My journey to the Pyramids of Sudan (part I)

Sudan is the country in the world with most pyramids and visiting those are one of the most fascinating experiences the country offers. It was one of the reasons why I a late November night landed in Khartoum Airport.

After a Nile boat ride, where I sailed where the Blue and the White Nile met, I jumped into a Tirhal Taxi (the Sudanese version of Uber). He took me to Jabal Aulia. We became good friends on this short trip and I asked him if he could take me to the Pyramids of Meroe the next day. We agreed on a price, which was equal to 150 dollars. On Google Maps I could see that the pyramids were 230 km away.

Where are we going? 

The next morning we were on the road. He told me he needed to make few stops first just to make sure the car was fit for the journey. He stopped at some pit stops to buy oil for the engine, taking away a little air from the tires and changing the oil. He also made one more stop, that I only later discovered what was about.

It took an hour or so before we again were on the road. However, not the right road according to Google Maps. I thought… Google is an old clever friend, I can trust him. So I discussed it a bit with the driver, who was sure his way was the right one. We asked around a bit and he made some phone calls to friends who had done this trip before and everyone told him that he was right. I wasn’t convinced, but I thought.. fair, let us do it your way – at least it will be an adventure.

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Musab (the driver) fixing his car

The drugs in the car

After 70-80 km we did pass a rare sign on the road saying this was the way to Meroe in Arabic. This calmed me down, but the car did not. We kept stopping to add oil to the engine that consumed concerning amount of oil. Musab (his name) also used these breaks to smoke his cigarettes which I asked him kindly not to do in the car, as the smell annoys me. After having driven 250 km we still had no signs of Meroe. We kept driving trying not to take many breaks to make it there before the sunset. I was also wondering why he not once had to fuel his car.

We had now passed 300 km and still no sign. I noticed Musab started to take something green from a small bag and put it beneath his upper lip, just to spit it out later. It turns out this is some kind of drug (I assume it was Qat). That was the last thing he went to buy, before we headed out. Specially when not smoking he needed it to calm down.

He was a very chill guy already, but I told him he could smoke. The distance was much longer than any of us anticipated and I would rather he was comfortable.

Taken to the police station 

After 450 km there was a check point. The officer looked at me and asked me if I am Syrian (Sudan has many Syrian refugees and I look Arabic). I said no, I said I was Arabic but from another country. He asked for my ID and after a long wait, he told us we need permission to continue. Tourists are not allowed in this area without a permission. Musab and I tried to talk sense to him, saying I am not a real tourist. I was his friend visiting him personally and staying at his family’s place.

While the officer was making some calls, Musab told me all of his family’s names so I could answer if they asked more into our relationship. In the end, they told us to go to the police station and get a permit. Another officer offered to go with us there both to show us the way to the police station.

So we drove to a little village and I could see the signs saying Police district of Meroe. The building was very small and with a tiny office, a TV and a back garden with a small mosque. There was only one guy sitting there who took my ID again, asked few questions and then told me to wait. After waiting for a while, I asked what was going on. Apparently, they were only waiting for the chief officer to arrive so he could give the final permission.

The wait was long, and I honestly started to get scared. They had my ID, I could not go anywhere, we had lied to them and Musab still had his drugs in the car. It was already late afternoon and they invited me to pray with them in the mosque in their backyard. So we prayed and I was trying to make as little notice of myself as possible.

The white man arrived

Finally a big car arrived. There was no doubt this was the chief officer arriving here. Out came all the other policemen and they opened the car door for him. And out came, surprisingly, a white man (not european white but middle eastern-like white). For some reason, I was not in doubt that he was actual Sudanese though. He gave us all a strong handshake, looked for 2 seconds at the paper work and told me, that I was a dear guest and this is as much my own country. And we were free to go.

However, the officer that showed us the way here offered to come with us and show us the way to the Pyramids. They were near. We couldn’t say no.

The Pyramids of Jabal Barkal

The feeling of relieve was exceptional when I first laid my eyes on the Pyramids.  I was seriously feeling an accomplishment. Not only had we driven across the Sahara, we had overcome lots of issues, we forgot even to eat and the best part: We had the whole site for ourselves.

Musab had to drive on the sand to get all the way to the pyramids. We parked and we could run to them. Climb them (after kindly asking the officer). Musab even carved his fiance’s name on the pyramid, which I got really mad at him about.

There was a holy mountain there, Jabal Barkal. This mountain was sacred to the Farao’s and inside was a temple cave. And from the outside, from a certain angle, a cliff was naturally shaped like a cobra.

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The car sank into the sand

Is is never a good idea to park your old front wheel driven car in the Sahara. We had to dig some sand away from the sunk car and push. I managed to lose my glasses in this process so out was my vision as well. But eventually we pushed the car free and off we went to the next site.

The Pyramids of Nuri

The officer (Ahmad was his name), told us about another site with pyramids only 20 km from this place. He took us there too.. and this place was at least as impressive. It was during the sunset, so the photos I got from this place were incredible. But the first thing I noticed was the skeletons of dead goats around the area. The next thing was the large amount of pyramids there. And the third thing, unfortunately, was how many of those pyramids were destroyed do  to western treasure hunters.

Again we had the place for ourselves. Later, I visited the national museum where I learned, that this place was were they found Taharqa, the most famous of the Sudanese Pharos.

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Did we finally run out of Gasoline?

Before going back, the car’s alarm sensors asked for a change of oil. Musab found a place near a gas station and started to work. I had the chance to sit with Ahmad and talk about everything from life to politics to the differences between arabs and africans, colonization, hopes and dreams. I have to say, as much as I was scared at the police station, as much he and everyone else in Sudan were kind. Musab had troubles with his car, so I went to help him fixing it. And at the end the gas station closed down but Ahmad made them open it up again for us to fuel as the last costumers. I noticed how thirsty the car was, and I assume he had the gas tank enlarged. I have never seen a car running as long without needing fuel.

Peeing in a hole and eating by a dead rat

We drove Ahmad back to work and head home. We stopped few times. One to use the toilets which were basically just a hole in the desert. Musab prefered to walk a distance and do it in nature. There was a small house there with open doors and few men sitting outside watching TV. They offered us to sleep with them and head out in the morning. We declined politely.

The second stop was to eat.. there were a stop for truck drivers were they could have something to eat. It was also outside and dirty. We sat on plastic chairs and table, but had to move them after I discovered a dead rat just besides me.

We had some of their food. We hadn’t eaten all day so I did not care what it was. We talked about how amazing Sudan was and where else we should see next time I visit. I understood that there is two places named Meroe. One is the one we went to, and the other one is the one on google which Sudanese call Bejrawiya. We made plans to go there together 2 days later.

The car broke down a couple of times on the road. My family back home was worried as well as we arrived back at 2 am.

What happened at the Bajrawiya? That is gonna be for the part 2 of this tale.

The Erased Heritage of Palestine: A traveller’s itinerary

By Homeintheair (Instagram: @Homeintheair)

During my 10 hours visit to Jerusalem I got a mild form of the famous Jerusalem Syndrome. I was so amazed by all the holy and historical sites. It is truly the most culturally dense city in the world. But Palestine is much more than just Jerusalem. The country is filled with historical sites.

However, during the Nakba the Israeli’s initiated a military program to erase as much non-jewish heritage from the country as possible. This meant the demolishing of some of the most holy sites in Islam and Christianity. Of course the Islamic sites has been hit the hardest, due to the Pope’s intervention which saved some Christian sites and made it possible for hundred thousands of the Christian Palestinians to return after being expelled in the first place.

Nonetheless countless of mosques and churches were either destroyed completely or turned into synagogues, warehousing, horse stables, nightclubs or the like. The exact number is of course disputed but both sides agrees that at least 570 villages were completely destroyed by the Israelis where each one had probably 1-2 mosques. On top of that comes the bigger towns and cities that were destroyed and the many muslim neighborhoods in Jerusalem. You can do the math.

So finally, I have a huge interest in discovering lost places. I seriously should have been an archaeologist! Some of these places I discovered while doing research for my itinerary for my next visit to Palestine. My researcher gene took over and I listed those 10 significant holy sites that were destroyed by Israel during the Nakba and until today. Number in parenthesis is the year of destruction.

1. Nabi Rubin (Reuben son of Jacob) (1948)
Nabi Rubin was one of the most popular sites in Palestine before 1948. The mosque housed Reuben’s grave and every year one of the largest festivals in Palestine would take place here. The festival included singing, dancing the Dabke, distribution of colorful candy, sufi prayers, horse races and magic shows. The festival was so exciting, that Palestinian women from afar would tell their husbands: “Either you take me to Nabi Rubin or you divorce me!”. In 1947 the last festival was held. The next year the city was razed by the Israelis and the mosque destroyed. 
Today, Jews are trying to claim the ruins of the shrine to be one of their own, but their plans has been facing difficulty since Jewish tradition place the grave of Reuben somewhere very different.

Nabi Rubin Festival
The Nabi Rubin Festival before 1948

 

2. Nabi Yamin (Prophet Benjamin) (1948) 
This mosque was not destroyed but converted into a synagoge and prohibited muslim entrance even though the place in the first place was holy to muslims only. Before 1948 the place was not considered holy by the original Palestinian Jews (the Yishuv Jews), nor was it considered the true burial place of Benjamin. 

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Nabi Yamin mosqye turned into a Synagoge

 

3. Nabi Shuayb and Mosque of Hittin (1948)
Hittin was a very special city to muslims. Here Saladdin won the battle against the crusaders that lead to the reconquest of the holy land. He built the city and the mosque in this place where the tomb of Nabi Shuayb happened to be. Nabi Shuayb has always been important to the Druze population of Palestine. Muslims and Druze shared this mosque until Hittin was destroyed by Israel in 1948. The mosque of Hittin was completely destroyed and ruins can still be visited while they gave the mosque of Nabi Shuayb exclusively to the Druze as a payment for them to join the Israeli forces.

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Nabi Shuayb still looking like a mosque from the inside

 

4. Nabi Samt (Judge Samson) (1948)
This shrine contained both the tomb of Samson and his father Manoah. It was destroyed with the city of Sar’a (Zorah). After it was proven that the tomb actually belonged to the two holy people, the ruins of the city has been taken over by Israel as an important archeological site.

5. Al-Nabi Yusha’ (Joshua) (1948)
This was the name of a small village that also housed the tomb of Joshua. The village was under French control during the colonization and therefore, officially, a part of Lebanon. However, the French decided to leave the village to the British who were colonizing Palestine. The British gave Palestine to the Jews which included this originally Lebanese village. And yes, they destroyed it all including the tomb. Ruins can still be found but are rarely visited.

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What is left of Nabi Yusha Shrine

 

6. Al-Hussein mosque, Ashkalon (1950)
This site was the holiest to muslims outside of Jerusalem. Here the head of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was buried. The shrine was said to be the most magnificent building in Ashkalon at the time. This having absolutely no value for Jews, it was the most important mosque for zionists to erase. Today a medical center has been built on the grave.

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Pilgrims going to the Al-Hussein Shrine in 1943

 

7. Sheikh Eid mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
The destruction of this mosque is part of the story of the destruction of one of the most historical areas in Jerusalem, the Moroccan Quarter. This quarter of Jerusalem dates back to Saladdin’s era and the Sheikh Eid Mosque was the biggest and most prominent in this quarter. The whole quarter was destroyed in order to make room for a big square where 200.000 Jews could stand in front of the Buraq Wall (Wailing wall). The residence got 15 minutes warning to leave their houses before the demolishing. Those who did not leave, were killed by the bulldozers wrecking their walls down. 

Moroccan quarter
The Moroccan quarter. I cannot believe I actually stood there just right there not knowing what thriving life has been here once.

 

8. Al Buraq mosque, Jerusalem (1967)
This mosque was also destroyed during the raze on the Moroccan Quarter. This mosque however, was the second most holy to muslims in Jerusalem. It was built where muslims believe that prophet Muhammad tied his divinely sent horse (the Buraq). One of the leaders behind this demolition said “”Why shouldn’t the mosque be sent to Heaven, just as the magic horse did?”. The basement of the mosque, I believe, is still accessible today. 

9. Al-Khadra Mosque, Nablus (2002)
The Nakba never really ended. So I have included a very historical mosque that was destroyed not long time ago. This mosque was built on the holy site where Prophet Jacob cried after believing Joseph had been killed. The mosque is also named “Sadness of our Lord Jacob”.

Nablus is a large city belonging to the Palestinians on the West Bank. In 2002, Israel razed the city and their bulldozers destroyed countless UNESCO heritage sites including this mosque and Abd Al-Hadi Palace.

10. Siksik Mosque, Jaffa (1948)
This mosque is one of the examples of how they used mosques to other purposes after conquering land. This mosque was first turned into a Bulgarian restaurant, then a nightclub and then a warehouse for a plastic factory. And this is the fate of many mosques and churches as well in the bigger cities.

Maybe at some point I will research the churches and do a blog post about those too. And of course, there are countless more holy sites I did not include. There are also palaces, archeological sites, hamams and historical city centers that were completely destroyed that I did not include here. Long story short: thousand years of heritage was destroyed in this country, but ruins remain for us to go and explore which I would love to have the chance to do.

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Top 10 Christian festivals to experience

We are approaching Christmas very fast but unfortunately this beautiful tradition has become more of a celebration of capitalism than actual Christianity. However, there are places and festivals around the world that gets to the inner core of the beautiful religion of Christianity and I thought I would share some of my favorite must experience Christian festivals around the world:

  1. Christmas tree lighting
    Place to be: Bethlehem, Palestine
    Time to be next year: December 24, 2019
    What is a better place to witness the celebration of the birthday of Jesus rather than in his very own birth city? The lightning of the Christmas tree is a huge event where the Christian Palestinians count down in the Arabic language for midnight to light up the tree.
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  2. Semana Santa
    Place to be: Granada, Spain
    Time to be next year: April 14, 2019 (easter week)
    I have witnessed this festival myself. Large parades with people dressed like something coming from the Ku Klux Klan or the inquisition. However, this ceremony is held to repent for the sins you have forsaken the last year and to acknowledge the sacrifice of Jesus. Many people would exhaust themselves and walk it every day bare footed. The festival is best celebrated in Granada, but most Spanish and specially Andalucian cities will have it as well.

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    Semana Santa parade in Spain
  3. Crusifixation
    Place to be: San Fernando, Philippines
    Time to be next year: April 19, 2019 (easter)
    On the same track as Semana Santa people come here to recall the passion of the christ and experience a similar hardship. Men and women come here voluntarily to be crucified for real. It’s so admirable how much love and passion they have to actually letting nails go through their palms and hang there for hours.
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  4. Mescal Festival
    Place to be: Adis Ababa, Ethiopia
    Time to be next year: September 27, 2019
    This is a very unique celebration of the supposed finding of the “true cross”. It is said to be given to an emperor of Ethiopia and thus this is a huge celebration there.
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  5. Day of the Dead
    Place to be: Janitzio Island, Mexico
    Time to be next year: November 2, 2019
    This is actually a very interesting festival mixing Christianity with native Indian religion. It is celebrated in most places in Mexico but should be most original on the above mentioned island.
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  6. Santa Claus Village
    Place to be: Rovaniemi, Finland
    Time to be next year: December, 2019
    This is not exactly a festival but every year this park opens for visitors and I can imagine it really will feel like Santa Claus’s toolshop up there in the cold north.
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  7. White smoke
    Place to be: The Vatican City
    Time to be: Unknown
    This even does not need an introduction. We all know how a pope is chosen and watching white smoke from the Sistine Chapel is just historical!
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  8. Race of the Candles
    Place to be: Gubbio, Italy
    Time to be next year: May 15, 2019
    I do not know much about this festival other than celebrating some saints, but it does sound fun!
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  9. Salto del Colacho
    Place to be: Burgos, Spain
    Time to be next year: June 23, 2019
    Another south European festival. It is hard to understand where all those ideas come from but this one is probably about cleansing babies of sins and ensure them protection. Someone will play the devil and jump over new born babies. This might even be a dying tradition due to criticism from the Vatican saying only baptism can cleanse the sins.
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  10. Mardi Gras
    Place to be: Binche, Belgium
    Time to be next year: March 3, 2019
    Before the fasting period for the Christians starts, the Belgian Christians go out celebrating the last day with an enormous feast and a very fun parade in the city of Binche.
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In addition, there are many many other festivals to be mentioned. However, I tried not to include some of those ruined by capitalism already like Saint Patricks day. However, I have not been to all of the above yet, so I am yet to be surprised 🙂

Also remember, no matter what religion you have or none at all these traditions are fascinating to witness. The same goes for any other religion out there, and I might do a similar list for Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism very soon. Would it interest you?

Pyramid hunting

As some of you guys probably know I have spent the past 2 weeks travelling in Sudan and Egypt. Two countries that are very famous for their ancient pyramids and pharaos. Egypt of course more than Sudan, but it is surprisingly Sudan that has the most amount of Pyramids in the world.

Of course my trips did not stop with the famous Pyramids of Giza. The countries contain so many interesting pyramids very few have ever heard about. I started hunting.

I had such a great pleasure hunting pyramids that I wanted to know where to hunt next. I was surprised to see that there is no complete list of all pyramids in the world anywhere on the internet. Even Wikipedia does not list them all.

One of the reasons might be that it is hard to distinguish between an actual pyramid and a ancient temple. Another reason is, that many natural rock and mountain formations that looks like pyramids are either included or excluded, and if excluded there might be theories out there saying it is a man made pyramid. Basically there are many conspiracy theories about pyramids everywhere (which I find fascinating)!

Long story short my research gene took over and I started to make a list of my own. I was so surprised to find so many interesting pyramids many of them just recently discovered. I also included modern pyramids.

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Pyramids at Jabal Barkal, Sudan

Basically, my definition of a pyramid is that it vaguely has to resemble the appearance of a pyramid (4 triangular walls leaning on each other). Of course most non Egyptian pyramids do not have an apex and I have accepted this shape as a pyramid as well.

Enjoy the list, it is one of a kind on the internet! Maybe you will be surprised to see your own country have a pyramid!

The list of Pyramid site’s of the world:

Albania

  • Pyramid of Tirana

Belize

  • Altun Ha
  • Caracol
  • Lubaantun
  • Lamanai
  • Nim Li Punit
  • Xunantunich

Bolivia

  • Tiwanaku

Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • Visoko

Cambodia

  • Angkor Wat

Egypt 

  • Giza
  • Saqqara
  • Dahshur
  • Abu Sir
  • Meidum
  • El-lahun
  • Hawara
  • Deir el-Medina
  • Abydos
  • Zawyet Elaryan
  • Abu Rawash
  • Dara
  • Lisht
  • Mazghuna
  • Abydos
  • Edfu
  • The Seila Pyramid
  • The Zawiyet el-Meiyitin Pyramid
  • The Sinki Pyramid
  • The Naqada Pyramid
  • The Kula Pyramid
  • The Elephantine Pyramid

El Salvador

  • San Andres
  • Tazumal

Eritrea

  • Asmara

France

  • Loyasse Cemetary
  • Louvre

China

  • Pyramids of Xian
  • The great white pyramid (lost)
  • Zangkunchong

Greece

  • Hellenikon
  • Lygourio

Guatemala

  • Tikal
  • Aguateca
  • Mixco Viejo
  • Kaminaljuyu
  • Yaxha
  • El Mirador

Honduras

  • Copan

India

  • Konark
  • Brihadisvara Temple

Indonesia

  • Gunung Padang Pyramid
  • Purbakala Pugung Raharjo
  • Candi Sukuh

Italy

  • Cestius

Iran

  • Tchogha Zanbil
  • Tepe Sialk
  • Iranian Parliament building

Iraq

  • Ziggurat of Ur
  • Dur-Kurigalzu

Japan

  • Nima Sand Museum

Kazakhstan

  • Shet
  • Pyramid of Peace, Astana

Libya

  • Fezzan

Mexico

  • Uxmal
  • Palenque
  • Teotihuacan
  • Chichen Itza
  • Tulum
  • Bonampak
  • Calakmul
  • Comalcalco
  • El Tajin
  • La venta
  • Mayapan
  • Moral Reforma
  • Coba
  • Yaxchilan
  • Monte Alban
  • Tenochtitlan
  • Tenayuca
  • Cholula
  • Tenayuca
  • Santa Cecilia Acatitlan
  • Tula Hidalgo
  • Xochicalco

North Korea

  • Ryugyong Hotel

Peru

  • Huaca de la Luna
  • Huallamarca
  • Tucume
  • Pachacamac

Russia

  • Moscow Pyramid

Spain

  • Guimar

Sudan

  • Jabal Barkal
  • Nuri
  • Bejrawiya
  • El-Kurru

USA

  • Memphis Pyramid
  • Luxor Hotel

Uzbekistan

  • Kashkadarya (Newly found)

Antarctica

  • Pyramid of Antarctica

 

Basically, this list is for myself feeding into places I want to visit in this world. That is why I have only included sites that actually is interesting for me. This includes all man made pyramids and few natural formations which have some kind of claim or conspiracy theory out there attached to it saying it is a man made pyramid.

Green ones are those I have already visited.
Red ones are those so damaged that it is hard to recognize it as a pyramid anymore. If you go to a red one you have to be very interested in archaeology I think!

Do you think I missed any? Let me know in the comments! Thank you 🙂

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Pyramid of Tirana

Guide for travelling to dictatorships

One of the largest reasons for people not to travel is fear. Specially when it comes to countries with bad reputation or with systems that is very different from the one of your own country. I thought I would share my experience travelling to some of those countries and 10 tips about how to prepare and how to behave 🙂

1. Freedom of thought does exist even in dictatorships

First of all, let me just state that there is no definite way of defining a dictatorship and even if you pointed at a country you think is a stereotype dictatorship, there will be millions telling you it is not. But this exact thing is actually the essence of the first thing you have to understand before even researching the country you want to visit.

Just like there are people of all different convictions and political opinions in your country, there is different convictions and political opinions even in the strongest dictatorships. And this is not just another “political correct” statement, this is an actual reality that you will encounter while travelling in dictatorships. You will actually get to meet people with opposite beliefs, but I will get back to that.

2. Do your research!

This is of course a given. But to relax your nerves I will tell you this: Dictatorships are often more safe to visit than democracies because law is strictly enforced, meaning no much space for thieves, rapists, scammers and the like. Some of the most safe countries in the world are what most people would call dictatorships. Just look at the Gulf or even Central Asia.

3. Check comments online

Another important piece of information is knowing the extend of the strictness of the dictatorship. The word dictatorship is thrown around very easily, even in democracies where a large minority just don’t like any of the options in an election. So it ranges from  dictatorships that probably are not a dictatorship at all, to dictatorships where you can be hanged for saying an opinion different from the ruler’s.

So here is a piece of advice you can’t just get from researching the country: Go into different social medias and find a random political topic that people has commented on from that country. Read the comment’s closely and note these questions:

  1. Are there anyone from this country that expresses the opposite opinion of his government or openly talks bad about them? (Make sure they are actually living in that country)
    • If there are many, probably the “dictatorship” is not that strict. So go there and relax but keep your opinions to yourself when meeting officials or total strangers.
    • If people comment but agreeing with the government even on insane matter’s, you will know that the country is very strict, however the population might love their “king”. But you will have to know, that there is always someone of the opposite opinion and if none of them express their opinion openly it is because they are scared for their lives. You can go there, but under no circumstances should you talk against the government while you are there (unless you are a political activist, then I wish you luck from all my heart).
  2. Do people easily fight in the comments?
    • Be aware of the topics they discuss and avoid talking about your own opinions with the wrong persons. Do some research to know in which part of the country or city that those opinions are dominating. Do NOT be afraid of talking to people from both sides. People on the internet are way more aggressive than in real life. When meeting people from the opposite opinion than your own then ask lots of open questions instead of discussing your personal opinion. Maybe you will even learn something new.

4. Passport renewal and visa

Some dictatorships and questionable democracies do not allow you to enter the country if you have been visiting one of the “enemy” countries. If you are going to several countries and you know that the second country do not like the first one, you can sometimes ask for a removable visa. It is basically a normal visa, but instead of gluing it to the passport, they just put a paper clip so you can remove it.

Another idea is to renew your passport before you leave. Be careful that they would not be able to find out where you have been e.g. if you have visited before with the old passport or if you have lots of pictures online from that country. If so, do not lie if you are asked.

5. Take precautions before landing

Some dictatorships will interrogate you upon landing, specially if you come from a country they do not like or if you are known for your political statements on the internet. I would advice you to delete your Twitter app and log off from most of the websites and apps you normally use to express your opinions. Delete sensitive messages. Some dictatorships looks intensively in your phone and make you unlock it for them to read your messages.

They can be very insisting, even if you do not have anything to hide. For example: If you say “I don’t have Facebook”, they will insist they don’t believe you.

If you are going to China or another country who block’s common western websites, then make sure to install a proxy and WeChat before going. A proxy might be illegal in some countries so prepare yourself before going. For China I would recommend installing the proxy beforehand because they are not nosy with your phone at arrival, but keep a low profile. Do not walk around with Google showing on your screen or you can be facing a large fine.

Remember, this is not only for China. WhatsApp and Skype might be blocked in many countries, at least the calling service of it. Here WeChat or Telegram might be handy to use instead, but make sure those at home also have it.

6. Keep it cool at interrogations but do not lose your integrity!

If they want to talk to you at the airport, do not freak out. This happens probably a lot and in the worst case they will just send you back. Do not state any political opinion, just say that you do not care about politics and only interested in seeing culture and nature. But do not compromise your integrity either. Do not admit to an opinion that you do not have – but do not tell them your real opinion if it is against their system. Just keep avoiding the question – either they get tired of you and let you in or they get tired of you and send you back. There is nothing worth losing your integrity over, specially if you only want to do tourism.

My best advice, is keep an open mind, stay out of political discussions and treat them with a sweet behavior.

7. Do not express yourself openly

Keep your opinion to yourself publicly. Watch your mouth for things you say. I have done this mistake before where I just say something without thinking about where I am. Always be conscious about what you are saying and where. Most importantly: Do not question the ruler’s authority, right or opinion.

8. Adapt to the culture  

You are out to experience a new culture, so adapt! It will also keep you safer. Again, do not lose your integrity, but do not do anything that is culturally not accepted or shameful in this country you are visiting.

9. Be careful with photography

Some dictatorships will ban you from photographing government controlled buildings or border crossings. I did the mistake once to have my GoPro video camera up at the border crossing between two dictatorships but I luckily got away with it after assuring them it was not filming. If photography is legal, then still be careful not to pose in a disrespectful way.

10. Meet different people

Remember the whole reason why you travel. It is not to confirm your own ideas about the world but to actually learn about the world. If you only hang out with people of the same political conviction as your own you will have wasted a whole trip convincing only yourself. Instead engage with everyone, do not be afraid and be understanding when someone expresses something differently. If you travel right, you cant avoid meeting people on both sides or even hearing opinions you never heard before. This is the best thing about travelling, so enjoy it with an open mind!

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The Palace of one of the most terrifying dictators in human history

The good and the bad travel blogger

Forgive the slight negativity in this post, but I have to address certain things I’ve started to witness on different travel blogs and social medias.

I’ve seen so many traveler’s travel the world and end up with just the same type of people not even realizing that this type might not be the majority of the place he is visiting.

Traveling should not just be for selfish reasons. It’s not about you visiting all countries in the world crossed off a map and hanged on your wall as a trophy. This kind of travel is endlessly provocative and in such a bad taste.

Instead cross off the countries you have actually understood and done a real connection with. Not just with the one type of people you met. But with the different groups. The different view points and those who taught you something that you didn’t expect them to. Even if you are superior to them in intellect, in richness and education. You can still learn from the old lady living on the street, the kid begging you for money, the police officer at the border and the priest at the temple that does or does not belong to your own faith.

It saddens me when a person had traveled to more than 150 countries and end up talking bad about one certain kind of people there, just because they do not fit his  vision of the country, or his twisted idea about how this country is (because he only hang out with one certain kind of people).

And when he comes back home he only talks about the freedom of traveling and how boring everyone else is instead of actually encouraging the others to travel more, see more, learn more, and most importantly not get afraid of places the media talks bad about.

Basically this is just an appeal to my fellow travel bloggers, Instagram photographers and youtube vloggers: spread positivity and accept people of the different opinion. Engage in a discussion. That is the only way to learn from each other.

If not I simply don’t enjoy following these bloggers.

And even if you have explored so much you think you can judge. DON’T!

Because all countries have people of all spectra of any scale you can think of. So don’t just assume you can judge.

  • I have traveled more than 12 times to Egypt: No I do not know everything about egyptians and their culture.
  • I have lived in Japan studying: No I do not know everything about Japanese people and their culture.
  • Even my own country(s): I do not know everything. I still meet people who I never knew existed in this country. Not just travelers or immigrants but even ethnically and culturally local people who just belong to such a different subculture within this country.

Remember: You do not simply become a better, more knowledgeable, more tolerant gentleman by traveling the world. You become all that by actually trying to understand and accept different viewpoints. By showing interest in people who are on the other spectrum of yourself. And by seeing the world as what it could have been and not what it has become.

Or maybe I am wrong? Let me know your opinion in the comments, specially if you disagree. I want to strive to be a better traveler and my blog is always open for anyone!

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Traveling is not only about freedom. It is about widening your horizon.

My Iranian Dream Route

As you guys already know, Iran was one of my favorite travel destinations. Why? I have explained it in the Top Visited Destinations page, check it out.

But I have not been everywhere, and I certainly want to go back and visit the rest. The country is wonderfully big. That is why I have planned a route that I will do in Iran at some point. The route of my dreams:

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Lets start from the green dot: Tehran

Tehran

The cheapest place to fly to is Tehran, so the first place will be here. You gotta visit the capital and one of the largest cities of the world. But what is there to see here? Palaces, mosques, bazars, the photogenic Azadi Tower and the real life. A must for me is to walk around the old Rey city within Tehran. It is one of the oldest cities in the region and contains endless historical monuments and tales.
Duration: 4 days at least.

Badab Surt

Travelling east, first stop is Badab Soort which is an incredible natural phenomenon you will not see anywhere else in the world. I think the picture speaks for itself.
Duration: 6 hours for the journey and the stay there in total.

Badab-e_Surt_Samaee

Khalidnabi

Same day I would travel even further east to the very secluded place of Khalidnabi. It is basically a small mosque containing the tomb of a prophet named Khalid. I don’t know much about him, but the quite graveyard and the little prophetic mosque looks stunning on pictures. First time I saw this place I thought I have to come here!
Duration: 4 hours inclusive travel time

khalidnabi

Mashhad

Heading same day further east to Mashhad I would probably arrive at night and try to find a place to sleep. Luckily Mashhad is a city that never sleeps. Being the most holy city in Iran this is a must see for everyone. And it is pretty famous for having one of the most beautiful and largest mosques, the Imam Reza mosque. Here ceremonies are held every day and the city and mosque and museums takes days to absorb. Also interesting cities like Neyshabur, the Kang Village and others are close by. Ideally, I would go to Turkmenistan from there but Turkmenistan is very hard to get into so I will leave it out from this blog post.
Duration: 5 days

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Yazd

From Mashhad I would continue south to Yazd to enjoy the extremely iconic architecture. The skyline of this city gives purpose to the lives of photographers. Not to mention the beauty of the Amir Chakhmaq Complex.
Duration: 3 days

Yazd

Shiraz

South west is the next stop. Shiraz stands out with its gardens. Here the Eram Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens in the world and I definitely wanna see it. But the best reason to come here is to visit Naqsh-e Rustam and Persepolis. Some of the most ancient archaeological finds in the world. This is where Iran really shows it’s rich history.
Duration: 4 days

Naqsh rustam

Susa

Okay, now the trip really starts to get interesting. Travelling north west I will get through some really culturally interesting places like the Ahwaz, but my destination is the city of Susa where the tomb of Prophet Daniel lies in a holy mosque. This is no ordinary mosque, and even sharing a “google” picture hurts my heart. I just wanna see it myself.
Duration: 1 day

Karmenshah

Here is more super ancient history. The site of Taq Bostan displays rock reliefs that I want to study.
Duration: 1 day

Isfahan

Do I need to say more? Of course everyone wants to come here to experience the incredible mosques and architecture.
Duration: 3 days

Kashan

Okay here I have a lot of things to do. The most important one is buying a real handmade Persian rug. Kashan is the best place to do that. If you know anything about Persian rugs you have for sure heard about the Kashan. But there is more: Other than being just as pretty as Isfahan here lies the ancient underground city of Nushabad. This place is just mind blowing to read about. Imagine an ancient time where humans actually lived beneath earth, sheltering themselves from the sunlight. It is a mystery why. These ancient underground cities are being discovered all over the world and no one has yet understood why.
Duration: 4 days

Nushabad

Visadar

Okay, now I would probably wanna go Qom to see the most religious city in Iran or to Tabriz to see the stone houses, but I will probably be exhausted and my time is running up. I will probably go north to Visadar to relax at the waterfalls for a day before heading back to Tehran Airport to get back home.
Duration: 1 day

Complete route:

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Total Duration: 27 days

I will never have that long vacation again 😥

So what do you think guys? Are all the places worth it? What wouldn’t you do? And what did I leave out that I definitely should go see? If you are an expert on Iran or lives there let me know your opinion please! 🙂