for security reasons and he gave me 10 minutes of his time. When I put it to him he told me that half of Islam was about cleaning and that the problem was not with Islam but the people. Those who call themselves Muslims are not Muslims. This has been a problem since about 100 years ago. These Muslims were seeking to clean up Islam and reinstitute traditional values. I pondered over his comments; the man came over very friendly and obviously has a lot of charm in his manner. I asked him why then does this camp not clean up after itself. He said this is the work of others and afterward there are people who will go around and clean up the junk. In fairness though, most of the junk was related to surrounding buildings including residential and a cement block’s works. I don’t know how long this camp intends to stay around but in my reasoning and discussion with the other Muslims I told them that the face of Islam, the first impression they give to outsiders who they wish to enjoin, is through their front gardens and checkpoints. They had informed me that all peoples were welcome to join their cause, including Christians. The sheik respected my point of view. He told me that the knife was at the throat and that there were other priorities. Apparently the Hezbollah were intimidating them at other mosques, hence the security here were being armed with batons. There was a further military checkpoint at the road closure but all in all most of the local community seemed to favour them, despite closed businesses. I don’t know how long this could last for but it is obvious that some people are better off than others and favour the nightly talks and increasing audience who purchase food and drink. I maintained a passive viewpoint.

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Over the course of days my immediate area became devoid of all junk and I enjoined a respect from everybody there. Many Muslims knew my name and I tried to remember theirs. As it goes half the community is called Mohammad. I got on well with the children and was fed regularly, too much actually considering I was just sitting around. As I awaited news of the Syrian conflict and possible passage I decided that as a conclusion to my journey I could set up a garden here. Other issues were also coming to the forefront, for instance this type of Islam does not encourage Western music. I continued playing in surrounding locales but was increasingly bored by the non-action of this community. In an interesting way it could mirror a Buddhist set up; people praying at set times, basic chores need to be accomplished, eating together in small groups, teaching and instruction during the evening etc. On this last aspect the talks of Sheik al-Hassir were becoming more and more invigorated, at times there was shouting and intense passion, including other speakers. It only dawned on me later, after speaking to some Christians and other Muslims from the American University for Science and Technology that this was a form of fundamentalism. I had asked for tools to dig over unused, neglected ground and put out a wish list, but nothing was forthcoming, not even a reply. Instead what I got was a subtle push to make me into a Muslim in an atmosphere that nulls the centres. I tried learning Arabic but I am awful at new languages and people’s names, and ended up repeating words I couldn’t remember. People began to wonder why I didn’t pray, and some answers to whether I was a Muslim seemed apologetic. I stuck to my own integrity and on one occasion down by the river this nearly caused a situation. I went back to the bathing area near the bridge (this whole section of river has become a street of bars and cafeterias) and some youths approached me, questioning my guitar which I carry around with me and my Speedos swimming wear. I was obviously bigger than them but one grabbed a bottle and smashed it. It seemed to centre around whether I was a Muslim or not, and I told them ‘no’. As I say, the youth from the poorer communities here are just as territorial and decadent in their moral values. I walked away from that potential fight unharmed because I think someone recognised me from the camp. The larger person in the group ushered me away and looked embarrassed somewhat. I would stress that I believe in the lineage of prophets but will not follow any particular religion, certainly not when I consider myself to have studied worldly religions for 10 years. I take from all of them, which many would call spirituality. I had just finished my other book, number five in the series, and it exerts such a strong independent viewpoint that it is unimaginable that I could ever change my respectable position; I am an anthropologist, spiritual at that, and believe myself to bridge between East and West, ecology and religion. As for the inherent divisions within Islam I raise an interesting point. The difference between fundamentalism and orthodoxy is this gaping misunderstanding of spirituality.  I don’t think the protest camp was fundamentalists, but they may evolve to become one. I had turned up not long after they established themselves; they were in a primitive state from which one could imagine that through their popularity they would distil their tolerances and change certain values. I don’t doubt, that much fundamentalism evolved from this position.

As the days past (I was there about a week) with the onset of Ramadan I planted up melon seeds in plastic recycled cups. I generated a lot of interest but no assistance. That they didn’t welcome my music, offer tools, always asking where I had been, but always friendly, I resorted to writing and swimming in the sea. I ventured into the city a couple of times but I prefer the solitude, only that I was in a landscape barren of real vegetation. The cement block’s works operated all night and I found it hard to sleep properly. The hammock itself actually contributed to blocking the pavement towards university access. As I waited for those seedlings to come up I was slowly vegetating. It dawned on me also that competitive sport was not encouraged in the camp, it was a cleansing of the mind, as I say not unlike a Buddhist retreat. Slowly Islamic values were being introduced to me. News came over that 3 major Syrian officials were killed in the war and everybody was celebrating. If it isn’t one cause they are fighting here it is another. I quietly took myself away as I don’t find the death of people cause for celebration. When you talk to a Muslim face to face you get another picture. They tell me that there is nothing wrong with Islam; what people who call themselves Muslims do in their own time is not Islam and Islam must not be judged by the actions of its people. In this respect I share a lot of basic sentiments with Islam, but I am too educated to fall into blind acceptance. I believe I have an Islamic manner rooted in my religiosity. That means I see Islam as a way of life epitomised by all the prophets, and that means it has evolved through different cultures of many tribes that have lived in these lands. If a culture stubbornly adheres to out-dated values then it breeds discontent and eventually arrogates the need for change. The popularity of the sheik appears to be a revolution in the process, and I was told that it could be the beginning of another civil war. Sidon has 18 different religions, forms of Islam and Christianity. There must be cross-cultural influences going on since it is only in these mixed cultures that one feels safer. The economic segregation in Beirut still harbours friendly relations, and if one goes to fast-food outlets one generally finds Christians and Muslims working side by side. I asked another devout Muslim whether he thought Islam was progressive, and that all the wealth is somehow introducing secularism into their culture. I also asked why they think Mohammad is the last prophet and their retort is sometimes, ‘Why has there been no other then?’ The fact that they don’t want to recognize another prophet is cause for blind acceptance of the Qur’an, written as I say by a number of scribes who Mohammad dictated to. Apparently it shows the way to everything in life. The answer always comes back that Islam is the word of God. I believe Islam is progressive but these are such a minority that truly the greatest indicator for this observation is probably on foreign soils where Islam freely mixes with other religions and cultures. It will be in countries like America and Europe where one will see progressive Islam, and the small city states like Beirut. On this note we must take the message of Islam and read it from the life of the prophets, as I was recommended to study concerning Mohammad, as well as the life of his companions who supported him. In this way one gets the cultural milieu of their times and can draw from their existence the deeper interpretation of their message, which I believe to be the true meaning of submission, and not intolerance to other ideas. On this note then I allowed them to create me in their own image, leaving my beard unkempt and keeping it trimmed around the mouth. I refused to shave my armpits and pubic hair as I told them this is for women in their vanity. How can they claim this to be an act of hygiene when they eat too much meat and cheese? The first education is always the health and integrity of one’s own body. The natural oils in the body are self-cleansing, and all hair serves to protect vulnerable thin skin.

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On the first day of Ramadan I decided to fast with them. By mid-afternoon I took flight. I understood something about the rite. It quells the tensions of the people and humbles them in their aggression. Mohammad must have known this and the effects of heat on the body. It also balances out excessive food consumption and strengthens the integrity; this is how I understand it. When I fasted for One and a half years during my life in London I did so in order to cure myself of bodily ills. I think a deeper look into the life of Mohammad may throw life upon this topic. Here, in Lebanon the sun goes down after 7pm and so everybody eats at 8pm. Every day is a celebration and I unfortunately missed out on that opportunity. They then eat at 3am before sunrise and go back to bed for a late morning. The tranquillity of that morning is all too apparent, as the streets emptied themselves of cars and people. Shops close early during the day and look quite empty. Obviously they can still sell things from them. The true Musli m would not smoke, eat or drink water; this fasting is a national cleansing program. If the West think they can make headway into the Middle-East it is going to take a very long time. One need not wonder why the brotherhood of Islam is so strong. It is a lost part of Christian culture, which hence has been replaced by progressive ideals and materialism (with all its own problems).

Once I was on the road towards Beirut I knew I had made the right decision. As for the melon seedling this was my legacy. If they don’t have the foresight to support a food-growing program they can’t be intending to stay around for long. I got into Beirut looking for the British embassy. It was closed but an interesting freak occurrence happened. My wheel got stuck in a drain and on pulling it out protruding sharp metal stuck into its tyre. I messed around with the tube and eventually resigned myself to sleeping on the rocks by the sea. As I say, nobody was about during Ramadan and so I washed and pondered the day’s activities. In this survival mode I am b rilliant. Not long after that I gave up the idea of fasting off water since I think this is biologically stupid, and headed towards Miena (Port Beirut) to enquire about a boat to Cyprus. My only advice was to get a plane out of this place as soon as possible and leave your bike with a friend. I continued along the coast and searched out some travel agents. There is no ferry: they were adamant. Just then I met a couple of Christians and had a banana and coffee with them. Apparently, from Tripoli, the port I came through, there is a boat to Girne in North Cyprus. It was like a breadth of fresh air since I can’t afford a ferry back to Turkey and then to Cyprus where I would leave my bike under my family’s care. So with my spirits uplifted I decided to head for that world-renowned tourist site, the Caves of Jeiti. Apparently considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world I took myself to its hills. Not long after that I was soon camping within its vicinity, playing music and back on form. Free food, free drink, only those things that nature can provide this. The embassies can wait until Monday.

Jeita is a prize. For me it was a lovely way to say goodbye to Lebanon. The natural limestone formations of stalagmites and stalactites remind me of Gaudi architecture. The cathedral interior was like something out of Lovecraft and the Cthullu mythos; twisted, contorted shapes that are indescribable. This is a superb attraction for a mere 18,000LL which works out at $12 or about 9 euros. For the ticket you are taken on a concrete stairway through the length of the cavern where the temperature dramatically drops. The price also includes a ride on a lift to the upper level and a ride on a train to the lower level where a boat awaits you and takes you through a lake. If that isn’t enough then you can admire an expedition of carved stone where you can relax in the African garden. The Lebanese have really got this one right, the spectacular mountainous scenery around is worth the visit itself. Coming through reminded me why I came on this journey and how I sustained myself spiritually. The tranquillity of the environment is a welcome retreat from the hustling city life and makes one want to stay here. I made a few lira busking and prepared myself for the trip back to Beirut. Unfortunately taking photos inside the cavern is forbidden so I have very little to show you. Whilst I was here I met many a taxi driver who spoke English, considering that many work from hotels. In one particular conversation I learnt a little more about the Hezbollah. Firstly, a man named Wassim told me how being a Druz (another religion which includes all the holy books) meant that they were the brunt of oppression against the Hezbollah who tried to take over the region in 2008. Since they dominate most of the southern lands they inflicted tension against the small pockets of Sunni; the Shiite has joined with the Hezbollah since the Israelis were defeated. All of a sudden I began to see another picture, but it is always a puzzle that I put together from engaging people directly. The Druz live in large areas of the mountains with other pockets of Christians too distributed here and there. In retrospect, Lebanon may be the one saving grace for religious organisations and individuals fleeing from oppressed regimes. Consider though, that the civil war began through the militarization of the Palestinian refugee population (100,000), numbering some 10% of their country after the occupation of Israel, and with the arrival of the PLO guerrilla forces which sparked an arms race amongst the different Lebanese political factions. It “changed the demographics of Lebanon and provided a foundation for the long-term involvement of Lebanon in regional conflicts.” I understand something of the dilemma that faces Western governments, and yet I see no end to the crisis here, never. If you take away the military presence you will get a civil war for certain. If the segregated pockets of religious groups retreat into other areas then it only encourages further expansion from dominant forces. The sheik has a real case here. He saw that taking away the military capacity of the Hezbollah, who receive funds from Iran to buy land and spread under the ideology of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and who also provide arms, was a means to prevent any further fermentation for another attack on Lebanese people. They remind the country of the assassination of the Lebanese president who many loved. Unfortunately the government supports and needs the Hezbollah and puts on a friendly face to all sides. As I say, it is a mess, but then you can pick holes in any worldly culture. The Muslims like anybody else just get on with living here. As I look at the stream of tourists coming to Jeita I wonder where the French are, the Italians, Spanish, German, Dutch, British and the rest; most are Lebanese. It is a gem waiting to be discovered and maybe one of the few places that will survive a civil war.

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So, I stayed one night at the caves, looked after by the security who fed me. They also guaranteed good money from busking, and as usual I made a little. The joy of being in the mountains and playing out of passion was good enough reason to stay here. I considered another night but was convinced by everybody to go into town and busk the night away. On leaving I was reminded maybe of the worst road conditions one is ever likely to encounter – they are killers. Ripped up crash barriers line all the major roads around Beirut; huge gaping drainage holes consistently appear in the hard shoulders which can be no more than a few feet wide. They measure some three feet square and sometimes look down six to ten feet where junk collects. On the odd occasion they disappear to the road below them. The shitty conditions are also a hazard for cars also; God help the motorcyclists. But the other fact that one is reminded of is the litter; it is the most unkempt city by far. On this particular occasion I sought a quick swim and decided to go to the sandy beach where that police officer told me was very dirty; I thought he was bullshitting, a little bit of prejudice. Well, I eat my words, for I decided to go for a quick dip on that beach. Interestingly I met the same officer who remembered me and shook my hand. I took his advice two weeks ago and should have stuck to it. It was like swimming in a landfill site. No wonder nobody was about, these free beaches are reserved for Syrians and other refugees coming into the country; you have to pay for the clean beaches here. The police again helped me out, since they looked after my bike (no lock) whilst I swam. Feeling dirty I managed to play some music and get some lovely free food. Wassim picked me up and took me to his home where I would take a welcome shower and eat more. I was preparing myself for my last days here, but as I told him, if I could click my fingers and reappear in Barcelona this would suit me fine. I had one last venture though, I wanted to cycle to the cedars in the north of the country before heading for Tripoli. It is interesting though, how on arriving back into Beirut the tyre deflated again. Maybe I should not have looked back, and just carried on from Jeita. But I suppose the British Embassy may have something useful to say to me, maybe even suggest a possible route to Palestine. I age in these days, using up every last store of genetic development before deciding to call time-out in the Middle-East. I think Wassim wanted to show me something of the better side of the country; maybe some Lebanese truly are embarrassed by this mess. If you want to know what it is like living here, well one need only look at his personal case. He is married to a Welsh lass, has two daughters in Wales and has been waiting over 3 years for a visa application to go there. That is how difficult it is to leave the country. But if you want to know how bad the situation is out here, in the last day or so 20,000 Syrians crossed into the country. That says it all. In the morning Wassim’s father dropped me off at the embassy. I also had a meeting with a freelance reporter who found out something about me the night before. Apparently as I was leaving with Wassim we stopped for an ice-cream, and the small boy who’s phone I had used to contact Wassim was approached by a local who got the number off him. So the reporter rang Wassim and arranged to meet me today also. I decided on the embassy first which was only fleeting. They offered me nothing new and I wondered why I bothered coming here, in fact I informed them that there were boats leaving Lebanon to Turkey from Tripoli. It is interesting how their reception looked upon me also with difference as I sat there waiting to be called. I had now missed Ahmad at the Cafe Raouché but a quick phone call brought us together at Starbucks. There he bought me yoghurt and a bap. I tried using wifi there but was told that I would have to pay. So despite the inflated prices this is what it has come to, corporate bodies protecting every possible income loss from free users in the vicinity. The interview started with a general talk about religion and politics and at one stage I was putting up with an ear bashing, but I tolerated it. He was undoubtedly anti-Jewish and at times it pained me to cast a neutral light. Then afterward he took the video camera out and filmed me answering a set of questions. He had promised me half his profits if he sold the story, told me I needed a new bike, and was very interested in motorised accompaniment for the trip to Africa in two year’s time. It went well, although he told me to act a little to make it more interesting; I couldn’t. I think I made the mistake then of asking for an ice-coffee because a few hours later I would become very tired and ill. Anyhow, we finished the interview in his flat with me singing my new songs and getting a few shots outside and it was so late that Wassim had to bail me out again; we managed to hide the bike in the storage area of a building. That night I could barely stay awake; I even went for a short jog to get my metabolism going. We tried going for a short ride in the car and playing some music but I was so constipated that I felt like a knotted balloon. I quietly apologised to the group and went to bed. The following morning I had dysentery; after taking multiple showers I still managed to shit my pants. Eventually I cleared my whole system out and decided that I would still go for the cedars in the mountains. First though, I took the cool shade of the garage area where a couple of planks of wood provided for a snooze. After feeling rejuvenated I set off, very slowly. Another fortuitous encounter or two opened up my possibilities. There was a cruise passing by Limassol in Cyprus just starting this week and they would only charge me for that section of the journey, but that was a whole week away. Then I found a very cheap bicycle store and picked up a spare inner tube. I should say something about the condition of the bike at this stage. Mechanically it is still great, but the brand new panniers I bought for it are falling apart at the seams; my stitching is obvious a mile away and am looking forward to doing the ceremonial burning in Cyprus if that day ever comes. Everything else seems fine, although I still get the occasional callous around my bum, the pedal arm once every few weeks loosens off, and the back tyre is looking very bald now. (Remember that this is, in fact, the front tyre since the bigger back tyre wouldn’t initially fit into the tight frame, but its double thickness still sustains it over broken glass.) I decided then to go straight to Tripoli to double check on the ferry services but that turned out to be a typical thief’s paradise. The unscrupulous agent, who happened to be passing checkpoint in his car, stuck his head out the window and wanted to charge me $175; significantly more than the journey here. And when he told me to give him my passport now I said, “No thank you very much” and got out of the place. I mean, the boat wasn’t leaving for another two days, what a twat! So to the mountains it was.

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Tripoli was another one of those dirty cities but it is thriving. I was looking relatively smart in my new trainers given to me by Ahmad after the interview. I was aware again of the poverty here. I was soon asking for directions to the Cedars and on some occasions these French/Arabic speakers looked at me in disbelief, “No, it is impossible”. This is the mentality of the car-culture, especially this one with its repertoire of banged-out, rust buckets that require no MOTs and go around sounding like tanks; everyone here is a DIYer so it does make for a bit of self-resilience. Lebanon is like that, the ‘City of Pollution’. It is such a small country that you could drive to any part of it within a day easily. On my trip to the mountains I was about to experience a very quick change in climate. I remember Wassim telling me that up here there were communities of Christians here and there so I was looking forward to that ‘Western’  feel again, but if I recall this is not far from Hezbollah country too. I had also caught a news drift that somebody threw a hand explosive at the protest at Sidon where I had been staying with the Sheik al-Hassir. City life was really bogging me off despite the massive amounts of money brought in by foreigners and the temptation to play in bars or special events which could easily pay for my flight out of here. So I trundled up the slow incline all the way to my first major stop, the town of Ehdin, but not before nightfall. Along the way I had stopped on a number of occasions and even snoozed because I was significantly weakened by my ill condition, but by the end I had gathered my strength, taking a wash at a petrol station, and was walking into a quaint town that looked like a street party. Immediately I hitched up with some young men who bought me food and drink. They were going for a camping trip up the mountain and it turned out on the following day that they had looked for me to invite me but by then I had engaged some pretty young teenagers at the oldest Maronite Church in Lebanon, dating from 749AD and having ancient inscriptions in Syrian and Greek. They were just kids and no sooner had they left was I inside snoozing away on a pew; the bike was well hidden. Whatever you may think about me, if I told you that I had a natural emission that night in the Church you should not consider it an act of profanity. I was in a state of transcendence, coupled with the reality that my psychological defence was down. I have mentioned to readers before this relationship between body and mind, and how natural emissions seems to equate with a downturn in my biological integrity. Not only that, my magical will power dwindles. Effectively I climax in mind and body, like a crossing of wires. That morning I needed to ring the travel agent because there was also the boat leaving for Mersin in Turkey if the Cyprus boat failed. I tried contacting the travel agent but had no success. In the meantime a couple of guys befriended me, one being part of the group going up the mountain. They bought me hot chocolate and I sat down in the market square and played a few tracks. They were all Christian here; the relatively few Muslims kept themselves away from the general Christian revelry that highlights these mixed cultural backgrounds.  There were South Africans, Australians, American accents, and of course French since this was a French colony once. I asked for advice to the Cedars and apparently there was a quick route going through the bush country laden as it was with apples, pears, apricots and cherries. This was lush country but even though the temptation of the landscape was appetising I wasn’t feeling that great at all.  John, who works for the Red Cross, had told me some more of the history here; they seem to pride themselves on being all Christian. The reality of the Hezbollah is that it came about as a militia because during the civil war between 1975 and 1990 the Lebanese army had slowly given up on the south of the country and allowed many Jews to occupy it. The Syrian post-war occupation was particularly disadvantageous to the Christian community too. The government had become corrupt and were accused of embezzlement. In my extended stay in the country I conclude that the disparity of rich and poor here can only be a legacy of that. Beirut is like a colony with materialism demarcating its boundaries with private beaches, hotels, restaurants, and military checkpoints. Lebanon has enough ports to launch in all directions. After the war there were continuing tit-for-tat skirmishes between the locals who sought to protect themselves from the Jewish occupation, and so the Hezbollah slowly gathered in small pockets of strength in view of a Jewish succession. Prisoners were bartered between them but on one occasion two were captured from Palestine territory and this seemed to incept a huge massacre upon the Lebanese. The war was inevitable between them but with Israel owning some of the most sophisticated weaponry around I believe it is only a matter of time.

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I trundled up the long winding road that went through the bush, loaded on either side with apples and pears, unripened figs and grapes. As usual people wanted to know who the stranger was. At times I jumped on the bike but I was too weak. Just before reaching the Cedars I hit a bend in the road that gave me a view to the Kadisha Valley. It was hazy but spectacular. It reminded me of Chaf Grabbab in Albania, looking down upon the womb of the world. This obviously was millions of years of natural erosion that carved out this canyon, abundant as it is in rivers. No sooner had I settled down a couple came by and noticed me pondering the occasion; they were on 4-wheel buggies, toys for the well-off. They turned out to be Australians. In that moment I was convinced of something. This was Christian country and here values were much more liberal. I had to use their phone and so rang the travel agent; the cruise to Cyprus had been cancelled. That meant my other option was to get to Tripoli today for the ferry to Mersin within 3 hours, which was about doable, but it meant forsaking my time here at the Cedars and surrounding landscape. And even then, I might be refused at the port because (yes!) they require my passport 2 days in advance. As I slowly worked it out it made sense what Simon had told me; hang about here for a few days then head down to the next village and the week is over. I could then catch the next boat. It was great decision and over the days some proper sense came to me. I decided I didn’t need to see the cousins in the west of Cyprus, besides, they knew I was about but didn’t invite me over the last time I was there. There was also no guarantee they would look after my bike. And my funds were so short that the travel agent’s advice sounded more secure – take a flight from Beirut; it avoided all the hassle of two ferries and another flight. All I wanted to do was bring back the front panniers and wheels, everything could fit into a large suitcase. Simon would feed me and help me out, making sure the locals got to know me. He also offered to store my bicycle. It was a fantastic period, a climax to my journey after 5 months. Even though some loose ends in London were unravelling themselves and required my attention, not least the car being taken away and gardens left unmanaged, all these things could wait. For now I was in a fragile part of the earth where a tiny population of Lebanese cedars awaited my trepidation. Jo’s cafe filled me up and I ventured into the cool forest.

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Simon’s family house was fantastic. Why he took a liking to me only God knows, but that night we would be celebrating St. Simon’s Day in the local church. This is the area where he was brought up, surrounded by fruit trees. The story goes that St Symeon the Stylite (389 – 459), derived from the Greek for pillar, “stylos”, lived for almost 40 years in the open air on a stone pillar (some 18m high) on a hill top in northern Syria. Pilgrims visited him from all over the world accorded to his miracles and sanctity.  Though there is indication that Christianity was already prevalent in the region it is thought that he asked for seven crosses to be put up in the surrounding mountains. On doing so waters gushed from the rocks and have never ceased since. Written sources held by the Vatican tell of setting up stones on all borders of the villages. I watched the Lebanese dance that interesting step where they all hold each other side by side. The music seems to go on forever but enjoyable all the same. The church was looking a little forsaken but the fresh water stream was so cold that one could not keep their hand in it for longer than 30 seconds. Again that night I didn’t sleep too well. The following day I would check out the village, situated as it is on a steep decline. My instincts were soon clicking in, and whilst I left my trusty bike opposite the cedars without fear of it being stolen I ventured around the “womb of the earth”. There was a multitude of Marian shrines here; it seems that every nook and cranny is a hermitage in the making. My guitar is like an extra piece of clothing, almost negligible on my back. I saw an old Phoenician tomb, the word the Greeks used to describe the Canaanites (because of the purple, phoinikies dye they sold) who inhabited this region around 4,000BC. And then quite unexpected the burial place of Kahlil Gibran who’s classic The Prophet  is one of the most beautiful reads ever. Born in Bsharri, his tomb was originally a grotto for monks seeking shelter in the 7th century, the Mar Sarkis (Saint Serge) hermitage and is now made into his museum. Gibran was Lebanese who as a child moved to New York with his family and sought to flee the misery of his native lands. I also learnt that he was a painter, although I do not rate much of his work. Some of it though captures the transcendence of his poetry and prose and is obvious in the expressions his portraits give. His love for the Kadisha Valley extended to his desire to buying the later monastery the Carmelite monks built between the 17th century and 19th centuries for his retirement. He died young though and his remains were transferred to the hermitage in 1931. On this occasion I took some photos for you but again I say to you, it may be one of those areas that could survive a full-scale civil war. In one of his biographies he is thought to say that “I am not a politician, nor do I wish to become one” and “Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen”. He loved his homeland and it is ironic that Gibran’s exhilaration was manifested in a sketch called “Free Syria” of al-Sa’ih’s special “victory” edition after the Ottomans were defeated. He expressed great hope for national independence and progress, distinguishing it from both Lebanese and Arab nationalism, believing that nationalism stood side by side with internationalism in his thoughts. Maybe there is some clout in the prophetic words of my new song. All this feels like I am coming home both spiritually and physically, back to the Mother Womb.

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Just a stone throw away

I was mildly surprised that there was a boat leaving from Famagusta; the Turkish side appears so alien from the life of my relatives. They never talk about what goes on in the northern part, and they certainly never encouraged me to utilise their services. The communication barrier was obviously one problem amongst the aunts and uncles, but as regarding the cousins who spoke in English I think they avoided speaking about anything of the sort. On one occasion I remember looking over the makeshift fence on the beach to the other side, empty as it was, and seeing in the far distance a group of people huddled in one section and using boats. Harris had told me that they shouldn’t be there but he just seethed over the matter. On another occasion I asked him when was the last time he had been to Famagusta and he told me that for security reasons he has avoided the city. I don’t think he appreciates maybe how well preserved the ancient monuments are under Turkish rule. Overall it is a sore matter; the continuing busloads of tourists bulge the pockets of local businesses whilst the (forgotten) Greeks cultivate cheap grains. Even the little stall at the top of our track just before checkpoint has little chance of competing; paying euros for products one can obtain at a third of the price reminds me how the euro destroyed local cultures. There are those on the Turkish side who do accept euros (notes) and give back only local currency, because it does allow the well-off to go abroad and spend in a variety of countries. One must remember that many Turks have found it hard to travel because of European legislation. The process of application is very lengthy and puts off a lot of them. But for businesses to accept euros is a way of selling products without paying European taxes. On top of this converting a strong euro back into lira is an instant way to make a profit.

I had no problems going backwards and forward in order to enjoy the beach or the old city. I didn’t require any extra money and a young Iranian couple had reminded me that the Muslim is ever friendly, treating me to ice-cream with a baked crust, a Turkish speciality. I enquired at the shipping office for a boat direct to Lebanon but it availed that I had to go back to Turkey, so I boarded the Sunday ship which arrived overnight with the expectation that I could make the Mersin-Tripoli connection later on the same day of arrival. There was no problem from Cyprus, I still had a viable visa. The boat trip though turned out to be a wonderful experience, so often the case when there is limited room to move around. Coffee and snacks were Turkish prices (cheap) and I looked forward to resting and maybe getting some writing done. I sat down and took out my guitar. No sooner had I started playing did a crowd gather about me. For the next two hours I was the star of the show; bread, fruit, tea and nuts were being thrust upon me. It was then that I met the Turkish army, the food corp. The leader of their platoon spoke excellent English and befriended me like an old pal. He was young, telling me that he joined when he was 14 years old. He had a bunch of guys with him, all middle-age and plump; it must be a fine life being a chef. Nevertheless, another guitarist chipped in with some lovely Turkish music whilst I performed my new song, The Friendly Muslim, for the first time. Later a young girl played some taula (backgammon) with me and humiliated me, although once Spain had thrashed Italy in the European Cup I took back my luck and dished out the same treatment. I noted that there was a way of playing the game without taking any of your opponent’s pieces. I slept in the lounge only after the Turkish army had me playing for them again on deck with raki (Lion’s Milk) to keep me going. I subtly refused too much of it. Morning and again I was fed bread and jam. I arrived into Mersin; custom control was fine (no-one ever checks my bags). I then discovered, from repeated journeys to the tourist office and agent, that another company called Fergun left Mersin for Tripoli the same day, but to my aghast this was another dock called Tasucu 80 kilometres down the road. I had to go into the agent and reserve a ticket. I looked at the odds of making that journey, I still had 6 hours to cycle it. I juggled with the possibility of sticking around after discovering that there is a monumental list of ancient sites here especially since St. Paul travelled this way four or five times during his years of ministry. I quickly decided that Turkey was another trip, and besides, I may have to come back this way to get back home. As it goes I absolutely flew the journey, cracking out 75 km in 3 hours. I had plenty of spare time taking in the site of Silifke , and I needed it. When I got to the port I checked over where the boat leaves from and went to the shipping office. The experience was completely different, and for the first time I was meeting Lebanese people. There seemed to be chaos, people shouting, passing back and forward from either side of the desk. It was a problem working out who worked here and who didn’t. Eventually the whole process took one and a half hours, in the meantime I got some lovely rice and beans with unlimited bread from the cafeteria opposite. It was then I met up with Aysberk and Umar who would turn out to become a couple of good buddies. They were heading for Beirut and advised me to see Byblos along the way, and Baalbek. The signs were good, despite not having a permanent place of residence in Lebanon I got a one month visa. I took the opportunity to sit in a cafe, get a free coffee and go online. Getting out of Tripoli was a little bit of a nightmare; the city looked half-bombed. I didn’t fancy sticking around but the road to Byblos was just as fascinating. I pulled into a petrol station for a free water refill and discovered a zoo inside it; monkeys and pelicans kept in cages. The Bangladeshi were just as welcoming whilst the police and military kept a beady eye on me from a distance. On arriving to Byblos I got ‘lucky’ as usual. The city is very, very old but I limited myself in perusing its architecture. I decided that I could just sit down near the docks since there was an international festival here, and busk away. I didn’t make a penny despite the South Africans engaging me for a full 20 minutes. So I continued along my way anticipating to make a night run when a well-off bar owner offered me food and drink if I played some music. I was there all night, fully fed and using free internet whilst listening to the best sounds in town. Lebanon shows the same tendency as Turkey – it is going secular wherever tourism abounds. So it would be that I met up with a bunch of students, another guitarist called Andrew, and we went to the beach to jam away, again with free drink and food. They were attractive people, Christians in fact, who enjoy student life as anybody would in London. A very friendly Lebanese local, probably a Muslim, kept on coming up and kissing us after each song, and me and my mate at times turned on the style. I slept well enough that night despite the stones, swan the morning and headed off. I was on my way to Beirut.

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If I thought that Banja Luka in the Republic of Serbia was bad then Beirut only made it pale in significance. The police and military presence here was everywhere. I suppose it is quite understandable being close to Syria. Stories abound concerning the situation there, including persons going missing near the border and a bus load of Arabs disappearing from the scene. On one occasion in Beirut I asked the police who they were protecting, and they told me the government. Now, if I was so naive to believe that I would say no more about it. But the area they cordon off in Beirut is called Downtown and is the richest real estate in the land. It is immaculate. It boasts a number of heritage sites including Roman baths and walls. It also has some old Christian churches. Unfortunately I left it ‘til night-time to visit so the quality of the photos are not good. But in this vein, whilst the military police joked about me looking liking Osama bin Laden and having pictures taken with me, the greatest tourist site of all denied me entry; it was the mosque. I could only afford to take pictures from the outside, the attendant being rather apologetic. They obviously didn’t like the cut-down shorts, or the fact that I didn’t wear socks. When does a mosque refuse a traveller entry? When it becomes a tourist industry. The prices are high enough (still doesn’t compare to London) but the thought of sitting down with my guitar was negligible since they didn’t allow bikes or big bags into the cordoned section. In contrast to this negativity my entry into the city started so well. I had sat down next to a cafeteria and took out some rice a friendly waiter gave me at a petrol station along the road. Just as I started eating it another waiter from the restaurant gave me a bag of cherries, apples, apricots, savoury snacks and water. As I tried to thank him he just walked away. It was then that I started encountering police who again were very friendly. But the questioning from these people is incessant and formal; it seems that everybody is policing around. I even met a French-speaking student who spoke perfect English, but he did no more than bang out a list of questions. They are like this: they never ever introduce themselves before speaking to me. In Lebanon this problem would increase, and it was a problem. Actually, it was nice to hang about with Turks who talked about anything and everything. I had already spied out the best swimming areas that had long cave systems one could swim through in the cliffs. We had done some diving from the rocks and watched the locals do the top rock. I slept one night in this area, the following day the Turkish lads gave me a floor space in their hotel. I actually felt more secure here as this seemed to be predominantly Muslim bathing, but further along there was another free beach with sand. Funny, when I first came to city I was deterred from going there by a police man who told me the sea was dirty. It turned out to be bullshit; my beard obviously poised an issue but it worked in my favour as I later discovered the rocks (Raouché). The night before leaving I did some busking, difficult as cars continually passed through the American University district called Hamara. I made a tidy packet and set off. It was a good decision, ignoring as I do all the general bullshit people speak concerning the mafia and the war. The road works made things awkward too, I was just happy to leave the city and begin the upward climb to get over a large mountain range. I was on my way to Baalbek, a sight to behold I was told. Finding a ledge next to the main road, my fitness failed me and induced my decision to sleep it out.  The following morning I continued ploughing through the road checks. A bakery gave me some free kaac, sesame bread, accompanied by a bundle of seasoning which I mixed with our own Greek oil. The hills were pleasant now, my fitness improving from the rest in Beirut. I entered Baalbek and immediately sought internet access. It had been a long day and yet I continued to play my music for anybody that requested it. But the incessant questions continued, and I suppose this is the life for an unusual traveller. These people listen to the news too much and I was getting peeved at the unintentional rudeness of Muslims. Somewhere in Beirut I had lost my back light, so I had to adapt my headlamp. It worked, but when some boisterous youths thought to get too cocky with me I laid into them. The little prick who thought to help me lift my bicycle up some steps was in fact stealing my adapted backlight. I caught them red-handed and the young 10-11 year old who was passed it got scared. Maybe he still feared Allah. News spreads quickly here, they text or phone each other when things looksuspicious. I managed to leave the festival scene behind (which is all over the region probably in order to try and improve the tourist industry here) and find an awning to sleep under; it was enclosed on three and a half sides. The following day I was convinced to stay another night since there was a concert happening in the Roman ruins. I had played all day to anybody that asked, increasing my popularity ten-fold. That morning I went to the Roman temples welcoming as it was since they were full of tourists who didn’t ask ‘stupid’ questions. If I thought Ephesus was great this was just absolutely stupendous. My first stop was Venus (This is disputable since there are no inscriptions to her), followed soon by Jupiter and Bacchus. Hang on, haven’t I been here before?


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Destination God

 

I am free to ride, I am free to fly

To fly away upon this day

To ride the light with courageous might

And reach the exalted heavenly way

 

No religion anchors me

No politics burden my view

The whole earth is my nesting ground

 

God leads the trail

God makes me not fail

This is the road of the prophets

 

Every nation embraces me

Every culture embalms me

I will be remembered for liberation

 

The rocks stare up to fallen idols

The rains pour scorn upon your sunken cities

But I traverse the higher road

Where the starry sky meets my nomadic soul

 

The sun glints off my mercurial heels

Venus passes me with a loving kiss

Her virginity is no match for heroic plights

Mars canters only a short while into the mists

 

But though I must ascend the empirical realms of Jupiter

Saturn still grounds me in wild earthly delights

Though Uranus will give me an heir

On Neptune I raise the chosen from their watery graves

 

For ultimately I follow the sun into its Plutonic demiurge

For ultimately I follow the sun into its Plutonic demiurge

I had come full circle, actually reaching my created reality. Is this the end of the road for me? What is so special about this region then, that I can define my actuality some five months before when I first wrote the song? And where are Mars and Mercury? Mars was only a stone throw away in Syria, but the ruins of Mercury lay on top of another mountain nearby, only the steps to the temple remain. I decided to take in the history a little in the refreshingly cool museum. Of course, I got a reduction for playing to the guards at the gate.

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The temple to Jupiter was the largest of its kind, Bacchus was only slightly smaller. They are gigantic; the columns were the marvel of Europeans throughout the modern era extending from the 18th centuries onwards. Even today the fact that they have survived earthquakes and wars is a wonder. You just can’t imagine how they lifted these things; one cut stone in the nearby quarry and destined for the podium was 20 metres by 4.5 metres big, that is one thousand tonnes. Even the smallest stones weighed five tonnes. Since transporting them would cause damage they were finished in situ by a multitude of stone carvers. No temple was ever finished; the whole Roman Empire was in a continuous state of construction, as pedestals and capstones took on the imagery of pagan gods and goddesses. The Bacchus temple in particular showed engravings of leaf and flower, along with satyrs and mythological beasts dancing and playing to their god. Some stone was drilled to let in light through holes 1-5mm in diameter, to create special effects within. One must remember that these structures were roofed. As usual Romans built on already-established ancient sites and only recent works have uncovered Bronze Age foundations. It was thought that the Canaanite god Baal was worshipped here. This area was called the Beqaa and strictly speaking defines the beginning of the Fertile Crescent. I was now in the ancient Israelite Kingdom of David located amongst an abundance of fresh water springs fed from the configuration of two mountain ranges, the Lebanon and Antilebanon mountains; water ran in both directions. The soil was particularly rich and not hard to imagine why the Israelites favoured the region. The immediate fertility of the area gave it an oasis aspect and provided for intensive fruit tree and cereal production.

And we know from Jewish sources that there were definite influences coming in from Canaanite religion into their literature so one could imagine in the ancient past how these early tribes lived together. In particular the Ituraeans, one of Ishmael’s tribes, from the border area of Jordan and Saudi Arabia had settled the area as early as the 3rd century BC and made it their sacred city; the Romans and Greeks called it the City of the Sun.

I ask the pertinent question as to why did the knowledge and skill of building gigantic structures disappear with the Romans? The Byzantiums only mimicked and repaired such structures. I think I know now. The Romans were a collective consciousness. Their network of communication was a collective body of knowledge and as such individuals inherited something of a collective mind. When one considers that these structures took hundreds of years to make it indicates that manpower was never the issue. The same could be said about the Egyptians and Greeks. The Romans had allowed indigenous motifs to permeate their buildings and catered towards the skill of the local population. Saying that, it was obvious that particular motifs from Rome were exported too. That evening I was in a state of transcendence; the security guard had offered me free entry into the concert which was part of the International Festival. It was staged in the Bacchus temple itself as a backdrop to the very popular Saber Rebai and I would dance the night away. The continual pressing of Muslims upon me, the friendly old man Abdul and his son Karli looked after me and dropped me 10,000 LL for playing. With free food I did my own part to adding to the festival, playing to the local population of soldiers, parents, children, teenagers and tourists; I had become really popular. Since some of these tickets cost up to $250 it is custom to let in everybody else for free after the music starts, and I was there at the perfect moment. For once I was looking smart; Abdul had allowed me to change at his place and I put my bicycle inside for safe keeping. Some loose teenagers enticed me into their den but I needed to sleep and so quickly left and found the awning of the previous night again. I felt great the following morning, having a natural emission as I do when the collective force of peoples’ minds raise my own consciousness levels. One should imagine it like a marriage ceremony; the bride and bridegroom are “charged up” for consummation and as such they are joined in Godhood. That day I met one generous person after the next. The old lady allowed me to taste my first black mulberry from her tree, accompanied with apricots, coffee, and biscuit. They continued to answer all the same questions. At a petrol station I took a shower with a power-hose, and then Ali next door asked me to come by and he fed me. His beautiful store sold cakes and sweets of many varieties, and I was particularly taken aback by the traditional Lebanese breakfast called kenafa. It consisted of baked bread crumbs and cheese with essence of flower added and made into a tart. They use it as a filling in bread rolls with syrup. On his walls were beautiful mosaics by Syrians made of stone depicting Damascus, and considering the poverty of the region his shop looked like a palace. Before I got to the border I would have a couple of more joyful encounters, not least in Zahle where an internet cafe beckoned me in. The leader of the scout movement befriended me and asked if he could help me. Well actually, he bought me steak and chips, introduced me to the movement and explained something of their work and desire to go abroad. This might be a potential link into the future since boy scouts were, until now, the happiest time in my life and I always thought to go back to them. I was now fully fed and whilst I got good advice from the owner I soon drifted towards the Syrian border. The police there were fine and I eagerly looked forward to crossing. It was now about 10pm since they had needed a few hours to sort out the situation. As I left I thought I was going to Damascus. Who would deny a holy man on pilgrimage?

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I crossed the border and thought, ‘I wonder who were those people in the hills?’ Were they militia, government or rebel forces ready to pop at me? I then unexpectedly encountered another checkpoint in the middle of the night. Apparently I needed a visa, and so the guard directed me to customs and internal security. It was then I realised that I had lost the lock to my bike. Not only that, I had to apply for a visa from Beirut; the magic had just gone from my journey and I would be sleeping inside their customs house for the night wondering if they would issue me a pass anyway. It appeared that the main reason they offered me hospitality was so that I could play music to their personnel. Accepting a bench to sleep on I thought I was making the best decision. The security was all very nice about it and I went along with the idea in the vain hope they would eventually give me a transit visa to Jordan. I refused to continue playing after a couple of songs and chose to sleep instead. I was being recorded again on the video function of mobile phones which is a phenomenon that hadn’t ceased since Turkey. In my estimation there must be at least forty recordings of me out there, mostly from the same songs. The quality is never that good but it seems to be a folly with modern Muslims. I carried along the spirit of the act because I understood there to be a communication network. It was, in fact, a brilliant way of being accepted; I was expected further along to stop and play in every bar along the way even though it was becoming increasingly manipulative. In the morning I rose early as usual and got out the laptop. This seemed to vex members of the staff and I was promptly told to go back to Lebanon. I remember seeing a poster that showed the BBC and the Western governments dressed as imps taking a large portion of a cake. During the day the journey back was quick; it was all downhill and took a mere 15 minutes. The people I had heard in the dark the previous night were the soldiers stationed at various checkpoints. I distinctly remember hearing the sound of a gun cock during the previous evening. The condition of the road was good in some places and poor in others. When I tried to re-enter Lebanon there were even more complications. At first I seemed to drift through the checkpoint but decided anyhow to go back into the office. My passport was immediately taken and I was interviewed. “Why did you not return back straight away?” “You should have come back straight away.” I tried to explain to them that the Syrians were currying favour with me to play my music, and anyhow, what would you do in the middle of the night when people were watching you from the hills about? Not only that, it was pretty dark and I feared the worse for my bike going down a pothole. The complication was this: my Lebanese visa was cancelled on exiting the country (I had entered Syria proper) and now I had to wait for all the bureaucracy of a changed guard and renewed suspicion for my overnight stay. They kept me there hour after hour. I was promised that it wouldn’t be long, but the hours mounted up. Do I play my songs? I hated the feeling that I was being coerced. Most of the soldiers and police were really friendly. The money exchangers who incessantly carried a wad of notes kept on peering over at me, and generally most people stared frequently. I was generating quite a fuss. In retrospect, playing my music to Syrians going backwards and forwards to Damascus is more likely to help me along my way when eventually I would make that journey too. As I say these Muslims network fast. Once I had exhausted the laptop the cafeteria welcomed me and I slumped a little as time caught up with me. The boisterous waiter was too cocky for my liking. He started intimidating me, and when I am hanging around waiting for a decision from head office he was the last thing I required. I nearly whacked him a couple of times when he twiddled with my guitar whilst I was playing, pulling at my beard or generally swinging the instrument around. They called him ’donkey’ and so I followed suit and labelled him ‘burro’. I took myself away and sat with the guards, always a friendly voice. The same questions though, and really, just a quiet spot somewhere would benefit me. When I would play I always generated favouritism. Many people came from both sides to listen but I restricted my playing. I was getting the sense that I was being manipulated and that I was the hired entertainment for the night.

Like any army in the world if you have an ounce of wit you move up the ranks. The dullards, morons, and lost souls all stay in the bottom, making sport of anything around them. One particular gent really tried to listen to my point of view, especially when it came to entry into Syria; I am watching hordes of people going to and fro, all to Damascus which was less than 50km away. You wonder about the sensationalism in the news, even within the army ranks themselves who are ever alert to the threat of danger spreading over. But to be honest, I don’t think one government knows what the other is doing. There are a wide variety of reports going around and one particular subject concerning the captured Slovenians seemed to be central to a binge of mockery. Another guard said I was a rare kind of person, that they just don’t see my type going through, but there has been cyclists once in a while. To go alone though seems to be a unique experience. For this reasoning I felt that I was being kept like an animal in a zoo; occasionally somebody would buy me a coffee or something to eat. The cafeteria owner thought to make me a meat wrap. After forcing me to accept it, in the hope that I would play my music, the young waiter started winding me up again. He fiddled with my guitar, my bike, and I thought, all he needed was once good thumping, but that would certainly complicate matters. I was stuck in this piece of no-man’s land wondering where my bicycle lock was and how long this would go on for. Conversations always centred upon why I was making this journey. As night drew on it was apparent that I would have to bed down. I took an anarchistic stance and dictated where I would sleep showing a bit of due antagonism, amongst the pine trees behind checkpoint. There was a sense that what the army were up to was breaking international regulation. Maybe they were waiting for information from intelligence for there was a distinct possibility I could be a spy. So far I had refused to ring the embassy; I had left Britain because I don’t consider myself British and will not curry to their aid. And since this seemed to generate more suspicion they played on the fact that I didn’t have a mobile phone to check on possible human rights issues. For instance, they didn’t give me a bed to stay in or feed me regularly. The one meal I had the waiter attempted to charge me for 6 hours later when it turned out that handing him a 20,000LL note for ice-cream was far too much money for a traveller to be carrying and to be accepting free food; he refused to give me all my change back. I nearly flipped, instead walked into the kitchen and gave the little prick a stare that would have matched the hob plates on the grill; I hate God-damned thieves. So the owner and waiter suddenly changed their stance and claimed that it wasn’t free food even though I had refused it initially. When it sufficed that progress had been made the following morning I was in a better mood and decided to play music to anybody and everybody. I tried explaining this to one of the personnel, that despite all the time in the world I do not play my music if there hasn’t been any progress in my development.

After 36 hours then, I eventually got out of there. The British embassy rang me and asked me to call Beirut in order to explain the political situation (I understood this to be mere patronisation). Security did not want me going south towards Israel, not even to take in the tourist sites. Why? Why did they also cancel my visa when they knew I didn’t have another visa to enter Syria (which requires going to Beirut and their embassy)? Were they happy just to get shot of me? It wasn’t long before internal security was stopping me along the way. This is what it is like in Lebanon and why they have no tourists. I was being pulled up at least three times a day. Eventually at one checkpoint, and there are many, they took my bicycle, guitar and kit and drove me to HQ in Hasbaya. There I had a friendly face to face chat with the Major. They tried explaining to me that Lebanon was in a state of war with Israel. It was only in 2006 that Israel had occupied this region. Between 1975 and 1992 there was a civil war here; the militarisation of the country was firmly instituted, and now a cancerous fear was widespread among the populace. My beard continued to generate suspicion, looking like Osama bin Laden; the Hizballah dominate this region and can be aggressive to anybody looking like a Jew. Unmarked cars are everywhere and the people in general exercised their power to stop and ask for my ID. After the fiasco of getting my Lebanese visa renewed and passport returned I wasn’t going to play game and so refused cooperation with anybody but police an army. To put it bluntly the country is fucked. Unless you are in the army no-one feels secure. Unless you are trained to defend yourself many civilians pine to travel abroad, but of course there are heavy restrictions not unlike Turkey. Apparently there are 6 million people here (others say 3 million) but the majority of Lebanese live in Brazil (15 million). It is hell for tourists; you just don’t see them because everyone is a potential spy, and for this area in particular (Marjeyoun) one needs to go to HQ in Sidon and apply for a special military permit. The kind major took me under his care and got me dropped off in the town of Marjeyoum where I would meet a lovely guy called Anthony who confirmed the story that Israel had planted spies in the area prior to their invasion of it. To visit it’s lovely architecture in Hasbaya I could only glimpse at the eleven hundred year old castle at night-time. In Marjeyoum they found me a place to hang my hammock. So I said a fond farewell to the major, playing my guitar for them as usual, and getting our pictures taken. It was then that I had the portentous encounter of meeting Anthony. As I sat down outside the supermarket eating a bowl of cornflakes he came over and joined me with his brother. We jammed like brothers and had a really special encounter. He eventually offered me their basketball court to hang my hammock in instead of the old hospitable, since it sufficed that he had told every passerby where I would be sleeping that night. Of course, the security stopped on a number of occasions and I was treated to home-made lasagne and water melon. Here was a big man who had talent, and I like that quality in people. Here was a man who did not judge me for the way I looked. We arranged to meet the following morning at a cafeteria where I could do my internet stuff and have another jam.

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I took off that morning quite early and decided to have a look around. The street I stayed on had just installed lampposts for the first time ever, and this seemed to be a distinctive benchmark in the development of the town. Other than that the place was small and offered very little architecturally, so I rambled around. I looked at some of the surrounding villages, Al Khiam where the Jews imprisoned the Lebanese during the war the 30-day war in 2006. I met up with a magazine editor who interviewed me over tea, took my picture, and sent me in the direction of the border with Israel (Palestine). We talked about Zionism and the philosophy of the German Theodor Herzl who’s book  Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State) was published in 1895. Of course, this was not religious Zionism, only political, since it is against Jewish Testament law to cut down fruit trees. But that is the reality in Palestine as farmers lose their land to the Israelite occupation. There was an interesting point made about Israel, originally denoting an ancestor and his tribes and then forming the religious basis for their claim of the Fertile Crescent. I mentioned before that this special area of significance fed by a multitude of springs had deep Canaanite affiliations; the potential for farming is superb. The Romans built the largest Temple of their kind in it. The modern area of Lebanon forms part of the united kingdom of David, and in fact, if Israel had taken it during the recent war the mountain range to their west would offer a formidable defence against military reprisals. The industriousness of the Jews coming back from the Diaspora, scattered as they were across Europe, always seems to be the principle motive for making use of God’s Providence. I could make a fair statement here and assert that Muslim economics does not necessarily take advantage of a good thing; there is always a sense of biding one’s time. They just don’t have the same mental constitution as Europeans. Even Anthony told me that they are fed by twenty three rivers in this region alone and yet most of the water is wholly wasted. As the military vehicles pump out pollution from the oil-guzzling tanks the potential for hydro-electrics is practically ignored. I think it will only be a matter of time when Israel will declare war on all neighbouring states up to Mount Hebron at least, which I could see in the distance. So in a way this is a ’Western’ problem. The American influence through universities and commerce is a victory against Islam; they have a potential corrupting influence upon Muslims and a relationship that will allow quick reprisals against any acts of war. I was told that the Hizballah are here deliberately to destroy the fabric of Muslim solidarity, and it seems to be working. But Lebanon is also a Christian country, and this we must not forget. The question is: who is the real enemy here? In Jerusalem and Bethlehem there are no more Christian communities left I have been informed. Can anyone envisage peace here? Consider that the Jewish (Israelite) claim to the country goes back thousands of years since this is where they originated from. If I ever get to Jerusalem I would like to hear their views too.

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As I passed along the border I could see the Jewish flag on the other side of the fence. As I say, it is a closed barrier, a state of war still exists between these two nations. I was in Palestine of old, the Roman demarcation in fact, where the word originated from, Pliny I think. The UN peace keepers patrol these areas in their white armoured vehicles, and I passed by the Spanish battalion who invested in the development of the road. I thought to ask them permission to go through into political Palestine but gave up the idea. I had already gone beyond the boundaries recommended by the Major. It was a good fitness work out though, as I got the rust out of my bones and headed to the cafeteria. There Anthony would meet up with me. We jammed and I took the opportunity to give him some instruction. As we drank coffee the sympathetic bar owner plugged us in and listened to a guitar lesson, but there were some good parts to it. When the bill came I exploded. At 5,000LL ($3-4) for a small cup of coffee in the middle of nowhere really blew my top. And to think that Anthony invited me to this place it would have only been right that he should foot the bill. That amount of money can sustain me for a whole day. I tried to explain this to Anthony, that it was ignorant bringing me here since travellers are not expected to pay ridiculous amounts. And so I was hard on the guy and what I saw in him was a compassionate response that at times puts me to shame. He admitted to the mistake and felt ashamed himself, that he should not have invited me here. And for those who read my blog regularly then you would know that coffee is a sensitive issue. I made the same stupid mistake of not asking for the price before I ordered it. Anthony himself paid the same amount for an even smaller cup, and it turns out that he had no more money anyway. The rule is this: if you invite someone to coffee you at least take the bill, especially if you are getting a free music lesson out of it. I was angry and wanted no more to do with him. Maybe being this close to the border was hemming my emotions in. And you know, I am too senseless sometimes to accept apologies but then he said the right thing, he invited me to lunch. This was the practical solution because it is a win-win situation. It helps my finances and binds our relationship even closer. He took me in to his house and overfed me, gave me enough food to eat later on. For an 18 year-old he was distinctly evolved, but then I already knew this because he played me the first song he ever wrote the night before and it was impressive. And actually, I think the guy is special. We jogged/cycled to the end of the road and I tempted him with a gift, but he did not need it. I thought about the olive oil from Cyprus but it is not the same as that from Catalonia. And if he ever comes to Spain I will look after him there.

So I hit the mountain on the way to ancient Tyre and Sidon. I destroyed it in one go and then I met up with civilisation again. Something was up. I was beginning to generate ill sentiments in the Muslims. This is my karma. What made it worse were the cyclists and car drivers pulling up alongside me. In these backwoods I wasn’t going to stop and have a cup of tea, not when you consider that some of these guys had just finished fighting a war. The pattern was obvious now, I was being stared at continuously and police vehicles were watching me all the way, especially since I was coming from the direction of the border. Civilians claiming to be police were asking for my passport or ID. After the experience with the Syrian checkpoint there was no way I was going to let go of it to these rude people. I was increasingly despising them, I hated their fear, their suspicion, just because I had a beard. The incessant questions: where do you come from, from where you cycle now? Etc. etc. I knew that if I had any bad sentiments it would come back upon me, so I tried my best. As I was leaving the security zone at Nabatieh a van pulled in front of me. He tried to tell me he was the police by showing me his health card. It was enough to draw the attention of the military and for the next three hours I was held by them waiting for nothing in particular. At one stage an armoured truck pulled up and seven soldiers surrounded me, intimidating. I looked at all of them in the eye. You know they are cocky when they reel out loads of sentences to you and you can’t understand a word they are saying. They were picking for a fight, the suspicion ever more since I was coming from the direction of the Israel border. My passivity sucked up everything they offered including their karma. The remaining guards let me go apologetically after I told them to ring the Major, and now it was dark. I needed to make time and from here onwards it was all downhill. The road was in a bad state; all the signs had told me to take the day off. I had broken a spoke near the border for the first time in months and now I had just hit a pothole and broke another. I continued along, not too fast. Then it happened. I hit the brakes but couldn’t stop the now-balding back tyre from skidding. The bike came out from underneath me and I tumbled. Quickly gathering myself I looked at my faithful companion, the first time it had fallen on this journey. The front wheel forks had bent inwards and I thought ‘end of story’; the tyre had jammed into the frame. So this is where it ends. Somehow I would have to get back to Tripoli, Beirut at least, and look forward to an early exit ordained by God. Three men came from the hostel opposite. Helping me up they said I could stay there, amongst the trees with my hammock. They were Muslims and invited me to eat amongst their group, and we played music and chatted; they were sitting on table no.8. It turned out to be the son of the President for this region, and this was his restaurant. He was a racing car driver and his mate bent the forks back into the right position. All of a sudden it was ‘game on’ again. There was hardly a scratch on me and the following morning I would fix the bike right up so that it was even better than before. Hassan also worked for internal security in the government. It is funny how God works.

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In the name of God

I have always tried to make this blog both impersonal and personal where it counts. It is a tension I create in my writing, as in the tension between what is good and what is evil, what is sacred and what is profane. I am good at it, the test of which is after you have read my stuff does it leave you argumentative? Does it make you question yourself? Do you change your mind quickly when reading it? It is very difficult to judge a traveller, he or she defines an experience that is totally out of your hands. It is a subjective account constrained by the context of changeable environments and cultures, overriding political and economic conditions, the general demeanour of the individual including their health, the goals that individual may be trying to attain, the influence of particular individuals they may meet, the means of transport etc. But when you really think about it this scenario can be extended to anybody anywhere. What makes one open to judgement is how one is judging in the first place. Whilst on this road it has reaffirmed to me some amazing things about the human spirit. Remember I said in a past blog that we create our own reality. Well, this is extended to the terrain also – where we find ourselves and how abundant or scant nature can be. I have discovered that I know the terrain before I enter it. On a few occasions mentioned previously I have shown you how angry I get when I take the wrong road or direction and my emotional integrity becomes affected, like for instance going up that huge climb in Montenegro leading to a national park when I started kicking my gear changer, and more recently the massive hill approaching Aphrodisias that made me question the logic of the road plan. On another occasion there was the incident with the bike rack breaking in Slovenia and it turned out to be the wrong road, causing me to go down the right road and instantly finding a replacement for it. These are the phenomena of meaningful coincidences. Other times I often doze off before I make decisions and on awakening I have decided on a course of action that leads me to success, what I call genetic fulfilment. This could be meeting a friendly person or finding a good place to sleep. But these decisions are also extended to financial gain, as in earning much needed wonga, and territorial gain, for instance getting beyond political borders and domestic ones also. How often have any of you read a book and then lived out its reality in part or wholly? I do this all the time. I have realised that in my reality if I need something I get it, and my body will change the level of consciousness it operates within, for instance, obtaining spare parts for my bicycle or refreshments on a journey, a book or article that furthers my intellectual needs. So sometimes I will have abundant levels of physical energy in order to make a physical target. Other times I can be highly intellectual in order to express an abstract solution to a particular issue. My writing is unique in this respect; I will write something as if my mind knows the political landscape, and knows also who is reading this stuff. So I effectively create an influence in order to continue my success however much my unconscious faculties in the body have assessed this to be. I can say something that only shows its full value and relevance at some stage in the future. The whole experience is prophetic – it prepares me for the forthcoming terrain and climate. And I will be explicit here, I do not curry favour with anybody, not family or friends, the military, the police, public officials, attendants, waiters or shopkeepers, nobody. But I do have friends and you should be clear of the difference here. It is rather the other way round, people want me to give them something, which extends to emotional gratification too. So remember when I said that the fear that drives some people to incessantly ask me questions about my nature, well that is a form of security. For the length of this whole journey I have expressed no fear although on the odd occasion I got scared. I carry with me such a spirit that the abstract and physical terrain extends to potential thieves and thugs. I beat them all, although the theft of my mobile phone was an act of psychological weakness on my part. (Quite amazingly I have discovered that making phone calls using Skype from the internet is about ten times cheaper. It was an untapped potential that the loss of my phone highlighted. I can call anywhere in the world, mobiles and landlines, for 1-5 pence a minute.) That is why when I go into the Middle East I will have no fears – I only need to meet people who will help me along in my journey and help me complete it. Whatever opinions people may have about me they soon change when they actually meet me. This spirit is the experience of God, the guiding One.

Larnaca was a lovely introduction into familial and ancestral routes. I saw the hospitality of my cousin give the best bed to a fellow pilgrim who would reach Jerusalem first. I had some catching up to do here before I moved on, so after Claudio had gone on his way I decided to visit the local museum and ancient site of Kition. Do you know, Peter told me, that Cyprus has more heritage sites than anywhere else in the world? Can one ever wonder why the Greeks are so proud of their country – it is still visibly apparent in the landscape. For less than 2 euros I went into the heritage museum and saw the depth of culture extending back to the 7th and 8th millennium BC. They are continuing to excavate entire towns on this island. How apparent must some of this been to the builders of medieval churches throughout Byzantia. How much more apparent to the ancient Greek and Roman inhabitants who judged sacredness by the pre-existence of even older civilisations? The preservation of ancient structures is a way of projecting into the future a security of existence, a prevalence. It is interesting how I write this in parallel to my other book which is now halfway through the final chapter (I decided to extend it recently). I have just put it back down at the point where I reiterate our Judaeo-Christian heritage. What I am expressing here is a specific point, that this journey is the unconscious motive for completing the other book. One cannot isolate the physical from the abstract, only the experience of a lost soul goes down this cul-de-sac.

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Peter had told me that Cyprus is the last Christian country before Islamabad; it contains highly important sovereign military bases under British rule. The insecurity this division has caused almost guarantees that Britain will never be asked to remove these bases from the island. Peter continued, the British methods have always been divide and conquer, cf., Ireland (Republic and Northern), Persia (Iran and Iraq), and India (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). In all cases though, they must have a responsibility towards their own citizens. The impact of a Christian presence is reflected in the multitude of Greek Orthodox churches everywhere one goes. An Iranian tourist told me that in Famagusta (Ancient Greek name: Ammochostos) there are three hundred churches many of which are in ruins. The Church of Lazarus in Larnaca is particularly worth seeing, being eleven hundred years old. If you visit remember to bring your swim wear located as it is next to the sea. Dress responsibly in entering the church and try not to look like a complete selfish foreigner taking pictures of every nook a nd cranny. The iconography was just magnificent, and of course, there is the tomb of Lazarus. The beach there is very shallow, thus is did not become a natural port; one wades out 200 metres getting to waist height. I found my time there limited though, the draw of Famagusta looked more appetising. The later influences of Cyprus are historically Venetian who exported much of Constantinople’s artefacts around their empire. In Cyprus they built the walls that surrounded Famagusta of the same architecture as those in Nicosia (Lefkosia). During my few weeks stay here I would take a few pictures of these grand building programs. Queen Catherina was the last queen before it fell into the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Cyprus had always been Christian until then, from long before the time of Richard the Lion heart who sailed with the first crusaders to take Jerusalem, but who saw his wife shipwrecked and taken captive on the island. He subsequently conquered it and it became a centre for the Knights Templar and other crusaders like the Order of the Cross and of St. John who retreated to it. Of course, this mixture of cultural influences makes for high tourism; the reliance on tourism in Cyprus has soared from 25% to 68% GDP since the 70’s, with a fall in agricultural output. Much of this is to do with EU directives, leaving land fallow for instance and paying farmers to do nothing with it. The people here want Europeanisation; the euro is international currency and equates to a new lifestyle. Peter had told me that cities have developed into monocultures. No-one wants to work hard anymore; people complain of immigrants from Eastern Europe who do the low-paid jobs earning as little as €3-400 per month. Traditional farming practice has subsided in favour of cash crops, for instance potatoes are grown four times a year now instead of twice. The ancient exported crops of Cyprus used to be pomegranate and carob; in more recent times carob is a constituent of formica and pomegranate produces a jet black dye. As I traversed the landscape on the way to my other cousin I looked for signs of this heritage. What I saw on the Greek side was equally pitiful to that of the Turkish; you just don’t see people working the land. I notice that on the small scale people grow wheat or barley to be used as fodder. It gets rolled up and fed to goats and sheep.

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The future remains in perennial crops like citrus, pomegranate and olive, but as I say, this is far outweighed by land left fallow. Even goat-herding is not as prevalent as it was on the mainland of Greece and Turkey. Peter tells me that the real story of Greece and its olive crop was an overnight sensation; many olive trees were planted in their thousands because Europe paid 1 euro per month for every olive tree on the land to maintain the oil industry there; farmers got greedy and some became millionaires. Likewise the recent elections affect the GDP in Cyprus, it means the socialist government will stay in Europe. The rise of the fascist party and re-election results now means that with a 9% representation they have doubled their seats in parliament (2). The government is still hung, and they must form a coalition. The re-election results highlight but one thing, that the country, like many others is at the mercy of European legislation. When will the people learn?

In meeting Harris at a quaint beach used by the British called Agia Thekia where they water the sand to get the grass to grow, he then took me to his land. It is there that I remember visiting over 12 years ago, the land of my fathers. Harris had not changed; I recalled his manner as soon as he started talking politics, history and religion. Another brilliant intellectual in the family (it obviously descends in the male line) there are times when I couldn’t listen to everything he said. I knew then that I was facing a nationalist and a very proud man, self-created like me, and like Peter, maintaining something of a genetic trait that either inhibits our desires to marry, or leaves the decision late in life. This characteristic is expressed in my younger sister too. The common denominator is that we are all relatively independent and have developed enterprises in our need to remain so. Of a related manner enterprise goes back to our grandfather, Iacavous, who bought and sold real estate; he made a lot of money but ensured that the 4 sons and 4 daughters all had an inheritance. This was the land then that my father Elias would inherit when he returned around the time of my birth and Jack’s death, sold the land for £5,000 and started a Fish and Chip restaurant in Clapham Common. To get to this land we passed through the British military zones and, situated right next to checkpoint, were the old derelict buildings they were all born in. I wondered about my father and what became of him. He was a favourite among the siblings. Peter told me something about him because Peter saw him a lot, looking after his money; my father was an addicted gambler. He would come and visit, knowing he had an addiction, and trying to haggle Peter out of a bit more of his own money. I think ultimately it caused a split with my mother as Peter sympathetically informs me; he squandered all their hard worked earnings on the horses. I now look like my father, my brother Nick did so when he was much younger. On the day of his death he went to the hospital to have a check up on his condition because of the way he was feeling, then to the Greek restaurant Peter and his father ran in north London, helped prepare some things in the kitchen with Peter, had a meal, went to put some bets on, saw his best friend and played cards in his favourite Greek club in the West End, took a walk in the street and died outside the Dominion Theatre of a stroke. They had prescribed to him milk of magnesia for indigestion but he died of furring up of the arteries and rather needed his blood thinning. Peter thought that this was a nice time to die, on a day when he saw the family and his best friend, and so always valued this behaviour; our family links can be very strong. In reality though, he died young. My cousin Christina’s parents lived to nearly a hundred. The two old aunts continue to live here, Panayiota is now 94 years old at least. After the death of Harris’ father 4 years ago his mother was approached by the buyers of the land in London since they still had contact with Elias’ old friend. And so Jack and Harris re-bought the land back for £40,000. As I sit here I can see the border not one hundred metres away and the land that used to belong to a cousin of my Grandfather, also called Jack (Iacavous). I have seen the house that my father and all my uncles and aunts were born in, now dilapidated, and next to a dysfunctional well and water pump. Three years on the land looks potentially rich, in a lovely part of the country but as I say, there is a large military presence here and many areas look like training grounds, lying desolate for one reason or another.

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Harris brought me here and immediately introduced me to his brother Jack (everyone takes the name of their grandparents). He had the plot opposite. After taking cold shower with the hose he showed me the grapefruit tree my father planted over 40 years ago. I then walked into the orchard and ate a couple of oranges still hanging on the trees. There seemed to be a lot of waste on the ground, but then the fruit rots and ensures the soil remains alkaline. During the next few days I took a bunch of pictures, the old well had now become a pigeon coot, the house everyone was born in barely remaining upright. The wheat had been cut and slowly Jack was putting land over to grapes. Harris was doing much the same only that he was not as experienced. For instance, fruit were too closely planted together and his watering method left large holes in the ground exposing surface roots. He has some irrigation tubing but parts need replacing and he hasn’t extended it far enough. Hence he has to come here every day or two to water from a generator that operates a well pump. This is the one big plus; Harris hired the equipment for €600 and dug his own well. The water is cool and clean and there seems to be lots of it; during the winter a stream runs down from the hills also. Unfortunately batteries need recharging, parts need replacing, and he never has that much fuel inside it. I was offered the shack built next to a container, and accepted it. Regarding his Mother’s place who he is avoiding, another trait that runs in the family although I reconciled my own differences, I had to introduce myself to her and thought it better that I should just admire the single lady for being a superb survivor. For instance, the wealth of experience in her methods is a lost opportunity for Harris. She milks the sheep to make feta cheese (boiled in milk to make haloumi), her vegetable plot is a lesson in minimal maintenance. I watched here once where she just plunks the hose down and the water follows irrigation channels. The vegetables grow in the heaped earth along the channels and draws water in from the side without root disturbance. When one channel is adequately watered she just blocks it with earth taken from another channel outlet, and so the process goes on.

I could hear the sheep and chickens in the distance and, of course, the dogs. I thought I was in the perfect place to assess my journey’s goal, in the east and next to a port albeit on the Turkish side of Famagusta. But as the days went by, even having to introduce myself to my aunts in order to get a milky coffee or an occasional meal, situated as we were in the expensive side of Cyprus (Greek side), I knew I would not stay long here. I got involved as best I could, showing Harris some important gardening techniques like mulching, trying to explain that overwatering causes vulnerability in the plants that become dependent on it, and some general advice on pruning, the only way I could get Harris to take that advice is if I refused to lie down and be condescended to. Harris listens to everything you say, he has a good ear for that, but in my opinion he is a Sophist of old. I got an ear bashing and wondered how much of this nationalist speel I could put up with. The Greeks created this, introduced that, were the real war heroes in WW1, and during the Cyprus war just a few hundred killed thousands of Turks invading from the north into Nicosia. I mean, there is a lot of relevance to what he stays but if you contextualise knowledge within a nationalist context it becomes political. Harris had set out to beat me in a political argument, that is what it felt like, it was just like a competition. Unfortunately for him I began to lose my rag when he started talking about the Bible. Apparently only in ancient Greek will one truly understand the historical narrative of what happened. The Greek version of the NT has knowledge that the Catholic versions (Latin) deliberately misses out or obscures. The Greek language is so old that every word has a history in it; this I agree with. Even Latin originated from Arcadian, and is in fact older than Greek. He continued, the Greek language is based on mathematical formula so much so that its encryption into computer language (binary) facilitates perfectly for self-learning programs. Slowly modern systems are using this template to upgrade all modern hard and software but in the West they don’t like to admit to the centrality of the Greek mind. So what is a brilliant mind like his doing in an outpost here between occupied Turkish Cyprus and the Greek side? Is this his way of waiting for the big war to happen, in the meantime showing everyone that he is at the forefront of the Greek intellectual movement, one that will lead Christ into Victory against the Turks? To a nationalist the Turks are the enemy.  He told me that the Turkish would make an awful mistake if they attacked Greece or Cyprus. These nationalists want enosis – unification with Greece. This is the same Greece that has no money. If it wasn’t for the Turks many an ancient Christian structure would remain dilapidated and unsafe. But as always it is much more complicated than that. Nationalist sentiments have always run high. Before the war there had been at least a decade of negotiations between the British, Americans, Greeks and Turks. “The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable however, lasting only three years giving the Turkish element of the civil service an unreasonable amount of power and causing resentment in the Greek community. The Turkish Cypriots had also vetoed the amalgamation of Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot troops into the same units yet the republic was seen as a necessary compromise between the two reluctant communities”. In my opinion so long as the Greeks on the island can live in peace there are better ways forward than kicking out the Turks and unifying with Greece. I will come back to this argument, suffice to say, that all the time a nationalist cannot reconcile his differences with his own mother his word holds no substance. Unfortunately this Sophist, despite being a brilliant arguer, went down a cul-de-sac. When he told me that the only the Gospels in ancient Greek hold the true account of the life of Jesus who became God, but that Jesus who was Jew spoke in Aramaic, I concluded that I would rather hear the story from a Jew, and that it is ­I who holds the true spirit of the times before any books were written, some as late as 100 years after his death. If Harris would get his way Jesus was a Greek teacher who descended from the greatest philosopher of all, Hermes Trismegistus. Apparently this latter word means ‘thrice greatest’ and defines the complete cycle of an age. The coming of the ‘twice greatest’ god is yet to arrive but it is somehow linked in with the modern times. This longing, waiting sentiment is part of the religious make-up in which faith and hope form a constituent part of. You see it in all religions and I provide a good explanation for its source in my latest book.

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As I write I have just had the most awful night sleeping here. The dogs barking at his mother’s, the bugs biting all night, the over-heated shack that feels like an oven for which leaving the door open only welcomes in more midges and mosquitoes, the lack of refrigeration because of no electricity, everything spoils quickly, it is not wonder Harris does not live here. Oh, and of course those beetles that form a continuous din in the vibration of their wings, I think they call it a devil bug. I can’t ask the aunts to put me up, I wouldn’t have the freedom to move and besides, they are being looked after by helpers.  I appreciate also that Harris is doing his best, but maybe he was not the right person, maybe the family are too divided actually, and that going to another cousin would be like my experience 12 years ago. I told Harris that I had reached the perfection of life on this journey and that coming here put a stop to it. I continue to play to the Muslims who are generous, who buy me food, who talk in a soft manner, who ask the same stupid questions day after day, I even played to the frontier guards who made a collection of about 18TL. I have used the opportunity to get to know Famagusta and taken in its architecture. But of recent a couple of incidents have happened that have left a sour taste in my mouth. I decided to go north again, no problem with a British passport, and visit the area called Karpaz, to the end point of Cyprus by the name of Apostolos Andreas. Here there was an ancient monastery founded at the time of Christ. As usual the journey itself always takes precedence.

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I informed Harris that I would go away. So I did, and in fact left very late. At about 11pm I reached into the hill country of Karpaz. Before that most of the north eastern coast of Cyprus was under development, being sold off as real estate and made into holiday homes; there is huge money here. I couldn’t spot any churches or monasteries but if I got further up into the hills I would probably notice a few. This area is renowned for its wild donkeys (descended from the African ass 4,000BC and now indigenous to Cyprus). It is also famous for loggerhead turtles that breed only in the Cyprus sands; their season is just about to start. As usual I spied a place off the side of the road, lit up and having rather good trees to hang a hammock in. I discovered it to be the fire brigade who welcomed me in and gave me drinks and fresh fruit. I took a shower; I was absolutely dripping with sweat. Of course, I had to play guitar to them. The next thing I knew they prepared an outdoor bed and I slept like a log for the first time in ages. Even the bugs left me alone. They were a great bunch of guys, the Kurd especially was helpful. This area is also renowned for mixed cultures that include Greek, Kurds, Turkish, German and British. As far as I can see if you have money you buy up a sunny location near a beach and get old. That is about as mixed these cultures get, although I am being just a little cynical here where in reality I think this part of the island avoided the war. It is interesting though, as from a distance the firemen amuse themselves with porno films whilst they wait for an emergency call. They live here seven days on, seven off, and I have come to understand the Turkish people to be sex-crazed. The Kurd told me that when you grow up with no electricity you just keep having babies; what else is there to do at night? I should have told him the joke that Peter said my father Elias enjoyed the most. It goes like this: A young acolyte saw that the Pope was looking distressed and so enquired what the matter was. The Pope said ‘Ah, I keep thinking about women. I need a woman.’ So the young clergy said, ‘Papa, what type of woman?’, and the Pope replied, ‘One without any eyes.’ The acolyte enquired why, ‘So that she cannot see me. But she must not have any ears either.’ ‘Why?’ said the acolyte. ‘So that she cannot hear me. But she must be a mute also.’ Again, ‘Why?’ said the acolyte. ‘So that she cannot speak of such things.’ ‘Is there anything else?’ said the acolyte in exasperation to the Pope. ‘Yes, she must have big bazookas as well!’ One wonders how religious these people are. Is it okay to go to a church or a mosque when it suited one, during religious festivals, a tourist attitude in fact? It didn’t bother me, people know when they are religious; Harris was deeply religious. He regularly went to Church and had a piety and comprehension that far exceeds most people I meet. This is what I liked about him the most. Keep religion simple and when you pray to God ‘forget’ all your differences. I never pray, I never go to a church; the whole world is my church, my whole life is a prayer. Harris told me he would like to build a church on his land and actually, this is a good idea, he should follow this idea through because I don’t think he has agricultural clout to make that land work for him. I could get involved but my own beliefs would get in the way. It wouldn’t be called Orthodoxy (means something like ‘the right way to praise God’ and is similar to the understanding for ‘right of way’). But rather Petriarchy, derived from the root word ‘Petra’ and ‘Petros’, my name. So in a sense it is related to the idea of Patriarchy, following the descendants of prophets from time immemorial, the peoples of the world, but actually defines a social inheritance which can be male or female. The Rock has always been symbolic in my life as well as the number ‘8’. Maybe you would like to tell me what they mean?

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After breakfast in the morning I descended into the country, found a lovely spot called Agios Filon that had the remains of an old Roman Port and church, and took some advice to go along the coastal route to the end. I was planning to get back to Famagusta that evening for the 8 O’clock ferry to Mersin but that idea put a stop to it. The road turned into a track and frequently I ended up at dead-ends. Still, it was a hiker’s paradise and eventually I reached the pinnacle of the island. I wondered what all the fuss was about. No wonder the Turkish have no signs to help you along, no kilometres or names to keep one on track. It made the journey more difficult but deeply satisfying. Is it true one becomes holy visiting this place? Or am I just going as far east as I can before convincing myself that I have to get a boat to go any further in my quest? So I turned the corner, passed the ancient monastery which has been rebuilt and which I mused at for five minutes without going in, and then dragged myself back to Famagusta. It seemed longer than before, but along the way I saw Italy beat Germany in the European Cup, played music for a few beers, encountered more of that rude attitude that some Muslims have of asking one to stop playing even though the rest of the company wanted my music, and also coming into conflict with Muslims selling biscuits at 100% more than the RRP written on the packet. Apparently, I found out later, they have to pay port taxes of 40%, which is why they raise the price of the packet in Cyprus. They manufacture these products in Turkey, so in this particular case I was a little hard on the shop owner even though it was still a little expensive. I hate being judged a tourist; as such a tourist wouldn’t normally complain but I did and anyhow, they have much more money.

I got back the following morning, dozing on a bench somewhere during the night, carried on as if nothing happened. This day was the celebration of St. Peter and St. Paul in the Greek Orthodox calendar, my namesake. I thought to catch Harris at Church since this is my way of respecting local customs. I missed morning mass and as evening drew on he arrived in his car wagging his finger. I looked at him and waited. ‘Why did you not tell me where you were going?’ ‘Why did you not leave a message?’ ‘I had to call the police and report you missing?’ ‘What!!!?’ I exclaimed. I had only been away for two days and this man was policing me. So I exploded a little upon him. ‘What is your ulterior motive?’ I asked Harris. ‘Look, I am just taking care of you.’ ‘I have only been away for two days, not two weeks. What is your real motive?’ ‘All you had to do was tell me where you were going?’ ‘Why, and besides, I told you I was going away, I just lost your number. So what is your real reason? You should understand me. I am anti-authoritarian.’  He replied, ‘Yes, you are an anarchist. You are here illegally.’ ‘But I am a UK passport holder, am I not allowed to be in an EU country?’ ‘No, you did not come through the right channels, nobody knows you are here and I am responsible for you. You came from the north. It is an illegal state.’ ‘No Harris, you are not telling me your real motive. Is it because I am a threat to your standing, your position? I went from Spain to Slovenia without showing my passport. Just because I came from Turkey doesn’t mean I am illegal, it just means I am not legal.’ ‘Let me explain the situation Peter. The Turkish police let anybody through. We have a problem with immigrants here. The British don’t care, they don’t even check your passport. If something happens to you nobody will know.’ ‘But that is not true Harris. Everybody knows I am here. I came through far more dangerous countries than Cyprus, the Republic of Serbia, Albania for example. I have never had a problem so why are you policing me? Who are you working for?’ Of course he would never admit to it, but he does have a close acquaintance with the governor in town who’s child I played ‘Happy Birthday’ to. And there was a previous incident when I walked into the military supermarket to buy a few things. When I was told that I was not an army person I let rip. This supermarket was on the main road, but the road runs through the British camp. So I told them, after trying to reason with them, that this was discrimination. The barely noticeable sign does not say ‘military’, it just says ‘entitled’ persons, which means anybody they chose.  I explained that I had a British passport but no-go. So I turned around to all the British shoppers, told them to get the fuck out of my father’s country, that they fucked up Britain and now they were fucking up Cyprus, and that no wonder they couldn’t win anything. Ofcourse, England had just played the shittiest game of football I could bear to watch against Italy and lost. Then quietly I went across the road to the police station. I told the copper that this is theft of intellectual rights as well as land rights. He said there was a complaints procedure. No thanks, that is why I left Britain. If they would have me as a General, I would employ the Turkish and Greek armies to kick out the British, institute a free republic and unify the country. (It’s an old idea.) Cyprus would become independent and a communitarian program would be implemented that ensured mixed cultural populations; there are enough empty spaces to fill. The government could then train up a militia and both the Greek and Turkish armies can keep a small contingency there; the old British camps would be used. Signs would be both in Turkish and Greek and re-housing programs would include reclamation programs for living relatives. Old churches turned into mosques would be reverted back and a new mosque built to replace everyone dismantled. Cyprus would have its own currency and would stay out of Europe. Who would have me?

Me and Harris got back on the right footing soon afterward. We went to Avgorou and to the church there where they had a festival to St. Peter and St. Paul. It was wonderful actually, lighting a candle to our father and kissing the icons as they related to each other the biblical stories depicted in the art work spread from ceiling to wall. They included those of Barnabas in Cyprus, Peter crucified upside down in Rome (although the Latin Bible does not mention Peter’s fate), Paul avoiding death by stoning in Cyprus, and we both looked for Elias who was taken up to heaven in a chariot with wings. We ate well, lots of sweet things from visiting our cousin again Christina who fed us heartily. It is no wonder one gets fat here. That was the real plus about coming here, and also visiting the aunts. I hope I have their vigour at their age. Even trying to get my laptop charged up in their home was an ordeal. I just wanted to finish my book here but another awful night with dogs, mosquitoes, and too much heat made up my mind. I knew now that I was overstaying my welcome, I do far better managing my own life. I am going to have leave real soon now and I have a couple of options. I could fly, leave the bicycle behind and borrow one over there, or I could go back to Turkey and continue onwards. Let’s see what God has store for me.

Keep the home fires burning

I haven’t talked much about the Turkish countryside, let alone take many pictures of it. There are a number of reasons for it, namely that it has nothing new to offer on this journey. If I took away the signs I would swear I was in Catalonia. In a geological sense I had come full circle; the rocks, the mountains, the smell of olive oil, the climate are all identical. I don’t miss anything other than the peace of my little caravan at the back of the land in L’Amet’lla de Mar. As it goes, the further south I went the more diversity of fruit. There were now plenty of plums (ripened – the way we eat them in Europe and not green as they do here), apricots, peaches, some cherry still hanging on the trees, and a few loquats. I think I noticed the odd field of oranges. The big difference in farm crops extends to a greater diversity of vegetables and the lack of nuts and carob on the Turkish side. There is also a lot of pomegranate in flower which I didn’t notice in Catalonia. This viewpoint may be blinkered though, since I have generally avoided Catalonia during the hot months and subsequently not seen a full seasonal Mediterranean year through. Other similarities include the style of building (architecture follows a modernistic tendency) and the network of roads, although since leaving Spain and France the ‘roundabout cultures’ of artistic landscaping have not been replicated and really are icons of post-modernism. There are no Lidl supermarkets here but there are plenty of others (all probably owned by the same corporate families). And then if you step up everything in terms of production and people then you have a clearer picture of Turkey – lots of coach loads of foreigners going between all the different ancient cities, lots of cafeterias and small markets lining just about every kilometre of Turkey’s land selling fresh fruit from the neighbouring farms (bear in mind that there is no competition between them – they all have identical prices), and employment because it looks like everybody has a job. The Muslim women get picked up and dropped off on the farms with mattock in hand or readying for the first fruit harvests. As I write corn on the cob has now just come available. As a traveller I have only now made use of the free showers one notices on the side of the road where excess water pressure is released through a high standpipe. I also make use of the free cay everywhere I go, especially at service stations where it is an attractive prospect for customers. There is generally a wide supply of fresh drinking water and well-maintained toilets and areas for prayer (mescid). As for the quality of the roads they are fair to good. My performance on them varies visibly between the difference of rough tarmac and smooth. At high noon some roads begin to melt and they stick to my tyres; I had wondered why people seemingly spray down whole areas with such a gross waste of water. On this last point is the other big difference – there seems to be an abundance of water here. Turkey is also an attractive prospect for any foreigner to visit with both the euro and pound going strong against it. For a pasty that might cost 3TL one is talking little more than a pound. In Britain the equivalent would cost you £3. Bread is incredibly cheap as well, and is worth buying the good stuff for twice the amount – everyone sells it. They have a culture that is the envy of all their neighbours, especially Greece who have lost that balance between small economies and large ones. Not even the roadside vendors of halal butchers in Albania can match the Turks. I mean, this country is massive, and I wonder why it is so successful. Then I looked at its geological landscape and the extent of mountain ranges it has and wondered whether it has a psychological effect on its inhabitants; with the Bosporus and Black Sea to the north and Aegean to the West and south, the both of which have large ranges near the coast as well as the east, the prospect of invading this country and holding such a relatively small strip of land before any real threat can be made to the rest of it, including the mountains in the middle and its desert regions, all seem to be overstretching it to say the least. Yet obviously the Greeks and Romans took Anatolia, but as I say, they were sea-faring nations and huddled around the edges and trade routes. And for this reason I think the indigenous peoples always felt cosy and secure in this vast landscape important as it was to the movement of trade west-east and north-south since the nomadic tribes could relatively be left to continue life as normal. And the general diversity of climate suited more the eastern peoples who would later claim it all under Ottoman rule. Dr. Serdar Gokhan Senol of Ege University informed me that the quality of oil is far richer in the north where the olive is smaller, and as the olive in the south is larger so that the taste and quality diminishes. Something about the ruggedness and harshness of the landscape makes for good oil; it is not simply a matter of dryness and heat that makes for the quality that I think Catalonia exceeds in. I put it down to bitterness, which a herbalist may empathise with in respect to the stronger quality of wild plants over cultivated ones. In this vein I would come to see this phenomenon reflected in the people, as wealth and inter-cultural diversity have made for vigour and generalisation in the south, but exclusivity and specialisation is a factor of distinctness. The further south I went the less charitable and accommodating they were as the mixing of cultures was more prevalent. You may like to sympathise with me here, as I am simply playing with ideas. But in the south there are many European influences, especially along the coastline, and the native peoples change their attitude to foreigners there. I am no longer the animal in the zoo anymore. (As I write this the reality has inverted itself. It is simply a matter of meeting the right people and I am brilliant at doing that.) I am soon to get the boat to Cyprus and join up the Mediterranean west to east by bicycle. I will be tying the family knot it seems, but in a figurative way. As I say though, I create my own reality, and I stopped playing my guitar when I started spending my money. I cycled more kilometres when there was less influence to bind me down. I am saturated with culture and now I long to finish the journey.

There is a distinctness about Turkish people and maybe eastern people in general. To the westerner it may come through as a form of stupidity as one tries to negotiate the communication bridge using signs and symbols; they don’t get it. Trying to describe water or boat using semantics just doesn’t work. They are more likely to repeat after you every word you say and not know what it means. One would think that boat, water, clock would refer to sailing times but the Turk only guesses. It is like an incapacity in their brains to join up basic symbols. I think they lack empathy – they can’t read the other’s mind. Maybe this says something of their language and submissive qualities in general. (I earlier referred to harake as a way of helping to interpret the Qur’an because Arabic has no vowels. “Interpretation is different from translation, as it involves listening to or reading Arabic words and phrases or identifying Arabic thought patterns, then translating those words or thought patterns along with their context, meaning, and tone.” So in the case of Turkish I can only be referring to Eastern people’s in general, not necessarily Arabic speakers.) Since coming along the way and meeting many Muslims their friendliness is reflected in their general peaceful qualities; I never see Muslims argue. But I notice that they can appear to be very rude because they have a different way of understanding things. The typical example that comes up is with my guitar playing. They know I am a foreigner yet they persist with asking for Turkish music. I can’t play it, its sound is something that needs to be acquired. But because my own style of music is eclectic and varies in tempo, this for them is too changeable. It is best to slow your own music right down and shorten the whole song in the process in order to get their favour. If they don’t like it they say ‘stop’, yet it doesn’t mean they won’t listen to another song.

So I left Ephesus and at that time I made a decision that I had had enough of ancient culture; I had eaten the cream on the cake. It was night and the promise of playing my music faded with a cough I get about this time in the year. It is another genetic thing and has been keeping me up for several nights. I plunked into a quiet empty authentic cafeteria with some women working the dough next to a wood-burning oven. I drank a strong Turkish coffee and nobody seemed to mind that I was exhausted and allowed me to crash out on luxurious cushions. I didn’t sleep that well for my coughing and the following morning continued to use free electricity. I played a few songs, finished my blog, and went up to the Cave of Seven Sleepers. Apparently the tradition is about persecuted Christians before Rome was converted to Christianity under Emperor Decius, who hid in these caves but were then later discovered a two hundred years afterward. The Muslim version includes a dog who kept guard. It represents one of the trials of Muhammad by Medina’s Jewish elders in Mecca; by explaining this mystery to his followers, Muhammad would confirm his being a Prophet of God. If my prophetic sense is correct I guarantee you they didn’t sleep, not with a dog that probably barked all night. It seems that they were not the only ones profiteering from the Romans. When I eventually left I started thinking about changing my route. I had lost my map and sailing times scribbled on it and thought I would take the direct road south. I was torn between going to the west coast which is full of ancient sites especially of Greek temples, or heading further inland. In fact, I decided one final visit to the sea would get me on my way. It turned out that someone had drowned just as I arrived, and I watched a horde of  people trying to resurrect his body. I assume he died because the ambulance was in no hurry to leave. By the time it had turned up various resuscitation techniques had been performed, and I wonder if in reality they had hastened his death. I kept a distance because I would have just been another useless bystander, but in reality my presence may have prevented an incorrect procedure. I left in a sort of sombre mood hitting the hill country. As I say, there is more vigour about me in the hills but that beating sun required me to pull up once in a while. I did another massive climb and took a welcome break of free tea. After playing a couple of songs they asked me to stop. Continuing along on relatively mild and flat slopes darkness came upon me and I pulled into an orchard. In the morning I was welcomed by fresh plums, obviously the gleanings left over from the harvest. There always seems to be some sacrifice as I forgot to pick up my night lamp, impressive as it was on LED lights. I got on my way, bagged up a load of fruit for the journey and later in the afternoon eventuated into a petrol station. The owner got me another tea as I enquired about the sign that said Aphrodisias. He ended up showing me his olive press and so I took the opportunity to taste the oil. It had oxidised where it had been lying around. In the meanwhile I tucked into a few more plums which were cooking at this stage. The bag just turns to water; let that be a good bit of advice for the would-be traveller; it is better eating fresh along the way unless you have refrigeration.  The name Aphrodisias had a ring to it, and was en route to Antalya in the south. I was convinced and pushed to get there before it closed for the day. One hill after the next put the brakes on me, but what really peeved me was the road that went up a huge climb into a village. Not seeing the sign I continued straight through thinking this was the logical way forward, but it turned out that I should have taken a left turn back down the hill. It was illogical and I started cursing everything as I had continued to ascend the road from the village. So back down I went wondering why they couldn’t build another road bypassing the village. I sweated into Aphrodisias and gave myself half an hour to see the ruins. Having no Turkish Lira on me I knew I was here for another night. I was also conscious of the sailing times at Antalya and mused over the thought that I would be pushing it to make them. So I borrowed some free electricity and wireless internet, made friends with the guard dogs, and into the night decided to locate a site to hang my hammock. It was right next to the Jandarma (military police) office whose grounds I attempted to set up in. But they welcomed me and asked me to set up elsewhere, near to their main office. It was obvious they thought I was a Muslim, feeding me and giving me more tea. They asked me to play that night, helped me set up the hammock, and promptly woke me up in the morning. After breakfast of eggs and bread they had me playing in the courtyard. At one stage they were dancing traditionally, kicking their heels and shouting. I felt very honoured and just played along with them, laughing all round. So I went into the ancient city, met a Chinese man who went on a friendly chat with me as we circumnavigated the whole area. The only intact race course was impressive, as was the amphitheatre, but I have seen many now. The museum was a cool refreshing break from the heat and housed an impressive frieze, a collection of images belonging to the Sebasteion. The place was obviously important in its time, named after the Greek goddess and later subsumed into Christian worship as the main temple was dismantled in part and rebuilt into a basilica. The other impressive feature is the Roman baths but it is under reconstruction at the moment.

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I left and continued my hilly route. There was a mission about me to make that ferry at 4pm on Wednesday even though I tarried, playing to the girls at the gate for a free cup of tea. I would discover the largest mountain range yet which stood like a glorified skateboard ramp in front of me. The only way through was to go along and into its many passes. But I was electric, not the stickiness of the tarmac nor it roughness could deter me. At about 10pm I decided to stop to put on my reflector gear. I hadn’t eaten anything except those eggs the police gave me but I was about to evolve the whole chicken argument that possibly they did learn to fly. I sat down to tuck into dried fruits and corn, drank some ice tea, and then the owner of this roadside cantina came over in the dark and offered me tea, which I accepted. In German, as many speak the language here, he extended his hospitality to an outdoor shack lined with cushions and a bed. I refused, I thought I could continue at least another 40km with this vigour. But something changed in me and I turned back around and decided that an early start would favour me instead. Would you believe it, no-one was about and the neighbour’s dog was incessantly barking. Those who read my blog know this is a feature of the countryside, but Turkey has been pretty good at this stage; there aren’t so many stray dogs here. This followed my coughing fit so in fact I didn’t sleep at all and had made a really bad decision. Sometimes I just need to say no; I couldn’t stand the dog. How can the owner allow a pet to continuously bark for at least an hour or two? In retrospect I should have let it free, but I truly think that the attitude reflects a sought of submissive quality one finds in these Muslims. So I got out of there, found a petrol station and fell asleep in a chair with the hammock wrapped around me. The sympathetic security gave me coffee. I managed to get a good start at about 5am, found another roadside cafe and tucked into lovely soup and bread, which I haggled down in price. Along the way I played again for free tea but I was aware that I was spending more and more of my own money on food which was not freely forthcoming, and this was like fuel to me,  I needed to move on. Taking another one of those free showers I trundled along one particular stretch of road. Considering I was on mega-form I was particularly slow. Then the unimaginable happened, the front rack bracket snapped and the rack hinged forward and jammed the front wheel. My immediate impression was that I was incredibly lucky. If that had occurred at any of those hills previous it would have been end of journey and serious injury. My thoughts were lucid as a bell; the accident happened at the right moment. As it goes, I had a spare sliding bracket taken off the previous back rack when I had that one replaced in the Republic of Srepska and it was only a matter of minutes before I got the whole thing on the road again. I even found some rubber ties to reinforce the whole thing. That day I smashed a gigantic mountain followed by numerous hill climbs to make that ferry. I tried some lovely sweet bread called tanhinili ekmek along the way. As I dropped into Antalya (the ride down was incredible and I feared the bike would disintegrate in the speed) I managed to give myself 30 minutes to find the ferry. And lo and behold guess what? It didn’t exist! I laughed and thought, at least the city was on the way. If I go now Alanya is only 120km further along and I could catch the ferry leaving tomorrow. But it was more appropriate to chill out, find a cafeteria during the night listening to Turkish music, work on my blog and falling asleep on their couches. They didn’t mind that at all, and I had another natural emission, probably from the exertion. I was happy that my skin condition was clearing up; I would trundle into Alanya at my own pace the following day.

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I got there very late in the evening since I had abandoned my time constraints. The road was flat and easy and just before nightfall I found a beach undergoing reconstruction. In twenty years time the whole coast will be urbanised and look more like the south of France. They are rather ahead of the game here and especially along these parts where there is sand. It doesn’t quite have that tropical feel about it, yet at the same time it is not over-developed in the manner of say my perception of Marseille and Genoa, Thessalonika and Istanbul. All of these areas are noted in my experience for pollution of one sort or another, and are just over-populated. So I took a swim here and continued along my way. I pulled into a garage with a mentality that I would not play my music unless people fed me. It was an attitude developing, and just when I thought I had secured a kebab a couple of youths stopped me playing so that I could listen to Turkish music instead. I had enough; they hear Turkish music everyday of their lives, so I moved on. I found a beach a little outside the town and crashed out very quickly. In the morning I was obviously a spectacle with my beard. In fact I learnt that Muslims going on hajj keep the beard long for the journey. These Turkish Muslims are modern and go around clean shaven. But I find it very much a talking point amongst them and it helps me to introduce myself, especially since word of mouth travels quickly here. It wasn’t long before I was being fed by a man who told me he fears Allah. His business is good and he wants to marry his girlfriend. He does not drink anymore alcohol and he has given up on dating the tourists. Like many Muslim men here the attraction to all the young women exposing much of their bodies is a test of their faith. Like a lot of materialistic attitudes they eventually fade away with maturity and age. It is no wonder that fundamentalism seeks to keep out Western influence. The whole idea of religious experience is grounded in the control of sexual behaviour, and this may come as a surprise to many people. The loose practice of promiscuity effectively dulls the wits of the individual who genetically succumbs to lesser forms of gratification through sexual lust. Keeping back one’s seed for optimum moments signifies a desire to follow a higher will, i.e. God’s will, and population expansion is controlled through the deliberate action of procreation. The deeper significance of this is explained elsewhere but I suffice to say that sex with a partner without the desire to maintain legacy breaks the rhythm of tradition and genetically this eventually leads to the aberration of the spiritual union with our ancestors and the collective consciousness it would normally impart. As a generalisation over-sexual stimulation is a feature of over-population where individuals prioritise sensual gratification over the higher experience of the love of life. In other words, it is used as a form of release from the pressures of less meaningful lifestyles bogged down in monotonous quantifiable experiences. This man showed me that with age it is possible to return to our ancestral roots even in the midst of a materialistic lifestyle. But it is never that simple. He turned out to be a  kurd, and in Turkey there are forty million of them. I was told by a guy in Antalya that they have been responsible for attacking the military; forms of terrorist acts. Like so many ethnic groups everyone seeks to re-identify with the landscape at some stage or another. They look for the ancestral home near Iran and Iraq and the Gulf War only exacerbated their predicament. It is no wonder the Turks fear my look, both for my deeper religiosity and their ancestral roots.

I slept long again, still recuperating, but not before leaving the city for 10km and finding a beach where the first initiation is to get eaten alive by midges. I succumbed to sleeping in my sleeping bag in order to hide from the little buggers, and woke up a sweat ball. So a slow morning I had with numerous swims and showers. I spent the rest of the day busking and making a few lira. I got excited at the prospect of a new song or two in the pipeline and by now was quite recognisable to most of the local Muslims. The same incessant questions always came from them though, and I am happy to talk minimally. One man though informed me a little more of Islam. His name was Mustafa and told me that there were two types of Muslins here. Coming from a family of high honour he was well aware of the influence of all the money coming in from foreigners. We agreed that Turkish Islam was influenced by tourism and that most of these businesses base their integrity on how much money they can make. When you see them hawking after new customers all the time you realise that they do a better job at trade then many of their European counterparts. Come the winter then everything is quiet, so they have to make their money during the on-season. Mustafa’s father is what you call a God-friend, evlea, a religious leader in society. Many people visit these figures in society, and he told me that the reason he called me over was because he saw a light in my face that these holy men have. He honoured me by buying me beans and rice which I found hard to refuse, even though my earlier friend gave me a bag of mixed nuts to chew through and a lovely kebab the previous evening. I played my music most of the evening and just wished to be on that boat to Cyprus. If I stayed here for too long I might start taking too much of an interest in the tourists.

Alanya1Alanya2Alanya3Alanya4Berk_and_brotherBerkMustafa

I had espied a better place to sleep that night and thought to travel there instead, within the city’s satellite villages. I had a better night, the sand was cleaner and I woke to a few tourists. It was one of those beaches reserved for a number of hotels and it just so happens that it had its own booth with free juice. I took a slow morning waiting for my boat departure at 2.30pm with a vague doubt that it may be cancelled. Anyhow, it wasn’t and I gingerly got on the first boat of the season thinking that Turkey was one amazing  experience. I thought I would get to Cyprus (Girne) and onto to my cousin’s place very quickly but the journey took 4 hours. That is when I met Claudio, and Italian peregrine who was travelling from the north to Jerusalem. He understood all my Spanish, which was great, and I found out that he had been on the road for a month. He lived in and out of hostels and hotels and so travelled much lighter. We hung about together for a while, I showed him a few photos of the places I had visited especially since he came from that beautiful historical area in north Italy around Piacenza; it seems so long away now. Ah, I must be so close now. The Muslim told me about some parts of Cyprus, for instance in Famagusta St. Barnabas set up a thriving Christian group in which where St. Paul passed through in his travels, and also that place at the far point of Cyprus, Cape Apostolos Andreas, where apparently if you visit it one becomes holy. Cyprus isn’t that large but I would later discover that it has one long history. Consider, it is the first island west of the Middle East and cuts out the journey overland through the Caucasus Mountains. That was an option for me and feeling well fed and rested it didn’t seem inconceivable to me that I could make it. I learnt that there may have been a boat to Lebanon from Mersin about 350 kilometres further along the coast. It bored me though to want to see kilometres and kilometres of beach. There were some historical sites admittedly but Cyprus was much more attractive, and besides, I have family all over the south. This should be my first reconciliation and what happens here will be a foundation for my future actions. The last time I met up with the family I didn’t feel that welcomed; one cousin took me in and after a few days felt insulted that I found his daughter attractive and asked for an arranged marriage. I was in my late twenty’s then and it is obvious that, in retrospect, I was beginning my religious vocation. A lot happened after that but I never lost my religiosity. I soon forgot about the experience of being rejected and I don’t think many of my Greek cousins really cared. There were too many family issues that had to be resolved, especially since much of it concerned inheritance and lost land. Maybe my mother’s family weren’t considered that respectful when our father died back in the mid-80’s. I recall that time myself and feeling rather apathetic about the whole event. I was already on the road to austerity then and for this reason I can appear quite emotionless sometimes. This journey then should take into consideration that the first healing starts in the blood before even I can consider being a part of an international political situation in Palestine. So at the port myself and Claudio got a map, went around the town a little and realised how much less value the Turkish Lira had here, discovering the place full of black people and looking rather seedy at it, and deciding that with the remainder of light left to head for the capital Nicosia, not 25km down the road. The direction looked barred by a massive mountain range, pretty much the same pattern as in south Turkey. Claudio decided to stay a night in Girne and would later tell me that it cost him less than eight euro equivalent (20TL). As I cycled along I came across a roadside parking area. The road was continuously climbing at this stage and with all the rest I had had I began to sweat buckets. I decided to lay down for a couple of hours whilst pondering the dilapidated seating areas and general rubbish everywhere. On awakening the traffic had lessened and I continued along my way. I arrived into town at about 12am, met a Muslim who ran a cafeteria and who sorted me out a wireless password for the hotel opposite. After a while he left the area and I continued to surf the internet. On returning he gave me some chocolate biscuits and a cold drink, and admired some of my ‘friends’ on Facebook, especially the good-looking women. He seemed to be in a good mood and invited me to stay in his flat above. So whilst I got a decent night’s sleep I let myself out the following morning. A lovely milky coffee, the way I like it, got me going and I was just about to discover Nicosia (Lefkosa) from both sides, the Turkish and the Greek.

Claudio_and_myselfThe_ferry_view1The_ferry_view2

Big shops, expensive supermarkets, lots of English speakers, there didn’t seem to be anything special here. The Turkish Lira looked less appetising and the historical sites were far and few between. I arrived at Kyrenia gate, the entrance to the city, and picked up some tourist information. If you go onto the roof of it one sees junk lying around. On taking a stroll along the central drag the shit hanging around the place was astronomical. This is how the Turks present their city to the tourist and traveller alike. I found a museum and took respite in its coolness. It charged 5TL but it was a way of spending the money before I went into the Greek side; it is a divided city, the only one in Europe. Why does little of this news ever get on mainstream TV or radio (which is what I listen to most of the time)? The Mevlevi Museum attracted me for one reason alone – its reference to Rumi the Muslim poet. As I drifted into its cool chambers its scant artefacts offered an opportunity to sit down and read some of the lines the poet made in his masterworks the Mesnevi. I snoozed amongst reconstructions of Dervish dancers and the tombs of the deceased sheiks. On awakening I was reluctant to leave the building since the heat outside was uncompromising. It was built in the 17th century as a tekke and assumed the title Mevlevi from the Order founded by Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan. His mystical philosophy spread east from Konya, where his family settled and where he was a professor of history, theology and jurisprudence, to India and then to the rest of Islam. The Cypriot base became the centre for Sufi tradition. Where the tekkes were closed down in 1925 under Ataturk’s decree, the British Colonial Administration allowed the tradition to continue on the island until finally, the last sheikh died in 1954. The Mevlevihane was also an important centre for feeding the poor, but housed the dervishes in the same buildings. The inner courtyard amongst fruit trees provided a space for contemplation. The buildings fell into dilapidation but were restored in 2002. As part of Turkish Cypriot cultural heritage the dervish is performed every year on the 17th December commemorating the anniversary of the ‘Wedding Night’, when Celaleddin Rumi died and was reunited with his beloved God. One of their favourite precepts is that the ‘lovers of God have no religion but God alone.’ I took another round of the Turkish side and accidentally passed by the cafeteria that helped me out during the night. The friendly guy gave me a lovely mixed kebab and that famous yoghurt drink called ‘Ayran’ which is watered down with salt added; it goes well with meat. After I went to the toilet and feeling like I could cycle all the way back to Catalonia I packed up my guitar after playing a few songs and realised something was amiss, not sure what. Just then the owner’s brother who works as a deliverer admitted to taking my komboloi (also defined as ‘worry beads’ but actually evolved from prayer beads),  the gift I received from Georgios in Greece made of camel bone. He gave it back to me instantly from around his neck. I didn’t know what to think but maybe he reacted when I had told him I was not a Muslim. Maybe he felt cheated by his brother’s generosity and thought to steal something back because I was not a Muslim. I knew then I had overstayed their hospitality and sought to leave their presence immediately. I refused any more drink from them, but my intuition tells me that the chef reprimanded him in Turkish and he felt guilty. That he gave the item back to me before I noticed it was gone meant to me that the act of theft was not committed; he may have had his reasons. So I eventuated back to Kyrenia gate, passed over into the Greek side and found the place lined with luxurious shops, but there weren’t that many people shopping. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good busking area, so I played for about 2 hours, earned 50cents, and decided to play one more song. I didn’t mind not earning money, especially if people continue to feed me. And just then, on playing the last verse of ‘The Falcon’s Descent’ guess who popped up? Claudio had arrived. We laughed and got ourselves some water, and I invited him to my cousin down in Larnaca. It was a fantastic decision; we flew in that direction, the only time anyone has ever accompanied me in seven thousand kilometres. Maybe something moved between us, for in retrospect Claudio got on well with my cousin Peter who spoke a little Spanish and a bit of Italian. Peter was our perfect host who made us feel superb – good food and drink, good conversation, and a comfy bed. Meanwhile, Claudio made plans for Jerusalem and he would get there one way or another, even if he had to fly. I would discover that my journey might well be over here and coming to the family of my father was a way of achieving my true goal, but more of this in the net blog. When Claudio had left the following morning I gave him the komboloi I had received from the police in Aphrodisias and Peter aptly gave him a description of how to use it: sit on your backside, put the TV on, grab a few beers, and twiddle your thumbs. Certainly from my experience it was more of a Greek thing than a Turkish one.

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So I close this account and reiterate how shocking the entry in the country could be. When I thought that the Turkish side would be clean and industriousness and the Greek side run-down, it was the absolute opposite. But maybe Cypriots both Greek and Turkish are not mainland inhabitants. This is the case, and the history of this island is something my cousin was well versed in. He turned out to be acknowledged in practically everything and I was his target. Coming from an intelligent Cypriot here is his version of the history of the country.

Cyprus was leased to England by Turkey in 1878. Britain annexed Cyprus in 1914 because of Turkey’s support of Germany in WW1. The right-wing movement EOKA was born in 1955 (with elements of fascism in its philosophy). Its aim was union with Greece; the beginning of terrorist activities against British rule caused Makarios to be exiled. The fight for freedom continues until Makarios, from being exiled to the Seychelles, is returned and elected president in 1959. Makarios sought independence and not union with Greece foxily outwitting the British to gain it. Finally Cyprus gains full independence in 1960 and power guaranteed by Britain, Turkey and Greece. Makarios agrees to proportional representation, 80% of country was Greek, mixed with Turks, Armenians and Maronites, but fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in 1960 caused the formation of religious enclaves. Peter tells me that the Turks became second-class citizens and their movements are restricted. Proportional representation became negligible and Turkish enclaves are no-go areas for Greeks. Skirmishes continued until a UN peace keeping force is stationed in Cyprus in 1964; it is present to this day. In 1974 a coop to overthrow Makarios is attempted by members of the original EOKA movement (EOKA B); the right wing attempt to kill him with the backing of the National Guard (Greek) under orders of the Greek military junta (rulers of Greece). During one week of chaos he fled first to Paphos, and then to London from where he announced that he was still alive. A Puppet government is formed during this time. On the 7th day, 22nd of July, Turkey invaded for fear that the civil war would bring repercussions upon the resident Turks. The British went to send forces but were told by Americans to refrain and allow the invasion to happen. The Turks advanced only as far as the checkpoint line since to cross this would have been an act of war against the British.

Losses were suffered by both sides but five thousand Cypriots are missing to this day. Finally Cyprus is divided, a plan that was first devised as long as 80 years ago. Nicosia, capital since Medieval times, becomes Europe’s second divided city but now remains the only one. Nicosia is also divided by two blocks and a road that runs between them.

My experience of it showed that the north part is unkempt; only now does Turkey receive European money to develop it. Buffer zones are put in place; no-man’s land is created and approximately 250,000 people are displaced including the Turkish Cypriots who were forced to the north side in 1975. Turkey declared the north as the Republic of Northern Cyprus and is still only recognised by Turkey itself. Movement between the two sides was only possible in 2004 when the borders were relaxed and passage opened. For 38 years Famagusta (the jewel of eastern Cyprus) remains a ghost city on the border; it has never been occupied as it has been kept as a bargaining tool for the north. It is also a store of collectable items including cars and old artefacts that have remained untouched. No-one lives there and illegal videos show houses with trees growing out of them; hotels and everything remains standing but show the scars of the 1974 invasion. The ancient town though, is inhabited with Muslims, and is the region for Barnabas’ Christian mission. Our aunts, who live on the border (3-mile point) are surrounded by Turkish flags at the checkpoint and British satellite dishes which listen to the Middle-East. They are forgotten by everybody. They do not even have telephone lines. My cousin Peter tells me that he can see the old house in no-man’s land literally 25metres from the road, the house he was in as a boy but yet cannot turn off and travel towards it. He tells me the story that the Turkish family who knew his father found out that Peter’s own father had died and asked him to visit them after the borders were opened in 2004. That would be 30 years after the invasion. He went there with his cousin and sat down in a cafeteria. An old man came up to him and recognised him straight away. Peter couldn’t believe it. He asked how he recognised him after all this time (maybe 35 years). The old Turk said that his eyes were the same but everything else had changed. They went back to his house and there were the parents of the old man who grew up with his father, and they hugged and were very emotional. Peter choked on his tears. This was the place he played and worked, and his father (my uncle) they said was a well-loved man. So Peter’s cousin offered to take Peter to Famagusta and show him the empty city. They walked up from the port onto the beach and were confronted by barbed wire. A sentry had a gun and prevented anyone from passing, and Peter nearly choked in that what he saw was an emptiness, something he couldn’t touch anymore. His standard is this, “Cyprus for Cypriots”, Kipris Kiprislilar icin. Peter learnt this in 1974. I would begin to agree with him only after I decided to spend time with another cousing by the name of Harris, an incredible intellectual and nationalist. For now, this blog ends with the creation of a new song, the one in which I only know as the way forward, that Turkish people are to be embraced. There will be no bigotry here.

 

The Friendly Muslim

Your smile calls me over from my demanding road

And adds another day to my journey

Your stares repulse me also for it makes me feel alien

Yet you mean not to threaten me

You take me in and question me of my origins

My beard is a sign of my religiosity

Our coming together is for all cultures to enjoin

A symbol of worldly union

 

You are the friendly Muslim

With a heart open to the world

You give your life in Allah

A submission to worldly ends

Your faith is rewarded

In the coming of a new age

You are the friendly Muslim

 

Who am I that can engage your deepest thoughts

Am I written in your books

Does your heart resonate something foreboding in yourself

That we draw towards the closing of time

The gardens of plenty with all kinds of food awaits thy rapture

How appropriate that the gardener returns

To usher you in and judge your worldly ventures by your giving

As a carob pod is weighted in your endurance

 

The deeds of your spirit accumulate in the leaves of the Tree

Golden in its florescent lining

But for those who forsook the way of the prophet and his life

Let them ponder their lost origins

For them there is only sorrow and regret in their coming fate

Looking forlorn and wintery in their furnishings

There is no awakening for them in the rapture of the soul

The voices of the faithful will be ever distant

 

God has brought upon you a messenger whose voice will stimulate

A foreigner in your land who sees within you

Do not concede to pamper him with false motives and sentiments

For Allah knows all that your spirit bears

Allah will bear the meek and the humble unto the arms of the gardener

Who cultivates them into worldly fruits

On the Tree of Life they will hang as testaments to the bringer of the last days

Their sweetness is mixed with sourness

 

The bitterness of life is but for those who only advance material gain

Let them hearken to the sound of squabbling

Peace is rather found in the rustling of leaves in the wind

It blows both hot and cold                                                                                                                                                                                                

Let this be a reminder then that we are destined and cannot change our paths

Praise be to the omnipotent one

For those who believe fully in the hope of life is blessed and comforted

I

I like coffee, I like tea

I had allowed Murat to take me on a tour and this would be the beginning of familiarising myself with Istanbul city itself, an occasion to take in some more of its literal history. He had told me that the word ‘Turk’ first makes its appearance in the old Turkish name of Gokturk. Ataturk, the great war hero of the 20th century from whom the name ‘Turkey’ takes its source and given by the British, means ‘ancestor’. I saw his statue in the city centre, a place called Taxim, and Murat treated me to a paid meal with dessert and drinks. I was truly bewildered by his generosity but I allowed him to honour me and my journey. Like many Muslims I meet they seem to have another agenda in the back of their mind, he told me that he was getting over the break-up with his girlfriend and was now conscripted into the military to serve a set amount of time. Paying for bags of roasted chestnuts and ice cream he insisted I didn’t need any money. But I spotted an HSBC bank and took my opportunity to retrieve a mere 50 Turkish Lira. It works out at about €20. He wanted a beer and needed a toilet, so after his persistence in going down the main high street which I wanted to avoid (it look like Oxford Street), we hit a bar. We asked for two dark beers, which tasted crap, but the barman brought out two small bowls of snacks also. We listened to the live music and I asked for the bill. I wondered what Murat was up to, incessantly talking about the need for a girl. I tried to give him as much advice as possible, told him he was a good looking guy but that he was putting on a lot of weight. It is no wonder people get fat quickly in this city, no-one is exercising. The only saving grace may be the fact that the abstinence of alcohol which is high in protein is obviously a means to avoiding putting on more weight, and besides many people smoke cigarettes. But this is countered by high meat diets. It is no different to many other Western cities, and I was in the Western half. There were a lot of tourists here but when I thought that I would see some of its old culture I only got secularism. Murat said that Taxim is famous for courting and he was adamant that this was the place to find women. So the bar I selected had some girls enjoying themselves, but he showed no interest towards them, only it was as if he wanted to see my reaction. I would later tell him I was acting celibate, but nevertheless I looked at the bill – 25TL. That is the equivalent of about €11. I nearly choked, two beers that would normally cost 4-6TL each and 9TL for two bowls of snacks that we didn’t ask for. In the whole of Europe snacks are free because they help absorb the alcohol into the bloodstream. I looked at Murat and told him why we had to pay for them. He was indifferent and told me to pay for them, so I asked him to ask the barman if we had to pay for the snacks because I wanted to make him understand that if there is any theft going on here it was from one Turk to another. We had to pay for them, so I did and then Murat gave them a tip. I was mildly disgusted. I don’t mind paying for the music but this is what happens in big cities – secularism and a lack of moral conduct. But then I looked liked a Muslim drinking alcohol, so maybe to the barman it appeared that I had no case to complain in Sharia law. When I put this to Emre a few days later he told me that some people who call themselves Muslims do not fear Allah. It left a sour taste on both our tongues as I had to reduce his generosity to numbers, thinking that 25TL for a fantastic meal, nuts, ice cream and drinks was a bargain. I hate these environments; I am not a tourist but a traveller. When later we returned to the botanical gardens to our dormitory he argued that this area was very expensive, flats costing 1 million TL each, and couldn’t understand that I needed some stores for the morning, including bread etc. I am very grateful for his guidance that night but undoubtedly I do better by myself and don’t need hemming in, because it felt like I was being stitched up. On the day I left I and Murat became good buddies, and I promised to buy him a burger (if only it was 6TL like he told me). It is obvious why he puts on weight; he comes here to Burger King most evenings and justifies it as a way to get out of the gardens. But in reality he avoids the supermarkets and fresh foods. I am going to be honest with the man, I think he is a fool who has little foresight. He got a good job but has fallen into the trap of urbanisation and consumerism, but that is not to say he isn’t honest and generous, and actually a kind disposition. I left hugging him and no sooner had I got on the ferry (vapur – only 2TL) back to the old city did I meet another kind man. His name was Emre.

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My capacity to remember new foreign words was just about awful. I quickly took a lesson on entering this country but I have had a problem ever since I left Montenegro. Anyhow, the thing that astonishes me the most is the Turkish habit of drinking tea; they drip feed on it. So my first two words were kaffee and cay and later I would learn baklava which is a sweet that is incredibly rich in sugar. This is a list of the best I can do:

Merhaba – Hello

Tscheku – Thankyou

Gule – Goodbye

Baba – Father

Anne – Mother

Bir – One

Iki – Two

Uc – Three

Dort – Four

Bec – Five

Alti – Six

Yedi – Seven

Sebiz – Eight

Dokuz – Nine

On – Ten

Onbir – Eleven

Oniki – Twelve

Yiver – Twenty

 

Emre was a different type of host, he was interested in my journey and my sense of freedom. He wanted to travel and engage me on an experiential level so he talked a lot about Islam. Like Murat who was given an opportunity to offset his girlfriend problems, Emre was a top student with a scholarship that I would find out later to be 800TL a month. He came in the top 100 of his country from 2 million people, all of which get this money. But he was going through depression after splitting up with his girlfriend too and asked for my advice. He took me around the old city, even looked after my bicycle in his home whilst I spent two nights in Hostel Nobel. I tried to remember as much as possible, going through the Blue Mosque and sampling Turkish culture. It is obvious that most Muslims don’t pray five times a day, but that he told me if you are to go once then Friday is the day to do so. He told me that there are two ways to pray in Islam, one for saying thanks and another for asking something of Allah. The word Mescid means a place where you pray from, and can mean the earth or a mosque. The patterns on the inside of the mosque were very captivating, but it does not compare in ornament to say the Catholic basilicas I visited in Italy. The emphasis here was more on worship and not iconography which is the prevalent means of meditative prayer in Orthodox Christianity, for the Muslim can prayer anywhere; even the Arabic writing in the mosque is not commonly seen, they are mere poetic statements for Muslims and versant tourists to ponder on leaving. Incidentally, my Skype contact informed me a little more of the significance of poetry which I feel I should share. David says that “poetry was found to convey the subtle nature of the spiritual world and became the way in which knowledge and understanding lived on after great men died, and the Persian poets are known and read at every level of society in Islamic cultures. Of course, Rumi was Turkey’s great treasure although he was actually a native of Afghanistan. The Rose came to signify the beloved with its thorns and fragrance and beauty. Muhammad was represented with the rose and its most known poetical association is with Saadi’s “the rose garden” Gulistan. This is a book of tales of immense depth and interest. If you were here I’d lend you a copy!!!….” I am certainly interested in the more mystical side of Islam, as I am a mystic myself. Mysticism for me maintains the flavour of the origins of religion. Because Arabic has no vowels Emre informs me that the Qur’an has signs called harake that help to interpret the book correctly; he himself could read Arabic but not speak it. On entering the Blue Mosque we all had to take off our shoes but I wonder how Muslims perceive this deluge of foreigners entering the mosque to take pictures. Emre had told me that there could be as much as a thousand mosques in Istanbul. Some are surrounded by contentious issues including Ayasofya where Muslims had been protesting. They want to reclaim it back because it has now been made into a museum. Originally it was a church but was turned into a mosque in the 15th century. When the British re-conquered Istanbul in WWI they tried to destroy one of the minarets but found out to their aghast that it was holding up the building. So the Muslims rebuilt it and as such it remains an icon of the ages for the paying tourist. I obviously didn’t go in and it was unfortunate that Topkapi Palace was closed on the day I left. Still, I got some pictures of the 4th century stone pillar that was part of the Byzantine Arch from which all road distances in the Empire were measured from, situated very close to a Roman cistern. All these tourist attractions add up, and I would only later find out that one can buy a single pass to use everywhere. The resident Muslims themselves are entitled to purchase a pass for all heritage sites in the country.

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Like Murat, Emre’s generosity was unceasing as he truly introduced me to Turkish culture, the very cuisines and habits of the peoples, something I lacked in most of my journey. We walked here and there, through the fantastic markets of textiles and ornaments showing an array of geometric designs, to the tea and coffee houses where people smoke “Shisha” pipes using aromatic charcoals. We played backgammon and chess and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the company of old men. All along we talked of his relationship to his girlfriend in which he wanted to get back. I told him to wait, that his girlfriend had already admitted to having a problem and that she needs to meet another person before she could even consider coming back together with him. I told him that love can also repulse in order to transpose the relationship onto another level otherwise this emotion can be very destructive. I came from a point of view of my own experience, especially between virgins in a country where such consummations are common. Because of his depression he wanted to drop his studies for a year, get a bit more experience and then travel, so it seemed appropriate that he should receive my copy of the Rough Guide for Western Europe since it ran out at Greece. The memory of sweet foods, real coffee, ice cream, and kebab will live long, as will the huge buffet breakfast at Hostel Nobel (www.nobelhostel.com) that I valued at least half the room fee and included olives, cheeses, meat, breads, drinks, cereals, eggs and fresh fruit. On our my last day he took me to have beans, good cycling food, finished by a desert of sweet pumpkin coated with nuts. But the experience here would not be complete without tasting a little sourness, and it was that as we had our final tea someone, probably kids, went through my panniers and stole my goggles case. Luckily I was wearing them but they took my sunglasses and missed everything else. I told Emre that I obviously didn’t need them, this was God’s will. I had just taken out my laptop too. These kids look for mobile phones; the craze for stealing them in Britain was surpassed years ago in preference for Satnavs (now also outdated) and the likes, but theft still goes on where foreigners are prevalent. I thought I glimpsed the kids responsible, but I felt nothing but joy with my experience here of Istanbul. Emre was interested in my proposed journey to North Africa in a couple of years time, maybe as motorised company. We said goodbye and I hit the ferry at night. I quickly got back into keen vision and though I was lacklustre I found a brilliant spot to hang my hammock off the side of the beach road and in complete cover. I had another attack of scratching but this seems to be a receding phenomenon. The skin is improving but it will be at least another week before it totally clears up.

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In the morning I took the road to Izmit. If only cars didn’t beep so much, a bad habit of the Turkish, I might enjoy the hospitable experience a bit more. I wanted the small roads but the site of the cooling sea was welcome. Here though, the coast does not encourage swimming, only fishing. I passed military zones and got photographed and followed around a little. During this whole journey I pull into a string of garages (free tea at BP) and the ever kind Turks continued to buy me drinks and talk about the journey, always helping. On one occasion though someone rooted through my bags whilst I went to the toilet and stole some essential bike tools; they completely missed the laptop even though the bag was open. I took it with another pinch of sugar, there had been too many positives to take away from this place though as I say, some parts of this region here can be overly militarised. I met some lovely people who welcomed me to Izmit, and after half an hour they were buying me kebab and drinks, whilst even the shop attendant gave me a couple of free biscuit packets. The photographs say it all; the Turkish are proud of their country. I stayed over in a cafeteria where they offered me free sandwiches, eggs and drinks, passing the night on a couch next to water. That night I had watched the fishermen and their families congregate on the water’s edge and all have a go, whilst I kindly refused some small fry that I had no means of cooking, found a tree with delicious white mulberries (uzum), and learnt something of the massive earthquake in 1999 during the solar eclipse. Apparently the water got sucked in and then came back as a tsunami. I was told that fifty thousand people died then including many soldiers but has since seen the place substantially developed. A group of us spotted a star fish, jelly fish and on a lucky day dolphins or small sharks may traverse these waters. I said goodbye in the morning with about 20 kids around me listening to me playing guitar. They were screaming all the time, and then I met some teenagers doing the most amazing diving sessions. (See short video) Passing through Selpark on the road to Yalova I turned off early because I had heard of a similar sounding place called Iznik. When I got there I couldn’t understand why I had taken this route because it was longer and went through hill country. And then it dawned on me, this place had massive importance for the early centuries of Christianity, ancient Nicea and capital of Anatolia. The Muslim pattern didn’t change though, some young guys jammed music with me, feeding me tea and bread, chocolates and plums (erik) and introducing me to a yurt-like structure called a cadir. I was at the Gate of Istanbul. I followed the length of the remaining walls and was in no hurry to see the rest of the town. I knew this place must have been important since the Christian bishopry at a very important convention decreed an agreement concerning the body of accepted Christian beliefs. “The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.If you read this creed you should be aware that Muslims do not accept Jesus as the Son of God, from whom the Holy Spirit is emitted. What I consider to be at issue here is interpretation. If only both Christians and Muslims could understand that both religions developed through liturgy, and so in the manner that what a prophet utters has reverberations through different periods of time one should see that maybe in the future all religions share a common sentiment – the greatness of existence. It would not be inconceivable that the monotheistic religions in particular could syncretise their beliefs and create a universal creed. I believe the starting point for this is a belief solely in the works of the prophets, which Muslims accept as critical. The secularism of Christian, Jewish and Islamic countries should look to develop mixed cultural governing bodies, and could conceivably develop a fuller education system that upholds the spirituality and sentiments of the founding faiths. It may also require a religious advisory body acting as intermediaries between religious and secular institutions. I myself consider to be part of this future, as I am not one or another, but believe in the originator’s message as a channel for God’s omniscience. My religion would be propheticism; hence it has potential to develop much further east within the orient. Likewise, if it could be understood that there is a continuity of thought between religion and science and that they share the same motive of interpreting the unknown. Whether one chooses to believe in Darwinian evolution is not the issue. Civilisation starts as a religious phenomenon in my opinion, which means that historically this date is adaptable according to how one wants to interpret the Bible. The Bible refers to such a genesis with the acknowledgement of God. If God is not acknowledged then the sentiment is not religious. Hence science may draw deep into the past not as a human phenomenon but as an act of the unknown. It does not need to recognise God before civilisation starts, and likewise orthodox religion does not need to recognise evolution before civilisation starts. But the both agree on the dawning of civilisation when history is being recorded, and this last point is the important factor. For religionists this is the oral tradition and the early texts. For scientists, this is the evidence left by fossil remains.

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I had taken a welcome swim and I was called over by a lakeside vendor who offered me a herbal tea. We sat and talked in the shade of the trees and as night dawned the subject of olive oil came to hand. Taking my free loaf of bread given by the young guys I met earlier from the cadir Mesut added cheese and tomatoes, and of course olives (zeytin). Later we were joined by his farmer friends and it was an opportunity to exchange ideas about olive production. For instance, they preserve their olives simply adding salt, no water. Or when preserving in salt water one must add 13%. In all my journey I have only seen it once where the Spanish style of cultivation of low mushroom shapes is followed, and I think that was in Bosnia. Here, what Mesut told me to be the heart of olive production for the whole of Turkey, trees are grown much taller but the branch work is akin to how the British would cultivate top fruit production – evenly spaced with a good framework of secondary and tertiary branches. Later on into the country I would see olive under-planted thickly with French beans and along the edges of the fields, corn or artichokes. I took out just a little of my own olive oil and asked them to taste it, since I considered their olives a little strong, rather the Catalonian oil is very fruity. So I played my music, found a perfect spot to sleep with their help in a place of security, and took a dip the following morning. Roaming the town in the morning I saw the Hagia Sofia, formerly a Christian Church (I wonder if the Christianity would ever accept a mosque as an area for Christian worship), and then what remained of the ruined Roman amphitheatre. I decided it was time to leave and took the lakeside road, which was relatively flat. It was rough and slow-going and seemed to go on endlessly. As the quality improved I chose to give Bursa a miss, another highly developed city who’s traffic put me off, got some free bread and vegetables from a kebab shop, and managed to find a place outside the city in a neglected orchard. I tucked into cherries and hung my hammock. It was not a good spot, something about me that night was ill. By the morning I had snapped two main branches from both an almond and a cherry tree due to my weight. When I checked my bike it was damaged also (nature has her ways of informing me); the attachment brackets for the back rack were broken and I would have to fix it before I left. I had culminated that morning and felt that it was a good opportunity to set in cycle a good beginning by checking over the mechanics. It worked and that day would be eventful for the free food I would receive. At one cafeteria I had much to drink, with biscuits, durum bread with eggs, olives and cheese. Later, on the via Pisum sativum (for a large truck was also having a natural emission, spilling the odd bunch of peas here and there along the road), I would occasionally stop and collect another batch from the ground, just to top up on my own levels. And then feeling debilitated as I was from the heat I pulled into Mustafakemalpasa for free delicious tetlisi (www.kemtat.com), again lots of sugar. This was served with two dollops of ice cream, and the boy also offered me free water. I couldn’t leave without giving his mate a free guitar lesson, who then tried to pay me but I refused; having no money can be much better than earning it, and besides, children shouldn’t pay for such things. So I ambled into Susurluk, took up my pose of an animal in a cage, met some lovely people who offered me food and drink (and promptly disappeared) but would later play my guitar (well) and earn myself a bag of snacks. The old gentlemen told me that Turkey will do anything the EU ask, even though they are not in it, and that also means cutting down olive trees to shift the market elsewhere. The town was quaint and thriving, living off the wealth of the west. I promised to keep in touch with the young girl who translated for me. They gave a parting gift of vegetable seeds, sweet and sour melon which of course suits diabetics.

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That night I ripped the tarmac and smashed another mountain, making up for the slow progress earlier. I found a good spot amongst privet and oak, ensured that the caterpillars that were skinning it alive avoided me in the process, and now find myself heading into Balikesir. Depending on what you have eaten the mornings should be a slow wind-up. I like to start on the flats and down-slopes although you could almost guarantee here that the geography of the landscape means that cities are built on plains and there is no way of avoiding big hills from both sides. Building on alluvial soils next to rivers has its advantages but there are alternative models of smaller settlements scattered about the landscape. Big cities evolved from these smaller settlements and require the continue draining of such areas. Most lowland rivers have or had floodplains, and when I descend a big hill I now dread the noise and cars on the road; I am beginning to hate them. They are good drivers here and very respectful of cyclists. On starting my descent from Balikesir I knew it would be a good day. I pulled into a station after being invited in and they gave me free tea. I decided to play my guitar to the enjoyment of the seated people and the barmaid gave me more tea and a pasty. The police turned up also and asked me to stop playing; I think they are conscious of my influence in all honesty. This baffled some attendants also, but I was not fussed, I moved on. Just as I continued my descent into Balikesir a Turkish hippy on a motorbike called Ali called me over. We were next to a park; it was Sunday and things were getting busy. He invited me in at a moment when some teenagers were also entering, carrying loads of food. He engaged them and the next thing I know we were a group finding a seating area. Everyone from roundabout comes here to chill out, cooking on open fires and spending the family day out. It had streams and ponds for the children to play in, so it only felt natural that I would play my music for the next couple of hours. The girls were taking an interest in me, preparing food and feeding me, whilst Ali seemed to be forcing his philosophy upon everyone of world peace. He was trying to get people to sign a petition, but I refused; I don’t sign things I can’t read, and besides, I was at peace. In fact he pissed off some of the boys who told him to get lost, but they allowed me to stay. I had no schedule and so we climbed a tower and did what teenagers do. On leaving I gave them lots of gifts, including the CD’s I got from the Slovenian called Frank (good music), the little book of Slovenian folk songs, and the other little book of snowdrop varieties I got from Jose in Ljibljuana. So I continued my interesting journey, Ali nowhere in sight, bypassed the big city and went up another massive hill. Unfortunately it was the hottest time in the day and I ended up exhausted. On the way down I snoozed at an empty cafeteria stop with fresh water. I was woken by some locals who fed me bread, tea, cheese and olives. I couldn’t understand their conversation, and it just seems natural that people give to travellers. Charity is a normal mentality here amongst Muslims which probably goes a long way to explaining why they do so well; everybody is being looked after in some capacity. That afternoon I went into a small town called Ivrindi, one I was told to visit by a gentlemen, I can’t remember where. The youths befriended me and the next thing I knew we were all playing music and they buying me food and drink. A “spastic” took much of their attention and everyone seemed to be in rapturous laughter. They told me that they liked visitors, and of course I got the barrage of repetitive questions concerning my age, where I was going, where I come from, what do I do etc. At times it peeves me; I actually jested with one that he acted like the police and he got all serious on me. In retrospect I could have stayed there that night, found a couple of trees somewhere and charged up my batteries in a cafeteria. I get another impression in general though, that Muslims here truly fear me, for I heard it whispered that I look like Mujahideen. Young Turkish Muslims definitely drink, but they will only enjoin company they can trust, hence all the questions. Some nice hot food could have tempted me; the symptoms of my allergenic skin reaction has now brought on a cold. Maybe I could have played a bit more, but I was aware that part of my healing process is to keep moving, and eating food brings on more reaction. So I set off into the dark, the road condition was bad from the expansion works going on, and I sought to hit the top of another mountain. Just before the tor I pulled off the road, sick of all the traffic on a Sunday night; it obviously explains the reason for all the works. I found a poor spot of the side of the road and bedded in. I pined for the sea, not far now, and even though I went through lovely countryside I needed to swim. I should make a final point here on the sociological landscape, how industrious the Turkish people are, how well they have integrated Western values with Islamic ethics, especially when it comes to economics and development, and social welfare. I consider them to rival Germany; their Mediterranean seaboard is akin to the south of France. I am limited in my scope and I await to see the fuller picture, but they are an Empire in the making. They look like a far better Western vantage point than the American advocacy of a potentially paranoid Israeli state in the midst of Islam in the East. The border of Israel looms ever nearer too.

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So I continued along the rough track, no doubt adding tardiness as the tyres bite in. On pulling up in a roadside market I notice the bike rack had a mounting screw dislodged and had caused the tyre to rub up against it. This would explain much during the previous evening, somehow I didn’t process this information whilst I rode on this. Anyhow, spare parts obtained all the way from Montpellier helped me out. I moved on riding into Havran, was offended by the police and the general look people were giving me, having to show my passport although I think the police were sympathetic and allowed me to continue playing so as to give the impression that I was not doing anything wrong. But the same old incessant questions really bother me, and in this instance I decided I wasn’t welcome, rode to the sea at Burhaniye, swam, earned some free food (at last, a hot toasted cheese sandwich), and continued along. The sun was still sweltering and so I pulled into a spot at the top of a hill where I was given free tea. I enjoined the owner with fresh cherries, his name was Kaplan, and somehow reminded me of my brother in Canada. I saw that he was growing vegetables and thought it considerate to give him some of the melon (kavun) seeds I picked up earlier from a farmer. This man was very happy with his large piece of land, run-down business, and small tea service for passing drivers. He obviously deals in other stuff, but see the photo of his shop in Pelitkoy. And then, as rough rode transformed to smooth tarmac I started to fly. Caught on a wing I drifted into Ayvalik with its lovely small market streets and beachside entertainment. As it goes I spent the night on a comfy boat, taking a quick dip in the water to offset another attack of the itching. It is another thriving little town, the string of competitive fuel stations that line Turkish roads is a testament to the amount of traffic in every little niche of Western Turkey. Just the noise is so unbearable for one who loves the air and the trees. The friendliness of the people again gave me a lucky break. I iterate one small point here. I have yet to draw any new funds from my bank account (I got lucky paying for some food stuffs with my last €5 bill in a service station) on the basis that it has to last ‘til the end of the journey. In a strange way being dependant on charity slows down my progress so that I tend to drift with the sentiment, and it works. But I am also conscious that summer is fast approaching and the Middle East will be much hotter. But it is not the only thing that slows down; uploading photos onto my blog site can take hours, and then the connection could fail me. (Best to use official sites like governing bodies or universities where memory capacities are larger.)

So I quickly set off with Pergamon in mind; I was looking forward to the ancient place. The best of the beeches awaited me at Dhili with its fine sands, and then that night I continued to soar, arriving into the ancient city at about 10pm. The tourist season is only just picking up and what I present is a very limited viewpoint. I don’t know how the locals generally treat tourists but I recall one recent incident (in Dhili) where someone tried to charge me 5TL for a burek which is way over the odds. For such a small town, and I told him so, my only advice is to haggle, and don’t feel shy to refuse their prices; I am sure they are flexible. Arriving into Bergama then I caught some local football games where I met a bunch of young guys, and would you believe it, they asked me how old I was. We took tea and jammed in the park, listening to Vulcan play some lovely Turkish music. At last, someone to take the burden off me as we entertained a group of teenage college pupils. I slept in that park where my hosts helped me to find a comfy couch with a parasol over the top, and I slept well, waking up four hours later and working on my new book. Then the rain came, as well as the free toasties and drinks from the cafeteria. This whole issue of free sustenance is beyond luck now, it is pure destiny. My music though, generates different responses. Some people want to hear a Western sound, and God forbid, they all ask for Hotel California. Others want traditional but the best I can do is my own eclectic fusions. I wandered through the town receiving multiple stares and laughter, people whispering my name (the brotherhood are well-informed), and accepting free tea and coffee wherever I go. I had a little jam and then spent the rest of the day hanging about and feeling frustrated. Vulcan was doing his best, feeding me and engaging me on a lazy level. I enjoyed this for a while but ended up doing my own thing, taking my bike and riding off to the Asclepion. Founded by a man named Archias, it became famous under Galen (131-210 AD), a local physician who pursued his medical studies in Greece and Alexandria (Egypt) before settling here as doctor to Pergamum’s gladiators. It was probably the first hospitable to use herbs although I know of older Jewish sources. Being too expensive, 15TL for very little value for money, I decided to give it a miss. Each attraction here costs separately and I feel that a tourist pass would work much better. Anyhow, I camped that night under a fig tree and slept wonderfully. The area looked like a natural cul-de-sac for cattle, and with the road just above me no-one could see me. In the morning I decided to ascend the Acropolis, sweating a little and wondering to pay the 20TL. In the end I thought that I could prioritise my next destination, Ephesus, and pay for that instead. So I decided to give the Akropolis a miss too. Just as I was leaving to go back down I was called in by the street vendors into the shops, and asked to play. I had a superb session with a drummer whilst drinks were forthcoming. It turns out that they all have to pay to go to see the ruins. After drinks I decided to leave but another twist of fate happened. I noticed there was a path going behind the tents, and it turned out to be an alternative way into the archaeological ruins. It felt completely natural to go this way, nothing was barring me, and I thought that God had guided me. So I saw everything of value, I hope you appreciate the photos. This is where Homer and Herodotus studied, and has the reconstructed remains of the Temple to Zeus in marble. It also once housed the 2nd largest library in the world. It was also the place where parchment (Latin: pergamem) was invented when Egypt refused to export any more papyrus, using calfskin. On the way out I gave some melon seed to the cafeteria for giving me their precious water, and further down the hill I caught sight of the gardeners, all poised for a guitar session. So with untold tea I played a few songs. Then one decided to give me some freshly cut kekik, which infused makes a very strong tea. I found this out later to my distaste, but it did improve with sugar. It felt like a herbal remedy for my skin complaint actually, which lingered in the background. I needed a wash actually and sought to get out of here as quick as possible and on my way. I said goodbye to the very friendly people (they don’t get friendlier than this) and warmed up for a good night session on the bike. In fact, I ventured to take some more money out of the bank and stocked up on biscuits and bananas.

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I flew one hundred kilometres that night to arrive into Izmir, where I would rendezvous with the Aegean university in Bornova. It was a superb decision, avoiding the hectic traffic of another wealthy city, and espying a green allotment area from the flyover. It was pure instinct, eventually hanging my hammock beneath another fig tree and feeling that its natural mushroom shape allowed me permanent residence here. In the morning after tasting delicious burek for 2TL only, the university would be just a stone’s throw from here. I asked a man in the street about the department I was looking for, fen, which means biology, and it turned out that he worked for the university. Then I met up with some students, told them what I was up to, and they offered to buy me food. So I got all the questions again whilst I tucked into kebab and fries and then was led off to the botanic section. The university is incredibly green, it seemed the whole campus was a botanical institute. I was first greeted by Dr. Hasan Yildirim, followed by Dr. Serdar Gokhan Senol and his wife Beril. As usual they made time for me, for today the students were having exams. We obviously talked about the current state of botanics but as usual the university does very well with the resources it has. There are only 80 students in the botany department, 300 in biology, but the university can boast the first and only greenhouse in Izmir. I found that astonishing being only 64 years old, but it is there to house the tropical species. The campus was built in 1955 around the garden which is host to 7-800 species with 300 of them in the greenhouse. As you can imagine then, everything is small but Mustafa, my student guide, showed me the new greenhouse just completed and in a state of immaturity. He showed me the outdoor water tap decorated by lovely ceramic tiles made by Beril, the arts and craft teacher. Importantly, one of the issues that always arise in these botanical institutes is expansion, and Serdar informed me of the new project in the mountains that will solely focus upon the endemic species of Turkey. For instance there are 2,000 to the Izmir region and 12,000 to Turkey including subspecies. The mountain is called Bozdag and it must be exciting to travel as a botanist carrying that pioneering spirit of institution, discovering plants not previously recognized. In fact Dr. Ademi Fahri Pirhan named one species, Campanula mugeana, after the name of his wife. I offered them gifts of seeds, but I now was severely reduced. I couldn’t resist giving them the small vase of Catalonian Extra Virgin Olive Oil from our own land since it had occurred to me that slopping about in a hot pannier cannot do much to improve its taste. But amazingly it was still sweet and hadn’t oxidised. The meagre selection of seeds they took reflects the small amount I had left over (which is a very healthy indication of my practical value) but in return replenished my stocks in anticipation of going to Israel. I am aware I am nearing the close of my journey and there would be three more botanical gardens to visit, two in Israel and one in Jordan. Maybe the rest of the oil I am carrying won’t make it that far; I have Cyprus en route and Palestine where I want to rendezvous with any permaculture projects. It is in the Middle East that I hope to spend a couple of months volunteering before returning to Catalonia. The other blessing is that academia undercuts political boundaries and I hope this is my ‘passport’ for a trouble-free entry. Many of these professors have worked together and show no religious prejudice. My time here then, in the university ended with another kebab (I really do find it hard to say no) and Beril gave me some fantastic art to take away with me (a pencil drawing of the ever-prevalent poppy, and a ceramic badge of a traditional Turkish costume). My thanks go to Mustafa who took me on an informative tour of the small garden.

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My experience here though wouldn’t be complete without even more Turkish hospitality, so as I ambled through the streets, taking an opportunity to sew up another hole in my panniers I was befriended by a couple. They asked if they could get me anything and so we had drinks. They then offered to take me out that night in the city centre and treated me to a fantastic feast. Of course, I tried playing my music as much as possible and these moments am always good for conversation; I am an interesting character. In fact, I met another cyclist who showed me the terrain a little and recommended where I should go. I think he boasts the record for 380km in 22 hours cycling. The four of us talked about the future; the couple were getting married but were interested in joining me possibly to Africa in a few years time. Aware that time was passing along I said a fond farewell with the hope of seeing them again, and took the longer, more attractive route to Selcuk, to see Ephesus. I was fast approaching sexual culmination in my biorhythm and doing another night run was pushing it. But I persevered, getting some free bread in the morning, doing some shopping for basic essentials and then meeting a hotel owner with all his family just before arriving to Ephesus. After mistakenly offering me bad water they sought to make it up by feeding me. I had delicious pilav tovuk (chicken and rice) with freshly ground pepper. For the journey they gave me this flat bread with many plums and apricots. They even offered me to take a shower, for it had only now become apparent to me that my clothes and skin were salt stained – white lines scribbled all over them, including the back of my guitar case. Of course, I played for them but I am continuously blown away by the Turkish people; I must needs come again. I managed to get to Ephesus before closing time and wondered whether it was worth the 25TL. They had no facility to guard my bicycle and wondered whether I would just drift on from here. A vendor offered to look after my bike and guitar whilst I bit the bullet and paid to go in. From a distance the huge amphitheatre looked impressive, but once I got inside prose could not describe what I saw. This place beats Pompey, and at various points I just sat down and wondered at the glory of this ancient city. Only look at the photos, I took massive amounts. This is a must-see of Turkey, so without further ado I should present to you my vision of it.

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Ephesus

What has become of you, your glory, your grandeur

Your paved streets welcome the visitor from north, south, east and west

Your harbour and promenade ushering the seller of worldly goods

Bringing one upon the visage of the magnificent amphitheatre

Its cheer now a reminiscent of a glorious past

I turn this way and that and follow the main drag

The facade of a ruined library reaches into the higher echelons of society

And further it seems into the highest of human achievement

The wealth of now fallen architecture of fountains and forums, concert halls and gymnasiums

From a peaceful distance the Church of Mary offers open respite from the bustling market areas

I strain to imagine the emperors of past, Augustus, Caeser, Dolmitian and Trajan

Their rebuilding programs made this the centre of worldly trade and political relations

Such elitism founded on the richness of the farming community of Asia Minor

It is no wonder that you continued strong into the 6th century AD

Byzantia was just a token gesture for a city that hearkens to its Hellenist roots

Who could not love Rome for this masonic masterpiece

Bringing Zeus and Artemis to the foreground of religious loyalty

I don’t know what more to say, you survived earthquakes and political haranguing

Can I restore you again to your former glory?

Shout into the vacuous buildings and bring back the ghosts of worldly communications

Is your importance truly up or shall we forever wonder why I am here and you are there?

Is life no different then as it is today, the flurry of human emotions that assuage democratic polemics

If I were to start a new religion can I begin here, an echoing voice transposing the centuries

Yes, let me begin with the ruin of civilisation in the face of gods and God who call your time

And maybe the sea that was chased away a few kilometres down-

Whispers of a new beginning in the rushing of its surf

My ugly body

I thought maybe the ride towards Istanbul would be uneventful, quite the contrary, I was struck down by a condition that even now as I write, I have to contend with. I question I ask is, “Do I create my own reality?” and the answer is always yes. It is the prerogative of my kind, the breaker of boundaries, the seeker after the essence of life.  I left Hotel Byzantio on a fine day, very late in the afternoon but I managed to clock up the kilometres. What was this descent into Bedlam I iterate above in the poem? Is it the place where I recover from illness, a pandemonium of diseases rooted deep in my genetic consciousness and from which all man through technological and scientific advancement fled into the outer reaches of genetic culmination? Like hot-air balloons floating above the earth we feel secure in our transcendence from raw life, from the animal instincts down below and the wilderness of the mind. Most men and women now live in an abstract world of fulfilment and deny themselves the opportunity of rewriting the laws in the sky. The developing classes have used up much of their ingenuity to offset the sense of suffering that humanity would have to chariot across the heavens. For those who traverse the lower road one learns to live with suffering.

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I couldn’t find the old road of via Ignatia immediately, but eventually asked a lot of people and was happy to leave the big city behind. A few ideas lay in my mind, the first of which was to see Istanbul on the way down to the island of Chios where this botanical congress was happening, and where they make mastic gum from the tree. I had enough time to make the journey even though I was slow, but it would mean a quick stopover in Instanbul or bypass it entirely and take a shorter route. I needed a response from the organisers but it was not forthcoming. I soon hit lovely roads though, partly going along the autostrada and partly the village route. To my right I saw the end of a freshwater lake with a backdrop of hills that graced this journey along. Just before the failing light I pulled into a cafeteria with parking spaces and a picnic area. It was good foresight; I nestled my hammock between two olive trees off the side of the road. The bar tender was very fine giving me a free orange drink and I used the rest of the night writing up my blog under these huge plane trees, occasionally peering up at the orthodox chapel which so commonly line these Greek roads. The multitude of tiny shrines also give comfort to the traveller who feels secure that civilisation exists here even in the most obscure places, since somebody goes round lighting candles inside them. That night I had a strange occurrence when a man pulled up in his motorbike and decided to befriend me with photos of his work, as a transvestite. I quickly ushered him away especially since I was nestled between two trees adjusting my hammock. He came back the following morning and that is when I realised he was a local, probably just checking me over. I wondered about his work, a Greek legacy perhaps. In fact, with the economy as it is everyone is thankful for the work they do have, so when these people offer me a free coffee it is their way of saying that we are all in the same boat. This morning’s bar tender was an aspiring practicing doctor in his spare time, waiting for his opportunity to go abroad. As the rain bucketed down I myself wasn’t going anywhere, and continued to write my stuff using free electricity. Eventually in the afternoon I took a short bike ride to the first town, was given a free loaf of bread and then went for a swim in its gorgeous lake. The sun broke out just enough to make the experience wonderful, the water was relatively mild. I emulated the plummeting ducks in their search for small fish. On returning to the cafeteria the younger was replaced and the new man made me a free sandwich with meat and the onions I had been carrying ever since I picked them up along the edge of the road somewhere in Scopia. It was about that time when I had repaired my wheel spokes, oh and that was it, when at that portentous moment a large flying beetle hit me straight in the eye. Nature has her ways of informing me about what is due to occur. The sandwich was tasteless but I was grateful and so I set off. Along the way I came across one of many ancient ruins of towns hidden in these hills, especially along this main road between East and West. It was called ancient Argiles. Then I encountered the Lion of Amphipolis, a 4th century BC statue constructed in honour of one of Alexander the Great’s three great admirals – Laomedon from Lesbos. Apparently it was discovered during the Balkan wars by the army along the river bank; it is really impressive. I seemed to be going well but in retrospect it would have been better to stay another night at the cafeteria because all the time I stopped the weather would strangely catch up with me; the further east I went the drier it seemed. But I persevered and spied from a high road a shelter on the beach, dry as it currently was. If I had gone another kilometre or two I would not be feeling like I do at this moment, like I want to replace all my skin with another one that isn’t so itchy, because my selection of site turned out to be bad. There were some dogs on the beach scratching themselves all the time. I found a spot where I could sleep and thought that the shelter would protect me from heavy rain if it came. It was a disaster from the beginning. The fire took ages to light, the foil-wrapped onions I tried to barbeque nearly burnt through, it rained during the night and even though I was dry I awoke to hairy caterpillars on my sleeping bag. I started scratching around my neck and stomach. It didn’t look bad at first but I thought that the increasingly wet weather was not helping. I am not sure what the condition is, maybe polluted sea water from the evening before, something the onion picked up from the firewood, the caterpillars? As I moved over to the makeshift shelter, water coming through the roof in places, I endeavoured to finish writing my last blog. No sooner had I finished I quickly got on my way, and then I saw a sign for the hot springs of Eleftheres. Venturing one kilometre down off the main road, soaked through and needing to dry out, not even the obnoxious dog could prevent me from spending the next two hours in this constructed bathing area fed by water 60-70oC. It rained but I sat there watching the swallows gobble up the flies above the river’s surface. I waited to see if the rain would abate, washing my underwear and considering whether to spend the all night in this bath. Eventually gun shots from within 20 metres of me gave me thought for concern. Slowly the swallows disappeared and I endeavoured to ride off in the rain with sodden clothing. The journey was easy though and by the time I reached the Byzantium Tower of Apollonia I was dry again. I was fast approaching Kabala now, the last major city before the border. The sweat and the adrenalin sought to keep my immune reaction to a tolerable level as the itching ever threatened my constitution. I denied myself entry that night into the city and found a convenient spot in a park just above sea level. It was a dog walker’s paradise from the hustle of motor vehicles going back and forth. It rained during the night but I was fine, and the morning was spent eating wild peas. No sooner had I started the descent into the town did a man pull up in his car and ask if I would stay around and that he would help me out. He never did call back but it reinforces the feeling that I am being tagged along the entire the length of my journey. I was accommodated by a friendly bar owner who bought me coffee. I played my music and the old men breakfasting donated three and a half euros to me. Makis was his name and he got me going with more souvlaki meat. I discovered the market area, got some free food including olives and fruit, and sat down to busk. In about an hour I made fourteen euros, but it made little difference to me. I knew my next stop would be the beach to see if I could get some old-fashioned solar therapy. It worked to a degree and I thought I was on the heal.

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I am continuously meeting new people, and the two questions people ask me the most every day is ‘How old are you?’ and ‘Where do you come from?’ I tell them I am as old as Jesus. This phenomenon I believe is linked to the natural subconscious reaction of the collective consciousness. If I told you that it is an act of self-defence on their part because they see me as a threat, like someone who will steal something from their country, it is quite comprehensible to me. But there are others who would say that I carry spirits or a spirit of sorts, hence this may explain the accompanying chaotic weather patterns. What doesn’t change in their perspective are their underlying motives. They seek to toggle from me my natural rights, which in this case is freedom to traverse the earth on every square metre of it. In another milieu I may have been a great military leader, or a religious guru. My natural disposition seeks to attract support in the name of this freedom. Others call it God. All in all, people want what I have and will even serve me if it means they can share in it.

So I left that city very happy, spending the night watching Chelsea beat Bayern Munich. The Greeks are beginning to hate the Germans because of some of the comments the latter make about them. So if it isn’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, or Manchester United or Liverpool that people keep going on about, then it is about me they prefer discussing. I hung around the cafeteria’s outdoor sheltered seating area all night and left early in the morning. I flew 55km into the next town of Xanthi and then headed off towards Komotini, because from there the map indicated a road to Bulgaria. They told me it was a 40km climb into Bulgaria and the best advice I got was to follow the River Evros from Alexandroupolis instead. I had learnt anyway that the roads through the mountains have been closed off. I tarried along the way meeting interesting fishermen using square nets. Before this I found one of those ghostly tourist sites that were falling into disuse. It was a park of pine trees, and beyond there were lookouts for observing wildlife in the mud flats. I went for a quick deep here having to traverse about 500m before the water got to waste height. As the gnats laid into me I quickly got out and stopped by a mini-market. I had one of those another fantastic encounters, two Chinese were coming the opposite way having cycled to Tibet and India but flying over to Ankara. Maybe this place is where the dragon from the West meets the dragon of the East. They were heading off to London, and only after I left did it occur to meet to give them my Lonely Planet Guide for Western Europe, which incidentally terminates at Greece. Our stories must be quite amazing, like two books coming together. Of the occasional envounters I do have of other travellers I always appear to be the pauper, and freer at that with no real time commitments. I am sure they discover many adventures also. If you see Jiang and Shao please take them in, we are mechanical nomads who will one day return to our homelands. So I arrived into Komotini and had a bad experience. I was approached by two girls who offered to buy me food, and I sought to teach them a little guitar. After they left me I sat down to snooze in the green area of the centre and was awoken by a gang of boisterous youths who played with my guitar case. They stole my mobile phone from it and of course, I did not realise until 2-3 hours later. They were mix of ages and colours from 12-14 years old, probably gypsies. And then I thought, ‘Is this what God ordained?’ Let’s face it, I hardly use the phone, nobody really calls me either, it cost less than five pounds, and most of the numbers in it are for people who I don’t need any more or who don’t need me. It was obvious though that my psychological defences were down, and the physical cause of this was the depletion of my immune system due to my recent natural emissions. This left me psychically exposed to trouble makers. I did overeat though, because I find it hard to say ‘no’ when offered food.

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So, without the sense that I could be tagged through the satellite link on my mobile phone I took a detour and got lucky. I made some rock climbing hitting beautiful country, the idyllic working landscape of agriculture mixed with nomadic herds of goats and sheep has been pretty consistent throughout the expanse of northern Greece. It was then that I happened across the house of my vision, made by the owners’ own hands, they were called Erika and Francés. I had initially cycled past the home but stopped suddenly to photo the huge rock behind them. I was in Petrota renowned for its small black pine forest, birds of prey, some ancient ruins, and its beaches. Most of the beaches along the Greek coast has been a mixed bag, some clean others dirty, some of sand others cobbles and pebbles, some well kept others abandoned, some used others forgotten. Greece seems to be between two worlds at the moment; I made the best of it. I rambled back just as Erika and Francés had returned with the car. I asked about a nearby shop but Francés accommodated me straight away and told me to come in to have a cup of coffee. I would find out that he was a brilliant builder, his wife a keen astronomer and gardener. Apparently cyclists regular come through this way because it is the back route that follows the via Ignatia. One should try and imagine what this road was to civilisation. It was built between 146-120BC by the proconsul of Macedonia Giaius Egnatius upon a previously known road. It was the only decent road running along this route for millennia and was fundamental for trade relations between the east and west. It also aided the armies of Alexander and Rome and was the first of its kind outside of Rome. It was made of consolidated cobbles with clay watered into it. To prevent it from losing its shape upright stones were placed along the edges and down the middle of a wide trench, and then the whole thing was filled in. It very much dictated the current look of the geographical landscape with station points at 7-14 mile intervals for travellers, whilst modern day cities correspond to distances that were a day apart (30-40 miles, 45-60km)  including Edessa, Gannitsa, Thessaloniki, Apollonia, Amphipoli, and Phillipi. Straight away my hosts engaged me on a learned level of technology, ecology, religion, politics, and economics. It turns out that they both had international connections with governmental organisations, having travelled much in their own lives around the Middle East. They seem the perfect couple, both perfectionists and excellent cooks, (and I had some fantastic Lebanese food over two days), as well as interior and exterior designers, having extended and retrofitted the existing house on site. With under floor heating, passive solar gain and ventilation, a gasifier for a water heater, grey and black water collection and treatment, and a terraced garden with both ornamentals and fruit trees, these twelve years have been something of a life achievement for this couple. I still personally believe building one’s own home is a kind of spiritual renaissance; in our deep discussions it was obvious though that these people were pragmatists and understood it as exercising their technological and imaginative skills. I found that over the two days I could have been looking at myself; Erika and Francés share the same hobbies and perceptions of the world as me. Maybe I saw my own self fifteen years from now. It was apparent also that the magic of this place was its historical precedent; Erika telling me that underneath every footstep is a coin. Whatever one may think about permaculturists or the pragmatists that my hosts appear to be, our perceptions are drawn from the rich cultural and religious landscapes that we now inhabit and I don’t believe we can go forwards without this appreciation. Hence we engaged in some deep conversations and the side issue of plants in the garden took a back seat. The real plunder was the rock taken from the land to build his house, and the potential to develop municipal land into a food growing orchard. Francés had also come up with some really great ideas, although I think they need to be thought through a bit more. This included using effluent in a multi-storey flats to operate a turbine generating electricity at a time when most people demand it; or running a metal ball through a coiled wire from the top of a slope to the bottom in order to generate this electricity. We discussed the Greek mentality and like Francés says, the Greeks don’t rebuild, everything falls to disuse. For instance, he told me about the hot springs at Potamia, which I visited along the way, but seeing it closed down and being disappointed that there was no natural outflow. Apparently, Francés was saying that when they developed the area instead of using the natural hot water which heats to 60-70oC to run a turbine they used oil heaters. This tends to reflect the Greek attitude of wasting a free resource. Maybe the 8 million people who work for the Greek government need a crash course on sustainability. They didn’t believe in God, I believe they were hard-core scientists at heart, but this did not stop them from being compassionate. It felt like a week to me, taking the dog out for walks, exploring the decor and giving over some seeds for cultivation with the promise of looking out for wild grasses that will grow here in calcium soils. Gem, the neighbour, was also preoccupied with building, and Francés looked good value for money in helping him. The plan is that I will return for a couple of weeks and help them out in the garden since this is my specialist subject. It doesn’t matter if one is in the middle of nowhere, you find your own entertainment, and being taken for walks by the dogs Igo and Eco is worth a good bone at the end of it. The photos probably won’t capture the complete beauty of the house, but its arrangement is so meticulous that anything they apply themselves to requires that perfectionist spirit. The kitchen is so finely balanced that it reflects in the meals they offered me; the shower room in my quarters was laid with stones and pebbles from the immediate landscape; sea shells were used to contain utensils; ornaments could be converted to provide something practical, like the 37lb disarmed bomb that counterweighted the iron chandelier, or the propeller blade that stood as a heavy leg for a glass table. In the front room a chafing board with original flint blades was cleaned up whilst the tool shed ‘invited’ persons to live in it. Everything had that sense of compactness and openness at the same time. I wish I had built this house.

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On my auspicious day of arriving then, there was just about to be an annular solar eclipse. At one point it becomes a total solar eclipse, nevertheless where we were there would be only a 40% darkening which I barely noticed. The ensuing new moon showed Venus up brightly in the west. The recent eclipsing of my health reflected these astronomical observations. I continued to take very hot showers followed by cold ones in order to clean the skin out. The phenomenon look liked liver infection, contained to the hidden parts of the body including the chest, belly (where it started from), the groins and outside the top thighs spreading to my private parts, the lower and upper back, and quite bad around the neck. I wanted to rip my skin off that night; I could only sleep when I had sufficiently ‘boiled’ myself alive first causing a large adrenalin rush. Whatever was going to cure me, and I reiterate, I don’t take medicines or visit doctors, my first premise must be good food, so I accepted another night staying here.  The body can only heal through rest and the availability of minerals. I looked for patterns in the eruptions, and I mainly observed the itchiness and lesions happening beneath sweaty material. Secondly it was brought on by eating, which probably diverted healing energy away from the areas concerned. Cycling seemed to pump more blood around faster and this may have helped too. I wonder if I am suffering from a genetic disposition since it seems to be an exaggerated condition of itchiness around the toes; the stress trigger could only have been due to the amount of raki I drank in Thessaloniki, which seemed to bring on natural emissions, or some food I acquired along the way for free, the cafeteria next to the lake for instance. This whole suffering business is refining my personality, and I have always said that people have to learn to suffer. Though it doesn’t drain my physical strength it really ‘wacks out’ my creative abilities for since then I haven’t really been that good on the guitar, almost ignoring it these last few days. Still, Francés had complimented me saying that “a man who sings and plays guitar cannot shout or steal”.

After an exchange of gifts I was on my way again, slowly coming to terms with a new vigour that takes a while to build up. The coastal road was nice and that night I arrived near to the border. Eating a bag of peanuts (a mistake) I shot off into the night ripping up another 30km or so. I was surprised at the €15 visa fee to enter Turkey. Just before Keshan I sought a few trees to hang the hammock in. I got lucky in a landscape that was quite treeless and reminded me of Bosnia. There was nothing spectacular about it at all, resolved as it was to rolling hills. I caught the sunrise that morning only after I had another hellish night scratching and dealing with mosquitoes. I actually felt so bad it occurred to me that I could die in this wilderness. But the following day I destroyed any negative impacts the lesions were having upon me. I mean, I looked ugly and tried taking a few photos of my body to show you. I did that thing that I believe Muslims define under Sharia law, and that is to take off my top. So even though I respect the customs of the country I think I have a medical right here to heal myself. And this very attitude brought me to discovering new friends who saw me at a bus stop topless. The guard came over from the local university and said that one of the girls complained. But if you can imagine what I look like, I am a walking disease bag. Even in the previous village the friendly family at the little market place recoiled when they glimpsed my torso through the openings in my arm area, and kept a distance. But it was because I wanted to confront the problem that I didn’t give a damn who saw my body naked, that eventually brought the security guard to make me a cup of tea and many students enquiring of my nature. I took this spirit into Istanbul, meeting more friendly people at a service station where they fed me drinks and sandwiches, and I duly played. A quick swim in a dirty sea was unlucky, since generally most of the coastline here looked pleasant. The roads, well they were second to Montenegro and looked quite poor. I slept in Silivro at the most perfect stopover point, amongst a recessed wooded area surrounded 360o  by a road interchange junction. It was quiet and styled in the shape of a garden. The only nuisance were the (those pesky) dogs again who barked for 10 minutes, but I have learnt to ignore them now since it is true, they are just mouthy cowards.  I descended the longest hill of this whole adventure and spent a thought for the poor blighters who were coming the other way, but one massive climb into Istanbul evened the stakes. I would discover that most people here don’t speak English. It is also true that most Muslims deal with you honestly and moderately. I like that.

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This place was ‘bedlam’; the din of cars and general observation that no-one rides a cycle is obvious by the dangerousness of the roads. I was already feeling threatened by the whole scene and sought to find the gardens as quick as possible. I had smashed 150km of hill country the day before in order to make the gardens by this morning. But when I arrived, with the difficulty of English not being widely spoken, I ended up winding down the morning writing up my blog and waiting for an internet connection. By the time I got further into town it was afternoon, and so I happened by the aquarium. They were very accommodating and sought to help me fully. They were interested in my journey, what I was doing here, and so printed out maps to get to the gardens. That’s when I discovered I had another 50-odd kilometres to go (don’t ask a Muslim about distances, you’d end up on the moon) because Istanbul is that massive. There are at least 15 million people here, and my botanical gardens lay in the interchange of a busy road system on the other side of the Bosphorous. Now, as usual, I got lucky. Not only did they give me a free tour of the aquarium (the botanic section) with the idea I might be able to provide some seeds for them, they gave me a lift across the channel and dropped me off some 5km from the gardens. It started to rain and the going was uphill. Just as I began to curse this motorway bedlam I decided to pull off the road. I saw a moped parked off the side of the slip road and wondered where the rider was. On looking up there was a gate in the fence and a paved road running the other side of the slip road. It turned out to be the entrance way to the gardens, through one of the underground walkways that pass beneath the roads. And there were the gardens, in the middle of one of the busiest parts of Istanbul it seemed. Nezahat Gokyigit Botanik Bahcesi was named after the keeper of the site who started a reforestation project on islands of land in order to commemorate his late wife. This motorway section was severely destroyed by road works and so he sought to plant approximately 50,000 trees in 32 hectares. Officially opened as a park in 2002 it changed as a botanical institute in 2003. It is now comprised of eight islands showing a diversity of cultural and historical themes and continuing the long line of legacy introduced by the Ottomans in terms of flower production and plant propagation. When I arrived no-one was expecting me. It was getting late and I had just caught them before they were leaving. They were preparing for a student’s exam on the Sunday, the third successful year of running a horticultural education program (CPH certificate) here. It was an exciting time for them, receiving support from the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and the Darwin Initiative project. They quickly gathered around me, only three of them spoke English, listened to my story and looked at my seeds. They told me to come back On Sunday at 2pm, in the meantime they said I could stay in the lodgings on site with a man called Murat, who happened to be compiling the biggest database of plant species in the whole of Turkey; he treated me like his special guest for the whole weekend, and this would be the pattern for my experience here. Like I said, when I climb those big hills there is always a gift at the end of it.

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Immediately Murat gave me clean bed sheets, made space for me, and cooked me some tough chicken. Like many Muslims he was generous, kind and serious about the impression he was giving. He would observe all the time how I did things and offer to help. I would have ample time to study the gardens during those 3 days and took myself into a Turkish wonderment; their vision is to create something as famous as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This place had achieved everything that all my predecessors promised, education and research facilities, bio-diversity, merchandise and publications, historical and cultural links, and further development opportunities. It should be more called a Park for its sheer size and network of routes that pass through it designed, as I say, with a view to recreating the wonder of Islamic architecture with its stepped terracing of waterfalls, channels and fountains broadly spread throughout in curves and geometric patterns. For instance, in a copur stone water travels in two directions as in a labyrinth, and as it falls through different levels it creates ‘melody’. The water collection system here is very impressive; even the walkways underneath the major roads run water through gutters and drains, whilst traditional music plays in the acoustic background and lights turn on automatically to display a rich display of photos and information boards. From here I would learn of the Ottoman influence. Known as the City of Cities and the “city of roses”, Sehirler sehri, Gulden Sehir, I would come to understand the sultans of past to be ardent flower collectors. Flowers were frequently depicted in military aphorisms. Many districts depicted the names of plants like cevizli ­– Walnut Orchard, Baglar basi – Place of Vineyards, Acibadem – Bitter Almond, and Aynalikavak – Mirrored Poplars. But Turkish gardens also required extensive fruit and vegetable production. As such then we have many different names used for gardens including bag – vineyard or garden, bostan – flower or vegetable garden, and for rose garden the following words, gul-iskan, gul-izar, gulsen –abad, gul-hane, and gulseni. A tulip garden is called a lalezar. After the conquest of Constantinople in the 1450’s Mehmet II planted thousands of cypress trees and transformed the land from the city walls to the palace walls with orchards. The reign of Suleyman the Magnificient (1520-1526) saw horticulture flourish. These sultans had ordered flowers from all over the Empire for the palace gardens including hyacinths and tulips. Ahmed I was a keen breeder of new hybrid varieties, and the surplus rose water was sold in the towns and cities. Topkapi Palace would have been a wonderment to perceive. By the 17th century five hundred grafters worked in these gardens growing twenty varieties of grape onto one rootstock, and seven varieties of mulberry onto one tree. Written in 1750 the book entitled revnak-i bostan describes eight types of grafts. In the reign of Mehmed IV (1648-87) the Flower Council was instituted for registering new flower varieties. Tulips took precedence and its flower motifs were used everywhere. Artists did not imitate nature but wanted to reveal its inherent spiritual values. The gematric system of giving numerical values to Arabic letters meant that lale (tulip) equated with Allah (God), having the same values. One could see flower motifs in everything, from book covers to jewellery, to clothes, furnishings, walls and ceilings, and gravestones. In this vein the prophet Muhammad was symbolized by the rose. Turkish art then, depicts the Tree of Life in all types of decoration and includes the date palm, the pomegranate, cypresses, grape vines, or a composite of these.  Its branches symbolized the seven or nine levels of heaven in Turkish mythology. People wished to be buried under trees, for instance beneath the beauty of plane trees; cutting them down was considered criminal so much so that people went to great lengths to build structures around them. The Turks also had advanced methods of preserving fruit, making it available all year round. As a winter drink dried tubers of orchid were used called salep. All in all the Muslims were master horticulturalists, flowers being the constant theme in hundreds of poetic works. Even the Sultans sought to conquer with flowers, often laying the sword to rest and indulging in floral egress instead. It was just amazing to go through these modern gardens maintained in top condition by the 13 or so gardeners, frequently providing toilet and fresh water facilities, a picnic area for those who need to frequently escape the motorway madness outside, designed as they are to take one on an infinite tour. The landscaping is of top quality too, the integration of rock and plant and the stacking of plants shows years of experience. The gardens have also been designed for seasonal flowering and colour, for this reason there are opportune times to take in the various islands at different times of the year, for instance the arboretum and oak islands. In the Istanbul island one can see a model creation of the Bosphorous with its bridges and blue water. My one disappointing observation was the lack of sound inhibition, for vegetation as well as mechanical methods could be used to screen out the sound pollution of cars. It was a constant din of traffic day and night, and I thought that maybe see-through plastic shield around much of the edges, coupled with dense vegetation immune to car fumes would go a long way to c reate an area of tranquillity. This should be a major development. I also saw the potential to open up areas purely for food production; a forest garden would go along way here. Funded then from a foundation and providing everything free to visitors the gardens pride itself on being the only nucleus of major development in Istanbul; there is only one other major botanic garden in Istanbul which focuses particularly on herbology and useful human plants called the Zeytinburnu Tibbi Bitkiler Bahcesi (www.ZTBB.org) where I would travel to in the next few days later. Sheniz, one of the horticultural assistants, told me that when her father came here he thought the place was surreal, located as it was in a concrete jungle. With Burcin and Rusten welcoming me, and Murat providing sustenance I could not argue with their hospitality.

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It would be then that I left this place with more fond memories. The real Istanbul outside would have to wait, and that will be occasioned in my next blog. For now I decided to locate hostel on the other side of the Bosphorous with Murat’s help, printing out maps for me and helping me get a bargain since everything is much cheaper if you book through the internet where you are likely to get a cheaper deal. I was still suffering badly and would not risk living out rough, not until I healed that is. On the boat I met another lovely man who’s name was Emre. He would subsequently spend the next two days with me, the story of which will come later. Let me say that I visited the herb gardens in Zeytinburnu grabbing a free taxi ride. It just seems that these Muslims know what you need. On arriving I was given a whirlwind tour, and relatively small though the gardens were I had time to sample my first ever white mulberries. More correctly, this garden was known as the garden of useful plants, and Ismail and Arzu were already familiar with permaculture. In fact, Bill Mollison the founder had come here to run a course. Their publications, unfortunately in Turkish, are top rate, and I encourage all Turkish speakers to enquire in the link to the website; I glanced articles from permaculturists all around the world including Masanobu Fukuoka. I tried unripe almonds and took in various sensual experiences with the herbs. If I ever return to Istanbul, and I intend to, then maybe I have work opportunities here. We made a seed exchange at the hostel (and it did look very seedy sparking various conversational points with the English-speaking visitors who shared the same dormitory as me). This issue of carrying seeds across the frontiers, I merely thought was a matter of the peregrine falcon. Josep Montserrat (Barcelona Botanical Gardens) had said that “You must remember especially… that seed exchange is the basis of our culture. There would be no agriculture, no languages ??????or different human cultures without the exchange of seeds and techniques associated with its cultivation. So if we want keep rare plants and conserve biodiversity in some way we need to follow the same path, distributing among many gardens and seed banks the collective efforts to conserve biodiversity. You also know that your efforts should have more significance as a symbol and ethical value than as a courier on two wheels. Mediterranean cultures were borne on the basis of plant exchange between people living all around the basin.” With that in mind then, I leave you in anticipation of the next blog, blowing as I was in the wind like these seeds on the rooftop terrace. A few more common flowers won’t do any harm.

 

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