Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Analogy of Returning

Inspired by a conversation

A broad meandering river flowed in a slow curve around a solitary mountain.

A scoop of water was taken from the river in a glass bowl. The hands that held this bowl carried it along the paths that ascended to the mountain's summit.

From the summit of the mountain, the water in the glass bowl was held aloft, and viewed a panorama unlike anything the river had passed. Distant horizons, other rivers, more mountains, and a vast sky dominated the open landscape. It was tremendously beautiful, and seen from a perspective the broad, meandering river could never have offered.

After a few moments in the intense sunlight, the hands carried the glass bowl down the far side of the mountain. The path finally stopped when it met the river again, and here the bowl was emptied into the still-moving water.

The water rejoined the river amongst exactly the same fluid it was taken from. Both waters had once flowed along the same concourse, and continued to flow together again inseparably. The only difference was that a few drops from the river had now been fortunate enough seen the view from the mountain's peak.

Of course, the brief sojourn of that one lucky bowl of water never affected the ceaseless flow of the powerful river.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lowlights of the Grand Tour

"For we live in the best of all possible worlds" (Voltaire's Candide)

1 - "Triple Soup" in Bergama, Turkey. Do try it.

2 - Hitch-hiking through 300km of rural Turkey to retrieve my forgotten passport, on my second day in that country.

3 - A hasty and complex change of Roman hotels from the port city of Patras, Greece, after unveiling disturbing news about the hotel I had previously booked.

4 - The lurching high-speed ferry to Dar-es-Salaam from Zanzibar. I now have an unusual pavlovian reaction to Mrs Doubtfire.

5 - The bus from Antalya to Olympos, undoubtedly the second-worst journey of my life.

6 - Realising I had no way of withdrawing cash in Cairo.

7 - The sudden sharp loneliness after the girl I explored Rome for a week with left to return to Finland. I could have sworn she was still following me through the streets for days afterwards, and kept turning to see no-one.

8 - Being stalked by an unseen presence as the darkness fell in the forests of Meteora, Greece.

9 - The interminably boring land border crossing from Turkey to Greece. Dante must have taken notes there for one of his medium-intensity circles of Hell.

10 - The bedbugs of the Freestyle Hostel, a cesspit the size of a living room, with the worst bathroom I have ever imagined to be feasible. In fact, the Freestyle Hostel deserves three notches on this list, if it weren't for the saving grace of two lovely girls from Kansas.

11 - Watching, with traffic-accident morbidity, the growth of footworms in my colleagues' feet as we travelled across Africa.

12 - Realising that the Tanzanian Schilling cannot be transferred into any other currency within Tanzania, or anywhere else in the world.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Highlights of the Grand Tour

A Summary of the Top 25 Experiences

(In no particular order, and I can still think of more...)

1 - Watching the sun set amongst the ancient colossal heads of the mountain-summit ruins of Nemrut Dagi, Turkey.

2 - Driving through the verdant, exquisitely cultivated high-altitude tea fields of central Sri Lanka. Misty mountain summits interspersed with thread-like waterfalls, blazing tulip trees, and joyously handpainted trucks.

3 - The overwhelming gallery day in Florence spent within the Pallazzo Pitti, Galleria dell Accademia and Uffizi, revelling in my recently completed Art History and Curatorship degree.

4 - Silently exploring the isolated, secretive and surreal garden valleys of Cappadoccia, Turkey.

5 - Shaving in a slow golden sunrise, chest deep in in the warm waters of Lake Malawi, after a pre-dawn run with local fishermen's kids for several kilometres along the unending sandy shore. (Malawi, Africa).

6 - Chilling out for a whole day in Olympos, Turkey, by swimming in the laodecean Mediterranean, scrambling through thick forests seeking ancient ruins, and reading Catch-22 from a hammock.

7 - Watching one of the slowest and most glorious sunsets of my life, marvellously tinting the skies over Europe and Asia as I watched from a hidden mosque high above the Bosphorous, in Istanbul.

8 - Searching for shooting stars in the vast and cold night skies over the Western Deserts of Egypt, in the company of a new friend. (A perfect herald to the new year)

9 - Exploring the eternal city of Rome for a week with a Finnish girl whom I had not seen in seven years, but maintained a close handwritten correspondance for all that intervening time.

10 - The consecutive wierdness and serendipity of what will be remembered as "Raki Night" and "French Night", Istanbul.

11 - Wandering the mountainous autumnal farmlands, of Cinque Terre, Italy, where sheer cliffs plunge deep into the dark, shimmering Mediterranean Sea. (And being given totally useless directions by two little grandmothers, but ending up none the worse for it.)

12 - Trekking from Thira to Ios, through the superb blue and white curvilinear architecture, the volcanic, barren mountain summits, and the coiled vineyards of the island of Santorini, Greece.

13 - Swimming with a pack of large sharks in the Red Sea, Egypt.

14 - Climbing massive sand dunes in Libya with my father, looking out over the sunset as it came down upon the Algerian border.

15 - Exploring the vast ruined cities of Leptis Magna and Sabratha in Libya, and the infinately more crowded Italian ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis with a Catalan friend.

16 - Independently discovering pitch-black networks of secret tunnels beneath cave churches in Cappadoccia, Turkey, which we navigated using the flashes on our cameras.

17 - The impossibly vast Serengeti, with the endless migration of wildebeest and zebra, and the land-before-time unreality of the Ngorongoro crater.

18 - Four days in the moulding tropical deterioration of Zanzibar, seeking the most magnificent timber doors in existence, liberally scattered through tiny crowded alleys and cul-de-sacs in labyrinthine Swahili-Persian-Indian Stonetown.

19 - The white-on-pitch-darkness maze of adobe townhouses in Ghadames, Libya, one of the world's most beautiful places, afortified town in an oasis deep in the Sahara desert.

20 - Listening to the evening call to prayer ripple out from high above the minarets, standing atop the western minaret of Bab Zweylah, Cairo.

21 - Discovering the secret tradesmen of Cairo - the tripod spinners of the City of the Dead, the craftsmen east of Bab Zweylah, the accumulators of the Junk Market, the Quaitbey glassblowers, and the incandescant silks produced in the Dyer's Khan, secretly hung upon bamboo poles amidst the smothering dust of central Cairo.

22 - Flooding the roads of Alexandria, and shopping for gifts in the late-evening Khan el Khalili, aided by two beautiful Egyptian locals, in a Christmas not to be forgotten.

23 - Realising that Venice is only easy to get lost in if you're actually trying to find something.

24 - Collecting, collecting, and collecting, irreplaceable artifacts from across the world, in some of the best antique dealerships and random stalls I could ever have hoped to encounter, making good friends along the way.

25 - Taking ridiculous numbers of photographs in some of the world's most beautiful places.

And realising, after it was all complete, that I had really been there.