You know that a city is too gentrified when you start to see cafes selling cupcakes. I have a particular problem with cupcakes because they’re just fairy cakes, similar to those that we used to make in primary school and sold for 10p. But rebranded as cupcakes, they’re now sold for £3 per tiny cake.
Gentrification in progress. There’ll be cupcakes! an artist’s mural announces on London Road in Brighton.
I have called Brighton – and the London Road area – my home for a number of years. Brighton’s a great place. Small enough that you run into friends on the street, and big enough to be a hive of alternative cultures and projects.
“Where the hell are we?!” I say, as I look at the map
I like to think I’m a good map reader. But sometimes – fairly often, actually – I look at a map and my mind goes completely blank. I can’t work out where the hell I am.
Chris and I are in the Pyrénées. We need to stay low: there’s thick snow once we get above 1400 metres. So it’s also important not to get lost, or we might find ourselves camping up on a mountain ridge in a snowy blizzard, completely unprepared.
But, of course, we get lost. There’s five different trails, some bigger than others, all branching off in different directions.
Rooftops in Nuodeng, Yunnan province
I’m ill. I lay in bed with a fever, shivering but sweating. I ache. I groan. Chris showers me with sympathy. In my sick delirium, I search the internet to diagnose myself. I read about all of the possible diseases I could have, and all of them fit my symptoms. Why oh why didn’t I look into getting some vaccinations before coming here? Is my disdain for pharmaceutical companies really worth getting sick for? I decide that I definitely have dengue fever. Then I look up malaria risks in China. Every province has a low-to-zero risk, except for Yunnan province, where I am laying ill. It has a high risk. That’s it. I have malaria. I instruct Chris to go to the chemist, buy me some rehydration salts (my answer to every single illness, no matter what the symptoms, whilst on the road) and to find out if there’s a doctor or hospital nearby. He comes back with the news that there’s only a doctor specialising in Chinese medicine in the town. Aaaaaagggghhh, I’m going to die here, I think.
The first person we meet as we cross the border into Mongolia 🙂
“We are hitchhiking. We have a vague destination but it’s not very important to us when we get there. We have a tent, lots of food and water, and we don’t want to get a mini-bus or taxi. We don’t want to stay in a hotel. Please don’t worry about us!”
This is what I would say to everyone, if only I could speak Mongolian. But the problem with hitchhiking in Mongolia is that we can’t communicate. We have a phrase book, which proves invaluable. Every car stops for us, more out of concern or curiosity than knowing what we’re doing. It’s unsurprising that people are confused: we are not booking an expensive tour of the country and we are not hiring a jeep and a driver. In Mongolia, this is a Tourist Rarity. We meet various Europeans who are paying $700 for 8 days in the Gobi. (I blame this reliance on tours on a certain famous guidebook).
Kurdistan is a region that covers parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, and where the population, culture and language is mostly Kurdish. Kurds are “the largest national, cultural group that has never been able to achieve a national territory”, says Noam Chomsky. I am still travelling with my Norwegian friends, Mats and Robert, and we are given a ten day visa-on-arrival for Iraqi Kurdistan.
Our first view of Kurdistan!
Walking over the Iraq border
After a month in England and a quick visit to Germany, I arrive back in Olympos, Turkey, with a huge grin on my face. I am back in paradise. I am very lucky to have a friend, Yucel, who lets me stay at his pension. I spend a week swimming in the sea and making new friends.
I have spent five months hitchhiking east, and now I find myself in Georgia, where it is easy to get a ride (you never wait more than a few minutes) and where the locals are very friendly. I spend a few days walking in the mountains and hitchhiking around with my friend Françoise.
Hitchhiking and hiking with Francoise