08 January 2010

Border crossings


Arriving in Europe through the Balkans has meant many many border crossings. One day we had breakfast in Macedonia, coffee on the high plains of the Kosovo and dinner on the coast of Montenegro. Countries have blurred, we barely have time to put our passports away, but we have also crossed plenty of invisible borders: the ‘donkey cart on the road’ border, or the ‘reliable road signs’ border, the ‘clean toilets at roadside petrol stations’ and the ‘no more flatbread’ border. Some we have relished (who doesn’t like a clean toilet), but there are some things I miss in this return to old familiarities. There is a marked distance to strangers now. It’s not that I miss the intense privacy intrusions of Ethiopia or the hassling touts of Egypt, but the easy hospitality of Sudan and the friendly curiosity of almost anywhere we pulled up, the willingness to accept my poor attempt at local language in the Arab world.

One of the concerns I had about this trip has been whether we’d be able to cross all those African borders, whether we’d have to bribe people, whether we’d be refused visas or have our car searched. None of these worries became reality in the end. Border formalities were unfailingly chaotic and inscrutable, took a few hours of standing in the heat wondering what it is about bureaucracy that wins through with even the most relaxed nationalities, but no-one ever showed one bit of interest in the contents of our car or gave us grief about our visas. There was of course the exception of Egypt where at both the incoming border at Aswan and the exit border at Nuweiba the officials displayed complete contempt for any sense of efficiency, courtesy or honesty, but that was a big exception. Now we are in the EU borders have become a part of that memory of strange things we did in Africa. We recently crossed the ‘not having to get out of the car’ border, and now they just are no more until we again leave the safe bosom of our home continent.

06 January 2010

European landfall

We have arrived on our home continent. Actually, we have crossed it half way already, in a mad dash to get to central heating and warm showers, i.e. my brother's house. Have a look at the map and you'll see the distances we made in the last three days. Yay for being able to drive in the dark again. I expect the next update to announce our arrival.

Happy new decade!