Part four of a five-part excerpt taken from To the Brink, the concluding volume of my circumnavigation trilogy, published April of this year. Read part one, two, and three.
It was time to come clean about my intent to cross the border illegally. I explained about the expedition, and my plan to kayak Lake Nasser at night. At the end of the confession, I motioned to the map case on the major’s desk, and said, “Can I show you something?”
I pulled out a laminated letter and offered it to him. Glancing at the letterhead, Major Hassan grunted, “Ah, the UNESCO.” Written in 1994 by the then Director General, Frederico Mayor, the letter appealed for people, organizations, and governments to assist the expedition on its way around the world. This was my ace in the hole, the ultimate Get Out of Jail Free card. UNESCO had been instrumental in saving two temples built in thirteenth century BCE by Ramses II, relocating them stone by stone to Abu Simbel, before the Nile was flooded to form Lake Nasser.
“But dis name.” The major pointed to the first paragraph. “Pe-dal-for-the-Pla-net. Is not the name you say.”
This was true. I’d given name Expedition 360. “But I can explain,” I pleaded. “You see, we changed the name of the expedition in 1999—”
But the major wasn’t listening. He was back to yelling at his phones. Continue reading
Part three of a five-part excerpt taken from To the Brink, the concluding volume of my circumnavigation trilogy, published April of this year. Read part one and two.
A flunky I hadn’t seen before appeared, carrying a sheaf of paperwork and a mug of tea in a saucer. He placed them in front of the major, who was now speaking rapidly into a telephone, one of several that lined his desk. This is bad, I said to myself. The inventorying of equipment continued. Lists were made. Then yet more lists. The orderly going through my gear handed the major a burgundy booklet he’d found in my waterproof money belt. This was a back up passport, one free of Israeli stamps that would better my chances of getting into Syria.
Still barking at the phone, the major took the passport and placed it with the other. How would I explain this? Continue reading
Part two of a five-part excerpt taken from To the Brink, the concluding volume of my circumnavigation trilogy, published April of this year. Click here for part one.
Major Hassan shook his head in disbelief. This idiot tourist had somehow strayed across the border, the border it was his job to prevent anyone from going anywhere near. He hammered on his keyboard and read from the screen, “How did you cross the border?”
“No one stopped me.” I replied truthfully, although I chose not to mention that I’d paddled at night. “But I am still confused”—I reached forward and showed him my map—“exactly where the border is.” Continue reading
The following is an account of my arrest and subsequent interrogation by Egyptian security forces after paddling a kayak illegally across Lake Nasser from Sudan in 2007. It is the first of a five-part excerpt taken from To the Brink, the concluding volume of my circumnavigation trilogy, published April of this year.
Third and concluding excerpt (read part one and two) from To the Brink, published April 2015:
Later that day, we paddled to the Muslim village of Pota. April and I recounted our experience to the village elders.
“Sihir!” one of them hissed. Witchcraft.
More than a hundred people were crowded around us, the faces of the women painted ghoulishly with the white paste Indonesians used for skin bleaching. The atmosphere had been excitable as we set up camp: lots of laughter and whooping, and “Hello Meester! Hello Meesees!” When the elders arrived, the crowd regained its composure.
“Dukun santet,” said another elder. Black shaman. This was Haji, a smiling octogenarian in a blue shirt, purple lava-lava, and Peci, a black fez hat. “Indonesia beeple superstitious,” he continued. “You break promise in village? You make disrespect? They revenge with”—he nodded sagely and wagged a finger—“dukun santet.”
The second of a three-part excerpt (read part one here) from To the Brink, published early 2015, in which the Expedition 360 team encounter sea snakes and black magic on a remote island off the north coast of Flores, Indonesia:
A third snake suddenly appeared. I grabbed the video camera and began filming. “What is going on?” I said. Snakes gave me the same heebie-jeebies as spiders. “Why all these snakes?”
It didn’t make sense. At the first sight of a human, virtually every wild animal I’d ever come across had turned tail and scarpered, millennia of extermination rendering them wary of engaging Homo sapiens. So why were these snakes taking such an interest in us?
In August of 2005, April and I found ourselves camping on an idyllic islet off the north coast of Flores, Indonesia, during a 7-month kayaking expedition from East Timor to Singapore. An experience that first night on the island left us badly shaken, and our skepticism of black magic and blind acceptance of Western scientific thought both in doubt. This is the first of a three-part excerpt from my upcoming book, To the Brink (published April 1, 2015).
It’s a variation of the big “Why” question adventurers are always asked in media interviews. Why ride a bicycle to Timbuktu? Why be the two thousandth person to summit Mount Everest? Why row a bathtub to the North Pole?
In this extract from my forthcoming book, To the Brink, I am privy to a whole new perspective on the meaning of suffering while biking India
“Malamūtra, excrement, is so intrinsic to life in rural India that for some it constitutes their sole reason to be. I saw a thirteen-year-old boy who should have been at school squatting under a cow’s backside instead, his job being to wait until the thing shat. When finally it did, he caught the deluge in a rudimentary baseball mitt fashioned from an old grocery bag. Like an expert pastry chef he then mixed in some straw and spanked the steaming matter into four dung-patties before laying them out in the sun to dry for fuel.
In keeping with my last post about the aftermath of long-haul journeys, here’s a snippet from my upcoming book, To the Brink, about expeditions and whether they’re just an elaborate excuse to avoid responsibilities back home.
The uniformed ticket inspector handed me back my stub. “This is not a valid ticket,” he announced.
“But I bought it only fifteen minutes ago.”
I was on the 17.10 from Paddington to Reading, sharing a packed commuter carriage with several hundred weary London commuters returning home. Three days previously, I’d arrived back at Greenwich after 13 years of circumnavigating the planet by human power. This was the fastest I’d gone in a long time.
The inspector looked at me like I was an imbecile. “It is a receipt, not a ticket.”