A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about experience

The Case Against Flying

Because shooting through the air in a metal case is boring and only add cultural shock to your adventure.

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dont-fly.jpg

I think that I’ve mentioned it a few times already: I consider flying as cheating. So, since I’ve just returned to the African mainland – by plane – after a few weeks on Cape Verde, I should probably explain myself. It’s not that I don’t like the act of flying or is afraid of it; I rather like it. But when it comes to travelling I find it... aesthetically and essentially (for lack of better words) wrong.

Travelling is, to me, essentially a matter of experiences. Whether these are cultural, historical, natural or something entirely else. Flights are not. Flying is the complete opposite. It’s humanity’s most efficient mean of transportation. Planes are inherently time machines, moving people in time and space. The time travel is most evident when we’re flying across time zones.

Cultural Adjustment Curve

Cultural Adjustment Curve

That is, however, not why I dislike flying. (I really want a real time machine!). It’s the travel in space that I mind. Step into that metal cylinder we call a plane in one part of the world, a few hours later we step out somewhere completely different. The problem is that the world doesn’t work like that. The stark difference we feel when flying from, say, Europe or North America to Africa or Asia isn’t real. Sure, it’s real for those people taking the flight, and many of them will probably experience what we call ‘cultural shock’ once they arrive. Simply because the transformation in space is so sudden that it takes some time to get adapt to.

Flamingo in Andalusia

Flamingo in Andalusia

This experience of cultural shock is easily avoided by not flying. Things on the ground change gradually. Consider my trip. Had I just flow from Copenhagen to Dakar (where I am now) it would have been a significant change. Instead, I’ve passed through a number of ‘cultural belts’. The first being Andalusia in Southern Spain. It’s Spanish and European, but having historically also been part of Islamic empires it probably has more in common with Morocco than with (secular, Scandinavian) Denmark. Another transition happened as I moved from to the very conservative and Middle Eastern-ish Mauritania or more open-minded and Sub-Saharan Senegal. Both Islamic countries, the area around the Senegal River, which marks the border, is less conservative than most of the rest of Mauritania on the northern side, but more conservative than the rest of Senegal on the southern. Travelling over land has eased transformation from Scandinavia to Africa in a way that would be impossible by flying.

Overland Travel

Overland Travel

Cultural Shock is basically a lack of understanding about how a given culture works and how it is different from the one you're used to. People and cultures are different too. But travelling over land gives a distinct feeling for where people and cultures are different and where they aren’t. It provides a better understand of who you’re visiting. By experiencing the transformations from Northern to Southern Europe, from southern Europe to North Africa and from North Africa to Sub-Saharan West Africa I have gotten a much better understanding of how people across these regions are similar and different.

Walk if you have to

Walk if you have to

However you go about your non-flying (driving, biking, taking the train, hitch, sail or purchasing a donkey cart) it will give you many more experiences, make you infinitely richer on adventures and be a lot more fun than just flying. As flying is essentially a somewhat tedious affair (unless you’re afraid of it, and they you should avoid it anyway).

Fine, if you’re crossing oceans, are in a hurry (say, on an extended weekend) or if your purpose is not to experience anything, but just to lazy about on a beach, go ahead. Jump on that plane. But the next time you’re taking a two-week vacation somewhere, snub the aeroplane, extend your vacation to three weeks and use that extra week on getting to and from your destinations properly, visiting the fascinating towns, sights and people between your home and wherever you’re going! Especially, if you’re travelling within Europe where distances are incredibly short.

Fogo Island (Aldo Bien, Wiki Commons)

Fogo Island (Aldo Bien, Wiki Commons)

The biggest problem these days are that aeroplane tickets are so damn cheap. Ignore that. Travelling shouldn’t be about saving money. Go the adventures route instead! If you have any sense of adventurous or travelling spirit, it’ll thank you for it (and so will the environment).

So why did I fly to Cape Verde then? It simply was the only mean of transportation. There aren’t any ships from the African mainland. Container ships travel directly there directly from Europe and the private yachts set sail almost exclusively from the Canaries. If I wanted to visit the Verdes, flying was – unfortunately – my only option.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 06:45 Archived in Cape Verde Tagged flying culture no north africa transportation europe andalusia travelling experience non cape_verde cultural_shock Comments (0)

Paying for a Trip to the Prison Shower

Violated, but clean... A proper, local hammam experience is not for the fainthearted or for those who insist strongly on their personal space and comfort zone as inviolable.

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Someone more bashful than me would have felt violated. I had apparently walked into a prison shower, not a hammam. Something I will get back to in a moment.

Hammam

Hammam

A hammam – or a Turkish Bath as they are known as in the West - is basically a public bathhouse. They come in all shapes and sizes and are widespread outside the Western world. In the Russian-speaking world, for example, they are known as ‘banya’. They range from what is essentially a locker room shower to luxurious spas. Hammams are also a hugely important part of daily life, as most people in the world do not have access to hot running water. However, it is the Arab world that has made them famous.
Not only a place of relaxation and personal hygiene, hammams are also places of social, religious and spiritual importance. It is a place where both women and men can relax with their peers, outside of public surveillance. In a sexually repressed society, where public affection is taboo, the hammams offer a sort of time-out, where men and women, in their almost nakedness, can relax together. So, it is not uncommon for the men to joke around, throw cold water at each other and, in general, have a good laugh about life. I obviously do not have any experience with the women’s hammams but I am told that they use it to conversate freely, outside listening range of any (abusive) men.

My Malian orderly in the Hammam

My Malian orderly in the Hammam

Religiously, a Muslim must be clenched and purified before attending prayers at a mosque. This is done by washing hands, lower arms, nose, mouth, ears, feet and ankles. Have he or she had sexual intercourse that day, a full body wash is expected. As usually with the three big religions, there have weirdly enough always been a repulsive interest in human reproduction and what goes on in peoples’ bedrooms. Likewise, a preference to somehow dictate what is allowed comes with most organised religions. The hammam is, therefore, an important place to show off one's clenching before going to the mosque.

The hammam experience is not new to me. Siberian banyas where the best places to reheat my frozen body during the Russian winter and to clear off the dirt after climbing central Asia's mountains. In Syria the price of a wash, scrub and quick massage was less than five euros, providing a little luxury to our shoestring budget, and when visiting Turkey, going to a ‘Turkish Bath’ is a must-do. Here in Morocco, the hammam is necessary because my host family does not have hot water. The required installations are simply not installed in their house. Hence, most morning washes are done in the sink. Face, armpits and privates are washed, then it is off to school. So, once a week a proper bath is needed. There are a couple of hammams nearby. The cheapest sets me back about a euro and a half. It resembles a standard locker room, with the addition of a small sauna. There are no showers. Instead, a number of taps are placed along the walls, about 30 cm above the floor. These are for filling the colourful plastic tubs that are available. Once you have filled a tub, you have to use a large plastic bowl to pour water on yourself. Most locals, therefore, bring a little stool to sit on. They also bring a harsh glove/wash clout to scrub themselves. Once you have washed, scrubbed and saunaed, you are done.

The hammam's main room

The hammam's main room

The other hammam is one of the fancier kinds – by local standards - and cost a heavy (again, by local standards) ten euros. Meaning that those fancy hammams in tourist areas tend to resemble luxurious spas that are all about the relaxing experiences of a wash and massage. Contrary to that a fine local hammam is all about getting clean. Real clean. The fancy part is that you do not have to wash yourself. At my local hammam, an athletic and smiling guy from Mali is during the washing for you. Real thoroughly.
Once I had stripped down to my boxers, which you wear throughout the whole experience, I was brought into the standard hammam-room with a row of hot-water sinks along the walls, which were decorated with dark green tiles. I was sat on a stool while my Malian orderly washed me. First, with shampoo, giving me a rough head massage, then with a thick brown lotion/soap. This greasing of me included my face, arms, back, chest, stomach, outer- and inner thighs, legs and feet. Then another wash-down, with the hot water from the sinks, before I was placed in the sauna for a good fifteen minutes. Once cooked, I was splashed with more hot water, this time with a boiling temperature. Only half way through and I had been massaged, marinated, cooked and scalded. To be honest, I did feel a little like a beef brisket.

The scrubbing/tortue table

The scrubbing/tortue table

Once washed, it was time for my scrubbing. With a rough glove – imagine something between sandpaper and field turf – the outermost layer of dead skin is simply scrubbed off your body. While lying on a stone table, more and more skin was scrubbed off and in the end, I was lying in hundreds of small rolls of my own dead skin. This was the beginning of the violating part. As is was not bad enough to lie around in my own dead skin, the scrubbing goes everywhere. Everywhere. Having my face scrubbed, including my eyelids and throat, is bad enough. But it would be worse. My crutch apparently needed a scrubbing as well, and while lying on my stomach, my Malian friend decided to scrub the inside bits of my butt-cheeks too. Everything except my reproductive organs got a scrub. I am still considering whether the only proper thing to do is to ask him to marry me…

The changing room

The changing room

Thus spotless, I was yet again splashed with something that felt like boiling water, and slightly more embarrassed than when I arrived, I was washed for the third time. This time with a notably nicer smelling soap. Thus cleaned in places I did not know needed cleaning, I was left in the dressing room in a rope by myself. Thus, giving me some time to contemplate what had happened over the past hour. This is apparently the standard way of doing a washing in a fancy hammam outside the tourist areas, and I have to admit that I have never felt that clean. So I probably won’t press charges. Though I might keep to the cheap hammam, where I do the washing and scrubbing myself, for the future.

Posted by askgudmundsen 04:31 Archived in Morocco Tagged spa morocco rabat experience hammam home_stay Comments (0)

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