Thursday, July 18, 2013

The End in Sight: My final days in Africa & visiting Stefan in Germany

It is amazing to say, but as I write this post I am sitting in Seattle, in the house where I grew up.  Home.  After a year and a half of such a big and such an incredible journey form one end of Africa to the other, it is a strange but comforting feeling to finally be here.  That said, I will actually conclude the trip in my next post, so this discussion has to wait.  First I need to tell you about the rest of my time in Egypt (which I left just two weeks before President Morsi was thrown out!) visiting the Valley of the Kings, stopping by the city of Alexandria, seeing the end of the Nile River, eating brains and finally on to Germany with all the parties, great beer and vintage vehicles!  So scroll down and enjoy, it’s a good one.

I was still enjoying some much needed rest and alone time in Luxor and set aside another day to sleep in, get some writing done and just do nothing.  Sometimes you just need those kind of days, even when you are being taunted by some of the worlds most astounding historical sites within walking distance! 

The following day I did get out though, in order to see the Valley of the Kings and the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, which sit on the west side, the other side of the Nile from the heart of the city.  As usual, I decided to skip an organized tour of any sort and headed off on my own.  Near Luxor Temple is the ferry landing, and from there you can cross the river in about five minutes for just one pound (about 15 cents).  Like everything else in Egypt during my time, the lack of tourists stood out here as well.  The rivers edge was full of ferry boats, dozens upon dozens of them, sitting idle and not likely to start up any time soon.  I never saw a single other tourist in the ferry area. 

On the east side of the river many people tried to sell me on hiring a taxi to visit the Valley of the Kings and Hatshepsut and I declined, figuring I could get it cheaper by doing it myself after getting off the ferry on the west side.  When I did arrive, the east side of the river felt like a ghost town.  Areas that in the past would have been full of stands selling tourist trinkets stood nearly empty; only a boy selling sunglasses and a young girl selling fruit occupied the space, and I was only met by a single cab driver offering to take me to the sites.  While I thought about renting a bicycle to visit the sites I decided to go with the taxi.  After pulling the ‘walk away’ negotiating trick to get the price lower, I climbed in the cab and we set off for The Valley of the Kings a short drive away.

As we pulled up to the entrance of the site, again my first impression was of emptiness. The huge parking lot contained just a single tour bus baking in the hot Egyptian sun and a handful of cars along the edge. I walked through the modern (and Japanese built) visitor center, paid my 80 pound entrance fee and hopped on the totally unnecessary tram that caries you about 300 meters down the road to where the actual entrance is. From there I entered the Valley of the Kings and must admit I was a little surprised there was nothing to see above ground. Other than the path running down the center it looked like any other valley in the desert.

Instead of seeing anything out in the hot sun, here in the Valley of the Kings all the action is underground, in a series of more than 60 tombs carved into the rock. The ticket allows entrance to three tombs, and there were about 15 open tombs for me to choose from. Not knowing where to go, the ticket man told me the three most spectacular were KV8 (Merenptah), KV11 (Ramesses III) and KV14 (Twosret & Setnakhte). From there you simply walk to what appears to be a doorway into a mountain side, let the doorman punch your ticket and head down a long tunnel filled with hieroglyphics and paintings.

Of the 65+ tomb discovered so far, some only reach 20 meters into the earth while one reaches nearly 140 meters. Due to thousands of years, periodic floods and tomb robbing throughout history the tombs sit in various states of disrepair, but what I saw was pretty incredible.

Escaping the hot sun to walk down a tunnel carved of stone, built thousands of years ago and to arrive at the end where a giant stone sarcophagus sits is a pretty amazing experience, especially when you have the whole place to yourself!

After about two hours checking out the Valley of the Kings (I wish I could have seen more of the tombs, but didn't want to pay any more money..) I hopped into my waiting taxi and we drove the short distance to the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. I'm told there is a hike over the hills between the two sites, but because it was terribly hot out, I was being a bit lazy, and I already had the cab.

The temple of Hatshepsut is very unique in Egyptian architecture, and its setting at the base of the cliff is quite spectacular. This spot had a few more tourists than in the Valley, but it was still relativity empty. The fee here is only 30 pounds but it doesn't take long to see so that price was pretty fair. Happy to have my sun hat, I waked towards the entrance ramp.

After passing the carved birds that guard t ramp I turned back towards the Nile and surveyed the piles of stone neatly laid out for future restoration work and beyond to the green irrigated land the Nile's water make possible. The temple itself was very nice, a collection of columns, statues and the ubiquitous hieroglyphics that seem to cover very wall. As I was there a tour group of Russians and another of Japanese arrived, reminding me I wasn't totally alone here in Egypt, but certainly was a small crowd.

On the way back to the ferry dock I stopped at Colossi of Memnon, two 60 foot tall, 720 ton monuments of Amenhotep III as he looks towards the Nile. It's pretty amazing that here in Luxor, things like this are just sitting on the side of the road! With the sites I had visited between Cairo, Abu Simbel and Luxor, I felt I'd done as much of ancient Egypt as I was interfered in seeing. After all, even though I skipped out on a few, I still saw more than most people do! My taxi driver took me back to the ferry dock and for once I was happy to give him a tip. He was friendly, did everything we agreed on, and most importantly never tried to sell me anything extra along the way. I thanked him, hopped on the ferry were they tried to charge me 2 pounds instead of the 1 it should be (I gave one and walked away) and as I floated no the Nile one last time I planned my next move.

Back on the east side I fond an overnight bus leaving for Cairo in the evening, so I returned to Happy Land Hotel, picked up my bags, visited the internet cafe one more time and as the sun went down climbed aboard the bus. I would have preferred a train, however those tickets weren't avaliabe when I checked so I had no other option. Luckily it was a decent bus with a good seat and AC, but I always have trouble sleeping during overnight travel and spent most of the night listening to rap music on my iPod.

At midnight, somewhere in the desert of Egypt, the bus stopped for a late night dinner break. I was the only foreigner around (no surprise) and when I tried to order some food no one seemed to speak any English. As I was trying to mime and point what I wanted, a man who did speak a bit of English came up to me and said I could eat with him and his friends. It turned out he was a German language guide for the Luxor area, but he said Americans were his favorite tourists because they were the most friendly. Him and his friends let me join in with their dinner, encouraging me to eat more and more the whole time. Nice guys.

I arrived in Cairo at the Ramses train station around 4:30am and walked right on to a minibus headed to Alexandria. That second leg of the journey took another three hours, but once again I met a very helpful young man who helped me get off at the right place and send me in the right direction.

Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt, the heart of Egyptian international trade, a tourist hub and a city with an incredibly long and interesting history. Founded by Alexander the Great, it remained the capital of Hellenistic and Roman & Byzantine Egypt for nearly one thousand years. As I walked towards the Mediterranean Sea, I walked past these remnants of an old Roman amphitheater, which was pretty amazing to see in Egypt, but it speaks to the incredible history of this part of the world.

I'm not sure what exactly I expected from the city, but other than the location on the Mediterranean and a handful of interesting monuments such as the Naval Unknown Soldier Memorial, Alexandria did not look any different from Cairo to me, something I found a little disappointing.

I wandered around the area looking for a hotel and was disappointed that everything seemed to be $15 to $20 or more, which is the most I've ever paid for a place to sleep. I wound up at Union Hotel which was nice enough, included breakfast, the lobby had wifi and I even had a view of the water from my deck. The TV had no English channels, but it's not like I would have watched it anyways. Yes, $15 or something is a lot more than I was paying in rural Africa, but to be fair you are getting a hell of a lot more for your money here compared to the $3 mud rooms I've stayed in that have a pit toilet and no running water and if you are lucky, electricity!

Really the only reason I came to Alexandria was to be at the north end of Egypt and put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea. With this, I would officially cross the entire continent of Africa, having started by sticking my feet in the Atlantic Ocean down in Cape Town, South Africa one and a half years ago.

Being here, looking at the Mediterranean and realizing that it was official, I'd crossed all of Africa was another bittersweet moment for me. Obviously I'm an “it's the journey, not the destination” kind of guy, and the journey has been so amazing I don't think I'll ever be able to fully express and explain it but the destination matters because in this case it marks the end not just of the continent, but the end of my entire journey. I experienced and dealt with most of the intense emotions for the end of my journey prematurely, when I’d first arrived in Egypt, but being here brought a lot of those feelings right back and I wouldn't' help but feel a bit sad now that the end of the trip was so close.

I took a long and much needed shower in the room, had some beer while I took advantage of the wifi then set out into the night in search of a fresh fish dinner. Being summer time in Egypt, it is vacation time for the people, and what better place to come than the Sea? As a result, the streets were full of Egyptian tourists (yet again, I saw very, very few foreigners) which made for a very bright, noisy and festive atmosphere I really enjoyed. Everywhere you looked, people seemed to be eating, drinking, smoking and playing in the still warm night.

After walking down the waterfront for half an hour just people watching and soaking up the atmosphere (and I wasn't hassled by a single person by the way), I found a nice looking fish place to have diner. I pointed to the fresh fish sitting on ice that I wanted to eat, they weighed it to give me a price and within a few minute I had a huge and delicious meal that even I was unable to finish! I didn't think of it this way at the time, but I suppose that counted as my 'victory dinner' for crossing Africa.

I slept in as late as I could the next morning, then headed back in the direction of where I had dinner the night before. Near by, at the harbor entrance, sits the 15th century Citadel of Qaitbay, a spectacular looking walled fortress, built to protect Egypt against the Turks.

Maybe I was asking for it by going out with my hair down, but after I'd paid for my ticket and entered the courtyard area, I was literally swarmed by young Egyptian guys who wanted to take photo with me. I assume they are just going to post it on Facebook and pretend I'm their friend or something, I don't know, but I probably ended up posing for 10 different photos, but I got a good laugh out of it so I din't mind.

The center of the fort is a mosque.

Looking up.

I spent a good amount of time wandering the castle and it's protective walls, which included cannons pointing out towards sea, and quickly met a young man who wanted to talk. We walked together looking at the castle and out to sea and he told me he does technical translations from English into Arabic for Dell manuals, but no surprise, wanted to come to America to work.

When I had seen enough of the castle, I headed back out it's protective walls and to an area of the shore that was full of young kids swimming and men fishing with extremely long poles. It was here that I actually put my feet in the Mediterranean Sea, but the concrete blocks were very slippery and I almost fell in! Luckily I stayed standing, and with that I'd officially crossed Africa, it only took me 525 days!

The city is of course was the home to the Library of Alexandria, one of the ancient worlds most significant repositories of knowledge. That library of course burned down, however in 2002 a new library, the Bibliotheca Alexandria, was built to rekindle the original spirit, and is certainly an impressive and unique building.

Personally I'm not a fan of this type of architecture, but it was still interesting to see the place.

After exploring the library, I headed to a waterfront restaurant, where I got a surprisingly good pizza, then began my slow walk back to the hotel.

Busy streets and beautiful light from the setting sun.

The sun was setting as I walked around the large harbor, so I stopped for a few minutes to watch it go behind the Citadel of Qaitbay, then spent the rest of the night back in my hotel enjoying a few beers and a movie in bed.

I had now made it all the way across Africa, but I had one more thing I wanted to do before leaving and that was to see the end of the Nile river. Although not totally accurate, I had already seen two places proclaiming to be the 'source of the Nile', Lake Victoria in Tanzania as the source of the White Nile and Lake Tana in Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile. I figured I should see the end of the river where the river flows through the Nile Delta in the Mediterranean Sea, maybe it would help provide some closure for the end of my journey.

In order to accomplish this, I had to get to the town of Rosetta (yes that is the town where the Rosetta Stone was found) by minibus. Because the Nile spreads into a massive delta, one of the largest in the world covering 240km of Mediterranean coastline, I simply looked at map, saw part of the river emerging into the there and set off. The ride was only about 65km and took less than an hour, but out here, on these roads, with these drivers and these vehicles, that was more than enough time to come across one or two good car crashes...

In the minibus I began talking with some of the other passengers and it turned out I was with an entire group of young men who were part of an Egyptian bases NGO, their job was to go into rural communities, assess the needs of the poorest people and come up with ways to improve their lives. Having spent so much time with foreign aid and development agencies in my time in Africa it was very refreshing to see on that is actually run and staffed by locals, and ones who seemed passionate about the work at that. They took me to the river (even paying for my cab fare), pointed me in the right direction and headed off to work themselves.

I now had the huge river to my east, all I had to do was walk north to the Mediterranean Sea, it should be easy right? Naturally it was a blazing hot day, so it didn't take much encouragement when a young man selling cold soda to temp me to sit down before setting off. We drank soda, enjoyed a hookah and talked for about 20 minutes before I actually started walking.

Not knowing how far away the sea was, I simply assumed it couldn't be too far (still an optimist!) and began to walk north. Within a few minutes I found I had left the more urban part of town and entered an industrial area. The rivers edge was lined with boat builders, brick makers and fishing boats, and judging by the looks I was getting the people here had never seen a random white guy with a backpack walk down this road before.

Because the Nile Delta is essentially the only agricultural land in the country, the side of the road opposite the river and the factories was farmland, irrigated with a vast series of channels that branch off the river.

After nearly 40 minutes of walking I began to second guess what I was doing and how far it was. The truth is I simply had no idea, and at first no one I talked to either spoke English or understood what I was actually doing here. However as usual, a stranger came to my rescue. As I was walking the dusty streets, a few men gathered and said hello. As we tried our best to communicate, another man appeared and not only spoke English, but had lived in America for a number of years. I discussed with him where I was trying to go, “where the river meets the sea”, and he waved down a tuk tuk who could take me there. Much to my surprise the driver spoke a little English as well. He told me how he loves America, and we discussed our families, but when he began ranting about the Egyptian politics, the only part of it I understood was his frustration.

It was a nearly 15 minute drive to the sea and man I was glad I hadn't had to walk it all. The 'end of the Nile' was as unimpressive and as undramatic as I expected. What I found was a sandy industrial area, a handful of fishermen, and obviously polluted waters. However to my left I could see the vast expanse of the Mediterranean Sea, to my right was the Nile, wide and lazy and ending it's long journey.

I of course was ending my journey as well and my journey made even the Nile's look short in comparison. I had landed in Cape Town, South Africa, driven all the way to the Kenyan border of Tanzania half way up Africa, flown back to Cape Town and started all over again, that time actually succeeding and crossing all of Africa. This was it, the real northern end to my Trans-Africa journey, of my great African Adventure, of a major part of my life. Because I'd already gone through my big freakout about the end of my trip a few weeks back when I first came to Egypt and already reached the sea to officially cross Africa I'd, had two major 'ends' to my trip meaning this one wasn't so big, but I will admit to staring off into the Mediterranean and getting a little teary-eyed.

My flight out of Cairo was in three days and I needed some time to rest and get organized before leaving Egypt. I was done traveling here, it was time to pack up, say goodbye and finally leave Africa. Luckily for me Amr, my last Couchsurfing host, was able to host me again so I knew had a great place to go back to in the chaos that is Cairo, and that was a major relief. I hopped a minibus from Rosetta to Alexandria, then a second from Alexandria to Cairo, spending a lot of time stuck in traffic and finally arriving at Amr's place around 9pm.

Although worn out, I wasn't able to rest or sleep. Instead I took a much need long and hot shower to get off the travel grime, did a load of laundry and took full advantage of Amr's wifi. Amr (right) and his friends have a habit of staying up late, very late, so when 3am rolled around and the discussion centered around ordering some food for delivery I was game. When asking what I wanted , Amr mentioned they had cow brain sandwiches and well, since I'd never tried brains, I got curious and ordered one. When it arrived, it was simply a roll with some breaded and fried blobs in the middle, unrecognizable as what it was. I took a big bite, chewed and swallowed. My impressions? Really it doesn't taste like much, it was really just bland, mushy filling, a bit of a disappointment really. Oh well, at least I can say I ate brains.

For the next two days until my flight I did almost nothing. I had no interest in seeing more of Cairo, not necessarily because I didn't like the city (though to be fair, I didn't really like the city) but because my brain had turned off, I was done with traveling and was read to leave Africa. There comes a point on a long trip where you are just ready to call it quits and I'd already reached that point a while ago.

In roughly three days I was at Amr's place, I left the apartment exactly one time, in order to get some food and get some cash. Remember how I said everything in Cairo looks the same? Because it sure does. When I went out of the apartment find an ATM and some food, I had to be very careful to remember what streets I turned on, otherwise I could easily get lost and because I was unable to eve figure out the name of the building or the street name, I would have had to call Amr and have him speak to a taxi for me, and that would have been embarrassing! Luckily I managed to find both what I was looking for and my way back home without problems.

On June 20th, after 541 days in Africa, Amr gave me a hookah as a gift and a ride to the Cairo International Airport. From there, I would fly to Istanbul, Turkey for a short layover, then land in Stuttgart Germany to see my friend Stefan.

Boarding that plane, taking off and saying goodbye to the African continent I'd gotten to know so well over the past year and a half was easier than I expected. Not because I was happy to leave, I wasn't, but because I was ready to leave. It was six months earlier, way back in Lusaka, Zambia that I bought this plane ticket. My return date was a result of my friends getting married in July, something I decided I had to return for. Were it not for that wedding I have no doubts I'd still be in Africa, and for a significantly longer time at that. With a return date set however, conscious or unconscious, I'd been preparing for my return ever since I bought that ticket and it was finally upon me. I'm saving the grand reflections for the next post when I actually arrive home, so all I can say right now is “Wow, I made it.”

Here is a rough (and admittedly ugly) map of my route across Africa which lasted 540 days, just under a year and a half. Again I will have more to say about the whole trip and it's end in the next post, but I will at least sum up the route here since this is when I leave Africa.

Just after Christmas in 2011 I flew out of my home in Seattle, arriving in Cape Town, South Africa. I'd never been to Africa before and I really didn't know what to expect. The plan of course was to drive the Cape to Cairo with two guys, Chris and Weon, and we set out with that goal. Over three months our little group went from South Africa, through the southern half of Mozambique and along the length of Malawi to northern Tanzania, where that trip fell apart for a variety of reasons. I flew back to Cape Town for the Afrika Burn festival (amazing by the way), and started the Cape to Cairo over, this time on my own and with a totally different style.

I spend the next three months in South Africa hanging out in Cape Town, working on a farm and relaxing on the coast before crossing into Botswana, where I spent a great deal in Gaborone before cycling across the country on a single speed bicycle. As I was cycling I met Stefan who was traveling in a 1974 VW bus. We ended up traveling together for two months, including a month at a Zambian orphanage before parting ways where I finished the country by bike. At that point I traded my bike for a wooden canoe to try and paddle Lake Tanganyika, the worlds longest lake, solo. This didn't go so well and I ended up having to do the bulk of the lake on a 100 year old German warship, which was also an amazing experience. Landing in Burundi, I took local buses through that country, into Rwanda and into Uganda. Unable to get a visa to enter Ethiopia by land, I had to bus to Nairobi, Kenya and fly into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that way. My problems continued when I was unable to get the visa for Sudan and after more than a month in Ethiopia I flew over Sudan (which was extremely disappointing.) and landed in Cairo. Using buses and the train, I traveled Egypt from one end to the other, then about a year and a half after arriving in the southern end of Africa in Cape Town, flew out of the northern end of the continent in Cairo.

What an in incredible journey...

Flying into Turkey for my layover it was obvious I'd returned to the western world. Even from an airplane, everything looked different. The plants, the hills, the layout of the cities and as we made our approach to the airport, the buildings themselves looked nothing like what I'd been seeing for the last year and a half. I was further reminded reminded I'd entered another world when nearly everyone I saw was white, and when I saw a recycling bin in the airport! The flight between Istanbul and Stuttgart was beautiful. I had a window seat, the weather was crystal clear and I stared out the window the whole time, looking down on patchworks of farmland, forests and even the snow covered Alps! After a hassle free entry and stamp into Germany, I headed out the door to find Stefan.

We met outside of the airport, I climbed in the car and we drove to his town of Neckarsulm, got caught up with each others trips. It had been way back in Zambia, nearly six months earlier that we parted ways and we had a pretty epic time together. Meeting in the Okavango Delta of Botswana, I tied my bike to his VW and we set off, spending our first few days together getting stuck in deep sand, breaking down, and having to be towed out twice. Then we went on to have many close encounters with wildlife, eat some elephant, have a big party or two and cross into Zambia before spending a month at an orphanage and Thanksgiving in Lusaka before parting ways and agreeing to meet in Germany on my way home. To See Stefan again and to sit in the van we traveled through Africa together in was great, both to simply see a good friend, but also to help ease the transition home because it wasn't going to be an easy one.

I had nearly two weeks here in Neckarsulm to hang out with Stefan and his friend and housemate Tim, and I was really looking forward to it. It was going to be a chance to simply relax, recover and readjust. With Stefan, Tim and their great house, I found just that.

I know a lot of times my journey across Africa has probably looked like a lot of fun and easy living, and in a way it has been, but it is also tremendously mentally taxing. To be organized enough, flexible enough and capable enough and though enough, both mentally and physically to do a trip like this is not easy. I felt like I'd been firing on all cylinders for the last 18 months, like I had to be “On” at all times. This was a chance to rest my body, but most importantly a chance to rest my mind; to be able to let down my guard for the first time, to stop having to make every decision, to simply turn “Off.”

After getting settled in the house and noticing a few of his Africa mementos on the walls, we headed out for a quick walk into town to look around and get some euros. Looking around, it was pretty clear I was not in Africa any more!

Going from Egypt (and every other nation in Africa I traveled through) to Germany was a huge shift.  Suddenly I no longer had to worry about stepping in open sewage, or being hit by a speeding minibus driver which was nice, and I was no longer stared at where ever I went since in Germany I can blend in (wow, it's really amazing how different it feels to be able to blend in again!) with everyone else.  But my overriding feeling was that of an emptiness.  While the streets in any village, town or city across Africa would be bustling with people, shops, bikes, cars, noises and smells, Germany felt so empty and starile.  In Africa people accept and embrace the fact they live in the middle of each others chaotic lives, in the west we seem to go out of our way to be disconnected from others or not to impose on them in any way.  The difference was really startling.  

That evening we drove out to one of the viewpoints in the area to watch the sunset. This part of Germany is largely based on agriculture and manufacturing. The towns are tight clusters of homes and shops and centered around a church, surrounded in fields, mostly vineyards, and the town also has one of the Audi factories, a huge salt mine and other industry, necessitating a coal power plant in the area. The contrast between the old towns and the power plant was an interesting one, but it was certainly a beautiful place. Although the buildings looked different, I began to see many of the same trees and other plants, and it actually felt a lot like home.

After sleeping in and eating breakfast at noon, Stefan and I went to visit his parents house, check out some of their vehicles (old motorcycles, a tractor and another VW van) and head up to their little plot of land among the vineyards to check it out and meet his father and brother. After my time in Egypt, it felt wonderful to be surrounded by so much green again.

That evening, Tim and Stefan cooked a huge and delicious dinner, washed down by a nice German beer.

One of their friends was having a birthday party, so after dinner we headed to another place to meet up with everyone.

It was a fun party, I think this was 'birthday boy wrestling'.

We sat around the fire until the early morning.

After such a long night we all slept in, relaxed, and had another big dinner in preparation for another big night out.

Driving through the area in the evening.

Tonight was the towns celebration for the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The event is put on by a local scout troop, and involves eating, drinking and lighting a huge bonfire on a hilltop.

As the sun went down over the horizon, everyone gathered in a circle of scrap wood which was then lit by a group of children.

As the firefighters watched, the bonfire grew bigger and bigger, to the point where you couldn't stand within 10 meters of the thing.

A beer with the guys. That is Tim on my left, my other host here in Germany and a great cook!

Another late night meant another lazy day. Sleeping in, watching a movie and playing bocci ball were the limit of the days activities.

The next day, I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I wanted it to be. We had another BBQ that evening, consisting primarily of a dish made by weaving a mat of bacon, piling on ground beer and rolling it up in something they called a 'bacon bomb' but I preferred the name 'bacon baby', as it was a sort of giant meat log about the size of a baby!

Although the weather was almost perfect nearly my whole visit, there were two or three days of light rain, and just like the trees, a gray day of light rain made it feel like home.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant that served traditional food from the region, and along with locally produced red wine, had a slab of beef, liver sausage, blood sausage and sauerkraut.

My desire to rest and not have to make any important decisions continued, so I spent most of the day laying around the house while Stefan and Tim were at work. When Stefan would propose something to do, all I had to do was say 'yes.' Today it was to go for a ride on their families old tractor, but in order to get there we hopped on the little 50cc motorcycle and headed to his parents house again.

Sitting next to his brothers Wesfalia 4x4 and his dads 1974 1000cc Moto Guzzi with sidecar is the tractor, bought new by his family in 1952 if I remember correctly, and still working perfectly.

With the addition of turn signals, the tractor is actually road legal and after using the hand crank to start the engine we set off to drive around the area.

The vineyards again. I'll never get tired of seeing this much green.  

We drove to one of the viewpoints and then on to visit an old hilltop fort a ways away. After bouncing around in the seat, winding our way up the long hills to the fort, making a lot of noise and attracting a lot of attention on the way, we found the fort was closed. There was an old church we passed as we headed back, but I wasn't disappointed, like most things it was about the journey, not the destination.

That evening Tim and I went out to what I am told is the only bar in town. In the back room where the pool table and darts are, the whole room is American themed which I found pretty funny. There was a Hardly Davidson motorcycle, Hollywood stars, Coca Cola signs and even a Washington State license plate around the room for decoration, but I have to admit the effect was pretty poor, haha. They had this American flag art on the wall, and since I had my corny hat I bought in a local market in Tanzania and because I was coming home in just about a week, I decided it was worth a silly photo op before calling it a night. That night back at home Stefan and I watched a recent episode of BBC Top Gear, where the guys try and find the source of the Nile in used station wagons. While I have to admit it wasn't as good as their episode driving across Botswana, which I watched with Stefan in the middle of our disastrous drive through the sands of northern Bots, it was still a ton of fun to watch them pass through areas of Africa where I had been only months before. It brought back a lot of memories of the place I'd just left, unsure when I' would have the chance to return to Africa again.

So the Africa part trip is officially over, but I'm still in Germany and not yet home. Up next will be more exploration of the Stuttgart area, meeting another German friend from Ethiopia, touring the Audi factory, a salt mine, more museums, a motorcycle ride, some bar hopping and finally my return to Seattle. My trip has no doubt been amazing, stick around and the next post I'll finally land at home, wrap this trip up and you will see why I still love coming home to Seattle!