Archive for the 'danger' Category


Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.


Not bad for her first tournament

The judging’s over and she did well.  Well, considering that in the group before her two girls were thrown clear of their saddles to land with a thump, startling the spectators into silence.   We all watched in horror for a second or two as one fo them hung upside-down to the reins with her horse at full gallop before she let go, luckily out of hoof’s way.

Midst all the ceremony and ritual, the horses brushed to a sheen with braided manes and tails, the girls wearing their finest, you forget that they’re still learning, and that a horse can be quite unpredictable.

Though the little red-haired girl didn’t get any medals, she received good compliments from the judges for her smooth sitting posture.  Still, they said she’ll have to keep her back straighter.

Hmmm…. I do admit to the usual dose of parental bias, but it looks pretty good to my untrained eye:

She lost points during the gallop when Nunzius started to make like he was going to catapult her to the ceiling:

She received a ribbon for participation only, which at this point is all that matters. I’d say not bad for a first time round.


Part 7: knife fights, train confusion and a freezing cold night

Leaving Istanbul was a trial. We got way too close to a knife fight down by the docks, then froze in a train car which wasn’t the one we’d expected.

To get to the Haydarpasa train station for the trip to Cappadocia we had to take a ferry near sundown. Great timing, because the evening light casting the minarets of Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque was unforgettable. Just getting to the ferry was something I won’t forget for a while.


Because traffic was gridlocked the driver let us off about 300 metres from the ferry pier. No problem, because we were travelling light. As we made our way dockside just passing the bow of an enormous cruise ship we came upon a thicket of fisherman side-by-side like you see lined up on the Galata bridge. I’m dragging our one roller-suitcase and the little red-haired girl is behind me with K, when all of a sudden I see off to my right this man get up, walk over and with a loud smack, kick this other man who was sitting down right in the head!


He’s yelling and screaming at him and going after him, but some others pull him off, only to have him go at the guy again, this time fetching a knife from a box and making like he’s going to stab him to death. He’s so enraged! I turn around and shout at K to get themselves away from them, because they were close by, and it still wasn’t over. After they’d stopped him from knifing the guy he picked up a paving stone and was going to either throw it or bash the guy’s head in if, again, the others hadn’t wrestled him to the ground.

turkey-rusty-old-train-doorThe train trip was also memorable, but also for all the wrong reasons. I have this theory about the worst train we were on back then, the one where we had to share the beds and that man started to pray to mecca before sunrise: It was 30 years old and hadn’t been maintained much. The train the three of us took to Cappadocia was also at least 30 years old and hadn’t been maintained much, so in that way, I felt everything was the way it should be, right down to the problem we had when boarding. Another flashback! I wrote in my journal we had a major hassle boarding the train at Haydarpasa back then, too.

The Istanbul travel agency I booked the tickets through – the Turkish State Railway’s online booking system is hopeless – promised that by buying a fourth ticket we’d be getting a private compartment all to ourselves with couchette beds, bedding and pillows. Great! But when we got there the conductor directed us to the shabby old car into a six-person compartment already occupied by a man who must have been at least six-foot-six and yes, looked like he was an early riser, if you know what I mean.

So we were very polite not to make it look like we didn’t want his company, but we asked the conductor if he could find us a private room, which he thankfully did. Too bad it was freezing cold. Not only was the heater on the fritz, there was no bedding! Sorry-no-blanket-no-pillow was all they could tell us. I did go back to the agency and received a refund once we returned to Istanbul, but it was a pretty cold night.


I thought the little red-haired girl would whine and complain, but she was really good about it. “You know,” she said as she wrapped another of our jackets around her, “it’s really quite cozy the three of us in here.”

We woke up near Ankara and I immediately realised we were going to run out of food soon. We hadn’t packed much becuase they also told us there was a snack bar, but there was nothing at all to buy on the train. I soon figured out the best way to get food was to hop off during a station stop, so I did that once in the morning, but by noon we were starting to run low again.

Another flashback: We’ve been on this train for 13 hours already, it’s running late and there’s no way we’re going to make our arrival time before dark as planned, and while stopped at a station suddenly realise we’ve been in this ramshackle farming town for 20 minutes and there’s no sign we’re moving anytime soon, so I say, screw it. I’m going to go and buy us something to eat. So I leave the train and start looking. Again… do you remember how in nearly every little town there were shop windows that looked like they hadn’t been touched in months or years, the display boxes faded and dusty and the wares strewn with dead flies? Nothing much has changed in these little towns.


And that’s also a good thing, because in my search for something to keep us going the extra few hours we were going to need before Kayseri, I came upon a bakery. Wonderful! I’d left my camera behind, otherwise I’d be showing you the most amazing brick oven, half-oval-shaped door in front of which were stacked four-high about 50 pide bread, each more than a metre long, two proud bakers standing at either side holding long, wooden paddles. I pointed to some flatbread over on the side and paid something like 10 cents each for three nice chunky ones. I wish I could have lingered, but was worried the train might start to pull away, so paid and left. But in that brief moment I felt like I was getting a small snapshot of daily life that I’d otherwise never seen had we not been in the train.


As much as you see from afar from the train, you see a lot of life close up.  Like the wrinkled and bent old man with teeth of tobacco-brown almond sticks who boarded the train at a whistle stop carrying a steaming kettle of tea, selling up and down the cars to earn a few lira. We bought a couple of glasses and he was on his way, but a while later came back to sit with us, just opened the door and plunked himself down and started chatting away, asking us where we were going and telling us how late we’d be, asking for a cigarette we didn’t have to give, smiling at the little red-haired girl and saying her hair was beautiful – all in pantomime of course. He disembarked a few miles down the line and gave us a wave as we passed.


We’d also have missed the stark emptiness of the landscape, the fall colours of poplar and birch as the train wended through narrow valleys, the enormous wide sweep of beige and blue as we crossed the plain, herds of sheep or goat tended by shepherds on donkeys, sheep dogs, itinerant farm workers clustered around bags of produce, camped out at the side of fields in huge tents covered in cloth or plastic, naked kids and dogs running around.

Part seven in a series.  Part six is here, part five – underneath Istanbul; part four: the Blue Mosque smells like cheesy feet; part three: Sleepwalking through Turkey – was I even there? Part two: Istanbul memoir, and part one – the intro.


Definitions of stress

1. Driving along at normal speed along a two-lane highway with your 90-year-old mother-in-law bundled up in the passenger seat on the way home to Hamburg in the late afternoon when you see a small car pulling out to pass a semi-trailer coming against you and think well since I’ve got the lights on he’ll see me and pull back in behind the truck but then you realise the jerk is actually going to try to pass the semi-trailer with his gutless wonder and just when you think the two of you are going to smash into each other head-on any second you hit the binders and veer off to roll through the rough grass shoulder leaning on the horn and screaming FUCK! WHAT AN IDIOT! as he’s still only half-way past the semi which has also pulled over as far as he can without landing in the ditch and you’re wishing you’d had the presence of mind to get the guy’s license number but of course all you can think of at a time like that is trying to stay on the road to make sure the both of you don’t get killed.

2. The body’s reaction to the mind’s desire to choke the living shit out of some driver who really deserves it.


South Africa: Don’t bring a small child along for the game drive

The leopard is pretty shy.  If you’re going on night-time drives out looking for wildlife, you’ll be lucky to spot one.

That is, unless you bring along a cranky, whining, snivelling, crying two-year-old along for the fun.

We didn’t learn until later that evening around the campfire what danger we’d been in.  The game driver told our game drive companions someone had better stay back with the kid, because it was precisely her high-pitched blubbering which attracted the leopard so much to our vehicle.

Shot near Kruger Park, July, 2003.


Sometimes you just have to back up.

Especially when you have several tonnes of elephant headed your direction at seven in the morning.

Shot it in Kruger Park, South Africa in July, 2003 while out driving by myself looking for wildlife.

Update: now as YouTube video – WordPress video isn’t worth paying for, imho.


Screaming OH MY GOD while Granny does a backflip

Sunny Sunday, no real plans, just get out and enjoy the warmth and that special atmosphere that only a German Sunday can offer. So after cleaning my clock at Monopoly the little red-haired girl helps me bundle Granny – known as Oma around these parts – into her wheelchair so the three of us can all go out for a Sunday stroll. Our destination: down to the Elbe waterfront.

The bus comes, so we head inside after the friendly bus driver lowers the platform for Oma’s wheelchair. Carefully observing the sign on the wall, I turn the chair in the reverse direction as indicated and set the brakes.


At the central bus station we all pile off and do the same thing when our connecting bus comes, only this time while setting the brakes the little red-haired girl and I are already deep into a conversation about skunks.

We sit down facing Oma and the bus pulls out.

“Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk?” she asks me.

“Nope. I’ve been pretty lucky. But I did run over one once. It was with the first car I ever owned and it must have been cursed because I’d only had it for two days when I ran over it.

“What’s cursed?”

“It means something or someone that for some reason gives you nothing but problems from the start. Anyway, some friends were along for a spin and it was at night and I sort of saw the thing in front of me but by then it was too late and then we heard this THUNK and right away the whole car reeked to high heaven. It stank for two years. Well, it actually only smelled bad for about three months. But for a couple of years you’d catch a whiff of skunk every once in a while. By the way, do you know the only thing that works to get the smell off if you do get sprayed?”

“Yeah, tomato juice. You told me before.”

“Right. I think there’s some acid in it or something that dissolves whatever’s so bad in their spray.”

“Too bad you didn’t wash your car with tomato juice!”

“Nah, that would have been pretty hard. The thing was splattered all over the wheel housing – that’s the part that covers the wheel – and I sprayed it over and over again, but the smell like I said took a long time to

OH MY GOD!!!!!!!

By this time we’ve already made one stop and rounded a corner and gone through the light and turned another corner and we’re headed down to the Elbe waterfront, which is kinda steep. The bus driver for some reason hit the brakes and Oma, with nothing but fresh air behind her, was doing a slow-motion backflip onto the floor. Never changed expression, never said anything, just tipped backward until she was staring straight up at the ceiling.

So in the instant I’m lunging forward way too late to be of any use it flashes through my mind that somehow I’m going to have to explain to my wife that her mother – a woman who lived through the worst of the Second World War by having to abandon her ancestral home to flee the advancing Red Army and live like a refugee for four years with a small child while her husband wasted away in a prisoner of war camp never knowing for the longest time whether he was dead or alive and who scrimped and saved to bring up her family and made it almost to the start of her 10th decade – was finally done in by the negligence of some twit Canadian who may have set the brakes, but didn’t stand behind her wheelchair just in case.

But as I lean down I realise the reason she’s not the least bit upset is because her head is being cradled by two feet – two feet which are placed in the footrests of ANOTHER wheelchair placed it just so happens in exactly the right spot to catch her head as she fell backwards.

The other passengers and the bus driver are all over us at the same time, making sure everything’s OK and that she’ safe and sound, and demonstrating the best way to position the wheelchair to make sure it doesn’t happen again. They suggested sideways, but basically any direction will do as long as you STAND BESIDE IT.

Oma later said she thought I was more rattled by the whole thing than she was. She’s right. We were going to start our walk along the Elbe straight away, but I needed time to let the shakes die down. We headed to the beach where she watched the little red-haired girl and I throw the football around and get sand in our shoes.

Note to self: Use your head. Don’t always pay attention to the instructions.

© 2007 lettershometoyou

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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